Full time members/officials

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working class
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May 29 2011 05:44
Full time members/officials

Do any of the anarchist orgs/associations have full time members or officials who live entirely off the party income?

Would this be acceptable in theory?

Or would part-time members who also work be more effective?

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May 29 2011 08:00

Hi there, no they don't. In theory this wouldn't be acceptable either. Some anarchist organisations, like Solfed bar full-time union officials from membership as well.

In the UK and US, none of the organisations would have enough money to do this anyway! But internationally some would, like the CNT in Spain, which does not have any paid full-time officials. (Although at least historically the CNT has had some paid staff who don't have a political role like clerical staff or printing staff on the newspaper)

we would be against having paid officials in principle, as firstly you would take that person away from work and the realities of working class life. Secondly, and more importantly, this would be a person with a lot of power who would be completely unaccountable, and whose primary interest by necessity would not be furtherance of the aims of the organisation, or of anarchism/communism but would be getting membership dues in order to pay their own salary. The Socialist Workers Party is a good example of this type of organisation.

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May 29 2011 08:03

SolFed definitely doesn't have full-timers. I can't speak for the other organisations though, as I'm unfamiliar with their structures.

I suppose theoretically it could be possible to have full-timers in an anarchist organisation, as long as it was part of a general mandate from the membership - but I'd worry it would cause a two-tier membership with full-timers having more influence in the organisation due to their position.

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May 29 2011 08:36

Auto, a big problem in the UK at least might be to do with employment law. If you hired someone if they were elected, it might not be legally possible to sack them if the membership voted to recall them. I'm not sure if there is somewhere you can register an organisation to have democratic paid posts in it, because legally the only way you can sack people is for a "fair" reason like underperformance, disciplinary, sickness, redundancy.

Unless you hired them through an agency I guess!

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May 29 2011 08:42

A very good point Steve. Just goes to show why it's easier to not have full-timers in an organisation. I think it's much better to have mandated position holders who, depending how arduous/intensive their task is, can get money as required from organisation funds. As a system I think it's much more open and accountable. Also avoids setting up the 'divergent interests' you talked about in your earlier post.

posi
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May 29 2011 09:19

In reality, what the smaller trot groups (including ones smaller than AF and SF) do is have the full timers claim the dole, and then give them cash in hand to top it up to a liveable level. The bigger ones might do this to an extent as well.

I don't think it should be a point of principle for political groups not to have full timers. I mean, once your membership got into the thousands, what about basic admin? What if you had a weekly or daily paper? And if then, why not for earlier and for other things?

Do the larger anarchist and syndicalist groups abroad do this now, or have they done it in the past?

My perception is that in trot groups, the problem consists mainly in that once someone is a full timer, they stay in post - and hence monopolise skills and power, and become disconnected from normal ways of living and thinking. There is also a certain tendency to pick young men from relatively middle class backgrounds: they are perceived to be articulate, dynamic, etc. So I would say, at least, rotate such posts annually, or after two years, compulsorily; and be careful about who gets picked. There also ought to be a definite objective

I'm not saying it doesn't raise issues; obviously it does - but I don't think it's necessarily a point of principle.

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May 29 2011 11:06

That's interesting about the trot groups. Regarding size, yes they may well be smaller but they have much higher membership dues.

In terms of not having paid staff on a point of principle, I was not referring to clerical or technical staff, but to paid staff carrying out the political work of the organisation

Caiman del Barrio
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May 29 2011 11:10

Freedom Press/Bookshop/newspaper has a fulltimer no?

posi
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May 29 2011 11:24

I think, about trot groups it's not only that they have higher membership dues, but more that they're better at retaining committed members throughout middle age, and beyond, such that they have more people who can afford to pay higher dues.

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May 29 2011 12:07
posi wrote:
I think, about trot groups it's not only that they have higher membership dues, but more that they're better at retaining committed members throughout middle age, and beyond, such that they have more people who can afford to pay higher dues.

I think we're straying into a different discussion here, although it is one I'm quite interested in.

I don't agree with this exactly, I think quite a lot of anarchists are middle-aged, for example in Solfed. However, for whatever reason anarchists are just not as committed financially as trots. This could be because trots believe in their party being THE revolutionary party on which the revolution depends. Or it could be that most anarchists don't really think the revolution will happen in our lifetimes so there's not much point spending too much money on it. Or it could be that anarchists are more individualistic, or less easily led into giving away their money. I'm not sure. Probably a bit of all of those.

I remember there was a previous thread on this started by Devrim.

Caiman del Barrio wrote:
Freedom Press/Bookshop/newspaper has a fulltimer no?

sort of I think. But I think things like this or AK press are different, as they are not revolutionary organisations but are collectives with a specific task

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May 29 2011 12:13
posi wrote:
My perception is that in trot groups, the problem consists mainly in that once someone is a full timer, they stay in post - and hence monopolise skills and power, and become disconnected from normal ways of living and thinking. There is also a certain tendency to pick young men from relatively middle class backgrounds: they are perceived to be articulate, dynamic, etc.

If this is modelled on the AWL (alliance for workers slavery) then you should also point out the disproportionate number of Oxbridge graduates and the egotism and arrogance that flows from them believing that they should naturally be in charge (of the workers movement). The socialist party of england and wales are a different breed, The organisation from the leadership to the rank and file is dominated by 'working class' cadre.

posi wrote:
So I would say, at least, rotate such posts annually, or after two years, compulsorily; and be careful about who gets picked. There also ought to be a definite objective.

I think for Trotskyist organisations this would be suicidal. Rotating posts regularly would damage the quality of their material and organisation. The out put of their material and organisation has to be of a high standard otherwise they would be destroyed by the 'competiton' (usually other Trot orgs). Anarchists and other libcoms haven't suffered this problem because the quality of material that's been produced until recently has been an amateurish joke.

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May 29 2011 12:38
Steven. wrote:
Auto, a big problem in the UK at least might be to do with employment law. If you hired someone if they were elected, it might not be legally possible to sack them if the membership voted to recall them. I'm not sure if there is somewhere you can register an organisation to have democratic paid posts in it, because legally the only way you can sack people is for a "fair" reason like underperformance, disciplinary, sickness, redundancy.

Unless you hired them through an agency I guess!

This happened in the (Swedish syndicalist union) SAC recently, with some sacked full timers suing the organization for breach of their employment contract. I think they won too, although I don't remember the details. Also, several local branches were excluded from the organization for siding with them.

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May 29 2011 12:48

Whoops…

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May 29 2011 13:06
Felix Frost wrote:
This happened in the (Swedish syndicalist union) SAC recently, with some sacked full timers suing the organization for breach of their employment contract. I think they won too, although I don't remember the details. Also, several local branches were excluded from the organization for siding with them.

A few years there was also an effort by bureaucratic tendencies in IWW BIRA to appoint a full-time organiser. It was strongly rejected and I think SACs experience speaks volumes. A lot of this is done in the name of pragmatism (the reformists ideology). But I don't think that having set in stone explicit 'revolutionary' strategy and tactics is the answer to solving problems thrown up by bureaucratic tendencies. The most important thing is for workers to freely experiment in struggle as the British student movement and recent assemblies in Spain have shown.

working class
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May 29 2011 20:49
Steven. wrote:
Hi there, no they don't. In theory this wouldn't be acceptable either. Some anarchist organisations, like Solfed bar full-time union officials from membership as well.

In the UK and US, none of the organisations would have enough money to do this anyway! But internationally some would, like the CNT in Spain, which does not have any paid full-time officials. (Although at least historically the CNT has had some paid staff who don't have a political role like clerical staff or printing staff on the newspaper)

That is good to know, as paid full time members would be bereft of working class life and would become potential bureaucrats, but historically, did not the CNT have ministers in the republican government? I would assume they were full time members.

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The Socialist Workers Party is a good example of this type of organisation.

Is the situation the same with left communist organisations too? I'd be interested in knowing the theoretical justifications of any left communist policy regarding full time vs non-full time members.

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May 29 2011 20:53

With left communists, I wouldn't have thought any of the current groups were nearly big enough to have full-time paid activists. I'm not sure if they would have a problem with it; they are fans of centralisation. I don't know about historically.

The CNT did screw up catastrophically joining the government. But they still weren't paid full-time by the union; as government ministers they were most likely paid by the government.

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May 29 2011 21:11
blackrainbow wrote:
I think for Trotskyist organisations this would be suicidal. Rotating posts regularly would damage the quality of their material and organisation. The out put of their material and organisation has to be of a high standard otherwise they would be destroyed by the 'competiton' (usually other Trot orgs). Anarchists and other libcoms haven't suffered this problem because the quality of material that's been produced until recently has been an amateurish joke.

I just can't see how having long terms would improve the quality of anything. You could still work on a book even if you weren't in some position or other. Trot groups are more reliant on a few leaders doing more than everyone else, particularly specialised tasks like theory. This is also true in anarchism but to a much lesser extent. Also where is this high quality trot stuff you are talking about?

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May 29 2011 22:30
888 wrote:
blackrainbow wrote:
I think for Trotskyist organisations this would be suicidal. Rotating posts regularly would damage the quality of their material and organisation. The out put of their material and organisation has to be of a high standard otherwise they would be destroyed by the 'competiton' (usually other Trot orgs). Anarchists and other libcoms haven't suffered this problem because the quality of material that's been produced until recently has been an amateurish joke.

I just can't see how having long terms would improve the quality of anything. You could still work on a book even if you weren't in some position or other. Trot groups are more reliant on a few leaders doing more than everyone else, particularly specialised tasks like theory. This is also true in anarchism but to a much lesser extent. Also where is this high quality trot stuff you are talking about?

The Trots regularly produce weekly newspapers. The political content may not be of interest to us, but there is a 'professionalism' to the layout of their journals. They also produce large volumes of the stuff and it makes good toilet paper too (I highly recommend the AWLs rag). This imo is only possible because the Trots have full-timers working day and night on their material. SolFeds news paper has seriously improved because a professional journo (Rob Ray?) is working on it. Some anarchos would argue that the position of lay out person should be rotated to stop indviduals becoming 'indispensable'. I say keep him there until he decides to load a gun and...

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May 29 2011 23:50
blackrainbow wrote:
SolFeds news paper has seriously improved because a professional journo (Rob Ray?) is working on it.

actually he did most of the original design and template, but the layout is usually knocked together in a couple of evenings by a pair of us in brighton with minimal (non-professional) training. we'd need a bigger collective to do it monthly (and we're trying to train more people up; it's produced by a mandated collective so rotation would be superfluous, but skills need to be shared so the option to switch it around and/or share workload is there). so imho this doesn't really make the case for professionalisation.

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May 30 2011 05:10

While I am against waged union full-timers, I guess this is a matter every union has to decide on their own. Historically there have been anarcho-syndicalist unions that had some paid officials. Steven did mention the pre-1939 CNT. In other cases union activists (Rudolf Rocker for instance) made a decent living by getting paid by working for union related publishing houses or doing lectures at union events. A couple of years ago a spanish comrade told me, that CNT is discussing to pay members for their work at the Fundacion Anselmo Lorenzo, because it is apparently difficult and sometimes damaging to do it without. But I do not know what came out of this discussion.

Apart from the fact that waging members as officials would turn the union into an employer and may (aka Sveden) cause bizarr yet understandable conflicts (may be somebody should have build a “union of SAC officials” wink, we nowadays know a lot more about about the effects of (union) bureaucracy than we did some decades ago. And most of it – if you analyse it from a rather materialist than idealist point of view – make me think that I would rather try to avoid it within my own union.

P.S. “Full time members” are not necessarily the same as “officials”, if I do not misinterprete the term. I know comrades acting as some sort of union full-timers in several IWA unions, without ever having been waged or paid for that...

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May 31 2011 09:47
Steven. wrote:
With left communists, I wouldn't have thought any of the current groups were nearly big enough to have full-time paid activists. I'm not sure if they would have a problem with it; they are fans of centralisation. I don't know about historically.

Agree with the first sentence. Not sure what centralization has to do with this, however. Of course, there are pro-Bolshevik left communists groups about, and the Bolsheviks had plenty of "professional revolutionaries" within their ranks, so I guess those ones (Bordigists, and some others) wouldn't have any problem with it if they were big enough and could afford it.

Certainly the group I belong to doesn't, and wouldn't under any imaginable circumstances, have any such. But then we sort of are (its where we came from), and sort of aren't (it's increasingly not where we are) part of the left communist milieu or camp or whatever one calls it. From our perspective, in terms of what our aims are, there's no need for such. If membership were to get large and publications bigger and more frequent, that larger membership can collectively take on the tasks required.

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May 31 2011 10:27
Quote:
SolFeds news paper has seriously improved because a professional journo (Rob Ray?) is working on it.

Yeah as JK says I did the original design work and a workshop for him and others explaining some of the things which need to be thought about to make a newspaper clear and accessible, along with some feedback that was enough to get it up to a reasonable standard. To a certain extent this has also been helped by them being the ones doing it repeatedly (practice makes perfect, people retain knowledge about house styles etc) but didn't require long-term input from a professional.

The key bit is continuity, which paid positions do obviously help with but there's a double-edged sword in there which SF isn't currently prepared to take on. If we end up with a weekly paper at some point I'd guess that will have to change - it's simply not possible to run something of that frequency in people's spare time and maintain any kind of consistent standard - but we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

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May 31 2011 21:29

I guess that Nestor Makhno, when he was leading the Anarchist army that defeated General Denekin, didn't do it in the evenings after work...

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May 31 2011 22:30

Paid members and officials I think is fine, depending on their accountability and pay. The IWW pays the General Secretary-Treasurer a modest salary, the head of the Lit Department and editor of the Industrial Worker also get a small salary. There's also stipends given out for certain situations, such as in WI, 3 of us were on 1 month stipends. I would be against a fultime paid organizer though, even though I believe this was way more common in the IWW back in the '10s and '20s.

But that's a little different, since the IWW is a union, not an anarchist political organization. I don't have much of an opinion on whether they have paid officials or not. I think there's a lot of other issues that need to be taken on first before that issue is that important.

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May 31 2011 23:47

If you look at the swedish SAC case I think the conclusions you should draw are more nuanced then you might think at first. This union has had a few thousand members since the 1940s (when it had a some tens of thousands), and had also had something like 15 or 20 full time employees for decades. This actually worked quite well in one sense, swedish syndicalism survived total social democratic hegemony on the labour market for decades by being a very cheap union that provided the kind of every day service that the larger unions did, but required very little in the form of participation from the majority of members who weren't committed to the cause. It was defensive, and it led to various problems, but it "worked" throughout the cold war and 10 years past the fall of the Berlin wall.

There are a few contextual factors why it stopped working - the union lost a few thousand members per decade and had problems sustaining this large a group of employed organizers, and labour unions got weaker on the whole and had less legal bargaining power with neoliberalism as form ca 1995. But it's only when a new younger generation, around 2000, started to try to remake SAC as a leaner, more grassrootsy and more offensive type of union, that these old fulltimers became a urgent problem. There was just no space for them when you tried to focus on building solidarity inside workplaces or turning every passive member into a labour law expert instead of having official negotiations with professional negotiators every 5 minutes. This is were people tried to free up money by phasing out these people, and when they struck back in various quite nasty ways and in the end took it to court.

That said, it was only something like 8 full time opportunities that they tried to take out of the budget, out of 15 or so. The others remain, and knowing people who do various work for SAC (paid and unpaid) I would say that an organisation that large definitively needs ordinary workers who can get the backing from their organisation to take the time of from their day jobs to learn an administrative task and then work half or full time with that for 1, 2 or 4 years. Its just not possible to leave it up to someone to sort out accounts, taxes and that kind of stuff for 10 000 people every month on their spare time - the quality of work is just to poor and uneven and you won't be able to maintain the organisation for long. The only people who can spend a few years working that much for free are people with a lot of money in the bank, and it is frankly a lot more dangerous to leave all administrative power to them. The same goes for making a daily or weekly newspaper, taking care of common assets in a professional way (say: you own a building where you have your offices, like SAC)...

The interesting thing is actually what happened after the money previously bound up with these full time organisers was freed to use in other ways. One new way to replace these people was to start a paid internal training programme that all members could apply for. Basically people were given half a year (or possible a year, don't remember) of half time work to map out how their Local Branch worked, what labour conflicts were under way, and read up on labour law, organisational tactics, try stuff out at their work place, chair discussions and workshops at their local branch with members, and so on. They would meet once a month or something like that and have a weekend of discussions and try to help each other, with the guide of an older member who was employed (i think) to work with the course. In this sense they could take time off from work to learn about organising, new contacts were built and new people who could continue to do the trickier administrative work for free at a grassroots level were created. It seems to have become a great success, and a way to vitilise the organisation and create a situation were people have easier to discuss things because a common vision and a common vocabulary is spreading. So this short term course thing worked quite well - but it also required a structure that could take care of this, where some people could focus 100% on planning and teacher at the course year after year and it that there still was people who could handle day to day tasks. I guess the conclusion is that it is a lot more complicated than "full timers for more than a year = bad, short time or voluntary work = good", its about knowing what you want to achieve and using and creating the structures that are most likely to get you there... In this case it was a combination of getting rid of fulltimers, getting a paid educational short term half time programme running, and maintaining a small core of administrative workers to take care of the boring day to day shit like paying taxes or whatnot.

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Jun 1 2011 05:13

I found Johans in-depth report quite interesting. While the FAU ist still far from the thousands of members the SAC has, our system is quite different. It is based on trying to avoid the necesity of officials.

One pillar is the decentralisation of our organisational structures. Accounting is done by the locals. The local treasurer transfers a fixed fee to the regional and federal treasurers based upon the local membership. As a collateral consequence, only the local know the names of its members. As this should (in theory wink) be done on quarterly base, even the accounting for a hundred of syndicates does not cost the federal treasurer more than accounting 100 bookings in three month plus a couple of expenses that have to been delt with on the federal level.

Producing our bi-montly is as well a matter of decentralisation. Editing, production and accouting are done by 11 decentralised editorial and technical departements. There is one person that does the layout for one year or two. The layout was developed by a comrade who is a professional designer with the target that alternating non-professionals (with some training) must be able to layout a newspaper without constantly altering its look and feel. This was some ten years ago and since that time five or so layouters did a great job producing the paper. You may look at some of it at the Direkte Aktion archiv (to the right of every single issue you will find a link to the PDF download). I guess this structure might work for a montly as well, except that it would need two layouters in order to avoid a burnout. And it only works, because we started using email as one of the very first organisations back by the end of the 80th. A weekly might be a different question, but we are still far from that and I doubt that when it will be on the agenda, producing printed paper will still be our first choice of propaganda.

There is a lot more to say about that, but I have to leave for work now.

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Jun 1 2011 09:10

Just read this relevant point in Durruti: The People Armed by Abel Paz:

Quote:
The CNT, in accordance with its statutes, did not employ functionaries or paid workers. In the CNT locals there was usually a caretaker. These regulations were aimed at combatting union bureaucracy.

He was referring to the CNT of the 1920's so the situation may have changed when the union increased in size.

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Jun 2 2011 06:36
Quote:
With left communists, I wouldn't have thought any of the current groups were nearly big enough to have full-time paid activists. I'm not sure if they would have a problem with it; they are fans of centralisation. I don't know about historically.

Pretty sure those in AAU were critical that some of the Communists within the KAPD were being paid. These were the Left Communists that rejected the "Professionalism" of the Left, particularly characteristic within Leninist currents and Unions. Otto Ruhle talks about this in "From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution" (1924).