Problems of concrete class struggle and popular organisation

This should be of interest to some of you for a couple of reasons

1. It deals with one of the issues (class v anarchist organisation) that comes up again and again here

2. It is actually a somewhat edited version of a document circulated as part of an ongoing internal debate within the WSM.

"A member of the Chilean OCL deals, in general, with the problems posed by concrete class struggle and popular organisation for anarchist communists. It aims to raise a number of questions -in an orderly and systematic fashion- that are important and necessary to think of a revolutionary alternative in a concrete place in a concrete time."

http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=1743

Posted By

AndrewF
Nov 14 2005 14:00

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Jason Cortez
Nov 15 2005 10:15

Watch out, there's a revol about! Shameless self-promotion or food for thought? tongue Will read and comment in next few days. eek

AndrewF
Nov 17 2005 12:39

I'm somewhat intreged by the silence on this article as it would seem to fly against a lot of the predominant ideology on libcom. Is it the authors command of English that is the problem?

I'd dug out another couple of links to articles by the same author for a posting on urban75 which I'll include below.

The older articles by the same author Workers Without Bosses - Workers' Self-Management in Argentina

http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=627

and

Anarcho-Communist Organization & the Needs of the Present

http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=382

the button
Nov 17 2005 12:46

I did read it, honest. Unfortunately my only response was

the button reading it wrote:
Quote:
Only workers can be considered a "pure" class

eek

A more considered response would probably run along the lines of *mumble* goddam crypto-hegelians *mumble*, but I only have access to t'internet at work, hence the light-hearted nature of most of my posts.

AndrewF
Nov 17 2005 13:05
the button reading it wrote:
Quote:
Only workers can be considered a "pure" class

eek

Thats resonable in the context is it not - ie

"As well, it is worth mentioning that the actors of struggle (or popular subjects, as they are also called), do not necessarily represent a clear cut class; take for example the traditional examples of actors of struggle - students, workers, neighbours and peasants. Only workers can be considered a "pure" class, while all the others contain members of different classes and all sorts of grey areas (petit bourgeoisie, bourgeoisie, the nebulous middle class, marginal elements and the working class). The class nature of the social actors, in general, gives an important need to a working class tendency expressed as a political force, able to win other segments of society to a revolutionary cause and programme."

the button
Nov 17 2005 13:10

Not so sure. I don't think any individual, let alone any class is "pure." My thinking here guided by

Gramsci wrote:
The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself' as a product of the historical process to date which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. Such an inventory must therefore be made at the outset.

Just the bit I've highlighted, mind. As a good Foucauldian, I don't buy any of that "know thyself" shit. wink

AndrewF
Nov 17 2005 13:16
the button wrote:
Not so sure. I don't think any individual, let alone any class is "pure."

I think your reading too much into the word 'pure' in the context it is used in.

The point I think was that for instance a student movement will contain students who are upper class, middle class and working class. It won't come purely from one class or the other. Given that the author clearly doens't have English as a first language it would be a mistake to presume to much from that one word.

the button
Nov 17 2005 15:12
revol68 wrote:
And Button just you called me Hegaylian the other week but honestly I'm not, I don't believe in anything, bar negation.

...... which leads me to my favourite Hegelian joke (I know, I've posted it on here before, but anyway tongue )

Q: What's red & invisible?

A: No tomatoes.

Determinate negation defined, in handy joke form. wink

AndrewF
Nov 17 2005 15:30
revol68 wrote:
I mean plenty of people I work with are from middle class backgrounds, likewise many workers find themselves in roles that contain managerial responsibilities..

I guess that all returns to whether you define 'middle class' in socological terms or in economic terms. The problem with the socological thing is that although it is often the 'man on the street' definition when you use it on the left you get wrapped up in indivdual debates about whether 'an accountant is working class because his father was a mechanic' V 'whether a mechanic is middle class because his father was an accountant'. It never ceases to amaze me how seriously people take such debates and how much time they swallow.

The economic definition based on relationship to the means of production is not without some problems (eg the theoretical CEO who earns a million a year in wages but has no significant stock or non personal property) but at least you don't end up worrying about whether fellow workers are working class or really middle class.

The celtic tiger is helping to clarify this down here as there are no shortage of workers who thought they were middle class for sociological reasons waking up to discover that they can not and probably never will be able to afford a morgage. On the other hand there is a small but significant layer of the offspring of the working class who put money into property at the right moment and are now landlords renting out 5+ homes.

In terms of the class conflict around housing this tells you a lot more than accent etc

Mike Harman
Nov 17 2005 15:58
Quote:

1. The level of the social, popular or mass organisations -the social level: This level is characterised by those organisations who bring together a single actor of struggle, regardless of their political leanings (trade unions, student unions, community associations, etc.).

..

Here is where the unity of the bulk of the people is possible, and this should be regarded as the aim.

There's a problem with translation here - not from Spanish to English, but from Chile to the UK - trade unions, student unions and community associations are not "the bulk of the people" in the UK - they're a minority. And getting people involved in them (as I'm discovering trying to get my workplace organised/unionised) isn't a given.

I spend a lot of time working on this site (which is none of those groups as specified in the article, but is supposed to appeal to all three groups eventually, even if it doesn't now), and am getting slowly more involved at work and around where I live. With such a low level of militancy, I don't see the purpose of specifically anarchist organisations very much - why focus on organising ourselves as anarchists when we're not organised as people?

i take it that's the sort of response you were expecting? wink

AndrewF
Nov 17 2005 16:37
Catch wrote:
There's a problem with translation here - not from Spanish to English, but from Chile to the UK - trade unions, student unions and community associations are not "the bulk of the people" in the UK - they're a minority. And getting people involved in them (as I'm discovering trying to get my workplace organised/unionised) isn't a given.

I'll see if I can drag the author in but I suspect although Chile has a more militant tradtion the situation in terms of numbers involved in mass movements may not be that different. The nature of mass movements means that often the level of day to day routine involvement is actually quite small but they become mass at a moment when struggle is needed.

As an example I happen to be researching an article on the 1916 insurrection in Ireland. This happened in the aftermath of what appeared to be a major defeat for the union movement, the 1913 lockout - a defeat so bad that the union itself estimated that half of its members ended up joining the British army in 1914 (in order to get a job in many cases).

In 1916 union membership in Ireland was less than 20% of the workforce which totaled around 900,000. This is what happened in the next 4 years.

Union membership (congress) (around 30,000 more in unaffliated northern unions)

1916 100,000

1919 156,000

1920 225,000

Another way of looking at the level of mass organisation is the number of trades councils

1914 – 6

1918 – 15

1921 – 46

By 1925 or so figures had once more fallen to the 1914 levels.

Mass organisations that organise a majority of any sector over a long period are rare indeed - where they have existed it tends to be because of the winning of closed shop agreements which may then not really reflect mass involvement. SU's in Britian would be a good example of this, they can have 100% membership and almost no active involvement.

Catch wrote:
With such a low level of militancy, I don't see the purpose of specifically anarchist organisations very much - why focus on organising ourselves as anarchists when we're not organised as people?

As I'm always saying I don't think it is an either / or choice between 'organising ourselves as anarchists' and being 'organised as people'. If your doing it right then doing one actually helps you do the other. Being part of a well organised group of anarchists means that when opportunities arise in terms of mass movements you have a good number of comrades with the necessary agreement, skills, resources and contacts to act rapidly on them.

This is important because mass movements are not primarly built by you asking people to join a union. They happen when people feel the need to join a union because of what is happening around them. Actually joining is not a good measure here - a better one would be willingness to go to union meetings.

Where I work the union has been quiet for years because of social partnership. In the last year management have appeared to tear up a lot of agreements. The result is that while three years ago we would have had one general meeting a year attended by 30 out of 250 union members this year we have had 3 or 4 general meetings each attended by 150-250 members. This isn't simply because of more effort on behalf of the activists - its mostly because people now feel a need to be an active rather than passive part of a movement. That need was introduced from outside - by management in fact.

The period of potential for revolutionary change is always quite brief - measure in months and years. In the modern period in Europe its been very brief (a couple of months in France in '68, a couple of years in Portugal after 74). This isn't a time period in which a coherant anarchist organisation can be built - or at best you might get it together by the end of the period but then perhaps its too late. The Argentinian article is quite good on this IMHO - it now appears to late in Argentina as capitalism has once more stabilised itself.

Mike Harman
Nov 17 2005 18:02
Quote:
This is important because mass movements are not primarly built by you asking people to join a union. They happen when people feel the need to join a union because of what is happening around them. Actually joining is not a good measure here - a better one would be willingness to go to union meetings.

My point wasn't made well, so I'd best make this clear - I'd never hold up union membership as any kind of mass movement, and I'm not actually a member of the union in my workplace yet because I'm not convinced it'll help much at the moment apart from legal protection. The article mentions "unions, community associations etc. "- I meant social or even cultural organisations in general in terms of involvement in this country, which imo are at an all time low in this country. Active participation should always be taken over paper membership, I'd definitely agree with that.

In terms of what's happening at work, a big problem with the union is that 1. it's a management union (not sure of membership figures at all), 2. there's also a teachers' union and it'd be easy for them to play us off against each other (not that they don't already)

The demands that are being made by workmates at my job in discussions, are for a "forum" where issues can be discussed freely - inside or outside work, so it's not just a simple recruitment drive by any means, and a union may not help at all for some kind of assembly. Most of this is coming without much encouragement from me, since I've been relatively quiet about the specifics of my politics - mainly due to a lack of time for chatting.

This is in the context of a number of attacks on working conditions (rate of work, budget squeezing) that have been brought in since September, but are being done in quite a toyotist/internal-market way.

The reaction to this mainly relates to my department (don't know enough people well enough working elsewhere although plenty are pissed off) - and it's relationship to both management and other departments, rather than being generalised across the workforce: there's very little communication between staff due to the way the place is organised and dissatisfaction is expressed through absenteeism and staff turnover rather than organised struggle.

However, due to reasons I can pm you about, it may well turn into generalised attacks on wages over the next 6 months/year. I'm still on probation, am part time and have, er, responsibilities coming very soon, so all of this has been very informal so far and I've got zero experience of workplace organising, but I'm interested in at least working out who can be relied upon for some kind of resistance if that actually happens and it's working alright so far.

Now, if it was to kick off there - a strike or mass layoffs or whatever, my involvement with a local political group (not anarchist though tongue) might help in terms of publicising the issues involved, but they can't do very much if the place itself is atomised and everyone's looking to individual solutions for the problems there (which tbh they all should be anyway in the current climate but you know what I mean). A similar workplace in the same area has been out on strike over the past couple of years, and there's also been big layoffs over there.

In terms of how I spend my time - persevering with this, even if nothing comes out of it, and maybe trying to sort out a residents association where I live - these for me are prerequisites for a properly organised libertarian communist organisation - otherwise I'd simply be organising with people for the purpose of shooting my mouth off, or spreading information, which I'm quite happy doing on here and urban.

AndrewF
Nov 19 2005 14:43
Catch wrote:
In terms of how I spend my time - persevering with this, even if nothing comes out of it, and maybe trying to sort out a residents association where I live - these for me are prerequisites for a properly organised libertarian communist organisation - otherwise I'd simply be organising with people for the purpose of shooting my mouth off, or spreading information, which I'm quite happy doing on here and urban.

Are you not once more returning to the false 'either you organise the class or you organise the anarchists' choice? Why not do both (or rather why not do both offline as well as online via LibCom).

Volin
Nov 19 2005 16:11

Again, I'm right behind Joe on this. If our goal is a society infused with anarchist ideas and methods of organisation you can't start from point zero splitting up the people from specifically anarchist politics. Practically, sure, we have on the one hand a largely passive, apolitical mass and then the smallest minority of passionate, radical individuals. We can't go all ideological when speaking and discussing with 'ordinary' folk, but to move forward in any sense we need to both encourage grassroots community and work participation and then/as well anarchist organisations to propagate a more consciously transformative side.

Ultimately, one without the other is a waste of time.

martinh
Nov 19 2005 17:20

Hi Joe,

I think this is quite a common sense approach that most anarchists arrive at after enough experience. Give my regards to the author, BTW. I would recommend someone does a bit of tidying up of the english if you're going to publish this on paper.

One thing that does need to be added, IMO, is that while anarchists in general should be working at all 3 levels, individual anarchists will of course prioritise one area over another as their circumstances fit.

Martin