Revolutionists and workplace negotiations

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Awesome Dude
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Jan 24 2013 18:30
Revolutionists and workplace negotiations

This thread is a carry over from collective action's review of solfeds new book: fighting for ourselves.

Should workers who advocate the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system part take in negotiations with management on the behalf of their workmates (as recallable mandated delegates or otherwise)?

taxirank
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Jan 25 2013 13:15

This is a good question for discussion, and one that will reappear perenially amongst 'revolutionaries'.

It creates lots of related questions, of which these are a couple:

Do workers need 'revolutionaries' to create the impetus for their struggles?

Do other people do that anyway?

Is it the task of 'revolutionaries' to intervene in struggles in order to try to demonstrate effective tactical strategies as well as what these struggles really are and how they may well turn out? (Or is that an unhelpful thing to do to people who are trying to resist their exploitation and alienation?)

If 'revolutionairies' take on the responsibility of leading reformist struggles how does that affect them? Is it even possible for a 'revolutionary' to be described as a revolutionary if they are leading a reformist campaign? Can a 'revolutionary' divide their theory and their practice in such a way?

This is certainly what Gramsci and Lenin argued in their notion that the class struggle had to be led and was a matter of negotiation and compromise - specifically on the part of 'revolutionaries' acting on behalf of their fellow workers.

Have you read this::

http://libcom.org/library/death-rank-filism ?

Harrison
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Jan 25 2013 18:26

the way i see it all struggles under capitalism are basically reformist, its our task to engage with or start them in such a way that we build our social influence through work within them and bend aspects of them in such a way that we contribute to socially recomposing our class and increasing its confidence and ability to act independently, and also to carefully use this social influence to increase ideological hegemony.

anarcho-syndicalism is still congruent with this, its just a tactical inversion / examples of when mass organisations (early syndicalist unions) have been successfully won to libertarian ideological hegemony.

its a problem when we don't see ourselves as part of the class, and if anarchists possess a social leader in a workplace, i don't see a problem with them being elected as a delegate if it could develop struggle in this workplace. (say if this was for a syndicalist union section), but i can see it easily dis-encouraging the practices of self-organisation we'd like to see develop, if we constantly assume leadership roles without aiming to encourage the development of the ability of (relatively non-political) fellow members of the class to fill these themselves. afterall, the ranks of libertarian organisations would only undergo significant growth within the context of a large increase in self-organised class activity.

theres also the issue of increasing class ability to bypass organisations when these block the achievement of class interest, and this requires a general disrespect of organisational leadership, even that of anarchists. so its a case of using social influence to establish political influence and to weaken organisational leadership (through adopting things like direct democracy & federalism), and tbh adopting an element of self-criticism throughout this to point out that we aim to get behind class interest, but might at points be wrong.

Harrison
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Jan 25 2013 18:24

oh that sounded really jargonistic. but i hope its understandable

taxirank
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Jan 25 2013 23:18

Yes, the post by Harrison and Taxirank (me), I think, reveal the opposing sides of the question. Of course, all struggles are reformist, not basically reformist. And ‘revolutionaries’ occupy no special position within the proletariat apart from their proselytising and leadership tendencies. We are trapped within our era and circumstance – the best we can do is be part of something that leads to an abyss wherein people are forced to find a new way to live (this is our contribution, which must, in order for it to remain devoid of poison or the offering of false hope, negative). Any plan for the economy or society that is formulated within capitalism is a capitalist plan. Thus ‘revolutionaries’ should keep that at the forefront of their mind during any involvement in struggle. Every time we offer a solution (eg, we can win this) to people who are resisting exploitation and alienation then we are lying in terms of our theory of exploitation and alienation and putting a brake on the intellectual and physical mobilisation of other people.

Should we be increasing the amount of hope in the world? We can win! Things will get better! Capitalism is failing and will soon be replaced! Do these propagandist pronouncements really serve our theories about capitalism, exploitation and our alienation under the present conditions?

On one side we have the notion of building a movement, a counter-hegemony, or an historic bloc (yes, these are Leninist terms), if you like – and on the other side we have persons who only contribute to struggles and theory in a negative fashion.

There is no possibility of some kind of use of Hegelian dialectic here to come up with an effective solution – which can be seen in Harrison’s post, where he puts lots of slim ideas concerning consciousness on the table – because, historically, the solution is always Leninist.

Germain
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Jan 25 2013 23:43

Where I work we have recently managed to stop a number of compulsory redundancies through negotiation. All highly reformist 'constructive' (hmm) negotiations. The negotiation was predicated on an 'acceptance' (note scare quotes) of the 'right' of management to make redundancies and of the premises on which the redundancy notices were issued. Despite attempts by branch reps to encourage members to adopt a no-compulsory redundancy position, we meet a combination of fatalism, apathy, indifference and self-interest. This is very different from what it was like 15 years ago, when branch meetings were always full, strike action supported by 99% of branch members etc. I recently suggested at a meeting that we should all stock up on spaghetti and tins and stay on indefinite strike until the bosses all fuck off and leave us to it. I wasn't being entirely serious but the response was 'when we come back we might find they don't need us anymore'! Maybe I'm middle-aged now, but I find these neat distinctions between revolutionary positions and reformist practices as unconvincing and naive. As a revolutionary, I could say - hey sorry I'm not prepared to take on a position in my branch because to do so would be to endorse the social relations of capitalism, or I could say none of this is ideal but we are where we are, and those of us who - for whatever reason - are prepared to stick our heads above the parapet do what we can do to support other workers and to try and instil some confidence. For sure, things can and sometimes do change quickly, and those of us who have been trying to keep the thin red line alive may well have to pushed aside by folk more in tune with the moment. But sitting with a fellow-worker who's being bullied by her line manager (as I did this afternoon), I realise why I and thousands of other ordinary activists take on these positions.

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Jan 28 2013 13:32

I agree with a lot of what has been said already.

I have never been a 'rep' in any negotiation type meeting with management and not done much organising either so not sayin I'm an expert of nuffin but...

I think we will sometimes find ourselves in struggles where negotiation seems like the best available option for advancing our interests.

I also think there are certain principles an anarchist communist organiser should aim to stick to if they are in a situation where becoming embroiled in negotiations with management seems possible. We want workers to engage in conflict against their bosses and win. When workers and bosses come into open conflict we want the direct actions taken by the workers to be the determining influence on the outcome of that conflict. We should only resort to negotiation when we can't go further and organise direct action to collectively call the shots.

If an anarchist organiser worked where a collective conflict (and potential for negotiation) with the bosses emerged, the root of the conflict and the effects should management (continue to) get their way, should be outlined to all those affected- (in the wider context of capital social relations if possible). People should be clear where they stand and what's at stake. The organiser should then try to help ensure workers have ample time and a safe space to discuss and reach agreement on their own response, terms and strategy in the conflict (what they'll push for, what concessions they'll give, or appear to give, or what the won't budge on, what escalation will be if managements position is unacceptable or they encounter suppression etc).

I would argue that a radical should resist management trying to find a rep to meet- let management talk to all workers at once and then deal with our collective response, let the workers summon management to hear our demands. All prepare and sign a statement (or demands) and present it to management, go on strike etc...

Once better options than negotiation have been ruled out (for what ever reason), we should try to get a mandate to form the basis of negotiation.

Any worker negotiating an agreement with management should only be doing so within a mandate. Not as a 'representative' in the sense of holding decision making power on behalf of others. So in effect the delegate should never agree to something that's not been pre-decided among the workers by democratic means.

I doubt in the real world it is ever so simple.

Before negotiation begins, in a workplace conflict, management almost always have a running-start, the upper-hand and pretty much every advantage going. The radical workers are anticipating and prepared for struggle and willing to enter into confrontations with management, and when particular issues or sets of issues become the subject of workplace disputes its generally the radicals who will take an initial lead in a struggle and when workplace struggles intensify they will probably remain a leader. By their nature they will be among the most informed and be pushing for a response from (or at least on behalf of) the workers, they might already have a way of dealing with this sort of conflict. Often the conflict is caused by a carefully planned management decision whereby they have a strategy in mind for dampening any resistance. The organiser might already might have knowledge of how to work within a union or within the workplace generally to influence management or force a change of outcome in conflicts.

Under these conditions, where workers are generally continually on the back foot, and organisers familiar with managements methods and acting out conflict, there might be a risk that the conscious organiser tries to lead and develop struggles to such an extent that they become very specialist and adept at dealing with disputes with management as an individual skilled in the arts of negotiation. Other workers could then come to see the organiser as a specialist to be trusted and relied upon rather than as someone to emulate and fight alongside. I wonder if this might be connected to a general social tendency where people see someone performing a social task proficiently they feel less inclined to have a go themselves, as someone else has 'got it covered'. Even if the organiser has set up a workers council where all or most workers attend and proposals put to the vote, it may just be the others confirming their confidence in the organiser, rather than becoming a real radicalised part of the organising initiative and owning that initiative collectively. If we wanted to just make capitalism work better for workers this might be OK but since we want capitalism to end all together its not enough.

I do think a good organiser would inspire others and open up opportuites for radical ideas to be mulled over I also think there is so much complicated negotiationy bullshit that many organisers get good at, often other workers look at what they do and think 'ta for your efforts, but rather you than me, mate'. Organisers must often find themselves among groups of workers who don't seem up for the fight so rather than organise they do their best to fight on their fellows behalf. Sometimes just reacting to management might take up more of a militants time than helping to spread working class self organisation and then perhaps a tendency could emerge where the militants keep workers protected from management just enough to be content enough not to organise properly.

When management are fucking with you its natural to want to defend yourself and sometimes it probably feels more important to brush up on your employment law, make sure you sound impressive at the meeting and go to meet management prepared to win one for the workers. Perhaps trying to muster a democratic mandate and a delegate (if necessary) and a collective fighting organisation to empower all those around you to fight for themselves is too ambitious, by the time that happens the fight could be lost and negotiation at least keeps you in the running.

Under real conditions, workers may be unprepared to organise a resistance beyond registering general disgruntlement which suggests management might have to concede a bit or risk a proper fight, timescales may be tight, management often seek to cause uncertainty and confusion when jobs or conditions are at stake, or potential gains are to be had (e.g. clawing back legally owed wages or winning compensation) organisers might have to break off their dialogue with management and continually re-brief the workers whenever new stuff comes to light, or they might have to roll with it and do their best because other people are relying on them to get on with it and management has set some arbitrary deadline that doesn't offer time to convene a democratic workers meeting.

I think often a good workplace organiser would find times when they did 'represent' workers without a strong mandate because they just assume what they think is the best course of action and didn't see an opportunity to collectivise the effort a bit more. There is no easy way to always distinguish between when being a social leader allows you to empower others to fight and when it encourages them to become dependent on you to fight for them, sometimes management probably construct circumstances where radicals become more involved in fighting management on its own (borgeios legalistic/ give-and-take bargain) terms, and having success by winning marginal disputes on behalf of workers, rather than helping workers become more revolutionary or radical and take a lead in reorganising work to suit themselves.

If what I'm saying makes any sense, this phenomena would be damaging because as the militant increasingly becomes a rep, fighting and winning (within a limited scope of struggle) on behalf of, workers. The organisation of the struggle becomes the burden of the rep, so the likelihood and scope of radical upsurge in general militancy declines as workers see someone doing it for them. Also, perhaps if the organiser had not smoothed over past threats and deflected past attacks on behalf of workers, they would be more discontent and prepared to strike, sabotage, fight back! and less inclined to believe that the system had their interests protected to some extent, and when it went wrong at least the organiser and negotiations could help get management to be reasonable.

Edit: apologies for the length of this post- tried to edit but internets keep disconnecting so giving up.

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Steven.
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Jan 26 2013 12:59

I think this is an important discussion. I might need a few days to think about it before posting…

syndicalist
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Jan 27 2013 19:26

Sorry, have not had a chance to really read the long posts here. So, for the moment, I'll be lazy and repost what I wrote elsewhere.

Let me also suggest comrade read Nate's post which follows mine on that thread (link follows below). He makes some excellent points.

syndicalist wrote:
I guess I don't get the whole question about "negotiations". Workers will always negotiate until they establish workers self-management and libertarian soc./comm.

The CNT recently negotiated an interim settlement to a struggle, not the capitulation of capitalism in this instance.
http://libcom.org/blog/lights-dark-cnt-cgt-members-indefinite-strike-aga...

If the question comes down to "professional" and "institutional" bargaining by bureaucrats, yup, that's an issue. But left sounding rhetoric about negotiations in any form is, in my opinion, just rhetoric not based on the sad realities of daily life on the shop floor.

http://libcom.org/blog/%E2%80%98fighting-ourselves-anarcho-syndicalism-c...

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A Wotsit
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Jan 28 2013 13:20

Sorry for the ridiculous length of my post, obviously no one should feel obliged to read it before posting their own thoughts. I'll try and trim it a bit.

syndicalist
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Jan 28 2013 14:16
A Wotsit wrote:
Sorry for the ridiculous length of my post, obviously no one should feel obliged to read it before posting their own thoughts. I'll try and trim it a bit.

Your thoughts are your thoughts. Keep them as is. I'm a slow reader at the bets of times anyway.

Spikymike
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Jan 28 2013 15:44

So this is my thinking so far if perhaps a bit muddled?

If people have already decided that pro-revolutionaries should take on the role of official union or other lay representatives (see arguments against this in the linked text thread and many other such threads for arguments against this) then they have already decided that a representative role in negotiations is valid and useful.

Outside of that situation it's perhaps less clearcut, if you take negotiation as defined in it's widest sense, since there are a whole load of different situations from the most mundane everyday issues in separate workplaces to something approaching unsurrectionary proportions but not quite a full blown revolutionary situation. But for the most part our everyday circumstances suggest that the tiny minority of pro-revolutionary groups and their members are rarely in any better position than most other workers to know what the best course of action might be in any particular situation, outside of a few basic common sense guidelines. The most important function of a pro-revolutionary group is to draw out the inevitable limitations of the everyday class struggle and the necessity of communism. Part of that is contesting the ideology and practice of trade unionism in both it's official and unofficial guises. It's pretty difficult trying to do all that whilst also trying to perform a traditional representative function either officially within a trade union or unofficially as part of some other temporary struggle body - so not recomended. But pro-revolutionaries are workers like everyone else, subject to the same pressures and need to struggle to preserve a bit of dignity and humanity faced with the onslaught of capitalism in crisis. As such we cannot withdraw into the intellectual comfort of a correct 'ideology' and leave it to others to do all the organising of struggle with all the risks that can entail. So we have to get stuck in (based on our own and our workmates material interests rather than any ideological motive) and contribute what we can from both from our own personal experience and that which our knowledge of working class history and the nature of capitalism may tell us. That may sometimes involve working with other trusted comrades within our milieu but just as likely will involve other temporary alliances with other 'non-political' workers as the objective situation changes and develops. As pro-revolutionaries we are not in a position and would be unwise to try to take on the leadership of the everyday class struggle, but we will make a contribution to that struggle out of our own necessity.

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Feb 4 2013 20:23

This is a good thought provoking question and discussion. A Wotsit, I like your points about better and worse ways for people to conduct negotiations. I think that's really important and I think sometimes "never negotiate! we're communists!" kinds of posturing gets in the way of developing views on better and worse ways to negotiate. I also like your points about organizers becoming a kind of specialists (on that, I really like this short article - http://libcom.org/library/replace-yourself ) or just kicking things off as militants when there's not as much collective willingness to act. I think that's pretty different from organizing, personally.

Spikymike, you said something about how pro-revolutionaries are unlikely to have much in the way of better ideas of what to do in any particular situation. I don't know how old you are or where you work. I'm in my mid 30s and I think every place I've ever worked has relatively high turnover. I don't think I'm an expert or a ninja or whatever but I do have way more experience in workplace struggles than pretty much any of my co-workers, because I've made a point to be part of that kind of thing in my own and other people's workplaces because of my beliefs. That's true of a lot of my closest comrades and political friends as well. That doesn't mean anyone should defer to us but it does mean we've often been in situations where co-workers are like "someone should do something about this, but what could be done?!" or where early in a conflict with management people come up with what seem to me like bad ideas ("this person is a boss but he's a sympathetic one, what if we go to him and just ask for help?" "we should call a lawyer/the media" "the five of us should conduct an illegal strike right now even though the other 50 people don't care! we'll get fired, but it will send a message!" "we don't need to talk to anyone on the other shift, they're all dicks anyway" etc). This can encourage the kind of specialist/defer to radicals thing that Wotsit mentioned because the radicals can be the ones with the most skills and relevant experiences, so it's important to try to share those and not become specialists. That dynamic happens, though, at least in part when radicals really do have some relevant skills that others don't. Anyway, I mention it because in my experience, people who've been part of more workplace conflict do tend to be better at it than people who haven't, and at least in the US huge numbers of people in our 30s and below have very little experience in workplace struggles.
(And thanks for the kind words, Syndicalist.)

Personally I don't think there's a single answer to "should communists be part of representing other workers" but I do think it's important to be wary/cautious about playing that kind of role and to be really, really honest with ourselves about what we will or won't accomplish by doing so. It seems to me that a lot of the hesitation about representation is about what the relationship will be between the group of workers and their representatives, and about the effects of that representative sub-group on the larger group or on the larger struggle. That's important stuff and worth being cautious about, and worth being skeptical/assuming that the results will be at best limited. I just don't think there's a single outcome for all situations here. (I also think that groups workers can represent themselves collectively to bosses, at least under some circumstances, without making some individuals into representatives. That would still be a decision to negotiate with capitalists and for workers to be represented under capitalism. I mention this because the way this originally came up I took the point to be one about how workers struggles shouldn't involve any negotiation with management at all, which I think is really unlikely to happen outside of a revolution or insurrection.)

Edit:
I'm personally more skeptical about the results when communists act as officers/staff/reps/stewards/etc than when communists act as more informal representatives or whatever. But again I don't think there's a single sensible answer like "always become a rep" or "never become a rep."I think there's a lot of different factors that can shape whether or not this is a good idea, depending on what's going on in the situation. I'd be keen to talk that out some more, like what are the sorts of questions that are useful for sorting out, in some particular situation, what the likely limits and opportunities are (and what the likely challenges/difficulties will be) when communists play these kinds of roles, as part of thinking through whether or not to take on a role like this at any given point.

Also, I think these two articles are relevant to some of this -
Phinneas Gage talking about when people become officers in unions
http://libcom.org/library/leadership

Stan Weir, Unions with Leaders who Stay on the Job
http://recomposition.info/2011/01/19/stan-weir-unions-with-leaders-who-s...

taxirank
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Feb 3 2013 20:40

A very related (but now finished) discussion to this one has been taking place here:

http://libcom.org/blog/no-jobs-no-workers-strange-contradictions-capital-accumulation-australia-01022013#comment-508227

This thread does seem to have drifted from the purpose of the OP slightly, in that talk is now in more clearly Garmscian/Trotskyist/Leninist terms in regard to the kinds of attitudes and actions 'revolutionaries' might take at work (see my earlier post). Nate's post expresses the concept of the United Front here most clearly.

Do we have a critique of the United Front here? The United Front was formulated specifically by Trotsky et al in response to an insurrectionist and economic determinist mode of struggle: that which was being advocated by the Left Communists.

What do we think about how theory here may be more in line with Trotsky than with those who opposed him?

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Feb 4 2013 02:55

I'll read that other thread but I really don't know what you're on about in the rest of your stuff. You're using super, super compressed/abbreviated terms in a way that presupposes a fair bit of expertise (a kind that I don't have on those terms).

taxirank
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Feb 4 2013 07:43

Yes, it is difficult to get these kinds of conjectures out without writing a ten volume book I suppose - so please forgive the way I have written about this stuff.

It is an important line of enquiry for us to pursue, I feel. And I think we should not just write it off because it may point to possibly 'embarrassing' ideological and practical connections, for example.

Harrison
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Feb 4 2013 09:21
Spikymike wrote:
The most important function of a pro-revolutionary group is to draw out the inevitable limitations of the everyday class struggle and the necessity of communism. Part of that is contesting the ideology and practice of trade unionism in both it's official and unofficial guises.

Whilst ultimately i agree with this, and would support at a high-er point (but way way before imminent communisation) of struggle the complete prioritisation of energies toward a break with trade unionism and (at an even higher point) wage increases, my views have developed in a way that I am personally of the opinion that (at least in the UK and most parts of the world) people are not presently combative enough to talk about these sorts of things.

Until we can get out of the current class rut and recompose the level of class sociality, classism and combativity necessary provide the environment (where we are not handed the environment on a plate, ie. Italy in the 1970s) within which to build the very high level of class organisation you describe, I personally think we need to prioritise to the utmost the achievement of these former 3 principles, and that it is necessary to engage with unionism as a method of work toward these goals. I personally believe it is possible to do this whilst developing class-perspective scepticism of trade unionism to prepare the way for a future progressive break with trade unionism, and positions a) and b) are no barrier to that, and should be taken if they will increase struggle in a given situation:

a) if necessary (ie. not always) the lowest of the low steward positions in broadly non-militant unions
b) any position in a militant rank and file controlled union (whether syndicalist or anarcho-syndicalist)

I personally think this scepticism can be developed at the level of organising practice*, by being able to carry out conversations relevant to how the legal union framework leads to self-policing of membership in order to survive the organisation over our interests, and that we should be prepared to bypass it when it does so. Similarly, if this is a legal rank and file controlled union, elements of it could be inserted at the level of official union material.* (only those elements that wouldn't lead to legal action against the union)

*in much the same way that an anarcho-syndicalist union uses these methods to assert libertarian ideology.

NB for clarity the word 'union' in this post refers strictly to those that are state-entangled - ie. a legal body conditionally permitted to exist by the state - but i accept it can be also applied to those that are dis-entangled.

taxirank
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Feb 4 2013 11:11

Harrison, what is your critique or response to this article:

]http://libcom.org/library/death-rank-filism

It seems that the debate here can become circular at two moments.

The first moment is where the issues contained within the article linked to above are not dealt with in detail by those who refuse to accept the conjectures of this article. (I'm not saying anyone has to accept the conjectures, just that if they don't, they should argue these conjectures down with detail, rigour and honesty.)

The second moment is when there is no consideration of the history of where certain modern cautious pro-union theory and strategy comes from. I say this despite your avowed intent to somehow encourage ‘scepticism’, which refers back to questions of means and ends (always a bone of contention within anarchism) and seems to amount to a policy not unlike, ‘Vote Labour without illusions’.

This is why I suggest that these ‘practical’ approaches to unions and to ‘class’, the building of a movement, resemble formulations developed by Lenin, Trotsky and Gramsci – and that they depart from the intuitions of those such as the Left Communists and all who famously suffered from ‘an infantile disorder’.

I have tried to explore this second moment in the connections I think exist between Leninist (or Gramscian or Trotskyist) praxis and pervasive thinking here in regard to class and the desire to create an alternative (revolutionary) ideology.

Thus I am interested in responses to both these problematic points.

Harrison
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Feb 4 2013 16:54

Thanks for bring that CWG piece to my attention, I will read it when i get time, because i find CWG stuff and anything Devrim feels worth posting interesting.

In response to your broader points:

If someone presented a left communist organising strategy that when tried and implemented and found to deliver as substantial results as properly strategised and well staffed syndicalism or anarcho-syndicalism can toward recomposing sociality, classism, and combativity in the short term, then i'm pretty sure i'd be won to it, but unless this occurs, i believe it is a waste of human efforts.

I think the suggestion that the word 'class' is inextricably tied to leninism is a very thin premise...

I'm not sure linking movement building to leninism is particularly helpful. I've already stated that i think a future break with trade unionism and wage struggles would be needed, and I would support the eventual creation of an AAUD-like federation, but something like this would first require rebuilding our sociality, classism and combativity before we can do this. Personally i think In the meantime, we need to find the most effective ways of rebuilding this, and syndicalism and anarcho-syndicalism present themselves as the most result delivering methods with which to do this.

(as a minor point i haven't really suggested 'movement building' anywhere, and personally i think i've been relatively subjective by talking about encouraging certain values within the class like sociality, classism and combativity.)

On top of this generally left communists don't oppose 'movement building', and if you look at the practice of the Italian operaista (ok they weren't left communist, but they are generally admired by left communists) turn against trade unionism in Italy late 1960s / early 1970s, they aimed to movement build and reaped some great successes. The majority of their work was toward the creation of federated base committees and struggling for their independence from the unions. Whilst conditions were favourable, they put in a massive load of work toward achieving their goals.. and ended up with one of the most highly communist series of strike waves in the post WW2 era, way more advanced than France 68.

To rubbish movement building is to completely renounce all human ability to effect change and to surrender to the whims of history. I can discuss with non-spontaneist strategies outside of the trade unions, but i'm very virulently opposed to spontaneist ideas that i find it hard to discuss with them, and sadly spontaneism seems to be the main legacy of situationism within communism.

Hope that was a fair response.

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Feb 4 2013 19:03
Harrisson wrote:
Italian operaista (ok they weren't left communist, but they are generally admired by left communists)

Just a factual comment, I don't think this is true at all. While many left communists may cite the example of 1960s/70s Italy when talking about interesting struggles, very few of them, I think, actually care about operaism as a theoretical approach. (The combination of operaismo and left communism is something like a trademark of a handful of groups at best.)

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Feb 4 2013 20:35
taxirank wrote:
Yes, it is difficult to get these kinds of conjectures out without writing a ten volume book I suppose - so please forgive the way I have written about this stuff.

It is an important line of enquiry for us to pursue, I feel. And I think we should not just write it off because it may point to possibly 'embarrassing' ideological and practical connections, for example.

For sure. Reading over my last comment I sounded really curt. That wasn't my intention, I was just in a hurry and multitasking (I was taking care of my kid, who was playing independently but that's still kinda distracting). Sorry I came off sounding rude.

Edit:
Harrisson, I liked your points about the recomposition of the class. It seems to me that the ideology/political ideas of the class are also really important (I assume you agree I just figure it's worth mentioning it more explicitly). In a blog post here - http://libcom.org/blog/struggle-changes-people-06012012 - I talked about this in terms of the morality of the class, as in it's important that people start to care about other people beyond their own group self interests. I suppose another way to put it would be that it's important for people to have lived experiences of solidarity and to begin to feel and care about (and try to act in) solidarity with others. I think this is connected to but different from issues of how combative the class is etc. I'm not sure if this relates to negotiations or not, maybe one way that it does would be about how radicals should oppose costs of negotiation (as in, giving up stuff) that undermine solidarity or narrow people's sense of who the 'we' is in a struggle.

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Feb 4 2013 23:21
jura wrote:
Harrisson wrote:
Italian operaista (ok they weren't left communist, but they are generally admired by left communists)

Just a factual comment, I don't think this is true at all. While many left communists may cite the example of 1960s/70s Italy when talking about interesting struggles, very few of them, I think, actually care about operaism as a theoretical approach. (The combination of operaismo and left communism is something like a trademark of a handful of groups at best.)

I agree in general with what you say here. But "at all" is a bit of a strong statement. For example, I would to some extend. And I know from discussing with some non-aligned left-communists of my generation (20-30 age bracket) that is the case too.

Ingersoll
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Feb 9 2013 17:47
taxirank wrote:
Is it the task of 'revolutionaries' to intervene in struggles in order to try to demonstrate effective tactical strategies as well as what these struggles really are and how they may well turn out? (Or is that an unhelpful thing to do to people who are trying to resist their exploitation and alienation?)

If 'revolutionairies' take on the responsibility of leading reformist struggles how does that affect them? Is it even possible for a 'revolutionary' to be described as a revolutionary if they are leading a reformist campaign?

Harrison wrote:
the way i see it all struggles under capitalism are basically reformist, its our task to engage with or start them in such a way that we build our social influence through work within them and bend aspects of them in such a way that we contribute to socially recomposing our class and increasing its confidence and ability to act independently, and also to carefully use this social influence to increase ideological hegemony

I would be more cautious when talking about "reformism" - it's a term for a current that has its historical context and meaning. It seems that here immediate demands are taken for 'reformism'. They are not. Reformism arised during the first and very successful reform struggles - and even here it is important not to confuse reformism with reform struggles. Reformism came as an expression of these struggles and their success, as a view that changes like those that can gradually transform the whole system. However, this tendency of old workers' movement and socialist circles of that time are not relevant for this day struggles. Reformism developed in workers movement, and what is today often called 'reformism' are union mistifications that are not an expression of some reform struggle but political manoeuvres of unions and parties - therefore, something coming from outside of workers movement.

Today, when the demand is being put for "no tuitions fees" or "against such tuition fees" it is actually said "we won't allow introducing the tuition fees" or "we won't allow the raising of tuition fees". So, we are defending ourselves from new attacks, not pleading for some political or economical reform. And considering the fact that these attacks are targeting working class as a whole in doing this we can't struggle effectively without direct, mass struggle and as a consequence of that very quickly losing the divide between "economical" and "political", between immediate demands and class interests (revolution). That's why today is the working class more than ever able to grasp its subversive nature.

So, there is no unbridgable contradiction between immediate demands and revolution. It's a starting point in a process in which we begin to recognize each other, unite, and pursue our own class interests. Revolution would be the outcome of the development of the working class movement itself, although there is no "strategy" or recipes for that.

But there is one more important question - can we engage even in these immediate level struggles through representation and union leader negotiations with bosses? While reformism is wrongly associated with immediate demands, what is here described as 'reformist' (union action, union leaders' negotiations) is actually a barrier to effective struggle on immediate level. I am active as a militant worker at my workplace (university) and I have never been in a situation to say "I'm not prepared to take on a position ... because to do so would be to endorse the social relations of capitalism" I was rather pushed to conclusions that we can't accept union divisions and union representatives if we are to continue our struggle, even on the most immediate level.

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Nate
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Feb 6 2013 07:07
Ingersoll wrote:
can we engage even in these immediate level struggles through representation and negotiations?

I don't know if there's a single answer for all times and places on this. At my work a few years ago a small group of us (like 2 or 3 of us) got a bigger group (like 5-7) to write a letter and get it signed by about 30-40 of us and hold a meeting with management over some proposed layoffs. We won on that, temporarily. A year later the same sort of thing stopped a 3 or 4% paycut, or rather, deferred and reduced it to about a 1% cut. Nothing stunning by any means, frustratingly modest results actually, though it did make a difference financially.

So for at least some workplaces I think it's not true that negotiating is

Ingersoll wrote:
a barrier to effective struggle on immediate level.

I also have a hunch that in the aftermath of successful struggles that don't involve existing channels of negotiation it's very likely that there will be either experiments with new channels or attempts to re-enliven old ones, or some combination of the two. I think that's part of why it's important that we be advocates of radical political vision in addition to advocates of direct action as the most successful way to win demands for a better life under capitalism.

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Feb 8 2013 13:12

Hi Harrison,

It is difficult to reply to your post because I am not sure what you are saying apart from

a) that you don’t actually approve of ‘movement-building’ – is this true?
b) that you disapprove of spontaneism

But I am not sure what you mean by either of these views.

There are two strands to this thread – one is the strand that is discussing the political origins and implications of certain attitudes and practices; and the other is the strand which accepts current practices with little reflection on questions of means and ends and entertains great hopes for the future creation of working class organisations.

The first strand is negative and the second, it seems, assures us of eventual victory. We have to keep hope alive. Otherwise we will have no recruits.

Ingersoll
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Feb 13 2013 01:18
Nate wrote:
I don't know if there's a single answer for all times and places on this. At my work a few years ago a small group of us (like 2 or 3 of us) got a bigger group (like 5-7) to write a letter and get it signed by about 30-40 of us and hold a meeting with management over some proposed layoffs. We won on that, temporarily. A year later the same sort of thing stopped a 3 or 4% paycut, or rather, deferred and reduced it to about a 1% cut. Nothing stunning by any means, frustratingly modest results actually, though it did make a difference financially.

So for at least some workplaces I think it's not true

There can't be a principle about negotiations as such (when I used the term, I meant union negotiations). I read the last posts once again and now I see that here what is being discussed are negotiations in general (Nate talked about something that could be assembly delegates negotiations, and I talked about union 'negotiations'). Possibility of negotiation for reforms is a separate point. Also, union negotiation is another one. But if we are talking about negotiations in workers struggle the point is that they have to be controlled by the delegates who workers elect so that a new union type specialism doesn't develop.

After this, I would say that it is important not to fixate small working places and isolated factories when discussing workers struggle. Current stuggles (and struggles through the whole of the 20th century) are not limited to one workplace and there is no big factory workers concentration anymore so it's not the good sample. Yes, in some small factory in Serbia (e.g.) workers will get their back-pay by petition or union action (and get isolated), but still in general and in every bigger strike workers are going to fail if they allow to be divided, lead by representatives and delegate all power to them. Again I say, when I think how workers can struggle I'm looking at major strikes that are fought at big workplaces and are going more territorial, not small workplaces and isolated factories.

Now, there is also one important point, if we demystified the whole thing about 'negotiations'. Once again, we should differentiate assembly delegates from union leaders. And also I would say, we shouldn't discuss from the position of some separate tendency, but as militant workers. If we are to negotiate without delegate being under workers' control, we are going to be opposed to workers, whether now or later. And if we do this so to make an 'anarchist' influence we are to surrender to traditional means of representation and specialised politics (see the next part of my post). Anarchism (or communism) as a fight against present conditions will arise within a workers movement itself, not within political arena and programs it offers.

Also, us (communists, anarchists) as being the most consequential militants will not neccessarily contribute advancing of class struggle. Communist organisations and circles, althouth at the end are expression of class struggle, will not neccessarily have important role in future struggles - they will rather be totally irrelevant for them. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't organise in ideological organisations to discuss and intervene, but neither it means that it will have some important role in the struggle (having such a role shouldn't be the reason for us (communists) to organise, but simply more coordinated and unified action which is just one moment in the development of struggle and ideas, nothing more than that).

Harrison wrote:
To rubbish movement building is to completely renounce all human ability to effect change and to surrender to the whims of history. I can discuss with non-spontaneist strategies outside of the trade unions, but i'm very virulently opposed to spontaneist ideas that i find it hard to discuss with them, and sadly spontaneism seems to be the main legacy of situationism within communism.

I think it's not the question of "human ability to effect change" and "the whims of history" in this case. What you described as 'spontaneist' is a result of debate in most advanced parts of the class, that were actually very close to total rejection of old dogmas ('historical materialism', 'marxsism' etc.) And tendency to "rubbish movement building" (or party building, which is essentially the same), if we look at the history of workers movement, came exactly from individuals and groups insisting on the centrality of human agency (what other than that 'spontaneism' could be?).

Considering the fact we are talking about a mass, direct action, not "ideology" or "objective conditions", the claim that to reject ideas about movement/party building by insisting on the spontaneus character of mass struggle is to "renounce all ability to effect change and to surrender to the whims of history" I can't understand different than "that to count on human ability to effect change means to surrender to the human ability" - therefore, an absurd tautology. Rejecting the idea of movement/party building is rejecting the idea that some group or individual, as leaders and a part of politics, could make radical change, not that masses (throught direct action) could make that change.

That's why I would pose this question differently - do we need to work on a new voice in politics (which is, I would say, 'building the movement') OR to contribute to the raising of class consciousness.

PS I wouldn't say there is any left communist "strategy" - 'left communism' is a name for circles developed during the war and post-war period, one of the few actions in that period that aimed to give a more conscious expression to that-day struggles (and nothing more than that), not some ideology or a new "strategy". Views on trade unions and parliamentarism described here as 'left communist' were actually (on a basic level) shared by all militant workers.

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Apr 7 2013 16:25

Bump.

Steven, if you still think you might have the time, would really like to hear your thoughts on this comrade, and what any others have to say too... I think the question of how we relate to our fellow workers and deal with management is crucial (obvs)

edit: getting anonymous downs is such a downer. In response to the down, wasn't trying to pressure anyone to post on the thread. Or trying to resurrect it if it's run its course or whatever (have to confess I'm finding some of the posts difficult to understand). I only mentioned Steven because he had intended to post something when the thread was active and I often find what he posts to be easy to understand and thought provoking.

Personally I'm still struggling with whether sometimes its useful to 'win one for the workers (as a rep of some kind, official, mandated or otherwise)' in terms of some material victory (even if we use legalistic or representative negotiating methods etc) as I do think situations occur when this is an alternative option to trying to take a more textbook non-hierarchical, mass-worker-led organising approach which might seem unlikely to succeed in many cases... I actually now disagree with some of what I posted and think often we should act as a rep (fighting on workers behalf)- to show the more cynical or less inclined to fight of our class that it is possible to fight the boss and win... I was reminded of this thread after thinking about the following quote and finding it to not actually help me decide on one course of action or another in some cases that I was thinking about (hypothetical and real):

Quote:
Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.

It's probably obvious that I'm no expert, and still quite new to workplace organising from and libertarian communist perspective, perhaps in my next job I'll be able to test different approaches and what not but would love to hear from others for the time being.

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Steven.
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Apr 7 2013 18:33

TBH I was unable to come up with any structured thoughts on this… I'm conflicted, both theoretically and in practice due to my role as both libertarian communist and union rep.

My first instinct is to say that I think there are loads of people who want to negotiate (i.e. the vast majority of workers unconsciously want capitalism to be abolished but just want better working conditions/wages etc) - so we should let them do the negotiating. And as communists are job should be to constantly push forwards for more.

That said, on a practical level we may be aware that there is not the mood to push things further in a particular struggle, or a particular struggle is doomed because the balance of class forces is against us, so we would actually be better off accepting the situation for the time being.

On a personal level, I do engage in negotiations, but never agree to anything personally, I always run it by the members to get their approval or not. Whereas if I was not the union rep and let someone else do it they may not do this.

With the down votes, a good rule of thumb is not to pay any attention to low numbers of down votes like 1-3. One can easily be given by a troll, or by accident or whatever.

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Apr 7 2013 19:02

Cool, yeah, I think we're pretty much in agreement then. I certainly don't see my thoughts as structured smile but I'm definitely conflicted because I have seen outcomes I would class as victories for the workers that I can't imagine happening without that rep function, or even paricular rep (in the specific circumstances I'm thinking of, and probably lots of similar ones) but it just didn't seem to fit with the anarchist organising ideal (which also seems to make a whole lot of sense, except it sometimes seems overly idealistic when I encounter the apathy, disorganisation and cynicism of workers, and the power of management, and special skills of experienced reps IRL).

Quote:
On a personal level, I do engage in negotiations, but never agree to anything personally, I always run it by the members to get their approval or not. Whereas if I was not the union rep and let someone else do it they may not do this.

I think this ^ actually allays a lot of the concerns I have about libertarian communists occupying a rep role (of any type, except paid official, and maybe some others), particularly if it's combined with efforts at encouraging and helping workers to organise wherever possible (my impression of all of this is based on very little real experience, and mostly just observing and speaking to a very gifted rep/organiser).

Thanks for taking the time to post, hope you didn't mind that I asked you to.

I actually like the down function because it makes me think more about what I say and how I say it and usually I can see why the downs happen... will bear in mind that not all downs should be mulled over too intensely though, cheers.

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Steven.
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Apr 7 2013 22:24
A Wotsit wrote:
Quote:
On a personal level, I do engage in negotiations, but never agree to anything personally, I always run it by the members to get their approval or not. Whereas if I was not the union rep and let someone else do it they may not do this.

I think this ^ actually allays a lot of the concerns I have about libertarian communists occupying a rep role (of any type, except paid official, and maybe some others), particularly if it's combined with efforts at encouraging and helping workers to organise wherever possible (my impression of all of this is based on very little real experience, and mostly just observing and speaking to a very gifted rep/organiser).

Thanks for taking the time to post, hope you didn't mind that I asked you to.

of course I don't mind mate!

In terms of that comment allaying your concerns, it shouldn't completely because there are still other problems.

Especially the more senior you become as a negotiator. In my case I did this because you see other people doing it and think you could do a better job, especially as you plan to do it going just on what the membership decide - rather than making decisions yourself (i.e. acting as a delegate rather than a representative).

But I find there is a problem with this in that as a worker on the shop floor, as an individual you can agitate and organised amongst your colleagues trying to fight for more. Whereas in the negotiator position you have to worry more about what will be achievable, so if for example you are in a pay dispute where you have threatened to strike, you may suspect that actually the strike would fall apart (maybe you know some people voted in favour of action as a bluff), so when members ask your opinion (which they inevitably do of you as the specialist representative/negotiator), you have to be honest with them so maybe you say they may not realistically be able to achieve X so maybe

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A Wotsit
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Apr 7 2013 22:33

Thanks again Steven. I'm going to give this one more thought when I'm in a situation to actually get involved in workplace disputes! I'm also getting my head around some of the other posts (slowly) and finding lots of useful ideas- Gawd damn, I love this site