“If It Isn’t Rank and File, It Isn’t Anarchist”

“Our duty, which was the logical outcome of our ideas, the condition with which our conception of revolution and re-organisation of society imposes on us, namely, to live among the people and to win them over to our ideas by actively taking part in their struggles and sufferings” — Errico Malatesta

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In order for the Anarchist movement to mature in this country, we must address a particularly troubling dilemma.  Are we to continue our historical struggle within the working class or do we evolve into a professional class of labor organizers and bureaucrats?? Addressing this question isn’t only about disagreements in methods but in affirming an anarchist conception of organization from the base.  Whether in garment factories and ports or in hotels and retail, our focus on the rank and file has always been obvious–without the revolutionary self organization of the workers, we will never overthrow this unjust system of economic and political domination.

 

Unfortunately there exists a layer of self proclaimed anarchists as well as other leftists today who have not only chosen to separate themselves from the rank and file, but to defend their activity as a strategic form of social insertion.  Such a view is heavily deluded and guided in no small part by years of NGO influence on social movements.  In the current political environment, there are anarchist staffers in every union imaginable from the SEIU and UFCW to the UAW and UNITE HERE.  Students interested in labor are directly recruited out of universities into internships with Jobs with Justice and other business unions, while militant rank and file workers are tempted off the shop floor with higher pay and benefits.

Though this sad state of affairs shows a severe weakness of the left in offering alternatives, it is also a deliberate tactic of the union leadership.  By placating agitated workers with radical staff who “get it”, the union leadership is able to control mobilization and to later use their staffers to push through harmful cuts and “reforms.”

Not only are these staffer positions treated as an acceptable way of mixing politics with profession, but they contain a certain level of prestige.  Whether from bargaining , collecting grievances, or participation in high profile symbolic arrests, anarchist staffers continue to play into performance politics rather than building a self organizing rank and file movement.    Furthermore, “Anarchist bureaucrats have called for strikes with short notice, with little rank and file feedback, and with little preparation.  They have looked at board meetings as key decision making spaces rather than trying to develop shop floor democracy.  Some get embroiled in negotiating committees, centralize knowledge, and waste time that can be spent helping the rank and file develop towards wider and more sustainable action.”   Instead of “organizing themselves out of a job”, such field organizers invariably create dependency and guide if not outright control the activity of the workers.  Their role is therefore substitutionalist for doing the necessary work of building collective skills and empowerment within the working class itself.

In addition, despite the fact that many of these business unions actively poach IWW campaigns,  practically every branch of the IWW has dual carding staffers.  Many of these staffers utilize the union as shock troops to help out their own unions’ campaigns or to procure similar jobs for excited young wobs needing “organizing experience”.  Rather than boring from within mainstream unions and outflanking or combatting the rigid leadership structures, these organizers instead become appendages of the union bureaucracy. Interestingly enough, while the IWW constitution actively prohibits officers in other unions, it doesn’t say anything explicitly about paid union organizers:

 

“No member of the Industrial Workers of the World shall be an officer of a trade or craft union or political party. Branches may allow IWW members to become officers of trade or craft unions as long as these exceptions are reported to the General Administration and no IWW member receives significant pay (more than dues rebate and expenses) as a result of being an officer or official in a union that does not call for abolition of the wage
system.” – article II section 1C.

 

Regardless of this omission, there are reasons why the IWW have historically used the term “fellow worker” to differentiate themselves from bosses, management, and bureaucrats.  Without being rooted in the working class, it would be impossible to relate to the interests and struggles of the base.   In practice, this failure has created a culture of rhetoric over social insertion that often limits self organization.

These problems are even further magnified in the the mainstream unions.  Here is a sample of bureaucratizing language included into the core mission of business union staffers:

 

The American Federation of Teachers“Help the Officers and Executive Board plan and implement all union activities, including but not limited to membership meetings, orientations, rallies, demonstrations, job actions, and social events.”   http://www.unionjobs.com/listing.php?id=6147

 

THE CWA – “Conduct worksite visits to discuss current events and employee concerns…  Coordinate and process grievance and disciplinary matters, including: preparing, presenting and appealing cases to Divisions, Departments, mediation and arbitration within defined timelines” http://www.unionjobs.com/listing.php?id=6089

 

SEIU describes their staff’s role to “work on the front lines building power FOR workers”.  (http://www.seiu.org/a/seiujobs.php)

 

UNITE HERE describes the duty of its staff to “ORGANIZE AND LEAD worker committee meetings.”  http://jobs.unitehere.org/job.php?job_id=1763

 

This contrasting vision of “organizing” reflects real political differences between self-management and business unionism.  Their model includes methods of influencing government, operating within arbitration, and standing in for worker initiative.  According to Ned Resnikoff of Jacobin Magazine this is necessary because:  “modern unions need staff. Private employers have developed exceedingly sophisticated union-busting tactics over the past century, and beating them often requires a dedicated team of communicators, researchers, lawyers, organizers, and statisticians, among others.”

We dispute this idea that a labor movement can’t be professional without a huge layer of paid staff.   Not only do many modern unions around the world run without paid professional organizers, but such staff actually maintain the servility and oppression of the very people who they claim to be supporting.  Unions commonly utilize worker mobilization only as bargaining leverage for contract negotiations/legislation and not as an organizing tool for a more politicized and capable working class.  After a union or a contract is won, union bureaucrats typically switch over into service mode.  Those committees which still operate do so in the model and official line laid down by the staff vis a vis the leadership.  Despite their likely benign motivations, such activity is liberal and buys into the savior mentality of much of the US left.  According to the Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland):

 “The structure of the unions gives far too much power to the bureaucrats and it is inevitable that no matter how radical or left-wing they might be when they get the job their role sucks them into the business of conciliation. After all, the officials must be able to prove that they control their members – in other words, stop them fighting the bosses – if they are to have anything to sell at the negotiating table. If such control cannot be promised, why should an employer bother to negotiate?” – Red and Black Revolution, Issue #3, 1997

 

Yet even those unions which publicly support self-organizing, utilize staffers to funnel workers and valuable resources into voter registration and electoral politics.  In this arena, it is no surprise that unions are the single greatest mobilization body for the democratic party.  Union staffers have been put to work organizing for the recall of Scott Walker in Wisconsin and taking part in local and national electoral campaigns.  In one particularly horrid example, UNITE HERE aired commercials supporting Rahm Emanuel against a more progressive democrat.  Though, 40 former staffers publicly condemned the action, the current staff remained publicly silent.  In contrast, while the rank and file contribute a percentage of their dues to campaign contributions, they have much more space to critique and change these practices than union staff.

To reverse these trends, Anarchists need to commit to a workers movement that has independent action and can challenge the union bureaucracy.   If we are to have any hope of building struggle which resembles anarchist principles, we must build it from the shop floor!

 

(In 1969, the LRBW formed from Black rank and file workers at a number of auto plants, and other workplaces in the Detroit area.  They built up black political consciousness and fought against both the bosses and the UAW leadership)

(In 1969, the LRBW formed from Black rank and file workers at a number of auto plants, and other workplaces in the Detroit area.  They built up black political consciousness and fought against both the bosses and the UAW leadership)

Thinking about becoming a paid organizer?  

“We want you to attain that independent life you have wanted … But realize that all this requires your effort: in order to achieve it, you need the assistance of others. You need others to be concerned with the same things as you, you need to help them, as they will help you. In a single word, you must struggle communally.” – National Committee of Mujeres Libres (1938)

This section will examine common rationalizations for seeking paid organizing positions in the labor movement and some problems associated with them.

“Unions allow me to talk to workers”

Instead of building trust and radicalizing your co-workers through shared experiences, this common defense of union jobs creates separation and turns organizing into a profession.   Paid organizers are often a different race and language than many of the workers and  frequently address them wearing a suit to signify professionalism and respectability (which are all things that are won through long periods of trust).  From this context, they assume a managerial role–as their whole purpose is to exist as an authoritative figure, telling workers what is allowed and what is expected.  If workers begin to act more militantly with unapproved “wildcat” strikes, workplace occupations, attacks on scabs, or sabotage, the leadership utilizes staffers to discipline them and pull them in line.  Such a situation famously occurred when the radical Austin, MN local of UFCW was put under trusteeship after a year of the militant P-9 strike.  When the trusteeship meeting was called, most of the seats were taken by staffers, while it was closed off to the public.  While almost 20 workers were still facing felony riot charges, UFCW staffers were mailing out stickers across the country saying “Hormel is Union Made”, and attempting to enforce a ban on strike buttons and bumper stickers.

P-9 Mural

The P-9 strike Mural in Austin, Minnesota shortly before the UFCW leadership sand blasted it off.

Additional problems occur as older staffers and union officials complain about the lack of care and motivation of the rank and file.  This is buoyed by the bureaucrats making themselves feel good as an inner circle versus the relative “apathetic workers”.  Without the experience of being on the shop floor there is little way to contradict these impressions.  Staffers that begin as radicals often then end up in practice losing faith in the workers to self organize. According to an Anarchist and former union staffer who was interviewed for this article:

“Union rules prevented us from going out for a beer with a worker after shift, accepting the most token of gifts, or doing even the most routine of favors.  Workers … have to be able to relate to an organizer at a bare minimum and excessive mandates can create a barrier in some ways to fostering a healthy and trusting relationship. I think my role limited others when I was forced due to practical concerns to take short cuts and do work myself that the bargaining unit members themselves should be doing. There was too much work and the union did not give us enough time to be able to really carefully do it the right way, in a bottom-up fashion. I was primarily at a 600-person bargaining unit ….with many career employees, and there were only a handful of union stewards and no workers committees outside of one bargaining committee that had just been thrown together at the last minute. That’s the state of your average union nowadays.”

“Gain organizing experience and training”

It can seem extremely daunting to take on organizing your coworkers.  This becomes particularly true in a climate where you are told that workers don’t care and are super depoliticized.  However, the training that is given by a business/service union for staffers is not necessarily going to give you the skills needed to build radical solidarity with your co-workers, nor will it be applicable towards class struggle.    Role-plays of house visits and 1-on-1’s can be useful, but creating the level of comfort and long term trust that your coworkers will step up and take risks with you (or won’t rat you out) is something you get on the job.  You can learn common concerns and demands from a training, but you can’t learn what the specific conditions are or engender structural critiques.  Ultimately, we want to build anarchist/libertarian unions. ..not service ones, so there needs to be a deeper analysis than just workplace issues. While the experience of exploitation,  racism, sexism. ..etc on the job is the most important mechanism of radicalization,  the fear that coworkers would automatically be repelled by a systemic analysis shows a loss of confidence in the people.

 

That being said, you don’t even have to be a staffer to receive these trainings, as they often give them out to “leaders” they are cultivating.   In the AFL-CIO organizer training session, “participants will learn one on one communication skills, leadership identification and development and strategic planning skills.”  In addition to business union trainings, workers centers  and the IWW give a number of trainings, you can pick up Labor Law for the Rank and File,  Labor Notes: Trouble Makers Handbooks, and utilize a number of other outlets for gaining knowledge about tactics/strategy/talking points which dont require you to sacrifice your principles and position as a rank and file worker.

“I needed higher wages and healthcare”

Not having healthcare in this country is a serious problem.  Despite the affordable care act, many people are still lacking coverage or have to pay for premiums outside of their work.  So it makes sense that it would be a huge factor in seeking employment.  However, there are many rank and file jobs which offer coverage (including many who exist under the staffer’s collective bargaining unit) so the argument falls short.  Furthermore many union staffers have to work long hours that can even be worse than those of a rank and file worker– so it is not necessarily a cushy alternative to working for other bosses.  According to one former staffer:

“The hardest part for me as a paid union staffer that consistently clashed with my values was the complete disregard of the union for prioritizing the health and self-care of its own organizers. We were expected to do burnout levels of work with little to no support, and the sort-of corporatization of the job (expecting organizers to work long, unpaid hours, weekends, canceling vacations, etc)….”


There is an underside to this question too.  While acknowledging the good intentions of people who become paid organizers, it is important to understand how they play into exploitation. Salaries for these paid organizers are undemocratically stolen away from the rank and file much like the value robbed by capitalists.  For example on average, UFCW staffers make $50k a year.  In contrast, the average pathmark, stop & Shop, and Shoprite worker’s wages hover slightly above minimum wage.  Lacking a democratic mandate for their jobs, Anarchists which take such positions are guilty of theft from their fellow workers (leeching off their labor not unlike bankers, landlords, and bail-bondsmen).   

Reality

“Never attempt to secure a position above your fellow workers, whereby you would become at once a bourgeois and an enemy of the proletariat: for the only difference between capitalists and workers is this: the former seek their welfare outside, and at the expense of, the welfare of the community whilst the welfare of the latter is dependent on the solidarity of those who are robbed on the industrial field.” – Mikhail Bakunin

Staffers have little power to influence events.  They are often hired by unaccountable union leadership and are utilized to fulfill the goals of the union as they currently exist.  This includes:

  • Working where the union prioritizes.
    If the union decides to no longer support campaigns, workers are left out to dry.  UNITE HERE abandoned garment workers, Teamsters has abandoned numerous workplace committees before elections when it appeared they could lose. (Some examples include: multiple campaigns of California port truckers, Sex Workers/Exotic Dancers in  Anchorage Alaska in 1997 (who after being abandoned were violently harassed by Hells Angels and then locked out of the club), and FedEx workers in Massachusetts in 2011,

 

  • Attacking rivals within the union and disciplining unruly workers and locals.
    Such as teamsters local 237, and their 2014 dispute over the officer election vote  rigging of 5000 members…also the SEIU raid on FMPR teachers union in Puerto Rico and the push to decertify them.

Anaheim-local-50-SEIU-invasion-flyer

At most they can advise workers and slightly affect tactics (rather than strategy).  They cannot vote on strikes, union affiliations/dis-affiliations, or in elections for the leadership of the union; nor can they be delegates at congresses or conventions.  Furthermore, they are silenced when bringing up controversial political positions, such as against police brutality or support for international solidarity.  Under these circumstances, it is unclear what staffers actually hope to accomplish politically with their roles.  How are they building independent power to challenge the union leadership and break out of the structure?  They are not the workers themselves and would have little power to “reform the bureaucracy from the inside.”

Conclusion:

Despite our claims to the contrary, the current Anarchist movement in the US is not birthed from the working class, but rather attempts to “represent it” through non-profit organizing positions.   By appearing to show radical street cred,  unions give themselves cover with the rank and file and later utilize these “militant” staffers to ultimately push reformist activity and concessions. Challenging them means centering our anarchist praxis on the working class and participating with and not above other workers in the struggle.

As shop floor militants, we can push for more combative labor actions, build workplace democracy, and shoot for political goals past the next contract.  We must break with the idea that solidarity is either an academic exercise or grows from some radical aesthetic! It is birthed from experiences of collective oppression and participation in collective action and is the foundation which makes anarchism possible!

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Anarchist Materialism– “Money: an Instrument of Revolution”

The following article assumes that anarchist organization should be broad-based and especifist (a specifically anarchist organization should exist to coordinate strategy among those with similar politics) and that it should build long term (rather than ad hoc and spontaneous) institutions escalating towards a revolution.  With this in mind, it argues for a strategic understanding of money usage.

anarchists recieving rifles

Despite the growth of anarchism into the dominant political philosophy of the US left, there has been little to show for it.  The decades long shift towards networks and online organizing has resulted in increasingly insular activity and a reduction if not complete lack of strategically coordinated efforts.  Instead,it is easy to blame the lack of Anarchist success on American culture and “Living in the belly of the beast” or on the high level of policing, prisons, and repression of social movements.  However, the more likely culprit is the lack of long term projects/commitments and the substantial resources and base building that they require.

As a result, a change in thinking from the spectacle of one-off actions by networks to persisting stratagems is vital to reinvigorating the anarchist struggle and creating popular power.  Unfortunately, anarchists in this low period of struggle need to practically start from the beginning–building the physical and personal capacity necessary for relevance.

Leaving aside the eventual insurrectionary needs for money (weapons, ammunition, and supplies.. etc), a relevant organization that hopes to have an impact on the lives of even a minority of the population will need money for simple reasons.  Money in the current capitalist structure secures free time, buys space in relevant geographic areas, develops infrastructure and supplies for propaganda, pays funds for strikers and political prisoners, and funds large scale campaigns. To this end, an anarchist organization’s treasury should have a component for public donations (such as honorarium), bank loans, and legal ownership of buildings.  This is money that is used for the above ground organizing and for budgets that can and should be transparent.

An underground budget should also exist for emergencies and direct action groups/defense committees (to build the offensive and defensive capacity of the Anarchists). Such funds should be collected from sources that cannot be traced and should be in cash for easy use.  While even minor clandestine organization may seem precipitous, the history of any revolutionary movement shows its worth.  All armies have quartermaster corps which acquire the needed material to maintain not only the fighting capacity and intelligence gathering, but for basic things: food, clothing, vehicle transport, housing, areas for training, equipment, etc.  In many cases, groups have found their above ground organizations under attack and have had to fall back on these structures for survival.

In the current period of anarchist struggle, dues paying is useful, but insufficient for the realistic needs of organizations with revolutionary aspirations.  The primary issue with dues is that anarchist organizations are too small to sustain the physical space and infrastructure to reach outside of those already in the know.  For example, according to the June 2014 GOB, The IWW is currently making approximately $102k a year ($8500 a month nationally) in dues which accounts for 75% of their budget.  Most branches have less than 5 thousand dollars on hand at any given time and lack offices or any public manifestation.  If you didn’t know where to look you might not even know that the union exists.  A similar situation exists for all anarchist groups in this country.

Obviously organization and an incredible amount of money is needed  to build up the anarchist movement to a point where it can be relevant, much less to challenge the state and capital.  In this light, acquiring large quantities of money should be seen as an important (but not the only) component in breaking out of small scale actions and increasing the visibility and potency of our struggle.  Experience will also result from projects which build organizing skills and radicalization, strategic insertion (jobs in strategic sectors,  eventual infiltration of the military, etc) and social connections to the community.  Unfortunately, anarchists groups have fallen into a pitfall of spending extensive amounts on travel expenses to conferences, congresses, trainings, and mass mobilizations.  While interconnections with other comrades is important (and particularly subsidizing those who don’t have the capacity to attend), travel expenses should be raised on an ad hoc basis (fundraising rather than the main budget) with preference going towards building up local organization.

In contrast, creating strategic plans for utilizing money can alleviate the behavior of activist oriented treasuries and contribute towards forward momentum. Function and strategic orientation will determine organizational structure, though it is suggested that spending should probably prioritize:

  1. Defense/Support of comrades- both legal and physical
  2. Infrastructure for Propaganda, campaigns, and operating materials
  3. Physical space (once the numbers of militants reaches a point where it is necessary)

The following sections will break down some of the ways anarchist federations can spend their money and why a strategic shift is necessary in the US.

Newspapers and Propaganda infrastructure:

Historically, US anarchist organizations have used print publications as a means of propaganda and education to great effect.  The Industrial Workers of the World operated approximately 85 different newspapers in the US  between 1905 and 1940 alone.  Meanwhile, the Yiddish Anarchist paper Fraye Arbeter Shtime had a circulation of 12 to 20 thousand between 1904 and 1920, maintaining several thousand for decades afterwards.  Even the US based anti-organizational insurrectionist Italian papers L’ Adunata dei refrattari and Cronaca Sovversiva each had a circulation of approximately 5 thousand. Fortunately, this is not a historical phenomenon and large anarchist orgs continue to reach out and inform people rather than hoping that people opt-in to information.

Currently, there are a number of very successful print anarchist newspapers abroad.  The following is just a sample:

 

  • Le Monde Libertaire in France (the paper of Fédération Anarchiste) is sold at 2500 news outlets (out of 30k).

le monde libertaire

  • Workers Solidarity, the paper of the Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland) has a print run of 8,000 bi-monthly.

Workers Solidarity

  • Solidaridad Obrera, the official paper of the Spanish CNT has a print run of around 5,000

solidaridad obrera

  • Solidaridad in Chile has a circulation of approximately 1,000 country-wide including sales at some newspaper stands

solidaridad-Chile

Other print publications produced by the Anarchist Federation (UK), FAG and FARJ (Brazil), Alternative Libertaire (France) etc.. also have utilized large scale funding and distribution schemes to make their papers into an organizing tool.

Despite the widespread investment in print distribution, there appears to be two kinds of detractors to newspaper propaganda in the US.  The first are those who believe that the only type of propaganda needed is direct action.  Essentially a “propaganda of the deed” argument, they feel that actions by themselves will inspire the masses to understanding anarchist concepts and trajectory.  However without a way of actually explaining their actions or building up knowledge/experience in the working class, such actions are meaningless.  We have to move past the idea that black blocs or symbolic property destruction will build or exert power.

The second argument used against newspapers are those who say that print propaganda is no longer a relevant medium, having been replaced by internet sources.  Though anyone who has attempted to reach out to co-workers or community members knows that it more valuable to attempt both, with print being extremely important for reaching new people and those who lack the time or money to browse the internet.   Furthermore it is important to move away from political discussions only occurring over facebook or email.  Besides insulating political knowledge and participation, the lack of purposeful forethought in such “debates” means such propaganda cannot be used as a tool for organizing.

The unfortunate result result is that selling newspapers among anarchist circles in the US has developed into a serious taboo.  Experience with Marxist-Leninist groups aggressively selling at events or befriending you and ending a conversation with “so you want to buy our paper” has obviously reinforced the tendency of avoiding such efforts altogether.  Anarchists can counter this behavior with a free paper and a dedicated funding source. This can be done through both subscriptions and single purchases.  As an example, Tierra Y Libertad (Newspaper of the CNT) sells for 1 euro an issue to dedicated subscribers and bankrolls the rest of their circulation.

Another way to reduce overall costs and to produce professional materials is for an organization to do its own printing. Despite the savings later, this can be a huge investment and is another reason for organizations to take their funding seriously.  Printing presses can cost anywhere from $1000 to $50,000 depending on the specs and age.  It is thus important to weigh the costs and benefits.  An old soviet or Czechoslovakian era press will probably be cheaper as an antique than a brand new one but the parts are going to be hard to get if it breaks down.  Ink and paper can also be fairly expensive  but are a necessary cost if an organization wants to produce attractive materials that people will want to read.   In addition, industrial cutters and bookbinding equipment would be extremely useful for extending print capacity.  Hopefully organizations can also branch out into theoretical journals, posters, books, calendars, etc.  Zines can also be a useful tool for education. They are particularly good for introductory pieces on fundamentals (on feminism, labor history, indigenous struggles..etc.)  Cataloguing a few pamphlets on important issues/subjects will go a long way in reaching new people.  We cannot hope to achieve anarchism without many times our current number and investing in a large propaganda machine is a start in the right direction.

 

Spaces:

While creating such propaganda and outreach takes significant resources, it pales in comparison to establishing visible infrastructure.  Before talking about the need and costs of these spaces, it is important to distinguish them from each other.

Political spaces function as an organizational tool for groups with defined politics and strategy.  They are used for meetings, operations (printing, assembling banners, mapping and research,  trainings, etc), and giving a public face for the organization.  These can include offices, print shops, and other spaces which have a specific function for coordinating anarchist activity in labor and territorial (neighborhood/regional) settings. In many countries, groups with much lower wages and standards of living make efforts at achieving offices.  One important example is the Uruguayan Anarchist Federation, which maintains an astounding 8 offices in a population of 3.3 million (including their main office in the center of downtown Montevideo) .  This is not paid with dues money as many of the members are from the working class communities outside of the capital center.  Instead, it is financed through affiliated worker co-op businesses with strategic uses [The details are intentionally left vague].

FAU Office

In contrast, social spaces are those designed for social insertion into communities and act as cultural and educational centers for the movement.  —See a piece by Pepe Antonio  for the differences between political and social organizations.    Social spaces can also include restaurants, bars, bookstores, theaters, squats, etc. While universities exist for some similar activity, they are not spaces controlled by Anarchists.  Content, timing, advertising, size, and equipment are all regulated by the school administration, though militant student movements in the future could change that.  Lastly, there will be an eventual need for insurrectionary spaces such as safe-houses, training camps, and weapons caches, but lets not jump ahead of ourselves.

 

Deciding at what point to acquire spaces should be based on the needs and political objectives of organizations.  Social spaces are useful, but they may not always be suitable for a coordinated strategy by themselves.

 

**So What are the costs?**

Renting can cost anywhere from $1.5 thousand to 5 or 6 thousand a month.  Some large cities may surprise you with comparative affordability, such as in LA with an average of $30 per square foot.  Whereas, it will be more difficult but not impossible to get space in a location like lower Manhattan  (which can cost $200-$1000 per sq ft).  Similarly, buying storefront property for an office/bookstore/cafe in a city can cost anywhere from half a million to several million dollars depending on the size and proximity to expensive city property.  In order to get the money for buying office space, an organization will need to take out loans (unless in possession of a lot of capital) and will either have to pay through individuals or through a non-profit.  Dues money with the current numbers is inadequate by itself to contribute to long term organizational spaces.


Other historical uses for large quantities of money:

Members of the FAUD (German Anarchist-Syndicalist Union) set up the Association for Sexual Hygiene and Life Reform in 1923 which operated offices and distributed free contraceptives and abortion services/advice to working class women.  This included high-end training to perform abortions (as few doctors were willing to volunteer to do this) and legal support for members who were convicted for performing illegal abortions.

This might be an interesting idea considering Texas abortion clinics have fallen from 41 to 20 in the last year and are now estimated to be as little as 6 in the whole state.   Mississippi has only one abortion clinic in operation.

 

Mujeres Libres set up facilities for libertarian child care/education, training, and apprenticeship for women in both industrial and agricultural areas.  These activities are echoed by the Federación de Organizaciones de Base (FOB) in Argentina who bought several buildings to create social centers in impoverished and immigrant neighborhoods.  They have been utilized for job and skill training, education on abortion and contraceptives, distribution of food and supplies, and coordination of piquetero groups.

Local of Mujeres Libres

The Central Organization of the Workers of Sweden (the largest current Anarchist-Syndicalist union in relation to the country’s population) of approximately 8-10 thousand has maintained an unemployment fund since 1954 under the motto “For Mutual Aid Among Comrades”

 

La Marmite “The Pot” (1868-1871) a 4 building cooperative restaurant in Paris that fed 8,000 workers, most belonging to the First International.  It was later utilized to feed indigent people during the Paris Commune.
Casa del Pueblo (1899- early 1900s) was a massive social-political center which combined the efforts of the organizational anarchists of Buenos Aires.  It consisted of 2 massive halls, a cafeteria, a library, a stage (which was used by an anarchist orchestra and theater groups), rooms for meetings and research, and a room for the editorial and printing offices of several newspapers and pamphlet groups.

 

Anarchist Owned/Operated Beer Halls (1880-1914) in lower and then later uptown Manhattan in New York city made up the bulk of meeting and socializing spaces for the German anarchist movement in the US.  For more reading on their infastructure and activities: 

 

The Allerton Coops in the East Bronx (1920s-1940s) was a 700 unit complex built by Eastern European Jewish trade unionists and became a hub of communist activity during the height of the Communist Party in the US.

Allerton Coops

The Modern School Based on the Ferer Anarchist free schools in Spain, the movement for libertarian education of children and adults opened up their first school in the village in New York city in 1911 and then a larger one in New Jersey (1933-58’) on 68 acres of purchased land.

Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR) was an organization started by students in the southern Chilean city of Concepcion.  Their social insertion was extremely effective in two sectors which required substantial planning and resources.  Firstly, they developed urban housing communities (campamentos) on expropriated land and financed them through bank expropriations and other means.  They were self run, forbade police entrance, and created popular militia.  The MIR also help create the Movimiento Campesino Revolucionario which occupied land and helped finance the establishment of approximately 1500 farms between 1970-71 alone.

MIR occupations

In Summary:

  • Organizations and long lasting social insertion are better than networks and one-off actions
  • Much larger quantities of money will be needed than is usually thought to grow to a point of relevancy.  Partly this will come from growth (if there are dues and other modes for acquiring it), but also from co-op businesses, and more ambitious schemes.
  • Dont fetishize structure–money will be useless without organizational substance and vice versa.  (Refer to the previous article on labor organizing for an example of strategy)
  • Organizations need to have detailed conversations about money in order to fulfill their ambitions.
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Open Letter to the Smashy Smashies

 

If you are reading this and consider yourself an individualist ”insurrectionary” anarchist then this is for you. Perhaps you are part of a cell, some kind of liberation front, informal network or fire-brigade. (http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Police-treating-St-George-car-fires-arson/story-21318510-detail/story.html)

Burned luxary car

Maybe you are a squatter, readying your black bloc crew for the next mass mobilization, or just drunk with some of your friends and looking for some action… either way this is not an attempt to encourage you to abandon your philosophy/activities. Instead think of it as a more strategic use of your time. So rather than gluing ATMs, firebombing/damaging SUVs and Hummers, smashing windows at your local starbucks/bank or the banner drops that will remain for only 20 minutes and no one will read, here is a list of alternative things that would probably be more useful:

 

 

1) Graffitti

The best thing about this propaganda of the deed is that it is a deed that creates propaganda.

Now I know you might think that you have done this. But have you done it every week? How about multiple times a week? Do you have that special spot where you drew a circle A with a sharpie? Instead, wouldn’t it be cool if anyone could walk downtown and think “wow, no one can miss all of the anarchist slogans and support for political prisoners no matter where they walk/drive”. Maybe you can set up a mural brigade or spraypaint teams. Doing successful political graffiti takes perseverance and could reach far more people than a random manifesto posted on the internet.

2) Expropriate money
Now I’m not talking about stealing a few items from your local convenience store… I mean stealing a lot of money! This could come in the form of bank robberies like those carried out by the Black Liberation Army, the MIR, Tupamaros, FAI, and other flashy groups you might have heard about. Or it could come about by some long term scheme of ripping off your job. I mean why risk felony charges for smashing bank windows and burning things when you can risk similar charges for larceny and have the utility of tens of thousands of dollars for the revolution?

Patty Hearst visiting the bank

With this money you could really give a huge boost to your local anarchist organizations, organize housing units for thousands of homeless, and acquire social spaces and equipment for free clinics and breakfast programs. Think about how your local Anarchist Black Cross will feel when you stroll in with $20 thousand or how you can save the day for a struggling anarchist bookstore.

3) Get a job
Dont worry, this isn’t some sarcastic right wing or bougie comment. Try finding a job in a strategic sector like the arms industry or railroads and think about how useful you could be if there was a strike. You could do all the sabotaging and smashy smashy you always want but can destroy the states capacity to wage war abroad and at home…maybe even help some other folks out.

 

According to Voltarine de Cleyr:

Now everybody knows that a strike of any size means violence. No matter what any one’s ethical preference for peace may be, he knows it will not be peaceful. If it’s a telegraph strike, it means cutting wires and poles, and getting fake scabs in to spoil the instruments. If it is a steel rolling mill strike, it means beating up the scabs, breaking the windows, setting the gauges wrong, and ruining the expensive rollers together with tons and tons of material. IF it’s a miners’ strike, it means destroying tracks and bridges, and blowing up mills. If it is a garment workers’ strike, it means having an unaccountable fire, getting a volley of stones through an apparently inaccessible window, or possibly a brickbat on the manufacturer’s own head. If it’s a street-car strike, it means tracks torn up or barricaded with the contents of ash-carts and slop-carts, with overturned wagons or stolen fences, it means smashed or incinerated cars and turned switches. If it is a system federation strike, it means “dead” engines, wild engines, derailed freights, and stalled trains. If it is a building trades strike, it means dynamited structures. And always, everywhere, all the time, fights between strike-breakers and scabs against strikers and strike-sympathizers, between People and Police.

 

4) Acquisition, maintenance, storage and training in the use of weapons
Its a good thing that we already covered money, because you can utilize some of it to buy some truly insurrectionary materials.

According to the CNT/FAI defense committees (who evolved from the Spanish Anarchist Action Groups): “There can be no revolution without preparation. We have to put an end to the prejudice in favor of improvisation. This error, involving confidence in the creative instinct of the masses, has caused us to pay a heavy price. We cannot obtain by means of a process of spontaneous generation the indispensable means necessary for waging war on a State that has experience, heavy weaponry, and a greater capacity for offensive and defensive combat”.

 

In all seriousness, organized anarchism requires the need of prepared action groups that can help build capacity in semi-legal or nonlegal ways. Anarchists in the US cant afford being stuck in symbolic activity and if you disdain broader anarchist organizations, then utilize your smaller groups more effectively. For some minor reading on defense committees and how insurrectionary preparation is more useful than symbolic actions: http://libcom.org/library/cnt-defense-committees-barcelona-1933-1938-interview-agust%C3%ADn-guillam%C3%B3n

That being said, it is hard to imagine how isolated attacks on institutions of power will propel anarchism without substantial organization to create the culture, knowledge, experience and capacity to ensure its victory. So join forces or at least stop burning the churches so that you can use the buildings.

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Brief Thoughts on Organization, Having a Purpose, and Our Deceased Friend Malatesta

The last article posted and several others have been a part of a national debate on strategy that has been taking place in some anarchist circles.  While a future post will include a more indepth national economic, labor, demographic, and consumption mapping, it is hoped that this blog can contribute additional importance for organizational anarchism in the US and the practical strategy that accompanies it.  Below are two comments on Organization by the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta and the need for organization to ensure that a revolution results in Anarchism.

 

“They began to preach… to practice disorganization; they wanted to elevate isolation, disdain for obligations, and lack of solidarity into a principle, as if these were a function of the anarchist program, while instead they are its complete negation.  That is what happened to those who in order to fight authority, attacked the principle of organization itself.  They wanted to prevent betrayals and deception, permit free rein to individual initiative, ensure against spies and attacks from the government–and they brought isolation and impotence to the fore” -Malatesta

 

In small as well as large societies, apart from brute force, of which it cannot be a question for us, the origin and justification for authority lies in social disorganizationWhen a community has needs and its members do not know how to organize spontaneously to provide them, someone comes forward, an authority who satisfies those needs by utilizing the services of all and directing them to his liking. If the roads are unsafe and the people do not know what measures to take, a police force emerges which in return for whatever services it renders expects to be supported and paid, as well as imposing itself and throwing its weight around; if some article is needed, and the community does not know how to arrange with the distant producers to supply it in exchange for goods produced locally, the merchant will appear who will profit by dealing with the needs of one section to sell and of the other to buy, and impose his own prices both on the producer and the consumer. This is what has happened in our midst; the less organised we have been the more prone are we to be imposed on by a few individuals. And this is understandable. 

So much so that organisation, far from creating authority, is the only cure for it and the only means whereby each one of us will get used to taking an active and conscious part in collective work, and cease being passive instruments in the hands of leaders…. 

But an organisation, it is argued, presupposes an obligation to co-ordinate one’s own activities with those of others; thus it violates liberty and fetters initiative. As we see it, what really takes away liberty and makes initiative impossible is the isolation which renders one powerless. Freedom is not an abstract right but the possibility of acting: this is true among ourselves as well as in society as a whole. And it is by co-operation with his fellows that man finds the means to express his activity and his power of initiatives 

An anarchist organisation must, in my opinion [allow for] complete autonomy, and independence, and therefore full responsibility, to individuals and groups; free agreement between those who think it useful to come together for co-operative action, for common aims; a moral duty to fulfill one’s pledges and to take no action which is contrary to the accepted programme. On such bases one then introduces practical forms and the suitable instruments to give real life to the organisation. Thus the groups, the federation of groups, the federations of federations, meetings, congresses, correspondence committees and so on. But this also must be done freely, in such a way as not to restrict the thought and the initiative of individual members, but only to give greater scope to the efforts which in isolation would be impossible or ineffective. Thus for an anarchist organisation congresses, in spite of all the disadvantages from which they suffer as representative bodies . . . are free from authoritarianism in any shape or form because they do not legislate and do not impose their deliberations on others. They serve to maintain and increase personal contacts among the most active comrades, to summarize and encourage programmatic studies on the ways and means for action; to acquaint everybody with the situation in the regions and the kind of action most urgently needed; to summarize the various currents of anarchist opinions at the time and to prepare some kind of statistics therefrom. And their decisions are not binding but simply suggestions, advice and proposals to submit to all concerned, and they do not become binding and executive except for those who accept them and for as long as they accept them. The administrative organs they nominate – Correspondence Commissions, etc.-have no directive powers, do not take initiatives except for those who specifically solicit and approve of them, and have no authority to impose their own views, which they can certainly hold and propagate as groups of comrades, but which cannot be presented as the official views of the organisation. They publish the resolutions of the congresses and the opinions and proposals communicated to them by groups and individuals; and they act for those who want to make use of them, to facilitate relations between groups, and co-operation between those who are in agreement on various initiatives; each is free to correspond with whoever he likes direct, or to make use of other committees nominated by specific groupings 

In an anarchist organisation individual members can express any opinion and use every tactic which is not in contradiction with the accepted principles and does not interfere with the activities of others. In every case a particular organisation lasts so long as the reasons for union are superior to those for dissension: otherwise it disbands and makes way for other, more homogeneous groupings. ” -Malatesta (Majorities, Minorities, and Other Essays)

 

 

 

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Anarchist Materialism: Can we start having a revolutionary labor strategy?

Disclaimer: This piece is designed to challenge some prevailing attitudes of Class Struggle Anarchists in the US.  The arguments should not be seen as a critique of individual behavior but rather of structural tendencies which hopefully will produce a constructive discussion. 

 

It should be apparent to anyone viewing the labor movement in the US that it has arrived at a turning point.  Despite economic stagnation and a reduction in comparative household wages, business unions are in a weaker position than they have been in almost 100 years.  Meanwhile there seems to be a lack of discussion about how radical labor militants can seize this opportunity to become relevant… much less win.  If we want a revolutionary change in economic and social structures, then it is necessary to build the power and capacity that can actually achieve it.

However, in order to build power, we must first determine where power lies.  One such way is to map out economic and community structures and find out where anarchist militants can be the most useful.  In labor organizing it is vital to understand the demographics and profit generation of specific industries, capital investment, percentage of GDP, modes of production (the manner and relationships of production), transportation choke points, and important utilities (such as power companies) just to name a few.

From there it is important to develop and prioritize a strategic orientation.  What are the stages that the US needs to go through in order to actually overthrow the system?  First the current period should be thought out.  What are the current realities both in terms of where our strengths are and that of the rest of the left and working class, as well as our opponents?  Is capital in advance or retreat?  Are we in a moment of structural reorganization and if so, where in the country?  Manufacturing may be shrinking in the Midwest but retooling in the Southwest and growing in the Southeast.  There could be increasing mechanization in the ports, but also expansion to keep up with growing population demand.  Food production may be shifting in scale, labor, and products as it becomes industrialized or shifts to accommodate trade agreements.  But this must be researched to determine the exact material conditions that exist.  Only then can we decide how to begin social insertion and develop mature national strategies.

Next, militants need to figure out realistic long term goals.  Are we aiming for collectivization of industries?  If so, then which ones would be the most necessary to focus on now and how will this actually be achieved?  After the Spanish Revolution began in 1936 and the 1.6 million member Anarchist-Syndicalist Union (CNT) began the most widespread anarchist economic experiments in history, they only collectivized industries with:

  • over 100 workers
  • between 50-100 workers if 3/4ths voted for it
  • Under 50 if a majority and the boss voted for it
  • Workplaces of the most extreme strategic importance to the national economy

Of course we want all workers to be organized and have collectivized workplaces for everyone who wants it, but we cannot be utopian about revolutionary processes.  There needs to be a new economy to replace the old one and there needs to be production, access to raw materials, and transportation as well as ideological and organizational structures placed over these modes.    It is doubtful that a revolution could succeed without organization in these sectors and definitely could not sustain itself later.  If we are going to focus on building our capacity, it follows that it should be in the most important industries.  How is Starbucks or Jimmy Johns going to be a vital part of the new economy (or even a chokepoint in the current one)?  This is not to say that people working there already shouldn’t be encouraged to organize, but as social/organized anarchists, we need to have a strategic orientation that will help us achieve our goals.

For example, if you want to organize at the chokepoints of capital flows—labor militants should get jobs in ports, rail container facilities, distribution centers, military and other strategic manufacturing, port truckers and light rail freight, general rail freight, natural resource extraction (oil, mining, etc), or maybe universities or healthcare centers.  It all depends on what the organizational orientation is and what facts show is the most strategic geographically and on a wider scale.  There should also be attempts at including locations that have queer workers, domestic workers, and others that aren’t predominantly (cis) male in the category of “strategic industries”.

From my experience in workplace organizing, I have come to the conclusion that under most circumstances, we should prioritize workplaces over 50 workers.  According to the Sojourner Truth Organization, a Chicago based communist org that operated in “industrial concentration” (at the point of production) from 1969-85, workplaces with less than 50 workers often cannot afford the costs of having a union.  They wrote that it is much cheaper to completely rehire the workforce or to move to a new location.  Furthermore, if we are attempting to build a militant labor movement, then scale is important.  How is a 5 person shift walkout or strike going to have an impact when much of the organizing needs to come from outside.  Instead, think about a larger workforce who can take on the tasks themselves.  They can have workers (or their family members) collecting for the strike fund at high trafficked areas, maintaining pickets or even blockades during all business hours (rather than select vigils or protests), set up strike camps, and collectively produce and distribute propaganda.  If some or all of these activities are engaged by an outside union (such as the IWW), there is no growth of experience and worker capacity.  Furthermore, there is no substantial effect on either capital or sectors of the working class.

To build an effective labor campaign in such workplaces, it will probably be necessary to always have two or more salts (a person who gets a job with the intention of unionizing) per workplace and at least one salt for every 50 workers.  As anybody who has attempted to organize a workplace by themselves knows, it can be very isolating and discouraging.  Even forming a small committee or finding one or two co-workers to start things can take time.  Working as a team allows multiple shifts and workplace areas to be covered as well as providing useful feedback, cooperation, and a sense of forward movement.  The sense of momentum and cooperation also gives confidence to both the salts and their co-workers who may be hesitant to risk their employment. From there it is important to map out the workplace (both the coworkers and the material conditions, assets, and limitations).  Then plan an escalation strategy with metrics that is multiple steps ahead.  If you aren’t moving forward, you will soon be moving backward.

For larger organization, it is important to set up jobs committees to help with resume building, job searching, interview questions, and recommendations.  These committees should develop workers for insertion into strategic industries.  Further activities include funding certifications (forklift, truck driving, TWIC cards, etc) and trade school classes in important jobs.  One tactic for padding resumes is to find “dead factories” or work locations that are no longer operating to fill in work gaps and provide experience.  Once some militants are able to get into targeted workplaces and industries, they will be able to help bring other people in and can mentor new people in unfamiliar jobs.

In order to accomplish such a strategic overhaul, the left in the US needs to move away from activist organizing towards long term work.  Building power will require militants to choose sectors of importance and to stay involved in them in ways which build capacity in the rank and file.  This is in very sharp contrast to the concept of activists which only organize people towards campaigns.  Anarchist or Revolutionary labor strategies cannot focus only on wage increases and reforms as they will fail to achieve the structural change that we envision.  That being said, wage and benefit increases can act as a gateway to radicalizing the rank and file.  For this to be effective it is necessary to talk politics with co-workers.  The problems on the job and the empowerment of collective action can further the argument for class consciousness, worker self- management, and other tenets of anarchism.  In having these discussions, it is more important that workers act like anarchists than that they call themselves anarchists, but it is important to discuss the ideas behind anarchist thought, particularly if it relates to their actual lives.  Doing so in a respectful and understanding manner is the best way to build trust and respect with co-workers, which is the key to cooperation.  Such trust will also allow more gradual discussions on sexism, racism, and homophobia with co-workers.  This long term agitation can be quite a commitment and thus should be focused in strategic ways.

Unfortunately, capacity building can be stymied by the existence of anarchist bureaucrats in the labor movement.  As anarchists, we often envision a self-managed society from the bottom up that relies on the politicization, experience, and collective action of the workers and community members at the base.   The problem with union staff is it does not encourage a rank and file strategy.  At best it siphons away many experienced and devoted militants into working in the very business union bureaucracy we are combatting.  At worst, it waters down politics in the IWW, and leads to business union modes of thinking and operating, while turning Wobblies (members of the IWW) and libertarian labor militants into shock troops for business union campaigns.  Some have stated that this creates, “invaluable experience of union work” which cannot be obtained elsewhere.  While there are plenty of cases of anarchists “learning the trade” through salt campaigns or as researchers for unions, this often comes at the expense of long term rank and file organizing and building the anarchist labor movement.  Is there any evidence that this experience goes into developing rank and file work later?  How many SEIU or Unite Here staffers go on to salt and build rank and file unions and caucuses after leaving?  These are questions that must be asked and looked at honestly if we are to succeed.

In addition to paid union staffers, there are many anarchists who have taken union officer positions.  These range from shop stewards to presidents of locals.  This can have both pros and cons which need to be carefully fleshed out for their strategic orientation and the effect it has on the anarchist labor movement in the US.  First the potential benefits:

Anarchists who have gained these positions due to rank and file surges within unions with more democratic structures can use these positions to increase democratic activity and combative action within their unions.  They can also turn the unions into educational vehicles of struggle which can produce experienced anarchist militants.  To do this, it would be necessary to use the positions to prepare and support the development of rank and file workplace organization.  If not, elected anarchist officers (even those receiving substantial votes and support of the rank and file) risk turning into bureaucrats.

When positions are used poorly, Anarchist bureaucrats have called for strikes with short notice, with little rank and file feedback, and with little preparation.  They have looked at board meetings as key decision making spaces rather than trying to develop shop floor democracy.  Some get embroiled in negotiating committees, centralize knowledge, and waste time that can be spent helping the rank and file develop towards wider and more sustainable action.  Democratizing the labor movement cannot just be called for and hoped to fall from the sky. It must be built and that means spending more time engaging the rank and file than participating in internal meetings.  Radical slogans and symbolic arrests are no substitution for large scale militant participatory direct action.

So what is the alternative?  We have to have rank and file workers to build capacity in the working class.  While this seems obvious, it is currently very rare.  We have far too many Anarchists who go to graduate school and then become stuck (owing to the pressures of academic work and debt) and isolated from the working class.  Or they try to obtain jobs in NGOs and again become part of bureaucratic structures and demobilizing institutions.  This is not to say that researchers and academics have no place in the labor movement.  Statistics and mapping of actual material conditions are necessary to figure out strategy and tactics, but the most important work will be engaged by rank and file workers in their workplaces.  While it can be possible to build relationships with workers in nearby industries, these will never be as strong as bonds forged through common work experiences and solidarity.

If one is fortunate enough to avoid such work, then it is a hard sell to devote years to working in these industries.  There are very real economic pressures facing those in working class jobs.  There is low pay, very few benefits, inflexible and changing schedules, and often mind numbing manual labor.  However, the vast majority of working class people don’t have a choice.  The concept of the American Dream rings hollow as real social mobilization is statistically unfounded.  As a result, the only way to improve living conditions and to improve the lot of the working class is to build rank and file labor power at work.

 

In Summary:

  • Research the current material conditions
  • Describe the current period and what escalating features would result in more developed periods for the anarchist movement.
  • Plan a strategy that takes into account strategic industries which can develop revolutionary conditions, defend the revolution, and later can be useful in a post capitalist economy
  • Target workplaces that fit into the broader strategy, while being flexible
  • Build rank and file capacity rather than bureaucracy
  • Provide multiple salts per workplace
  • Encourage political discussions at work that are tied into workplace actions and conditions
  • Develop jobs committees which will act as the mechanism for insertion into strategic industries
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