Friday, November 03, 2006

Anarchists and Wobblies and the SPGB

This month's edition of The Socialist Standard has what i think is an excellent review of the book Rebel Alliances: The Means and Ends of British Anarchisms which studies class-struggle anarchists .

The article discusses certain anarchist ideas in relation and in regard to the ideas of the Socialist Party , who perhaps could be called the " political wing " of anarchism , a description which may cause apoplexy in some of my comrades . While critical of anarchism ( and which anarchist isn't critical of other comrades beliefs and attitudes ) , the article is certainly not the polemical diatribe that many would expect an avowedly Marxist party to indulge in . The article goes on to dispel common myths current amongst anarchists and Leftists about the SPGB approach to class struggle .

"... It is interesting to note that some of these [discussions in anarchist circles ] have been paralleled by discussions within our party, for instance, whether the revolution is to be a class or a non-class affair, and to what extent can community struggles outside the workplace be assimilated to struggles at the point of production.

(For the record, our view is that the revolution has to be the work of the working class, but as the working class understood not as just manual industrial workers but as anyone forced to work for a wage or salary irrespective of the job they do, i.e. most people today; and that non-workplace struggles such as tenants associations and claimants’ unions are as legitimate defensive struggles as the trade union struggle over wages and working conditions.)

On the other subjects which divide contemporary anarchists, we would side with the syndicalists in saying that economic exploitation is primary, but with the anarcho-communists in saying that future society will involve community-based administrative councils and not exclusively industry-based ones. We oppose the blanket rejection of the existing trade unions as proposed by the ACF (and the council communists). And we would agree with statements quoted by Franks (and have said the same thing many times ourselves) that “we exist not as something separate from the working class, not as some leadership for others to follow, but as part of the working class working for our own liberation” (Subversion) and “to the Left the working class are there to be ordered about because we are too thick to think for ourselves” (Class War).
In Franks’s scheme, we would be classified as a group practising “propaganda by word” with occasional forays into “constitutional activity” in the form of participation in elections. What we don’t do – and which all the anarchist groups engage in – is to participate, as a group, in “micropolitics”, local single-issue campaigns. We don’t necessarily dismiss all such campaigns as entirely useless but think it best to leave them up to the people directly concerned, merely advising them (if asked) to organise and conduct themselves democratically, without leaders and without outside interference ..."

It may be relevant or not , but an ex-fellow worker recently asked me if it was true that the SPGB had taken the position on the IWW that members are not permitted to join it .

I replied with a lengthy denial , explaining exactly what the Socialist Party's view on the IWW was , as i saw it personally .

" The official position as far i'm aware is that as long as the IWW behaves and acts as a workers union then its up to individual members to decide whether or not it is in their interests to join . My and other members membership of the IWW was known and never questioned . We also have several in America and Europe who are Wobblies . Trade Unions and the inherent contradictions that sometimes arise has always been something the SPGB was aware of from its foundation and it took a few years to internally debate and settle down with an accepted position . Eg SPGB members of course won't pay the political levy in affiliated to Labour Party unions and opposed the closed shop and overtly pro labour party policies etc etc etc .And the SPGB , of course , recognise the defensive nature of trade unionism , syndicalism and industrial unionism and their limitations to resist the encroachments of Capital and State Power .

Previously in the past , during the formative years of both organisations , the IWW was seen as more of an anti-political ie an anarchist organisation , promoting Industrial Unionism , which the SPGB disavowed as sectional and undemocratic , since it was about industries controlling the means of production and distribution and not society as a whole ie also those outside the work-place .

But the SPGB now accepts that in recent years the IWW can be more accurately described as an a-political organisation , if you get the difference of emphasis since it itself has changed its approach to the class struggle and for all practical purposes now acts as an extremely democratic and very progressive , inspirational and educational union that is to be recommended for membership when it is to the workers advantage , which is the majority of the time and situations .No longer being divisive with outright opposition to the pure and simple reformist unions by adopting the dual -card policy has been another change which differentiates the present from the early IWW that the SPGB criticised .

Historically , no member as far as i know from my reading and discussions was ever expelled for being IWW , it was simply accepted that there was a conflict over the political power versus economic power issue and they usually resigned .

The Canadian OBU which did accept the importance of the political struggle rather more than the IWW and the prominent participation of SPGBers within it , demonstrates that we never ever stood aloof to the industrial scene and class war , as many distractors and critics keep repeating until its become a myth and urban legend for many on the Left .

Decisions about industrial disputes and work-place union agreements are to be made by strike committees and those on picket lines and those directly involved and not by outside- the- union Political Party executives has always been the counsel of the SPGB .

There is no official proscription to being an IWW member , (tho strangely enough the National Secular Society is deemed incompatable with membership unenforced rule since several are members of it and being a member of Womens Liberation was also prohibited when it arose in the 60s and 70s but that was officially revoked by a conference decision when the hard core SPGBers were expelled and went off to form Socialist Studies breakaway .)

I don't want to preach but i think the attitude of the SPGB is that the Revolutionary Union does not make revolutionaries but that it is revolutionary union members which make the Revolutionary Union . The more effective the union is in achieving victories against capitalism , the more the non radical workers will join it for the trade union benefits and water down its revolutionary aspects . Just as they will desert it if the revolutionary aspirations hinder the practicalities of the daily bread and butter fight ...blah blah blah ....And that point also brought the SPGB into opposition with the De Leonist SLP and there Socialist Industrial Unions .The SPGB have always insisted that there will be a separation and that no political party should , or can successfully use , unions as an economic wing , until a time very much closer to the Revolution when there are substantial and sufficient numbers of socialist conscious workers . And for the foreseeable thats far off in the future .

So its not a formal position to the IWW that has been taken by the SPGB but an informal one ( and a practical one ), which can change if the IWW decide that certain ideas should take precedence over others or again become dominated by one particular strand of political thought , rather than an open and inclusive workers organisation which exists now .It will be exercised by SPGB members as individuals , voting by their feet or bringing charges of action detrimental to the Party to members who stay inside both organisations by others who do consider it incompatable and that is very unlikely considering the developments within the IWW in recent years .

Not sure if that helps but it is i believe how the SPGB views the relationship with the IWW and that what i have described is a true reflection of where things stand . I have always thought it a honourable one . "

Both the anarchist article in the Socialist Standard and my letter makes it clear that the SPGB is no entryist organisation out to seek control of the working class .

No comments: