Rethinking Anarchism

Archaeology of the Workers Movement
December 10, 2009, 8:55 pm
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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.


What We Say We Are
May 16, 2009, 12:33 am
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There is a gap between what we are and what we say we are. This is the gap between reality and representation. The reality: we are a collective of workers seeking to undermine the very foundations of the capitalist system. The representation: we are the oppressed, seeking gradual reform within the system, making use of the provisions of liberal democracy to better our lot in life.

We seek tactical allies. Priests, politicians, cops, lawyers, liberals, and bureaucrats come to our aid. We do not turn them away. We polarize society against one boss after another, dividing and conquering the ruling class. This is the air war, the corporate campaign, the liberal cause.

We build our strategic base. Workers unite on the job and in the community. We build our power. We reach a tipping point. The proletariat comes into its own. We take off the training wheels and ride. We turn the world upside down. This is the ground war, the revolution itself. The reality destroys the representation. We lose our allies and win the war.

There are dangers to this strategy. We can mistake the representation for reality. We can become dependent on our allies, the means altering the ends. We can lose our best people to our tactical allies. Nevertheless, as we rebuild our power, we must use every weapon available against the bourgeoisie, including their own.

There is more to be said about this. Particularly about the subjective effect on workers of winning struggles largely through corporate campaigning or NLRB process. I wanted to get a few thoughts out there to help me sort through this stuff. I’m also not so sure that building community coalitions with liberal groups or bureaucratic organizations is the right way to go, although it’s hard to imagine organizing these days without doing so.