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Murray Bookchin’s Legacy: A Syndicalist Critique

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas And Action, January 14, 2021

January 14th is the 100th anniversary of Murray Bookchin’s birth. Perhaps it is worth looking at his contribution to radical politics.

Bookchin had been involved in the communist youth movement in the 1930s. He eventually abandoned official Marxist organizations for a turn to libertarian socialism. A central feature of Bookchin’s politics from the Sixties to the end of his life was his opposition to the worker struggle orientation that was central to syndicalism and many anarchists — as well as Marxists — in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

After World War 2, the general strikes and pitched street battles of workers in the Thirties were a fading memory. The post-war years saw a consolidation of a conservative bureaucracy in the unions. The American working class by the 1960s no longer had the large “militant minority” of radical workers that had been a feature of American workplaces from the early 1900s through World War 2. This led certain radicals to seek out a new “agent” of revolutionary change. Bookchin was an example of this way of thinking:

“Contrary to Marx’s expectations, the industrial working class is now dwindling in numbers and is steadily losing its traditional identity as a class….Present-day culture [and]…modes of production…have remade the proletarian into a largely petty bourgeois stratum….The proletarian …will be completely replaced by automated and even miniaturized means of production….Class categories are now intermingled with hierarchical categories based on race, gender, sexual preference, and certainly national or regional differences.”

This quote is from Bookchin’s last book, The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy. This shows a certain lack of understanding of how syndicalists — and other socialists — view the working class. The basis for the revolutionary potential of the working class lies in its position as both the majority of the population and its objectively oppressed and exploited situation. Workers do not have their own means to obtain a livelihood. Thus we are forced to seek jobs from employers, to obtain the wages we need to live. And this arrangement forces workers to submit to autocratic managerial regimes where workers are denied control over the decisions that directly affect them day to day in the labor process and the running of the workplaces. Employers own the products of our labor and use this to suck down profits — an inherently exploitative situation.

Mutual aid will help us survive the Biden presidency

By Dean Spade - ROAR Magazine, November 20, 2020

Biden and Harris are not going to stop the crises we are facing — mutual aid projects are essential to survive and build the world we want to live in.

The only thing that keeps those in power in that position is the illusion of our powerlessness. A moment of freedom and connection can undo a lifetime of social conditioning and scatter seeds in a thousand directions.

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief

Many people are feeling great relief that Trump has been voted out and are rightly celebrating the efforts so many people have undertaken to make that happen. But even as we celebrate, we must ensure we do not demobilize, hoping that the new administration will take care of our problems. Unfortunately, we can be certain that the Biden/Harris administration will not address the crises and disasters of climate change, worsening wealth concentration and poverty, a deadly for-profit health care system and racist law enforcement.

Biden and Harris have built their careers off of criminalizing people. In response to the killing of Walter Wallace Jr. in October they promptly issued a joint statement focusing more words on admonishing protesters than acknowledging police violence. They have made crystal clear that they will not oppose fracking, and if they return to Obama-era climate policies, we are certainly doomed. Biden has a wretched pro-war record, and has expressed unconditional support for Israeli colonialism.

He recently tapped oil and gas industry booster Cedric Richmond as a top advisor and a third of his transition team comes from think tanks funded by the weapons industry. Under the new administration, even if they roll back some of Trump’s worst policies, our communities will still be witnessing worsening crisis conditions.

Trump’s policies and rhetoric were extreme, openly racist and sexist, climate change- and COVID-denying, which helped mobilize many people to question the legitimacy of the police, military, border enforcement and capitalist economy and join social movement work to oppose those systems. While we are all tired from four years of fighting Trump, nine months of urgently responding to the pandemic and all the loss and devastation it has caused, and the bold efforts that so many have undertaken to fight the police in the streets and organize an historic uprising against white supremacy, we cannot risk demobilizing now.

We must continue the momentum that Black Lives Matter, No DAPL, Not 1 More Deportation, Abolish ICE and other campaigns have built exposing the utter failures of the Democratic party to oppose racism, war, the oil and gas industry, criminalization and wealth consolidation, and the necessity for bold direct action in the face of mounting crises. More than ever before, we need to organize and sustain mutual aid efforts, both to survive the crises we are facing and to build our movements for change.

Living As If Another World Were Possible: Goodbye, David Graeber!

By Daniel Fischer - New Politics, September 9, 2020

Having grown up hearing his father recount experiences in Anarchist-run Barcelona as a Lincoln Brigade volunteer, David Graeber, a renowned anthropologist and organizer, lived according to a lifelong belief that a far fairer world was possible. His father and his mother, a garment worker who was briefly the lead singer in the union-produced Broadway musical Pins and Needles, were Jewish working-class bookworms who filled their shelves with books about radical possibilities. Graeber, born in 1961, recalled:

“There were a lot of books around the house when I was growing up, but almost no books of critique. I mean I’m sure my parents had Capital, at least volume one, but very few books about how awful the world was. They had lots of science fiction, lots of history, and lots of anthropology. I think their attitude was ‘I spent my nine to five working, experiencing how this system sucks for myself; I don’t need to read about that; I want to read about what other ways of existing might be like.’”

This is interesting, because as a public intellectual (who taught at Yale and London School of Economics), Graeber was probably most well known for his social critiques. Heavily influenced by the autonomist Marxist tradition, Graeber viewed neoliberalism as primarily a political project masquerading as an economic one, and he exposed the system’s convoluted methods of keeping people demoralized, resentful, and hopeless about building a better world. These instruments of hopelessness included debt (Debt: The First 5,000 Years), corporate bureaucracy (The Utopia of Rules) and pointless work (Bullshit Jobs: A Theory). Graeber aptly described that last book as “an arrow aimed at the heart of our civilization.” It argued that most of our working hours are not producing anything useful, and that the workweek could easily be reduced to fifteen or even twelve hours if it weren’t for capitalists’ drive to keep us perpetually busy. “The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger,” he wrote, “Think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the sixties.”

To me, however, Graeber’s more inspiring works focused on discovering and building alternatives. He had a keen eye for spotting utopia in seemingly unlikely places. During field work in highland Madagascar in 1989 to 1991, he found that the IMF-weakened state performed only nominal functions, and communities actually governed themselves with consensus decision-making on most matters. His study of the Iroquois League’s Constitution challenged notions that democracy, feminism, and anarchism are of exclusively European origin. And in contrast to the mass media’s dismissal of “incoherent” U.S. protesters, Graeber’s Direct Action: An Ethnography and The Democracy Project explained how the horizontal structure of the alter-globalization and Occupy Wall Street movements prefigured the world they sought to build. Over the last few years, Graeber championed the direct democracy experiments in Northen Syria (Rojava). And, with co-author David Wengrow, he dismantled the widespread assumption that early civilizations were uniformly hierarchal. To the contrary, “Egalitarian cities, even regional confederacies, are historically quite commonplace.”

You can read in other obituaries how much of an intellectual giant he was. Within his field, Maurice Bloch called him “the best anthropologist of his generation” and his advisor Marshall Sahlins called him “the most creative student I ever had.” When Yale decided to end his contract in 2004, it was clearly due to his involvement in radical direct action, not the quality of his scholarship and teaching.

Going on the Offensive: Movements, Multisectorality, and Political Strategy

By Lusbert Garcia - Black Rose, September 1, 2020

By making a brief analysis of current social movements, we can see that they do not work together, that is, in a synchronous way between movements that operate in different areas of struggle. First off, this article is a complement to the translation of the article “A debate on the politics of alliances [Un debate sobre la política de alianzas]” where I talk in broad strokes about the numerous areas or sectors of struggle and think through how to build a multisectoral movement, that is, a broad movement made up of a network of social movements that work in coordination in different sectors and at the same time are articulated based on the common denominator of autonomy, feminism and anti-capitalism.

We know that the root of all problems lies in the capitalist system and the modern states that support it, and that this economic, political and social system supports a production model based on private ownership of the means of production and private benefit as a fundamental principle. All this constitutes what we know as the structural, and its manifestations in all areas of our lives, which is known as the conjunctural, of which we could mainly highlight: territory, labor, public services, accommodation and repression. When we analyze the political-social space, we must recognize the conjunctural problems that manifest as a consequence of the material structure:

  • The territorial issue would include within it the spheres in which the interests of the class which rules over the territory enter into conflict with those of the working class. It is the physical space in which all struggles will take place, so we can highlight the following areas: neighborhood or district if we talk about cities, rural and land struggles if we talk about undeveloped or non-industrialized areas, and we could even include the national liberation struggles for the self-determination of peoples against imperialism. Environmentalism and food sovereignty would also fall into this category.
  • Labor here would constitute one of the main axes of class conflict. It is the battlefield where capital and labor meet most directly. In this area we can mention the workers’ movement that is articulated around unionism. Although we have to differentiate between unionism that advocates social peace—that model that always leads to class conciliation, betraying the working class—and the revolutionary or class unionism that advocates the exacerbation of class conflict in the workplace.
  • The fight for housing is a movement that goes back a little over a century during the rural exodus caused by industrial development and the creation of working-class neighborhoods. Today, with capitalist restructuring underway again in advanced capitalist countries and those in development, access to housing is again a social problem that affects the working class as it finds itself with less economic capacity to face mortgages and rents, as well as access to decent housing. Faced with this problem, movements against evictions have sprung up in many countries, as did the squatter movement a little earlier.
  • As for state public services, in the face of this phase of capitalist restructuring, markets are increasingly interfering with these services through budget cuts, outsourcing and privatizations. Here we can mention: Education, Health, water and sanitation, public transport, and pensions, among others; and the respective social movements that arise in response to cuts and privatizations, such as the student movement, White Tide [1] and other movements against the privatization of water, the fight against increases in rates on public transport, etc.
  • Last but not least, all opposition movements receive state repression; therefore, it is important that we begin to see repression as an obstacle and a social problem that seeks to curb our social and political activities while serving the ruling class to perpetuate its dominance. In this regard, we must speak about the anti-repression issue and face repression collectively and outside of our own militant circles, as yet another social movement.

Primitivism: An Illusion with No Future

By Stephen Booth - ca. January 1, 2005

Web Editor's Note - This very lengthy article was originally written for an anarchist audience as a critique of the so-called "green"-anarchist (i.e. anarchism with a strong ecological orientation) marriage to primitivism. However, this critique can easily be extended to all varieties of primitivism (anarchist or not) and can be useful to anarchists and non-anarchists alike.

Ditching class: the praxis of anarchist communist economics

Anarchism vs. Primitivism

By Brian Oliver Sheppard - 2003

Web Editor's Note: - This article was written for an anarchist audience. The IWW is not explicitly or exclusively anarchist in its orientation (though it does share a good deal of commonalities with anarcho-syndicalism, in particular). Likewise, neither are "primitivists" exclusively anarchist, nor are anarchists for the most part primitivist. In spite of that, this critique adequately addresses a general anti-capitalist, revolutionary working class critique of the primitivism, and/or "anti-civ" tendency so prevalent among radical environmentalists.

1. The Demonology of Primitivism

“No one has ever been so witty as you are in trying to turn us into brutes: to read your book makes ode long to go on all fours. Since, however, it is now some sixty years since I gave up the practice, I feel that it is unfortunately impossible for me to resume it: I leave this natural habit to those more fit for it than are you and I.”

— Voltaire, letter to Rousseau, August 30, 1755.

Bakunin vs. the Primitivists

By Brian Oilver Sheppard - Originally published at Zabalaza Books, September 27, 2011

In Bakunin’s day, those who longed for pre-capitalist, feudal social relations were the aristocracy. Those who took it even further and hearkened back to the days before feudalism, before slavery and to the days of free nomadic peoples, were the romanticists. They were inspired in the main by the political writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and by much romantic poetry and literature that indicted industrial civilization. They regarded intuition at least as important as rational deliberation, but usually more so.

The values held by these romantic socialists are very similar to those held by anarcho-primitivists [sic.]. Bakunin often spoke against the romanticist socialists; he felt they held individualist values that could only develop in a very privileged milieu and which reflected that privilege and its latent elitism. What Bakunin condemned in the thinking of the political followers of Rousseau are largely the same things found in modern primitivism. It is this commonality between the political romanticism of the Rousseauists and the beliefs of modern anarcho-primitivists that makes Bakunin’s statements applicable to the present state of the anarchist movement, especially to the anti-worker, primitivist element within it.

“In every Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association,” Bakunin lamented in the late 1860’s, “we have fought the individualists or false-brother socialists who say that society was founded by a free contract of originally free men and who claim, along with the moralists and bourgeois economists, that man can be free, that he can be a man, outside of society.” Bakunin’s refers here to the followers of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and his criticism carries weight to this day. In the anarchist movement, the romantic, anti-society sect are the primitivists.

Against Green Reactionaries: Writings on eco-fascists and exterminationists

By various - Green Antifascist - Spring 2020

A compilation of writings against ecofascist infiltration of revolutionary ecology and green anarchist milieus, includes:

  • Confronting the Rise of Eco-Fascism Means Grappling with Complex Systems - by Emmi Bevensee and Alexander Reid Ross
  • There’s nothing anarchist about Eco-Fascism - by Scott Campbell
  • On No Platform and ITS - by William Gillis
  • ITS, or the rhetoric of decay - a Joint statement of insurrectional groups in Mexican territory

Web editor's note: we highly recommend the first three sections of this document. As for the last chapter, we vehemently disagree with their anti-organizational and anti-structural dogma as well as their sectarian denunciations of "the left", but welcome their distancing from ITS and similarly minded eco-fascists. In any case, the document is a package deal. Plus, note our standard disclaimer:

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Download (PDF).

What is Mutual Aid?

By staff - Big Door Brigade, March 2020

What do we mean by “mutual aid”?

Mutual aid is when people get together to meet each other’s basic survival needs with a shared understanding that the systems we live under are not going to meet our needs and we can do it together RIGHT NOW! Mutual aid projects are a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government, but by actually building new social relations that are more survivable.  Most mutual aid projects are volunteer-based, with people jumping in to participate because they want to change what is going on right now, not wait to convince corporations or politicians to do the right thing. A few critical concepts are inside this:

  • “Charity” is a framework that often means rich people giving a little bit to poor people to make themselves look better in the eyes of God or other people. Usually there are lots of strings attached to what they give: e.g., giving only to mothers, only to children, only to sober people, only to people of faith and other “deserving poor” models. This means that charity is often a strategy for controlling poor people. Charity also frames people in need as morally lesser than rich people—as if poverty were the fault of the poor rather than the fault of systems of racism, heteropatriarchy, ableism, land theft and labor exploitation that make some people rich and keep other people poor. Charity looks like generosity from rich people, but actually upholds the systems that make most people poor for the benefit of the few.
  • Charity is the frame used for most social services delivery. Most social services blame poor people for poverty, operating on the idea that there is something wrong with people in need—they need to get sober, they need to get “housing-ready,” they need to take parenting classes, they need to work harder. In reality, poverty is a result of capitalism, and people of color and women are the poorest people because of sexism and racism. Social service agencies typically employ middle and upper class people, often with race and educational privilege, and put them in the role of judging, punishing and controlling poor people. Sometimes they put “empowerment” in their name or mission statement, but the power dynamics are usually the old standards.
  • In recent decades, charity and social services have been privatized and contracted out to what critics call the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Non-profits compete for grants from corporations or philanthropists to address social problems or serve poor people. This means that rich people and corporations get to decide what strategies should be funded. They also get to protect their money from taxation if they give it out to non-profits. Non-profits are mostly run by rich white people with graduate degrees, they have steep pay scales in which upper class people and white people get paid more, and the people most effected by the issues they claim to address have no say in what they do or how they work.

Mutual aid projects depart from these norms of charity, social services and non-profitization in several key ways that often include:

  • An understanding that it is the system, not the people suffering under it, that creates poverty, crisis, and vulnerability
  • Governance/control by people who are most effected (can mean having a membership base of those most effected, or being formed in ways that ensure those providing the aid are from the same group as those giving the aid, or models that allow allies to participate but focus on accountability to those being served)
  • Transparency about how they work, any money they use or manage (many mutual aid projects are not funded and are all volunteer run)
  • Open meetings and pathways for new people to join and participate
  • Political education within the organization to help those working in the project to expand their awareness of experiences that are not their own, to build solidarity, and to make the project supportive and welcoming to marginalized people
  • Humility and willingness to accept feedback about how to make the project more useful to the people it serves
  • Long-term commitment to provide the aid the project works on
  • Connection to and solidarity with other mutual aid projects and other transformative work
  • Commitment to dignity and self-determination of people in need or crisis
  • Consensus-based decision making rather than majority rule

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