The text below is my response to some replies to the above article, which was submitted by me for publication in the Anarchist Federation paper, Oragnise!, when I was a member (during 2000). It was never published. Hopefully you can get a full enough picture from my replies, without me having to scan in and send the original responses. Names have been changed to protect the guilty! (Names have become capital letters)
Replies to Responses to "What's it all about, Comrade?"
There were a few responses to this article, but not as many as I had hoped for, what do all the other members think? Will we ever know? I do not mean this in a sarcastic way, but in a practical way. As many of you are already aware, I am worried that the AF Membership numbers are made up by a "silent majority". This is no criticism of those members who do not "say" much in, or for, the organisation, but it is a questioning of just what the organisational principles of the AF are. Is the AF supposed to be a leadership of ideas amongst the working class, or is it just a leadership of ideas from the vocal members to the "silent" ones? This is a serious point.
X of Liverpool has been trying for some time it seems to raise the level of discussion in the AF. Apparently he had the idea a while back to suspend the organisational business for a while. I wasn't in the AF then so I don't know how the discussion of this idea went, but on reflection I think X had a great idea. Discussion needs to be approached in a practical way, you have to create the real space, organise it properly, get your thinking heads on, etc. There is no reason, it seems to me, why the AF couldn't suspend all "business" at all NDM's and Conferences for a year, in order to have discussions. The production of things like Organise! could continue as normal, for example. In the lead up to this year it would be important that as many Afers were encouraged to attend these meetings, send written contributions, and full notes and articles should be produced etc.
Another way that AFers can try to achieve that leadership of ideas role that we aspire to is for us to, for example, try to never go on a demo/whatever without a leaflet about the issue to hand out (rather than just selling the paper or giving away Res.). If we were all encouraged to write something for these occasions then not only would it be good practice for those who do not usually write stuff, but also it would naturally increase the level of discussion within the AF. The AF says that one of its roles is educational, if the AF can't even do anything about educating - in practice - even its own members then there isn't much hope. Every member of the AF should be able to write a leaflet where it is needed. Every member of the AF should be able to get up in front of people and speak common sense (I'm not talking about whole speeches here, just enough words to make a point well). If they can't then they should be learning these basic skills. If we can't do these things then how can we contribute to class struggle? (I am a naturally shy and weedy bloke from a working class background - and I don't have a professional job/career, usually I am a postie - with all the lack of confidence that that implies [get the violins out], and I have had to bite the bullet and get on with it. If an idiot like me can do it then so can you.)
Involving everyone in discussion is important. The AF has no "position" on recent events beyond what single writers for the organisation have written. So, on "anti-capitalism", the clearest expression of what it is implied that the AF thinks is my article of a couple of issues back in Organise (Workplace notes)(and how many of you agreed with what I said?), along with the two things by non-AF authors on Seattle, and the brief editorial comment. Similarly, while there has been no discussion (nationally) on the Palestinian uprising, the Resistance article on the subject becomes what the AF "thinks", to readers. This Palestine article should have provoked a response from RESISTANCE readers, many of our readers should have objected to quite a lot in it, but did they say so, or write in? If our comrades who read RESISTANCE think the thing is important they will be writing in to object, if they don't then they won't bother. Do we care? The debate on Globalisation that Z started seems to have ended with D's contribution in the IB (X did a "Big Flame" on it though). Was that all there was to say on the subject?
Anyway, onto my responses to the responses...
G's (Liverpool) response:
I think where we diverge on one of our approaches is in the field of "supporting" things. A lot of what I mean I have already explained in the article about "The Palestinian Uprising" in the last IB, and also in the leaflet on the fuel protests, also in that IB. The desire to take sides can often lead one straight onto the ideological terrain of the State, thus it is that, through ignorance, Schnews supported the bombing of Serbia. If we don't critique all movements, tendencies, events continually and with intelligence then we will lose our critical faculties completely and find ourselves merely always cheering from the sidelines, whether we are talking about demonstrations in Britain, or uprisings abroad. If we don't critique things properly then we risk perpetuating myths amongst those who read us, and letting ideas about leadership and nationalism off the hook again. This is what has largely happened recently with the Zapatista movement and Palestine. If we were on the ground in either of these places I'm sure our relationship to the "leaders" of these uprisings would be quite different to what we may give the impression in our possibly rah-rah cheerleading support. Should we not examine RTS? Many people who have had close contact with RTS are now disillusioned about them. If we are to have an impact on class struggle we have to intervene. Of course, many of you will call this "sniping from the sidelines", which is ironic because the AF is always at the sidelines of class struggle, although it occupies a more central position in the "political scene", which it purports to despise. Below is an email exchange that happened on the Afed list in January:
Y: "I don't want to debate endlessly with the left which is increasingly in a state of decay. Sure, it's worth doing but not as a central task. (I do it myself by the way) I don't think we've got a leftist attitude towards the greens/ ecological types, our analyses have been critical but from a standpoint of engagement with the issues, rather than from sniping from the sidelines."
Pete Post: "There is a general notion amongst anarchists that with this so-called "death of the left" that people will turn to anarchism as their first port of call, rather then, say, the SWP. Thus, the AF can expect large numbers of recruits (?!). But although the old organisations of the left are discredited this by no means implies that "leftism" itself is dead. It has reappeared in new guises. It has reappeared under the mantle of anarchism, as well as the ecology movement, or the new radical democracy. One of the big indicators of this is the resurgence of an anti-imperialist movement (i.e., support for national liberation struggles) which can be seen under the umbrella of "anti-capitalism".
This phenomenon needs to be critiqued remorselessly, something which the AF are reluctant to do, and something that is justified by not wanting to supposedly "snipe from the sidelines". This term seems to be used a lot to justify not making critiques, it makes it seem that there might, in fact, be no critique to be made in the minds of those who use the term - is popularity, then, our main concern?"
You (G) say: "So, it's OK, then, it's fine to go all out in support of a pocket of UK workers taking industrial action for nothing more emancipatory than a few extra quid in their pockets but it's not on, not the done thing, to voice support for a people in struggle who've already taken up the gun." We have to look at things in a deeper way than this. When we support workers taking industrial action in Britain, we have to be aware that these struggles are at the point of production, where class antagonisms are most clearly expressed. And our "support", whether it is from a distance, or whether we are actually involved, should never be slavishly uncritical. When we voice our enthusiasm for struggles in far off lands, like Chiapas, we should be quite clear that if we oppose the aims of the Zapatista leadership that we should say so, also that we can see how the workers in Chiapas will eventually have to oppose the aims of the EZLN (Zapatista Party), unless the EZLN defeats these workers or it never develops that far. In the same way as we oppose the Union leaders who often lead strikes. How much of the left and anarchists gave critical support to the IRA, as opposed to the actual workers, in Northern Ireland? How embarrassed are they now? Probably not very. From far off lands, like Australia, people like Gerry Adams are still considered to be "revolutionaries" by some anarchists (eg Angry People). Close up he don't look so handsome. What does Sub-Commandante Marcos look like from close up?
Lastly, it is important to do critiques, but it is often futile to merely criticise. I would never criticise the animal rights movement, for example, although I might critique it as the bourgeois, or irrelevant, tendency that I think it is (this is not to say that I am not hostile to cruelty to animals, by the way, as are most people in Britain).
Z's (Glasgow) response:
The big problem I have with Z's response is this assumption that I am saying, "don't bother doing anything, and revolutionaries are not important" (my word's not Z's). I'm not saying this at all, what I am saying is that the AF as a whole needs to have a reality check.
He says: "Sure, Pete is probably correct that the majority of the proletariat will remain non-revolutionary until the revolution comes, but is that any reason for us to refrain from engaging with working class people on a day to day basis?" And: "the only way we can do that [foster a generalised concept of libertarian opposition to capitalism] is by getting out there and getting our hands dirty."
The last thing I want to encourage is a refraining from engagement with the working class. This is why I advocate radicals getting jobs where workforces are belligerent (see the article I did for SUBVERSION some years ago, included here), not as "politicals" entering industry, but just so that people like us get a closer relationship to where the power of the working class lies. Now, if we do not put ourselves in that particular situation then we will find that most of our activity revolves around engaging with the "politicised layer" of society. There is nothing "wrong" with only being involved in this aspect of society, but it is a mistake to not realise it. The AF, as an organisation, is only involved in this layer of society.
When you imply that going on the street and handing out general political literature to "punters", or putting up stickers, is "getting your hands dirty", I just don't see it. In fact, I see the opposite, I see this sort of activity as alienating and completely safe. This is not an "engagement" with the working class, this is the minimum form of relationship possible. As you quite rightly (but inadvertently!) hint at by using the word "punter", this sort of activity alienates both the paper seller and the buyer (or the giver and taker). I have done this sort of thing plenty of times in the past, so I do know what I am talking about, by the way. What happens at the end of the day? We feel some sort of virtue for having shifted a few copies of something, we give up hoping for a response later, we have had a nice chat with our mates (unless you do it on your own), and we may have had the odd chat with one of the passers-by, probably an old ex-member of the SWP, who, although he doesn't completely agree with us, wishes us all the best. This is not what I consider a useful way to spend my time anymore, even though you state that without seeing a sticker you "would never have known the AF existed".
Giving out specific leaflets/texts about specific things to specific people is an entirely different matter, however.
Y's (London) response:
This one made me smile right at the start! Apparently I have "strong spontaneist leanings acquired at the feet of Cajo Brendel"! Now I'm sure that Cajo Brendel isn't the monster he is made out to be by Y, H and D (?) [I'm speaking with my tongue in cheek here], but maybe I am wrong, since I have only ever read his reply to Dave Douglass in the excellent pamphlet "Goodbye to the Unions" (also maybe the intro to Echanges et Mouvement). Of course I could have picked up the Cajo Brendel mindset through some sort of osmosis by reading others who are influenced by him, but I don't know. One of the things I disagree with Brendel about in the pamphlet is where he seems to misunderstand his own role, and potential role, as a commentator on current events, this perspective of his is criticised by me in my critique of Echanges in the last IB (NDM notes). One reason I never wanted to be a bourgeois is because that word is notoriously difficult to spell, the same goes for spontaneist...! On a more serious note what exactly is "spontaneism"? And if Cajo Brendel is one then why does he bother writing anything, or talking to anyone (this is where I think Brendel is confused in his approach), or have I misunderstood what you mean by spontaneism?
Y says I "totally deny the role of revolutionary groups and of agitation". Some of this has been addressed in my reply to Z, above. Do you really think I do this? I thought I was arguing for greater effectiveness of agitation amongst the working class and amongst our political fellow travellers. I think agitation is best performed in specific situations, not in a general, unfocussed way. My point is that we should be looking to be more effective, to get more returns for our efforts (to use a crap metaphor). Not only would this be useful, it might help save us from that disillusionment and burn-out so common amongst people like us. Where did I "totally deny the role of revolutionary groups", why was I in Subversion, why did I rejoin the AF? I do think that revolutionaries need to work together far more closely, and to formalise their relationships in certain ways, this is what I have always argued (it's why I put forward the name "Organise!" when we decided to ditch "Virus", although now I dislike that name and would like it if "Virus" came back) and don't I argue it in the article?
Y asks what I mean by "professional revolutionary", I'm sorry if this has caused confusion, I thought I had made it clear by also saying "long-term revolutionary", but without going back to the text I wrote I can't be sure. What I mean is simply someone who calls themselves revolutionary over a long period of time, so it is all the longtime members of the ACF for example, people like you and me, Y. It is not meant as an insult, just a shorthand way of describing the people who hang around in our circles for a longish time.
Y says "Shame on you. Pete!" for saying "the disastrous way that the [Spanish] governments had been handling events for many years". I first thought you were being deliberately uncomprehending here, but maybe not. Of course, by this phrase I am describing the fact that the governments had failed to act in their own best interests, they had helped perpetuate an unstable situation in the Spanish economy and the political arena (dictatorships and political disasters are not a good sign of the government handling things well on their own terms - eg making the CNT illegal in 1920 was probably one of many tactical errors on the part of the government). What would I be doing in the AF if I thought that there was a positive role that government could fulfill for the working class? You know me better than that, Y. Your "shame on you" is unkind, ungenerous and completely wrong. We all need to read things carefully before we decide to climb up on our high horse.
I didn't think your analysis of France 1968 made anything other than the point that I was trying to make about it being brought about by economic and political instability. As you point out none of the intelligent people around such groups as S ou B, R et N, or the Situationists thought the conflagration was coming, but I think the reasons it happened in France rather than England was due to the more precarious economic and political situation that existed in France, and also luck, of course. Britain must have come closest to some sort of general insurrection when Edward Heath and the Tories were unexpectedly voted in at the General Election in 1970. This whole event was probably mishandled by those in the ruling class who probably orchestrated it to a degree, sections of the British ruling class (and of course, in the USA) had an unfounded fear that the Labour government under Wilson would "do something silly" because of the pressure from the working class, and the unions who were trying to contain working class discontent. In the long run the Conservatives actually had to abandon government and let Labour take control again. Now, if Labour had stayed in power maybe this working class threat would have been controlled much better. As it was, even Labour couldn't do that much of a good job at that late stage, so it was left to the Tories under Thatcher to take revenge on a working class that had got out of control, this could have been risky but, whatever the risk was, it paid off for the British ruling class, and a compliant, defeated workforce was created.
So Britain had this background, but France had all the things you mentioned, plus a peaceful coup and the after-effects of a war in Algeria, and the immediate after-effects of a long war in Vietnam. The French ruling class made more mistakes than the British one, but after 1968 they made certain that future mistakes would be kept to a minimum.
Your raising of the issue of whether the obligation on the State to allow the mass sale of radical journals in France and Italy has an effect on militancy there is interesting. I think maybe it does. The thing it seems you have overlooked though is that of course if the libertarians have this access then so do all the other groups who call themselves radical. In France there does indeed seem to be a greater level of political discussion in all levels of society, apparently at present Marx is becoming fashionable again amongst intellectuals who talk on the radio and TV, but without his subversive elements of course. Yes, the libertarian movement is bigger over there, but so are all radical parties and groups, apart from those that could be described as communist or ultra-leftist, what-have-you, interestingly. Anyway, does this generalised access to political opinion lead to greater militancy on the part of the working class, or is it the other way round? Is it a hang-over of working class activity that has meant that laws that mean that you can distribute your magazines all over the place have been kept in place (when did this law appear anyway? This is definitely an interesting phenomenon to examine and should be written about, and you're the expert here Y). Or is it the result of a general freedom of expression that has been instituted for a long time in these countries, going back to their bourgeois revolutions? Also it must be remembered that both these countries had first hand experience of fascism, so maybe the freedom of expression promoted there is part of that fear of fascism amongst intellectuals and law-makers? Also it is the case that next to these political magazines are far more pornographic magazines, so maybe the ease of distribution there is maintained by the big publishers? Maybe it is just a tradition? Maybe it is allowed because the State and ruling class does not see these political publications as a threat? It does seem true that different sectors of society in France and Italy do tend more to take to the streets in spectacular fashion whenever they have a grievance, but are their industrial relations really much different than to those in Britain? I don't know.
The point I would like to make is that although the libertarian movement is bigger in those countries is it a communist movement, or an anarchist communist movement, or is it a factor in the social democratic movement, a feature of the left? As one former anarchist has put it: "Anarchism only ever had one role and it was not to take on capital or the state, it was instead to exist as a current within the socialist movement and describe the role of the individual. As there is no revolutionary socialist movement the purpose of anarchism is up for consideration, but it is certain that there can never be an independent anarchist movement". In history, where anarchism has been "bigger" than "socialism" (eg Spain/CNT/FAI) it has always been the case that anarchism has done the job that socialism would have done if its parties/unions had been ascendent at that time. This is no criticism of militants, or even a criticism of the CNT. I do not criticise the CNT, I don't think the CNT got anything "wrong", what I do think is that some observers of the CNT and FAI have misunderstood just what these organisations were. Also I think, of course, that the working class in Spain in the 1930's made a collective mistake, because they too misunderstood what the CNT was, and they let the social democratic principles of the CNT over-ride the real revolutionary things that they were actually doing. The revolution in Spain was defeated when the workers decided to fight the civil war instead of fighting for the revolution, not when the May events happened, or when leaders of the CNT entered the government. Whether you like the phrase or not, the truth is that in Spain a dictatorship of the proletariat was actually forming, but it was defeated by democracy. It wasn't defeated by arms, it was defeated by the superior ideological forces of democracy. These forces were deep in the CNT, in "the organisation" as well as in the members, as well as elsewhere.
As Spain shows, councilist power does not always succumb to an external 'villain' conveniently played by the Noskes and Trotskys of the world; the councils can defeat themselves if they fail to take the offensive and establish their authority everywhere. The modern proletariat will avoid the fate which befell revolutionary Kronstadt or Barcelona only through an awareness of the immensity of the task which awaits it. The exemplary actions of the Spanish councils and militias could not compensate for the failure of the Spanish proletariat to perceive the obstacles which still remained in its path. The radical history of the future will be conscious or it will be nothing. (From Point Blank!, US journal of 1972).
The immensity of the task is what revolutionaries will constantly point to, now and in insurrectionary events. This is what revolutionaries will be doing, but they will only be able to do it, to make sense, when the working class have already started the collective work of transcending their position as wage slaves. So, this is what we do in an industrial dispute, for example, and also when we have seized our territory. This does not mean that we have to say to fellow strikers that if we don't now go on to world revolution immediately then we will be defeated, it means that we point out all the pitfalls that face us, and all the enemies that lie in our path. We say, if you don't do it yourself no one else will, and a half-made revolution is always drowned in blood. (Of course, I'm not saying the AF doesn't say a lot of these things already). The point of the leaflet about the fuel blockades that I helped produce (last IB, Some Notes Concerning Future Proletarian Insurgencies) was to show where power lies and where defeat lies. Forgetting the ideology, or class, of the protesters who picketed the fuel depots, the protest was interesting because in a simple and clear way it described a perfect arc between power and effectiveness at the beginning and powerlessness and ineffectiveness at the end. The protest was a neat lesson. Once the protesters appealed to democracy, they were finished.
Anyway, enough on that.
At the end you mention that some revolutionaries have become affected by Thatcherism etc and feel that the mass of society are gripped under the spell of consumer society and apathy. For the record I don't think like this at all. I think the power of "consumerism" is highly over-rated. I don't think people are "apathetic", I think they usually respond to certain situations in certain ways. Our ruling class wants people to believe that people are apathetic, and the media plays a big part in promoting this story, and indeed lots of radicals have fallen for this nonsense, along with ditching a lot of class analysis. I have often criticised this tendency amongst radicals. (Have you read "Fragile Prosperity.." by Curtis Price, on the CAN website? I disagree with some of his conclusions, but he shows that industrial struggle in the US is alive and well, given the adverse circumstances at present.)
D's (Central Scotland) response:
Yes, I put simplistic models up in the article, because I thought they contained elements of truth that people would be able to recognise, I'm no great writer of complex stuff like this, that's for sure.
Just a couple of comments here. Your line about the Zapatista's/EZLN worried me slightly. You said: "And for the record, the ACF/AF have never been guilty of sycophancy regarding the Zapaitista's (see O! #34)". To me this looks a bit like an organisational defensiveness that is trying to deny a possible larger ambivalence amongst members of the AF. Obviously I don't really know, and this is just my opinion, but I would honestly suspect that not every member is as clear about the role of the EZLN as you seem to suggest. There is a divergence between what appears in Organise! and what the whole membership think. To say that the AF has never been sycophantic (this might not be the best term) towards the Zapatista movement is really only to say that such a sycophancy has never appeared in Organise! How much discussion about the events in Mexico has gone on in the AF? As C (Oldham) has said recently on the AFed internet list:
In Subversion we used to have big debates about centralisation.M. used to argue that it was a good thing. Before you go into shock, I think we need to be clear what was meant. He meant it in the sense of developing a coherent set of political ideas which the group collectively adhered to. I have always thought that this was what Platformist anarchists wanted too. It's just that they called it federalism. Certainly I believe it's what the AF should try to do. I find it depressing that so much of our delegate meetings are spent on the business of maintaining an organisation and so little is devoted to political discussion.
On the CNT-FAI again. The point I am trying to make with my comments on this period in Spanish history is that the same things happened in other countries, but without a specific anarchist organisation, that is, there was a revolution, there were councils, there were factory committees, etc. The working class made these things possible (who else can?) not the CNT, or the Bolsheviks, or the SPD, although a lot of the militants were of course members of these organisations. And in each case the workers went beyond the organisations by their actions, and found themselves at odds with the organisation, although they may only have realised this later. During the May Events in Barcelona the insurgent workers, resisting the final forcible disarming that the CNT had pursued through peaceful methods, found that they could not regain the initiative, that they had let things go too far. When I said that the "Spanish revolutionary period of the 1920's and 1930's proved itself to be against the CNT", I meant in the final analysis, that is, from the perspective of looking back we can see how the interests of workers and revolutionaries were going to be opposed to what the CNT-FAI actually did, even long before 1936. But the AF knows this, surely D?
You wonder whether I use the slogan "Long Live the World Revolution!" with irony. No I don't. Although you could accuse me of being sentimental by using it. I use the term because somewhere, long ago, I read of a, or some, German revolutionaries who were executed at the time of the revolution there. They called out, "Long Live the World Revolution!" before they died. The revolution is not dead, and one day it may become complete. We have a part to play in this process.
My message is not, as you say: "business as usual and it'll be alright on the night." My message is the opposite of this, I am arguing for greater effort from people who call themselves revolutionaries, greater mental and physical effort. I am saying that what we do must be handled with urgency and passion. I am saying that some things may be a waste of time and effort and that others things might be what we should concentrate on, in order to be more effective and more intelligent. I never said we had to "sit back and wait for capitalism to crumble", there is plenty to do and it is ongoing, but I did say that we have to be realistic about what events are needed before capitalism will start crumbling.
Of course, I have not answered every point raised, just what I thought got to the crux of the discussion. I do not expect people to be convinced by my arguments, but I do hope that they will be thought about seriously. I think that it would be worth everyone reading my article again, and the IB responses, especially in the light of what I have said here. I apologise if I haven't answered particular points that people brought up that they might have hoped I'd answer, but I will be happy to do this privately. There was a lot to cover, and I probably haven't done that good a job in making my case clear, so I would ask you to read everything carefully.
Pete Post, 8th January 2001.
[Below is a text I prepared for a meeting of the Anarchist Federation.]
The text below was the bones, or starting point, of a discussion that was supposed to be held at the National Delegate Meeting (of the AF) but time ran out and there was no formal discussion. This was not really supposed to be a text to be read, but was supposed to be the basis of things I had to say. It was decided, however, to include it with the minutes anyway, so that everyone could get an idea of how the discussion would have started, if not finished.
Echanges et Mouvement, from their tentative Basic Principles:
"In capitalist society the true contradiction is not one of ideas - revolutionary, reformist, conservative, reactionary, etc. - but one of interests. No kind of will or desire can overthrow commodity production or abolish the wage system. This will only break down as a result of class struggle arising from the very position of the working class in the system of capitalist production.
According to a widespread opinion "class consciousness" and "unity" are seen to be the main and necessary conditions for what is considered as "revolutionary behaviour" or as "working class action". This view overlooks or misinterprets how action and consciousness are influencing each another. Workers don't act as a "revolutionary class" because first of all they are or become "conscious" of what they want. "Unity" is not a precondition for, but is created in and as a result of struggle. Workers are a "revolutionary class" because their position as a class inside the capitalist system makes it inevitable that the mere defence of their own interests brings them into direct opposition to the fundamentals of the existing order. Such struggles are fought continuously in the factories and elsewhere, and potentially they are revolutionary.
The development of class struggle with all its changing forms is therefore far more important than the development of the so-called "revolutionary movement", regardless of the meaning given to this word.
The break with any form of exploitation or political practice and thought (reformism, etc.) is not a matter of theoretical discussion and conceptions but a matter of class struggle and workers' practice, a practice which is the result of their daily conditions of exploitation."
Pete's comment on this:
The problem with this approach is that it is too polite and it neglects the concrete role of (sympathetic) left and revolutionary individuals and groups in the run up to moments of intense class struggle and revolution. In this text Echanges have seemed to not really understand what they are doing practically and what practical effect they might have. It is clear that their journals are only read by those who might understand them, that is, a thin scattering of radicals across various countries. Their journals are read by people who are like themselves, and not by the working class in general or even by the workers involved in the struggles that Echanges report and analyse. Echanges are dead right about how the working class becomes revolutionary, but they seem to fail to acknowledge the role of their readership and themselves and the role that those who might understand what they are going on about could have in present class struggles and future ones.
Because their modesty forbids them to give this scattering of radicals, themselves included, of course, any real importance in the development of events they fail to see, or explain, just what it is they are doing, or think they are doing. Of course, they are right to understand that they have no (or extremely little) effect on class struggle in the present time, but their modesty seems to have led them to deny the role that they do have and might have.
What we have to understand is that the effect that we have on (sympathetic) left radicals (that is, the only people who are able to listen to us) is very important because, whether we like it or not many of these individuals will come to the fore in times of revolutionary upheaval. This will be due to their prolonged interest in "changing the world, their knowledge of what might happen in certain situations and their general silver-tongue-edness. Thus it is most important and a matter of constant urgency that we engage this disparate group in dialogue in order to get as many of them as possible to ditch their leftist/liberalist/statist/managerial, etc, convictions and take on revolutionary positions. This process of development must be done by engaging people both on paper (in journals) and at discussion meetings, and also in areas of practical struggles. We should also be engaging with our fellow workers in struggles at our workplaces, we will be listened to in these situations.
X's questions, which he put in the AF Internal Bulletin to think about, and some quick replies from Pete Post:
What can we do to increase levels of struggle that we are not already doing?
The same old things: more effort, more critiques, more handles on the facts, more involvement with the workers in "key economic sectors" (i.e., any industry where trouble is frequent), etc. But we mustn't delude ourselves into thinking that all these different struggles (movements, strikes, etc) will accumulate and make a revolution while capitalism remains strong. There is no evidence for this thesis, and delusions like this can lead to madness! Capitalism will have to be in a state of confusion and collapse before the accumulation of struggles take on a revolutionary character.
One thing we have to take into account, slightly separately, is something anarchists talked about some years ago, this is that with the "death" of "socialism" and "leninism" the only radical alternative was anarchism. Maybe we are seeing the results of these developments today, but although "anarchism" has gained a higher profile lately does it mean that those who have "turned to anarchism" (i.e., not fallen in with the likes of the SWP in their first step) have gone beyond the old Leninist positions on stuff like national liberation, the trades unions, and reformism? Or is it the same old hard-core who hold these positions?
Can the revolution only be won in the workplace?
The economy has to be destroyed in order for a revolution to take place. The economy will be destroyed when the workers stop producing surplus value, and when the laws of value and exchange are eliminated. For this to happen we have to take collective ownership of all the means of production. "The revolution" may come from "anywhere" but it is at the point of production that it will be won, or lost.
Is there a post-materialist argument for revolution the masses will embrace?
What does "post-materialist" mean? The masses will embrace nothing ideologically except for the ideology of the ruling class. Only in action will the hold that the ruling ideology has over the working class begin to falter, it is only in moments of rising class struggle that workers will collectively embrace the ideas that are in their own best interests. We can see this historically in big events as well as in minor moments of class struggle.
Can we really be both ahead of the masses and of the masses?
We are never ahead of the masses; we are always behind them. Revolutionaries have analysed society and where the enemies of the proletariat are located, this information allied with our active involvement should be an aid to any revolutionary situation, or any situation of class struggle we find ourselves involved in. If "we" were ahead of the masses then it would be revolutionaries who were always going on strike instead of "the masses".
What role can we play to turn 'anti-capitalism' into 'anarchist communism?
By being there and acting decisively when there is a revolution. The working class will naturally begin to organise themselves in a communistic fashion in the run up to a revolutionary event, because they will need to. Just as in moments of non-revolutionary class struggle workers use communistic forms of organisation, e.g., temporary non-hierarchical collectives of people drawn together to achieve specific aims. Revolutionaries will find themselves defending these collectivities against usurpation from authoritarian and pro-capitalist tendencies, but not when or if the collectivity ossifies and becomes useless for various reasons.
Can we grow beyond our present size and strength (politically, organizationally etc)?
Maybe not, but we must try to get as many radicals to develop revolutionary positions as possible. We will find, of course, that we become much more influential when there is a significant period of social instability, this will be because a lot of radicals will suddenly make that one more bit of theoretical effort, and listen to us, etc. [During a revolution groups like the AF will (or should!) disappear into the organisational forms thrown up by the imperatives of the insurrection. In this sense, we (or a group like the AF) are not revolutionary in the present time, but pro-revolutionary. We will only become revolutionaries effectively, during a revolutionary situation, and the only revolutionary organisations will be those which appear for specific tasks during these events.]
Is the current wave of anti-capitalism truly revolutionary?
No, but it may play a part in a revolutionary situation should one develop, that is, if there is an economic and political crisis.
What's wrong with the working class of Britain/Europe?
What's wrong with them is that they are working class!! But the implication of your question is that they need to improve themselves intellectually and otherwise in order to get to "our" level. The working class does not get radical like this.
Can the issues being raised in the Third World (poverty, disease, authoritarian government, the land, pollution, rising inequality whatever) be used to rouse or mobilize the working class here (is there a common agenda)?
These issues are always used to defeat autonomous radical thinking in the working class, by encouraging more ruling class ideology (for example, they promote the ethos of charity, "third worldism" and things like support for the bombing of the working class of Serbia, like "Schnews" did[?]). In this context the only thing that will help mobilise the working class of one country is the revolutionary actions of a working class in another country, but for this to happen the first country must also be in a "revolutionary crisis" (i.e., economic and political calamity) anyway.