Anarchism and Workplace Occupations

Now that An Anarchist FAQ (AFAQ) has been revised, all ready for volume 2 to be published next year, I've been working on getting the next update for Property is Theft! sorted out. This is focused around Proudhon, Marx and the Paris Commune. A theme of this update is that many so-called "Marxist" principles were first expounded by anarchists, notably Proudhon. That and most Marxist attacks on him flow from Marx's Poverty of Philosophy and that is a hatchet-job of epic proportions (as I indicate).

As part of this update I needed to track down a page number from Guerin's excellent anthology No Gods, No Masters (my copy is in a box somewhere under lots of other boxes). I found a copy in the SWP bookshop and got the reference. while I was there, I noticed that they had a new book out on workplace occupations (imaginatively entitled Occupy!). Needless to say, the SWP book starts with the 1920 Italian Occupations, but forgets to mention the syndicalists and anarchists -- in spite the USI suggesting the tactic to begin with in 1920! I was not too surprised, as the SWP effectively ignored the libertarians before in their book on the rise of Mussolini. While I am not surprised, I am sick of libertarians being written out of history particularly by Leninists...

This is relevant to workplace occupations as an anarchist book on the subject would start long before 1920. While revising AFAQ, I included this quote by Voltairine de Cleyre from 1910 that "the weapon of the future will be the general strike" and its it not clear that "it must be the strike which will stay in the factory, not go out? which will guard the machines and allow no scab to touch them? which will organise, not to inflict deprivation on itself, but on the enemy? which will take over industry and operate it for the workers, not for franchise holder, stockholders, and officeholders?" ("A Study of the General Strike in Philadelphia", pp. 307-14, Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's Mother Earth, Peter Glassgold (ed.), p. 311) This is an excellent anthology, by the way.

I should also note that AFAQ mentions the 40 day sit-down strike at Fisher Body plant #1 in Flint, Michigan in 1936 as part of its discussion on the workplace of the future. In addition, the SWP book does not mention the workplace takeovers during the Russian Revolution. Probably because the Bolsheviks opposed workers seizing their workplaces (because it was an petit-bourgeois anarchist tactic, needless to say). Rather the correct Marxist position was that the so-called workers' state should expropriate all capital and the workers should wait until that is done (presumably in the cold shut-down workplaces). Unsurprisingly, when the Bolsheviks finally got round to doing that the central body charged with doing it had no idea no many factories were under its jurisdiction, whether the workers already had taken them over nor what to do with them in terms of input or output. In short, it was a complete mess, produced by ideology and terrible conditions (conditions, though, which Bolshevik ideology helped make worse). The anarchist suggestion of local action and federalism to co-ordinate such self-activity really is the only way to change society -- centralised bodies, as Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin continually argued, are really not up to the task.

I should point out that de Cleyre was quoted in AFAQ (section J.7.4) as part of the discussion of how we see a social revolution developing (see also my article on the Argentine revolt against neo-liberalism). This was the first reference to that tactic being advocated as part of a strike I had seen, but I was also reasonably sure that de Cleyre was not the first libertarian to explicitly suggest it. A post to the Anarchist Academics email list and someone kindly pointed me to Lucy Parson's speech at the IWW's founding convention in 1905: "My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out an starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production. . . ."

And need I have to remind anarchists that 1905 also saw the validity of such long term anarchist policies as workers' councils and the general strike proven in Russia? I've noted before (here and here, for example) how Marxists dismiss and mock anarchist ideas but then turn around and praise them when workers apply them in struggle...

Does anyone else know of any other libertarians advocating workplace occupations before Parsons' comments in 1905?

Obviously, Bakunin's comments from 1868 imply the occupation of workplaces as part of a revolution. Thus the "Association of the International Brethren seeks simultaneously universal, social, philosophical, economic and political revolution, so that the present order of things, rooted in property, exploitation, domination and the authority principle" will be destroyed. "All productive capital and instruments of labour" will "be confiscated for the benefit of toilers associations, which will have to put them to use in collective production" The "federated Alliance of all labour associations . . . will constitute the Commune." The people "must make the revolution everywhere, and . . . ultimate direction of it must at all times be vested in the people organised into a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations . . . organised from the bottom up." [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, pp. 152-6] Much the same can be said of Kropotkin (as shown by, say, The Conquest of Bread or Act for Yourselves). However, it is not an explicit call for occupations as part of a strike -- although that flows naturally from such a vision of social revolution.

The fact that we anarchists advocated workplace occupations (or workers councils, the general strike, etc.) long before Marxists feeds into my Proudhon update. The update is marking the Paris Commune and how many "Marxist" positions were first expounded by... Proudhon (as I noted before in relation to the Commune). The update includes extracts from Proudhon's System of Economic Contradictions (volume 1 and 2) as well as Marx related material from the introduction. Suffice to say, the introduction discusses Marx's "The Poverty of Philosophy" and the extracts has end-notes comparing what Marx said Proudhon said and what he actually did say. As would be expected, there is substantial divergence...

I should also note that System of Economic Contradictions contains one of my favourite Proudhon quotes (one of many!): "Political economy — that is, proprietary despotism — can never be in the wrong: it must be the proletariat"

I do hope that these extracts by and discussions on Proudhon will convince most people not to take Marx's diatribe at face value and, hopefully, give Proudhon a look. He is not perfect, but the father of anarchism deserves much better than the ignorant dismissal inflicted upon him by many radicals thanks, in part, to Marx's dishonest diatribe. I'm not sure whether it will succeed or not, as I've long came to the conclusion that many political types are happy with their myths (whether about Marxism or anarchism) and no amount of evidence will move them to investigate the matter. Hopefully, I will be proven wrong...

For any fans of dead-anarchists out there, Shawn Wilbur has placed a couple of interesting texts on-line. First is Down with the Bosses! by Joseph Déjacque. Déjacque was a follower of Proudhon who took his arguments forward to communist-anarchism (and who coined the term "libertarian" as an alternative to anarchist in the process). This was in the 1850s, long before the apparently independent evolution from collectivist to communist anarchism in the mid- to late- 1870s within the libertarian wing of the First International. And talking of which, Shawn has also posted Bakunin's Political Theology of Mazzini. This was written post-Commune and was instrumental in defeating Mazzini's influence in working class circles and his polemics against him helped secure support for anarchism in the Italian sections of the IWA ("Everywhere, in all countries, we see the masses awakening, stirring, agitating, and putting their heads together, defiant of all their saviours, tutors, and past leaders, and more and more resolved to take into their own hands the direction of their own affairs. And as they are collectivists as much by position as by nature, they tend to create today an immense collective force, by organizing in solidarity among themselves across the political frontiers of States.). It covers some of the same ground as God and the State, but it is worth a read if you are, like me, a Bakunin fan (and I see that Mark Leier's excellent biography of him is now in paperback -- as my review suggests, do yourself a favour and read it!).

Shawn has said he is planning to post more non-individualist anarchist material in the coming year so his blog is definitely worth keeping an eye on -- if you don't already do! He is doing sterling work in bringing forgotten, but important, material to modern libertarians.

That is it for now. Life, unfortunately, is getting busier so I'm not sure when I will be blogging again. The good news is that AK Press (UK) are starting work on getting my introduction to Kropotkin's Mutual Aid published this year. I'm hoping to speak at this year's London Bookfair on "From Proudhon to Kropotkin" (so covering the two books I have out this year). An Anarchist FAQ volume 2 will be out in 2011.

Until I blog again, be seeing you...

  


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