Rethinking Anarchism

Building the Army of Production
December 12, 2010, 6:21 am
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“The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown.”

-Preamble to the Constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World

Since the beginning of the labor movement, we have used military metaphors to describe our struggle against the capitalist class. In many ways, the fight we are engaged in really is a class war- workers fighting bosses. At times, the class struggle has even developed into an armed struggle. However, class war usually differs from actual war in one crucial respect. In a conventional war, two fully-formed armies meet on the battlefield. Strategy is a matter of planning battles. In the class war on the other hand, only the capitalist class has an army. Organizing means building the workers army, the army of production. Our army is inherently stronger because of our position in the system of production. Our task is to organize this power. The bosses seek to prevent us from doing this through a permanent counterinsurgency operation. In this blog post, I’d like to lay out a few ideas on the current state of one particular organizing effort, the IWW, and propose some next steps for building the army of production.

In year 2010, the IWW is once again feared by the capitalist class as a fighting union. Wobblies on shopfloors across the world deserve to take a minute to congratulate themselves, we are a threat again. But our work is far from done. As far as we have come, there is a long road ahead of us. We need to reflect on how we have come this far, and plan out our next steps.

Our successes in the last few years were built on a foundation that was laid over the last decade. At a time when the labor movement was at a low ebb, disoriented by the realities of globalization and the service economy, a handful of visionary workers picked up the banner of the IWW, and began organizing their own workplaces. The results were mixed, but lessons were learned. Now, we have distilled the lessons we have learned about shopfloor organizing in to a coherent training so that they can be easily passed on to others. With the help of our organizer training program, our campaigns start out leaps and bounds ahead of where we were ten years ago. With a mastery of the nuts and bolts of organizing, our organizers are capable of waging struggles against the bosses, sometimes involving hundreds of workers.

So what is the next step, and how do we lay the foundations for it now?

We need to build on our strengths, and eliminate our weaknesses. That means getting better at building Wobblies, developing workers who come to us out of an interest in organizing as leaders in the workplaces. It also means getting better at winning our fights against the bosses. These goals have component parts we can work on:

1) Initial contact. Workers have to be able to find us when they are looking for an answer to the problems they face at work.

2) Training and Support. We need to be able to coach workers through the steps of organizing. This is easiest when we have someone geographically close to them, and someone who knows their industry or workplace very well.

3) Fighting the bosses. Beyond the nuts and bolts of organizing, we need to be able to bring overwhelming pressure to bear on the bosses so that we win our fights. This means having a better organized, faster, bigger, and more creative organization.

4) Membership development and retention. We need seasoned organizers to stick around, become senior leaders in the union, and help develop another cohort of organizers. This means that we need to have a healthy, supportive internal culture.

I have three proposals for strengthening the union in these areas.

1) Functional branches. We need to incubate branches of the union in all the major cities so that workers everywhere will have someone to turn to when they decide to fight back. We should strengthen regional communication and collaboration, and develop a standard procedure for building and maintaining a branch.

2) Industrial Networks. We need to develop networks that support organizing across particular industries, as well as tailor the IWW’s message to particular groups of workers. Millions of workers are just waiting to be asked to join a union. Let’s ask them.

3) Creative organizing. It’s time to step outside the NLRB election process. We keep losing- both in conventional terms, and also more philosophically through a growing dependenence on the state. This violates our basic principles as a revolutionary union. We need to figure out a way to build a sustainable presence on the job based on direct action.

These three goals are general. If we want to achieve these objectives, we need to adopt more specific, concrete building blocks that would allow us to reach these goals. One idea would be to pick new specific organizing targets which would allow us to grow through shopfloor organizing. Another possibility would be to attempt to replicate the size and capacity of our largest branches all across the union. We currently have around 50 groupings of Wobblies across North America. If each of these groupings reached a size of 100 members in 5 years, we would have 5000 members in North America alone. This would more than double our current size.

These are just a few ideas, I hope that this can start a union-wide conversation about what next steps we want to take. Whether you agree with these proposals or not, it’s clear that we stand on the cusp of making substantial gains in building our organization and increasing the power of the working class. It’s time to act.


Losing the Battle, Winning the War
November 1, 2010, 2:19 am
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” But revolution is the only form of “war”… in which the ultimate victory can be prepared only by a series of ‘defeats.'”

-Rosa Luxemburg,  “Order Prevails in Berlin”  1918

Every year, labor organizations launch hundreds of campaigns to wrest economic gains from employers, and hundreds more campaigns to put pro-labor politicians in office. Many of these campaigns end in victory, others go down in defeat. In the past few decades, the defeats have outnumbered the victories. Much ink has been spilled on diagnosing the cause of the labor movement’s ills. Some theorists focus on objective changes in the system of production, scapegoating outsourcing and the rise of a service economy for labor’s weakness. Others blame the rise of aggressively anti-union management styles backed by right-wing politicians. Still others claim that cultural factors come into play- in the ‘postmodern’ era, new age management techniques have supposedly rendered class struggle obsolete.

Of course, in any struggle there are also tactical decisions that impact the outcome. It’s always possible to say- “if we had only done this instead of that, we would have won!”

But the fact is that we didn’t win. And there will be many campaigns that don’t win, even after substantial changes in the economic and cultural climate. We certainly need to figure out how to win the battles, but we also need to develop a strategy that will allow us to win the war. We are only truly defeated if we refuse to learn lessons from our losses.

What would it mean to win the war? Put simply, victory in the class war would mean the seizure of the means of production by the workers, organized in councils or other democratic organs, and the abolition of the centers of capitalist decision-making, the state and para-state fascist organizations.

The question then, is what would it take to pull this off? First, the working class would have to be organized on a truly global scale. Second, workers would need to have the desire and confidence to kick out the bosses in some kind of general strike or insurrection. All of this depends on the emergence of working class leadership- a rejection of the authority of the bosses from the CEOs, politicians, and bankers all the way down to store managers and supervisors.

How do workers become leaders? I think it’s by getting angry, and seeing their own anger reflected and validated by those around them, and then learning how to fight the bosses. Working class leadership leads to working class autonomy- workers deciding for themselves what is right for them.

As Rosa Luxemburg would say, the road of history is paved with the thunderous defeats of working class autonomy. But with each of these failed revolts, the working class learned lessons about its power, and also about the violence that the ruling class will employ against us to maintain their dictatorship. It is up to us to ensure that the lessons of these battles are carried on in the hearts and minds of a growing body of workers, schooled in struggle, so that every lost battle is a step toward winning the war.

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.

To the Brink

Insurrection in Greece. Riots in China. Factory occupation in Chicago.

The pace of things seems to be quickening. A friend of mine says, this is our time. Which of course raises the question, what do we do?

Fortunately, we don’t really need to answer this question ourselves. People already are doing something, it’s up to us to support them, and perhaps, draw out the most radical content of the struggle.

As moments of resistance multiply, the radical lessons become clearer. We don’t need capital and the state. If workers can occupy the factory, workers can run the factory. If workers can run the factory, workers can run the world.

This is the syllogism of direct action. Direct action is not only a tactic to be used to win victories within a larger strategy based on a diversity of tactics. Direct action is inherently revolutionary in that it points beyond itself. Within direct action are the seeds of a new social order, an order without bosses or bureaucrats, capital or the state.

As long as reformist trade union bureaucrats or politicians remain the ideological leaders of the working class, they will seek to stifle the potential of the working class and obscure the meaning of direct action. Workers will take society to the brink, and the reformists will coax them back down.

It’s our job to push the world over the edge.

So how do we do this? How can we act to realize the radical potential of mass struggle?

Here’s a few ideas I’ve some up with based on thinking about how I would act if I lived in Greece, or Chicago, or China. In the abstract,:

-Prefiguration. In a revolutionary situation, the struggle is final. In this sense, the struggle does not prefigure the future. The struggle is the future. The seizure of capitalist assets does not prefigure the seize of capitalist assets in a future revolution; the seizure of capitalist assets is the revolution. There is no turning back. For this reason, the struggle must create the kind of society we want to live in: non-hieararchical, non-oppressive.

-Polarization. Without the support of broad strata of the people of this planet, any alternative will be unable to expand, and will be crushed. It is necessary to polarize the world against the enemy to ensure the safety of liberated areas and enable future expansion. We should act to bring the broad masses to the side of the insurgent workers, even if this means making compromises on the public message in the media.

-Dual Power/Reclamation. Any challenge to capital or the state must endeavor to not only hold territory or assets hostage to win demands, but actually establish a permanent base, linked to other bases in a network of counterpower. The goal should not just be to win isolated struggles, but to hold on to assets, neighborhoods, and constituencies. In the decisive moment, assets should be seized rapidly, then set into motion to create more resources to use in the war against capital. For example, media installations should be taken over permanently in order to spread news of the revolution. This will help maintain and deepen social polarization.

-Generalization. Support is not enough. If the revolution does not expand, it will collapse. The struggle must be generalized, or globalized, in order to stretch out the forces of the enemy (at minimum) or establish a sustainable counterpower culminating in revolution (at maximum). This requires global solidarity and organization.

-Defense. Polarization will only go so far. The working class must build the capacity to defend liberated areas from capitalist attack– by any means necessary. Defense organization should also be ‘prefigurative,’ in other words, democratic. The militant defense of spaces from attack will reinforce popular support for the struggle and prepare the workers forces for future battles.

-Offense. The power of the state must eventually be destroyed. We will not be able to reach certain areas through “generalization.” We will need to either invade or isolate these areas. It’s worth remembering that the capitalist class has no right to exist. Although armed struggle should not be a primary tactic in the struggle, we must build the military power of the working class to defend the revolution.


-Organization. We can’t wait for things to happen. We must organize locally now in order to be able to effectively support struggles as they intensify across the globe. This means building up democratic union organization in the workplace, and solidarity organization in neighborhoods as well. This will help build a revolutionary social bloc.

-the Revolutionary Social Bloc. Through organization, we need to build a social majority that is opposed to capitalism in its concrete manifestations of cutbacks and wage slavery, as well as its domination as a social form. We must polarize society against corporations specifically, and capitalism in general.

-Globalism. We must link all struggles as widely as possible geographically. Currently, there are very weak links between the Middle East, China, and the “West.” This is unfortunate, since China and the Middle East are currently central to capitalist globalization. It would make sense to make a concerted effort to build ties to workers organizations in those regions.

-Subversion. Radicals should consider careers in the military and law enforcement. We need to undermine the repressive apparatus as much as possible, and if possible, bring it to the side of the workers.

-Armed Struggle. This is a failure as a revolutionary strategy, but may have its place as a tactic of defense and offense. It would make sense to start building up armed workers organizations right now.

These are some ideas that have crossed my mind as I have watched Greece burn. The pace of change will probably quicken again over the next year. This is our time. Let’s not waste it.