Archives for category: anarchist communism

thoughts1

Recently a draft on organization by Juan Conatz—a member of the Twin Cities IWW and former member of the Workers Solidarity Alliance and Wild Rose Collective (USA)—appeared on his new wordpress blog dedicated to unfinished drafts and assorted thought fragments.

The piece is called “Liquidationism” and is some what of a sister piece to his earlier released “Fragmented thoughts on political organization”. The prolific Scott Nappalos has already written a reply here, as has Klas Batalo here.

These are certainly interesting discussions, and are worth reading. Although the context is strongly centred around US organisations, much of what it said can be generalised to Aotearoa. Indeed, Juan’s first post and ensuring discussion on libcom spurned my own initial thoughts of organisation. These expanded into two further posts on the content of my own activity, as opposed to its form (here and here).

I am unsure how I feel about these thoughts now, but with the emergence of POA in Wellington, and with Beyond Resistance exploring new content and form as on organisation, Juan’s new post and the detailed reply by Klas and Scott are very timely.

I hope that comrades here can glean what they can from the discourse.

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Ke$ha: communism will win.

The top ten reasons to be optimistic, politically, no matter how bad the situation seems at present.

From Libcom.org: As those of you who know me will know, I am a very pessimistic person, politically speaking. For the time being I think that we, meaning both the working class and those of us who are the minority of the class who want to create a free, communist society, are pretty much fucked.

In the current worldwide battles against austerity we are losing for the most part1, as we have been for the last 30-odd years and as we will continue to do I reckon for a good few more.

With this backdrop many people feel that “there is no alternative”, and things can never be any other way and even many pro-revolutionaries end up getting demoralised and dropping out.2 Writer Mark Fisher noted that it is “easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism” and indeed this is true. Although most end of the world scenarios presented in dystopian films3 are actually incredibly unrealistic, far less so than the idea that a short-lived and completely irrational economic system won’t last forever.4

However in spite of all this, and in spite of my own negativity I do think there are several key causes for optimism about the long-term prospects of creating a communist society, despite how distant it seems. Which are:

1. Time

Capitalism has only been around properly for a little over 200 years, whereas humans have been around for 200,000 years. For comparison in scale, if humans had been around for 24 hours then capitalism has existed for less than two minutes. It is a blip, and it would be naive to think it would last forever just as most people before us were naive in thinking that feudalism and the divine right of kings was the natural state of things and would last forever.

2. Space

Over the past 100 years in particular, capital has been able to use what Beverly Silver in her excellent book Forces of Labour calls “spatial fixes”, whereby employers bypass working-class militancy by outsourcing. Workers in car factories in the UK and US, for example, took militant industrial action for years to win could wages and conditions, so employers shut down plants and moved them to places like Brazil and Korea. Where the same thing happened again so they moved again to China, India etc.

However, now, new places for capital to move are running out. And workers in the most low-wage economies like China, Vietnam and Bangladesh are fighting back and starting to win.

Sure, there are some places left for this type of capital to go, like parts of Africa: but not many. So this, which essentially has been the ultimate weapon against the working class over the past century, will no longer be available to employers.

And capital used to be able to expand as the European empires conquered new lands and pulled them into the capitalist system. But now capitalism is a fully global system, with nowhere else to expand to.

3. War

By every conceivable indicator, our army that remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous.
– Marine Colonel Robert D. Heinl Jr.

Ultimately the power of governments and employers is based on them being able to hire some workers to kill for them. As the American businessmen Jay Gould said: “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”

And while unfortunately it would always be the case that governments will be able to find people to kill for them the number who are prepared to do so has plummeted, particularly in the West, and seems unlikely to recover.

In World War I millions of workers went to their deaths reasonably happily at first to kill their fellow workers who just happened to be German or French or English or what have you. But it ended with mutinies on the English side and full-blown revolutions in Germany and Russia.

Even in World War II which had a high degree of ideological support from much of the population, only 15-20% of soldiers actually fired at the enemy.5

And after the mass mutinies of GIs in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s there has not been nearly as significant a ground invasion by any Western power, nor do I think there is likely to be.

Of course this doesn’t mean that war will end, unfortunately it is just meant that governments have had to change their tactics from major ground invasions to more remote aerial and artillery bombardment, which also has the effect of massively increasing civilian casualties compared with military ones.6 But air and artillery power is not that helpful in maintaining social order at home, as Colonel Gaddafi recently discovered.

4. Technology

As technology continues to improve, the possibilities for ending human suffering and the reality of that continuing suffering become even more ridiculously extreme.

Even now despite massive technological and production increases, we continue to work longer and longer hours. And the annual income of the world’s 100 richest people alone would be enough to end extreme poverty worldwide.7 And nearly 1 billion people go hungry while half of the world’s food is wasted.8

On top of this, other technological developments, such as the fact that there is now the technology to allow everyone to have an instant voting device mean that representative government where we elect (usually who we think are “the least worst”) people to vote on policies for us for four or five years is almost laughably outdated. These discrepancies will continue to get bigger and even more unjustifiable.

5. Prejudice

Even now all of the ideological bases of the main prejudices which have divided the working class and pitted us against each other: sexism, racism and homophobia, have been completely disproven from a scientific point of view.

Of course on its own unfortunately this is not enough to mean that these prejudices will end. They are all deeply rooted in our economic system, in society and in culture.

However despite the working class as a whole being on the defensive since the 70s, women, black and other non-white people and LGBTQ people have continued to fight prejudiced attitudes and discrimination and have won many significant gains, especially in the Western world, including widespread attitudinal change, the narrowing of pay gaps and anti-discrimination laws which, while they are often weak and badly enforced, do provide some level of protection. In many ways they have forced capitalism itself to change, from crudely using prejudice as a form of social control to attempting to co-opt different oppressed groups into a multicultural, socially liberal capitalism with a friendly face.

I do not mean to lessen the problems which clearly still exist: like huge pay gaps between men and women, endemic physical and sexual violence against women, discrimination, mass incarceration and police harassment of black and people from minority ethnic backgrounds, widespread homophobic bullying to name but a few. But these struggles have had many successes, and I believe that trend will continue.

6. Legitimacy

Across much of the world legitimacy of governments and politicians is at all-time lows.9 This is a trend which shows no signs of reversing.

This on its own is not enough to make social change happen: as in many areas cynicism is growing alongside resignation that things can’t change. However this is a necessary condition of any radical social change which will get to the root causes of our problems rather than just swap one set of self-interested politicians for another.

7. Communication

New communications technologies, particularly including the internet and social media have made widespread indication possible for grassroots movements and individuals.

This has made it much harder for governments to lie to the population, and for them to keep secrets from the population. While this isn’t so significant in times of relative social peace10 it becomes much more so in times of social unrest, where actual change seems possible. Historically, in revolutionary times governments and companies have relied on mass disinformation to demobilise and derail revolutionary movements, and to cover up their own atrocities. Now this is not so easy for them, and it will continue to become more difficult.

8. Dead-ends

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss… We won’t get fooled again.

Finally, the dead end tactics of the alphabet soup11 of Leninist, Trotskyist, Maoist, Stalinist, Hoxhaist etc for the supposed liberation of the working class have been tried, have failed miserably12 and have been widely discredited in the eyes of the majority of the world’s population.

And with the collapse of the USSR, a key global source for the funding and co-optation of working class movements has gone.

Both of which increase the possibility of a libertarian13 politics becoming the dominant trend in any mass working class or revolutionary movement.

9. Piracy

Nowadays more and more products are becoming abstract electronic entities which can be shared freely, and which are by tens of millions of people. With the availability of e-readers, books have joined music, films and TV shows in being items which it becomes increasingly absurd, and increasingly socially unacceptable to have to pay for.

The advent of 3-D printers will massively expand the number of goods which corporations will find increasingly hard to actually recoup payment on – and file sharing torrent sites have already started hosting 3-D printing templates of physical items.

10. Star Trek

A lot has changed in three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of ‘things’. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions.
The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century… The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.
– Captain Picard

Basically everything in Star Trek becomes true, and the world in Star Trek is communist, so it is bound to happen.

So, in short no matter how bad things are at the moment eventually, in the wise words of Ke$ha, (libertarian) communism will win.

Image concept credit to the Keshek tumblr

Philip_Josephs_anarchistA Jewish tailor and fox terrier owner; a Wellington carpenter and staunch family-man—not your typical anarchist-cum-bomber stereotypes. Yet one hundred years ago today, Philip Josephs and Carl Mumme were two founding members of the Freedom Group—one of New Zealand’s first anarchist collectives.

“Although the image of a cloak-and-dagger figure dressed in black springs to mind” notes Jared Davidson, author of Sewing Freedom: Philip Josephs, Transnationalism & Early New Zealand Anarchism, “anarchists such as Josephs and Mumme were everyday people. They were active in their trade unions, on the street corners, and in their communities.” What set them apart, says Davidson, was “their critique of coercive relations, wage slavery, and a vision of a more equitable and humane world.”

The Freedom Group was formed on 9 July 1913 at Philip Josephs’ tailor shop, on the first floor of 4 Willis Street, Wellington. “A matter that should have an effect in clearing the somewhat misty atmosphere in this city is the movement to form an Anarchist Group in Wellington,” wrote the radical labour newspaper, the Maoriland Worker, “for it will provide those who accept the Anarchist philosophy with the place where they belong… we understand that this will be the first Anarchist group formed in the history of New Zealand.”

Little material exists on the Freedom Group and its members, but as Davidson argues, “the emergence of the Freedom Group in 1913 signified a real advance in New Zealand anarchist praxis.” As well as importing popular pamphlets from the around the globe, the Freedom Group held regular discussion nights on a range of radical topics.

“So popular were these talks” writes Davidson, “they were soon moved from Willis Street to the larger Socialist Hall at Manners Street.”

On one night in September 1913, 120 people attended an anarchist social event the likes of which had never been seen in New Zealand. Billed in the “form of an Anarchist-Communist society, where one is equal to another, where no criminals, no officials, and no authority exists,” attendees could enjoy short speeches, readings of prominent authors, recitations and musical entertainment, “enjoying for at least one evening the benefits of a perfectly free society.”

Freedom Group co-founder Josephs was also involved in the Great Strike of 1913—another centennial marked this year—by expressing “his views publicly from a platform in the vicinity of the Queen’s wharf.” Rumour has it that the Freedom Group also engaged in running scraps with special constables during the strike.

Josephs had been in constant contact with notable international figures such as Emma Goldman since 1904. Later, during the First World War, it was letters to Goldman and the distribution of anti-war literature that saw the home and office of Josephs raided by Police.

Carl Mumme, a German naturalised in 1896, also felt the wrath of the National Coalition Government. In May 1916 he was taken from his workplace and interned on Somes Island due to his anti-militarist views. The ex-Freedom Group speaker was finally released back to his wife and five children in October 1919—11 months after the war had ended.

According to Davidson, this and other anarchist activity shows that “the activism of Josephs and others like him, whether from the soapbox or through the mailbox, played a key role in the establishment of a distinct anarchist identity and culture in New Zealand and abroad—a culture that emerged and enveloped simultaneously around the globe.” Not only did anarchists exist in New Zealand; they were a part of some of our most tumultuous industrial disputes, and conveyed a uniquely radical message to workers across the country.

“At the very least, the Freedom Group was obviously a visible and vibrant feature of Wellington’s working class counter-culture, and the facilitator of thought-provoking (maybe even politically changing) conversation.”

The Freedom Group’s struggle for social change—for a society based on people before profit—linked New Zealand to the global anarchist movement of the day. It also signaled the first of many anarchist collectives to play a vibrant part in the history of the New Zealand left.

http://sewingfreedom.org

Sewing_Freedom_cover_davidson

‘Sewing Freedom: Philip Josephs, Transnationalism & Early New Zealand Anarchism’ can now be purchased online at www.sewingfreedom.org.

‘Sewing Freedom’ is the first in-depth study of anarchism in New Zealand during the turbulent years of the early 20th century—a time of wildcat strikes, industrial warfare and a radical working class counter-culture. Interweaving biography, cultural history and an array of archival sources, this engaging account unravels the anarchist-cum-bomber stereotype by piecing together the life of Philip Josephs—a Latvian-born Jewish tailor, anti-militarist and founder of the Wellington Freedom Group. Anarchists like Josephs not only existed in the ‘Workingman’s Paradise’ that was New Zealand, but were a lively part of its labour movement and the class struggle that swept through the country, imparting uncredited influence and ideas. ‘Sewing Freedom’ places this neglected movement within the global anarchist upsurge, and unearths the colourful activities of New Zealand’s most radical advocates for social and economic change.

Published by AK Press (USA/UK), the book includes illustrations by Alec Icky Dunn (Justseeds), and a foreword by Barry Pateman (Kate Sharpley Library, Emma Goldman Papers).
A visual sampler of the book, MP3s and video, endorsements, and more, is also available at www.sewingfreedom.org.

IWW four hour day

It has been a while since I’ve done any kind of ‘political’ writing—but a change in city and circumstances has meant a re-think of what anarchist class struggle means to me right now. My last attempts focused on political organisation, and the shift from activist, moral/ideological-based struggles to struggles based around shared material needs. While this still holds true in terms of my thinking, I would like to explore what the actual content of such a struggle involves, and draw on ideas from the current of thinking known as ‘communisation’—ideas that are really quite simple once stripped of their ultra-left prose.

All form and no play

There is a real tendency within the anarchist circles I’ve been apart of to fetishize the form of our struggle, as opposed to its content. In other words, we get so preoccupied with how we organise, and neglect thinking about what we are doing (or want to do) in any depth. Of course this is a big generalisation, but I know it to be typical because my own actions have been no different. My past thoughts and energy have often been around how struggle might be organised—from semi-closed, direct-democracy based collectives, to community assemblies, solidarity networks and anarcho-syndicalist initiatives. It’s a mindset that seems to hold to the idea: “if we just try a different form, or a variation on how we are currently doing things, then we will have more success.” Instead of a solnet, let’s try a community assembly. Instead of a community assembly, let’s try working within existing organisations.

This is understandable, especially in the context of low periods of mass struggle. When there’s not many anarchists around—let alone class ruptures on the scale needed to actually challenge capital relations—it’s probably inevitable that we focus on how we organise ourselves and our activities.

But I think this approach is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly (and for practical reasons), we don’t have the numbers to be worried about the form these small groups or networks will take. Secondly, it harbors an inward-and-outside position, in that it focuses on the activities of a small number of people while neglecting the shared material interests of our class as a whole—a sort of inverted Leninism. Finally, it relegates the content our struggles—what we do and why—to the background (or if not the background, it’s definitely not at the forefront of our thinking).

Beyond Resistance has been one space in which a change of focus has been possible. I don’t say this to focus on the form of our collective (here we go again); rather, an exploration of class struggle, material interests and capitalist patriarchy has meant what we are actually doing with our (limited) time has been important. As yet, this has not amounted to much outward action. But that’s not the point. I’m certainly not interested in building the movement—at least not in the framework I would have used in the past.

“Communism concerns as much the activity of human beings as their inter-relations”

This quote comes from Troploin’s carefully posed text, Communisation. In it, they explain what communism means to them, and in particular, how the content of struggle (or communisation, the revolution as being a communising process) should be at the forefront of any move towards revolutionary change. Here’s the quote in full:

We will focus on one point: because the vast majority of revolutionaries (Marxists and anarchists) regard communism above all as a new way of organising society, they are first of all concerned by how to find the best possible organisational forms, institutions in other words, be they fixed or adaptable, complex or extremely simple… We start from another standpoint: communism concerns as much the activity of human beings as their inter-relations. The way they relate to each other depends on what they do together. Communism organises production and has no fear of institutions, yet it is first of all neither institution nor production : it is activity

The passage relates to one of the main issues ultra-left and libertarian communists have noted with past revolutionary movements: “that a revolution is only communist if it changes all social relationships into communist relationships.” In other words, simply replacing the bosses with workers, and managing life and production as usual (albeit in more free and egalitarian ways) does not change the fundamental social relations between people. If we liberate our labour, as opposed to abolishing it, then “money, wage-labour, the enterprise as a separate unit and a value-accumulating pole, work-time as cut off from the rest of our life, production for value, private property, State agencies as mediators of social life and conflicts, the separation between learning and doing, the quest for maximum and fastest circulation of everything” remains intact. Instead, to be completely rid of capital, writes Troploin, “all of these have to be done away with and not just be run by collectives or turned over to public ownership: they have to be replaced by communal, moneyless, profitless, Stateless, forms of life.”

Endnotes elaborates on this concept further:

Those who developed the theory of communisation rejected this posing of revolution in terms of forms of organisation, and instead aimed to grasp the revolution in terms of its content. Communisation implied a rejection of the view of revolution as an event where workers take power followed by a period of transition: instead it was to be seen as a movement characterised by immediate communist measures (such as the free distribution of goods) both for their own merit, and as a way of destroying the material basis of the counter-revolution. If, after a revolution, the bourgeoisie is expropriated but workers remain workers, producing in separate enterprises, dependent on their relation to that workplace for their subsistence, and exchanging with other enterprises, then whether that exchange is self-organised by the workers or given central direction by a “workers’ state” means very little: the capitalist content remains, and sooner or later the distinct role or function of the capitalist will reassert itself. By contrast, the revolution as a communising movement would destroy – by ceasing to constitute and reproduce them – all capitalist categories: exchange, money, commodities, the existence of separate enterprises, the State and – most fundamentally – wage labour and the working class itself.” (Endnotes, # 2, 2010)

While these quotes might seem off topic, they actually help to frame the questions to come: if the content, or the nature of class struggle, is to take priority over its form, what should our activity in the here-and-now look like? Taking communisation and the importance of material interests into account, the question might be better re-framed as: what material interests can we struggle around that will create the space to rupture capital relations?

I want to make the point here that I do not believe the actions of myself, or my comrades, will result in social revolution. Call it cynical, but this activist mentality was jettisoned a long time ago. However this is not the same as defeatism, or to advocate idly waiting for the spontaneous ruptures of the working class to erupt. Instead, it is the realisation that the content and scale of struggle needed to challenge the capital-labour wage relation will involve activity much larger than our actions alone.

To work or not to work

So, what material interests can we struggle around that will create the space to rupture capital relations? If wage-labour (waged or unwaged), work as a separate activity of life, and the existence of a working class are central to capital’s reproduction, then it makes sense to place these at the heart of our struggles. Or more specifically, the refusal of work and anti-work struggles.

Kathi Weeks in The Problem With Work: Feminism, Marxism, anti-work politics and postwork imaginaries notes how work can unite a range of material interests: “the category of work seems to me at once more capacious and more finely tuned than the category of class. After all, work, including its absence, is both important to and differently experienced within and across lines of class, gender, race, and nation.” She argues that as a result, “the politics of and against work has the potential to expand the terrain of class struggle to include actors well beyond that classic figure of traditional class politics, the industrial proletariat.”

As a way of struggling around these shared material interests, and to bridge the gap between a refusal of work and current work ethics, Weeks suggests two ways forward—the struggle for a guaranteed basic income, and the demand for shorter working hours without the loss of pay. Although it raises questions around how such a demand would affect those who are in reproductive or unwaged work, the second option is one I really like.

While organisng around wage increases or a minimum wage re-enforces the wage system and does nothing to question the nature of work, struggles for a shorter working day (without the loss of pay) opens up a potentially radical discussion about the nature of work itself. Not only would “a thirty-hour full-time work week without a decrease in pay would help to address some of the problems of both the underemployed and the overworked,” it also questions life as endless toil. The benefit of “focusing on these demands which I think distinguishes them from many other demands for economic reform, including the demand for a living wage is their capacity not only to improve the conditions of work but to challenge the terms of its dominance. These demands do not affirm our right to work so much as help us to secure some measure of freedom from it.” Struggling around a shorter day with no decrease in pay is “at once a demand for change and a perspective and provocation [and]  a useful reform and a conceptual frame that could generate critical thinking and public debate about the structures and ethics of work.”

The demand for a shorter working day is not a new one. We are all familiar with the struggle for the 8 hour day and the radicalisation this struggle caused. More recently, the IWW has demanded a 4 hour day for 8 hours pay.

Some will argue that slogans such as these will not feed a family on the minimum wage. When there is a vacuum in struggles around such basic (and much needed) reforms, it is indeed tempting to fill the void left by the unions and other ‘socialist’ organisations, and make reform the content of our activity. But we are not social reformers. If we are radicals in the true meaning of the word, then our activity should strike at the root of capital relations. Not only does the struggle for the minimum wage keep the wage system intact, it closes the door to the questioning of wage-labour itself—the very reason poverty wages exist in the first place. Yes, its no comfort to a hungry family, but neither is the continuation of capital relations—in the short-, medium-, or long-term.

It is also possible that the questioning of work, or more specifically, the demand for a shorter day without the loss of pay, places our organisng back on moral or ideological terrain—the very terrain BR has questioned in the past. The key would be to match the demand, which many will consider utopian, with the concrete, lived experiences of work—our shared material interests.

Anti-work struggles via the demand for a shorter working day. Utopian babble or the way forward? At the very least, it is a discussion worth having. And one not based on form.