WHATT IS ECHANGES ET MOUVEMENT AS A GROUP?
Echanges is not a group in the traditional political sense of this
word in the leftist mileau. The most accurate way to define it is to call
it a "network."
A network, yes but of which people united by what and for what
Some elements of the history of Echanges will allow a better
understanding of it's present positions. The Echanges network was
established in 1975 by left militants coming from various groups:
Some from the English group "Solidarity"; these people were still in
contact with a former "Solidarity" memeber (Joe Jacobs) expelled from this
group for his opposition to the "Cardanist" line of the
group (Castoriadis), mainly for his persistent defence of the
importance of class struggle.
Some from the French group "I.C.O." (Information Correspondence
Ouvrieres) which disappeared in the aftermath of 1968 among hard
discussions raising the same question of the nature and importance of
Some members of the Dutch council communist group "Daad en Gedachte"
A small group of militants in Belgium publishing the paper "Liasons."
The contacts between these groups and individuals had existed before,
and mostly for a long time. Quite a lot of other individuals scattered all
over the Western world were connected to this core, th
e link between them being not only the group's publications or
exchange of correspondence but also international meetings. One of these
meetings had furnished the material for a pamphlet more or less
giving the common position of the mentioned militants. This
pamphlet, entitled "The New Movement", was the ideological link between
them. To keep alive the exchanges built for years around these var
ious groups and individuals, it was decided to regularly publish a
bulletin giving a minimum of information on class struggle and of the life
of left groups in all countries. This bulletin was "Echan
ges" and the network was constituted by all the previously existing
contacts. It gave the opportunity to initiate or to follow discussions on
the evolution of capitalist society and of class struggle
in the modern world.
THE BULLETIN ECHANGES
the bulletin was started as a means of spreading and receiving
information. Those participating in this project decided not to bother with
the clarification of standpoints held in common (which usual
ly accompanies the birth of a new group) but to accept the existing
tacit agreement. The basic implicit agreement which underlay the content
and form of the information published was still badly defi
ned at the start, but as the project developed, it revealed a
sufficiently unified approach among participants even if participants were
very diverse as explained above.
This tacit agreement expressed itself in the analysis of various
phenomena of the class struggle taking place every day and placed in the
context of a more general understanding of the world. These
phenomena include what many other people think to be individual
forms of protest which are in fact part of a collective movement ( e.g.
absenteeism, turnover, refusal of work, etc.) This is necessar
ily linked to the critique of the existing theories of modern
To do this, we must have information about these conflicts and
theories. If inside Echanges we sometimes draw different conclusions from a
specific fact or from a set of facts, we still think that th
e information which describes these facts should have certain
qualities. Here too, a few simple principles guide our way of selecting the
information published in the bulletin:
The raison d'etre of the bulletin is directly determined by the
double inadaquacy of the official means of information: lack of information
on class conflicts, exaggeration of the importance of poli
tical and economic information (two ways of masking reality)
Hence the double task of looking for information concerning the
experience of struggle of all sorts and of making a meaningful choice from
the mass of political, diplomatic and economical news.
We have few fixed preconceived conceptions limiting our gathering of
information or of analyses concerning the meaning of class conflicts today
or the forms these conflicts will take in the future. I
t is not what workers think, even about their own struggles,, that
matters but what they actually do and the real meaning of their activity.
We think we have to learn from these struggles and to cons
ider their links with the general movement of struggles and with the
situation of capitalism as a whole. So we despise using empty bluff, empty
rhetoric or self-satisfying proclamations or offering
"advice" or "lessons" to the workers. We see this attitude as an
elitist conception seeking to use and dominate workers' struggles.
As its name implies, the bulletin Echanges wants to be more than a
one way means of information. It is conceived rather as a collective letter
to which each reader is encouraged to contribute accordi
ng to his/her possibilities and need, in exchange for what he/she
expects to get from others. However, several years experience shows that
even with the best intentions, one cannot, just by wanting t
o, escape certain traditional forms of activity. Presently, the
exchange of views and material, the contribution of texts and the practical
production of the bulletin are the work of a minority as op
posed to the majority of readers. But the original conception remains
a goal of Echanges.
Some Basic Principles
A network, like any group or collectivity, is something having its
own life and having an evolution related to the transformation of society
as a whole. Poeple left Echanges for a number of reasons,
others joined it who did not have the same approach as the first
participants. In 1980, some of us thought to write a statement expressing
more clearly the common positions of Echanges. The resulting
theses were a matter of permanent discussion and cannot be
considered as an Echanges platform but rather as something to be improved
through an open discussion. What follows is not the original text
but the latest version discussed:
1) In capitalist society the true contradiction is not one of ideas -
revolutionary, reformist, conservative, reactionary, etc. - but one of
interests. No kind of will or desire can overthrow commodi
ty production or abolish the wage system. This will only break down
as a result of class struggle arising from the very position of the working
class in the sytem of capitalist production.
2) According to a widespread opinion "class consciousness" and
"unity" are seen to be the main and necessary conditions for what is
considered as "revolutionary behaviour" or as "working class action
." This view overlooks or misinterprets how action and consciousness
are influencing each another. Workers don't act as a "revolutionary class"
because first of all they are or become "conscious" of
what they want. "Unity" is not a precondition for, but is created in
and as a result of struggle. Workers are a "revolutionary class" because
their position as a class inside the capitalist system ma
kes it inevitable that the mere defence of their own interests brings
them into direct opposition to the fundamentals of the existing order. Such
struggles are fought continuosly in the factories and
elsewhere, and potentially they are revolutionary.
3) The development of class struggle with all its changing forms is
therefore far more important than the developement of the so-called
"revolutionary movement", regardless of the meaning given to th
4) The break with any form of exploitation or political practice and
thought (reformism, etc.) is not a matter of theoretical discussion and
conceptions but a matter of class struggle and workers' pr
actice, a practice which is the result of their daily conditions of
5) Trade unions are institutions in capitalist society whose function
is to regulate the labour market. To be able to do so, they have to keep a
balance between on one hand workers' interests (trying
to maintain the loyalty and the support from the workers) and on the
other hand the interest of capitalists (trying to maintain the confidence
of as well as their usefulness for management.) But in
modern capitalism the historical trend pushes toward their complete
integration. Performing their initial function in these conditions they are
more and more transformed into mechanisms of disciplini
ng the workers. Calls for rejecting the unions or for their support
or for reforms have no meaning at all. It is more important to see what is
the specific and concrete role of unions in the developm
ent of class struggle. One has to be well aware of the fact that the
same rank and file workers who at one time support unions will oppose them
in practice when their own interests force them to go a
gainst the present social order. In general we can say that
particularly in the highly developed countries the post-war development of
class strulggle has greatly reduced the possibility of mediating
between the classes and has created a situation where workers find
themselves permanently opposed to the unions. The same development of the
actual class struggle has rendered obsolete any kind of s
6) For similar reasons it is useless to call for the rejection or
support of parliamentarism. The fate of parliamentarism depends exclusively
on class struggle inside the capitalist system. Whatever
may be the reason for those who want to call themselves
"revolutionaries" not to participate in parliamentary work or not to vote
in an election workers have other reasons when they don't go to the p
olls. If they stay at home on election day, they don't do so with
revolutionary ideas in mind. They abstain because parliament, parliamentary
parties and politicians don't have anything to say to the
m, because they have understood none of the poltical parties is
defending their interests and that it does not make much difference if this
party or another is in office. On the other hand workers wh
o go to the polls and share parliamentary illusions will not refuse
to participate in unofficial strikes or factory occupations if they seem
necessary. Both categories behave in the same way in pract
ice irrespective of their attutude in elections. They do so without
a revolutionary theory about parliament and without being conscious that
they are attacking the order of bourgeois society.
7) The so-called "revolutionary movement" and the "revolutionary
groups" tend to be weaker and weaker nowadays and clearly suffer the fate
of atomisation. They are weak because workers are more and m
ore acting for themselves and by themselves. It is more and more
clear that their means of action and methods of struggle are and cannot be
prescribed or taught by any sort of movement or group forme
d for this purpose outside or inside the working class. Class
struggle exists and develops independently of these "revoluitonary groups"
or "movements.' The level and size of the so-called "interven
tion of revolutionary groups in the struggles" never determine or
fundamentally influence the level and size of working class struggle. We
may be individually involved in such struggels either becaus
e we belong to the collectivity involved in a particular struggle or
because we participate in one or another of the host of temporary organisms
created during a particular struggle and for that stru
ggle alone. We consider that outside these struggles the exchange of
information, discussions and the seeking of theoretical insights are an
essential instrument of our own activity which eventually
might serve others as well.
8) In very general terms "revolution' is usually defined as the
overthrowing of capitlaism. If we wish to characterize it in a different
way we could say e.g. that it means on one hand the decline an
d disappearence of all kinds of practical organizational forms
"representing" and repressing workers' interests and of ideological
expression of such attempts, on the other hand the generalization at
the same time of autonomous workers' practice.
What is Echanges today?
As we are not concerned with conquering any organization or being
the leadership of anyone we have nothing to hide or to pretend. We are a
small number of scattered militants
writing and distributing publications to between 300 and 500 people
equally scattered and being more or less politically motivated people,
among them certainly not too many workers and many of them s
howing political disagreement with the basic positions developed in
this presentation text.
We could, as so many groups do, pretend to be an "international"
organization' involved and "intervening" in a lot of struggles all over the
world. We are, however, not at all worried to be what we a
re: a group as we have said above is the product of a specific
situation in the development of present society. Its fate, be this growth
or decline, will be the result not simply of our own involveme
nt and activity, but of the evolution of class struggle. trying to
build something else only referring to our own "revolutionary will" would
be inconsistant with our view on class struggle and rather
inconsequential as well. To answer the usual criticism of being a
mere "spectator" of class struggle we will say that it is not a matter of
our own choice being constantly involved in the developeme
nt of class antagonism or not.
To face some sensible curiosity we can say that the most active in
Echanges are either individuals or groups located in
and the U.S.A.
and that these individuals or groups are in close contact with
individuals or groups in Belgium, France, (Liasons), Holland (Daad en
Gedachte), Italy (Collagamenti Wobbly), Scandinavia (Motiva Forlag
), Spain (Etcetera), U.S.A.. . . though it is undeniable that these
contacts are not excluding differences of opinion and distinct ways of action.
ECHANGES ET MOUVEMENT
List of publications
Publications marked with an * are practically out of print and could
be no longer vailable when ordered. Prices are in French francs for the
publications in French and Pound sterling in English. Cheq
ues or postal orders have to be made out in francs or in sterling.
Bank notes in any currency are acceptable as far as they represent the
countervalue of the total order at current exchange rates wi
th one of the two currencies mentioned. prices include postage.
orders will be answered only if payment is enclosed. Orders - as well as
any proposal for meeting, discussion or particpation in Echang
es activities can be sent to either of the following addresses:
Echanges et Mouvement
75866 Paris Cedex 18
Echanges et Mouvement
BM Box 91
London WCIN 3XX
Publications in English
Pannekoek, Anton "Workers' Councils" (Echanges). . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . .Part 1 and 2
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..Part 3 and 4
The Hungarian Revolution (Council Communist ). . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . 60p
The Experience of the Factory Committees in the Russian Revolution
(Council Communist) 60p
*Cwmbach Miners and Women Speak Out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . .50p
H.Simon "Poland 1980-1982 Class Struggle and the Crisis of Capital:
(Black and Red) 2
H.Simon "The New Movement" 1
H.Simon "Some Thoughts on Organization" (Collective Action). . . . .
. . 75p
*C.Brendel "Theses on the Chinese Revolution" (Solidarity). . . . .
. . . .1
*France Winter 1986-87: The Railways Strike - An Attempt at
Autonomous Organization (Echanges) 50p
D.Brown "The COBAS - A New Rank and File Movement, Italy 1986-87"
D. Brown/H.Simon "Shake It and Break It. Class and Politics in
Britain 1979/1989 (Echanges) 90p
M. Flug "The Maryland Freedom Union" (Collective Action). . . . .75p
"The Refusal of Work" (Echanges) 1.50
"Myths of Dispersed Fordism. A Controversy About the Transformation
of the Working Class" (Echanges) 1.75
"Goodbye To The Unions. A Controversy About Autonomous Class Struggle
in Great Britain" (Echanges) 90p
English edition ECHANGES Bulletin. Current issue available free.
Subscription: 7 for one year including pamphlets and eventually books
published during the year. Back issues available at the cost of
photocopying (4p per A$ double page) plus postage.
Some of these texts are available in other languages (Dutch, French.
German, Italian or Spanish). Other texts exist only in French and German.
Complete list upon request
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