Good syndicalist rebuttals to the "unions are reformist" argument

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44
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Mar 15 2013 22:32

You're right, I apologise for the sarcasm.

I have no idea who's in SolFed or who's an anarcho-syndicalist, I'm just responding to the arguments in the thread.

What Nanner stated explicitly, I thought was implicit in the earlier posts. See post #21 by Tommy Ascaso. The idea that it's not impossible to build mass revolutionary organisations in times of low intensity in the class struggle, it's just really really hard, is implying exactly what Nanner stated: that it all ultimately comes down to the gumption of small communist organisations. Even in periods of low intensity in the class struggle, if we really put our backs into it, we could awaken(?) the masses to revolutionary consciousness. It's extreme voluntarism, no? People are thrown into struggle by the system itself, their consciousness develops accordingly. Class struggle is immanent to capitalist society, it's not created by communists. In periods of high intensity the ideas of communist organisations will have more traction, but communist organisations don't create periods of high intensity.

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Mar 15 2013 22:59

Or you could look at my post:

Quote:
in SF, for example, we're pretty open that our goal is see anarcho-syndicalist methods used as widely by the class as possible. If SF become a mass organisation in that process, great, but our notion of a revolutionary union isn't one of the OBU.

It seems to me the Jura raises a point that wasn't in the OP. Nanner made a direct response, Tommy Ascaso touched on and that's formed the basis of your argument for what anarchists believe about revolutionary activity.

Seriously, I think you should read Fighting For Ourselves or I think you're going to end up fighting a lot of strawmen if we continue this discussion on the same path.

44
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Mar 15 2013 23:22

I haven't made any claims about what anarchists believe.

My response was to Tommy Ascaso, and the question of mass revolutionary organisations in general. Yes, it's a sidebar to the OP, maybe that's been the cause of some confusion.

syndicalist
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Mar 16 2013 02:09

Start "small" and work from there...."mass movements" and mass undertsanding and appreciation of revolutionary ideas grow and develop.....

NannerNannerNan...
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Mar 16 2013 05:16

Whether class struggle is at a massive intensity or barely there, we're all still talking about goddam unions.

Yeah radical communist ideas would be relevant in the case of massive class struggle, but all of that depends on whether or not the bureacrats running this or that trade union would allowor condone it. An "upturn" in class struggle might simply be an upturn in trade union millitancy - a "downturn" might just be the re-establishment of the bonds between the union, capital, and the state.

The nonsense comes in here, however: we're not just talking about unions, but we're only talking about workers who are organized period. Whether the mystical upturn in class-struggle comes from unions or whatever, we're always going to be talking about workers who have been organized! The thread connecting May 68, Italy 68 -78 and the Winter of Discontent was that a firmly organized working class was at the forefront of all of these events.

In short: Unorganized workers can't engage in class struggle! It has nothing to do with the "objective dynamics of capitalist development" and all to do with an organized working class fighting for their dignity.

According to all of you people's logic, if all of the 8 or 9% of workers who are organized here in the US (all in hyperconservative right-wing unions like the AFL-CIO) went on strike, it would be an "upturn" and a "revolutionary period". According to 44's logic, only then would it be easy for a revolutionary organization to actually become relevant. That's just silly. We need to organize ourselves as radicals and go organize workers and communities - no more, no less. It doesn't matter whether there's an upturn or a downturn or whatever.

As an aside: frankly, I'm not not an anarcho-syndicalist. I believe that anarcho-syndicalism is a method and "anarcho-syndicalist" a badge of honor saying you've done some rabble rousing. I finished FFO some time ago and thought everything in it was correct. It's a book that's definitely influenced me, and I think anarcho-syndicalism in general is basically correct and it's method the only way the working class can have a voice. When I say we should organize the working class and working-class communities, I'm de facto thinking of anarcho-syndicalism. I wouldn't use it to define myself however because I haven't earned it yet - I'm just a homeschooler atm

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Mar 16 2013 08:01

Just quickly, coz I'm already late for work (yes, on a fucking saturday.. can we just fucking finish off this capitalism shite please? sad ) but I wouldn't say I disagree that much with 44.. I think you just think that anarcho-syndicalists want to build the 1936 CNT in Wood Green 2013.. that's not the case, but the idea is that it is possible to build small groups, based in the workplace, that can fight to improve our working conditions while carrying revolutionary politics (as I mentioned, these groups already exist in some places).. I would call this a revolutionary union, I don't know if I'd use 'mass' or whatever and I don't know what you'd call it, but I reckon it'd be good to have anyway..

Your point about material conditions is also fair enough, however, I would say that revolutionary organisations are also part of what makes up material conditions.. so, for instance, if there was a group that had been doing years, even decades, of solid small scale organising in an area, once conditions changed they would be in a much better position then if they just turned up with their newspapers once the conditions had changed.

This is not really adequate but I'm so ridiculously late that it has stopped being funny and started being a bit worrying..

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Mar 16 2013 11:20
NannerNannerNannerNannerNanner wrote:
Whether class struggle is at a massive intensity or barely there, we're all still talking about goddam unions.

Yeah radical communist ideas would be relevant in the case of massive class struggle, but all of that depends on whether or not the bureacrats running this or that trade union would allowor condone it. An "upturn" in class struggle might simply be an upturn in trade union millitancy - a "downturn" might just be the re-establishment of the bonds between the union, capital, and the state.

The nonsense comes in here, however: we're not just talking about unions, but we're only talking about workers who are organized period. Whether the mystical upturn in class-struggle comes from unions or whatever, we're always going to be talking about workers who have been organized! The thread connecting May 68, Italy 68 -78 and the Winter of Discontent was that a firmly organized working class was at the forefront of all of these events.

In short: Unorganized workers can't engage in class struggle! It has nothing to do with the "objective dynamics of capitalist development" and all to do with an organized working class fighting for their dignity.

According to all of you people's logic, if all of the 8 or 9% of workers who are organized here in the US (all in hyperconservative right-wing unions like the AFL-CIO) went on strike, it would be an "upturn" and a "revolutionary period". According to 44's logic, only then would it be easy for a revolutionary organization to actually become relevant. That's just silly. We need to organize ourselves as radicals and go organize workers and communities - no more, no less. It doesn't matter whether there's an upturn or a downturn or whatever.

(Who is all this actually supposed to be addressed to? It's not really clear what position Nanner is supposed to be critiquing.)

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Mar 16 2013 12:26
44 wrote:
Hey Plasmatelly, is workers' class consciousness affected by the changes in their material conditions associated with the boom-bust dynamics of capitalist production? Or is workers' understanding of, receptivity to, inclination towards, revolutionary ideas the same in all periods?

Are there objective forces compelling workers to develop a class consciousness? Are workers compelled by circumstance to organise in their own self-interest? Or are enlightened activists carrying the cross for all of humanity? Is there really nothing here a little elbow grease won't fix?

This looks pretty bait, IMHO. Why don't you try and answer some of those questions 44 wink.

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Mar 16 2013 12:38
This thread wrote:
Men make their own history!
But they do not make it as they please!
Men make their own history!
But they do not make it as they please!
Men make their own history!
But they do not make it as they please!
Men make their own history!
But they do not make it as they please!
Men make their own history!
But they do not make it as they please!
...

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Mar 16 2013 12:44

Chorus:

The tradition of all dead generations
weighs like a nightmare
on the brains of the living.

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Mar 16 2013 19:15

The boy stood on the burning deck.

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Mar 19 2013 04:36
plasmatelly wrote:
Pennoid - would you be so kind as to alert everyone when the material conditions are right for revolution, there's a good chap.
It gets so blurry sometimes for those running around like a blue-arsed flies trying to create those revolutionary situations, just so as the good people like yourself and all the other wise owls who don't care to waste their times with building revolutionary unions and organisations can step outside, lick their finger, look up to the sky and give a nod of consent; for deep in my heart, I know that it will only be a left-communist who can ever tell the world with any degree of certainty whether the time is right for revolution. Only a left-communist.

Sorry, my sarcasm didn't carry well. I guess my parody was too close to the real thing. tongue

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Mar 19 2013 10:52

I'm not getting the equation of "is sceptical of the possibility of mass revolutionary organisations in a non-revolutionary period" with "is against organising". Sounds like all those liberals who tell me that, because I can't be bothered with voting, I don't believe in social change.

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Mar 19 2013 21:36

44 wrote:

Quote:
Hey Plasmatelly, is workers' class consciousness affected by the changes in their material conditions associated with the boom-bust dynamics of capitalist production? Or is workers' understanding of, receptivity to, inclination towards, revolutionary ideas the same in all periods?

Are there objective forces compelling workers to develop a class consciousness? Are workers compelled by circumstance to organise in their own self-interest? Or are enlightened activists carrying the cross for all of humanity? Is there really nothing here a little elbow grease won't fix?

To say that "objective forces compel workers to develop a class consciousness" is a bit overly deterministic. It can't really explain why there were over 2,000 strikes in 1916 and only 20 last year in the USA. A relevant "objective condition" someone might cite in the case of 1916 would be a wartime labor shortage, which gave workers more leverage since it would be harder to replace them with strikebreakers. But in 1936-37 there was a similar level of strikes...in the midst of a depression. In both situations there were thousands of revolutionaries in the industrial workplaces...a situation lacking at present. Moreover, it can't be that *existing* trade union organization was the basis since the mass labor upsurges of 1915-1923 and 1933-37 started from a situation of very low union density...only about 10 percent in USA as a whole, similar to the present situation in that respect. And most of the workers newly engaged in struggle in both periods were in the process of creating *new* organizations. And there weren't a lot of paid staff organizers involved in many of these situations. The USA has seen approximately seven periods of mass working class insurgency since the American Civil War. The first of these was the massive general withdrawal of labor by slaves in the south during the civil war, which brought the economy of the Confederacy to its knees, and was followed by mass seizures of plantations and demands that all the land be turned over to them, at the end of the civil war. That led to a quasi-revolutionary situation in the south and the massive series of general strikes in 1877 came at the very end of that period. Then you have the massive growth of the Knights of Labor after their victory against one of the major railways, feeding into the buildup for the big national general strike in 1886. In the various labor insurgencies historically in the USA there have been new organizations created and new groups of people going into motion. It would be rather laughable to try to explain these solely by reference to "objective conditions."

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Mar 20 2013 04:39
skybutton wrote:
I probably should have done a better job of making sure this thread didn't turn into a tendency war, which I admittedly played somewhat of a role in provoking.

I don't think this was your fault. I have a hard time imagining this conversation occurring on libcom without being like this.

skybutton wrote:
unions increase in reformism as they increase in size?

I think you're friend is right in that this is generally true, but it's misleadingly true. I think the Solidarity Federation's book Fighting For Ourselves gives a good explanation for why this tends to happen, and does so in a way that is compatible with a revolutionary unionist political perspective. (The book also offers a good statement of a revolutionary unionist perspective.)

I think the short section "two souls of unionism" in Tom Wetzel's article on revolutionary unionism is good as well - http://ideasandaction.info/2012/10/why-revolutionary-syndicalism-2/ (I mean, I like the whole piece, that bit is relevant to your question though.)

I dunno how good it is but I took a crack at responding to criticisms of the IWW of this sort in an article in the Industrial Worker last december. It's on the bottom of page 9 here - http://www.scribd.com/doc/114959213/Industrial-Worker-Issue-1751-Decembe...

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Mar 21 2013 01:09
Tim Finnegan wrote:
I'm not getting the equation of "is sceptical of the possibility of mass revolutionary organisations in a non-revolutionary period" with "is against organising".

Tim, I think you make a good point here. To my mind, a lot hangs on what this skepticism amounts to in practice. I think it can be put into practice in a lot of different ways, some worse than others. At least one version of this skepticism is to do organizing in reformist unions etc because of the belief that there's not really anything else that's possible. (I'm personally not against that sort of organizing on principle, though I do often wish that people would do that stuff as part of an ideologically revolutionary organization like the IWW or SF.)

Personally as an IWW member, and I suspect others in the IWW and some SolFed members are coming from a similar place, I've got a strong interest in defending the sorts of organizing work we do. I don't think that defense requires "through this work we will build a revolutionary union that will end capitalism" but it does require some way to say the work is worth doing. And some of the time we need to be able to say "here's why this organizing is worth doing as part of our organization rather than somewhere else." Until recently in the IWW in the US this has been somewhat easier to do because a lot of the kinds of organizing we do (both industries and ways to organize) have been largely not done by other unions. That's changing a little, which poses challenges to the IWW, productive ones in my opinion. (Because it pushes IWW members to develop better reasons for doing stuff in the IWW than simply "no one else is organizing fast food" etc.)

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Mar 21 2013 07:56

Good post Nate.

On this:

Quote:
(I'm personally not against that sort of organizing on principle, though I do often wish that people would do that stuff as part of an ideologically revolutionary organization like the IWW or SF.)

Did you mean wouldn't here?

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Mar 22 2013 04:54

Thanks, and what I meant was, I wish people would build radical unions instead of other unions. But barring other opportunities, organizing in a reformist union isn't the worst way to spend your time, in my opinion. Is that clearer? (Sorry if not, I'm real tired.)

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Mar 22 2013 08:06

Yes. Now get some rest wink

Jacob Richter
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Apr 20 2013 15:33

What about the more fundamental argument that unions aren't political enough to begin with? Their first priority is always the immediate economic interests of every member, whether conservative, liberal, progressive, or radical.

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Apr 20 2013 15:59

That's just a restatement of the argument skybutton is asking for a rebuttal of.