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Build the Revolution: Anarcho-Syndicalism in the 21st Century

By Radical Education Department - It's Going Down, January 10, 2019

The Radical Education Department (RED) weighs in on the ongoing debate around syndicalism and organizing strategies, arguing that modern variations of syndicalism still offer powerful weapons for autonomous anti-capitalist struggles and movements.

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Introduction

Anarchists are debating anarcho-syndicalism once again. If anarcho-syndicalism is a “ghost”—like some critics are claiming—it has proven extremely hard to exorcise. But it is something very different entirely.

The current debate was sparked by “Nothing to Syndicate,” which largely repeats standard criticisms of AS, some of the more recent of which can be seen here and here; see also the summaries here. Then came a critique of “Nothing” (“Aiming at Ghosts”), and then two replies defending the original piece (here and here). The debate has been fairly limited so far. The important first reply to “Nothing,” as well as the defenses that followed, have been wrestling over the details of the original piece. But what’s been missing is a comprehensive response to the original question. What does anarcho-syndicalism offer radicals in the 21st century US?

Some have given this kind of response to critics before, though often in more limited ways (like here). My goal is to go further and deeper. First, I give a systematic historical-materialist analysis of 21st century capitalism in the United States today: its basic drives, structures, and developments. Then I examine the profound limits facing anarchists and their revolutionary allies facing such conditions. (This section tacitly rejects the superficial analysis of the original article.)

And then I offer a vision of what anarcho-syndicalism has to offer. It is far from a ghost. It is a set of inherited, audacious, and sometimes conflicting experiments. Those experiments are still developing. (The ongoing evolution is obvious in more recent syndicalist praxis like green syndicalism and community syndicalism.)

I locate in AS explosive resources for our present—for moving past the fundamental limits of radical organizing today and building revolutionary power to strike at 21st century capital. Defending AS, I explore how its inner resources could be developed to meet the revolutionary needs of the moment.

Anarcho-syndicalism offers badly needed tools for building mass, durable, working-class autonomy inside and outside the workplace for the sake of the revolutionary overthrow of every institution of capitalist control. It is an idea whose time has come again.

A Green New Deal vs. Revolutionary Ecosocialism

By Wayne Price - Anarkismo, January 2, 2019

Ecosocialism: reformist or revolutionary, statist or libertarian?

The idea of a "Green New Deal" has been raised in response to the threat of climate and ecological catastrophe. Two such proposals are analyzed here and counterposed to the program of revolutionary libertarian ecosocialism.

According to the climate scientists, industrial civilization has at most a dozen years until global warming is irreversible. This will cause (and is already causing) extremes of weather, accelerating extermination of species, droughts and floods, loss of useable water, vast storms, rising sea levels which will destroy islands and coastal cities, raging wildfires, loss of crops, and, overall, environmental conditions in which neither humans nor other organisms evolved to exist. The economic, political, and social results will be horrifying.

The scientists write that humans have the technological knowledge to avoid the worst results. But this would take enormous efforts to drastically reduce the output of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses. The recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change writes that this “would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban, and infrastructure (including transport and buildings) and industrial systems…unprecedented in terms of scale.” (quoted in Smith 2018) At the least this means a rapid transition to shutting down fossil-fuel producing industries, leaving most oil, coal, and natural gas in the ground and rationing what is currently available. It means replacing them with conservation and renewable energy sources. It means drastic changes in the carbon-based-fuel using industries, from construction to manufacturing. It means providing alternate jobs and services for all those put out of work by these changes.

To the scientists’ warnings, there have been rumblings of concern from some financial investors, businesspeople (in non-oil-producing industries), and local politicians. But overall, the response of conventional politicians has been business-as-usual. The main proposals for limiting climate change has been to place some sort of taxes on carbon emissions. From liberals to conservatives, this has been lauded as a”pro-market” reform. But, as Richard Smith (2018) has explained, these are inadequate, and even fraudulent, proposals. “If the tax is too light, it fails to suppress fossil fuels enough to help the climate. But…no government will set a price high enough to spur truly deep reductions in carbon emissions because they all understand that this would force companies out of business, throw workers out of work, and possibly precipitate recession or worse.

In the U.S., one of the two major parties outright denies the scientific evidence as a “hoax.” As if declaring, “After us, the deluge,” its policies have been to increase as much as possible the production of greenhouse-gas emissions and other attacks on the environment. The other party accepts in words the reality of global warming but only advocates inadequate and limited steps to deal with it. It too has promoted increased drilling, fracking, and carbon-fuels burning. These Republicans, Democrats, and their corporate sponsors are enemies of humanity and nature, worse than war criminals.

On the Left, there have been serious efforts to take up the scientists’ challenge. Various ecosocialists and other radicals have advocated a massive effort to change the path of industrial society. This is sometimes called a “Green New Deal.” This approach is modeled on the U.S.’s New Deal of F. D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression. Its advocates also usually model their programs on the World War II industrial mobilization which followed the New Deal. (For examples, see Aronoff 2018; Ocasio-Cortez 2018; Rugh 2018; Simpson 2018; Smith 2018; Wikipedia.)

There does need to be a massive social effort to change our current technological course. A drastic transformation of industrial civilization is needed if we are (in Richard Smith’s phrase) to “save the humans,” as well as our fellow animals and plants. Nothing less than a revolution is needed. Yet I think that there are serious weaknesses in this specific approach, not least in modeling itself on the New Deal and the World War II mobilization—which were not revolutions, however romanticized. The proponents of a Green New Deal are almost all reformists—by which I do not mean advocates of reforms, but those who think that a series of reforms will be enough. They are state-socialists who primarily rely on the state to intervene in the economy and even take it over; in practice this program creates not socialism but state capitalism.

‘Cosmo-localization’: can thinking globally and producing locally really save our planet?

By Fernanda Marin - Oui Share, November 28, 2018

Fablabs, makerspaces, emerging global knowledge commons… These are but some of the outcomes of a growing movement that champions globally-sourced designs for local economic activity. Its core idea is simple: local ownership of the means to produce basic manufactures and services can change our economic paradigm, making our cities self-sufficient and help the planet.

Sharon Ede, urbanist and activist based in Australia has recently launched AUDAcities, a catalyst for relocalising production in cities. She shared her insights on the opportunities of making cities regenerative and more sustainable as well as the limits of cosmo-localization.

Technology, as we all know, is not neutral. Making the transition to self-sufficient cities needs a cultural shift, not just a technological one. So, how do we design open-source tools that foster a change in behaviours and are inclusive?

Technology will go where cultural, social and economic values direct it. A cultural shift will include open source tools, and the kinds of processes we need to create those – but a cultural shift will require much more.

Free Public Transport and the Right to the City

By Yavor Tarinski - Resilience, July 25, 2018

“Free public transportation implies many changes, a completely new way to look at the city, both in terms of how we move and how we tax, but also how we live, where we live, how we relate to each other as a society, and our broader relationship to the urban, regional and global eco-system.” Judith Dellheim & Jason Prince [1]

With cities becoming the main human inhabitant, and even slowly replacing the Nation-State as major economic and political factors, the importance of the question about the quality of urban life is increasing. How we move around in our urbanized reality is an integral part of that issue.

The movement within cities determines to a large degree their vibrancy and the way they will develop in the future. As author Jane Jacobs notes [2], a feature of a great city is the mobility of residents and fluidity of use across diverse areas of varying size and character. Furthermore, transportation has an important role to play in the age of rapidly unfolding urbanization and environmental crisis.

Unfortunately, the car has been made into the main tool for urban mobility – promoted by local and national authorities, big businesses, as well as mainstream city planners. This supposedly comfortable and quick means of transportation, however, hides many dangers for urban inhabitants, as well as for the environment.

The mass use of cars as one of the most atomized and privatized means of transportation today,  according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, is a major cause of global warming. This is evident from what they write in one of their reports: In total, the US transportation sector—which includes cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships, and freight—produces nearly thirty percent of all US global warming emissions, more than almost any other sector [3]. It is well known that, as much of the research on the subject suggests [4], car traffic causes significant health problems – from air pollution to obesity. It also pollutes the urban environment with noise, as well as being directly related to the reshaping of cities into urban sprawls distanced away from areas that provide basic needs and services.

Benefits of Free Public Transport

Public transport, on the other hand, is of much friendlier character to both communities and nature, but has been embedded into the economistic, privatized logic of capitalism. While it allows for large groups of citizens to move around the city in an economically efficient manner without creating traffic, urban noise, or air pollution, it is being highly neglected by municipalities. Instead, it is viewed as another business niche, through which surplus value can be extracted through the additional taxation of passengers and can be helpful to boost economic growth. In this narrow economistic way, a transportation means with the capacity to significantly improve urban space is being neglected or is being exploited exclusively for the generation of profit for the few.

However, there is a global movement that fights for making public transport free. Its target is the abolition of the socially exclusive fare systems that are currently in operation in most cities around the world. Instead, it suggests that the expenses required for functioning should be covered through the municipal budget, as it is mutually beneficial for both car drivers and bus riders.

Socialism Will Be Free, Or It Will Not Be At All!

By Arthur Pye - Black Rose Anarchist Federation, July 19, 2018

Introduction

Socialism is officially a buzzword again. According to a recent poll, 44% of U.S. millennials “prefer socialism to capitalism”, and even mainstream Democrats are starting to call themselves socialist. As one headline put it: “Socialism is so hot right now.” Used to describe everything from Bernie Sanders to Stalinist Russia, there are few words which inspire such varied and contradictory meanings. Like most buzzwords, socialism’s true meaning has been obscured by its popularity.

But what does socialism actually mean, and what does it look like in practice?

At its core, socialism is the idea that resources and institutions in society should be managed democratically by the community as a whole. Whereas under capitalism, economic and political power is concentrated in the hands of the rich, socialists fight for a society in which the means of producing and distributing goods and services are held in common through the democratic self-management of workplaces and communities.

This article will make the case that libertarian socialism represents the most thorough and consistent embodiment of core socialist principles. In essence, libertarian socialism is a politics of freedom and collective self-determination, realized through a revolutionary struggle against capitalism, state power and social oppression in all its forms.

Gearing Towards a Green Future of Work

By Jean Lambert - Green European Journal, June 21, 2018

Green politics is about building a socially, environmentally, and economically just and sustainable future for everybody on the planet. This vision might be obvious, but the journey to get there is less so. At its core, green political thinking sees humanity as not just existing economically, and getting our economies on the right track is therefore a central challenge. As part of that, we need to understand work and its possible futures.

Economics is, of course, vitally important, and Greens must ensure our economic analysis is robust, evidence-based, and looking to the future. But economics must be seen in context, and human beings exist socially and ecologically as well as economically. Work has the capacity to provide economic security for us as individuals and our families and yet can equally be dysfunctional and exploitative, especially for those in precarious employment or on low pay.  Greens should work to support its positive economic function at personal and societal level, but also for it to add maximum social usefulness while respecting environmental limits.

Economic, social and environmental dimensions are all relevant for a full understanding of work, its value, and its future. Much work is primarily important in terms of social usefulness rather than economically – for example, care work. Unpaid work is a special case needing greater attention. Unpaid work takes place on a huge scale, especially by women, but is not economic in the narrow sense of being undertaken for a wage. Yet it is of immense value to the well-being of society. Without unpaid work our current societies and economies would probably cease to function. A better understanding and valuing of unpaid work is long overdue.

The environmental dimension of work is no less important, although often less visible or easily lost sight of. The environmental impacts of economic and industrial activities are becoming more widely understood. This has led to increased acceptance of the transformative potential of the green agenda for the economy and work. Those seeking to delay, dilute, or frustrate the green agenda’s potential to transform the economy should be reminded that there are no jobs on a dead planet. Faced with the broad trends of reduction in working time, persistent inequalities, automation, Greens also need to go further and put forward a vision centred around green industry, just transition, democracy at work, and education.

Jobs Guarantee or Universal Basic Income? Why Not Both?

By Alyssa Battistoni - In These Times, June 20, 2018

The argument about a universal basic income (UBI) versus a job guarantee (JG) has become one of the liveliest and most contentious debates on the Left. Each has been touted as a solution to all ills: the way to decrease depression, close the racial wealth gap, recognize historically undervalued forms of work, transform the economy, save the planet.

Though UBI and JG are typically counterposed, it’s entirely plausible they could coexist. If paid work is as important to well-being as JG advocates say, most people would want a job even with UBI. In particular, the black freedom movement, from civil rights leaders to Black Lives Matter, has called for both a basic income and guaranteed jobs.

Whether both can do all the things proponents promise—in particular, the essential work of transitioning quickly to a low-carbon economy—is a different, harder question. Whether it’s possible to achieve both is yet another.

A UBI program could actually be a danger to the climate if, in distributing revenue from publicly owned resources, we rely on profits from destructive industries such as oil, as in Alaska. But there are alternatives: a depletion tax on companies that degrade so-called natural capital, a tax on carbon and other pollutants, or a land value tax targeting large landowners—all of which foster environmental conservation and make public claims to natural wealth.

How Radical Municipalism can go Beyond the Local

By the Symbiosis Research Collective - The Ecologist, June 8, 2018

Throughout this series, we’ve argued that the best way to address today’s ecological, social, and political crises is to get people together where they live and work to provide resources that people need – eventually building up an alternative political and economic system that can replace the present, failing system. We need to build a democratic, just, and ecological world in the shell of the old.

In the previous installment, we argued that organising on the level of the neighborhood, town, and city is the most strategic approach to this today.

The rise of loneliness worldwide, the centrality of real estate speculation for global economic growth, and the breakdown of many large-scale factories that helped to bring workers together mean that we have to rethink the ways we demand change.

We can build community and force elites to listen to our demands at the same time. Radical municipalism is a project to take direct democratic control over the places where we live.

When we talk to people about this strategy, the same kinds of questions often come up. In this article, we highlight three common criticisms. Each one of them revolves around the complaint that radical municipalism is too local: it can’t deal with the ‘big stuff’.

Building post-capitalist futures

By various - Transnational Institute - June 2018

Over several sunny days in June 2018, a diverse group of 60 activists and researchers from 30 countries convened for a multi-day meeting to discuss the collective building of post-capitalist futures. The meeting provided the opportunity for a rich exchange of perspectives and experiences, as well as deep discussion and debate. The goal of the meeting was not to achieve consensus both an impossible and unnecessary endeavour but rather to stimulate mutual learning, challenge one another and advance analyses.

One session of the meeting – Transformative Cities – was held not as a closed discussion but as a public event attended by 300 people at which prominent activists and academics engaged with municipal leaders and politicians on the role cities can play in building post-capitalist futures.

In line with the meeting, this report does not intend to advance one line of analysis, but rather summarise some of the key ideas and issues discussed and debated (not necessarily in the order they were articulated). To summarise necessarily means to leave things out. It would be impossible to fully capture the incredible richness of the discussion that took place, but hopefully this report provides a valuable sketch.

Read the report (PDF).

Envisioning a Leap Forward: How We Can Replace Neoliberalism With a Caring Economy

By Cliff Durand - Truthout, May 26, 2018

In her timely book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, Naomi Klein calls on us to resist President Trump and the turn to reactionary-right politics in the US. She also reminds us that, even if we succeed, we will still be left with the conditions that gave rise to Trumpism in the first place. We’ve got to do more than resist Trump. She calls us to change the neoliberal paradigm that has guided (or rather, misguided) public and private life for the last four decades in the United States and much of the rest of the world. This is no small challenge, but without a new way forward, life will become increasingly unlivable. 

As I have discussed previously, neoliberalism is a renewal of the 19th century liberalism of laissez faire, free market, unbridled capitalism of the robber baron era. The 20th century social liberalism we are more familiar with is the opposite of that. Born of the crisis of the Great Depression of the 1930s, it accepts the need for an active state to protect ordinary people from the depredations of the market while also regulating and guiding the economy to make capitalism work. That social liberalism, or “social democracy” as it is also called, was the dominant public ideology in the US up through the 1970s.

But then, with the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher’s leadership in the United Kingdom, a new ideology began to eclipse “social democracy.” Rather than seeing the state as the instrument for democratic self-government, this ideology saw government as the source of our problems. In this view, government should just “get out of the way” and let the market direct society.

The dirty little secret that advocates of neoliberalism try to hide from us is that government is still needed to structure markets so they will work for capitalism. For example, unions must be curtailed since organized workers bargaining collectively distort a free market in labor. Individual workers are to be free to sell their labor as they choose. Powerless as individuals, the “right to work” in reality amounts to a right to work for less. At the same time, investors can organize collectively into corporations and operate freely in the market. In neoliberalism, grossly unequal power relation between individuals and corporations is ignored or even perpetuated. This means that neoliberalism favors the interests of corporate capitalism over working people, and that neoliberalism is a project for unbridled capitalism. It is the default position of capital when unrestrained by popular forces.

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