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(en) North America, Where They Retreat, We Must Advance: Building Dual Power by Wesley Morgan

Date Wed, 29 Jun 2005 21:56:20 +0300

"...we will take or win all possible reforms with the same spirit that
one tears occupied territory from the enemy's grasp in order to go on
advancing, and we will always remain enemies of every government..."
Malatesta (1965: 83)
Reformists have been accused of sacrificing long-term goals to short-term
expediency, and revolutionaries, on the other hand, have too often
sacrificed the concerns of today to a vision of tomorrow. Building a
revolutionary strategy means/implies thinking about how our
short-term, medium-term, and long-term activities are linked,
as what we do today influences what we do tomorrow.

Broader Considerations

Questions of strategy loom large in anarchist
discussions, as do concerns regarding our
marginalization as a movement — I am sure that there
are no anarchists who have not been told that
anarchism is "just not possible". Moreover,
revolutionary groups face an uphill battle because
most revolutionary situations have led, in the end, to
tyranny. In the chaos that often follows revolutions,
so-called revolutionary groups have generally
re-created the institutional life of the "Old Regime".

Abstract promises of a grand liberatory revolution are
simply not sufficient. While I am a committed
anarchist, I cannot fault people who see an anarchist
revolution as unachievable. Social domination
structures our experience so systematically that it
begins to acquire a "facticity", it appears to be
"just the way things are done". It is very sensible
and practical not to worry about changing things that
you can do little about, like the weather. We always
make decisions within the context of external
constraint, getting on with life means accepting these
constraints and making decisions within those limits.
Because domination is so pervasive, addressing it
literally involves a revolution, it requires
fundamental changes in the way that we organize our
social, political, and economic institutions. If we
reject domination, which is the basis for the
dictatorial "one-man rule" model of workplace
organization[1], the ability of a person to control
others on the basis of a specific organizational role,
what do we have? How will things get done? Does it
mean breaking society apart and going off to live in
the woods? In contrast to "one-man rule", advocates of
self-management have long advanced radically
democratic models of workplace organization.

For most sensible people, however, self-management
might be a nice idea, but it is simply not possible,
domination is just "how things get done". All
individuals construct their frameworks of
interpretation and understanding in terms of their
concrete, material experiences. The compelling force
of a lifetime of direct experience with authority
suggests that authority is necessary, although
unpleasant. People might think that it would be nice
to sprout wings out of their backs and fly around, but
their materially-rooted interpretive frameworks, based
upon concrete, material experience tell them that this
is unlikely to happen. Unfortunately, for many,
self-management goes into the same category. It is
noteworthy, in this context, that a study of attitudes
towards workplace democracy found that for both
managers and workers the single greatest predictor of
support for workplace democracy was experience with
workplace democracy (Collom, 2003: 88). Why? Because
people who have experienced workplace democracy have
had the experience of democratic workplace relations
actually working. Revolutionaries, anarchist
communists in particular, need to offer more than
dreams and critiques of the status quo. These creative
and critical skills are necessary but not sufficient.
The challenge lies in building practical, livable
alternatives. The only thing that can puncture the
hegemony of dictatorial workplace ideologies is
concrete, material, living proof of democratic
workplaces, and practical experience with these modes
of organizing. As the saying goes, actions speak
louder than words, and what might be termed the
"propaganda value" of dual power[2] organizations is
crucial in building a strong, broadly based mass
movement. If anarchists can actually show people that
self-management works, then we can be taken seriously
when we agitate for a self-managed society.

However, beyond the "propaganda value" of dual power
organizations, dual power is an essential element of
going beyond an insurrectionary politics, towards a
more broadly revolutionary politics. Beyond
practically demonstrating that self-management works,
building dual power organizations is valuable because
it begins to develop the infrastructure of the
revolution, to create the active capacity for
self-management. As Errico Malatesta suggests,

...the origin and justification for authority lies in
social disorganization. When a community has needs and
its members do not know how to organize spontaneously
to provide them, someone comes forward, an authority
who satisfies those needs by utilizing the services of
all and directing them to his liking …organization,
far from creating authority, is the only cure for it
and the only means whereby each one of us will get
used to taking an active and conscious part in
collective work, and cease to be passive instruments
in the hands of leaders... (1965: 86)

Social structure and organization are both crucial
because an industrial society requires a high degree
of coordination, which involves a great deal of
complex organization. In every insurrectionary moment
that we can observe, chaos and difficulties centering
on issues of coordination were acute in the opening
phases of the revolution. In each case, purportedly
revolutionary juntas recreated the institutional
structure of the "Old Regime". As deeply flawed as the
"Old Regime" was, as much as these groups railed
against it, they re-created it because at least it got
things done. As Malatesta suggests to us, this is only
to be expected. Unless revolutionaries have practical
solutions, and have already begun to be able to
provide revolutionary means of re-organizing social
life, in all of its concrete details, chaos will ensue
the insurrection. In general, in times of uncertainty
people naturally fall back on what they know, their
sense of "how things get done".

In particular, a recurrent theme of revolutionary
crisis centers around problems with supplies and the
transportation of raw materials and important goods.
In both the French and Russian Revolutions, the
problem of getting food from the countryside into the
cities was acute, to say the least. The Bolshevik’s
New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921 re-introduced
capitalistic reforms in the context of a bureaucratic
and authoritarian state- not unlike the basic
relations of production that marked the Czarist era
(Pollack, 1959: 61). As bad as this arrangement was,
and as much as they had ideologically railed against
the exact same things under the Czar, the Bolsheviks
found that this bureaucratic, or state capitalism[3],
at least formed a basis for social coordination. Franz
Schurmann reported that the land reforms introduced in
the Maoist era were comparable with traditional
imperial forms, with the collectives and communes
resembling patterns of state control and
militarization of the peasantry in projects of corvee
labour in imperial China (cited in Rapp, 2001: 15). In
fact, he compares the Maoist rural collectivization
policies with the military farms policy, or tuntian,
of imperial China (14). In the Spanish Revolution,
problems of coordination proved problematic,
specifically centering around exchange. In some
regions of Spain, they tried to abolish money
altogether, but found themselves resorting either to
rationing of one sort or another, or the production of
local currencies. Once again, in a problematic
situation, they fell back upon the old routines which
were familiar, and which coordinated action in the

It is not sufficient to create a negative
contradiction within society, that is, to create a
revolutionary rupture through organized opposition.
This is necessary, but not sufficient. It is necessary
to move from an insurrectionary strategy, focused on
the creation of a negative contradiction (against all
forms of social domination), to a revolutionary
strategy, the creation of a positive contradiction. As
I suggested, times of crisis tend to breed reaction
more than they breed revolution, as people will fall
back on what they are familiar with—social
organization based on authoritarianism. Indeed, one of
the key crises of capitalism in the last century was
the Great Depression, which gave rise not to an
international proletarian revolution but Fascism. We
need not only a strong oppositional movement, but we
need to be able to organize social life on a
self-managed basis, to provide the practical basis for
a revolutionary society. Indeed, Malatesta suggested
that not only must revolutionaries be able to maintain
social production, but we must be able to increase
production, to eliminate poverty[4]. To fail to do so
is to breed counter-revolution and reaction, as
post-insurrectionary chaos breeds uncertainty. In this
context, there is a general tendency to revert back to
the old ways of doing things (i.e. through
authoritarian institutions), as these old solutions
may be problematic, but they at least coordinate
social life on a day-to-day basis.

The Historical Context

While this discussion has been focused at the level of
general revolutionary principles, these general
principles are only meaningful when they are applied
to specific historical contexts. At this juncture, we
are living in a period where neo-liberalism has been
bringing back the aggressive forms of capitalism that
had created such militant struggles as those of the
IWW a century ago. Indeed, many of the issues are
similar, such as the use and abuse of temporary
workers, the marginalization of whole groups of
workers in the economy, and basic trade union

In the last 30 years in particular, the State and the
capitalist class have acted in a highly coordinated
fashion, causing the on-going breakdown of the "class
compromise" of the post-WWII period. In this process
we have seen the disciplining of the industrial
working class and the creation of the "rust belt" in
Canada and the USA. However, at the same time, in the
post-WWII class compromise (i.e. the welfare state), a
large public sector was created—healthcare, education,
social services—and all of these areas are
increasingly being cut adrift by the state, often
being privatized. Even in the cases where the jobs in
these sectors remain public, quasi-market reforms are

Neo-liberal reforms have had the general effect of
creating real contradictions in the lives of public
sector workers. In the era of the welfare state these
areas of the economy were made part of the public
sector, and these jobs were ones that tended to
revolve around the provision of "caring" for members
of the public (i.e. nurses, teachers, etc). While
there are real differences between the labour
processes of public sector workers, in general the
labour processes associated with caring labour in the
public sector have created loyalties, commitments, and
allegiances that reflect the caring orientation of
most of these jobs. These values, commitments, and
allegiances were not anti-capitalist when they existed
alongside the private sector. However, when market
mechanisms are imposed in the public sector, these
values, commitments, and allegiances are drawn into
active contradiction with the pursuit of profit.

It seems that, in general, when work in the caring
sectors of the economy is subjected to market
mechanisms, the priority shifts from the provision of
service and building relationships with members of the
public to the maximization of profit. Performing
caring labour is taxing both in terms of the time it
requires and the emotional investment it involves.
However, profit mechanisms reorient workplace
priorities to ensure that workers who perform caring
labour spend less time with the individuals that they
are working with—spending less time with more patients
is more profitable than spending more time with fewer
patients. Both the quality of care that these workers
are able to deliver, as well as the quality of the
work life of these workers, decline as neo-liberal
managers reorganize work. Throughout this sector of
the economy these largely female groups of workers are
seeing their work intensify dramatically, their
earnings stagnate or decline, and their ability to
care for the people they work with also decline. In
these situations, burnout becomes increasingly common
and endemic, and attempting to care for the public
becomes more and more difficult. As a clerical worker
who was involved at a staff strike at McMaster
University put it, "it wasn’t about people anymore, it
was a business, it was about making a profit."
Neo-liberal restructuring of the public sector creates
a contradiction between the work that these workers
want to do and their ability to do it, and because of
this, it has begun to create not only an a-capitalist
ethic, but an anti-capitalist ethic among these groups
of workers.

As capitalists and politicians re-structure the public
sector according to the demands of the market, and as
these market mechanisms undermine the ability of
public sector workers to engage in caring labour, it
is the operation of the market itself that becomes
problematic, and the profit-motive is increasingly
identified as the source of crises in the daily labour
of these workers. It is through the State that these
reforms are being imposed, meaning that both the State
and the capitalist class are implicated in these
reforms. Furthermore, the imposition of neo-liberalism
has had a disproportionate effect on female workers,
creating contradictions not only in terms of the class
relations which these workers are drawn into, but also
highlighting their subordination in a patriarchal
division of labour. It is for these reasons that it
was precisely these groups of workers who almost went
on a General Strike in British Columbia (BC) this
year. While bargaining with hospital workers the
provincial government of BC not only attempted to
engage in concession bargaining, they also
aggressively pursued contracting out and
privatization, causing lay-offs. When these workers
went out on strike the government attempted to
legislate them back to work. In response, provincial
teachers, transit and ferry workers, mill, steel and
forestry workers, garbage and city maintenance
workers, as well as library, community and recreation
centre employees came close to joining a general
strike, before labour leaders negotiated a settlement
that was widely condemned as a sell-out.

Anarchists have been active in fighting
neo-liberalism, but we also have to recognize that
capitalism in its less sophisticated form (i.e.
neo-liberal versus welfare state models of capitalism)
creates certain openings in revolutionary strategy.
The withdrawal, or retreat, of the State from the
public sector opens up the space for the creation of
dual power, the organization of an autonomous,
community-based public sector that is organized
according to principles of self-management, an
anti-State public sector.

It is difficult to understate the revolutionary effect
of organizing to create, and support, self-managed
community services. There are even examples of this in
North America— the Black Panther Party, at their
strongest, ran over 60 social programs, such as
schools, meal programs, and shoe programs. While the
Black Panthers fell victim to their marginalization in
ghetto communities, police repression, and internal
power struggles that were partially related to the
effects of the FBI’s counter-intelligence program
(COINTELPRO), this model of community organization is
one that still holds a great deal of potential. In the
case of the Spanish anarchist movement in the 1930’s,
part of their strength relied upon the mutual aid
societies, schools, and workers’ centers that they
organized. Indeed, a not insignificant proportion of
the literate working class was educated in anarchist
schools in Spain in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It should
come as no surprise that after the Spanish
revolution/civil war broke out, anarchist schools
flourished—anarchists had a great deal of experience
at organizing and running schools.

By advancing where the state has retreated, by
beginning to create a community-based, self-managed,
anti-State public sector, anarchists can begin to
generate a broad-based movement that has the
organizational capacity to create a fully self-managed
society. The public sector is strategically crucial
also because of the fact that these institutions would
not only re-organize the work life of public workers,
but they would also be central and tied into life in
the community more generally. Moreover, it would begin
to develop the revolutionary capacity of anarchists to
manage public life more generally, through federated
institutions that are genuinely democratic.

Unfortunately, anarchist attempts to create "dual
power" through the creation of cooperatives often
create what might be termed "market syndicalism".
While these cooperatives are internally self-managing,
they exist as units in a market economy, they still
rely upon access to the market. Building an autonomous
public sector begins to develop the practical
revolutionary infrastructure to make not only the
State, but also the market irrelevant in social life.

This is the general strategy, to attempt to create
dual power in the public sector, to build autonomous,
community-based, self-managed social
infrastructure—schools, clinics, mutual aid
organizations, perhaps hospitals one day—to help a
create a revolutionary process of organizing without
hierarchy or domination. Where the state has
retreated, we must advance, and begin organizing to
fill the gap in a liberatory manner, to build the
revolutionary capacity and potential for an end to all
forms of domination and hierarchy.

On a final note, however, I should add that, as
anarchists, it is our duty to support all workers.
However, in relation to these workers in the public
sector, I would suggest that it is particularly
important to support and organize. In doing so we
should agitate and organize to begin to introduce
radical critique and direct action where it is
appropriate. In solidarity organizing, anarchists can
begin to develop ties with workers in these sectors,
and begin to discuss and organize dual power. It is
also crucial to recognize that, in our capacity as
revolutionary organizers, most of us don’t have the
skills or the knowledge to build these organizations
from the ground up. Rather, in solidarity with workers
who work in these sectors, we can begin to organize
with them and their unions.


Malatesta, Errico. 1965. Malatesta: Life and Ideas.
Freedom Press: London, UK.

Pollack, Emanuel. 1959. The Kronstadt Rebellion.
Philosophical Library Inc: New York, NY.

Rapp, John A. 2001. "Maoism and Anarchism: Mao
Zedong’s Response to the Anarchist Critique of
Marxism." Anarchist Studies 9 (1): 3- 28.


[1] As a key form of social organization

[2] That is to say, practical institutions, which are
organized in a revolutionary fashion, that are
autonomous from, and opposed to, capital and the

[3] Lenin, incidentally, coined this term himself for
the purposes of describing Bolshevist Russia.

[4] Of course, this does not mean the mindless pursuit
of productivity gains, the very nature of production
needs to change in the process, away from profit and
towards need.


Wesley Morgan is a member of Punching Out


This essay is from the newest issue of 'The
Northeastern Anarchist' (#10, Spring/Summer 2005)...
which includes essays on NEFAC, analysis of strikes
(failed BC general strike) and labor organizing
(Montpelier Downtown Workers Union), an interview with
an Iranian anarchist, further critique of
participatory economics, a look at race, class and
reproductive rights, and much more!

The Northeastern Anarchist is the English-language
magazine of the Northeastern Federation of
Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC), covering class struggle
anarchist theory, history, strategy, debate and
analysis in an effort to further develop
anarchist-communist ideas and practice.


To order a copy, please send $5ppd ($6 international).
For distribution, bundle orders are $3 per copy for
three or more copies, and $2.50 per copy for ten or

Subscriptions are $15ppd for four issues ($18

Back issues are $2ppd ($3 international) per copy;
special offer package for the entire set of back
issues (#1-9) now only $15.

Checks or money orders can be made out to
"Northeastern Anarchist" and sent to:

Northeastern Anarchist
PO Box 230685 Boston, MA 02123
email: northeastern_anarchist@yahoo.com

For more information about NEFAC:

From: Northeastern Anarchist <northeastern_anarchist-A-yahoo.com>
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