First published by Soil of Liberty, Minneapolis, 1983
From the original:
The author has meant this pamphlet to be provocative, The Soil of Liberty staff is not in complete agreement with everything in the pamphlet but felt it should be printed. We welcome comments for future magazine issues of Soil of Liberty.
This pamphlet is the second published by Soil of Liberty. The first, “The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society”, is also by Sam Dolgoff and is available for 55¢, including postage. Bulk rates are available.
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This summation is written in response to young people seeking clarification of the main issues involved in the classic controversy between Marxists and anarchists. The subject matter is arranged in the form of extracts from relevant sources. The anarchists as well as the marxists speak for themselves in quotations culled from their works. Since the non-anarchist critique of Marxism has taken a libertarian direction, we have also included extracts from such writings.
Our critique excludes forgotten earlier writings disavowed by Marx and Engels and deals only with their mature works. In his preface to Marx’s Critique of Political Economy, Engels revealed that he and Marx had “…abandoned the manuscript of The German Ideology  to the gnawing criticism of the mice…” A Russian visitor, Alexis Vodin, who interviewed Engels in 1893, wrote that Engels “was very embarrassed when I expressed interest in Marx and Engels’ earlier writings…” (see David Mclellan, Marx Before Marxism, 1970, p. 208) Only in 1927 was an edition of the earlier writings published by the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow.
Passages marked in [brackets] are mine. Those marked in (parentheses) are the writer’s. References are also marked in (parentheses).
Marxism is based upon the theory of Economic Determinism (or its equivalent terms – Historical Materialism, Dialectical Materialism, Materialistic Conception of History, Scientific Socialism, etc.). Economic Determinism constitutes the essence of Marxism. It is defined by Engels in this famous passage from his introduction to Marx’s Critique of Political Economy:
“…all past history was the history of class struggles… these warring classes of society are always the products of the conditions of production and exchange, in a word, of the economic condition of the time; [Engels’ emphasis] therefore the economic structure of society always forms the real basis from which, in the last analysis, is to be explained, the whole superstructure of legal and political institutions [the state] as well as the religious, philosophical, and other conceptions of each historical period.. .all moral theories are the product, in the last analysis, of the economic stage which society reached at that particular epoch… with the same certainty, can we deduce the social revolution from the existing social conditions and the principles of political economy… now, a materialist conception of history has been propounded and the way found to explain man’s consciousness by his being, instead of his being by his consciousness…”
[Marx formulates this more concisely]
“..,it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence – but their social existence which determines their consciousness…” (Critique of Political Economy)
“…the course of history is governed by inner laws operating in spite of the consciously desired aims of individuals...” (Engels, Ludwig Feurbach, p. 48, emphasis added)
Over a century ago Bakunin anticipated much the same arguments against Marx’s theory of Economic Determinism as did later writers. He stressed the point that causes and effects are continuously interacting and replacing themselves. Causes become effects. Effects, in turn, become causes. For example:
“…Marx holds that the political condition of each country is always.., the faithful expression of its economic situation…. He takes no account of other factors in history such as the ever-present reaction of political, juridical and religious institutions on the economic situation. He says poverty produces political slavery, the State, [but ignores the fact] that political slavery, the State, reproduces, in its turn, and maintains poverty as a condition for its own existence…. Marx ignores completely … a multitude of ethnological, climatological and historic causes,.., which independent of the economic conditions of each country, [Bakunin stresses the ‘spirit of revolt’] exert a considerable influence on its destinies and even on its economic development…” (Letter to La Liberte - 1872)
J.M. Cameron, English historian and sociologist:
“…it is not true that in history we are faced, first, with men associating together in economic life, and then with men worshipping the gods, inventing moral codes, .and justifying this or that political order…. We are faced with men engaged in all these activities at once. If we approach history without preconceptions, we have no means by which we can determine certain attitudes to be primary and others secondary. All we know is that they co-exist. As sociologists and historians we ought not single out certain phenomena and describe them as causes and other phenomena as effects. The only assumption that accords with the scientific is that we are faced with a developing whole the parts of which are continuously interacting…” (Scrutiny of Marxism, p. 28; 1948)
The article entitled “Dialectics” in the Encyclopedia Britannia (1969) also stresses the often decisive importance of non-economic factors in the shaping of history, grossly underestimated by Marx:
“…many economic facts are just as much effects as they are causes …changes in artistic tastes, in political institutions, in social traditions and even religious doctrines influence consumption of commodities and thereby become determinants of production and law is just as much a determinant as it is a product of economic life. Thus a maze of causal relationships results and with causes and effects indistinguishable in many instances, no social program could be built on this foundation….”
It may be objected that both Cameron and the Encyclopedia, are too conservative and unfair to Marxism. But R.H. Tawney, a social thinker and historian whose works are highly recommended by the Marxists, voices much the same criticism of Marx’s theory of Economic Determinism:
“…that men should have thought as they did is sometimes as significant as they should have acted as they did… there is an evolution of ideas as well as organisms, and the quality of civilization depends less on physical qualities, than on a complex structure of habits, knowledge and beliefs, the destruction of which would be followed in a year by the death of half the human race… there is a moral and religious, as well as material environment which sets its stamp on the individual… and the effects of changes in this environment are no less profound….” (Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, pp. 18-19)
Engels himself unintentionally (to be sure) pinpoints the major fallacy of Economic Determinism:
“…causes [the economic structure of society] and effects, [the whole legal, political, moral, etc. ‘superstructure’], are constantly changing places and what is now or here an effect becomes there or then a cause and vice-versa… truly, when a man is in possession of the final and ultimate truth, it is only natural that he should have a certain contempt for erring and unscientific humanity….” (Anti-Duhring, pp. 36, 29)
It follows from this that the fundamental dogma of Marxism, Economic Determinism – “the final and ultimate truth”, is, according to Engels himself, demonstrably false.
Economic Determinism: The Role of the Proletariat
Economic Determinism is a doctrine which in practice saps the revolutionary vitality of the masses, conditions them to accept capitalism and to co-operate with their rulers in their own enslavement. To effect social changes, the workers must, according to Marx, adapt themselves to the slow, progressive evolution of economic structures because “no social formation ever disappears before all the productive forces are developed for which it has room, and new higher relations of production never appear before the necessary material conditions are matured in the womb of the old society.” (Critique of Political Economy)
It takes a long time. “We say to the workers and the petty bourgeoisie; ‘suffer in bourgeois society which creates, by developing industry, the material means for the formation of the new society which will free all of you.’” [Marx on the lessons of the 1848 revolutions.] No matter how great the suffering, the workers are promoting progress because “in the evolution of society, ancient, asiatic, feudal and bourgeois modes of production constitute progressive epochs in the economic systems of society…” (Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy)
On the same grounds, Engels goes so far as to defend the institution of slavery: “The introduction of slavery in Greece under the conditions of that time, was a great step forward…, it was slavery that first made possible the development of agriculture and industry and with it the flower of the ancient world, Hellenism. Without slavery, no Greek State, no Greek art and science; without slavery no Roman Empire; without Hellenism and the Roman Empire as a basis, no Europe… without the slavery of antiquity no modern socialism…” (Anti-Duhring, p. 203)
The consistent Economic Determinist could just as well argue on the same grounds that since production had developed to a point where there was a shortage of labor power, and since the shortage was made up by converting prisoners-of-war into slaves, therefore, wars were necessary and ultimately beneficial.
In his polemic against Proudhon (The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847, quoted on p. 357 in Handbook of Marxism, International, 1935), Marx maintained that slavery in America was still an economic necessity, arguing that “slavery is an economic category, like any other. Slavery is just as much the pivot of bourgeois industry as machinery or credit…, without slavery you have no cotton, without cotton, you have no modern industry…, without slavery, North America, the most progressive of countries would be turned into a primitive country. Abolish slavery and you will have wiped America off the map of nations.”
Question: How progressive is a country whose very existence depends on slavery?
Franz Mehring, Marx’s official biographer, explains that “Marx not only shows that machinery and large scale industry created greater misery than any mode of production known in history, but that also in their ceaseless revolutionisation of capitalist society they are preparing the way for a higher social form… the machine which degrades the worker into its mere appendage, creates at the same time the increasing productive forces of society so that all members of society will enjoy a life worthy of human beings, which could not be done before because pre-capitalist societies were too poor.”
Since, according to the Communist Manifesto, the bourgeoisie is the bearer of large-scale industry, it is in the interests of the workers to help the bourgeoisie to seize power as soon as possible and as soon as the bourgeoisie develops industry, to overthrow it. The workers should co-operate gladly because “as long as the rising mode of production furthers the general aims of society, it is enthusiastically welcomed even by those who suffer most from its corresponding mode of distribution. This was the case with the English workers in the beginnings of large scale industry” (Engels, Anti-Duhring, pp. 167-8). A deliberate brazen falsehood if ever there was one and a calculated insult to the valiant English workers who fought for freedom with unexampled courage. (See E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class)
Mehring explains that “Marx and Engels aimed at utilizing the Franco-Prussian War as thoroughly as possible in the interests of the proletarian struggle for emancipation… Engels condemned the leaders of the German Socialist Party, William Liebknecht and August Bebel, because they abstained from voting war credits… The situation is: Germany has been forced into a war to defend its national existence against Bonaparte… Bonaparte’s war policy was directed against the national unity Germany and, since the establishment of a united German state is necessary for the ultimate emancipation of the workers, the war must be supported. Bismarck [in prosecuting the war and unifying Germany] is doing a share of our work.”
Engels wrote that “militarism dominates and is swallowing Europe. But this militarism carries within itself the seed of its own destruction… Military rivalry forces states to spend more and more money on armaments thus hastening financial catastrophe…, compulsory military service makes the whole people familiar with the use of arms… the people revolt against the commanding military lords.., the armies of the princes become transformed into the armies of the People; the military machine refuses to work and militarism collapses by the dialectic of its own evolution… gunpowder and other inventions not only revolutionized warfare, but in revolutionizing industry, warfare represents an economic advance.” (Anti-Duhring, p. 192)
In an 1872 letter to the anarchist Carlo Cafiero, Engels declared that both Bismarck and King Victor Emanuel rendered immense service to the Revolution by creating political centralization in their respective countries. “…just as in economic evolution there is the tendency for capital to concentrate in fewer hands and for the smaller capitalist to be swallowed by the large, so likewise in political evolution it is inevitable that the small states should be absorbed by the great….” (Franz Mehring quotes Engels in Karl Marx, pp. 164-5)
In criticizing [the young, pre-anarchist – Ed.] Bakunin’s Appeal to the Slavs — which called for the independence of the Slavic peoples and the destruction of the Russian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (Feb. 14 1849,-edited by Marx) declared that “no Slavic people has a future for the simple reason that they lack the indispensable political and industrial conditions for independence… the stubborn Czechs and the Slovaks should be grateful to the Germans who have taken the trouble to civilize them be introducing them to commerce, industry, agricultural science and education… What would Texas or California have gained if it would be in the hands of the lazy Mexicans?”
It follows from the above quotation that militants who fight against slavery and for racial equality, people who refuse to help the bourgeoisie bosses, people who are against war and militarism, people who are for the freedom and independence of small nations against imperialist domination, are, according to marxist theory, “dialectically” counter-revolutionists against their oppressors who are unconsciously preparing the road for socialism.
Engels extols parliamentary political action and class collaboration — ”…the two million voters for the German Social Democratic Party plus the young men and women non-voters who stand behind them… form the most compact ‘shock troops’ of the international Proletarian Army.., if this goes on, we shall at the close of the century win over the greater part of the middle social layers, the petty bourgeoisie as well as the small peasants, and we shall come to be the decisive power in the land…. The capitalist parties perish because of the legal means set up by themselves,… the Social Democratic revolution… is getting on first rate while abiding by the law…” (pamphlet, “The Revolutionary Act”)
This catastrophic policy which led to the emasculation of the socialist movement and its absorption into the capitalist State, rendered the German socialist movement (numerically the strongest in the world) impotent to resist the First World War as well as the rise of Nazi fascism — historical tragedies whose magnitude it is impossible to assess.
Nature of the State
That economic factors to a greater or lesser degree, depending on circumstances, shape events is an indisputable fact. To assert, however, that the ultimate cause of all social changes is to be found only in changes in the mode and relations of production is a gross distortion which cannot be sustained by the facts of history.
The marxist misconception of history stems primarily from erroneous ideas about the origin and nature of the State and its preponderant role in the shaping of the economic and social life of humanity.
According to the Communist Manifesto, “the executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” Bakunin maintained that the State is not merely an agent of the dominant economic class, but that the State also constitutes a class in itself and is the most powerful of all by virtue of its monopoly of armed force and its sovereignty over all other social institutions. In contrast to Marx, Bakunin argued that the State is not only the product but also the creator and perpetuator of economic, political and social inequality.
Bakunin’s critique has in this respect been sustained by modern social thinkers. Sidney Hook states flatly that “the existence of the Soviet Union refutes the theory of historical materialism … since the basic economic changes were achieved through political action [the State].” (Marx and the Marxists, p. 124) It was this development which led Rudolf Hilferding, a noted Marxist economist, to revise his ideas about the nature of the State: “…the Marxist sectarian cannot grasp the idea that the present-day State power, having achieved independence, is unfolding its enormous strength according to its own laws, subjecting social forces and compelling them to serve its ends… Therefore, neither the Russian, nor totalitarian systems in general, is determined by the character of the economy. On the contrary, it is the economy that is determined by the policy of the ruling power. An analogy to the totalitarian State may be found in the era of the Roman Empire in the regime of the Praetorians and their emperors….” (quoted by Hook in Marx and the Marxists, p. 241)
In this connection the political scientist, Michel Collinet, observes that “for Lenin, the Revolution is not the necessary consequence of the productive forces, but of a militarized party of professional revolutionaries who knew how to use an effective strategy to profit by political occasions….” (Le Contrat Social, Jan. 1957)
The Marx-Engels notion that in primitive society the State originally arose to “safeguard the common interests of tribal societies against external enemies and later to protect the economic and political position of the ruling class” is false. The contention that exploitation arose through “purely economic causes… and not at all by the State… that historically, private property by no means makes appearance as the result of robbery and violence” is also false. (Engels, Anti-Duhring, pp. 167, 171, 184)
Evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. All competent historians and anthropologists, among them Edward Jenks, agree that:
“…the State, in its origin, was not an economic, but a military institution… formed by conquest and plunder… unwilling themselves to practice the patient arts of husbandry… the invading hosts settled down like a swarm of locusts on their prey… the rich vineyards and fields of Europe… No permanent State was ever built unaided by an invading host… the State itself, though intensely military in character, imposes itself on a solid base of permanent agriculture, which will supply its needs by wealth drawn from the fruitful soil.., the primitive State was simply a band of warriors under a military leader — Clovis, Rurik, Norman William — but as time went on… as the band of warriors settled down as lords and rulers of their fiefs, as hereditary successors to office and title became recognized… the State began to assume in varied forms the character of an institution, a piece of machinery which maintains a perpetual existence, despite the death of kings and barons…” (Edward Jenks, The State and the Nation, 1919, pp. 130, 131)
“…the State is essentially military in character… its methods are mainly non-productive… they do not produce values, but merely preserve or destroy them.. From its earliest stages its policy has been annexation or plunder of its own or alien communities… it creates property by handing over the resources of the community to individuals or small groups and this is, in effect, what the State had done by creating individual and private property and protecting it with its overwhelming power… the State received its return from this reckless squandering of the resources of the community…” (Jenks, p. 237, my emphasis)
“…the Roman Empire rests on force only, a brute force let loose by the lowest appetites.., it bound every man to his occupation… chained him and his descendants to the same post [occupation], established a real caste system… the wholesale destruction of wealth created by the subject peoples … Rome’s industry in the second and first centuries, B.C. had been war and the spoliation of the vanquished… the fruits of conquest were dissipated in a century…” (Ferdinand Lot, The End of the Ancient World and the Beginnings of the Middle Ages, pp. 8, 65, 84, 85, 82)
We cite a few examples from the anarchist Gaston Leval’s excellent analysis of Marxism which awaits translation into English:
“…the Visigoth dynasty [ruling much of Iberia and France after the Roman Empire fell – Ed.] did not derive its origin from the institution of private property nor from changes in the mode of production. It was the creation of the ‘conquistadores’ who institutionalized the domination and economic exploitation of the conquered peoples…”
“…what became France, was founded by Clovis [first king of the Franks – Ed.], a bandit who murdered his rivals and with a savage horde of warriors from the north routed the Romans and the Germans [Visigoths – Ed]. With each victory he and his successors augmented their forces, conquered more territories, and by plunder, rapine and extortion, engineered the economic subjugation of the conquered peoples, dividing property and the spoils of war among themselves. The true creators of the State were the militarists and the politicians, not only in Spain and France, but also in Flanders [Belgium], Germany, Russia and other northern European countries, and in Italy….”
“…the State by its very nature, tends to have a life of its own. It is a parasitic institution living at the expense of society… in Latin America the Spanish and Portuguese ‘conquistadores’ seized the land of the natives, plundered the urban communities, and by brute force, not by changes in the mode of production, imposed feudal regimes which to this day weigh so heavily on the economic and political institutions of so many nations… to give land to its soldiers and officials, the invaders changed the social structure of the conquered territories…”
To illustrate the predominance of the State, Leval points out that during the post-war period in the newly established small States “there already appeared Ministers, a repressive apparatus, jails, and executioners… There already appear classes. The new classes do not owe their existence to technological developments or changes in the mode of production. They are brought into being by the newly created State — the institutionalized political authority controlling or dominating the economic and social life of the people…”
“…the economy of the newly established States, may deteriorate; mass starvation and disease may decimate the population; but the ministries grow. The police and armed forces multiply. The new bureaucracy flourishes. A new powerful class exploits the peasants, levies taxes, and suffocates the people in an avalanche of rules and restrictions…”
“…Rene’ Dumont, a renowned agronomist and sociologist, reports from visits to some of the new States that the principal industry of these new countries is governmental administration. In fifteen former French colonies newly independent — economic production declined, but the production of politicians grew. In Dahomey, the wages of the governmental bureaucracy absorbs 70% of the national income. The situation in Gabon is just as bad or worse, as it is in other countries Dumont visited. As soon as a peasant learns to read and write he goes to the city to become a functionary..,” (above quotes from Gaston Leval, La Falacia del Marxismo, Mexico City, 1967, pp. 116, 117, 118)
Bakunin anticipated just such a development: “…in Turkish Serbia [after independence – Ed.] … there is only one class in control of the government — the bureaucracy. The one and only function of the State, therefore, is to exploit the Serbian people in order to provide the bureaucrats with all the comforts of life…” (Statism and Anarchy)
The State and Production
Marx and Engels praised the bourgeoisie for advancing the economy by “lumping together… loosely connected provinces.., or small independent states into one nation, with one government, one code of laws etc…” (Communist Manifesto). This assumption, that political centralization — the State, facilitates economic development is a dangerous illusion refuted by massive evidence. The fact is that wars between States devastated whole nations. The State wrecked the economy, stifled initiative and held back progress for centuries.
The Class Struggle
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels declare that their “theoretical conclusions are based on the class struggle.” That class struggles are a factor in social change no one will deny. But the dogma that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Communist Manifesto) is false.
Gaston Leval demonstrates that “wars between migratory hordes and sedentary populations, nations and States, count in history more than class wars — particularly in Europe and Asia… In Spain, recall the six centuries of war against the Arabs. Read the literature of the 10th to the 16th Centuries to realize how little part the class war played as compared to religious and racial factors; how little the class war figured in the conquest of Sicily and almost all of Italy, Flanders and part of France by the Spanish armies; the international religious wars between Christians and Mohammendans; or the conquest of Latin America by Spain — the people of Spain sided with the kings…”(La Falacia del Marxismo, pp 121-2)
Contrary to the Communist Manifesto, the Plebians did not constitute a revolutionary class. In the centuries of the Roman Empire, both the Patricians and the Plebians approved the enslavement of prisoners-of-war, who were drafted to reinforce the armies of Caesar, Lucullus, and Pompeii. Although the Patricians represented the big landholders and the Plebians the small farmers; the Plebians were not interested in the abolition of privilege or the establishment of a new economic order. “Their sole concern,” writes Rudolf Rocker, “was to participate in the privileges of the Patricians and to obtain an equal share in the spoils of war.” (Nationalism and Culture, p. 379)
As compared to the catastrophic impact of wars in this century, even the most protracted struggles between workers and employers are of minor significance.
Marx surely underestimated the importance of nationalism in shaping history. He thought that nationalism would be superseded by class struggles because the proletariat would become class conscious in the process of struggle.
In this connection Lewis Mumford disagrees with Marx:
“When Marx wrote in the 1850s, nationalism seemed to him to be a dying movement… it had in fact, taken on a new life… with the massing of the population into national States which continued during the 19th Century, the national struggle for political power cut at right angle to the class struggle… the struggle for political power now became a struggle between States for command of exploitable areas… after 1850, nationalism became the drill master of the restless proletariat who identified themselves with the all-powerful State” (Technics and Civilization, pp. 189, 190, 191)
Marx and Engels believed that “modern industrial labour subjection to capitalism, in England, France, America and Germany, has stripped the proletariat of every trace of national character. Law, morality, religion, are to the proletariat so many bourgeois prejudices.” (Communist Manifesto)
The trouble with this argument is that workers still nurse these prejudices and act accordingly. What a worker thinks and feels may determine his or her reaction to events more than what he or she does for a living.
With the coming of World War I (which according to Marxist theory should have signalled the long delayed collapse of capitalism), the proletariat – ”the only really revolutionary class” (Communist Manifesto), became rabid nationalists, and even the German Socialist Party deputies in the Reichstag patriotically voted war credits.
In opposition to Marx, Bakunin argued that the bourgeois-minded workers in the advanced industrialized countries are not going to make revolutions [This is incorrect- Bakunin was often sceptical about the upper layer of workers in all countries, and never rejected the Western working class– Ed.].
History proved Bakunin right and Marx wrong. The most notable revolutions of this century have been those that broke out in Russia and China. Nor did the October Revolution, as Lenin expected, initiate a series of proletarian upheavals in the advanced countries of Western Europe that were deemed ripe for the Social Revolution.
Marx attached slight importance to psychological factors in revolution, but Bakunin insisted that revolution was impossible for people who had “lost the habit of freedom.” He left more room for people’s will, their aspiration for freedom and equality and “the instinct of revolt” which constitutes the “revolutionary consciousness” of oppressed peoples.
Rudolf Rocker writes that:
“…in France, crafts and industries were brought under the regimentation of the State… rigorous regulations and methods of work were decreed for all industries… an army of officials took care that no one deviated even by a hair’s breadth from established norms. Tailors were told how many stitches to make in sewing a sleeve into a coat; the cooper, how many hoops to put around a barrel. The State not only decreed the length, width and colour of woven fabrics but specified the number of threads in each weave. Violations were punished by confiscation of goods; in serious cases, by destruction of material, tools, workshops, etc… Just as agricultural production under serfdom declined sharply; so did the Royal ordinances and regimentation wreck industry and bring France to the brink of ruin…”
“As in France, English industry too, was subjected to severe restrictions. The Court was interested only in filling the Royal treasury. Under the reign of Charles I, the monopoly for the manufacture of soap was sold to a company of London soap boilers and a special ordinance forbade any household to make soap for its own use. Rights to exploit tin and coal deposits in the north of England, glass and other industries were sold to the highest bidders…”
“When England acquired its colonial empire, immense territories were sold to monopolists for ridiculously low payments from which they derived enormous profits in a few years… Queen Elizabeth sold exclusive rights to commercial companies to trade in the East Indies and all lands east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan. Charles II gave exclusive rights to exploit Virginia to his father-in-law. Rights were sold to the Hudson Bay Company for 20% of the profits, etc…” (Nationalism and Culture, 1937, pp. 125, 126, 430, 431)
Peter Kropotkin denounced:
“…revolutionaries who glorify the State… the modern radical is a centralist, Statist and rabid Jacobin, and the Socialists (Marxists included) fall in step. Just as the Florentines at the end of the 15th Century knew no better than to call upon the dictatorship of the State to save themselves from the Patricians; so the socialists only call upon the same gods, the dictatorship of the State to save themselves from the horrors of the economic regime, created by the very same State!”
“The role of the nascent State in the 16th and 17th Centuries was to destroy the independence of the cities; to pillage the rich guilds of the merchants and artisans; to concentrate in its hands the external commerce; to lay hands on the internal administration of the guilds and subject internal commerce and all manufacturing to the last detail to the control of a host of officials and in this way, to kill industry and the arts; taking over the local militias and the whole municipal administration; crushing the weak in the interests of the strong by taxation and ruining countries by wars and the lands were either simply stolen by the rich with the connivance of the State or confiscated by the State directly…”
Kropotkin calls attention to the:
“…shameless waste of the Ministers and the Court; the monstrous profits of the private concessionaires who collected indirect taxes and similar profits by the innumerable official collectors who channelled the direct tax into the treasury…. Industry in the 18th Century was dying… all the State was capable of doing was to tighten the screws for the workers; depopulate the countryside; spread misery in the towns; reduce millions of human beings to a state of starvation and impose industrial serfdom,., already, at the close of the 14th Century, an edict by Edward III, King of England, decreed that ‘every alliance, connivance, meetings, enactments and solemn oaths made or to be made between carpenters and masons [or any other trades] are null and void’.., in 1801 the French government itself undertook to appoint mayors and syndics in each of the thirty thousand communes…” (The State: Its Historic Role, pp. 41-43, 46-47)
Engels justified the tyranny of the State on the ground that “forcible measures of Louis 14th, made it easier for the bourgeoisie to carry through their revolution”. But the bourgeoisie, in the name of the “common will” fought the absolute monarchy for the exclusive right to exploit the workers; just as they crushed the revolt of the workers and the sans culottes during the French Revolution a century later. Marx and Engels conceded that the bourgeoisie “established new classes, new oppress-ions… in place of the old ones…” (Communist Manifesto). But their inability to learn from historical events that no State can ever play a revolutionary role, persists to this day.
Marx’s whole theory of history and economic laws led him to predict both the inevitable collapse of capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. But capitalism has not only been able to survive. It has actually become more entrenched by adopting, in various degrees, social-democratic reform measures; thereby absorbing the labour and socialist movements into the structure of the State capitalist economic system (-sometimes designated “welfare state” or “welfare capitalism “)The political scientist Michel Collinet points out that “if the cyclical crises of capitalism are, as Marx predicted, a source of misery and insecurity; it is also a fact that after more than a hundred years, it has not led the working class to make a [PROLETARIAN] Social Revolution. The terrible economic depression of 1929, profoundly divided and demoralized the workers and their political parties who claim to represent them… in Europe the crisis aggravated nationalism and brought on the fascist racist reaction. In America, the ‘New Deal’ of Roosevelt; in France, the popular front… strengthened capitalism…” (Le Contrat Social, January 1967. I have inserted and emphasized the PROLETARIAN to establish the point that neither the largely agrarian Russian nor the Chinese Revolution were really proletarian.)
The Marxist Max Schachtman, in his introduction to Franz Mehring’s biography of Karl Marx, admits the “incontestable fact that the class struggle has not… led to the rule of the working class that was to be transitional-to a classless society — the perspective that Marx himself held to be his unique contribution — cannot be explained away…” And Max Eastman in his introduction to an anthology of Marx and Engels writings, likewise objects that “the very first sentence of the Communist Manifesto, ‘the History of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’ shows the disposition to read one’s own interests into the definition of facts…”
Marx and most authoritarian socialists did not give much thought to the forms of organization that might translate into reality the ideal of a free, stateless society. The dialectical method which Marx employed in working out his theory of Dialectical Materialism is essentially a philosophy of perpetual conflict between opposing tendencies or forces interrupted by temporary adjustments. There is conflict, but society is also a vast interlocking network of co-operative labour and the very existence of mankind depends upon this inner cohesion.
In this connection, Paul Avrich emphasizes that “mankind, in fact, owes its existence to mutual assistance. The theories of Hegel, Marx and Darwin notwithstanding, Kropotkin held that co-operation rather than conflict lies at the root of the historical process…” (Introduction to the 1972 edition of Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution)
Marx’s failure to appreciate this truth permeates his grossly distorted conceptions.
Marx on Capitalism: The Dialectical Falsification of History
Marx’s notion that the “bourgeoisie has created more colossal productive forces in scarce one hundred years than all preceding generations together…” (Communist Manifesto) is a gross distortion. Lewis Mumford’s classic study, Technics and Civilization, an objective assessment of the relationship of capitalism to technology, corrects Marx on this point:
“While technics owes an honest debt to capitalism, as it does to war, capitalism and technics must be clearly distinguished at every stage … the machine took on characteristics that had nothing essential to do with the technical process or the forms of work… it was because of capitalism that the handicraft industries in Europe and other parts of the world were recklessly destroyed by machine products; even when machine products were inferior to the things they replaced.., the machine has suffered from the sins of capitalism.., contrariwise, capitalism has taken credit for the machine…”
“Although there is a close historical association of modern technics and modern capitalism, there is no necessary connection between them. Capitalism has existed in other civilizations, which had relatively low technical development, and technics made steady improvements from the 10th to the 15th Century without the special incentives of capitalism… between the 10th and the 18th Century all the technical preparations for capitalism had already taken place…” (emphasis added, pp. 26, 27, 28) Which refutes the silly remark that “no earlier century had even a presentiment that such [capitalist] productive forces [existed]…” (Communist Manifesto)
A few examples to refute that falsehood:
John U. Nef:
“…the most startling progress of the physical and mathematical sciences in the 16th and early 17th centuries occurred in parts of Europe that did not participate directly in the speeding-up of industrial growth in England and Northern Europe…” Nef describes the “boom in mining and metallurgy between the late 15th and early 16th centuries… when much of continental Europe was built or rebuilt in the new Renaissance style of architecture…” Nef also documents the “remarkable industrial development especially striking in Northern Italy, parts of Spain, the southern low countries and southern Germany…” (The Conquest of the Material World, pp. 326, 42)
“All modern industry came to us from these free cities [of the Middle Ages]. In three centuries, industries and the arts attained such perfection that our century has only been able to surpass them in speed of production, but rarely in quality or the intrinsic beauty of the product… in each of its manifestations, our technical progress is only the child of the civilization that grew up within the free communes… All the great discoveries made by modern science; the compass, the clock, the watch, printing, maritime discoveries, gunpowder, the laws of gravitation, atmospheric pressure, of which the steam engine is a development, the rudiments of chemistry, the scientific methods already outlined by Roger Bacon and applied in the Italian universities… Where do all these things originate if not in the free cities? In the civilization which was developed under the protection of communal liberties… in the 16th century Europe was covered with rich cities… their caravans covered the continent, their vessels ploughed the seas and the rivers…” (The State: Its Historic Role, p. 29)
“The cities of the 13th century [writes Lewis Mumford] were far brighter and cleaner and better ordered than the new victorian towns. Medieval hospitals were more spacious and more sanitary than the hospitals of the victorian towns. In many parts of Europe the medieval workers had a demonstrably higher standard of living than the drudge tied triumphantly to a semi-automatic machine…” (Technics and Civilization, p. 183)
Kropotkin indignantly refutes the false allegations of the “historians and economists who teach us that the village commune, having become an outdated form of land possession which hampered progress, had to disappear under the action of ‘natural economic forces’…” Kropotkin denounces the Marxian “socialists who claim to be ‘scientific socialists’ who repeat this stock fable… this odious calculated lie… History abounds with documents to prove that the village commune was in the first place deprived of all its powers by the State, of its independence, and that afterwards the lands were either stolen with the connivance of the State or confiscated by the State directly… Have we not learned at school that the State had performed the great service of creating, out of the ruins of feudal society, national unions which had been previously made impossible by the rivalries between cities?”
Kropotkin calls attention to the fact that the “Dialectical Materialists” do not even begin to appreciate the:
“…communalist movement that existed in the 11th and 12th centuries… this movement with its virile affirmation of the individual; which succeeded in creating a society through the free federation of’ towns and villages, was the complete negation of the unitarian centralizing Roman outlook. Nor is it linked to any historic personality or central institution… Society was literally covered with a network of sworn brotherhoods; of guilds for mutual aid… it is even very doubtful whether there was a single man in that period, free man or serf, who did not belong to a brotherhood or some guild, as well as to his commune… In the course of a hundred years this movement spread in an impressive harmonious way throughout Europe covering Scotland, France, the Low Countries, Italy, Germany, Poland, Russia. In these cities [communes] sheltered by their conquered liberties, inspired by free agreement and free initiative, a whole new civilization grew up and flourished in ways unparalleled to this day.” (The State: Its Historic Role)
Since Kropotkin developed these ideas in 1897, further research by reputable historians and political scientists has confirmed his analysis. Edward Jencks wrote:
“…the typical village of the middle ages in Western Europe and indeed, of people in a corresponding stage the world over, was not like the typical village of modern France or England, merely a locality in which neighbours who carry on their work independently happen to live, but a community, carrying on its work as a single body of co-partners governed by customary rules, to which all must conform, it was not competitive… the self-governing municipality, or borough, was the highest achievement of the patriarchal principle; and after a dark period of repression, it gallantly took up the struggle against the newer ideas of absolute rule which produced the institution of the State…. it was founded on the undying principles of brotherhood, freedom and voluntary co-operation, as opposed to subordination, regimentation or compulsory service…” (The State and the Nation, pp. 94, 116, 118, 137, Jenck’s comments concern patriarchal society in transition to the free cities or communes discussed by Kropotkin)
R.H. Tawney suggests that:
“it may do well to remember that the characteristic… of the medieval guild was that if it sprang from economic needs, it claimed at least to subordinate them to social needs… preserve a rough equality among the good men of the mystery [association]; check economic egotism by insisting that every brother shall share his good fortune with another and-stand by his neighbour in need, resist the encroachments of a conscienceless money-power; preserve professional standards of training and craftsmanship, and to repress by a strict corporate discipline the natural appetite of each to snatch advantages for himself to the detriment of all… much that is now mechanical was then personal, intimate and direct, and there was little room for organization on a scale too vast for the standards that are applied to individuals, or the doctrine that silences scruples and closes all accounts with the final plea of economic expediency…”
“…the most fundamental difference between medieval and modern economic thought is that while modern economic thought normally refers to expediency, medieval economic thought starts from the position that there is a moral authority to which considerations of economic expediency must be subordinated… the fact that the socialist doctrine should have been expounded as early as the middle of the 14th century is a reminder that economic thought contained elements much more modern than is sometimes suggested…” (Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, pp. 31, 32, 42, 43)
Thorough research by highly qualified historians leads to the inescapable conclusion that capitalism is not, as the marxists insist, the indispensable progressive precondition for the transition to socialism. Actually, capitalism usurped the creative achievements of mankind and reversed the libertarian trend of society, the better to subjugate the people to the greed of the capitalists and the despotism of the State.
Indisputable evidence also demonstrates that capitalism is not inevitable and that there is a libertarian alternative: a flexible society permeated by the principles of individual and collective freedom, solidarity, self-management, federalism and free agreement. The potential for such a society existed in the village communities, brotherhoods, guilds and Free Cities [communes] of the Middle Ages. Kropotkin did not, as is charged, idealize the Free Cities. In analysing medieval society he took into account “the internal conflicts with which the history of these communes is filled… street riots… blood spilled… reprisals, etc…” But Kropotkin did prove that “all the elements, as well as the fact itself, of large human groupings, freely constituted, were already there…” (The State …) Writing thirty years later, Tawney too, found that “the rise of the Free Cities was one of the glories of medieval Europe and the germ of every subsequent advance in civilization…” (Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, p. 55)
Marx’s theories have not been sustained by events. His system could be best designated as “The Dialectic Falsification of History.” There are no “laws of history” and progress from one stage of development to another is not inevitable. Marxism is no longer relevant to the growing number of people who are alarmed by the unprecedented proliferation of the economic and military powers of the modern State and the concomitant regimentation of the individual. Nationalization of property and means of production, even in a “socialist” State, as advocated by Marx and Engels, does not fundamentally alter the basic inequality between those wielding power and those subject to it. Even Marxists no longer believe that the State will “wither away”. Freedom is not merely the reflection of the mode of production but the essence of life. The dogma that science, philosophy, the arts, ethics and free institutions only mirror the economic mode of production is giving way to the conviction that these phenomena have an independent share in the shaping of history. A theory for the renewal of society that attaches little or no importance to these supreme values does not merit the respect of freedom-loving people.
It is reported on all sides that the winter will mean terrible misery for the working classes all over the country. Aged people say that they have never seen such a want of employment at the beginning of the autumn as is seen now. Skilled workers are as badly affected as the unskilled ones. Nothing similar has been seen in this country since the terrible years of 1884 to 1886, when from one-fifth to nearly one-fourth of the Trade Unionists in the shipbuilding trade were unemployed, when nearly the same proportion of unemployment prevailed in all the leading trades; and when groups of unemployed men were walking all the day long in the streets of London and all the great cities singing their heart-rending, misery songs.
It is no use hiding our heads in the sand, as do the ostriches. The bare truth must be told. It is a national calamity, and as a national calamity it must be faced by extraordinary measures. Read the rest of this entry »
At the Congress held in Paris by the General Region, a speaker who was distinguished by his bitterness against anarchists said: ‘Communism and anarchy howl to find themselves together!’
Another speaker who also spoke against anarchists, but with less violence, cried when speaking of economic liberty: ‘How can liberty be violated when there is equality?’
Well, I think that these two speakers were wrong. Read the rest of this entry »
What we mean by “Direct Action”
Direct Action is the symbol of revolutionary unionism in action. This formula is representative of the twofold battle against exploitation and oppression. It proclaims, with inherent clarity, the direction and orientation of the working class’s endeavours in its relentless attack upon capitalism.
Direct Action is a notion of such clarity, of such self-evident transparency, that merely to speak the words defines and explains them. It means that the working class, in constant rebellion against the existing state of affairs, expects nothing from outside people, powers or forces, but rather creates its own conditions of struggle and looks to itself for its means of action. It means that, against the existing society which recognises only the citizen, rises the producer. And that that producer, having grasped that any social grouping models itself upon its system of production, intends to attack directly the capitalist mode of production in order to transform it, by eliminating the employer and thereby achieving sovereignty in the workshop – the essential condition for the enjoyment of real freedom. Read the rest of this entry »
by Angel Gardner
If there is anything that I have learned from working in the restaurant and retail industry for over 14 years, it is that sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace is an issue that has not gone away. Perhaps you have become more tolerant of being sexually objectified. Maybe you are afraid that being uncomfortable with sexual advances or comments means that you are a prude or hopelessly outdated. The reality is that sexual harassment and sexism are all about power. We feel uncomfortable about standing up for ourselves in these situations because to do so questions power relations; not only in the workplace, but in society in general.
Is it sexual harassment or sexism in the workplace?
- A district manager asks you and your 40-year old female co-worker, “Will you girls make us some coffee for our meeting?”
- Your manager makes all the women in the workplace wear tight baby doll t-shirts which are intentionally a size too small that say, “For a Good Time Call …” while the men are told to wear plain black polo shirts that do not have to be form-fitting.
- During your training at a retail clothing store, you are told to flirt with potential customers to make sales. You feel uncomfortable with this and despite your efforts to be proactive about sales in a professional way, you are pulled aside later for not being “friendly enough.”
- A conventionally-attractive regular customer often sits at the bar and stares at you throughout your shift and has made several comments about your appearance that make you uncomfortable. When you tell him to stop, he says that you should be flattered. Your boss fails to act and your other co-workers, who appreciate his attention, tell you that you are strange for not liking it.
The answer: If any of these policies, attitudes or behavior makes you feel uncomfortable, then you should not have to deal with it. Everyone’s comfort level is different. Some of your co-workers might not mind being called “girl” or “sweetie,” while others may take offense to being referred to as a “woman” or by any gender-specific pronoun. Different expectations for employee uniforms that force co-workers into stereotyped gender roles are sexist practices that create a potentially hostile workplace. Flirting with customers should never be a given, but a choice. Some people may find that they like the attention and get better tips by flaunting their appearance and flirting, but not everyone should have to interact in a similar fashion. Berating others for what makes them uncomfortable promotes an environment of harassment.
So you feel like a policy or an individual at work is creating a hostile work environment? Going the legal route is not always the best or solitary option. Collectively standing up together with your co-workers against sexist practices, policies or individuals can often be the safest and most powerful way to fight. Though it is technically illegal, it is easier for companies to retaliate against an individual than a group of workers. In addition, sexual harassment cases often result in companies dragging women through the mud and can prove to be very traumatic for the victim. Legal processes can take a long time to resolve, but taking direct action in your workplace is immediate. When workers come together to fight sexual harassment and sexism, we are empowered by taking back the workplace and at the same time, form closer bonds with our co-workers by building mutual trust and respect for one another.
How do I fight sexism and harassment in my workplace?
- Form a coalition with co-workers who share and/or are sympathetic to your concerns. Sexual harassment affects union and non-union members alike, so do not exclude any possible allies.
- Ban customers and clients who are repeat offenders from the store and make sure that the ban is being enforced by the rest of your co-workers.
- Confront your boss as a group about sexual harassment issues (perhaps even a definition) and make it known that you take it very seriously and so should they.
- Confront workers who refuse to support their fellow workers when they feel harassed, violated, or uncomfortable. Have one-on-one conversations about the impact of their actions (not respecting boundaries) and words (“it’s not a big deal”), and express your feelings in a genuine, but professional manner.
- Any policy, dress code, or expectations that fellow workers find to be sexist should be addressed, regardless of whether or not you’ve reached consensus. If you are required by your job to wear a tight baby doll t-shirt, but men can wear polos, you should also be able to wear polo, if you do not want to wear the t-shirt.
This article originally appeared in the March edition of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World. It does a great job answering many questions relating to sexual harassment.
The specific anarchist organisation uses, both for its internal and external functioning, the logic of what we call “concentric circles” – strongly inspired by the Bakuninist organisational model. The main reason that we adopt this logic of functioning is because, for us, the anarchist organisation needs to preserve different instances of action. These different instances should strengthen its work while at the same time allowing it to bring together prepared militants with a high level of commitment and approximating people sympathetic to the theory or practice of the organisation – who could be more or less prepared and more or less committed. In short, the concentric circles seek to resolve an important paradox: the anarchist organisation needs to be closed enough to have prepared, committed and politically aligned militants, and open enough to draw in new militants.
A large part of the problems that occur in anarchist organisation’s are caused by them not functioning according to the logic of concentric circles and by not implementing these two instances of action. Should a person who says they are an anarchist and is interested in the work of the organisation be in the organisation, despite not knowing the political line in depth? Should a laymen interested in anarchist ideas be in the organisation? How do you relate to “libertarians” – in the broadest sense of the term – who do not consider themselves anarchists? Should they be in the organisation? And the older members who have already done important work but now want to be close, but not to engage in the permanent activities of the organisation? And those that can only rarely dedicate time for activism? There are many questions. Other problems occur because there are doubts about the implementation of social work. Must the organisation present itself as an anarchist organisation in the social movements? In its social work can it form alliances with other individuals, groups and organisations that are not anarchist? In such a case, what are the common points to advocate? How do you carry out social work in a field with people from different ideologies and maintain an anarchist identity? How do you ensure that anarchism does not lose its identity when in contact with social movements? On this point there are also many questions.
The concentric circles are intended to provide a clear place for each of the militants and sympathisers of the organization. In addition, they seek to facilitate and strengthen the social work of the anarchist organisation, and finally, establish a channel for the capture of new militants.
In practice, the logic of concentric circles is established as follows. Inside the specific anarchist organisation there are only anarchists that, to a greater or lesser extent, are able to elaborate, reproduce and apply the political line of the organisation internally, in the fronts and in public activity. Also, to a greater or lesser extent, militants should be able to assist in the elaboration of the strategic-tactical line of the organisation, as well as having full capacity to reproduce and apply it. Militants assume internal functions in the organisation – be they executive, deliberative or extraordinary – as well as external functions with regards to social work. The functions assumed by the militants within the organisation adhere to self-management and federalism, or to horizontal decisions where all the militants have the same power of voice and of vote and where, in specific cases, there is delegation with imperative mandates. The functions to be performed by the delegates must be very well defined so that they “cannot act on behalf of the association unless the members thereof have explicitly authorised them [to do so]; they should execute only what the members have decided and not dictate the way forward to the association” [Luigi Fabbri. “The Anarchist Organisation”. In: Italian Anarchist Communism. p. 124]. Moreover, the functions should be rotated in order to empower everyone and avoid crystallised positions or functions.
The specific anarchist organisation could have only one circle of militants, all of them being in the same instance, or it could have more than one circle – the criteria being collectively defined. For example, this may be the time that a person has been in the organisation or their ability to elaborate the political or tactical-strategic lines. Thus, the newer militants or those with a lesser ability to elaborate the lines may be in a more external (distant) circle, with the more experienced militants with a greater ability for elaborating the lines in another more internal (closer) one. There is not a hierarchy between the circles, but the idea is that the more “inside”, or the closer the militant, the better are they able to formulate, understand, reproduce and apply the lines of the organisation. The more “inside” the militant, the greater is their level of commitment and activity. The more a militant offers the organisation, the more is demanded of them by it. It is the militants who decide on their level of commitment and they do or do not participate in the instances of deliberation based on this choice. Thus, the militants decide how much they want to commit and the more they commit, the more they will decide. The less they commit, the less they will decide.
This does not mean that the position of the more committed is of more value than that of the less committed. It means that they participate in different decision-making bodies. For example, those more committed participate with voice and vote in the Congresses, which define the political and strategic lines of the organisation; the less committed do not participate in the Congresses, or only participate as observers, and participate in the monthly assemblies where the tactics and practical applications of the lines are defined.
Thus, inside the specific anarchist organisation you may have one or more circles, which should always be defined by the level of commitment of the militants. In the case of more than one level this must be clear to everyone, and the criteria to change a level available to all militants. It is, therefore, the militant who chooses where they want to be.
The next circle, more external and distant from the core of the anarchist organisation is no longer part of the organisation, but has a fundamental importance: the level of supporters. This body, or instance, seeks to group together all people who have ideological affinities with the anarchist organisation. Supporters are responsible for assisting the organisation in its practical work, such as the publishing of pamphlets, periodicals or books; the dissemination of propaganda material; helping in the work of producing theory or of contextual analysis; in the organisation of practical activities for social work: community activities, help in training work, logistical activities, help in organising work, etc. This instance of support is where people who have affinities with the anarchist organisation and its work have contact with other militants, are able to deepen their knowledge of the political line of the organisation, better get to know its activities and deepen their vision of anarchism, etc.
Therefore, the category of support has an important role to help the anarchist organisation put into practice its activities, seeking to bring those interested closer to it. This approximation has as a future objective that some of these supporters will become militants of the organisation. The specific anarchist organisation draws in the greatest possible number of supporters and, through practical work, identifies those interested in joining the organisation and who have an appropriate profile for membership. The proposal for entry into the organisation may be made by the militants of the organisation to the supporter and vice-versa. Although each militant chooses their level of commitment to the organisation and where they want to be, the objective of the anarchist organisation is always to have the greatest number of militants in the more internal circles, with a greater level of commitment.
Let us give a practical example: let’s suppose that an organisation has deliberated to work internally with two levels of commitment – or two circles. When the militants are new they enter at the level of “militant” and, when they have been there six months and are prepared and committed militants, move on to the level of “full militant”. Let us suppose that this organisation has resolved to have a level of supporters. The objective of the organisation will be to draw in the greatest possible number of supporters, based on the affinity of each one with the organisation, transferring them to the level of militant and, after six months – once prepared – to the level of full militant. We illustrate how this can work in practice.
SU being the level of supporters, M of militants and FM of full militants, the objective is the flow indicated by the red arrow – to go from SU to M and from M to FM. Those who are interested can follow this flow, and those who are not can stay where they feel better. For example, if a person wants to give sporadic support, and no more than that, they may want to always stay at SU. The issue here is that all a person’s will to work should be utilised by the organisation. This is not because a person has little time, or because they prefer to help at a time when it must be rejected, but because inside a specific anarchist organisation there must be room for all those who wish to contribute. “The criteria for selection that never fails are the accomplishments. The aptitude and efficiency of the militants are, fundamentally, measures for the enthusiasm and the application with which they perform their tasks”. [Juan Mechoso. Acción Directa Anarquista. p.199.]
The logic of concentric circles requires that each militant and the organisation itself have very well defined rights and duties for each level of commitment. This is because it is not just for someone to make decisions about something with which they will not comply. A supporter who frequents activities once a month and makes sporadic contributions, for example, cannot decide on rules or activities that must be met or carried out daily, as they would be deciding something much more for the other militants than for themselves.
It is a very common practice in libertarian groups that people who make sporadic contributions decide on issues which end up being committed to or carried out by the more permanent members. It is very easy for a militant who appears from time to time to want to set the political line of the organisation, for example, since it is not they who will have to follow this line most of the time.
These are disproportionate forms of decision-making in which one ends up deciding something which others enact. In the model of concentric circles we seek a system of rights and duties in which everyone makes decisions about that which they could and should be committed to afterwards. In this way it is normal for supporters to decide only on that in which they will be involved. In the same way it is normal for militants of the organisation to decide on that which they will carry out. Thus we make decisions and their commitments proportionally and this implies that the organisation has clear criteria for entry, well defining who does and does not take part in it, and at what level of commitment the militants are.
An important criterion for entry is that all of the militants who enter the organisation must agree with its political line. For this the anarchist organisation must have theoretical material that expresses this line – in less depth for those who are not yet members of the organisation and in more depth for those who are. When someone is interested in the work of the anarchist organisation, showing interest in approximation, you should make this person a supporter and give them the necessary guidance. As a supporter, knowing the political line in a little more depth and having an affinity for the practical work of the organisation, the person may show interest in joining the organisation or the organisation can express its interest in the supporter becoming a militant. In both cases the supporter should receive permanent guidance from the anarchist organisation, giving to them theoretical material that will deepen their political line. One or more militants who know this line well will discuss doubts, debate and make clarifications with them. Having secured the agreement of the supporter with the political line of the organisation, and with agreement from both parties, the militant is integrated into the organisation. It is important that in the initial period every new militant has the guidance of another older one, who will orient and prepare them for work. In any event, the anarchist organisation always has to concern itself with the training and guidance of the supporters and militants so that this may allow them to change their level of commitment, if they so desire.
This same logic of concentric circles works in social work. Through it, the anarchist organisation is articulated to perform social work in the most appropriate and effective way. As we have seen, the anarchist organisation is divided internally into fronts for the performance of practical work. For this there are organisations that prefer to establish direct relations with the social movements, and there are others that prefer to present themselves through an intermediary social organisation, which we could call a grouping of tendency.
Participation in the grouping of tendency implies acceptance of a set of definitions that can be shared by comrades of diverse ideological origins, but which share certain indispensable exclusions (to the reformists, for example) if seeking a minimum level of real operational coherence. (…) The groupings of tendency, co-ordinated with each other and rooted in the most combative of the people (…) are a higher level than the latter [the level of the masses]. [Ibid. pg. 190, 192.]
The grouping of tendency puts itself between the social movements and the specific anarchist organisation, bringing together militants of distinct ideologies that have affinity in relation to certain practical questions.
As we have emphasised, there are anarchist organisations that prefer to present themselves directly in the social movements, without the necessity of the groupings of tendency, and others preferring to present themselves by means of these. In both cases there are positive and negative points and each organisation must determine the best way to act. As the views that we advocate in the social movements are much more practical than theoretical, it may be interesting to work with a grouping of tendency, incorporating people who agree with some or all of the positions that we advocate in the social movements (strength, classism, autonomy, combativeness, direct action, direct democracy and revolutionary perspective) and that will help us to augment the social force in defence of these positions.
In the same way as in the diagram above, the idea is that the specific anarchist organisation seeks insertion in this intermediate level (grouping of tendency) and through it presents itself, conducting its work in social movements in search of social insertion. Again we illustrate how this works in practice.
SAO being the specific anarchist organisation, GT the grouping of tendency and SM the social movement, there are two flows.
The first – that of the influence of the SAO – seeks to go to the GT and from there to the SM. Let us look at a few practical examples. The anarchist organisation that desires to act in a union may form a grouping of tendency with other activists from the union movement who defend some specific banners (revolutionary perspective, direct action, etc.) and by means of this tendency may influence the union movement, or the union in which it acts. Or the anarchist organisation may choose to work with the landless movement and, for this, brings people who defend similar positions (autonomy, direct democracy, etc.) in the social movement together in a grouping of tendency. By means of this grouping of tendency the specific anarchist organisation acts within the landless movement and, in this way, seeks to influence it.
This form of organisation aims to solve a very common problem that we find in activism. For example, when we know very dedicated activists; revolutionaries that advocate self-management, autonomy, grassroots democracy, direct democracy, etc. and with whom we do not act because they are not anarchists. These activists could work with the anarchists in the groupings of tendency and defend their positions in the social movements together.
The second arrow in the diagram shows the objective of the flow of militants. That is, in this scheme of work, the goal is to bring people in the social movements that have practical affinity with the anarchists into the groupings of tendency and, from there, bring those that have ideological affinity closer to the anarchist organisation. In the same way as in the previous diagram, if a militant has great practical affinity with the anarchists, but is not an anarchist, they must be a member of the grouping of tendency and will be fundamental to the achievement of social work. If they have ideological affinities, they may be closer to or even join the organisation.
The objective of the anarchist organisation is not to turn all activists into anarchists, but to learn to work with each of these activists in the most appropriate way. While having mutual interests the militants may change their positions in the circles (from the social movement to the grouping of tendency or from the grouping of tendency to the anarchist organisation). Without these mutual interests, however, each one acts where they think it more pertinent.
Charter of Principles of the Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro
(Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro – FARJ)
“We desire the freedom and well-being of all men, all without exception. We want that every human being can develop and live in the happiest way possible. And we believe that this freedom and this well-being cannot be given by a man or by a party, but that everyone should find in themselves their conditions, and conquer them.
We consider that only the most complete application of the principle of solidarity can destroy war, oppression and exploitation, and solidarity can only be born of free agreement, of the spontaneous and desired harmonising of all concerned.”
- Errico Malatesta
Anarchism is a political ideology of social transformation, which is expressed through an anti-authoritarian mode of reflection, interpretation and intervention on reality. It constitutes a revolutionary theory that struggles against all forms of exploitation and oppression. It has its historical origins in the working class struggles over almost two centuries. Committed to these principles, which are a continuation of the organisationalist current of anarchism, the Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ) proposes to work – now and without intermediations – in order to interfere in the different realities that make up the universe of social movements.
To achieve its intended goals – to move immediately towards a world where all are free and equal – the FARJ will respect the firm ethical precepts that sustain it, promoting the development of a political culture that is based on respect for the plurality of perspectives and affinity of objectives.
The FARJ is an organisation of active minority, made up of militants conscious of their historical responsibility (“a subject who has a libertarian ethic knows why they’re struggling and is able to explain the ideological motives of struggle, [and] has commitment and self-discipline to carry out the tasks undertaken ” – Ideal Peres). It proposes a radical transformation of society having as its starting point everyday popular life. It seeks always to support the development and strengthening of self-organisation, in the construction of independent and combative activities, in order that we all achieve a truly just society, free and equal, within the conception that each of its components is only an interim fighter inserted in the continued pursuit of human beings but for the realisation of the perfect dream, at least for creating the best possible utopias. To this end, the FARJ always seeks to support the training and development of other self-managed organisations, participating combatively in the day-to-day struggles of popular movements in action, first, in Brazil, in Latin America and especially in Rio de Janeiro.
To achieve these objectives, the FARJ has well-defined principles and content. The assumption of coherence with these principles is what determines ideological authenticity pertaining to anarchism.
In summary, these principles are:
Freedom is the founding principle of anarchism. The struggle for freedom precedes anarchy. The desire to be free – from the contingencies of nature, principally, and, in the second instance, from human predators themselves, which by means of instruments of domination suffocate true egalitarian and fraternal dynamics – is the axis around which, in a permanent process historical, social, political and economic transformations turn. Individual freedom, however, can only find its greatest expression in collective freedom. States, capitalism and their results, class society, false educational principles, authoritarian family practices and ideologies of mass alienation, as well as mistaken theories of social emancipation, which lead to the formation of new tyrannies, currently constitute the greatest obstacles to the full libertarian development of humanity.
2. Ethics and Values
The libertarian ethic is synonymous with anarchism, and is its backbone. It is a non-negotiable militant commitment, and presupposes consistency between life and ideology, that is, living anarchism. We understand that the ends are in the means, just as the tree is in the seed, and that we will only arrive at libertarian ends with political responsibility and through libertarian means. Ethics are exercised in mutual respect, and are responsible for defining the priority of values.
Federalism is a non-hierarchical method of political organisation of society. It presupposes the decentralisation of the process of decision-making and enables the integration of self-managed nuclei at all levels.
It is based on mutual aid and on free association, with equal rights and duties for all. We consider it essential that the federal units exercise their right to deliberate, through delegations taken in the grassroots assemblies, guided by agreed principles, and having the organisational and militant commitment to abide by the resolutions of the council of delegates, thus respecting the decisions of the federative body.
Internationalism is exercised, in practice, through federalism. We understand that internationalism is enriched by respect for diversity of cultural practices and is practiced by the solidarity of struggles and through social self-management.
An anti-capitalist and anti-statist method of socio-economic management at all levels. It is characterised as the management of the means of production and social organisation for the benefit of the collectivity; it is exercised from the grassroots entities, with equal rights and participation of all responsible.
Self-management, as a process of constructing the new, while still living with the current outdated system, potentiates the transformations that point to an egalitarian society.
6. Direct Action
A method of action based on individual and collective protagonism. It is marked by horizontality and by a minimum of intermediation that, when necessary, does not result in the emergence of decision-making centres separated from those concerned.
Direct action is expressed in multiple variants and at all levels and expression, connecting the workers and oppressed to the centre of political action.
“Only direct action shakes thrones, threatens tyrannies, convolves worlds; it alone, principally, educates and strengthens the dispossessed people in their millennial struggle. Direct action is the revolution.” (José Oiticica)
7. Class struggle
We affirm our identity as workers. We fight for a classless society in which everyone can work and have the right to a dignified life. To achieve this objective, we consciously face a daily class struggle against the exploitative elites and the state. We believe that the end of class society will only be achieved with the emancipation of the oppressed in the process of the social revolution.
8. Political Practice and Social Insertion
We understand that, as workers, our intervention must be guided by our own social reality, based on the struggles that we face in our daily lives. However, considering that we anarchists believe that political action involves a greater commitment to social causes, we must always seek to relate our own militant practice to the diverse manifestations of popular struggles. Therefore, we believe that any expressions in this direction in the social, cultural, peasant, trade union, student, community, ecological etc. camps – as long as inserted in the context of the struggles for freedom – contemplate our political practice of social insertion.
9. Mutual Aid
We propose to achieve active solidarity in struggle, fraternising with all comrades truly working for a more just and egalitarian world. Thus, we consider that mutual aid is a logical and direct consequence of the set of principles of anarchism, since we can only implement them through effective solidarity between the exploited and oppressed.
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Our conception is that anarchism, as social thought, does not allow the separating of theory and practice, ends from means and action from transformation; it does not allow for rigid frameworks wishing to establish, for the attitudes of militants, an abstract model that determines their principles and strategies. Anarchism, by being anti-dogmatic and establishing freedom as its primary concern, seeks in the evident contradictions of the capitalist system its field of action. Therefore, it is within the class struggle that the anarchists must be, while having a society of oppressed and oppressors, of bosses and workers, owners and dispossessed. However, as anarchists understand that the class struggle is a means and not an ends, they must be on the alert for certain interpretations of authoritarian meaning that conceive of history as the mere result of the struggle between classes. If there really is a factor that transforms history for libertarians, it can only be the result of the struggle continually engendered by revolutionaries against oppression and in search of solidarity. For anarchists, man isn’t, in the new society, a simple result of historical materialism. Men are not forged by the hammer blows levelled by predetermined dialectics nor by some scheme that transcends them to concrete action.
Therefore, direct action is not only a means or methodology of combat, but the only way to materialise, in attitudes, the desire for individual and collective transformation. In this way the anarchists, who never sought a scientistic systematisation of their social thought, affirm that only through concrete actions can the radical process of transformation result.
Without masters or dogmas, libertarian militants proceed advocating social insertion in the most pressing issues of their lives. Such a relationship puts in the hands of the people and other organised groups the task of changing everything to please everyone. We think that anarchic elements were present in the classless societies of yesterday, and continue, in those of today, not because they represent the result of economic contradictions, but to express, in the fullest form, the desire for freedom common to all individuals and communities throughout time. For this anarchism served, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as an important inspiration for the struggle against the bourgeoisie in the same way as it should determine the ethical standards of the future anarchic society.
“We will support the officials just so long as they rightly represent the workers, but we will act independently immediately they misrepresent them. Being composed of delegates from every shop and untrammelled by obsolete law or rule, we claim to represent the true feeling of the workers. We can act immediately according to the merits of the case and the desire of the rank and file”.*
One of the most noticeable features in recent trade union history is the conflict between the rank and file of the trade unions and their officials, and it is a feature which, if not remedied, will lead us all into muddle and ultimately disaster. We have not time to spend in abuse, our whole attention must be given to an attempt to understand why our organisations produce men who think in the terms they do, and why the rank and file in the workshops think differently.
A perusal of the history of the labour movement, both industrial and political, will reveal to the critical eye certain tendencies and certain features which, when acted upon by external conditions, will produce the type of persons familiar to us as trade union officials and labour leaders.
Everyone is aware that usually a man gets into office on the strength of revolutionary speeches, which strangely contrast with those of a later date after a period in office. This contrast is usually explained away by a dissertation on the difference between propaganda and administration. That there is a difference between these two functions we readily admit, but that the difference sufficiently explains the change we deny. The social atmosphere in which we move, the common events of everyday life, the people with whom we converse, the struggle to make ends meet, the conditions of labour, all these determine our outlook on life.
Do I feel that the man on the next machine is competing for my job? Do I feel that the vast army who have entered into industry will soon be scrambling with me at the works gates for a job in order to obtain the means of a livelihood? My attitude towards the dilution of labour will obviously be different to the man who is not likely to be subject to such an experience. That is why the Engineers have clashed with the Government officials. They are not likely to be subject to the schemes they have introduced, hence they can talk glibly about safeguards.
Now compare the outlook of the man in the workshop and the man as a full time official. As a man in the workshop he feels every change; the workshop atmosphere is his atmosphere; the conditions under which he labours are primary; his trade union constitution is secondary, and sometimes even more remote. But let the same man get into office. He is removed out of the workshop; he meets a fresh class of people, and breathes a different atmosphere. Those things which were once primary are now secondary. He becomes buried in the constitution, and of necessity looks from a new point of view on those things which he has ceased to feel acutely. Not that he has ceased to feel interested, not that he has become dishonest, not that he has not the interests of labour at heart, but because human nature is what it is, he feels the influence of new factors, and the result is a change of outlook.
Thus we obtain a contrast between those who reflect the working class conditions and those who are remote from them. Consider, now, the effect of this constitutional development. The constitutions invest elected officials with certain powers of decision which involve the members of the organisations in obedience to their rulings. It is true to say that certain questions have been referred to the ballot box ere decisions have been arrived at; but it is unquestionably true, also, that important matters have not been so referred, and increasingly insistent has been the progress towards government by officials. They have the power to rule whether a strike is constitutional or unconstitutional, and accordingly to pay or withhold strike pay. Local business must be referred for executive approval, and, where rules are silent, power to decide according to their judgment is theirs. The latter is probably the most important of all. It allows small groups who are, as we have already shown, remote from actual workshop experience to govern the mass and involve the mass into working under conditions which they have had no opportunity of considering prior to their inception. The need of the hour is a drastic revision of this constitutional procedure which demands that the function of the rank and file shall be simply that of obedience.
This is reflected in all our activities. We expect officials to lead, to shoulder responsibility, to think for us. Hence we get labour leaders, official and unofficial, the one in office, the other out of office, speaking and acting as if the workers were pliable goods, to be moulded and formed according to their desires and judgment. However sincere they may be, and we do not doubt the sincerity of the majority, these methods will not do.
Real democratic practice demands that every member of an organisation shall participate actively in the conduct of the business of the society. We need, therefore, to reverse the present situation, and instead of leaders and officials being in the forefront of our thoughts, the questions of the day which have to be answered should occupy that position. It matters little to us whether leaders be official or unofficial so long as they sway the mass, little thinking is done by the mass.
If one man can sway the crowd in one direction, another man can move them in the opposite direction. We desire the mass of men and women to think for themselves, and until they do this no real progress is made, democracy becomes a farce, and the future of the race becomes a story of race deterioration.
Thought is revolutionary: it breaks down barriers, transforms institutions, and leads onward to a larger life. To be afraid of thought is to be afraid of life, and to become an instrument of darkness and oppression.
The functions of an elected committee, therefore, should he such that instead of arriving at decisions FOR the rank and file they would provide the means whereby full information relative to any question of policy should receive the attention and consideration OF the rank and file, the results to be expressed by ballot. The more responsibility rests upon every member of an organisation the greater is the tendency for thought to be more general, and the more truly will elected officials be able to reflect the thoughts and feelings of the members of the various organisations.
Now we have shown some of the principal defects in the constitutional procedure, we will show how these defects have been and are encouraged by defects in the structure.
The ballot box is no new thing, every trade unionist understands the use of it, yet we find that when there is an election of officers, for example, or a ballot on some particular question, rarely more than forty percent vote; that means there are sixty percent who do not trouble. Being vexed with the sixty percent will not help us. An organisation which only stimulates forty percent to activity must be somewhat defective, and it is our duty to find those defects and remedy them.
A ballot is usually taken in the branches, and the meetings are always summoned meetings, so we will consider now the branch as a unit of the organisation. It is usually composed of members who live in certain areas, irrespective of where they work, and irrespective of the turn on which they work.
These are important factors, and account for a great deal of neglect. Men working together every day become familiar to each other and easily associate, because their interests are common. This makes common expression possible. They may live, however, in various districts, and belong to various branches. Fresh associations have therefore to be formed, which at the best are but temporary, because only revived once a fortnight at the most, and there is thus no direct relationship between the branch group and the workshop group. The particular grievances of any workshop are thus fresh to a majority of the members of a branch. The persons concerned are unfamiliar persons, the jobs unfamiliar jobs, and the workshop remote; hence the members do not feel a personal interest in the branch meetings as they would if that business was directly connected with their every day experience. The consequence is bad attendance at branch meetings and little interest. We are driven, then, to the conclusion that there must be direct connection between the workshop and the branch in order to obtain the maximum concentration on business. The workers in one workshop should therefore be members of one branch.
Immediately we contemplate this phase of our difficulties we are brought against a further condition of affairs which shows a dissipation of energy that can only be described as appalling. We organise for power and yet we find the workers in the workshops divided not only amongst a score of branches but a score of unions, and in a single district scores of unions, and in the whole of the country eleven hundred unions.
Modern methods of production are social in character. We mean by this statement that workers of all kinds associate together, and are necessary to each other to produce goods. The interests of one, therefore, are the interests of another. Mechanics cannot get along without labourers or without crane drivers; none of these can dispense with the blacksmith, the grinder, the forgemen, etc., yet in spite of this inter-dependence, which extends throughout all industry, the organisations of the workers are almost anti-social in character.
They keep the workers divided by organising them on the basis of their differences instead of their common interests. Born at a period when large scale machine production had not arrived, when skill was at a greater premium than it is today, many have maintained the prejudices which organisations naturally cultivate, while during the same period of growth the changes in methods of production were changing their position in relation to other workers, unperceived by them. With the advent of the general labour unions catering for men and women workers, the differences became organised differences, and the adjustment of labour organisations to the changes increasingly complex. The skilled men resent the encroachments of the unskilled, the unskilled often resent what appears to them the domineering tactics of the skilled, and both resent the encroachments of the women workers. An examination of their respective positions will reveal the futility of maintaining these sectional prejudices.
Consider the position of the skilled workers. They have years of tradition behind them, also five years apprenticeship to their particular trade. The serving of an apprenticeship is in itself sufficient to form a strong prejudice for their position in industry. But whilst the skilled unions have maintained the serving of an apprenticeship as a primary condition of membership, industrial methods have been changing until the all-round mechanic, for example, is the exception and not the rule. Specialisation has progressed by leaps and bounds. Automatic machine production has vastly increased. Apprenticeship in thousands of cases is a farce, for even they are kept on repetition work and have become a species of cheap labour. Increasingly are they set to mate men on piece work jobs, and although producing the same amount of work receive only 50 percent of the wages received by the men. It will be thus clearly perceived that every simplification in the methods of production, every improvement to automatic machine production, every application of machinery in place of hand production, means that the way becomes easier for others to enter the trades. So we can safely say that as historical development takes away the monopoly position of skilled workers it paves the way for the advancement of the unskilled.
Working in the same workshops as the skilled men, having to assist them in their work, seeing how the work is becoming simplified, knowing no reason satisfactory to himself why, having had to start life as a labourer, he should decline advancement and remain a labourer, takes time by the forelock, and ere long can compete with the rest on specialised work. So also enter the women workers, and thus ensues a struggle between craft, trade, and sex prejudices.
There are in industry seven millions of women workers, more than a million of whom have entered the engineering industry since the beginning of the war. How far they have been successful is no doubt a surprise to the majority of people. In addition to shell production, which has nearly passed into the hands of women, at least so far as the smaller kinds of them are concerned, we read in the Times Engineering Supplement of June 29th, 1917, an account of women’s work, from which the following is taken:
“In particular the Bristol exhibition was remarkable for the many hundreds of specimens of work wholly or mainly done by women. Apart from the still larger range covered by the photographs, fourteen separate groups of samples were shown, dealing respectively with aircraft engines, motor car engines, magnetos and other accessories of internal combustion engines, locomotive and stationary engines, guns and gun components, small arms, gauges, cutters and allied work, drawing dies and punches, welded and other aircraft fittings, aircraft framing and structural parts, projectiles, miscellaneous engineering, and optical and glass work. The list is long, but its very length summarises no more than fairly the variety of applications that are being made of women’s services in one work or another. A similar variety was seen in the composition of most of the individual groups. Details, for instance, were exhibited of several different aircraft engines, of motor car and motor lorry engines of a variety of makes, of “tank” (land ship) and Diesel engines; of the breech mechanism and other parts of a variety of guns, from the 3-pdr. Hotchkiss to the 8-in. howitzer, and, among small arms, of the Lewis and Vickers machine guns and the Lee-Enfield rifle. Over seventy punches and dies were shown for cartridge-drawing alone, and over a hundred varieties of shell-boring and milling cutters, twist-drills, and allied tools, and nearly as many separate parts of aeroplanes.”
That such production on the part of women is general it would be untrue to say, but it at least shows the tremendous possibilities before the women workers, how far the simplifying process has gone, and how the monopoly position of the skilled worker in all but heavy work has nearly gone. In many workshops, however, it can safely be said that women are not a success. As a matter of fact in some places there has been no attempt to make them a success. They are consequently tolerated with amused contempt as passengers for the war.
This position makes a grievous state of affairs for any post war schemes. It makes possible sham restoration schemes to which we all stand to lose by the magnitude of the unemployed market. Thousands of women may be turned into the streets, or become encumbrances on the men who may be at work or who also may be unemployed. Domestic service cannot absorb all women, as some suggest, nor is it possible, as others remark, for them to go back to what they were doing before the war. To put back the clock of history is impossible, and other solutions will have to be found.
It is true that woman labour is usually cheap labour; it is true that women generally are more servile than men (and they are bad enough); it is also true that they are most difficult to organise because of these defects, thinking less about such matters than men. For these reasons they are more the victims of the employing class. The blame is not altogether theirs. We men and women of today have now to pay the price of man’s economic dominance over women which has existed for centuries. Content to treat women as subjects instead of equals, men are now faced with problems not to their liking.
Yet everyone of the wage earning class, whether man or woman, is in the same fix. Each has to work for wages or starve. Each fears unemployment. The skilled men detest dilution because they fear the lowering of their standard of life by keener competition. The semi-skilled, and the unskilled, and the women each desire to improve their lot. All are in the hands of those who own the means of providing them with work and wages. Skilled men are justified in their desires, and so are the others. The only way the mutual interests of the wage earners can be secured, therefore, is by united effort on the part of all independent workers, whether men or women. Many have been the attempts in the past to bring about this result. Federal schemes have been tried, and amalgamation schemes advocated. Characteristic of them all, however, is the fact that always have they sought for a fusion of officialdom as a means to the fusion of the rank and file.
We propose to reverse this procedure. Already we have shown how we are driven back to the workshops. With the workshops, then, as the new units of organisation, we will now show how, starting with these, we can erect the structure of the Great Industrial Union, invigorate the labour movement with the real democratic spirit, and in the process lose none of the real values won in the historic struggle of the trade union movement.
The Workshop Committee
The procedure to adopt is to form in every workshop a workshop Committee, composed of shop stewards, elected by the workers in the workshops. Skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers should have their shop stewards, and due regard be given also to the particular union to which each worker belongs.
For example:- Suppose a workshop is composed of members of the General Labourers’ Union, Workers’ Union, A.S.E., Steam Engine Makers, Women Workers, etc., each of these unions should have their shop stewards, and the whole co-operate together, and form the workshop committee.
Immediately this will stimulate the campaign for the elimination of the non-unionist. We know of one shop where, as soon as the workshop committee was formed, every union benefited in membership, and one society enrolled sixty members.
Where possible, it is advisable for shop stewards to be officially recognised and to be supplied with rules which lend support and encourage the close co-operation which a workshop committee requires.
We suggest the following as a shop steward’s instruction card, for any of the societies:-
- Members’ pence cards should be inspected every six weeks.
- New arrivals into workshops shall be approached by the shop steward nearest to such and questioned as to membership of a trade union.
- Steward shall demand the production of pence card of alleged member.
- Steward shall take note of shop conditions, wages, etc., in the area in which he is acting as shop steward, and report any violations of district conditions as approved by the trade unions which are not immediately remedied to the trade union officials.
- Any dispute arising between employer and employee, which results in a challenge of district conditions as approved, shall be reported to the shop steward.
- Steward shall then consult with other shop stewards as to the course of procedure to be adopted, the results of such consultation to be submitted to the members in the shop for approval.
- Matters which affect more than one department shall be dealt with in a similar manner by the stewards in the affected areas.
- The workers in the workshop should attempt to remedy their grievances in the workshop before calling in official aid.
- Where members of other unions are affected, their co-operation should be sought.
We would also advise that there be one shop steward to not more than fifteen workers. The more active workers there are the better and easier is the organising work carried on. Also, elect a convener in each shop for each class of worker. Their duties will be to call shop stewards’ meetings in the shop, and be delegates to the district meetings. Other duties we shall mention later.
The initiative should be taken by the workers in the various districts. It is immaterial whether the first move is made through the local trade union committees, or in the workshops and then through the committee, so long as the stewards are elected in the workshops and not in the branches. The means are then assured of an alliance between official and unofficial activities by an official recognition of rank and file control.
Having now described how the workshop committees can be formed, and how the committees can be at the same time part of the official trade union movement, we must now proceed to show how the movement can grow, and how it must grow to meet the demands of the day.
Local Industrial Committees
Local Industrial Committees should be formed in each district. It will be readily perceived that no one firm will be completely organised before the workers in other firms begin to move in the same direction. Therefore in the early stages of development, full shop stewards’ meetings should be held in every district, and an industrial administrative committee be formed from these meetings. The size of the committee will vary according to the size of the district, so we will leave that to the discretion of those who form the committee. The functions of these committees are mainly those of educating and co-ordinating the efforts of the rank and file through the shop stewards. For example, one committee provides information relative to agreed upon district conditions, Munitions Act, Military Service agreement, Labour Advisory Board, procedure in the workshops, etc. Then this committee should be the means of extending and developing the organisations, so that the workers can obtain the maximum of power in their hands.
The committee should not usurp the functions of the local trade union committees, but attend to the larger questions, embracing all the trade unions in the industry.
It will have been observed that we have addressed ourselves, so far as practical procedure is concerned, to the engineering workers. This we have done because the nucleus of the larger organisation has already come into being through that industry, and presents us with a clear line of development. So far, then, we have shown how to form a workshop committee, and an engineering workers’ committee in a locality. These committees should not have any governing power, but should exist to render service to the rank and file, by providing means for them to arrive at decisions and to unite their forces.
Works or Plant Committees
The next step is to intensify the development of the workshop committees by the formation in every plant of a plant committee. To achieve this, all the stewards of each firm, from every department of that firm, should meet and elect a committee from amongst them to centralise the efforts or link up the shop committees in the firm. The need for this development we will endeavour to make clear. Just as it is necessary to co-operate the workshops for production, so it is necessary to co-ordinate the work of the shop committees. As there are questions which affect a single department, so there are questions which affect the plant as a whole. The function of a plant committee, will be such that every question, every activity, can be known throughout the departments at the earliest possible moment, and the maximum of attention be rapidly developed. The complaints of workers that they do not know what is happening would become less frequent. The trick of ‘playing’ one department against another to cut rates could easily be stopped, and so on.
Without a central committee on each plant, the workshop committee tends to looseness in action, which is not an advantage to the workers’ movement. On the other hand with a plant committee at work, every change in workshop practice could be observed, every new department tackled as to the organisation of the workers in that department, and everywhere would proceed a growth of the knowledge among the workers of how intimately related we are to each other, how dependent we are each to the other for the production of society’s requirements. In other words, there would proceed a cultivation of the consciousness of the social character of the methods of production. Without that consciousness, all hope of a united working class is in vain, and complete solidarity impossible.
Instead of it being a theory of a few, that the workers are associated in production, the organisation of the workers at the centres of production will demonstrate it as a fact. Then will the smelters, the moulders, the labourers, forgemen, blacksmiths, etc., and all other workers, emphasise their social relationship, their inter-dependence in production, and the power they can be when linked together on a common basis. Consider this phase of development more closely, and how essential and valuable it is will become increasingly apparent.
Not only do we find in modern capitalism a tendency for nations to become self-contained, but also industrial enterprises within the nations tend in a similar direction. Enterprising employers with capital organised for the exploitation of certain resources, such as coal, iron and steel productions, etc., find themselves at the beginning of their enterprise dependent upon other groups of capitalists for certain facilities for the production of their particular speciality. The result is that each group, seeking more and more to minimise the cost of production, endeavours to obtain first hand control over all which is essential for that business, whatever it may be.
For example, consider the growth of a modern armament firm. It commences its career by specialising in armour plate, and finds itself dependent on outsiders for coal, transport, machinery, and general goods. It grows, employs navvies, bricklayers, joiners, carpenters, and erectors to build new departments. It employs mechanics to do their own repairs to machinery and transport. As new departments come into being a railway system and carting systems follow. Horses, carts, stables, locomotives, wagons, etc., become part of the stock of the firm. What men used to repair they now produce. With the enlargement of the firm electrical plant and motors, and gas producers are introduced, which again enlarge the scope of the management for production of goods for which hitherto they had been dependent upon outsiders. A hold is achieved on some coal mine, a grip is obtained of the railway system, and so at every step more and more workers of every description come under the control of a single employer or a group of employers.
We are brought together by the natural development of industry, and made increasingly indispensable to each other by the simplifying, sub-dividing processes used in production. We have become social groups, dependent upon a common employer or group of employers. The only way to meet the situation is to organise to fight as we are organised to produce. Hence the plant committee to bring together all workers on the plant, to concentrate labour power, to meet centralised capital’s power.
Local Workers’ Committee
We have seen how the formation of workshop committees has led us to the formation of an engineering workers’ committee and the plant committee in a locality. These in turn lead us to further local and national development. There are no clear demarcation lines between one industry and another, just as there are no clear demarcation lines between skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers. A modern engineering plant, as we have shown, has in it workers of various kinds; besides mechanics, moulders, smiths, forgemen, etc., are joiners, carpenters, bricklayers, masons, transport workers, etc., all of which are dependent upon the engineering plant, and must accordingly be represented on the plant committee.
This drives us clear into other industries than engineering and makes imperative a similar development in these other industries as in the engineering industry. Then, just as from the trade union branches we have the trade council, so from the various industrial committees representatives should be elected to form the local workers’ committee.
It will be similar in form to a trades council, with this essential difference—the trades council is only indirectly related to the workshops, whereas the workers’ committee is directly related. The former has no power; the latter has the driving power of the directly connected workers in the workshops. So the workers’ committee will be the means of focussing the attention of the workers in a locality upon those questions which affect the workers as a whole in that locality.
The possibilities of such an organisation in a district are tremendous. Each committee will be limited by its nature to certain particular activities: the workshop committee to questions which affect the workshop, the plant committee to questions affecting the firm as a whole, the industrial committee to the questions of the industry, the workers’ committee to the questions relating to the workers as a class. Thus we are presented with a means of intensive and extensive development of greater power than as workers we have ever possessed before.
We have already shown in our remarks on the plant committee how industry progresses inside an engineering plant, and implies a similar development in other industries. One has only to consider modern machine development to readily realise that as machinery enters the domain of all industries, as transport becomes more easy and mechanical, all kinds of workers become inter-mingled and inter-dependent. Engineering spreads itself out into all classes of industry—into the mining industry, the building industry, into agriculture, etc., until we find, just as the other industrial workers have mingled with other engineering workers, so engineering workers and others intermingle with other industrial workers in their respective industries. The consequences are such that fewer situations arise, fewer questions come to the front affecting one industry alone or one section alone, and it becomes increasingly imperative that the workers should modify or adjust their organisations to meet the new industrial problems; for no dispute can now arise which does not directly affect more than the workers in one industry, even outside a single plant or firm.
A stoppage of much magnitude affects the miners by modifying the coal consumption, affects the railways by holding up goods for transport, and in some cases the railway workers are called upon, to convey “blackleg” goods and men to other centres than the dispute centres, and vice versa. A stoppage of miners soon stagnates other industries, and likewise a stoppage of railway workers affects miners, engineers, and so on. The necessity for mutual assistance thus becomes immediately apparent when a dispute arises, and an effective co-ordination of all wage workers is urged upon us. The workers’ committee is the means to that end, not only for fighting purposes, but also for the cultivation of that class consciousness, which, we repeat, is so necessary to working class progress. Furthermore, as a means for the dissemination of information in every direction, such a committee will prove invaluable, and reversing the procedure, it will be able to focus the opinions of the rank and file on questions relating to the working class as no other organisation has the facilities to do today.
To encourage and to establish such an organisation, however, demands cash to meet the expenses involved. In order therefore that even in this matter the class basis shall be recognised, we recommend that associate membership cards be issued from the workers’ committee. The card should contain a brief statement of the objects we have in view, and space for the entrance of contribution, which should be nominal in amount. The manner of collecting contributions can be easily carried out, as follows: let the contribution be paid to the shop steward, who will enter the amount on the card provided, the stewards will then pay over to the convenor of the shop, who will in turn, pay over the amount to the treasurer of the workers’ committee at the shop stewards’ meeting, each checking the payments of the other.
National Industrial Committees
The further extensive development in the formation, of a national industrial committee now demands our attention, for it will be readily agreed that the local organisations must be co-ordinated for effective action.
We are of the opinion that the local structure must have its counterpart in the national structure, so we must proceed to show how a national industrial committee can be formed. In the initial stages of the movement it will be apparent that a ballot for the election of the first national committee would be impossible, and as we, as workers, are not investing these committees with executive power there is little to worry about. Therefore a national conference of delegates from the local industrial committees should be convened in the most convenient centre. From this conference should be elected a national administrative committee for that industry, consideration being given to the localities from which the members of the committee are elected. Having thus provided for emergencies by such initial co-ordination the first task of the committee is to proceed to the perfecting of the organisation.
It will be essential for efficiency to group a number of centres together for the purpose of representation on the national administrative committee of the industry. We would suggest twelve geographical divisions, with two delegates from each division, the boundaries of the division depending upon the geographical distribution of the industry. The functions of the committee should be confined to the focussing of questions of a national character relating to the industry. It must be clearly understood that the national industrial committee is not to usurp the functions of the executive councils of the trade unions. Power to decide action is vested in the workshop so far as these committees are concerned.
If the occasion arises when the rank and file are so out of touch with the executive councils of their unions that they take action in spite of them, undoubtedly they would use whatever organisation lay to hand. Apart from such abnormal circumstances the functions of the committee should be confined to the building up of the organisation, to the dissemination of information throughout the workshops of all matters relating to the industry, initiating ways and means of altering the structure and constitutions of the trade unions, and working with the true spirit of democracy until the old organisations are so transformed that the outworn and the obsolete are thrown off, and we merge into the larger, more powerful structure we have outlined.
National Workers’ Committee
But just as we found it necessary to arrive at the class basis in the local workers’ committee, so it is essential that we should have the counterpart to it to the national workers’ committee. Again we find that history justifies the development. As the trade unionists of the past felt that there was a community of interest between all trade unionists in a locality, and formed the trades council, so they eventually found a similar move on national lines necessary and formed the trades union congress. Its counterpart in our movement is the national workers’ committee. To form this we suggest two delegates should be elected from each national industrial committee. The smallness of the committee will not be a disadvantage. Of its nature it will confine itself to questions which affect the workers as a whole. The financial relationship of the industrial committees and the national workers’ committee can be arranged at the conferences when the initial steps are made to the formation of the committees.
Having outlined the manner in which the structure can grow out of the existing conditions, we would emphasise the fact that we are not antagonistic to the trade union movement. We are not out to smash but to grow, to utilise every available means whereby we can achieve a more efficient organisation of the workers, that we all may become conscious by an increasing activity on our part how necessary each worker is to the other for production and for emancipation.
Unity in the workshop must come first; hence we have dealt more in detail with the shop committees than the larger organisations growing out of them. Not for a moment would we lay down a hard and fast policy. The old mingles with the new. Crises will arise which will produce organisations coloured by the nature of the questions at issue. But apart from abnormal situations we have endeavoured to show a clear line of development from the old to the new.
Working in the existing organisations, investing the rank and file with responsibility at every stage and in every crisis; seeking to alter the constitution of every organisation from within to meet the demands of the age; working always from the bottom upwards—we can see the rank and file of the workshops through the workshop committees dealing with the questions of the workshops, the rank and file of the firms tackling the questions of the plant as a whole through the plant committee, the industrial questions through the industrial committees, the working class questions through the working class organisation—the workers’ committee. The more such activity grows the more will the old organisations be modified, until, whether by easy stages or by a general move at a given time, we can fuse our forces into the structure which will have already grown.
So to work with a will from within your organisations, shouldering responsibility, liberating ideas, discarding prejudices, extending your organisations in every direction until we merge into the great industrial union of the working class. Every circumstance of the age demands such a culmination. The march of science, the concentration of the forces of capitalism, the power of the State, the transformation of the military armies into vast military industrial armies, all are factors in the struggles of the future, stupendous and appalling to contemplate. During the greatest war in history—an engineers’ war—the British Government can allow 80,000 to 90,000 engineers to cease work for three weeks. Let the war cease, liberate the vast number of industrial workers from the army, and what becomes of our petty strike? It sinks into insignificance.
“His Majesty’s Government will place the whole civil and military forces of the Crown at the disposal of the railway companies…” So said the Premier of 1911 to the railway men. So will say the Premier of England tomorrow. The one mighty hope, the only hope, lies in the direction indicated, in a virile, thinking, courageous working class organised as a class to fight and win.
* Hinton, ‘The Clyde Workers Committee and the dilution struggle’ in Briggs & Saville, Essays in Labour History, Vol. II, 1971
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