Rethinking Anarchism


Rethinking Syndicalism
March 16, 2010, 6:47 am
Filed under: Analysis | Tags: , , ,

In organizing, you have to develop a theory and an understanding of society, make a plan for action, and fully devote yourself to carrying out the plan and reaching your goal. There can be no half-measures if you want to be successful. Only by carrying things through to their logical conclusion can we decisively determine whether we were correct in our strategy. This kind of committed, dedicated, singleminded attitude is the polar opposite of the mode of operation of much of the rest of the activist left, which typically proceeds from a fuzzy, hazy theory of society, does not clearly identify goals, and does not follow through with tasks, instead jumping from project to project in what a friend of mine has dubbed “fast food activism.”

The benefit of an all-or-nothing approach is that it gets results. The downside is that you have to maintain a kind of tunnel vision while working on a project in order to avoid getting distracted. Because of this, it’s important to reflect on your organizing every now and then, measuring your accomplishments against your goals, aligning tactics with strategy, and strategy with principles, and make adjustments if necessary.

I’m at such a point with workplace organizing. I am committing to at least another solid year of organizing, so I’d like to make sure I’m on the right path. I am reconsidering my basic assumptions and retracing my steps.

The goal has always been to abolish capitalism instituting some form of workers democracy. This means building organizations that are capable and willing to:

1) Take over production on a global scale

2) Defeat the reaction of the possessing classes

I am not sure that workplace organizing in and of itself is capable of reaching these two goals. In workplace organizing, you build a struggle against the boss with your coworker. The idea is that participation in the struggle builds the organization, which can then take on bigger fights with a broader section of the class. The growth of the mass organization is supposed to lead to a dual power situation, with higher and higher levels of conflict between the working class and the capitalist class, culminating in some sort of final battle.

Here’s my concern. In most struggles, “victory” is attained through some sort of compromise. The working class agrees to give up the factory occupation, go back to work, or take down the barricades in exchange for some kind of “recognition” and a set of concessions. We decide to allow capitalism to go on existing in exchange for some benefits. If we didn’t do this, the capitalist class would literally wipe us out. Historically, this has been the fate of almost every single working class insurrection. Those that have triumphed, avoiding bloody liquidation, have had to confront the same choice- defeat, or some degree of accommodation to the existing system and a partial victory.

The dilemma is this: how do we win fights, make gains, and force settlements with the bosses within the trajectory of an escalating cycle of struggle? This question can be summed up as: how do we move from the workplace struggle to the struggle against the capitalist class as a whole for the possession of the means of production and destruction of the capitalist state?

It seems to me that in most cases historically, workers have overthrown the government only as a defensive measure against fascist attacks on their gains. Ofte, these gains were won through direct action.

Here’s the problem. In the current conjuncture- the capitalist class either grants an immediate concession and incorporates resistance into its structure, or moves to totally destroy radical opposition. As anarchist communist revolutionaries, we have no way out. It is basically impossible to prepare for revolution, building through gains, and remain revolutionary.

This topic has been dealt with in some depth by Brighton SolFed and others. I don’t have the answer, but at this point, I’m partial to a strategy that rests on building up small groups of militants, increasing the frequency and intensity of struggle, the strength of network of resistance, while not relying on formal recognition of any kind. This is a highly “cultural” strategy, but would also involve formal organization. This seems to be the only way to build power while avoiding the twin dangers of repression and cooptation. We need to build a vast, global network of class war militants, active in real direct struggle against the ruling class and actively building the organs of revolutionary proletarian dual power.

So basically- let’s start some fights. And build an organization to unite the militants who start those fights, and are developed through them. At this point- the development of militants in the struggle is far more important than where those struggles occur.

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Where is Detroit?
February 25, 2009, 1:43 am
Filed under: Analysis | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

This past weekend, I had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of being guided through Detroit by a working class militant who has spent the last 36 years in the city. In front of a backdrop of rusting factories and rotting houses, he soliloquized on  the long ebb of the tide of organizing in a city that once was both the crown jewel of industrial capitalism and a burning hot bright spot of working class radicalism.

His story is the tale of a long-lost left, of organizers’ iron optimism and steely commitment to a Revolution that has not yet happened. As the machinery of the Motor City  goes, so go the motors of struggle built by the last generation.

In the 1970s, Detroit drew  a turbocharged mixture of young workers and young radicals. The auto industry was the “most advanced sector” of production. All industries served as inputs to auto manufacturing, and autos in turn shaped the geography of postwar development. Factories like Ford’s “Rouge” plant employed up to 100,000 workers. The social structures that grew around this system of production set the paradigm of normality for generations of workers in the entire country. Americans were told that “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.” Detroit was the heart of the economic, political, and social life of a nation.

Because of this, the city and its industry were a magnet for organizers seeking to overturn the economic, political, and social structures of capitalism. By the 1970s, an alphabet soup of left groups had established bases in Detroit. The cadre of these organizations entered the factories, intending to organize struggles in the heart of the capitalist system. A revolution based in the factories of Detroit would have unparalleled global ramifications.

Fueled by this belief, organizers toiled away, building motors, and motors of struggle. The years passed, and attrition amongst the cadre accelerated. By the late 1980s, the decay of the auto industry was mirrored by the disbandment of many left organizations. Militants left the factories and were not replaced by a fresh wave of organizers. The motors were idled, then scrapped.

The destruction of these motors of struggle is based on subjective and objective failures. Subjectively, few militants are willing to spend years of their lives build ing a long-term revolutionary project. This leads to the burnout of the hard core of activists who keep organizing going. Objectively, for the few people who are serious enough to want to organize, it is now unclear where we might make the most effective intervention.

Since the 1970s, the globalization and informatization of capitalism led to the creation of a globally networked, decentralized system. It is now much harder to find strategic points for organizing. Where would radicals who want to build workers power in the belly of the beast even go these days? Where is our Detroit?

If we can answer this question, then perhaps we will be able to push each other to rise to the occasion of building new motors of struggle, maybe even with some improvements on the previous models.