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(en) Freedom 6403 8 Feb, 2003 - Divided by time, united by hope - Book reviews:

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 22 Mar 2003 08:26:02 +0100 (CET)


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> Fences and Windows by Naomi Klein
> Three Strikes by Howard Zinn, Dana Frank and Robin Kelly

The wave of 'anti-capitalist' demonstrations and
protests in recent years is, of course, just the most
recent expression of a conflict that's marked
capitalism from the start - the class struggle. As long
as wage slavery's existed, workers have been fighting
against it. As long as the state's existed, its subjects
have resisted. The intensity and forms of social
struggle have changed depending on the circumstances
working class people have faced, but it's always existed
and will continue as long as capitalism does. These two
books are accounts of this struggle.

Naomi Klein, author of No Logo, needs no
introduction. Her new book, Fences and Windows, isn't
a follow-up but a collection of essays on globalisation,
its consequences and the wave of protests against it.
Three Strikes is history at its best. It contains
accounts of three strikes in America, the Colorado
Coal strike of 1913-14 (which culminated in the
Ludlow massacre), a sit-in strike by employees at a
Detroit Woolworths in 1937, and a New York
musicians' strike against new technology in the late
1930s.

While the books recount struggles separated by over
sixty years, common themes emerge: the power of
working class people to resist and improve their lives,
the need for democracy within the movement, the
creativity of struggle, how it breaks down barriers
between what is and what could be, how struggles show
in embryo what a free society might look like.

Moreover, they indicate how far capitalism hasn't
come. For all its talk of liberty, it's still a system
based on wage slavery and economic power dictating to
political power. The state still exists, not to represent
the people, but to dis-empower them in order to
defend property.

Wide ranging analysis
Klein covers a lot of ground. Her articles are
well-written and engaging. They cover the reality of
modern capitalism, the gap, as she puts it, "between
rich and poor but also between rhetoric and reality,
between what is said and what is done. Between the
promise of globalisation and its real effects." She
shows how we live in a world where the market (i.e.
capital) is made 'freer' while people suffer increased
state power and repression. How an unelected
Argentinian president labels his country's popular
assembly movement 'anti-democratic'. How rhetoric
about liberty is used as a tool to defend and increase
private power.

As she reminds us, "always missing from [the
globalisation] discussion is the issue of power. So many
of the debates that we have about globalisation theory
are actually about power: who holds it, who is
exercising it and who is disguising it, pretending it no
longer matters." But she also shows us how people
across the world are resisting.

Klein rightly downplays the media idea that she's a
spokesperson for a movement. As she puts it, "many in
the movement are tired of being spoken for and about.
They are demanding a more direct form of political
participation". She reports on a movement she's part
of, one which aims for a globalisation from below, one
"founded on principles of transparency, accountability
and self-determination, one that frees people instead
of liberating capital". She wants people to manage
their own affairs and chronicles attempts around the
world to do just that (many of which, as she herself
says, are anarchist or influenced by anarchist ideas,
whether knowingly or not).

Because of this, Fences and Windows has a distinctly
libertarian thrust. Klein isn't an anarchist herself, but
she's aware that real change comes from below, by the
self-activity of working people fighting for a better
world. Decentralisation of power is a key idea in her
book. As she puts it, the 'goal' of the social movements
she describes is "not to take power for themselves, but
to challenge power centralisation on principle", so
creating "a new culture of vibrant direct democracy ...
one that is fuelled and strengthened by direct
participation."

She doesn't urge the movement (as she calls it) to
invest itself with new leaders. Nor, unlike the left,
does she think that electing a few leaders to make
decisions on our behalf equals democracy. "The goal",
she says, "is not better faraway rules and rulers, but
close-up democracy on the ground". She does,
therefore, get to the heart of matter. Real social
change is based on empowering the grassroots.

The logical conclusion of all this is the destruction of
political power, not its seizure. The state is simply the
power of a minority to enforce its will. This means that
a social movement which aims to create socialism
can't use it in pursuit of its goal. After all, the state
('political power') is based on centralised power to
ensure minority class rule. To argue for the 'conquest
of political power', as Marx did, on the grounds that
"the lords of the land and of capital always make use
of their political privileges to defend and perpetuate
their economic monopolies and enslave labour" is to
draw the wrong conclusion. By ending the regime of
the powerful by destroying their instruments of rule,
the power that was concentrated in their hands
automatically falls back into the hands of society.
So it is that working class power can only be concrete
once 'political power' is shattered and replaced by the
social power of the working class, based on its own
class organisations (such as factory committees,
workers' councils, unions, neighbourhood assemblies).
Power 'to the people' can only be put into practice
when the power exercised by social elites is dissolved
into the people. This, in turn, can only be done if we
apply our ideas of self-management, direct action and
solidarity in class struggle.

This necessity - or rather Klein's reluctance to accept
it - explains why her weakest chapter, 'Limits to
political parties', is flawed. While she's right to argue
that a new social movement must be "built up from
the ground" and must aim for "self-determination,
economic sustainability and participatory democracy",
she still seem to think in terms of political parties
even if she doesn't think a new one is required
immediately. It's a shame this discussion on the leap
'from protest to power' doesn't build on the
extra-parliamentary organising and direct action she
reports on elsewhere.

Mexican example
This is especially ironic in the light she herself casts.
In one of her best chapters, she gives an account of the
Mexican Zapatistas, in which she notes that their
"non-hierarchical decision making, decentralised
organising and deep community democracy hold
answers for the non-indigenous world as well". In other
words, we must "build the new world in the shell of the
old" by building our own organisations, able to resist
the power of state and capital until such time as both
can be abolished. This makes her account of the
Zapatistas particularly interesting for anarchists,
because it's a "movement of one no and many yesses",
one of "revolutionaries who don't want power". In
Mexico, the aim is to "seize and build autonomous
spaces". The similarities with anarchism are obvious.
In Three Strikes by Howard Zinn, Dana Frank and
Robin Kelly, we see three historical examples of the
kind of struggles Klein describes. The book also points
to a key weakness in Klein's own, which is that she
doesn't discuss workplace organising in any depth
(though she does have a chapter on 'The war on unions'
in Mexico). Three Strikes describes struggles that are
rooted in the workplace, where labour is directly
oppressed (and so exploited) by capital. These
struggles aren't as 'glamorous' as the anti-globalisation
protests which, Klein rightly worries may be turning
into a series of 'McProtests', but their potential is
much bigger.

Ultimately, capitalism will continue until capital is
directly expropriated by the working class. This can
only be achieved by workplace organising and struggle.
As Klein says in her book, the "most powerful
resistance movements are always deeply rooted in
community - and are accountable to those
communities". Unless we build militant organisations
in our workplaces and communities, the anti-capitalist
movement will wither and die like a plant without
roots.

Dana Frank's account of the Detroit Woolworth sit-in
is particularly relevant today because that firm was
the 1930s equivalent of the Gap and McDonalds, a
multinational company operating in the service
industry and considered impossible to organise. But,
inspired by the tactics developed by workers elsewhere
(such as the autoworkers), the strikers managed to win
all their demands by occupying the store. Moreover,
they inspired retail workers across America to follow
their lead, organise themselves and win improved
wages and conditions. In Detroit itself, bosses at other
stores increased wages in fear of workers following
their example and unionising.

Frank discusses the role of the media, which
essentially trivialised the women strikers and their
actions. Called 'girls' even by the radical press, they
were reported for their amusement value rather than
their militancy. Ironically this may have helped their
struggle, as it would have been difficult for Woolworths
to send in private or state police to evict them. The
PR would have been terrible, almost as terrible as the
contrast between the wages and conditions of the
striking women and the lifestyle of Barbara Hutton,
who'd inherited the Woolworth fortune. The unions
were quick to press this point, but the mainstream
media quickly joined in too - Life magazine said
Hutton should "forget counts who spend her money
and remember the Woolworth girls who earn it".

Klein's book is, in part, an account of the privatisation
of life (the 'fences' associated with private property)
and the resistance to it (the 'windows' we create in our
struggles). Howard Zinn's account of the Colorado
miners' strike of 1913-14 gives a gripping example of
this workers' resistance to the feudalism at the heart
of capitalism. The miners lived in the ultimate grip of
privatisation, the company town, which Zinn
summarises: "Each mining camp", he says, "was a
feudal dominion, with the company acting as lord and
master. Every camp had a marshal, a law enforcement
officer paid by the company. The 'laws' were the
company's rules. Curfews were imposed, 'suspicious'
strangers were not allowed to visit the homes, the
company store had monopoly on goods sold in the
camp. The doctor was a company doctor, the
schoolteachers hired by the company ... Political power
in Colorado rested in the hands of those who held
economic power. This meant that the authority of
Colorado Fuel & Iron and other mine operators was
virtually supreme."

Unsurprisingly, when the workers rebelled against this
tyranny, they were evicted from their homes and the
private law enforcement agents were extremely
efficient in repressing the strikers, aided by the state
militia (asked in and paid for by banks and
corporations). Without irony the New York Times
editorialised that the militia was "as impersonal and
impartial as the law". It was these company thugs,
dressed in the uniform of the state militia, who
murdered women and children in the Ludlow
massacre.

After the slaughter, the corporation hired Ivy Lee ("the
father of public relations in the United States") to
change public opinion. Significantly, Lee produced a
series of tracts labelled 'Facts concerning the struggle
in Colorado for industrial freedom'. The head of the
corporation (Rockefeller) portrayed his repression of
the strikers as a blow for workers' freedom, to "defend
the workers' right to work". So much for the private
property (or capitalism) being the embodiment of
liberty.

As well as recounting popular struggles against private
power, both Fences and Windows and Three Strikes
raise similar issues about the movements themselves.
One common theme is internal democracy, or the lack
of it. The Woolworth strikers didn't even get to vote
on the final agreement they won, while one union
activist was purged from the local union for advocating
rank-and-file voting on their own contracts! Klein's
account of the first World Social Forum in Brazil in
2001 shows that this division into leaders and led still
exists, with the WSF having an "organisational
structure" that was so opaque "it was nearly
impossible to figure out how decisions were made or
find ways to question those decisions". There were "no
open plenaries and no chance to vote on the structure
of future events".

Unless social movements are rooted in self-managed
structures, with decision-making power resting at the
base, they'll simply become a means for would-be
politicians to gain influence. Klein argues that "one
'pro' this disparate coalition can get behind is
'pro-democracy'" and that "democracy within the
movement must become a high priority". As she
herself knows, this is true only if it's direct, not
representative, democracy. The fate of the US trades
unions and their decline in the face of capitalist power,
together with worker indifference in the face of
bureaucracy, both show the importance of applying our
ideals today and not waiting until after 'the
revolution'. After all, how will people become capable
of self-government after the revolution if they don't
practise it now?

Neither of these books is perfect, but there's far more
right in them than wrong. They recount attempts by
working class people to resist both private and state
power by organising themselves, using direct action
and solidarity to improve their conditions. Anarchism
bases itself on struggles such as these, considering
them the means by which an anarchist society will be
created. To use Klein's words, they're 'windows' to a
better world, showing that another world is possible
and that we start to create it every time we resist the
'fences' placed round our freedom by hierarchy.

At one point Klein quotes the Zapatista Marcos on
"the history that is born and nurtured from below".
Both Fences and Windows and Three Strikes are great
examples of this kind of history. Anarchists will get a
lot out of reading them. They are works that will
inspire readers to resist and organise, to try and
change the world for the better. No better compliment
can be given.
Iain McKay
Both books are available from the Freedom Press
Bookshop. If ordering by post, Naomi Klein's Fences
and Windows is £8.99 (plus £1 towards p&p in the UK,
£2 elsewhere). Three Strikes by Howard Zinn, Dana
Frank and Robin Kelly is £13.99 (plus £1.40 towards
p&p in the UK, £2.80 elsewhere).

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