Rethinking Anarchism


Notes on the Nature of the Period
September 19, 2010, 8:54 pm
Filed under: Analysis | Tags: , , , ,

The political left is characterized primarily by a deep sense of pessimism of the ability of the working class to organize itself and win. In light of the long series of historic defeats of working class uprisings, this pessimism appears to be warranted. I would argue however that pessimism of the working class’ willingness to fight in the current period is deeply misplaced. I’d like to reflect a little bit on the current period, and try to illuminate some possibilities that are latent in the working class currently.

Capitalism is facing multiple crises right now. We are in the midst of a structural crisis of accumulation, which means that unemployment and poverty are increasing around the world with few exceptions. The United States as a superpower is in permanent decline, unable to maintain the kind of demand-side economics that allowed for post-war prosperity, and unable to gain access to sufficient credit to create bubbles of fictitious wealth that generated prosperity for the upper and middle classes. The US working class faces unending and permanent immiseration.

The US working class is largely disorganized and lacking experience in struggle. The trade unions are in near-total disarray, basically unable to defend their own members from the ruling class attack. They are in no position to organize the unorganized and mount a class-wide counterattack on capital.

Despite the lack of political leadership, the working class is angry and increasingly prepared to fight back. The few organizations that are open to militant workers, such as the IWW, are receiving a steady trickle of new members in the ones and twos. None of these organizations are really prepared to coordinate a massive organizing drive and push back against capital, either.

There is currently a massive vacuum of radical working class leadership. If radical left workers organizations do not step up and fill that void, demagogues like Obama or the Tea Party will continue to make political capital out of working class frustration.

The radical left needs to get organized- fast- and prepare massive organizing campaigns in all sectors of the economy as well as in the community. Angry workers will trickle into these organizations of struggle, engaging in small fights against the bosses and the government, and will set the stage for the next level of struggle. This is no time for dicking around. It’s time for action.



Archaeology of the Workers Movement
December 10, 2009, 8:55 pm
Filed under: Analysis | Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been slowly reading up on the history of the workers movement. I’m going chronologically, digging from the past to the present. I feel a bit like an archaeologist, unearthing the bones of terrifying beasts that roamed the earth during high points of workers struggle- the mixed locals of the Knights of Labor, the flying pickets of 1934, the Soviet, Soldiers and Workers Councils, the Commune, the Red Army of the Ruhrgebiet, the list goes on. All that is left of these proletarian monsters is their fossilized remains, crystallized in the amber of history books and buried in the tar of arcane dissertations. But are these creatures extinct? Or do their distant descendants continue to walk the earth, evolved, and perhaps transformed or even tamed by additional decades of struggle?

In reading about the forms of organization created by workers in moments of upheaval, I can’t help but notice certain organizational features that keep recurring, like a return of the repressed, whenever the proletarian movement is at its most dynamic.

What are these features that arise again and again in the class struggle, these weapons that the working class reaches for instinctively in its combat with the class enemy? First, from the Mixed Locals on down through the IWW and on to the Soviets and the alternative unions of the 1930s, we see that revolutionary workers tend to build organizations open to everyone in the class, unrestricted by trade, craft, nationality, and in their better moments inclusive of all genders. Revolutionary workers tend to favor direct action, establishing new standards of rationality based on their own class viewpoint, rejecting the property rights of the bourgeoisie. Revolutionary workers’ organizations are based on direct democracy, rather than representative democracy. Those who do are those who decide.

Taken together, these three elements are formidable weapons in the hands of the organized army of production. The bourgeoisie never hesitates to disarm the proletariat of these potent weapons as soon as the opportunity for a counterattack arises, seeking to co-opt the movement by demanding to negotiate with representatives, establishing compromises and agreements with certain sections of the class to break up class solidarity, and seeking to channel workers’ activity into bureaucratic, legalistic channels.

It is the task of class conscious workers in our own period to re-arm the proletariat with ideas for struggle and rebuild the army of production through a patient, careful work of organization. As we organize, we should draw upon the best traditions of the past, building direct-democratic, direct-action, class-wide organizations to carry on the revolutionary struggle against the capitalist class.

Maybe then, wild beasts of workers struggle will once again roam the earth.



The Battle of the Sandwiches: What does the bosses’ offensive look like?
December 6, 2009, 8:32 am
Filed under: Analysis, Random Shit | Tags: , , , ,

If you read stuff about the 1970s and 80s, there is a lot of talk about the “bosses’ offensive,” an aggressive attack on workers movements by capital.

A friend of mine from Italy told me that in 1977, the bosses and pro-boss workers (we call these people ‘scissorbills,’ because their words cut you) staged a march of several thousand people in opposition to the continued wildcat strikes, sabotage, and occasional kneecapping, kidnapping, or assassination of bosses in the plants of northern Italy. This action was sufficient to change the climate and turn the cultural tide against the workers’ insurgency.

In my own workplace, we have seen an ebb and flow of class struggle on a micro-level. Initially, when the union went public, the boss was so afraid of us that he would sneak in and out the back door of the store without us knowing. We actually had a hard time planning actions because we could never find the boss to make demands.

The company replaced our boss with a new, more authoritarian manager. She set about breaking the union. Many of our fellow workers quit of their own volition before the union-busting really started, so we were already weak when the boss went on the offensive against us.

How did our new boss attack us? The same way we attacked our boss. She picked a winnable issue- something that we cared about but that we would be unable to defend. An issue that would isolate us from our coworkers, where we would not have “common sense” or the moral high ground behind us. In this case, it was the day-old sandwiches. We used to keep the sandwiches we didn’t sell at the end of the night for the workers who would come in the next day to have for lunch. Since we’re all so damn poor, this small gesture of solidarity meant a lot- it saved us money, and sometimes meant we got to eat when we would otherwise miss a meal.

The boss took away our sandwiches and put a note in the back room instructing us that we were no longer allowed to keep the sandwiches.

We were outraged. She was taking food out of our mouths. Immediately, two workers confronted the boss and demanded we be able to keep the sandwiches, explaining how important it was to us, how we didn’t make enough money to buy lunch every day, and how upset all the other workers would be.

The boss had prepared an answer in advance. She said it was against health code to keep the sandwiches, and that her boss would not allow it. We went back and forth a bunch of times to no avail.

The next day, I packaged up the sandwiches and put them in a stapled-shut bag, labeling it for a coworker who worked the next morning. He got the sandwiches and shared them with others on his shift. This was a direct action, directly contradicting the boss’ wishes.

I got called in the back room the next day. I was informed that if I did this again, I would be written up. Two writeups and I would be fired.

What could we do? We could do another march on the boss. A strike? A picket? A phone-in? We couldn’t figure out how to escalate. Our coworkers were not comfortable openly disobeying the boss, especially with the legitimacy of “health code” behind her.

Our boss won. We lost the sandwiches. We did not have the organization we needed to defend ourselves.

This was the first defensive battle of a long retreat. Once you lose once, the effect can be devastating. People lose confidence in their ability to win and your organization crumbles. The boss gets increasingly brazen in their attacks.

But their brazenness generates agitation. You might have to bide your time, but eventually, the time will be ripe for a counterattack. It’s important to understand this dynamic in order to be able to beat back the bosses’ offensive, but also to be able to take the occasional loss in stride, pick our battles, and stay on the offensive more effectively.