Form vs. content

A brief piece from Wobbling Towards Communism about the question of form compared to the content of an organization.

Often in IWW literature, the mantra “we’re more horizontal than other unions” is oft repeated. As if being democratic as we possibly can automatically means that we’re more revolutionary than other organizations, that we have less to zero bureaucracy and/or that we are more effective at organizing and getting things done. This is all a fantasy.

Being more democratic does not make an organization any more revolutionary than any other. A democratically-run baseball team does not make this baseball team revolutionary. This has also not been the case historically in times of great social struggle. During the Spanish civil war, the democratically-run factories were incorporated into the bourgeois Spanish state, dragging the workers into the imperialist war and state-capitalism. What makes the IWW a revolutionary organization is our goal, stated in our preamble, that calls for the abolition of class society and wage-labour. In short, it is a goal for communism.

This means the necessity of aiming to achieve a dictatorship of the proletariat.

But are we in a position to do this as it stands? No. While we may have this revolutionary language in the preamble, it is never taken seriously. There is a large focus on different organizational forms, as if they will be the magic bullet that opens up the possibility of revolution. What it amounts to in reality are endless meetings about this procedural question, that rule in the book, how many representatives we should have, if they should be by proxy, or not. Nothing gets done. Months can go by just trying to decide on something as inconsequential as a banner slogan, or the title for a flyer, or some fleeting nonsense. If a revolutionary situation arises, the IWW will be found to have its thumb up its ass. At the bare minimum we could adopt the French proverb “les absents ont toujours tort”, which roughly translates to “those who are absent don’t get to vote”.

The focus on organizing, especially with the intent of creating a mass organization, also presents to us a problem of education, of watering down the revolutionary content of the organization. This can be seen by the influx of activists and traditional trade unionist types. There is no minimum requirement for education in the union, and at times it seems that it is actively discouraged, as if one would instantly turn into an evil Stalinist at the suggestion of the mere fact that the IWW preamble directly quotes Marx. There is a lot of disdain for some reason about having an internal dialogue within the union about anything that isn’t directly relating to organizing in the work place, especially from a Marxist stance such as ours. The people who usually kick up the most fuss about this are obviously the anarchists. Anarchists seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that there are many of them who are in outside organizations and inject their own ideology and ideas, which are often wrong and unhelpful. Most popular is the idea that the IWW should act solely on the economic front.

To quote the material from which the preamble seeks inspiration, and which is conveniently ignored:

“Trades Unions work well as centers of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class that is to say the ultimate abolition of the wages system.”

The lack of any real theory, framework, education, or even a discussion, opens up the way for useless and at times outright reactionary ideas regarding our end goal to take place. From the popular conception of socialism as “workers democratically controlling their workplaces” to the ignorant and even dishonest idea of Marx as leading to “state-socialism”, and thus the equation of Marxism with a political formation or goal which found expression in Stalinist Russia.

Originally posted: June 18, 2014 at Wobbling Towards Communism

Posted By

Juan Conatz
Jun 18 2014 23:27

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Comments

Pennoid
Jun 19 2014 04:04

I think there are some pretty important theoretical clarifications that need to be brought to a lot of the ideas here. I'm not rejecting their usefulness, but it's not clear what their usefulness is one way or the other.

What is the "dictatorship of the proletariat"?
What is "real theory?"

Quote:
But are we in a position to do this as it stands? No. While we may have this revolutionary language in the preamble, it is never taken seriously. There is a large focus on different organizational forms, as if they will be the magic bullet that opens up the possibility of revolution. What it amounts to in reality are endless meetings about this procedural question, that rule in the book, how many representatives we should have, if they should be by proxy, or not. Nothing gets done. Months can go by just trying to decide on something as inconsequential as a banner slogan, or the title for a flyer, or some fleeting nonsense. If a revolutionary situation arises, the IWW will be found to have its thumb up its ass

This seems like anecdotal evidence, and not exactly a complaint to be lodged with "form" or an over-concern for "form." It could be a complaint about concern with formalism impeding activity, i.e. deciding flyer-content at a business meeting, but that is less ideological, and more simply practical I think. Workers in transport don't need a say so much in what workers in health put on their fundraising flyer. But this isn't undemocratic. I think at the suggestion that these might be split into subcommittees, one would meet little resistance. I could be wrong (honestly, there are some loopy liberals in working class circles).

The only practical suggestion in this piece is that we have an identity-based system of membership, which as communists interested in the primacy of content over form, seems contradictory. To me, that is what the "education" proposal sounds like. IT sounds like only letting in people who agree with certain principles/positions. Do we want people who agree with the DOTP or people with a material interest in fighting capital? Many a Stalinist labor bureaucrat likes the idea of the DOTP.... but I'm all for studying economics in the union and setting up committees to encourage the study of Capital, and of great working class militants and theorists the world over.

Juan Conatz
Jun 19 2014 04:25

The part about democracy goes too far and is sort of where I break from some aspects of the ultraleft. Yes, democracy isn't as important as some liberals and anarchists would have us believe, but to indicate that it has no importance, even comparing it to a baseball team, is ridiculous. Obviously, a baseball team doesn't represent a new world to come. If democracy didn't matter, than were the CPUSA controlled 'red unions' of the Third Period something to be looked at? There was more wrong with them then their Stalinism. I think the form vs content thing is a complicated conception, they both play off each other. Sometimes the content can't be reached as a conclusion without the form to bring people there.

Also, I'm pretty confused with the usage of 'the dictatorship of the proletariat' combined with 'the historic task of the proletariat is to destroy the proletariat as a category' said here. It makes me think that some terms are being used here to be provocative, which makes me wonder what to take seriously.

klas batalo
Jun 20 2014 16:32

as someone who shares the perspective that the iww should not be treated as an apolitical economic front of the working class "for all workers" type of thing...i just wanna say that though this has tangentially been the call of some politicos in outside anarchist political organizations this sorta thinking seems to be on the general wane...it certainly still exists, but there is also no official positions really on such. basically there are large factions and tendencies for the iww being ultrapolitical.

syndicalist
Jun 20 2014 19:26

Build anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-syndicalism in both "form and practice" . Not just militant unionists and unionism.