Crossroad discussions from yester-year

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syndicalist
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Aug 7 2011 15:36
Crossroad discussions from yester-year

At the end of the 1970's, the beginning of the 1980's, some of us who went on to found the W.S.A. engaged in some “way forward” discussions. These discussions took place between anarcho-syndicalists, with the aim of organizing a tendency reflective of our views. At the time of the writing, most of us were still in our 20's or very early 30s.

The initial discussions began under the big-sounding name of the "Syndicalist Workers Committee. The core of this committee was, in fact, Tom W. and the Milwaukee Syndicalist Alliance", a Michigan (ex NY) comrade who has politically moved on (Tony Pestalozzi/Rob Rossi) and the NYC area Libertarian Workers Group. Our aim was to start a broader conversation with folks who we felt close to, either in actual politics or practice (and hopefully both!),

These discussion started while we were members of the Anarchist-Communist Federation of North America (ACF). Some time after the NY-NJ area group, the Libertarian Workers Group (LWG) withdrew from the ACF (1981), some of these discussions became more frequent. The discussions, while fruitful, but never lead to a conclusion on some of the major issues. They were helpful discussions and ultimately lead to the formation of the W.S.A.

The text which appears below is probably written in 1980. The letter appeared in the Second issue of the internal bulletin of our informal and transitional “Syndicalist Workers Committee” bulletin.

While some of the language and references are clearly late 1970sish, I am sharing this as some of the issues raised are as germane today, as they were yesterday.

Apologies in advance for my poor writing style and many run-on sentences.

Yours in solidarity,
Syndicalist
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Comments and Suggestions on Issue Number 1” (excerpts)

“ …. Even if the Syndicalist Workers Committee (m: hereafter SWC) dissipates because of disagreements over political analysis and/or tactical disagreements, I believe, that simply opening up this discussion is a step in the right direction. I feel this way simply because those segments of the syndicalist movement have decided to coherently debate and analyze the issues are before us.

This in and of itself is a major break with the past. Over the past 10 years (though, even more specifically during the {19]70s) we’ve seen the development of a small, yet active, core of syndicalist militants. Many of these militants are isolated from each other, yet each are attempting to do what they can in their own small way to make our ideas more accessible to working people. Even today we’re making contact with militants who we never knew were out there. The same holds true for groups (be they study or informal discussion groups) now forming in the U.S. and Canada.

While I do not want to paint [too] ….rosy of a picture that there are endless number of groups and individuals now coming into the syndicalist ‘movement’, there is a small growth never-the-less. This growth, I feel, is indicative of the growing crisis of capital. Though probably more importantly, as far as those who are ideologically committed to libertarian ideas, are the failure of the anarchist ‘movement’ per se to coherently tackle important questions such as workers’ control [union] caucus vs. workers councils, independent unions, as well as social and cultural questions. Or even the extremely important questions of what are the nuts ‘n’ bolts of building a revolutionary movement capable of attaining self-management. It seemed like all of these questions have been relegated to what we do ‘after the revolution.’ Not what do we do to raise peoples consciousness. Or how do we build those organizations in the workplace and communities capable of overturning capitalist society.

Even after years of trying to raise these questions, answers were never found. Nor was the ‘movement’ willing to attempt to answer these questions. Many a good militant were lost because of this. Yet, at the same time, positive developments were occurring. For example, in the workplaces the number of strikes and wildcats and vent the length of the strikes has increased. Workers have shown a feeling of increased combatively which hasn’t been seen in years. In the unions we’ve seen more and more rank-and-file battles being fought. And in the communities there’s been a lot of emphasis on community control, recycling of buildings and tenant organizations ….

And in a span of less than 6 years we have seen groups, collectives and individuals in our generalized movement begin to make attempts to line up with the aforementioned struggles. As well as pose questions and publish propaganda that was more accessible to the average person.

There were also attempts to organize specifically libertarian class struggle federations, such as our short lived NY-New England group [m: known simply as “The Federation”]. Or the short lived attempt by the League for Economic Democracy to bring various class struggle libertarian organizations and individuals together in such a federation. The, of course, there’s been the growth of the IWW and its attempts to organize shops in its own name. Though… still not great numbers have moved closer to syndicalist politics.

In some respects, the ACF split from SRAF [Social Revolutionary Anarchist Federation --- a truly synthesist formation.] helped to accelerate the move towards coming to grips with the sort of broader questions and activities the anarchist ‘movement’ should be active in (by which I mean not specifically syndicalist, though in favor of syndicalism and workers’ control). Unfortunately those in the ACF are only a minority of those who consider themselves as anarchists. And we [anarcho-syndicalists] make up even a smaller number… Even so, there is now a tendency within the ACF to overlook the same, as well as new, questions we’ve been asking for years.

In short, we are experiencing a limited growth in numbers, a move which was unheard of a decade ago or event 5-6 years ago. Our growth hasn’t simply been due to mere ideological breaks, but is due, rather, to our own entrance, for a sizeable number of us, into the workplace over the past 5-10 years. From our own experiences we’re now starting to draw some conclusions. Our conclusions may still be somewhat vague but at least they are drawn from practical and not so practical experience in the class struggle. For many, and in particular the libertarian movement, this is a qualitative jump forward.

With such on-the-job experience I think that only now are we able to draw a certain framework by which we can work by. From my viewpoint, we are much more capable of doing serious political/trade union work then we were a couple of years back. I suppose this is all part of political maturity, something we’ve only begun to reach. Although our actual numbers are extremely small, I believe that our political maturity will help us to get the gears going during this period of regroupment.

During this period of regroupment, I feel we should tone down many of our expectations. From the advantage point of having done serious in-shop and organizing work over the past number of f years, and from extensive correspondence with comrades, I don’t think we’re ready to undertake any serious in-shop projects at this point in time. …

What is needed is a serious effort to 1) attempt to help link up the various foot-loose syndicalists in North America; 2) engage in a series of discussions with them through both personal contact and through the use of our Bulletin; 3) attempt to better understand what syndicalism is and how it relates to the modern world; 4) build our local groups though the mediums of educationals/local publications, active alliance with in-shop workers groups and consistent attempts to be viable and active as possible in local class battles.

[Point] 3 would entail serious theoretical work on our part (this is where the Bulletin would come in). The present state of simplicity that abounds our ‘movement’ is incredible and in order to actually become involved in long range projects, we must first become a lot more theoretically developed.

My fourth point would entail an on-going series of meetings and discussions, and possibly forums, with those non-Marxist-Leninist groups that are actively building caucuses in their unions, or who have built committees around workplace issues.

Last November I helped to organize a successful meeting of rank-and-filers in NYC. Although the meeting was organized around a specific issue, a number of groups who never met before had the opportunity to meet. In this respect the meeting was a success…. The point is – and the conclusions I’ve drawn from the meeting --- is that it is possible to create the needed inter-working class alliances on the local level. …. It’s possible to bring workplace groups together to discuss common and not so common concerns. By doing this, other groups are not only away ere of your existence, but you begin to build solidarity, which if consistently followed up on could create the needed unity for log range projects or the creation of a local rank-and-file alliance.

One problem with this approach, it can be argued by some, is that you need to represent or be active in a rank-and-file group. Granted. But at this point we’re only viewing it from the strength, or lack thereof, of those groups presently involved in the SWC.

Those of us in the LWG did happen to represent the IWW. However, this should not discount the possibilities for other groups to do the same type of work in their areas. Those that publish a local bulletin or newspaper could offer X amount of space to active local rank-and-file groups. The purpose of this could be to act as sort of informational center for local groups. The sharing of information is important and I think groups see to need for this.

In turn. Our local people (I’ve purposely not called them groups because this presupposes we’re an organization with more affinities than we have) could sponsor forums which would attract militants from other unions, shops, offices. This could begin the process of building a network of active workplace groups.

Of course this is no substitute for actual workplace organizing. But such an approach could be an important step for us during this period of regroupment. And until we seriously consider the tactic of industrial concenttarition --- though I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.

[In reference to publishing a theoretical or mass circulation bulletin] … As I pointed out earlier, we’re a relatively young ‘movement’, one that‘s beginning to move closer towards a definition of what the practical basis of revolutionary syndicalism is. We’re also not cohesive and, to a large degree, stable enough to undertake any other projects. Part and parcel with what I’ve just said would be the questions of organization and industrial concentration.

At this point in the regroupent stage we shouldn’t need to worry extensively about what form of organization our Committee should take on. I see the SWC more as a committee of revolutionary syndicalists and groups presently engaged in theoretical discussion, propaganda and individual and group work. Again, our numbers don’t warrant an organization with many subcommittees, what are needed are merely the necessary committees to produce the bulletin and the magazine [nb: which was to become “ideas & action”]. Our bulletin, the mag. And the set of principles (which I think will be re-written several times to meet our needs) will, for the time, act as our unifying factor.

I also see the SWC as a center for individuals to share information and assist those in various industries or professions the needed research on job problems, lining people up with rank-and-file groups and the like.

… As a tactic industrial concentration has its value and I’d support it in a later stage in our development. The fact…of the matter is we’re still in a stage of regroupment and thus we can’t begin to develop long range projects that require a sizeable and committed group of militants[.Not] unless we’ve consolidated, or somewhat so, our forces. We also can’t lay a line on people who are just beginning to open up discussions with us. These people have top first see that such a project and policy is really needed.

{Additionally], as it stands now, the SWC is roughly 15-20 people at the most.

… Personally I don’t see the needed long term personal commitment on the part of most, nor do I see the needed numbers for a well co-ordinated plan to go into a certain industry.

Of course we shouldn’t discount the work that some of our comrades are presently involved in their workplaces either. Nor those on the periphery of our tendency. For instance, some comrades who are active in a caucuses in British Columbia, or the IBM Workers United in Upstate NY. I should note that the latter group’s 5 point program is very much based on revolutionary syndicalist principles.

I feel that as we grow there will be shifts in our policies that will be dictated by our objective needs. [By] adopting a policy of industrial concentration will also be dictated by the subjective desires of our own militants as well.

[In closing]…I feel that we must show patience with people we disagree with …[.We] must also have a less sectarian attitude towards those who share a common goal [al]though…we don’t see eye-to-eye with on every tactic or [with other] organization that [are] now active in the class struggle.”

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syndicalistcat
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Apr 6 2014 05:40

Eventually I think SWC brought together people from RASCAL (anarchist group in West Virginia), former members of the IWW IOC (Industrial Organizing Committee), LWG & myself to form WSA in 1984. This sounds like it was probably written in 1981. We had a conference in New York City (of SWC) in 1981, and that is where we formed ideas & action to be an ideological journal. In about 1983 there was a national conference of U.S. anarchosyndicalists & libertarian socialists in San Francisco. This was another step towards the formation of WSA in 1984. I think there was a certain aura of optimism in those years, maybe due to the massive upsurge of the late '60s, early '70s still having an effect.

s.nappalos
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Apr 7 2014 10:42

I'm personally curious what happened to the people involved in these projects like the people in Toronto? The West Virginia folks? Where did the Syndicalist Alliance move on to? It's interesting because it reads as very similar to today in terms of the language and decisions being made. What was the bit about workers councils vs. self-management vs. independent unions?

syndicalist
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Apr 7 2014 13:52

Right quick. Toronto foks have dispersed and are not active. One comrade is still active outside of Toronto in their union. WV comrades have also mainly become in active. One is vey active in their union. A couple if others I keep in personal touch,

Self-management, for us and our generation,is a eupemism for "libertarian socialism" or "libertarian communism" (depending on the comrades preference).

More again.

syndicalist
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Apr 7 2014 15:50

Scott, the thing about caucus, workers councils, independent unions referred to the same sorta tactical & strategic discussions folks perennially have

syndicalist
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Apr 7 2014 17:06

I wonder if I would say this today and if I was in my prime (that is, able to put words into practice). I mean putting the issue of industrial concentration and strategic engagement immediately on the table as opposed to later on:

Quote:
… As a tactic industrial concentration has its value and I’d support it in a later stage in our development. The fact…of the matter is we’re still in a stage of regroupment and thus we can’t begin to develop long range projects that require a sizeable and committed group of militants[.Not] unless we’ve consolidated, or somewhat so, our forces. We also can’t lay a line on people who are just beginning to open up discussions with us. These people have top first see that such a project and policy is really needed.

syndicalist
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Nov 21 2020 05:22

Memory lane