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(en) Britain, Review of Fighting for ourselves - a new pamphlet by Solidarity Federation. by Juan Conatz
Thu, 04 Oct 2012 09:59:33 +0200
We’re excited about the new pamphlet. You can read excerpts from it here.
http://recomposition.info/2012/09/05/preview-of-fighting-for-ourselves/ ---- Fighting for
ourselves: anarcho-syndicalism and the class struggle by Solidarity Federation is a
relatively expansive document from a membership-based group (as opposed to a writing group
like Recomposition or Aufheben). The pre-layout final draft clocking in at just under 100
pages, this isn’t merely a one-off position paper on a certain topic, but an expression of
the group’s outlook and how it relates to the past, present and future. --- While there
are many articles and books focused on some of the subjects the pamphlet takes on, here we
find them summarized through an anarcho-syndicalist perspective. Those not familiar with
some of the subjects, events and tendencies will find a useful resource here, as the
pamphlet goes over them in an introductory fashion, while pointing out where to find more
information. Considering this aspect of the pamphlet alone would make Fighting for
ourselves valuable. But there’s much more here than that.
The pamphlet is very much worth reading, and I hope SolFed figures out a way to get the
hard copy easily available in North America. And while some of us who run this blog know
members and have paid attention to the group over the last few years, one doesn’t need to
do that to appreciate or get something out of this pamphlet. It does help to know that
while SolFed is in the process of moving from a propaganda focused political organization
to a revolutionary union, this is happening within the context of the riots last year,
massive public sector strikes in response to austerity and a recent explosive student
At the risk of skipping the massive amount of topics and details in the pamphlet, most of
what I’m going to concentrate on in this review is the conception of the
‘political-economic’ organization. To break that down some, this is something in
disagreement with the usual separation of the economic organization (such as a union) and
the political organization (parties, federations, etc.). SolFed instead say both functions
can and should be done within the same organization, and that this is their goal.
I find this important and relevant for mainly 2 reasons.
1) The resurgence of anarchism in North America in the last decade led to the
establishment of a few dozen political organizations, mostly inspired by platformism and
especifismo. More recently, a few small eclectic Marxist groups, centered around a couple
of blogs have also popped up. In many ways, their existence or function depends on a not
insignificant amount of politicized people ‘getting serious’ or ‘getting organized’. But
joining a political organization isn’t the only way to do that.
2) Despite the IWW’s official neutrality in the dispute between European-based radical
traditions (anarchism and party socialism), the IWW has its own set of politics which can
be developed further, regardless of those who talk of ‘apoliticalism’.
Throughout the pamphlet we see numerous instances of the political and economic being
separated. For the economic TUC1 there’s the political Labour Party. For the AFL-CIO,
there’s the Democratic Party. In Leninism, we see this separation as an ideological badge
of honor, based on the opinion that the working class can only achieve “trade-union
consciousness” and thus need a Party to lead them past that.
Even in anarchism, a bitter opponent of left wing capitalist parties and Marxist-Leninism,
the separation has been advocated and practiced. The Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta
argued to keep syndicalist unions and anarchist groups separate and said any explicit
anarchist union will either stay tiny or become reformist as it grew. This is still an
argument used against revolutionary unionism.2 Also, the Platform, written by exiled
Russian and Ukrainian anarchists during the late 1920s, also sees a need for a political
organization to keep revolutionary unions from becoming reformist.
The first example of revolutionary unionism we see in this pamphlet is the French CGT.
Considered the beginning of syndicalism, in the late 1890s and early 1900s, the CGT was a
union with significant anarchist and non-party socialist involvement and influence. Yet,
officially they remained politically neutral, which was understood as “standing outside
all political schools and parties but not opposed to them”.
The CGT’s revolutionary aims, though, were apparently expressed more through the existence
of the union’s democratic structures. When the state and capital started treating them
differently (not just repression), the reformists won out. Soon, they would mobilize their
members for World War I, and later, represent the most conservative force within the
working class explosion of May 1968.
The pamphlet gives a decent overview of the CGT, but not knowing much about them it seems
somewhat unclear why they ended up the way they did. Did they have written revolutionary
goals and an organizational strategy to reach them? Or were these written and espoused by
some of their more famous members on a more individual basis, which just received
temporary agreement when the union was in a specific time and place?
With the IWW, there was also an official political neutrality, which existed for different
reasons than the CGT. Also, the free speech fights, condemnation of racial and ethnic
discrimination and antiwar stance meant rather than the standard interpretation of
‘apolitical’ syndicalism, the union still expressed political perspectives and goals. This
just didn’t happen by stating preference for the European radical traditions of party
socialism or anarchism.
From here, we move to British syndicalism, which never saw the creation of revolutionary
unions, but instead saw working through the TUC unions through rank-and-file networks
coming from small groups of individuals or tiny political organizations. This form of
syndicalism, which sought to work within the reformist unions, was advocated as well in
places like the U.S. and Canada, but in Britain it was the norm. Even today, with the UK
IWW’s debate on dual card VS ‘greenfield’ organizing, this legacy lives on.
Outside of anarchism and syndicalism, currents like German council communism of the 1910s
and 1920s also faced the political-economic organization question. Drawing a lot from the
IWW, the General Workers’ Union of Germany (Allgemeine Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands – AAUD)
was a union that shunned day-to-day struggles and concerned itself instead with the
immediacy of revolution. It was linked to the Communist Workers Party of Germany
(Kommunistische Arbeiter-Partei Deutschlands – KAPD), a non-parliamentary political party
which was thrown out of the German Communist Party for being too ‘ultraleft’. But despite
the KAPD being more of a political organization than a political party, some militants in
the AAUD thought the division of functions between the two was still not desirable, and so
formed the AAUD-E, which sought to be both the political and economic organization for the
Now we finally get to anarcho-syndicalism, which is what SolFed identifies with and is the
thrust of the pamphlet. There’s a decent amount on the Spanish CNT up to the point in the
Spanish Civil War in which it started to play a negative role. For those who aren’t
familiar, after beating a fascist uprising off the streets in areas in which the union was
the strongest, it balked when it came to the question of taking power. The beginnings of a
revolution in which workers took over their workplaces and peasants occupied and
collectivized land was halted in favor of antifascist unity. The end result was anarchists
joining the Popular Front government and ordering workers back to work during the
Barcelona May Days of 1937.
Rather than blaming the supposed intellectual/ideological shortcomings of anarchism, the
personal failings of individual leaders or the lack of an effective political
organization, the pamphlet takes a different stance. Instead, at fault was its politically
neutral syndicalist structure (‘a union for all workers’) that allowed many members with
no revolutionary aims to join and shape the union. This is similar to Malatesta’s argument
against revolutionary unionism, but that’s not all. In addition, the pamphlet says, the
Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI), which was formed to combat reformists in the CNT,
created a layer which was where ‘politics’ happened. So in essence, the political-economic
separation occurred and the trajectory of the union depended on which faction had the most
trust, leadership and power at any one time.
Another anarcho-syndicalist union of that time was the Federación Obrera Regional
Argentina (FORA) from Argentina. They disagreed with both the CNT’s form of
anarcho-syndicalism and separate anarchist political organization. Rather than being a
union for all workers, it was a union for anarchists. SolFed seem to find inspiration in
this. But it must be pointed out that although the FORA became relatively large in the
1920s, they suffered a major split that seemed to have been as much at fault for their
near demise as any repression from the state and capitalists. They still exist today, but
have never regained anything close to their former strength and seem no where as active as
the tendencies they once heatedly criticized.
The most interesting part of this pamphlet for me is the last chapter, which could
actually stand alone as a pamphlet itself. This is where SolFed get into exactly the way
it wished to organize and why.
Saying that their aim is “not to enroll every worker into the revolutionary union”,
SolFed’s suspicion of what they call ‘neutral syndicalist’ model is gone into numerous
times during the pamphlet. The examples of the mistakes and undesirable possibilities it
might facilitate are explained as well. There’s definitely something to be said about
that, but not having struggle happen through your organizations opens up some other
possible problems that are worth considering.
By rejecting the ‘neutral syndicalist’ model, SolFed will be deemphasizing membership, not
being a union for all workers, but a union for anarcho-syndicalist workers.
1) IWW campaigns that have demphasized membership have come across the problem that
co-workers are not as invested and efforts are taken less seriously.
2) There is a real possibility that having a more restrictive membership could encourage
the downplaying of politics. Doing so can make the tactics we choose less understandable
if there isn’t an obvious, known, wider reason for it. ‘Getting the goods’ is not always
the reason and the tactics we choose are not always (sometimes never) the best way to
accomplish this, in any case.
I think there’s something to be said about people joining the IWW and getting their
political education through membership. Although we aren’t the best at this, it does
happen. In the best cases, people join through a drive at their work and then are exposed
to a tradition and to fellow workers that develop their vague unionist sympathies into
anticapitalist class struggle unionism. That isn’t to say everyone should be signed up,
but more restrictive membership would probably leave political education to either
individual study or external efforts from SolFed.
3) If demphasizing membership and politics happens, the danger then arises that we do
initial ground work for a campaign, at which point, a reformist union comes in and takes
over. This is always probably going to be a danger for revolutionary unions, but if
membership and politics becomes unimportant, the question of ‘Why not [insert other
union]?’ becomes harder to answer.
4) John O’Reilly has written about legitimacy when it comes to IWW campaigns. Similar
questions are going to happen with future SolFed ones. How will they respond to this if
they are portrayed as a small minority of workers because of demphasized membership?
None of these problems are insurmountable though, and SolFed, or at least the members who
were behind writing this pamphlet, seem to have a good grasp on being able to adapt and
learn from successes and failures. But there does seem to be a danger, in this conception
of the political-economic, that the political is stressed to a way greater extent. One
wonders what the difference is between SolFed’s model and the Sojournor Truth
Organization’s (STO), which was a small Marxist political organization in the 1970s that
went through a period of mainly workplace organizing.
I’ve skipped over large parts of this pamphlet for this review. Indeed, if I was to cover
everything, while offering my own thoughts, it could be a pamphlet in itself! The vastness
of the years and material covered, combined with thought provoking propositions for
revolutionary unionism, make this a valuable contribution for workplace militants to read
over and discuss.
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