Monday, December 28, 2009
Taking ourselves seriously... a serious response
Anarchist strategy is something which has preoccupied a lot of my thought and practice this year — partly through becoming involved in a new anarchist collective, and partly because, like all of us, I often wonder what I could be doing with myself to further the collective struggle in bringing about a different kind of world. This same question is posited in the opening address of ‘Taking Ourselves Seriously’, so it is with excitement that I’d like to share some collective positions myself and others have come to with regard to this question. I hope to address some of the issues that all four speakers put forward, mainly framed around the notion of ‘marginalisation’, and ‘sites of struggle’. Through looking at these topics I hope to put forward strategies which I think may be beneficial in pursuing, and touch on what I think the key element to constructive action is, namely forms of struggle which encourage the building of ‘dual power’.
The panelists illustrate a desire for movement away from action-based activism with no coherent structure, towards a more constructive anarchism. I think this is a worldwide trend, where ineffectual black bloc action and Crimethink-style anarchism is being eclipsed by a return to ‘classical’ or ‘class struggle’ anarchism — what is termed by Schmidt and van der Walt in ‘Black Flame’ as the ‘broad anarchist tradition’.
Josh MacPhee talks about mining history, and questions whether or not what we are mining is effective. While he is specifically talking about graphics, the same question applies to anarchist strategy. It seems for many anarchists, not much ‘mining’ has gone on at all — there seems to be a real lack of knowledge around our own history of mass-based anarchism. Unfortunately, it may be because this kind of struggle (as Cindy points out) can seem both boring and bland due to outcomes not being entirely visible or felt. Yet long-term community and workplace struggle is the work we need to be doing as anarchists, in a way that transcends generational burnout and is outside of our radical milieu.
How do we escape our anarchist ghettos and make the jump from isolated experiments to struggle for mass social transformation? Ideas are put forward throughout the talk, such as more public discourse, linked spaces and an understanding on what we want anarchism to become. Yet these ideas still presume an outsider position with regard to struggle. While this is understandable due to our current marginalisation, I would put like to put forward that we look back — to moments of struggle where our ideas were accepted and practiced by a large minority, if not a majority, of the radical left and the labour movement in general.
The key, as Maia points out, is figuring out and identifying the sites of intervention around us. Yet how can we intervene when we are more often than not located outside mainstream society, or more specifically, the workplace? Maia talks about dropping out in such a way that enables future effective struggle, yet it’s the very notion of dropping out that I think negates our effectiveness. This is not a dig an Maia, but an illustration of her own observation that we tend to be comfortable in the margins of society. What is needed is not a more effective way of evading capitalist social relations but an immersion into and confrontation with them — sites of struggle not outside of capitalism (and not through attempts to 'escape' it), but within and amongst it. And not immersion in the sense of getting involved in an existing mass struggle with the ‘correct line’ and then leaving, but instead to build and help shape that mass struggle in a way that practices what we preach, from the outset, and through it's many twists and turns. How to do this? I hope to illustrate below that it is the methods and forms of anarcho-syndicalism, namely radical workplace action and community assemblies, that we need to be building.
I have to disagree with the strategy Joshua advocates: while worker’s self-management and more ethical forms of capitalist economics now is worthwhile, it is premised on the idea that capitalist relations can be transcended while within a capitalist society — something that leads to: a) a successful business model fostering the notion of gradual and peaceful change without challenging or confronting capitalism, and/ or B) permanent entrenchment within a system that ultimately cannot and will not be reformed. What we need is self-managed struggle, not more successful models of capitalist existence. This is nothing new: any reading of Bakunin, Kropotkin, or the recent debate on libcom.org about co-operatives illustrates my point a thousand times more succinctly than I could.
Sites of intervention
So, where are the sites of intervention we should engage in? In short, the workplace — in connection with the wider community. Our biggest success in the past, as anarchists, has been when our ideas have been accepted and practiced in workplace and community struggle. It is these sites of struggle which have, or have come close to, destabilising and smashing capitalism through the power we hold as producers. This is not to transplant tactics of a bygone era onto today’s world, but to learn and engage with strategies that were effective. Nor am I advocating we all get factory jobs. I am simply pointing out that this kind of struggle has been done before — we don’t need to re-write the book, but add a new chapter.
Although the nature of capitalism has changed — invisible markets, highly decentralised capital, out-source and casualised labour — the classical analysis of producer power is still relevant. It is in these sites of struggle that action can really be effective, not through pure discourse, but praxis — struggles structured in such a way that fosters self-organisation and the building of alternatives through resistance. What I understand this as is ‘dual power’. The collective I am part of has this to say about dual power:
“Dual power is the idea that the embryo of the new world must be created while fighting the current one; ‘building the new in the shell of the old’. It means encouraging working class organs of self-management, where we can exercise our autonomy and restrict the power of boss and government until such time as we can confront and abolish both. A dual power strategy is one that directly challenges institutions of power and at the same time, in some way, prefigures the new institutions we envision. Therefore, it not only opposes the state, it also prepares for the difficult confrontations and questions that will arise in a revolutionary situation.”
The key to building dual power is coherent strategy and structure, or more specifically, structures which ‘encourage working class organs of self-management’ which challenge and confront the power of the state. Ethical, self-managed businesses do not confront the state. Instead, radical, revolutionary and ultimately threatening dual power could be built through structures such as industrial networks and mass, community assemblies.
Examples of dual power in practice
Here I’m directly quoting from our collective strategy, which has been drafted through experience and in light of worldwide examples of successful, class-based action.
Industrial networks are a structure by which revolutionary industrial unions and other forms of libertarian workplace organisation can be created. An industrial network is a network of workers who support the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism, namely direct action, solidarity, collective decision making and self-organisation. The role of this network would be to call for workplace assemblies, argue for direct workers control of struggle by these mass assemblies, promote direct action and solidarity, put across anarchist ideas, and build organs of dual power.
Community assemblies take a similar form as above, but based in the wider community. It is the building of forums by which we can raise issues that affect our working class communities, and provide a means of solving them. As such, it is a means of directly involving local people in the life of the community and collectively solving the problems facing us as both individuals and as part of a wider society. Politics, therefore, is not separated into a specialised activity that only certain people do, or a specialised workplace existing as an island within capitalism.
The community assembly is the mass assembly of its members, practicing direct democracy in struggle. By organising our own forms of direct action (such as tax strikes, rent strikes, environmental protests and so on) we weaken the state while building dual power. Again, the structure is as important as the issues at hand.
In these ways, a grassroots movement from below can be created, with direct democracy and participation becoming an inherent part of a local political culture of resistance, with people deciding things for themselves directly and without hierarchy. The combination of community assemblies and industrial networks will be the key to abolishing the current order, and to create an anarchist communist society. These forms of struggle allow us to become accustomed to managing our own affairs and seeing that an injury to one is an injury to all.
In this way, revolutionary dual power can be created, not from outside, but from within, and together. As Sam Dolgoff said in 'The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society': "To forge a revolutionary movement, which, inspired by anarchist ideas, would be capable of reversing this reactionary trend, is the task of staggering proportions. But therein lies the true relevance of anarchism."