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(en) What does it mean to be an anarchist communist?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 17 Jul 2004 20:50:04 +0200 (CEST)

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(The following essay was composed for the inaugural issue of THE
DAWN, an anarchist newspaper published out of Oakland, California.)
In setting out to answer the above question, I do not plan to provide
a definition. That is to say, I do not plan to explore the theory or
history of anarchist communism. I will assume the reader is already
familiar with the basic tenets of the anarchist communist tradition
(and for those who are not, Peter Kropotkin's pamphlet
Anarchist Communism is a good place to start.)
Rather, I intend to answer the question from the perspective of what
being an anarchist communist means personally, how such a
political identification affects employment prospects, personal
relationships, and activism.

Libertarian socialists on the jobsite
As an anarchist communist, the one thing that I cannot in good
conscience be, is a boss. As one who is committed in opposition to
the class rule of capitalism, I can not have employees. While such a
commitment might seem innocuous enough at a glance, let us look
deeper. To resolve never to be a boss means essentially to forswear
financial ambition for the duration of one's life. Because
let's face it, folks, how else is a person going to make “good
money”, if not thru managing the labor of others?

Perhaps one might seek to amass wealth without becoming a boss,
by studying hard and becoming a skilled laborer? Certainly, skilled
labor fetches more on the market than mere brute force. Not only
that, it is often true that experienced skilled laborers earn more than
the lowest echelons of the managers, the “floor
supervisors.” But the experienced skilled laborer has hit a glass
ceiling. The experienced laborer is earning as much as he or she is
going to, except for the occasional cost of living increase, and
ignoring such factors as collective bargaining. The experienced
skilled laborer has no where left to go, no means to advancement
except moving up into a management position.

For all practical purposes to be an anarchist communist, one who
stands in firm opposition to the boss system, is to forswear all
ambition for “a career.”

We could hardly discuss the ethical aspects of employment without
addressing the subject of unions. Anarchist struggle means conflict
between rulers and the oppressed, and that includes the struggles of
workers with their employers. Without question, ALL anarchist
communists hold that collective action on the part of the workers,
and in opposition to the bosses is the fundamental basis of our
politics. Beyond that point, we are anything but monolithic. Many
go so far as to say that an anarchist who is not involved in union
struggles, is anarchist in name only. Others counter that given the
hierarchal structure of the union bureaucracy, belonging to a union
(or most particularly working for one) rather than being a
prerequisite of anarchism, actually disqualifies a person.

Most of our views fall somewhere between these extremes.
Accordingly, most anarchist communists who are in a position to
join the rank and file of a union, do so. Often we accept elected
positions as stewards. If there is a democratic reform caucus within
a union, anarchist communists will often be found laboring there.
And some go so far as to accept employment as union organizers.

Wherever one falls in the spectrum, few dispute the claim that most
unions are at odds with anarchist principles, to the extent that they
are run in a hierarchal fashion, from the top down. To whatever
extent a union has wealthy bosses and “mere workers”
within its structure, it stands at direct odds with anarchist

For my own part, I spent 25 years as a wage slave in the machine
shops and factories of the rural southern United States, and never
once worked in a union shop. It was through working in non-union
shops, eating scraps from the bosses table, walking to the job site so
that the owner could afford to buy a brand-new four-wheel-drive
pickup truck… it was through long years of deprivation that I came
to believe that union organization could only help. But more than
that, I came to believe that only a revolution would entirely suffice.

Anarchists in the home
What of personal relations? Is the personal life of an anarchist
communist affected as drastically as her employment prospects?
Perhaps less, perhaps more so.

Anarchists oppose domination in all forms, including the
domination of the one's mate or child. In other words, Dad
doesn't “wear the pants” in an anarchist home. Nor
does the “breadwinner' (assuming a single-job family)
merit special status. Quite often division of labor is rejected in favor
of rotating tasks, but in no case is “a man's home his
castle.” (OK, I think I've run out of patriarchal clichés,

A home that is established along anarchist lines eschews
domination and competition, and opts instead for autonomy and
cooperation. If you don't find this to be a novel approach to
familial relations, then you didn't grow up in my family, or one
like it.

Anarchists as activists
Not all anarchists are “activists”, at least by the usual
definition of the word. Some anarchist communists are so
convinced that class struggle is paramount, and that the union is
the most promising form of that struggle, that such fights constitute
the full extent of their political activity. They devote themselves
exclusively to agitating for more radial and militant strategies and
tactics within the unions. But for many others, political activism
within the context of the broader social movements are a vital part
of the battle against capitalism.

What do we mean by “the social movements”? This generic
term refers to such organizations and tendencies as the anti-war
coalitions, the various environmental organizations, and the global
justice movement. Anarchists are well represented in all of these
spheres. It may be that what distinguishes the activism of someone
with a particular ideology is less what causes she may champion-
most would agree that all the above-mentioned causes are
worthwhile- but in what order of priority they are placed.

Perhaps an example will serve to illuminate this point. Suppose a
person shows up for anti-war marches, is a member of a union, and
goes to the local Earth First informationals. Further, suppose that
the same person devotes a huge amount of time and energy not just
to attending demonstrations for global justice, but also for
organizing and propagandizing against the WTO, the IMF, and the
World Bank. We would say that this person supports many causes,
but prioritizes global justice issues.

A critical question for any anarchist activist is, what will be the first
priority as an activist? Will she seek to bring a class analysis into the
(generally liberal) anti-war movement? Or will she devote herself
exclusively to labor issues? If so, will that be in the context of the
union form of struggle, in community organizations such as
copwatch, or via another form? And what of the environmental
movement? Is it possible to bring a class analysis into that arena?

How an activist answers these questions says much about her

I will close these remarks by briefly detailing my own answers to
these questions. I chose to make a priority of working on the Farm
Labor Organizing Committee's (FLOC's) boycott of the
Mount Olive Pickle Company. The reason I selected this campaign
is that, first, it employs a direct-action means of struggle, the
boycott. It is a campaign in support of a union struggle, and the
union is not a wealthy one with a large bureaucratic structure.
Further, this struggle combines the issues of class, race,
globalization and nationalism (the workers that FLOC represents
are overwhelmingly working class Latino non-citizens.)

Rather than attempting to finesse the issue of their being
“illegal”, I confront it directly: “What, only American
citizens have the right to a decent life? Slavery in the fields is OK, as
long as it's not WHITE slavery, is that it? Do you think they
want to be here? Do you think they just woke up one morning and
said, ‘Hey, I bet it would be fun to move a thousand miles from
home where everyone hates me and I can't speak the language!
That would be cool!' These people are victims of NAFTA,
same as we are, only worse…”

I selected the FLOC campaign because it combined so many
different issues that I am passionate about. Working to support the
exploited farm workers has been an enriching experience, and I
plan to continue until the struggle is won. There is only one small
problem, one nagging itch of discontent that keeps me looking for
additional avenues of dissent and rebellion: it ain't bringing the
revolution down fast enough to suit me!

Copied from infoshop.org

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