the role of an anarcho-syndicalist organisation and the role of an anarchist federation

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Alf
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Sep 29 2009 15:25

The AF idea of 'workplace resistance groups' seems to be quite close to our conception of the informal struggle group of militant workers which comes together to defend the best means of immediate struggle. Perhaps this is because the AF have some conception of why political groups are necessary, judging from Knightrose's post. Hence there is a need for a distinction between the political organisation and the struggle group, for the purpose of clarity of roles. Unfortunately this has been clouded over by the AF's confusing idea that the IWW, which wants to build itself into One Big Union, is a kind of workplace resistance group really.

In some ways this discussion echoes the debate we have had over many years with the IBRP over their conception of 'communist factory groups'. We were against this conception on several grounds, because it blurred the lines between a revolutionary political organisation, which is based on profound programmatic agreement, and a struggle group which has much more limited aims and does not require the same depth of committment either 'ideologically' or in terms of long-term militant involvement. None of this means that communists should not be involved in such groups, but there needs to be a distinction or neither will fulfill their role effectively

We were also against the IBRP notion because it seemed to betray a voluntarist conception. Observing the huge gap between the communist minority and the class as a whole, the IBRP seemed to be coming up with an organisational solution - build networks of communist groups in the factories and you will overcome the gap between 'party' (the revolutionary political organisation, to be more accurate) and class. But this assumed as a solution what had to be solved - the massive presence of communists in the workplace. And this takes us back to the original premise of JK's critique of council communism: his apparent rejection of 'spontaneity' (in the sense that Luxemburg used the term) and his idea that the network of anarchists or communists is primarily the product of the patient day to day 'building' work of the tiny minority of communists or anarchists. In our view, which follows that of Luxemburg very closely, the overcoming of the 'gap' is impossible without profound shifts in collective consciousness within the working class.

Of course councilism as we would define it goes to the 'opposite extreme' of putting everything down to a very reductionist version of spontaneity or to the mechanical effects of the crisis, and almost nothing to the long term work of communist organisation, which for us remains an indispensable component. But it still seems to me that there is an ironic coming together between the anarchist 'revolutionary union' builders and the 'Leninist' IBRP on this question.

posi
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Sep 29 2009 15:51
Joseph Kay wrote:
posi wrote:
ok, but in that case, what sort of positions on "gender, sexuality or religion" are not to do with combatting "discrimination, harrassment or violence"?

well I think I cited Manchester SF's pamphlet on free love for instance. Also, critiques of gender roles (or race fwiw) per se. I mean it's perfectly possible to oppose discrimination against women without problemetising the whole notion of 'femininity' (i.e. taking a position that differentiates gender roles and biological sex), likewise to oppose racism without seeing race as an ideological narration (i.e. you could accept the facticity of 'race' but simply not consider it a meaningful or fair way to discriminate).

ok, but that seems to take the distinctive role of the anarchist federation more or less to matters of pure philosophy, of the sort that are discussed in academic journals. While such things are sometimes interesting, I don't see that an organisation which debates things in the purely abstract is so important that it needs a big place in an organisational vision.

I also can't see how a practical opposition to discrimination against trans people in work can avoid differentiating gender from biological sex.

In general, I'd say that on organisational questions it's tempting to try and line up a set of different functions, and fit them onto a set of structural features which seem to make sense and say 'this is how it should be' in what is often quite an idealistic manner. In fact, all organisations act from time to time on the level of ideology, theoretical debate, as organisations of struggle in themselves, and as organisations which encourage others to struggle (whether through temporary or permanent formations, whether in industry, the community, or political spheres).

I would also like to agree with Knightrose's position about the difference between the AF and SF (close to nothing), however I would say this means you could merge. As long as you practice pluralism, there should be no reason to stifle debate or experimentation: in fact, it should intensify debate. Having an organisation with real national coverage could be a real asset in relating to national phenomena like postal strikes and mass unemployment, and in putting out a greater volume of higher quality publications...

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 29 2009 16:10
Alf wrote:
And this takes us back to the original premise of JK's critique of council communism: his apparent rejection of 'spontaneity' (in the sense that Luxemburg used the term) and his idea that the network of anarchists or communists is primarily the product of the patient day to day 'building' work of the tiny minority of communists or anarchists.

I'll assume you're just trying to shoehorn everything you read into existing debates in which you've already obtained the 'correct' position, rather than being dishonest, but this misrepresents me twice.

firstly, I don't reject spontaneity, I just think it's insufficient and and excellent excuse to detach your politics from the everyday class struggle. secondly, it's fallacious to assume that just because you can't build one big union piecemeal then you can't build any kind of minority industrial organisation and should just join the party. you really don't need that many people in an industrial network to produce an industrial freesheet etc. it's not like I'm talking about patiently building the 1930s CNT.

I mean when you take into account the inneffectiveness of existing anarchist organisations at responding to people who actually want to join, plus our massive lack of visibility meaning dissillusioned trade union militants, politicised/radicalised workers, students etc who are looking for something more tend to join trot groups and become schooled in leftism then we really could do better. yes that means being a better organised, less miniscule organisation that's still a significant minority, and only really class struggle will change that plateau (contra nick durie's exponential growth bet with jack), but not having an industrial strategy because 'the class struggle will take care of it' is an untenable position.

I presume this is where decadence theory steps in (although this is for another thread entirely); faced with socialism or barbarism, workers must organise themselves. but we are workers, the class isn't some big other we sit around waitng to awake, but our co-workers, neighbours, friends, flatmates - and the way we organise ourselves as revolutionaries can influence them too (e.g. there's a periphery developing around our two EWN comrades who work together). Yes our influence is often small and you cannot conjure class struggle out of nothing, however neither is it some external object to fetishise; we can play a part in collectivising grievances in our own workplaces, communities etc, and we can better do this when we are organised (which will always be supplemented by more informal, ad hoc groupings).

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Sep 29 2009 18:01
knightrose wrote:

Networks need to have a permanent basis as they bring together revolutionaries within industries and make possible the creation of workplace resistance groups.

a small point on this, I'm not completely sure what the AF means by workplace resistance groups, as I outlined above. But assuming you mean what I think you mean, informal groups of workmates who form the basis of workers organisation in a workplace, then you don't need "networks" in industries to germinate please, you need to work probably as an individual on developing bonds with a few co-workers over a period of time.

And Joseph, I'm agreeing with a lot of what you're saying now, but on this:

Joseph Kay wrote:
what SolFed are arguing for is not 'like the IWW but with circle-As' at all, but the networks to develop to such a point that instead of just printing a paper that says 'you know what would be great? mass meetings and militant direct action' they are actually in a position to instigate that - having a critical mass of well-respected militants in a given workplace who can organise a mass meeting. that's what SolFed calls a 'revolutionary union.' fine, you don't like the terminology, i get that, but surely you can see the substance of what is being advocated has nothing to do with mediating between labour and capital?

I see what you're getting at here, but I don't think this is a likely chain of events.

I think is very unlikely that any point in the foreseeable future that a group of pro-revolutionaries will have a "critical mass of well-respected militants in a given workplace" who could call a meeting. But in any case, this is not a big issue, because it would not be the group of pro-revolutionaries that would instigate a meeting, it would be the informal grouping of radicalised workers in a workplace.

For example, when I started organising workplace meetings I spoke to five or six workmates, who had all been around for quite a while, then did it with their help.

So the relation between this sort of activity and the network (or "revolutionary union") I think would be more indirect, the network practically would be able to do things like propagandise for mass meetings etc, but not practically organise them itself.

On a more general note, I think posi is right to point out the difficulties in the way you are trying to differentiate the two roles. And would tend to agree that the way around this logically would appear to be having a simple merger. However, I think this is very unlikely to happen. If it did though, I would probably even join!

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Sep 29 2009 19:52

The problem, Joseph, is not my intention to misrepresent you, but the opaque nature of what you are proposing, the continuing ambiguity about what it is you are trying to build.

Neither is the issue doing practical work vs just waiting around till the big bang happens. The issue is understanding our day to day practical work in a global and historical context, in which we have a certain influence but not a decisive impact (at least not yet). I have no idea at all how the overall situation of world capital plays a role in your 'industrial strategy' because it doesn't seem to to take it into account.

However, despite these very important differences there are points in common which could provide a basis for joint activity. The support we have given to the London Education Workers Group is one example of this. I'll try to come back to this.

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Sep 29 2009 20:50
posi wrote:
ok, but that seems to take the distinctive role of the anarchist federation more or less to matters of pure philosophy, of the sort that are discussed in academic journals. While such things are sometimes interesting, I don't see that an organisation which debates things in the purely abstract is so important that it needs a big place in an organisational vision.

not just abstract philosophy no, there's practical activity that can be done around religion and sexual freedom for instance. but lets hear from the AF on what they see their role as consisting of:

The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation wrote:
Tasks of the Organisation

Accepting that the revolution can only be made by the self-activity of the working class, the anarchist revolutionary organisation still has a number of tasks to perform. It must act as a propaganda grouping, untiringly putting over the message that the working class must destroy capitalism and establish a libertarian communist society. It must also show how this can be done by giving examples of self-activity. It must search out the history of past struggles and share the lessons to be learned with the rest of the class as part of the development of class-consciousness. When important developments occur, the revolutionary organisation must spread the news through its links with organisations in other countries. But the organisation is not just a propaganda group: above all it must actively work in all grassroots organisations of the working class such as rank and file groups, tenants associations, squatters and unemployed groups as well as women’s, black and gay groups. It must try to link unionised and non-unionised workers, building a movement at the base.

Reclaiming ourselves can only occur in areas outside the main focus of capitalist control: our neighbourhoods, campaigns of resistance or protest, areas of greater freedom (such as squats) and libertarian initiatives. This is where we reconnect with the ‘unemployed’, the ‘underclass’, the ‘socially excluded’.

(...)

This short pamphlet sets out some of our ideas about how a revolution against capitalism may come about and the role individuals, communities and organisations could play in helping to bringing it about. It is one of the few pamphlets produced by the Anarchist Federation that intends to be authoritative and prescriptive. Here, more than anywhere, we mean what we say.

so that seems pretty clear and definitive (last revised November 2008 iirc). taking an anarcho-syndicalist organisation (such as that which SolFed aspires to be) as a 'grassroots organisation of the working class' it seems natural that the AF should be part of it, but that leaves loads of other activity for a specifically anarchist federation. if AF members aren't interested in that other stuff, but just want to be part of permanent industrial agitational networks, then i guess they're anarcho-syndicalists at heart.

posi wrote:
I also can't see how a practical opposition to discrimination against trans people in work can avoid differentiating gender from biological sex.

even regular trade unions can defend trans people from discrimination no? (maybe Steven. can correct me on this, but i'm sure it would be fairly par for the course for him as a Unison rep to help someone suffering discrimination on those grounds). it's just basic class solidarity (even if expressed through trade union channels), and doesn't require an anarchist critique of gender at all. (fwiw this is a bad example anyway as trans politics seem to wed gender to biological sex with the whole 'trapped in the wrong body' thing). in any case, i fully accept there's an overlap in roles, so trying to think up borderline cases doesn't really establish much imho.

posi wrote:
In general, I'd say that on organisational questions it's tempting to try and line up a set of different functions, and fit them onto a set of structural features which seem to make sense and say 'this is how it should be' in what is often quite an idealistic manner. In fact, all organisations act from time to time on the level of ideology, theoretical debate, as organisations of struggle in themselves, and as organisations which encourage others to struggle (whether through temporary or permanent formations, whether in industry, the community, or political spheres).

i don't know if it's because i express myself in quite a 'theoretical' manner or if it's just a response to thinking things through very rigourously, but there's nothing abstract or idealist about this discussion. i'm part of a growing local group that's making new contacts with people fairly frequently and the question of who we do and don't admit as members and what we see our role as being is a very concrete one.

if we took the CNT Sevilla position for example, we'd presumable be inviting in everyone from the Vestas support group (largely trots with or without parties, plus some council communist types and the odd green). at the other end of the spectrum, if we took the AF position we'd be screening people for religious belief. this whole discussion has arisen from our concrete practical activity, the 'theory' is attempts to draw generally applicable points from particular concrete experiences and historical examples.

posi wrote:
I would also like to agree with Knightrose's position about the difference between the AF and SF (close to nothing)

at present, i think this is fairly uncontroversial. only because the anarchist federation want to be an anarchist federation they do it pretty well, because SolFed doesn't we mostly shuffle our feet and wonder why we're not the CNT. that's an exaggeration, but it's fair to say we don't put much effort into being something we want to be, and we've yet to formulate a strategy for changing it (although there are various detailed proposals under discussion).

posi wrote:
however I would say this means you could merge. As long as you practice pluralism, there should be no reason to stifle debate or experimentation: in fact, it should intensify debate. Having an organisation with real national coverage could be a real asset in relating to national phenomena like postal strikes and mass unemployment, and in putting out a greater volume of higher quality publications...
Steven. wrote:
On a more general note, I think posi is right to point out the difficulties in the way you are trying to differentiate the two roles. And would tend to agree that the way around this logically would appear to be having a simple merger. However, I think this is very unlikely to happen. If it did though, I would probably even join!

ok, i'll reiterate why i don't think a merger is the best course of action:

1) I do think there are distinct roles to be played.
2) Even if you disagree, the chances of this happening from scratch are pretty low due to historical sectarianism/conservatism
3) Consequently, even if you reject 1) the best thing to do seems to be an SF-AF relationship where they join SF and SF clarifies its strategy (ideally outlining the relationship between networks and WRGs), drawing on the AF's support for the networks strategy and commitment to participate in 'grassroots organisations of the working class.' Then if there really is no division of roles, we'll soon find out and de jure merger might follow the de facto one. but like i say, i'm currently opposed to that, although i'm willing to be proved wrong in practice.

Steven. wrote:
a small point on this, I'm not completely sure what the AF means by workplace resistance groups, as I outlined above. But assuming you mean what I think you mean, informal groups of workmates who form the basis of workers organisation in a workplace, then you don't need "networks" in industries to germinate please, you need to work probably as an individual on developing bonds with a few co-workers over a period of time.

i agree - informal groupings of militant workers don't require a formal network, but a formal network might help germinate them and link them on a regional and industrial basis (e.g. the EWN could provide a means for WRGs in different universities to communicate and co-ordinate).

Steven. wrote:
I see what you're getting at here, but I don't think this is a likely chain of events.

I think is very unlikely that any point in the foreseeable future that a group of pro-revolutionaries will have a "critical mass of well-respected militants in a given workplace" who could call a meeting. But in any case, this is not a big issue, because it would not be the group of pro-revolutionaries that would instigate a meeting, it would be the informal grouping of radicalised workers in a workplace.

i think that's fair enough, and this relationship between formal revolutionary groupings (with conferences, subs, publications and so on) and less formal workplace groups is something we've been grappling with in theory and practice (as i say, our EWN members are trying to pull together a broader , informal workplace group - i think they've had a few informal meetings in the pub and have discussed doing a MWR-style piss-takey newsletter). this thread has helped clarify things, and i think more rigorously defined Workplace Resistance Groups are complementary to Industrial Networks rather than being an alternative.

Steven. wrote:
So the relation between this sort of activity and the network (or "revolutionary union") I think would be more indirect, the network practically would be able to do things like propagandise for mass meetings etc, but not practically organise them itself.

true, in the current level of struggle. i mean we have two EWN members at a university of ~2000 workers. they're not able to function as a revolutionary union and would probably get fired if they tried. exactly what level of membership constitutes a 'revolutionary union' is an impossible question in advance as it's so contingent on the influence of the members - e.g. a really respected, charismatic militant might be able to pretty much call a mass meeting single-handed, random workers nobody knows may require more densitiy. that's why Brighton oppose the 'declaration strategy' of becoming a union where we simply declare that we are now a revolutionary union regardless of reality. for us, it's simply a designation after the fact.

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Sep 29 2009 20:55
Alf wrote:
The problem, Joseph, is not my intention to misrepresent you, but the opaque nature of what you are proposing, the continuing ambiguity about what it is you are trying to build.

i really don't think i'm being opaque. if, despite my repeated explanations of what SolFed people mean by a 'revolutionary union' you are unable to concieve of anything except that which drops neatly into a ready-made ICC critique then i'm sorry. i think i've spelled out pretty clearly and repeatedly what SolFed mean. here it is again (from page one):

A SolFed member wrote:
The aim of anarcho-syndicalism is to build militant workplace organization but from a clear revolutionary perspective. It fully realizes that conditions in society may vary and as such the possibility of organizing class struggle. But no matter what the conditions anarcho-syndicalism argues that militant workplace organization cannot be achieved by political grouping organizing outside of the workplace. Organisation in the workplace will have to be built by the revolutionary union that involves itself in the day-to-day struggle of workers. But the aim of anarcho-syndicalism is not to enroll every worker into the revolutionary union but rather to organize mass meeting at which the union argues for militant action. The mass meeting is not the anarcho-syndicalist union but a democratic means of organizing. The union is made up of workers committed to the methods and ideas of anarcho-syndicalism.

this came from an internal critique of S&S, and Brighton members were impressed by its clarity. S&S also goes into great length about the relationship of organisational possibilities to the level of class struggle, so again there's no need for the fallacy that if you don't hold that capitalism is decadent you are ahistorical and acontextual.

Alf wrote:
However, despite these very important differences there are points in common which could provide a basis for joint activity. The support we have given to the London Education Workers Group is one example of this. I'll try to come back to this.

yes, i was impressed with Miles and your reports of your involvement in the Tower Hamlets stuff which seemed eminently practical and dispelled a few prejudices i may have had about the ICC (i didn't really think you'd turn up like a latter-day Jan of Leyden declaring 'the end is nigh!', honest tongue wink ).

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Sep 29 2009 21:13

i've just seen Gordon Brown on the telly saying MPs will be made recallable. this is probably bollocks, but it raises an interesting parallel that makes my point about anarchism being for self-organsiation not representation.

if, as CNT Sevilla have it an 'anarcho-union' is just like a regular union with democratic structures, surely if Brown makes MPs recallable that makes him an 'anarcho-parliamentarist'. obviously this is absurd, because anarchists reject political representation per se, and should apply the same standards to economic representation. that leaves the conception of an anarcho-syndicalist 'revolutionary union' i've outlined, which doesn't seek to recruit represent workers but agitates for self-organisation.

gypsy
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Sep 29 2009 21:21

He is in your hood. Propaganda by the deed the twat. wink on a serious note i watched most of the speech, I was almost sick. My favourite or rather most worrying part- Was when he appealed to the right wing by saying he has had enough of people coming here and not sticking to our rules. And basically bashing the weakest members of our society- immigrants.

He also made a joke about how when the us media asked him about how was the special relationship. He said me and peter are doing just fine. big joke in all ways. It would be interesting how much the labour party wastes hosting these shitey conferences. Makes me sick seeing these weasels wine and dine and clap together.

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Sep 29 2009 21:24
allybaba wrote:
He is in your hood. Propaganda by the deed the twat.

we walked past on sunday, but left it to the SWP's Enthusiastic Youth Legions to sloganeer him into submission grin

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Sep 29 2009 21:35

also, asn made an interesting comment on another thread:

asn wrote:
what the Barcelona based FAI favoured wasn't really anarcho-syndicalism they favoured more - the CNT as an anarchist workers association - and was associated with encouraging notions of revolution around the corner - and the cycle of insurrections in the early 1930's which led to massive repression against the cnt and other unions and its decline prior to the civil war in Catalonia

this is basically the same distinction i've been drawing, only using the opposite terminology. for me, if you take the anarchism out of anarcho-syndicalism, you're left with just syndicalism. of course the CNT was founded as a simple revolutionary syndicalist union a la the CGT (in 1910), and only became more anarchist-influenced later (e.g. adopting libertarian communism as a goal in 1923); so i would actually say the FAI were pushing for anarcho-syndicalism on the FORA model:

Quote:
the most important event was the passing of the 'Pact of Solidarity' which [in 1904] outlined the federation's anarcho-syndicalist position for the first time. Here the historic lines on the future of militant anarchism vis-a-vis trade unionism were laid out for the first time:

"We must not forget that a union is merely an economic by-product of the capitalist system, born from the needs of this epoch. To preserve it after the revolution would imply preserving the capitalist system that gave rise to it. We, as anarchists accept the unions as weapons in the struggle and we try to ensure that they should approximate as closely to our revolutionary ideals. We recommend the widest possible study of the economic philosophical principles of anarchist communism.

i think that organising model can be separated from the insurrectionary tactics the FAI pushed (i mean they weren't wrong, revolution was just around the corner, but i'm no fan of insurrectionary tactics).

posi
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Sep 29 2009 22:02

Joseph K - can't reply properly, but very briefly, from what you've said, it's still necessary that the revolutionary union have a developed revolutionary libertarian communist politics (I think I have it right that only libertarian communists should be able to join, in your view). That implies all that the AF says about learning the lessons of past struggles must be done within the union as well, and that debates about the union's politics, and that debates about any and all practical applications of revolutionary libertarian communist politics must still be played out in the internal life of the union?

And I think that a good number of the TUs probably will formally acknowledge the category of trans people as being one in which gender and sex are at variance. Will it be the major issue at conference vote? No. But I bet if you look in the material published by their 'equalities' committees, then they will make reference to this in many cases. They transmit experience internally and externally through their magazines and trainings. They have a limited, and thoroughly liberal, political philosophy which grounds their interventions in politics (supporting Labour), etc.

I know you're practically involved in organising your group (and doing it quite well it seems), but I think the ideal scheme you're projecting is quite abstract in the way it sets out functional distinctions, and it's not clear why it relates the way you say it does to the organisations we have now.

Quote:
I do think there are distinct roles to be played.

But even if the distinctions you make are the important ones (I'm not sure) there's no reason to think that they map onto the existing organisations. Better than your strategy under point three (which seems to require asking everyone in AF to join SF - less likely than a merger, particularly given the relative size of the two organisations, which must make it seem like a bit of an odd ask to the AF). I reckon you'd be better merging first, as the politial organisations which in fact you both are, then as a second stage setting up your broader industrial union/networks (or whatever you call 'em) from a starting point of political and organisational unity.

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Sep 29 2009 22:42
posi wrote:
Joseph K - can't reply properly, but very briefly, from what you've said, it's still necessary that the revolutionary union have a developed revolutionary libertarian communist politics (I think I have it right that only libertarian communists should be able to join, in your view). That implies all that the AF says about learning the lessons of past struggles must be done within the union as well, and that debates about the union's politics, and that debates about any and all practical applications of revolutionary libertarian communist politics must still be played out in the internal life of the union?

well i think a revolutionary union should have an aim of libertarian communism and expect its members to agree with its aim. but i think you can have that goal without necessarily having politics as developed and tight as those required by an anarchist federation. ideally this would be something under debate within the 'union' too yes, but i wouldn't expect the same level of agreement as from a political organisation

posi wrote:
And I think that a good number of the TUs probably will formally acknowledge the category of trans people as being one in which gender and sex are at variance.

ok, i see what you mean, but that's still not an anarchist critique of gender which sees it as a set of social roles for everyone not just trans people. the point remains you can oppose discrimination based on race, sexuality, gender without having any developed critique of any of them just on grounds of basic class solidarity - defending your fellow worker regardless of their characteristics.

posi wrote:
They transmit experience internally and externally through their magazines and trainings. They have a limited, and thoroughly liberal, political philosophy which grounds their interventions in politics (supporting Labour), etc.

i don't see how this contradicts what i've said. trade unions are largely economic bodies that outsource their political elements to the Labour Party. revolutionary unions of the type i describe are political-economic and thus closer to political anarchist organisations with more overlap.

posi wrote:
I know you're practically involved in organising your group (and doing it quite well it seems), but I think the ideal scheme you're projecting is quite abstract in the way it sets out functional distinctions, and it's not clear why it relates the way you say it does to the organisations we have now.

well it's at a higher level of abstraction that 'who should Brighton SolFed allow to be members?' and 'how do we relate to Brighton AF?' because i think the answers to these questions are more general and effect people far beyond our particular concrete circumstances in Brighton. thats also why i'm refering to 'an anarcho-syndicalist organisation' and 'an anarchist federation' in general as well as the SF and AF in particular as the obvious candidates to be those...

posi wrote:
even if the distinctions you make are the important ones (I'm not sure) there's no reason to think that they map onto the existing organisations.

that's true. there seem to be signs that SolFed is not content to remain a political organisation in denial, so the concrete dimension of this is if not a political group, what should an anarcho-syndicalist organisation be? what functions should we be looking to take on, and which should we be leaving to the AF?

to be fair the AF appear from the outside to be doing a pretty good job of being an anarchist federation, although i think they lack a coherent industrial/community strategy (SFs is only really being rigorously articulated now, although it seems there's been a pretty thought-out approach behind the networks strategy from the off).

so like i say this discussion of roles, while pitched at a slightly abstract level is only done so tobe applicable to others, but reflects conversations within SolFed about what 'union functions' we're looking to develop (such as drop-in advice sessions) and what 'anarchist federation' functions we're looking to shed (stuff like Manc's Sex pamphlet has been mentioned).

the over-arching point is that the AF and SF aren't rivals, but many on both sides have long seen them as such. this is ghetto politics. we are not irrelevant because we don't appeal to anarchists, but because we offer nothing to discontented workers. even at the present levels of struggle the membership and throughput of the Trot parties far dwarfs anarchist ones, and having worked with a lot of Trots i can say that most of them join not out of an ideological leftism or commitment to Trotsky's butchering of Krondstadt but because it's the first 'alternative' they come across. if we're looking for 'rivals' it's the 'workers' parties' which capture militant workers and curious students and channel them into leftist politics. sure, even if all the decent working class militants in the Trot parties became anarchists, we'd still be a tiny minority and only really an upturn in the class struggle will create more working class militants. but it does show up AF-SF rivallry for the irrelevant ghetto identity politics it is (for our part, i think we had a motion affirming that anarcho-syndicalists 'own' the red and black flag a few conferences back and that anyone who uses it should acknowledge that it's 'ours'...)

raw
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Sep 29 2009 23:27

AF and SolFed will continue to remain extremely small until they have the balls to join into one big federation of anarchist groups. this means solfed will gain 155-160 new people for which many are workers and therefore can expand there workplace activity, and AF can gain 60-70 workplace militants. In total it will be a more powerful movement with possible 250+ members.

The question is this, can AF and SolFed offer working class people anything by being two seperate organisations? No they can't, so surely the question is not why but when. This has been knocking around for years, I've heard all the arguments - just get on with it and have some f*cking balls and leadership.

Alessio

p.s. if you do then I'll join and I'm sure dozens if not hundreds more will across the country.

p.p.s don't let the prospect of me joining put you off the prospect :-0)

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 29 2009 23:33

raw, the thing is to do so while avoiding becoming a synthesist 'anarchists without adjectives' political organisation with all the practical incoherence and debilitating internal conflict that brings. i think the kind of anarcho-syndicalist organising i've been describing offers a way out of that by leaving different political tendencies free to organise independently while only requiring strategic unity on industrial and community organising which we do as anarchist workers (with a diversity of tactics at a local level within that strategy).

now i think if we sat down and thrashed it out, there could be an agreement on such a strategy - rejecting representative structures and seeing our role as being to agitate for and initiate mass meetings, whether in the workplace or the community. there's all sorts of groups that are kinda doing this already like HSG (and maybe your mob, don't know much about what you're up to at the moment).

i'm not insistent that organisation is SolFed, if it requires a new organisation to fill that role that everyone joins then so be it. that might be the best way to overcome sectarian objections.* if such an organisation could be formed with a principled strategic unity, that would be a significant development (i'm aware these discussions are somewhat perennial, we'll see what happens).

* sectarianism as in putting your organisation before the needs of the class struggle.

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Alf
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Sep 29 2009 23:54

JK - I welcome your comments on what we did in the THC strike and thiink that it augurs well for the future. But on the 'revolutionary union' business I don't think that it's just us ICC types who find what you are saying confusing, and I don't think the passage you cite clears it up.

"But the aim of anarcho-syndicalism is not to enroll every worker into the revolutionary union but rather to organize mass meeting at which the union argues for militant action. The mass meeting is not the anarcho-syndicalist union but a democratic means of organizing. The union is made up of workers committed to the methods and ideas of anarcho-syndicalism".

We both agree that there's a need for groups of militants in (and across) workplaces advocating mass meetings, etc, but I still don't see why they have to be specifically anarchist (or perhaps only anarcho-syndicalist) workers. What about us poor left commies? And more generally, what about all the workers who don't see themselves either as anarchists or left commies but are, in a given situation, in favour of mass meetings and are prepared to agitate for them actively? You seem to imply that then there could also be a place for 'struggle groups' or 'WRGs' or whatever, with the 'revolutionary unionists' working inside them or alongside them. This in itself seems confusing enough - you're then talking about two different groupings in the same workplace with essentially the same function. But on top of this, when the struggle dies down experience shows that the majority of these workers will tend to withdraw from active involvement, so you are again faced with the problem that most of the people who want to maintain a 'permanent' kind of activity are people with strong, revolutionary political convictions.To try to maintain these groups as wider organisations when their essential reason for existence has disappeared seems to be a formula for further confusing the respective role of struggle groups and revolutionary political organisations.

This situation may take on a different dynamic at a more advanced level of the class struggle, which may give rise to various 'intermediate' forms between the political organisation and the mass unitary organisations councils), but in our view the general tendency will still be towards the growth and development of these two fundamental expressions and thus towards the absorption of the intermediate forms, which (like the Unionen in Germany) emerge as an expression of the real movement but which could not really play the role either of the revolutionary communist organisation or of the genuinely unitary organisation. the councils.

john
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Sep 30 2009 00:41
Joseph Kay wrote:
raw, the thing is to do so while avoiding becoming a synthesist 'anarchists without adjectives' political organisation with all the practical incoherence and debilitating internal conflict that brings.

reading through this thread, it does look like there's practically no difference at all between AF and SF - I have to agree with Raw that a merger would enrich both, and make them both more attractive to those not already in a federation.

There may be a very slight difference in emphasis between the members in each group, but to be honest I can't really see how it's much greater than already exists within each group as they currently exist.

also, for all the discussion about how the IWW is so different because it wants to be a 'real' union and organize all the workers, of course the reality is much more about creating something that looks surprisingly like an organization of revolutionary unionists/workplace resistance/network of radical unionists, etc. - i.e. pretty similar again to AF and SF - particularly given that a lot of IWW members are also members of the major trade unions.

in this case, it might be more interesting to look for commonalities, on which I'd say (1) attempt to agitate in the workplace, (2) build networks of likeminded workmates (but in a non-sectarian way), (3) avoid elected/paid posts in the trade unions (but don't rule out membership/involvement in them for pragmatic reasons), (4) prefer to see workplace democracy run along horizontal terms (5) maintain a consistent analysis which views capitalism as fundamentally exploitative and therefore the role of workplace resistance to be the overturning (not mediating) of the capital-labour relation.

is there really so much difference beyond this?

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 30 2009 00:40
Alf wrote:
I still don't see why they have to be specifically anarchist (or perhaps only anarcho-syndicalist) workers. What about us poor left commies?

what our comrade said was "The union is made up of workers committed to the methods and ideas of anarcho-syndicalism." i would argue this doesn't mean you have to self-identify as an anarcho-syndicalist, only that you agree with some basic principles and methods. as there isn't a gospel of anarcho-syndicalism, i'll C&P Brighton SolFed's:

Brighton SolFed wrote:
Our aim is to promote solidarity in our workplaces and outside them, encouraging workers to organise independently of government, bosses and bureaucrats to fight for our own interests as a class. Our ultimate goal is a stateless, classless society based on the principle of 'from each according to ability, to each according to need' - libertarian communism.

We see such a society based on our needs being created out of working class struggles to assert our needs in the here and now. Our activity is therefore aimed at promoting, assisting and developing such class struggles, which both benefit us now and bring us closer to the society we want to create. We do this according to the following three principles:

Solidarity. As individuals we are relatively powerless in the face of bosses, bureaucrats and the state, but when we act collectively the tables are turned.

Direct action. We do not make appeals to political or economic representatives to act on our behalf, but organise to get the things we want for ourselves.

Self-organisation. When we take control of our own struggles we both learn how to act without bosses or leaders and ensure we can't be sold out or demobilised from above.

if you have a 'revolutionary union' (whatever you call it) with something like the above principles, i think you've got an anarcho-syndicalist organisation (you could expand solidarity to explicitly include opposition to all sorts of discrimination and necessarily requiring internationalism). i have no doubt some SolFed comrades would shit a brick at the absence of the word 'union' from those, just as ICC/AF people shit a brick at its presence. i can only encourage people to focus on the substance, and if we find ourselves in agreement then look for mutually agreeable words to describe it. tbh, i think the ICC's curious intellectual gymnastics with regard to the Bolsheviks as well as past reputation would probably create a lot of opposition to your involvement in such an organisation, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it...

Alf wrote:
You seem to imply that then there could also be a place for 'struggle groups' or 'WRGs' or whatever, with the 'revolutionary unionists' working inside them or alongside them. This in itself seems confusing enough - you're then talking about two different groupings in the same workplace with essentially the same function.

well the idea is you have permanent industrial networks doing their thing (like publishing industrial papers, which ideally would be like a regular a Tea Break for each industry, although the content would be less strike bulletin-like and more general outside of major disputes), then there will be more ad hoc, informal groups that form amongst the most militant workers in different places depending on the context. the members of these 'workplace resistance groups' may not be explicitly revolutionary - they may well just be militant shop stewards frustrated with the union bureacracy, or rank-and-file members of a Trot party for instance.

however in a particular situation they may well be arguing for mass meetings and militant direct action, so you take what allies you can find and work together. but these are very much groups that will ebb and flow. tomorrow, the militant shop steward may have reconciled himself with the bureaucracy or the Trot may have been ordered to stop messing around with the infantile and disorderly. ideally, they'd be impressed with the practice of the revolutionaries, come to agree with their ideas and join the 'revolutionary union', raising the baseline for the next time.

imagine if there were 'revolutionary union of education workers' members in two or three educational institutions in their town. they would have access to industrial propaganda to help agitate, and assuming there was a half-decent level of class struggle would probably each be involved in more informal Workplace Resistance Groups in their own workplaces. straight away, the presence of the 'revolutionary union' provides a basis for linking their struggles and spreading them both locally and further afield, as well as being able to provide resources to the ad hoc WRGs such as cash for leaflets, design expertise or legal/tactical advice based on past experiences.

i know the ICC sees the party as doing this, but the whole point is the political-economic revolutionary union is broader and larger than such a party without compromising on the revolutionary bottom line. say the mergerists had their way and an 'organisation of libertarian communist workers' was formed, even today it could have 300+ members and be truly nationwide. that's got a lot more chance of linking struggles and serving as a repository of experience than a small, ideologically tight-knit party, though by all means continue to also organise on a purely poltical basis, whether you're the ICC or the AF.

gypsy
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Sep 30 2009 08:39

Out of interest it would be interesting to see the numbers we are talking about, so if the ICC AF and SOLFED merged or rather worked together would there probly be 300-500 activists/supporters/militants? I think that people should not be screened for there political or religious beliefs as long as the agree with the main principles and of autonomy. If they try and convert or break any of the main principles then obviously they should be ejected from the group. Also the name of this new group would be interesting. laugh out loud

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Sep 30 2009 10:34

AF + SolFed = ~200
AF + SolFed + ICC = 203 + a dog tongue

the real growth from such a project would be from people like Raw's lot, the other libcom admins etc who agree in principle with an anarchist workers group but don't think any of the existing feds fit the bill, plus possibly groups like HSG which (i think reject the anarchist label but organise through self-organsied direct action). then there's groups like Organise!, L&S, the Hereford Solidarity League and the Portsmouth Anarchists up and down the country (with some overlap with the AF) who may well join such an organisation. I think you'd be looking at 300 or so to start with, with a possibility to grow quite rapidly to a plateau of 500 or so by pulling in individuals from the milieu. further growth would require a longer-term strategy of high visibility and practical involvement in struggles.

that said i have a feeling at the very mention of such an idea some of the older hands in all parties will roll their eyes and say 'here we go again'. we're revolutionaries, no change here tongue

Yorkie Bar
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Sep 30 2009 10:53

The ICC have a dog? How come they're the only ones with a mascot?

~J.

knightrose
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Sep 30 2009 11:26

With a political group, agreeing to all the principles is important. It would frankly be stupid to say OK, you agree with 8 or them, we won't worry about the other 2. With an industrial organisation, the principles would be different, I still think 100% agreement would be necessary, just that they would not be so onerous.

It'd be interesting to continue this discussion face to face at the bookfair. Maybe we could find somewhere to slope off to? Probably a coffee shop, rather than a pub.

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 30 2009 11:38
knightrose wrote:
With a political group, agreeing to all the principles is important. It would frankly be stupid to say OK, you agree with 8 or them, we won't worry about the other 2. With an industrial organisation, the principles would be different, I still think 100% agreement would be necessary, just that they would not be so onerous.

this is what we've been trying to say since S&S, only it really is hard to find mutually intelligible language ("as to industrial networks, we see membership of these as less determined by ideas and more by economic position (being a militant in a particular industry). Of course a level of theoretical and tactical agreement is required – networks are not apolitical - but we do not see this as being as high as for propaganda groups.")

the only thing i'd add is that networks aren't purely industrial; i think it makes sense to also have locals since industrial network members may be quite geographically dispersed. even the SAC who are a lot bigger than what we're talking about organise primarily though locals.

knightrose wrote:
It'd be interesting to continue this discussion face to face at the bookfair. Maybe we could find somewhere to slope off to? Probably a coffee shop, rather than a pub.

i'm busy pretty much all day but i'll be around afterwards. would be good to have some non-Brighton SF people too; i can translate between revolutionary unionist and anarchist-communist for all you guys who get caught up in terminology rather than substance wink

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Sep 30 2009 13:42
raw wrote:
AF and SolFed will continue to remain extremely small until they have the balls to join into one big federation of anarchist groups. this means solfed will gain 155-160 new people for which many are workers and therefore can expand there workplace activity, and AF can gain 60-70 workplace militants. In total it will be a more powerful movement with possible 250+ members.

The question is this, can AF and SolFed offer working class people anything by being two seperate organisations? No they can't, so surely the question is not why but when. This has been knocking around for years, I've heard all the arguments - just get on with it and have some f*cking balls and leadership.

Alessio

p.s. if you do then I'll join and I'm sure dozens if not hundreds more will across the country.

p.p.s don't let the prospect of me joining put you off the prospect :-0)

I can see the arguments for a merger between SF and AF, because we're so close politically, but I'm not so sure that "one big federation of anarchist groups" would be the best way to go about it. That would be a very different organisation to AF or SF with a very different role. Anarchist groups vary too widely in terms of politics to all be in the same political organisation. I don't know much about your politics, is there any particular reason you haven't joined either AF or SF?

If we're to start talking about mergers, we need to start thinking about joint activity between the feds, perhaps collaborating to produce some stuff we can both agree on and/or persuing a strategy of working together in one particular area? For instance, a practical organising manual for the workplace drawing on the experience of members of both AF and SF would be interesting.

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 30 2009 14:58
Jack wrote:
madashell wrote:
If we're to start talking about mergers, we need to start thinking about joint activity between the feds, perhaps collaborating to produce some stuff we can both agree on and/or persuing a strategy of working together in one particular area? For instance, a practical organising manual for the workplace drawing on the experience of members of both AF and SF would be interesting.

Whilst I think a merger is so unlikely as to be not even worth raising (not that in my dreams I don't want it to happen) this is still a fucking excellent idea.

ps- we should do a joint AF/SF Anarchism '10. ;)

political differences prevent political unity; just consider the history of failed 'left unity' electoral fronts from the Trots. but this is precisely why I'm arguing for a distinction between a political-economic organisation (where we organise as workers with a shared class interest) and purely political ones (where we organise as politicos and small differences are amplified). all a political-economic organisation needs is what I'd call 'principled strategic unity'; agreement on a set of basic A&Ps and an agreed strategy within which a diversity of tactics can be pursued according to local initiative. this thread has shown such an agreed strategy may be possible - along the lines of a dual structure of industrial networks and local groups that aim to agitate for and if possible organise mass meetings where we argue for militant direct action, as well as acting as a link between more informal workplace groupings and servng as a repository of experience. tbh that's the kind of organisation people in SolFed dream about... I can only hope we'd rather have 500 people acting like a 'revolutionary union' than 50 people deciding to call themselves one!

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Sep 30 2009 15:11
Jack wrote:
Whilst I think a merger is so unlikely as to be not even worth raising (not that in my dreams I don't want it to happen) this is still a fucking excellent idea.

we should do a joint AF/SF Anarchism '10. ;)

Yeah, I don't really think a merger is on the cards any time soon, too many practical issues we'd need to overcome. But if we're talking about it, we should at least consider working together more closely at the very least, we're so close politically that we'd be mad not to.

In the short to medium term, I think we should be thinking about a joint industrial strategy at the very least.

tigersiskillers
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Sep 30 2009 22:14

To echo other people's admiration for the thread, I just think it's a shame this has been too late to have a Bookfair workshop on the issues raised. I'm still mulling things over in my head, but as a member of neither fed it's raised a lot of issues that I would want to see discussed both further and within a larger arena.

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 30 2009 23:16
madashell wrote:
we should at least consider working together more closely at the very least, we're so close politically that we'd be mad not to.

In the short to medium term, I think we should be thinking about a joint industrial strategy at the very least.

like i say we passed a motion at our last conference that said:

SolFed wrote:
Solidarity Federation resolves:

• To actively seek to work alongside the Anarchist Federation wherever practical and wherever our interests coincide, in all instances where such cooperation would not be a threat to our principles.

i'd sincerely hope that developing a joint industrial strategy would not be seen as 'a threat to our principles' (unless there's a secret 'fuck the AF' principle nobody's told us about tongue )

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Sep 30 2009 23:32

It sounds to me like it comes down to whether permanent, formal, pro-revolutionary workplace organisations are a worthwhile thing to pursue. It's obvious from the above that SolFed think it is, and that the ICC and others disagree.

I think to make it workable, you'd need at least the AF on board tho.

Quote:
(unless there's a secret 'fuck the AF' principle nobody's told us about)

I think SolFed should fuck the AF. Just have a massive orgy at the Bookfair and get all the factionalism and sectarian bias out of your systems. It'll be ace.

~J.

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 30 2009 23:35

ah, but would that constitute 'taking a position on sexuality'?