Workers Against Work – Seidman on the Civil War Barcelona CNT

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Nov 7 2006 10:15
Workers Against Work – Seidman on the Civil War Barcelona CNT

Right so this touches upon issues the other CNT thread has discussed, but I wanted to start a thread about Michael Seidman's book Workers Against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona During the Popular Fronts.

In it he presents the CNT as being like the Bolsheviks in Russia, attempting to impose work on the proletariat who resist their new union bosses as they did the old capitalist ones.

I wrote a bunch of notes while reading it, and was going to start this thread with them, but since discussion on this book has already started on the other thread I'll start this now, then split the relevant posts from the other thread here. I'll post my own thoughts later.

Anarcho
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Nov 4 2006 22:13

Seidman's work is problematic, simply because he just lists shit loads of negative events without much context and in no real order.

It reminds me of what the Spanish conservative ABC did in the run-up to Franco's coup. It published all the murders, thefts, rapes and so on as front page news. The amount of actual crime had not increased, but the perception of it increased massively. Seidman's work feels like that.

Ultimately, there are no instant utopias and any real revolution is going to face problems. Fact of life. What Seidman does is try and convince you that no radical change is possible but focusing on the trival problems any massive social change will produce.

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Nov 6 2006 20:41

Great post Anarcho

MalFunction
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Nov 6 2006 16:13

any discussion of what happened in the Republican / cnt-fai zone of Spain during the civil war / revolution / counter-revolution must take into account the severe dislocation to the economy (in the broadest sense of the term) caused by the military uprising (loss of productive land / cutting off of access to raw materials) - which got worse as the war continued; the effects of the naval blockade (by UK / US non-intervention forces and Italian / german navies) which isolated the republican zone - apart from what could be got from France or supplied through it); effects of war on production etc, loss of working hours etc.

the fact that many lost their jobs could easily be due to loss of work for them to do (lack of raw materials) or loss of markets for items for export. the increase in working hours could be explained by the need where resources were available or where productivity could be expanded that as much needed to be produced as possible - either for direct consumption, supplies for the front line troops or for supplying the urban areas or for export (if possible.)

to simply blame everything on the CNT-FAI is quite absurd.

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Nov 6 2006 21:41

Yeah Anarcho that's what I got, that and that it *only* uses negative examples, and no positive ones. But I'll start a new thread on it. MalFunction I think that your post could be criticised in that that's what trots say about the Bolsheviks in Russia. But I'll have a proper think and start a new thread for this stuff.

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Nov 6 2006 23:36

Except as Brinton showed, the trots are consciously directing attention away from the fact that the bolshies consciously worked to suppress the workers' autonomy from day 1, so the problem isn't with the evidence/excuses per se, its with what they are covering up.

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Nov 7 2006 07:09
Anarcho wrote:
Seidman's work is problematic, simply because he just lists shit loads of negative events without much context and in no real order.

I'm reading it, and finding it somewhat disturbing. Can you give me some of the context because I'm feeling that, but having trouble thinking myself out of that book.

One thesis I find particularly troubling is that the centralists in the CNT & FAI were able to flourish because of the problems around workers resisting work rather than the traditional anarchist history that says that workers were happy and collective and then the revolution got coopted and things fell apart (obviously i'm over simplifying).

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Nov 7 2006 10:39
booeyschewy wrote:
Anarcho wrote:
Seidman's work is problematic, simply because he just lists shit loads of negative events without much context and in no real order.

I'm reading it, and finding it somewhat disturbing. Can you give me some of the context because I'm feeling that, but having trouble thinking myself out of that book.

I can see how that could be the case if you hadn't read much else on the subject.

But basically I got the feeling the book was largely bollocks - not by untruth, by by presenting one-sided examples to distort reality. I read it alongside Dolgoff's The Anarchist Collectives, which is a series of accounts and articles about the running of worker-controlled industries and agricultural collectives.

One thing which stood out was Seidman saying that the CNT re-introduced piecework. This sounded very damning. Reading more into it though, you see that firstly this was in *one* workplace, secondly it was voted for by a majority of the workplace's workers who were fed up with some being lazy as they saw it, and thirdly people in the CNT were very much against it as they saw piecework as being terrible.

There are loads of other things like this - he constantly makes statements about the CNT bring in piecework and extending wage differentials, without using many examples. He does not mention any of the many examples of collectives and industries abolishing wages, or like some introducing a family wage (payment not according to work but the number of people in a family), or other things like the collectives where all money was abolished, the many places where rent was abolished and all essentials were free, etc.

He also conflates the actions of the CNT, the UGT and the Communists - often not making clear who did what (in fact many of the negative things the voice of "workers' opposition" he gives to them are in fact those of CNT delegates), and goes rapidly backwards and forwards in time, thus removing the events from any context.

I had a lot more thoughts which I'll get down later, the book annoyed me intensely. The main thing at the beginning he tries to paint of a picture of the CNT *only* wanting a revolution in order to modernise Spain's productive forces, and keeps quoting various reformist CNT leaders to try to demonstrate that. He paints a picture of them liking Taylorism and wanting to improve efficiency - but of course them being revolutionary anarchists it wouldn't be to make people work harder it would be to save time to give people more time to live.

Are there any good criticisms/counter-criticisms of it online anywhere?

MalFunction
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Nov 7 2006 17:28

i see my contribution to the other thread has been moved here.

I've not read seidman's text so can't comment on it.

perhaps more to the point has anyone got access to:

Politics and Pyrites during the Spanish Civil War
Charles E. Harvey
Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Feb., 1978), pp. 89-104

it's not available on-line as far as I can see.

relevance being that the main iron ore and coal reserves in Spain are in the northwest of the country (including the asturias). From the maps of the SCW i've seen that part was either over-run very quickly by the nationalist forces or isolated from the rest of the republican area.

any manufacturing in the rest of the republican area that needed power (coal) or iron may well have been severely impacted by this situation.

the Harvey text looks like it might explore this question in much greater depth.

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Nov 7 2006 18:14

John- What you're saying makes sense. I've read a lot about the Spanish revolution, Dolgoff's book included. That's what was getting me. Now granted I'm not that far into his book and so I hadn't followed all the threads, and hearing what you're saying having read the whole book adds up. I guess what startled me was that these issues were not mentioned elsewhere I have read, and on the surface it seems like he has evidence to support his claims. My feeling was that the crux is how widespread such issues were, and that is a messy empirical question which takes some research to work out conclusively.

What do others make about the part in the book where he talks about the Friends of Durruti and cites an article where one of them calls for forced labor? I can't read spanish so couldn't follow up on it.

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Nov 7 2006 20:13

The Friends of Durruti did call for forced labor, to get the Stalinist police off the street and into the factories.

However that was to end the forced labor that the Stalinist apparatus was pushing the workers into.

I believe their words were something about putting the bourgeoisie to work.

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Nov 8 2006 00:01
OliverTwister wrote:
I believe their words were something about putting the bourgeoisie to work.

Yeah, Seidman does say that the anarchists ran labour camps to make fascists and the bourgeoisie work. I'm not sure what I think of that... But of course saying labour camp makes it sound barbaric, whereas in fact human modern prisons in the UK contain forced work components as well, but "prison" doesn't sound as bad as "labour camp".

That was another thing about Seidman that pissed me off, saying that pre-revolution anarchists were slagging off the "lazy" and "parasites" - implying that they meant workers who didn't like work, as opposed to what they obviously did mean which was the capitalists, priests, etc.

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Nov 8 2006 02:34
John. wrote:
Right so this touches upon issues the other CNT thread has discussed, but I wanted to start a thread about Michael Seidman's book Workers Against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona During the Popular Fronts.

In it he presents the CNT as being like the Bolsheviks in Russia, attempting to impose work on the proletariat who resist their new union bosses as they did the old capitalist ones.

This sounds like the question of the 'Myth of the Anarchist Collectives' rearing itself again:

Quote:
Looking back at this sad historical exper­ience which the Spanish proletariat suffered, denouncing the great myth of the collectives with which the bourgeoisie was able to deceive them, it is not a question of intel­lectualism or erudition. It is a vital necessity to avoid falling again into the same trap. To defeat us, and to make us swallow measures of super—exploitation, of unemployment, of sacrifice, the bourgeoisie uses deception: it will disguise itself as ‘worker’ and ‘popular’ (in 1936 the bourgeoi­sie made calluses on their hands and dressed as workers); the factories were proclaimed ‘socialised’ and ‘self-managed’; it calls for every type of interclassist solidarity such as the banner of ‘anti—fascism’, the ‘defence of democracy’, ‘anti—terrorist struggle’... it gives to the workers the false impression of their being ‘free’, of their controlling the economy, etc. But behind so much democracy, ‘participation’, and ‘self—management’, there hides intact, more powerful and strengthened than ever, the apparatus of the bourgeois state around which the capitalist relations of production maintain themselves and worsen in all their savagery.

The Myth of the Anarchist Collectives
http://en.internationalism.org/ir/015_myth_collectives.html

The great difference being that the Russian Revolution was part of a global wave of struggles that was shaking capitalism to its very foundations, while the war in Spain was a preparation for the Second World War,

Malfunction wrote:
the increase in working hours could be explained by the need [for] supplies for the front line troops...

Acceptable for the class war, but for an inter-imperialist war?
B.

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Nov 8 2006 09:51

Beltov, other than a number of blanket assertions echoeing what the ICC repeat all the time without backing it up [with a hefty dose of weirdness, e.g. "(in 1936 the bourgeoi­sie made calluses on their hands and dressed as workers)"], I don't really see that adds much to the discussion...

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Nov 8 2006 13:23

Sorry, i've not had a chance to read the thread yet, but a mate of mine did a talk about the subject once (many moons ago), i'll see if he's still got the work he did.

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Nov 8 2006 14:40

Beltov

the Spanish Civil War / Revolution / Counter-revolution was a many-sided conflict. To dismiss it as an inter-imperialist war is far too simplistic (but doubtless suitable for your ideology)

simple fact is that the franco-ist troops didn't give two hoots whether people were anarchists, communists or internationalists, if they caught them and identified them they tried and, in many cases, executed them. Having a note from the ICC saying "Please excuse "insert name of internationalist here" from the firing squad as s/he is opposed to this inter-imperialist war and has conducted agitation on behalf of the working class against the imposition of increased production and cuts in wages probably wouldn't have done them any favours.

herewith quote of review of book I haven't read (but looks very good):

Quote:
For Richards starts with a chapter on the Francoist eliminiation of dissent. On the Loyalist side much of the violence was spontaneous in the aftermath of the breakdown of establish order in the wake of the coup. Juan Negrin, so often and so falsely dismissed as a Communist puppet, actually went of his way to patrol with militias in order to prevent political assasinations. On the nationalist side, by contrast, there was constant talk of extermination, liquidation, of an utterly uncompromising crusade from politicians who were proud of and not ashamed of the Spanish Inquisition. The Nazi press praised the Nationalists for their vigor: "The Marxist parties are being destroyed and exterminated down the very last cell far more dramatically even than here in Germany." Perhaps 6,000 were summarily executed in Seville alone before February 1937. (Richards adds "This was not violence which was `necessary' in any military sense: there was no organized armed resistance to speak of." ) In Granada perhaps 8,000 were killed, and perhaps 4,000 were killed in the first week at Malaga. A thousand were killed in the conquest of San Sebastian in the Basque Country, and another thousand at Bilbao. There were fourteen concentration camps in the area of Valencia alone, while Mussolini's son in law, Count Ciano, believed that there were 200 executions daily in conquered Madrid in the summer of 1939.

http://www.amazon.com/Time-Silence-Repression-1936-1945-Cultural/dp/0521...

book is "A Time of Silence: Civil War and the Culture of Repression in Franco's Spain, 1936-1945" by Michael Richards, Cambridge UP, 1998. horribly expensive but hopefully some libraries may have it.

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Nov 8 2006 16:17
John. wrote:
weirdness, e.g. "(in 1936 the bourgeoi­sie made calluses on their hands and dressed as workers)"], I don't really see that adds much to the discussion...

That's not really weirdness. The neutral and/or fifth column middle class dressed prole in Barcelona and other areas to avoid unwanted attention (whether justified or because of paranoia). That's pretty widely accepted no? I agree that Beltov's phrasing is off and it has nothing to do with the collectives though.

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Nov 8 2006 16:37
revol68 wrote:
I think in the context of the ICC it is meant as a metaphor that the CNT and such were the bourgeois in 1936.

Well it could be that as well yeah.

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Nov 8 2006 20:01

Revol wrote:

"Basically their analysis is a pix and nix of bourgeois history eg prelude to WW2, bourgeois liberalism versus fascism, and some Bordigan pontificating".

Would "Bordigan pontificating" be the Italian left communists' view that there had been a radical change in the world balance of class forces between the post war wave of revolutionary movements and the war in Spain? That the working class had suffered a profound defeat and that a course towards world war had opened up?

If so, what exactly are your criticisms of that view?

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Nov 14 2006 04:29
Anarcho wrote:
Seidman's work is problematic, simply because he just lists shit loads of negative events without much context and in no real order.

It reminds me of what the Spanish conservative ABC did in the run-up to Franco's coup. It published all the murders, thefts, rapes and so on as front page news. The amount of actual crime had not increased, but the perception of it increased massively. Seidman's work feels like that.

that's a good point, i agree with it. It's a very old trick of historians to do paint a picture like that. It's very easy to do. I also found Seidman's work on the French uprising in 1968 to be challenging but problematic.

Anarcho wrote:
Ultimately, there are no instant utopias and any real revolution is going to face problems. Fact of life. What Seidman does is try and convince you that no radical change is possible but focusing on the trival problems any massive social change will produce.

I don't think Seidman is focussing on "trivial problems" at all. In fact, IIRC (its been a while since i read it), Seidman, for all his faults, has hit a very important issue indeed. Namely, that (seemingly) many CNTistas put the revolution on the back burner, and thus demanded workers to work faster and harder for the war effort against fascism. They demanded greater and greater sacrifices of workers and even disciplined them in this regard. Seidman's work is useful in this regard in that he proves, or i think he proves, that many workers resisted the demands for speed up and sacrifice of the CNT leadership. (Maybe he only proved this in a few factories; I cant remember).

I also think IIRC Seidman shows up some of the weaknesses of anarcho-syndicalist self-management, namely they retained the market, wages and so on eg. CNT controlled workplaces competed with each other on the market and retained wages, even if they called themselves libertarian communists. Some workers did not like this version of self-management and revolted against it. The spectre of communism haunts anarcho-syndicalism once again (to be fair, lots of anarchists in Spain were into communism and actually implemented it in a limited way).

Reading these posts, I am struck by the age-old anarchist reaction to criticism of the anarchist canon -- especially the crowning glory of the faith, the Spanish revolution. That is, the criticisms are immediately and wholeheartedly dismissed. Anarcho even asserts Seidman is a conservative who believes radical change is impossible. How bout a bit of balance? I see good and bad in Seidman's work. Did anybody else find Seidman's work useful?

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Nov 14 2006 05:21

Where can I get a copy of Dolgoff's book?

syndicalist
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Nov 14 2006 05:34
Quote:
Where can I get a copy of Dolgoff's book?

I think Black Rose (Montreal)may be the only place to buy new. See" http://www.blackrosebooks.net/dolgoff.htm

--mitch

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Nov 14 2006 23:12

I found this useful comment in Anarcho-Syndicalist Review (1996) about Seidman's book. (it's not online). In the midst of a very dismissive review by "JS" that claims Seidman is a post-modernist apologist for capitalism, it states:

"Seidman's contribution, if there is one...[is] in the attention he draws to the difficulties of workers' self-management during the Spanish revolution. Production did not always increase under self-management, nor were the new workplace relations always happy and harmonious. There were indeed problems, which will have to be addressed next time around. However to see in these problems an argument for the impossibility of worker self-management, is like arguing that slavery should not have been abolished in the US because the plantations lost their efficiency afterwards."

So there's a more balanced viewpoint. But I can't remember if Seidman is actually arguing that self-management is impossible, IIRC he just argues it was problematic and unpopular with some workers.

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Nov 15 2006 10:54
Skraeling wrote:
Seidman's work is useful in this regard in that he proves, or i think he proves, that many workers resisted the demands for speed up and sacrifice of the CNT leadership. (Maybe he only proved this in a few factories; I cant remember).

Yeah he picks a tiny number of examples, and doesn't demonstrate very much about them. He states in some places productivity went down, but not much evidence that was due to workers' resistance rather than the war reducing raw materials, etc. Also he picks a couple of examples of formerly militant sectors showing productivity decline, but in most examples he doesn't say if the absentee workers were conservative, fascist or whathaveyou. He also says - and seems pleased by - how workers in some areas disliked refugees from fascist areas and how they put a strain on resources.

He completely ignores any counter-examples, which abound in other texts I've read - with accounts of numbers of refugees put up in collectives, collectives donating huge amounts of materials to soldiers at the front; collections among soldiers to fund projects in the collectives, etc.

Quote:
I also think IIRC Seidman shows up some of the weaknesses of anarcho-syndicalist self-management, namely they retained the market, wages and so on eg. CNT controlled workplaces competed with each other on the market and retained wages

Which ones competed on the open market? The socialised industries didn't, and I don't think the CNT agricultural collectives did either did they? Some did in the confusion at first, before collectivisation.

Seidman does go on about wages but ignores all counter-examples, such as the attempts at libertarian communism (each according to need/want), the areas where all housing, healthcare and abundant products were free, etc.

Quote:
Some workers did not like this version of self-management and revolted against it.

Also, he doesn't point out one concrete revolt - not even one strike. He says that some people worked slowly and that others pulled sickes and got to work late; with no comparison to pre-revolution data.

Quote:
Anarcho even asserts Seidman is a conservative who believes radical change is impossible. How bout a bit of balance? I see good and bad in Seidman's work. Did anybody else find Seidman's work useful?

Seidman seems to imply that social change is impossible. He just comes off as an ultra-individualist.

The thing that looked most convincing in his criticisms was that the CNT was nationalistic - he quoted extensively about that. But then some of that could have been wanting national self-sufficiency if they were going to have "anarchism in one country" till workers elsewhere caught up.

Another of his main points was that the conventional anarchist argument was that as the state and Communist Party consolidated control and undermined the revolution, workers stopped bothering to work hard because they had nothing to gain any more. Seidman argues that workers could not be bothered to work, and that that is why the state and CP had to take over.

This point is interesting, but it would be hard to demonstrate one way or the other. What do other people think?

Skraeling
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Nov 16 2006 23:41
John. wrote:
Skraeling wrote:
Seidman's work is useful in this regard in that he proves, or i think he proves, that many workers resisted the demands for speed up and sacrifice of the CNT leadership. (Maybe he only proved this in a few factories; I cant remember).

Yeah he picks a tiny number of examples, and doesn't demonstrate very much about them. He states in some places productivity went down, but not much evidence that was due to workers' resistance rather than the war reducing raw materials, etc. Also he picks a couple of examples of formerly militant sectors showing productivity decline, but in most examples he doesn't say if the absentee workers were conservative, fascist or whathaveyou. He also says - and seems pleased by - how workers in some areas disliked refugees from fascist areas and how they put a strain on resources.

He completely ignores any counter-examples, which abound in other texts I've read

It's a pity that I don't have much time at the mo and more to the point can't remember Seidman's book too well so we could have a detailed debate. I think you may be right, I remember reading an article by Seidman on metal workers during France 1968 which I found frustrating. Seidman argued that the demand for self-management in May/june 1968 was not as widespread as many assume, in fact he argued that workers did not like self-management. But the problem with his argument is that he only focussed only metal workers, how can you arrogantly generalise from there and say all the workers wanted to abandon the factories? And he also overlooked all the counter-evidence, and there is lots, that many workers did support self-management.

History is a funny thing, basically you can prove anything if you selectively find evidence for something and ignore the rest. And all history is biased.

Quote:
I also think IIRC Seidman shows up some of the weaknesses of anarcho-syndicalist self-management, namely they retained the market, wages and so on eg. CNT controlled workplaces competed with each other on the market and retained wages

Quote:
Which ones competed on the open market? The socialised industries didn't, and I don't think the CNT agricultural collectives did either did they? Some did in the confusion at first, before collectivisation.

well, I think many of the "socialised" industries did, or at least they sold their produce on the market, I remember Leval's Collectives in Spain is good for this. see http://www.geocities.com/Knightrose.geo/subvert4.htm

article from Subversion 18 wrote:
The 'revolution' in the countryside has usually been seen as superior to the 'revolution' in the towns and cities. Anarchist historian and eyewitness of the collectives, Gaston Leval, describes the industrial collectives as simply another form of capitalism, managed by the workers themselves:

"Workers in each undertaking took over the factory, the works, or the workshop, the machines, raw materials, and taking advantage of the continuation of the money system and normal capitalist commercial relations, organised production on their own account, selling for their own benefit the produce of their labour."

We would add that in many cases the workers didn't actually take over production; they simply worked under the direction of 'their own' union bureaucrats with the old bosses retained as advisors.

The reactionary consequences of the working class taking sides in the fight between democracy and fascism, instead of pursuing the struggle for their own needs, was particularly evident in the way the industrial collectives operated. For the sake of the 'war effort' workers frequently chose to intensify their own exploitation - usually with the encouragement of their anarchist leaders.

In 1937, for example, the anarchist Government Minister in charge of the economy in Catalonia complained that the "state of tension and over-excitement" produced by the outbreak of the Civil War had "reduced to a dangerous degree the capacity and productivity of labour, increasing the costs of production so much that if this is not corrected rapidly and energetically we will be facing a dead-end street. For these reasons we must readjust the established work norms and increase the length of the working day."

Quote:
Seidman seems to imply that social change is impossible. He just comes off as an ultra-individualist.

Ultra-individualist? That's not my impression of him. I couldn't really work out where Seidman is coming from. Certainly he seems to use a left communist critique at times but then this just might be an appearance rather than reality. Maybe he is just one of those pomo academics.

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Nov 16 2006 23:59
Skraeling wrote:
Ultra-individualist? That's not my impression of him. I couldn't really work out where Seidman is coming from. Certainly he seems to use a left communist critique at times but then this just might be an appearance rather than reality. Maybe he is just one of those pomo academics.

Seidman to me seems to straddle the ground between primitivist/anti-organisationalist anarchist and ultra-leftist. Like a lot of the people on anti-politics.net.

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Nov 17 2006 00:56

Not surprising really, John Zerzans background was as a left communist and so was Freddie Perlmans.

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Nov 17 2006 12:22
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Not surprising really, John Zerzans background was as a left communist and so was Freddie Perlmans.

I think that you are really stretching the definition of Left Communist there EW.

Dev

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Nov 17 2006 12:33
revol68 wrote:
No he's not Zerzan and Perlman were pretty much left communists in their early days.

Again, I think that you are using a very different definition of Left Communist than the Left Communists do themselves.

Camatte was. He was a member of the PCInt, but the other two.

Dev

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Nov 17 2006 13:01
Wiki wrote:
In 1974 Black and Red Press published Unions Against Revolution by Spanish ultra-left theorist Grandizo Munis that included an essay by Zerzan which previously appeared in the journal Telos.

They were put together in repreint. Zerzan certainly wasn't published by FOR or Alarma.

Dev

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Nov 17 2006 14:33

Looking back at that post it seems like I was trying to make a jab at left communists, I actually wasn't. That wasn't actually my intent all I was saying is that Seidman wouldn't be the first person with an ultra left critique of unions to take a primitivist position. At least here in North America a lot of anarchist magazines misuse a lot of warmed over left communist rhetoric to make their point. Just look at Anarchy a Journal of Desire Armed, any of the plethora of shitty insurrectionist zines, or green anarchy and you can see a marked similarity in tone and approach. For the record though for all my disagreements I think the left communists are sometimes onto something, the former folks are all just on something.