Regrouping Process Begins
By Mike Harris
As many people know, mid-July in New York City is not the most comfortable place to be. Despite the uncomfortable heat and humidity a small, informal gathering of anarcho-syndicalists met to discuss a broad range of issues. These discussions were initiated by the Libertarian Workers’ Group (LWG) and supported by a number of ex-ACF affiliates. The purpose of this meeting was not to create a formal organization. Rather the meeting was held to discuss issues, renew old ties and to see if there was enough agreement on basic issues to continue our discussions at a future date. Overall there seemed to be such a consensus.
Although the meeting was not a formal one — formal in the sense that all decisions were binding and a commitment to an organizational form — a fairly comprehensive agenda was submitted by the LWG. Presentation and agreement on the agenda was then followed by an introductory position paper of the LWG. This not only outlined the LWG’s positions on various questions and areas of struggle, but also presented an historical analysis of the LWG and its practice, as well as that of the anarchist movement. It should be duly noted that this position paper was not only the product of the LWG but also based on discussions with other comrades outside the group.
The LWG position paper helped to lay the issues, on the table. It helped to facilitate discussions and was referred to quite often as a starting point for discussion. The overall tone of the position paper was generally critical of the anarchist movement for its lack of a class struggle perspective and analysis; specifically one based on a modern theory and practice. The document was also critical of the anarchist movement’s overall isolation from both the struggles of our class in North America and internationally. Criticism was leveled at the anarchist movement’s lack of prioritizing its workplace and political activities locally and continentally.
Breaking with old anarchist traditions of accepted forms of organization the position paper suggested « class struggle anarchists » should question the federative form of organization. It further noted that in light of both the historical experience of the anarchist movement and the working class movement the committee form of organization might be the new organizational form that is needed. Naturally there was disagreement on this score and this is one of the questions that our movement should not only be discussing, but should also be testing in practice.
It would be an injustice to both the position paper, the participants and the discussions that followed to dwell on all points that the position paper hit on. Comprehensive as it was, the discussions that followed, in nearly all cases, hit upon the points raised in the paper. On that score we should now turn to some of the discussions.
Since these discussions were informal we began with a round robin discussion of local activities. We heard reports from Canada (which seemed to be quite busy with Polish workers solidarity, industrial and feminist activities), Milwaukee and West Virginia (where they are busiest in anti-nuke activities and some anarchist propaganda), as well as additional bits of info from NYC. Although the levels of activity varied due to size and local conditions, one was able to sense that group activities were being both prioritized and taking on a clear working class character. In some cases there was a feeling of self-confidence that, pragmatically speaking, our activities will be much more successful than in the past. In other words there is a clear recognition of the political maturity of our practice.
As anarcho-syndicalists one would naturally think the bulk of our activities would be workplace centered. While this is overall an on target assumption, the discussions also centered around the participants’ « mass work ». Such work has had mixed results concerning our presentation of libertarian-ideas into mass struggles, such as anti-nuke, anti-draft and to a lesser extent the issue of revolution in Latin America. Limitations of our mass work also became apparent in several comrades’ recognition that people respect them as individuals but not necessarily as libertarians.
There was also the recognition that there are severe limitations to mass work as libertarians. Such limitations include fears of dissolution of our politics and the inherent reformism of left groups who dominate many movements or the lack of left movement in many cases. There is also the problem of devoting too much time and energy to mass movements where we fail to recruit people into our groups and movement. On this point there was some disagreement. Some comrades fell that recruitment was not a priority, instead spreading libertarian ideas in these movements. The overall consensus was that we need to further define and analyze our goals, work and the tools we’re using in these movements.
The discussions then turned to the question of the anarchist movement’s relationship to the class struggle and the reformist trade unions. Before moving on to this point it should be noted that there was little discussion of the Industrial Workers of the World. A point some comrades fell should have been discussed in detail. However the overall consensus was that the IWW was irrelevant to most of our own situations. Secondly comrades either felt hostile or indifferent towards the IWW as a revolutionary union. Yet it should be noted that nearly all those in attendance at one time belonged to the IWW.
Given the LWG’s long history of practical activity in the class struggle the LWG was given the floor to present their viewpoint on the role of anarcho-syndicalists in the labor movement. It has long been known in the libertarian movement that the LWG takes a « pluralistic » viewpoint towards the creation of a revolutionary labor movement. By « pluralistic » the LWG means the creation of both autonomous rank and file organizations in the trade unions, as well as the development of independent revolutionary workers’ organizations. However at this point the mainstay of their activity has been in their respective unions and industry, that is the needle trades (garment, textile, fur, etc) of NYC. It should also be noted that social LWG members initiated the Needle Trades Workers’ Action Committee, a rank and file committee in the needle trades.
A comrade questioned whether or not working in the reformist unions led to integration into, the bureaucracy, either by taking positions of leadership or by becoming union reformers like other left groups. In response an LWG member responded that as anarchists we’re duty bound to defend workers self-organization from integration into the bureaucracy and that the question of taking on leadership positions — except stewards in certain situations — was out of the question. Rather the LWG see themselves as militants and libertarians building movements « from below » and creating organic ties to our class. It was agreed that the role of libertarians is to help create situations of dual power in the unions, rekindling working class self-confidence and self-organization.
Given the objective situation of those present it was agreed that we should begin to develop conditions in our workplaces and unions similar to that above. The discussions then turned to the nature of trade union bureaucracy and dual power. On the question of bureaucracy the LWG maintained that they tend not to see the trade union bureaucracy as a class yet. It was argued that the LWG sees the interests of the bureaucracy as different from the rank and file; as an emerging class. The rise of this class is not inevitable.
The discussion of dual power was largely discussed in relationship to the LWG’s activity in the needle trades. It was argued that dual power is not an organizational form, but a relationship. It was agreed, however, that dual power is a process involving many aspects, including some organizational ones.
Throughout the discussions it was clear that overall the participants identified Social Democracy as the main enemy on the left in the labor movement. It was generally agreed that if Anarcho-syndicalism is to move ahead it’s imperative to defeat social democracy. In the future we need to split rank and file militants away from the social democratic leadership. It is important to point out how leftist parties are exploiting the changes in the social democratic union bureaucracies (UAW, IAM, etc) as well.
In those unions (locals or otherwise) where the Communist Party, Trotskyism or Marxist-Leninist parties maintain strong influence anarchists, it was argued, should not side with the social democrats. Anarchists must learn from the historical experience of the 1920’s — in the needle trades — that when anarchists side with the social democrats in the above sort of struggle the anarchists are usually « rewarded » with leadership positions. Their « anarchist » politics soon became indistinguishable from the social democrats.
As the general discussions drew to a close the meeting turned to specifics. That is what can be done as a small isolated network of Anarcho-syndicalists? From the outset the meeting was billed as an open discussion of ideas, etc. with no emphasis on organization building (or at least on the part of many). However we felt that the discussions were not complete so it was decided to publish an internal newsbulletin to take up where we left off. We also agreed to meet again at a future date.
Since a number of the groups attending are engaged in solidarity activities with underground Anarcho-syndicalists in Latin America it was decided to organize a formal solidarity center, the Libertarian Aid for Latin America. The L.A.L.A. is presently in the process of gathering information so it can publish a newsbulletin. We also plan to raise money and the Autonomy Collective shall co-ordinate fundraising in Canada. The LWG will do the same in the United States. If comrades want to send donations they can begin to now. We invite other anarchist groups to set up a Libertarian Aid for Latin America committee in their area.
What impressed this correspondent the most about the participants was that nearly all were workers engaged in practical shop-floor activity. Secondly the level of activity of several groups was rather impressive. Although this article dealt in detail with a few items it should be mentioned that we discussed other issues in one way, shape or form such as working class feminism, anti-draft, anti-nuke, Polish workers solidarity, disarmament and El Salvador.
Critically speaking the meeting was too short. Many issues were left to be discussed. As had occurred in the Anarchist Communist Federation comrades didn’t come prepared with position papers which made the discussions longer and at times too generalized. Then of course there was the lack of representation of comrades from different regions and the small turnout. A clear indication that our movement is still in the embryonic stages.