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(en) Australia, Rebel Worker* - Books reviews

Date Fri, 27 Apr 2012 07:32:18 +0300


Nunzio Pernicone «Carlo Tresca: Portrait of a Rebel» (AK Press 2010) By Dimitri Troaditis (MACG) ---- Carlo Tresca was one of those revolutionary workers whose memory deserves to be honored and this excellent biography of him by Italian historian Nunzio Pernicone fulfils exactly this purpose. Pernicone is the same author who in the past published an excellent history of the Italian anarchist movement (in English the title was «Italian Anarchism: 1864-1892», which was firstly published by Princeton University in 1993 and then by AK Press), but this work is equivalently interesting to anarchists and other radicals. ---- Carlo Tresca was the son of a middle class family and was born in Italy in 1879. He soon became a socialist and took an active part in the Italian Railway Workers' Federation before emigrating to the U.S.A. when he was 25 years old.

Once he arrived there he was elected as secretary of the Italian Socialist Federation of North America and participated actively in various class struggles. During this time his sympathy for social democracy was transformed quickly into sympathy for trade unionism, as he soon realised the inherent reformism of social democratic ideas and the importance of immediate action to unionise.

Connected with the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World - US syndicalist union), he took an active part in the strikes of Pennsylvania coal miners before being involved in several important and often episodic strikes and other activities. Gradually, his trade union beliefs led him to the adoption of anarcho-syndicalism and he became soon one of the leading anarchists the U.S., particularly amongst the Italian America community.

Nunzio Pernicone gives us a picture of a deep lively, vibrant and charismatic figure who played a catalytic role in many struggles for workers' rights.

He was also a prolific journalist and publisher and edited the Italian speaking anarchist newspaper «11 Martello» («The Hammer") for over 20 years. It was an excellent and passionate writer, propagandist and organiser as well. He was responding to any call for help in trying to encourage Italian workers to strike and fight back. He played a major role in numerous strikes, including the victorious strike in Lawrence (1912), the textile workers' strike in Little Falls, New York 1912), the hotel workers' strike in New York (1913), the strike in Patterson, the silk workers' strike in New Jersey (1913) id the miners' strike in Mesabi Range of Minnesota (1916).

Carlo Tresca played also an instrumental in the unsuccessful struggle for the salvation of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.

Following World War I, Carlo Tresca turned his fire and efforts against fascism, but also Stalinist tyranny. He was the first and an ardent opponent of Italian fascism throughout the USA. His activities caused such hatred by Mussolini and his regime, since Tresca played a key role (both politically and physically) in stopping the spread of fascism within the Italian-American community (this is why he suffered an assassination attempt against him in 1926).

Pernicone goes into great detail about how helpful was the "democratic" American state to fascist Italy by trying to expel Tresca from the country. He tells us also how Tresca sent a telegram to Mussolini in the birthday of the latter. Before emigrating to America, young Tresca had met Mussolini (who was by then one of the leaders of left socialists in Italy), just to inform him that his stay in U.S.A. will turn (Tresca) him into a real rebel. Well, Tresca's telegram simply reminded Mussolini that he was absolutely right!

Unlike many other militants of that period, Tresca had no illusions about the Soviet Union. He realised that the Lenin regime smashed the real, authentic revolution in Russia and he opposed the new "socialist" regime with the same courage that he opposed fascism. During the 1920's, however, Tresca tried to work with all opponents of fascism, including even the communists (because he never doubted about the masses' courage and admitted their willingness to fight against fascism). His efforts to form a single anti-fascist front, as well as the efforts of the Stalinists to put under their direct control such organisations is recounted in detail by Pernicone. These Stalinist manoeuvres, along with their counter-revolutionary role during the Spanish Revolution and Civil War 1936-39, made Tresca intensify this struggle against Leninism during 1930's until he finally opposed any form of collaboration with the Stalinists.

Tresca's struggle for freedom, equality and solidarity continued until his assassination at the age of 63 years. Although no

one was ever indicted for his murder, Pernicone presents to us, a quite remarkable assessment of the data and inter-conflicting theories (as suspects include the Stalinists, fascists and the Mafia) concerning his assassination by a member of the Mafia, Carmine Galante.

This biography is the product of work lasting more than 30 years. Pernicone shows in this magnificent work, the advantages and disadvantages of this tireless and fearless champion of freedom and justice, Carlo Tresca. It's a very good book that not only brings to light the amazing story of Tresca, but also lots of aspects of the radical social movement of this era.

One thing that "hits" the reader is how sectarian was a significant part of the anarchist movement at the time. Because, apart from fascists and Stalinists, Tresca also had to his face the hatred of anti-organisational anarchists who at the time were following Luigi Galleani and did not stop the taunting him (much to the delight of the fascists during the 1920's and 1930's). Even the letters of Enrico Malatesta, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were unable to stop these personal attacks. A critical review of this book by Anarcho talks about the paranoia that is currently developing amongst anti-organizational anarchists (such as primitivists) which would encourages such attacks. Therefore, it is important to learn some lessons from the past!

In conclusion, this book by Nunzio Pernicone is a very interesting contribution and we strongly recommend it to readers. Tresca's memory should be honoured today by all anarchist militants for freedom and equality. Pernicone has offered a great service to our movement by writing this biography of an unjustly forgotten pioneer of the struggle for freedom. Let's be inspired in our struggles today!

------------------------

Syndicalism and the Transition to Communism: An International Comparative Analysis by Ralph Darlington, published by Ashgate Publishing. By Mark McGuire

In recent months ever more evidence has come to hand of the role of the NSW O'Farrell Liberal Government in intensifying the pace of the employer offensive. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, O'Farrell is intending pursuing a "salami tactics" approach toward the privatisation of the NSW Railways via hiving off small sections before later engulfing the rest, with its consideration of privatising Country Link, the East Suburbs and Illawarra Lines and the City Circle Stations via a Public Private

Partnership strategy. It is also pursuing the casualisation and part timing of many train crew and station jobs with associated Job losses. By means of such an attack on public transport, apart from catering for multinational company quest for profitable investments, is encouraging private sector employers to accelerate the restructuring of their work forces to cut jobs, reduce costs and impose intensified speed ups. On the Federal level, Tony Abbott the Liberal Opposition leader and large employers are watching closely the O'Farrell Government's performance.

However, on the job organisation in public transport can play an important role in checking key prongs of the O'Farrell Government accelerated employer offensive drive and turn the tide via hard hitting direct action. It can inspire workers in other strategic and not so strategic sectors to follow suit. Long range ASN activity has played an important role in slowing moves to restructure the NSW Railways for privatisation and assisted the formation of Members' Voice, the first such rank and file workers' movement in NSW public transport for 30 years, which is organising on the job to fight the O'Farrell onslaught. (1)

Unfortunately other groupings which abuse the syndicalist, anarcho-syndicalist or socialist labels are unable to pursue such "strategic organising". In part explained by the social base of these groupings amongst sectors of the middle class, students, workers with high levels of autonomy in their work, long term unemployed. informed by "leftist subculture codes of behaviour" and bourgeois identity politics and associated infatuation with hypocritical "political correctness displays" such as "indigenous welcomes" and "safe spaces policies", influenced by the Stalinist and Trotskyist legacy and in some cases electoral politics. Practically as a result of this social base, the lack of industrial/class struggle experience and the above mentioned nefarious influences and legacies, contemporary syndicalist sectlets are drawn into very simplistic concepts of syndicalist union building. Such as in the case of the US and UK IWW organising within the framework of the Industrial Relations systems of these countries, focusing on marginal workplaces and theoretically, providing a more democratic version of the corporate bureaucratic unionism. Whilst others are drawn into "tail ending" of workers struggles involving helping out on picket lines and other forms of solidarity activity, often as part of a sect building "recruitment" orientation and aimless "trainings" of militants, without any strategic consideration. Also some of these groups are informed by absurd pretensions to be the nucleus of mass syndicalist union movements. So as to justify getting involved in every campaign and issue under the sun, like the typical leftist sect/vanguard party. They are particularly, drawn into "navel gazing" identity politics fixations to recruit "university students". Certainly, historical mass syndicalist union movements did support various community struggles e.g. rent strikes in working class suburbs, but for the contemporary tiny syndisects to compare themselves to these bodies is a case of megalomania and totally out of touch with the urgent priority of pursuing the "terrible hard yards" of long range, sustained efforts to facilitate syndicalist organisation on the job in the strategic industrial sectors, which threaten the arteries of the capitalist economy. Not just anywhere.

As well, certain academic works have contributed to this confusion concerning aspects of syndicalism and this sect phenomena in the Anglo world. The book under review which examines various syndicalist union movements: the Irish General and Transport Workers Union (IGTWU), the Italian Syndicalist Union (USI), the Industrial Syndicalist Education League (ISEL) in the UK, National Confederation of Labour (CNT) in Spain, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) in France and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the USA has contributed to spreading various myths associated with the origins, dynamics, decline of these movements and the subsequent predominance of Communist parties in the extreme leftwing of the labour movements in these countries.

"Strategic Organising"

The author emphasises the so called "Frontier Origins" of the U.S. IWW, going along with the views of Melvin Dubofsky and his school of "institutional" labour historians. They explain the emergence of the IWW, as the reaction by workers to the hardline industrial relations policies of corporations in the Western states, particularly in the mining industry and the associated harsh working conditions. The author neglects the research of George Carney, in "The Vessel, the Deed and the Idea: Anarchists in Paterson 1395-1908" and Salvatore Salerno in -Red November. Black November: Culture in the Industrial Workers of the World", which shows the important role of the Paterson based immigrant anarchist group "The Right to Existence" in "strategic" outreach activity which contributed to syndicalist union building and influence in locals of the WFM (Western Federation of Miners) and UMW (United Mine Workers). The WFM became the key mass union component of the founding IWW.

In regard to the decline of syndicalist movements, the author views the decline of the most important, the CNT not occurring until the Civil War 1936-39. However, Chris Ealham, in "The Battle for Hegemony in the Barcelona Workers' Movement 1930-36" in Red Barcelona edited by Angel Smith, shows that in the years immediately prior to the Civil War, the CNT was facing a major decline in membership of its unions in its key bastion of Barcelona (According to CNT figures a reduction in membership from 1931 to 36 of 192,064 to 96,981 occurred, quoted in Ealham's essay). Stemming from the effects of massive state repression against the workers movement associated with the insurrectionary cycle of the early 1930's encouraged by the Barcelona based FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) which controlled key CNT newspapers, and union administrative and defence committees. The author goes on to chant the simplistic homily, that "anarcho-syndicalist opposition to all forms of Government led them to reject the conquest of the state by the working class" as the major reason for the CNT's bureaucratisation and collaboration with the Popular Front Government and the success of the counter revolution in the Republican zone as the Civil War progressed. The author fails to consider how the hysteria and underground status of the CNT during the wave of state repression associated with the wild slandering and subsequent purging by the Barcelona based FAI of more coherent anarcho-syndicalist groupings in the CNT and the insurrectionary cycle of the early 1930's, precluded the discussion in the organisation of a more realistic political strategy, than the CNT being self sufficient to the revolutionary project, to incorporate workers and middle class layers outside the CNT via a workers councils state. (2)

The author's discussion of the dynamics of the international syndicalist movement is particularly confused. He fails completely to grasp the syndicalist radicalising process associated with workers participation in "direct action" - workers' direct control of industrial action and its various forms i.e. strikes, go-slows, work to rule, sabotage, etc, without reliance on politicians, union officials or state agencies and associated clashes with forces of the state and participation in expressions of solidarity in this struggle. Instead, the author in his discussion of the IWW and why he considered it doomed to adopt orthodox bureaucratic ways, if it had not been so hard hit by state repression and vigilante assaults during and after WWI, focuses on formalist/ideological aspects of its organisation. "On the other if they were to build a functioning industrial unions they would have to recruit masses of workers, many of whom might not (at least for some time) understand or agree with the revolutionary programme", Page 214.

On pages 214-215, the author harps on the old chest nut of the IWW being unable to become a viable union movement in certain sectors, as it refused to sign contracts and have dues check off from work places it organised. The author in making this criticism neglects to consider certain aspects of industries which the IWW was organising which made stable syndicalist or genuine orthodox militant union organisation extremely difficult. This was particularly the case in regard to fruit picking. Here only at harvest time did the workers have industrial strength and lacking the industrial solidarity of say transport works, did not have the muscle to maintain subsequently a stable union organisation. The UFW (United Farm Workers) which since the 60's. 70's replaced the IWW in fruit picking, after initial successful strikes rapidly degenerated into a combination of lobby group, Chavez Family owned business and "cult". (3)

"Boring From Within"

The author is on firmer ground in his criticism of syndicalist movements strategy and associated dogmas. Again in regard to his discussion of the IWW on pages 210-211, he makes the good point at its faulty analysis of AFL (American Federation of Labor) unions based on the misconception that these conservative aft unions would always be too hostile to IWW activism, led the IWW not to emphasise "boring from within"(working within these bodies to transform them into syndicalist unions e.g. their merger with other unions in the same industry to form industrial unions, getting "grass roots friendly" union officials elected, constitutional reforms to ensure membership control of decision making, encouraging self confidence and militancy amongst union members, etc.(4) in certain AFL unions during IWW and the immediate post war crisis. At these times, certain of these unions were likely to be more open to syndicalist activism. Whilst, at this time, 2 million new workers had been drawn into the AFL, with most class conscious workers in the USA being in these unions.

In the author's discussion of the reasons for the eclipse of syndicalist movements by Communist Parties and their labour organisations, he fails completely to discuss the well known issue, of Moscow/Soviet support of these parties particularly via large financial subsidies and other means. These subsidies played a crucial role in helping the emerging Communist Parties weather the Post WWI slump and the depression of the 1930's. It also helped maintain the party apparatus of full time positions, head quarters, newspapers, etc. Additionally, it had the effect, together with other carrots and sticks, of welding together the organisation and prevented major splits from occurring. Such splitting processes wrecked syndicalist and other rivals on the left, during hard times. Whilst, in the case of the Spain, the Communist Party which prior to the Civil War was a tiny organisation, subsequently achieved a mass membership for amongst other reasons, the role of the USSR in the manipulation of the Republican Government, its army and war effort via its supply of arms, military advisers, secret police agents, control of key positions, etc, during the Civil War.

In conclusion, the book under review certainly does more to mystify syndicalist movements development, dynamics and displacement by Communist Parties and their fronts in various labour movements, than clarify these aspects. Whilst, the research underlying the volume is grossly inadequate and the author's conclusions appear heavily informed by his "ivory tower" academic situation, lack of experience of the class struggle as a worker and his Trotskyist sect membership.


Notes

(1) See "Anarcho-Syndicalist Strategy for Australia, Today" in RW Vol.20 No.3 (172) in Archive Section of RW web site www.rebelworker.org

(2) See "The Battle for Hegemony in the Barcelona Workers' Movement 1930-36" by Chris Ealham and "Marxists and the Trade Union Movement in Barcelona 1931-6" by Andrew Durgan, in Red Barcelona Edited by Angel Smith.

(3) See "The United Farm Workers from the Ground Up" by Frank Bardacke in "Rebel Rank And File" Edited by Aaron Brenner, Robert Brenner, Cal Winslow

(4) See "Green Bans, Red Union" by Meredith and Verity Burgmann and "Rolling The Right" by Paul True about the rank and file movement in the NSW Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) in the 1960's and early 1970's which pursued a "boring within" approach. It contributed to the BLF developing many syndicalist style features.
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* Anarchosyndicalist journal
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