There have been enormous changes in the world and on the left in the last 30 years. How do these effect what the role of an anarchist organisation like the WSM is? The weekend of October 11th after a couple of years of discussion the WSM reached some collective agreements around this in the form of the position paper below which replaces an older text that largely dated from the 1980's.
I was part of a long education and discussion process that culminated in this new position paper on "Anarchism, Oppression & Exploitation" being agreed by WSM National Conference at the start of October 2014.
This is a frustrating book. On the one hand, it is nice to see a work dedicated to the importance of workplace democracy and which argues that (state) socialism was simply state capitalism. On the other, it would have been nice if the author, Richard Wolff, had some understanding of libertarian socialism so that he realised he was simply reinventing the wheel and avoided unnecessary jargon. This is understandable given that the author is clearly working in the Marxist tradition but it is not excusable.
This is a write-up of the notes of a talk made at the 2014 London Anarchist bookfair. I have made a few slight changes/additions. On the day I skipped the section of “small-scale” production (“Kropotkin the Medievalist?) and covered the differences between communist-anarchism and syndicalism in the discussion period. It is based, of course, on the work I did for Direct Struggle Against Capital: A Peter Kropotkin Anthology. A newly translated article by Kropotkin from May 1890 (“The action of the masses and the individual”) is appended.
It’s a confusing time to be on the revolutionary left as everything that was once certain turns to smoke. Technology has overturned & remade what constitutes effective communication & the construction of networks. Quite how to organise is no longer clear and old reference points of 1917, 1936 or even 1968 no longer provide definitive models.
Read this book.
Perhaps I need to write more? For those who do not know, Errico Malatesta (1853-1932) was one of anarchism’s greatest activists and thinkers for over 60 years. He joined the First International in 1871 and became an anarchist after meeting Bakunin in 1872. He spent most of his life in exile from Italy, helping to build unions in Argentina in the late 1880s and taking an active part during the two Red Years after the war when Italy was on the verge of revolution (the authorities saw the threat and imprisoned him and other leading anarchists before a jury dismissed all charges). Playing a key role in numerous debates within the movement – on using elections, participation in the labour movement, the nature of social revolution, syndicalism and Platformism (to name just a few), he saw the rise and failure of the Second International, then the Third before spending the last years of his life under house arrest in Mussolini’s Italy.
“Either competition, – that is, monopoly and what follows; or exploitation by the State, – that is, dearness of labour and continuous impoverishment; or else, in short, a solution based upon equality, – in other words, the organisation of labour, which involves the negation of political economy and the end of property.”
– Proudhon, System of Economic Contradictions
What if we build it and they don’t come? That was the experience of the left during the crisis - decades had been spent building organisations and a model of how crisis would create revolution but when the crisis arrived the left discovered that the masses weren’t convinced. The expected pattern of crisis leading to small strikes and protests, then to mass strikes and riot and then perhaps to general strike and revolution didn’t flow as expected. Under that theory the radical left would at first be marginal but then as conditions drove class militancy to new heights the workers disappointed by reformist politicians and unions leaders would move quickly to swell its ranks.
This article appeared in Anarchist Studies (volume 22, number 1) in the spring of 2014
I am an anarchist and a revolutionary myself, and I took part in the activities of the revolutionary peoples of the Ukraine. I often made tactical errors on this difficult path, as I was often weak and unable to make judgements. But because I correctly understood the goal towards which I and my brothers were working and I was able to observe the effect of living anarchism during the struggle for freedom and independence. I remain convinced on the grounds of my practical fighting experience that anarchism is as revolutionary, as diverse, and as sublime in every facet as is human life itself.
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