Rethinking Anarchism

A Gap in the Theory: Mass Work and Anti-Oppression Work
July 31, 2009, 4:46 am
Filed under: Analysis | Tags: , , , ,

I organize unions. It’s what I do. It’s simple and unglamorous. It usually goes something like this: I talk to a coworker, or a worker who works in another workplace. I find out they have problems at work or problems that are caused by work. We discuss these problems and think about ways to bring their coworkers together to put pressure on management to fix these problems. I try to do this in a way that builds class unity and hatred of the boss.

Some of my activist friends think that what I do does not address oppressions based on race, gender, or other forms of identity. They think that what I do is basically a way of  “escaping” from my own white male identity, as if I’m somehow “slumming,” just pretending to be a regular workaday guy for a littiel while until I go to grad school. This is pretty insulting, but there is a real theoretical question buried in the uncomprehending activist bullshit.

What is the relationship between mass organizing and anti-oppression organizing?

There is a gap in the theory here. Marty Glaberman writes about “Black Cats, White Cats, Wildcats,” telling us that in the struggle against the boss, racism often evaporates. But there’s more to it than that. What about the struggle against racism itself? Can we only fight racism when struggle against the boss erupts? Is it possible to fight the boss as the boss, and fight racism (and sexism, and homophobia, and so many other oppressions) as its own system of oppression? Is this what we need to do?

In my own experience, I have found that building mass organization is a powerful way of building solidarity across all kinds of lines of difference in the working class. But the question remains: what is the relationship between mass work and anti-oppression work?

This theoretical gap is not likely to be filled by corporate liberal “anti-oppression” trainings. Let’s get thinking. We need to find our own solutions.


Review: “Soldiers in Revolt” by David Cortright
July 16, 2009, 6:35 am
Filed under: Books | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Soldiers-revoltWhen the Industrial Workers of the World was founded in 1905, there was almost no public sector. These were the days before Keynesianism. Lenin hadn’t written about imperialism yet. There were no Bolsheviks, the authoritarian left was but a vicious glimmer in an intellectual’s eye. The Second International had not yet collapsed. In this political climate, the workers movement swelled, launching continual offensives against the bosses.

This is supposed to be a review of a book about GI resistance during the Vietnam War, right?

Dammit, I’m getting there, OK? Many people on the left believe that while the Wobblies and maybe the CIO were well and good in their day, these days revolutionary opposition must come from outside the system. They look to indigenous peoples, to “deep ecology” and nature. They look to the Third World proletariat. When they look at those in the emloy of the state, the public sector and the repressive apparatus, they see a monolith. When they look at capitalism, they see corporate logos.

Where they merely see “the enemy,” we see people and a site of struggle. We see an opportunity for subversion at the system’s most critical points.

David Cortright’s “Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War” demonstrates once and for all that society is not a monolith, that there are contradictions within the system that can lead to the development of revolutionary consciousness in the system’s very core. There are cracks in the edifice. In a careful study, Cortright traces the evolution of GI resistance to the Vietnam War from early, “vote with your feet” tactics like desertion, to the development of politically sophisticated GI organizations and soldiers unions. Often under the influence of radicals who entered the armed forces to organize, the US military was rocked by rebellions, combat refusals, and mutinies. This organized resistance was underscored by widespread unorganized resistance and massive drug abuse and disaffection in the ranks.

The breadth and depth of GI resistance led to a breakdown of the armed forces in Vietnam, leading to the defeat of the US invasion. The US defeat wouldn’t have happened without the courageous sacrifices of the NLF and Viet Cong in their defensive war, but without the refusal of troops to serve in Vietnam, it’s likely that the US would have continued to bomb the country until there was literally nothing left. The unreliability of US armed forces was critical to the defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam.

Cortright also explains how this defeat led to the development of a more high-tech, less personnel-heavy force, and the development of the US military strategy of proxy warfare and bombing lasting from the end of the Vietnam War to present. Already in 1970, the Pentagon was developing plans for unmanned aerial drones.

Finally, Cortright closes the book by examining the re-emergence of GI resistance during the Iraq War. While most of the anti-war movement has focused on intensive protest mobilizations targeting politicians, few organizers (save have considered the potential of organizing within the military. Even fewer (perhaps none) have considered joining the military in order to organize. History tells us that by ignoring this arena of struggle we miss a great historical opportunity. The state is not a monolith. Let’s plant seeds in the cracks in the edifice, and bring the whole fucking thing down.