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(en) M1 & THE SPECTACLE OF THE STREET DEMO

From Jura Books <a-infos-@chaos.apana.org.au>
Date Thu, 19 Apr 2001 09:03:43 -0400 (EDT)


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FROM REBEL WORKER, PAPER OF THE ANARCHO-SYNDICALIST NETWORK
Vol.20 No.2(170) April-May 2001, Subs airmail overseas $25per year
in Aust. $12 per year, PO Box 92 Broadway 2007 NSW Australia 

M1 & THE SPECTACLE OF THE STREET DEMO
HEAD - 2 =  What's in it for Workers?
At 7am on Tuesday, May 1st, 2001, the opening shots of the war against
global capitalism will have been fired, albeit, in the form of M1's
declaredly "peaceful" blockade of the Sydney Stock Exchange.  Peaceful?
Well, not if the capitalist state has its way.  And it will!  By day's end,
several blockaders will have been arrested, a few injured, and the coppers
will have got some valuable practice at quelling "public disturbances".
The television stations will have recorded  dramatic images for their
nightly news broadcasts, that, with skillful editing, will have made the
blockade appear far more spectacular than it actually was, and many of the
blackaders will be excitedly recounting the day's adrenaline-charged events
over a few beers in some of Sydney's many gentrified pubs and speculating
upon future "actions".
But how much further will the workers' struggle against the bosses'
offensive have been advanced?  And what will the many workers at home
watching the T.V. stations' versions of
the-day's-events-compressed-into-sixty-seconds be thinking?  Will it
be,"These are people we can definitely work with to extend control over our
jobs"?  Or, "Bloody wankers!"?  Or, more charitably, perhaps, "They mean
well, but nothing's going to come of it."?  Somehow, I don't think there'll
be too much musing on the first observation.
Street demonstrations have had an illustrious and glamorous history in
Sydney, most notably, in having played an important role in putting an end
to the Australian state's involvement in U.S. imperialism's war against the
Vietnamese peasants and workers.  The mass mobilisations of countless
thousands on the streets in the late 1960s and early '70s and their
dramatic cat-and-mouse encounters with the police are the stuff of legend
in left-wing circles.  Some, at the time, even believed that the anti-war
movement had the potential to spill over to challenge the capitalist system
itself, but with the benefit of historical hindsight, it is now possible to
see that such hopes were overly optimistic to say the least.  Mass
demonstrations, then as now, are not the kinds of things that, in and of
themselves, can directly lead to real revolutionary challenges.  For this,
a process that has the potential to lead to control over the means of
production, distribution and exchange by the organised rank-and-file
workers is necessary, and this is made possible only by long periods of
diligent organisational work amongst workers at the workplace level.
The workplace is the only terrain upon which the worker's challenge to the
boss's power can be made.  It is the point at which the boss expropriates
the product of the worker's labour.  It is  therefore the primary locus of
the boss's power, and the primary point of his vulnerability, and thus the
primary site of the class struggle.  Victory over the boss, when it takes
place, takes place at the workplace.  The street, on the other hand, is the
political terrain upon which the radical bourgeoisie makes its demands when
excluded from the usual bourgeois political machinery (parliament, the
courts, etc.)  It is the site upon which the disaffected elements of the
middle class exert leverage against a recalcitrant, backward-looking,
bourgeois establishment, as was the case in the late '60s and early '70s.
The anti-Vietnam war demos, and the various 'liberation' movements that
followed (women's lib, gay rights, etc.) were not an expression of
proletarian insurgency, they represented the will of sections of the
extreme left of the radical bourgeois youth, which was demographically very
numerous and harboured a host of grievances that the political
establishment was not prepared to countenance (stopping conscription;
lowering voting age to 18; legalising abortion, homosexuality; etc.).
Because these movements were led by non-workers for whom organising at the
workplace level was not an option, and indeed, an alien notion, their best
bet was to get out on the streets and exert pressure on the authorities, by
sheer force of numbers, over a protracted period of time, until they got
their way.  Eventually, the authorities gave in: Australian troops were
pulled out of Vietnam, conscription was scrapped, the voting age was
lowered, abortion and homosexuality were legalised, and those who yesterday
were rebels on the street, today became respectable and fully incorporated
into the bourgeois structure.  What appeared to be radical demands in the
'60s, today are <M>status quo: there is now no military conscription,
there're few restrictions on abortion and sexual expression, there're equal
rights (formally) between the sexes, etc., etc.  But capitalism is stronger
than ever!  Indeed, while we may not have military conscription, we do have
labour conscription (work for the dole) and military intervention occurs
whenever the ruling class wants it (Iraq, East Timor).  So, perhaps, one
could be forgiven for asking whether the mass movements of the '60s have a
positive legacy at all! 
If there is a positive legacy, it is that left by the worker-student
alliances, which tried to establish links between militant workers and
revolutionary students, usually Maoists.  While the Maoists sought to set
up a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist vanguard, the opportunity exists for
today's students to assist workers to organise in a non-vanguardist,
non-substitutionist, rank-and-filist manner, much the same as occurred in
France in 1968, where fraternisation between students occupying the Censier
Centre, an annex of the University of Paris, and workers involved in the
strike wave then engulfing France, resulted in exchanges of perspectives on
organising in a rank-and-file manner.  The occupied Censier Centre
functioned as a 'revolutionary base'  by facilitating meetings and
discussions between groups of militant workers and students.  Workers from
the Rhone Poulenc chemical plant familiarised workers of other enterprises
with the organisation of rank-and-file committees which had worked very
successfully inside their factory.  Citroen workers learned from the
chemical workers that rank-and-file organisation, where decision-making
power over the running of strikes remains with the workers themselves, was
the solution to the problems they had faced during their strike, which had
been limited to traditional trade union parameters.  Rhone Poulenc workers
also pointed out that real workers' control could not be realised until
rank-and-file organisation was extended to other parts of the capitalist
world.  Subsequently, some members of the Citroen committee, after learning
of the chemical workers' experience and perspectives, went to Turin to
establish contacts with the Worker-Student League grouped around Fiat, at
that time, the largest enterprise in Western Europe.  In Turin, information
was exchanged and strategies and obstacles to action compared.  Many other
interactions between workers, and students and workers, occurred at that
time with positive results.
In  Sydney today, where autonomous rank-and-file organisation is confined
to a few small highly besieged pockets of resistance, a first step in a
positive direction could involve students assisting workers in economically
strategic sectors such as the transport and maritime industries to produce
and distribute workplace bulletins and newspapers, thereby facilitating
industry-wide rank-and-file communication between work sites on workplace
problems and possible solutions.
Unfortunately, such activity is not as glamorous and adrenalin-charged as
battling the coppers outside the stock exchange, but it is necessary.
Indeed it is absolutely essential for the revolutionary whose aim is
genuine socialism.  Socialism can only be arrived at when the workers
appropriate to themselves through their own, unmediated, direct action the
means of production, distribution and exchange.  Street demos don't
contribute to this process.  
Apropos of the Vietnam war: the war could have been brought to a halt if
workers involved in war industries deliberately held up production and
delivery of war materiel!  Indeed, some semblance of this possibility was
made evident by the disruptions to provisioning that occurred on those
occasions when workers in war industries did strike, albeit, for purely
economistic reasons.
There are now some, schooled in the strategy of the street demo, who are
seeking to resurrect methods that proved apparently successful in stopping
a weak government's participation in a controversial war, and applying them
against "Globalisation", without stopping to consider whether the
dictatorship of global capital is the kind of thing that it's possible to
blockade, or demonstrate against.  The power of the global capitalist
system emanates from the capitalist production process, the workplaces of
the world.  This is where all wealth is produced and all exploitation of
human beings is traced back to.  To abolish capitalism, and to establish
socialism, it is necessary for workers to take control of the workplaces.
A first step in this direction in Australia today would be for students to
link their struggles with those of workers involved in rank-and-file
organisation.

Peter Siegl


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