The Making Of A Politicized Prisoner

| Filed under For discussion

mps

The third installment in our ‘How I was radicalized’ series comes from Okwute Ekwensu. His powerful account describes the experience of leading a criminal life that led to incarceration, followed by his radicalization in prison. Okwute lives in the Twin Cities and is involved in the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC).

Part 1|Part 2|Part 3

How I was radicalized (Part 3): The Making Of A Politicized Prisoner
by Okwute Ekwensu

The following is a brief account of how my lifetime of experiences with the prison industrial complex transformed me into a politicized prisoner and anti-capitalist revolutionary.

I grew up in a quiet, majority white suburb about a mile outside the Twin Cities. My mother is a public school teacher from rural Minnesota and my father is a Nigerian immigrant whose childhood was disrupted by the Nigerian-Biafran civil war. I was raised in a relatively comfortable middle class family along with my younger brother. Though I may have not realized it at the time, being one of the few Africans in a majority white neighborhood and school made me somewhat of an outcast. Before the end of elementary school, I was well aware that I was not white and would be viewed and treated differently as a result.

Being a relatively isolated youth in white suburban Minnesota began to influence my worldview. In school, teachers have lower expectations and are quicker to take disciplinary actions when it comes to black children. Another downside to being a racial outlier in my community was the attention I got from police. Beginning at the age of 12 or 13, stops and searches became frequent. Occasionally, police contact escalated to instances of brutality. I think the main cause for this was that being a black person in a neighborhood in which the vast majority was white, I was always spotted by police and looked out of place in their eyes. Many times entire working class communities of color are criminalized. In my neighborhood, police occupation was not as intense, but the spotlight was on me because I appeared to be “out of bounds”, which raised suspicion from law enforcement personnel who had a habit of racial profiling. I was viewed as a threat who must be in the neighborhood to steal, do graffiti or sell drugs. Several times I came home to my parents upset after experiencing police harassment or brutality, only for them not to believe me. “You must have done something wrong!” they would say. The naïve trust my parents had in police and a post-racial America was not helpful in preparing me to navigate society as a black man.

Consistent negative interactions with police instilled an anti-authoritarian mentality in me. Distrustful of those appointed to uphold the law, I began to question the legitimacy of law itself. In my high school years, I experimented with drug use, and then began participating in criminalized economies. My illegalist activity developed until I carried out an act of gun violence over a conflict in the drug trade. I was captured a week after this incident and sent out-of-state to a reform school. This is where I got my first taste of the real world. Strict rules were harshly enforced with beatings from the staff, which at times were severe. I don’t think one kid passed through that place without being beaten on at least one occasion. Most of the other juveniles placed there were black and from local poor and working class neighborhoods. In addition to the constant threat of abuse at the hands of staff, I had to hold my own against other residents as well, due to being from out of town. Over the course of 15 months, these harsh experiences instilled a defiant street mentality. Correctional institutions claim to force individuals to reflect on their wrongdoing, but many times incarceration only leaves people feeling like the victims themselves and they wholeheartedly embrace the criminal identity that society has already branded them with.

After leaving the juvenile placement, I was put on a form of supervision where the length of surveillance is extended from ages 18 to 21, and an adult sentence to the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) is executed if probation is violated and revoked before that time. For many young people, this type of sentencing ensures the jump from the juvenile system into the the adult prison system.

After getting out, I was even more disconnected from my community and school because I was seen as a dangerous criminal by adults and my peers. This led to my closest group of friends becoming those who I had experienced the torment of confinement and abuse alongside in the juvenile system. Up until this point, I had been straddling two worlds. Now, my family, peers and teachers knew what I had been doing. The stigma of a felony conviction and adoption of a criminal identity, as well as a group of friends I had come to closely relate to due to the ordeal we endured side by side in placement led to a transition from a rebellious kid to a more developed criminal committed to street life. School and work no longer appealed to me. Both had come to feel very similar to juvenile detention. With a new network of friends throughout Minneapolis, I re-entered the drug economy and took part in the violence which seems inevitable in that world.

One of the places I used to spend a lot of my time was a condemned apartment building that myself and some others occupied to sell drugs out of. One individual who was associated with a particular off-shoot of the Nation of Islam used to come there, buy a bag of weed, and sit and talk with us while he rolled it up and smoked it. We were not really interested in what he had to say, but since he was spending money, we let him hang around. After some time, his ideology began to catch on with some of us. For the first time we were thinking about the white supremacist power structure. Although I disagree with this brother on a whole lot of topics today, I appreciate his dedication in coming to engage with us in a place where nobody else would, and for providing a spark that was a major step in my political development.

Just before my 21st birthday, my probation was revoked due to an illegal firearm possession case. This landed me in the Minnesota DOC. During my time in prison, I began to self-educate a lot. The most influential author that I read was George Jackson. His anger, militancy, condemnation of the prison system, imperialism and sense of urgency in overthrowing capitalism resonated with me unlike anything else I had read up to that point. After that, I continued learning about the origins of the prison industrial complex in slavery, and the huge industry it has become. Most crime occurs as a result of economic need. The casualties of capitalist society are swept under the rug and subjected to slave labor, to the detriment of the entire working class. I became aware of the need for revolution.

Since returning from prison I have become active in organizing with the IWW- Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. I knew I wanted to do prison work and this project appealed to me because we aim to bring labor struggle inside prisons, giving incarcerated people the power to fight back against this modern system of slavery in order to improve conditions. Most incarcerated people respond to being caged in one of two ways. Some accept the justice system’s narrative of a complete emphasis on personal responsibility, that they are anti-social, immoral, dangerous people that society must be protected from. They react by trying their best to conform. Others embrace the criminal identity and continue to risk returning to prison. I think there is a third response, which is to know your enemy and commit to fighting systems of oppression that will continue to hurt us all until we do away with them entirely.

Print Friendly
by recomposition | tags : | 0

Growing up during the ‘War on Terror’

| Filed under For discussion

18k1nsnnb6s05jpg

The second part of our ‘How were you radicalized?’ series brings us to the 2000s. Starting with his family roots in the South African anti-apartheid and American civil rights movements, the author takes us through the post-9/11 and Iraq War era, a time when many of us found the radical left. This piece was written by our friend, Dee, who is in First of May Anarchist Alliance as well as the IWW. Although a lifelong Midwesterner, he is currently living in South Africa.

How I was radicalized (Part 2): Growing up during the ‘War on Terror’
by Dee

I was born in an impoverished, predominantly black city near Chicago called Harvey. The youngest of 5, I was raised by two lifelong activist/artists who have been married since the 1970s. My dad is a former South African Communist exile and member of the ANC (African National Congress) who made his living as a jazz musician. My mother was a former civil rights organizer and teacher from the west side of Chicago. Radical politics has been a part of my life since before I can remember. My earliest political influences included Pan-African philosophers like Marcus Garvey, W.E.B Du Bois and Kwame Nkrumah. As kids, my brothers and I were constantly encouraged to be independent thinkers. In fact, we were taught to read as soon as we were potty trained. These factors were crucial in my development as a political revolutionary.

When I was 8 years old, our family moved to Milwaukee, where my mom was offered a teaching job at a Pan-African charter school. I was enrolled there until 5th grade, when my mom began homeschooling me instead. A year before that, my dad moved to South Africa to live for the first time in over 30 years. I would not see him again for a decade. Despite his absence, my mom was able to manage her entrepreneurial career and home school me part time. I spent most of my time learning about subjects that most interested me. Geography and history were my favorites. It was around age 11 when I first started reading about the Vietnam war. The clash of political forces and the radical cultural shifts of that time fascinated me. I was ashamed and appalled at how my country could commit such acts of mass murder against millions of innocent lives.What amazed me most however, was the resilience of such a small yet determined Communist resistance. It was at this time that I developed a curiosity for Communist philosophy and started reading the works of prominent writers like Lenin and Mao.

Like many Americans, I remember the televised tragedy that was 9/11 like a bad dream. I remember writing in my journal and listening to the radio as it happened. I couldn’t comprehend the scale of it until I turned on the TV and saw those towers tumble to the ground. It left an impression on me of great shock. Mom’s reaction was quite tame: “chickens coming home to roost” as Malcolm X used to say”. It didn’t seem like a harsh comment to me as I was well aware America had accumulated countless enemies throughout its history. Who these particular enemies were and why they were angry, wouldn’t make sense to me until later.

Subsequently, a new wave of patriotic nationalism swept over the country. Radical leftists were not exempt from this as I noticed several of them go from revolutionary to reactionary overnight. This new political climate made it difficult for radicals to organize publicly. My own political development was severely stunted and soon I would find myself falling prey to the sensationalized notion of “patriotism”. I remember reading the paper one day and seeing an American flag printed on the back pages. For some reason, just seeing this flag produced an overwhelming feeling of fear and sadness in my heart that I still cannot fully explain. Afterward I decided to do something that would have been previously unthinkable. I cut the flag out and pasted it to my door. When my mom and older brother saw this they were not amused. My brother even threatened to tear it down but my mom stopped him. She was aware of the current political climate and the effects it could have on people. She bet that eventually I would realize the error of my ways, and she was absolutely right.

Two years later, George Bush would order the U.S military into Iraq, thereby initiating a vicious cycle of death and destruction that continues unabated to this day. Seeing such a costly and pointless war justified on manufactured rumors and lies immediately set me back on the path towards radicalization. Simultaneously, the left was given new life which began to reassemble under the antiwar movement. Millions of people took to the streets to express their righteous anger against another unjust war. While I was inspired by this, I was also skeptical that protest alone would be enough to stop what was coming. Therefore, my participation was minimal. Knowing what I know now, I would have definitely done more.

By the time I enrolled in public high school I was an explicit radical Communist, more specifically I identified as a Marxist-Leninist (even though I hated Joseph Stalin). I quickly became well known for wearing “controversial” political t-shirts. Only my right-wing civics teacher ever challenged me about it. One day he tried to make me look ignorant by asking “do you really know who that Che Guevara guy on your shirt is?” I gave him an unexpected accurate reply which made him cut me off mid-paragraph and continue on with his lesson plan.

As my studies continued, my politics began to mature and I started to become disillusioned with Communism. I could no longer accept the contradictory notion of “state Communism” the way I used to. I was still a believer in Marxism, but with no understanding of radical leftism outside of mainstream Communism, my confidence in leftist theory faltered. It was at this time that I started reading a lot of Noam Chomsky and from him I was introduced to the concept of anarchism. I was not at all aware of its rich history, let alone the fact that it was a left-wing political ideology.

By junior year I had fully made the conversion to anarchism. I became a huge fan of the Crimethinc Ex-Workers Collective. Short literary books and zines like Off the Map and Rolling Thunder became my favorites. Sometime during this period I would help start a graffiti group with two other friends. Graffiti provided an outlet for me to channel my political rage. I also started blogging for the group on our Myspace page and produced a good amount of anarchist propaganda which managed to attract some followers. Just as this group was starting to expand I graduated high school and was sent away to live with my older siblings in Minneapolis.

The weekend I was supposed to leave was ironically the same day as Crimethinc’s annual convergence, which was set to happen in a rural town close to Milwaukee. This would be my first chance to actually meet seasoned anarchists from all across the country and I would not miss it. The convergence initially started off with a sudden downpour which held up the initial setup. Afterward, strangers started talking to each other and helping out with the set-up which broke the ice a bit. Having come by myself to the back woods of Wisconsin, I felt somewhat vulnerable and out of place. Being one of the few black people in attendance did not help this. As time went on this feeling eventually dissipated. But I was outraged to find out that a white South African “anarchist” was allowed to conduct a workshop where he spoke openly of his dislike for black people and no one said a thing. After hearing this I made it a personal mission to confront him but he was noticeably absent.

Most of the workshops themselves tended to be more about identity politics and lifestylism than actual organizing.There was however one exceptional workshop that detailed various formations and tactics that police use to quell protests. This was in preparation for the upcoming Republican National Convention (RNC) protest set to happen the following month in St. Paul, MN. This turned out to be quite convenient for me as I would be moving to nearby Minneapolis the very next day.

I moved to Minneapolis an enlightened, yet financially challenged and socially unconnected, young man. Minneapolis was, and still is, worlds apart from Milwaukee. To make matters worse, when the RNC came to St. Paul I found myself unable to attend due to not being plugged in to the organizing efforts and having transportation issues. To make matters worse, Arise bookstore, my last connection to the left community had closed down. Three years later I would finally get my chance at redemption when the Occupy Wall Street movement came to Minnesota. From that experience I would gain invaluable contacts and resources that eventually led to me joining the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). I’ve been an active radical union organizer ever since.

Print Friendly
by recomposition | tags : | 0

From the right-wing to the revolutionary left

| Filed under For discussion

9655c7f1c0829b204074a064e6f19672For May Day, we are presenting the start of a new multipart series around the question ‘How were you radicalized?’ On the radical left, many people often speak of their protest or organizing experiences, almost like old war veterans. But one of the more interesting stories…people’s personal path to radical politics, aren’t always told. 

The first part in our series takes us briefly though the ’60s and ’70s and is from Tom Wetzel. Tom’s other writings can be found on his personal website, as well as on ideas & action, a publication by Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA).

 

How I was radicalized (Part 1): From the right-wing to the revolutionary left

by Tom Wetzel

I grew up in a blue collar family of auto-didacts. I lived with my grandmother who was a milliner who worked in hat-making factories. She was strongly influenced by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister who was an organizer with the Underground Railroad of the 1850s. Parker had developed a critique of Bible-based religion because he believed it could not provide an adequate basis for attacking white supremacy. My grandmother told me that I should regard all humans as my “brothers and sisters.”

My family encouraged me to read and think for myself. A childhood friend recently told me that in high school he perceived me as an “intellectual.” As a teenager my initial political direction was to the right. When I was 19 I was a member of the Young Republicans at a local community college. I had read Ayn Rand’s various books, but also was influenced by the distributivism [1] of Chesterton and Belloc. They wanted a return to the pre-capitalist economy of self-employed farmers and artisans.

Between the mid-’60s and the mid-’70s I moved from right wing politics to the revolutionary left.

After graduating from high school I worked for six years in the gas station chain operated by Standard Oil of California (now called Chevron). I usually worked graveyard shift to avoid bosses. I worked often with older black men. They told me stories which helped me to better appreciate the circumstances of life faced by black people in America. This was during the period of the black freedom movement, and I gradually became a supporter of that movement. This led to some heated arguments with certain members of my family.

Working as a gas jockey helped to develop my class consciousness. At the time of the national student strike against the Vietnam War in May-June 1970, a network of the younger workers in that chain began a rule disobedience. The company had a very strict hair and dress policy that seemed to be modeled on the Marines. As a protest we began to ignore it…grow beards etc. This was initiated by one of my high school buddies. Chevron sent a VP from San Francisco to L.A. and we were all fired. The company liberalized the dress code after our firing.

The lesson I learned from this was the weakness of purely spontaneous forms of workplace protest. At the station where I worked there was a diverse group…some blacks, two gay men, immigrants, younger and older. I realized that an effective movement among that workforce would need to have discussions with the different people, listen to their grievances, and get them involved.

There was actually a lot of worker rebellion going on in the early ‘70s such as the illegal national postal strike and the national wildcat strike of over-the-road truck drivers. To fight a court injunction in L.A., students from UCLA replaced Teamsters in picketing the trucking companies…with the drivers cheering from across the street.

By the early ’70s I was doing a lot of socialist reading. From Marx’s philosophical manuscripts to the left-wing of the old American Socialist Party. I appreciated writers who could explain the ideas to ordinary people in clear language.

In 1970, after starting work as a teaching assistant (TA) at UCLA, I attended a union organizing meeting along with 40 other people. The TAs union at UCLA was a grassroots organization with no paid officers or paid staff. It was run basically through a shop stewards council and assemblies in the departments. For me, this was concrete proof of the possibility of grassroots unionism.

By the early ’70s I had become an advocate of both democratic, militant unionism and a labor political party. I was sympathetic to the International Socialists at that time. Leninism was really quite dominant in radical politics in that era. The Leninists who were particularly dogmatic liked to call themselves “revolutionary communists”. I eventually realized I couldn’t stomach Leninism even in its milder I.S. form.

A New Left writer who I appreciated was Staughton Lynd. He was one of the people who helped to create the New American Movement. NAM called itself a non-Leninist revolutionary socialist organization. So I joined. I think for me the most important aspect of NAM was its emphasis on socialist-feminism, which was in practice the source of what is now called the “intersectional” approach.
An early NAM project was Jeremy Rifkin’s People’s Bicentennial Commission. I helped to organize the L.A. chapter. This was basically a propaganda effort to promote worker self-management under the slogan “economic democracy.”

My conception of socialism had been influenced by guild socialism. I had come across this via my reading of Bertrand Russell’s Roads to Freedom. This led me to read G.D.H. Cole, whose The Meaning of Marxism is an excellent introduction to Marxism.

In organizing my department into the TAs union, I worked with a younger friend who was an anarcho-syndicalist. Ralph had been a member of “The Resistance” in the late ’60s. He was also part of an anarchist faction expelled from the local Students for a Democratic Society chapter by the Marxist-Leninists. Although short-lived, the Resistance was the first group in that period in L.A. to develop an anarcho-syndicalist political position. From Ralph, I first learned about the Spanish revolution. Reading about that movement helped me to see the concrete viability of a syndicalist strategy and I was inspired by the mass collectivizations of industry.

I think the key change in my thinking during the course of the ‘70s was that I gradually began to develop more of a critique of the state and electoral politics. I think my shift from right to left in the ‘60s happened mainly because I began to get a more realistic grasp on capitalism, its brutality (as manifested in imperialist wars for example) and oppressive class structure. But I also think the general emergence of radical social movements in that period was an influence because it encourages you to believe that social change is possible.

 

[1] - A kind of economics based on Catholic social teachings.

Print Friendly
by recomposition | tags : | 0

As We See It / As We Don’t See It

| Filed under For discussion

RedBlk

 

The twentieth century went back and forth between two extremes. On one side, individualism would reign supreme in the ambitions of ‘great men’, in the excesses of Wall Street and in the quest for meaning in art and literature. On the other hand, the glorification of a caricature of the human community in the phony communism of nationalized industry under a party dictatorship. On both sides of the Iron Curtain, a battle raged between the need for social action on the parts of large groups of people and the debasement of humanity that happened in the name of this action. A simultaneous perversion of humanity and the individual occurred.

As We See It/As We Don’t See it stand out as one of the best attempts at expressing a politics that both reflects the battle between these poles and cuts to the nature of this tension. No doubt like anything that old, parts of it are now a bit dated, but the basic sentiment and approach are as relevant now as they ever were.

  These texts were taken from the on-line Solidarity and Subversion archive at af-north.org

As we see it / Don’t see it
by Solidarity
I. As We See It

  1. Throughout the world the vast majority of people have no control whatsoever over the decisions that most deeply and directly affect their lives. They sell their labour power while others who own or control the means of production accumulate wealth, make the laws and use the whole machinery of the State to perpetuate and reinforce their privileged positions.
  2. During the past century the living standards of working people have improved. But neither these improved living standards, nor the nationalisation of the means of production, nor the coming to power of parties claiming to represent the working class have basically altered the status of the worker as worker. Nor have they given the bulk of mankind much freedom outside of production. East and West, capitalism remains an inhuman type of society where the vast majority are bossed at work and manipulated in consumption and leisure. Propaganda and policemen, prisons and schools, traditional values and traditional morality all serve to reinforce the power of the few and to convince or coerce the many into acceptance of a brutal, degrading and irrational system. The ‘Communist’ world is not communist and the ‘Free’ world is not free.
  3. The trade unions and the traditional parties of the left started in business to change all this. But they have come to terms with the existing patterns of exploitation. In fact they are now essential if exploiting society is to continue working smoothly. The unions act as middlemen in the labour market. The political parties use the struggles and aspirations of the working class for their own ends. The degen- eration of working class organisations, itself the result of the failure of the revolutionary movement, has been a major factor in creating working class apathy, which in turn has led to the further degeneration of both parties and unions.
  4. The trade unions and political parties cannot be reformed, ‘captured’, or converted into instruments of working class emancipation. We don’t call however for the proclamation of new unions, which in the conditions of today would suffer a similar fate to the old ones. Nor do we call for militants to tear up their union cards. Our aims are simply that the workers themselves should decide on the objectives of their struggles and that the control and organisation of these struggles should remain firmly in their own hands. The forms which this self – activity of the working class may take will vary considerably from country to country and from industry to industry. Its basic content will not.
  5. Socialism is not just the common ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. It means equality, real freedom, reciprocal recognition and a radical transformation in all human relations. It is ‘man’s positive self-consciousness’. It is man’s understanding of his environment and of himself, his domination over his work and over such social institutions as he may need to create. These are not secondary aspects, which will automatically follow the expropriation of the old ruling class, On the contrary they are essential parts of the whole process of social transformation, for without them no genuine social transformation will have taken place.
  6. A socialist society can therefore only be built from below. Decisions concerning production and work will be taken by workers’ councils composed of elected and revocable delegates, Decisions in other areas will be taken on the basis of the widest possible discussion and consultation among the people as a whole. This democratisation of society down to its very roots is what we mean by ‘worker’s power’.
  7. Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self -activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others – even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.
  8. No ruling class in history has ever relinquished its power without a struggle and our present rulers are unlikely to be an exception. Power will only be taken from them through the conscious, autonomous action of the vast majority of the people themselves. The building of socialism will require mass understanding and mass participation. By their rigid hierarchical structure, by their ideas and by their activities, both social- democratic and Bolshevik types of organisations discourage this kind of understanding and prevent this kind of participation. The idea that socialism can somehow be achieved by an elite party (however revolutionary’) acting ‘on behalf of’ the working class is both absurd and reactionary.
  9. We do not accept the view that by itself the working class can only achieve a trade union consciousness. On the contrary we believe that its conditions of life and its experiences in production constantly drive the working class to adopt priorities and values and to find methods of Organisation which challenge the established social order and established pattern of thought. These responses are implicitly socialist, On the other hand, the working class is fragmented, dispossessed of the means of communication, and its various sections are at different levels of awareness and consciousness. The task of the revolutionary Organisation is to help give proletarian consciousness an explicitly socialist content, to give practical assistance to workers in struggle, and to help those in different areas to exchange experiences and link up with one another.
  10. We do not see ourselves as yet another leadership, but merely as an instrument of working class action. The function of SOLIDARITY is to help all those who are in conflict with the present authoritarian social structure, both in industry and in society at large, to generalise their experience, to make a total critique of their condition and of its causes, and to develop the mass revolutionary consciousness necessary if society is to be totally transformed.

II. As We Don’t See It
INTRODUCTION

When, in 1967, we first published ‘As We See It’ we felt it to be both an accurate and a fairly concise summary of our views. Alternatives had been discussed and every possible effort made to avoid ambiguities. We thought we had produced a fairly explicit text, acceptance of which should be the basis of adherence to a SOLIDARITY group.

Over the years we have come to realize that we were wrong, There was either something the matter with the document – or with some of those who read it. Or perhaps there was something the matter with us – for having thought the text was self-explanatory. Radicals repeatedly told us that they agreed with every word of the statement … and in the next breath asked us why we were not doing faction work in the Labour Party, or living in communes, or campaigning for the T. U. ‘lefts’, or eulogising the Black Panthers or Karume’s anti-imperialist regime in Zanzibar, or participating in the anti-Common Market agitation. Some even asked why we were not advocating the launching of a ‘real, revolutionary, Leninist party’.

We now feel it necessary to dot some i’s and cross some t’s. What follows is an attempt to state explicitly thoughts that were only hinted at, and to formulate in writing propositions that were only implied. ‘As We Don’t See It’ would convey the general tenor of what follows. In an attempt to avoid further ambiguity we will also discuss some matters that were not dealt with in the original text.

  1. ‘Throughout the world’ means exactly what it says. It does not mean everywhere except Social-Democratic Sweden, Castro’s Cuba., Tito’s Yugoslavia, Israel’s kibbutzim or Sekou Toure’s Guinea. ‘Throughout the world’ includes pre-Stalinist, Stalinist and post-Stalinist Russia, Ben Bella’s and Boumedienne’s Algeria and the Peoples Republics of Uzbekistan and North Vietnam. Everywhere also includes Albania (and China).

Our comments about contemporary society apply to all these countries just as much as to the USA or to Britain (under either Labour or Conservative governments). When we talk of privileged minorities who ‘control the means of production! and who use the whole machinery of the state to maintain themselves in power we are making a universal critique to which, at the moment, we can see no exceptions.

IT FOLLOWS that we don’t regard any of these countries as socialist and that we don’t act as if we had lurking suspicions that they might be something other than what they are: hierarchically structured class societies based on wage slavery and exploitation. Their identification with socialism – even as deformed variants – is a slander against the very concept of socialism (abortions, after all, share some of the attributes of their parents). It is moreover a source of endless mysti- fication and confusion, It also follows from this basic assessment that we do not support China against Russia, or Russia against China (or alternatively the one and then the other), that we do not carry NLF flags on demonstrations (the enemies of our enemies are not necessarily our friends), and that we refrain from joining sundry choruses demanding more East-West trade, more Summit Conferences or more ping-pong diplomacy.

In every country of the world the rulers oppress the :ruled and persecute genuine revolutionaries. In every country the main enemy of the people is their own ruling class, This alone can provide the basis of a genuine internationalism of the oppressed.

  1. Socialism cannot be equated with the ‘coming to power of parties claiming to represent the working class’. Political power is a fraud if working people do not take over and retain power in production. If they achieve such power, the organs exerting it (Workers Councils) will take and implement all the necessary political decisions. IT FOLLOWS that we don’t advocate the formation of ‘better’ or ‘more revolutionary’ political parties whose function would remain the ‘capture of state power’. The Party’s power may grow out of the barrel of a gun. The power of the working class grows out of its management of the economy and of society as a whole.

Socialism cannot be equated with such measures as the ‘nationalisation of the means of production’. These may help the rulers of various class societies to rationalise their system of exploitation and solve their own problems. We refuse to choose between options defined by our class enemies. IT FOLLOWS that we don’t urge nationalisation (or anything else for that matter) on governments of either ‘right’ or ‘left’.

Section II implies that modern capitalism can further develop the means of production. At a cost, it can improve living standards. But neither of these has any socialist content. Anyone who wants three square meals a day and the prospect of endless employment can find them in any well -run gaol. IT FOLLOWS that we don’t denounce capitalism primarily on the basis of its inadequacies in these fields. Socialism, for us, is not about transistors for the prisoners. It is about the destruction of the industrial prison itself. It is not only about more bread, but about who runs the bakery.

The section finally emphasises the multiple methods whereby the system perpetuates itself. By mentioning propaganda as well as policemen, schools as well as prisons, traditional values and traditional morality as well as traditional methods of physical coercion, the section stresses an important obstacle to the achievement of a free society, namely the fact that the vast majority of the exploited and the manipulated have internalised and largely accepted the system’s norms and values (for example such concepts as hierarchy, the division of society into order-givers and order-takers, wage labour, and the polarity of sexual roles) and consider them intrinsically rational, Because of all this IT FOLLOWS that we reject as incomplete ( and hence inadequate) notions which attribute the perpetuation of the system solely to police repression or to the ‘betrayals’ of various political or trade union leaders.

A crisis of values and an increased questioning of authority relations are, however, developing features of contemporary society. The growth of these crises is one of the preconditions for socialist revolution. Socialism will only be possible when the majority of people understand the need for -social change, become aware of their ability to transform society, decide to exert their collective power to this end, and know with what they want to replace the present system. IT FOLLOWS that we reject analyses (such as those of every variety of leninist or trotskyist) who define the main crisis of modern society as a ‘crisis of leadership’. They are all generals in search of an army, for whom recruitment figures are the main yardstick of success. For us revolutionary change is a question of consciousness: the cons- ciousness that would make generals redundant.

  1. When we refer to the ‘traditional parties of the left’ we don’t only have in mind the social-democratic and ‘communist’ parties. Parties of this type have administered, administer and will continue to administer exploitative class societies, Under the title of ‘traditional parties of the left’ we also include the trad revs (traditional revolutionaries), i. e. the various leninist, trotskyist and maoid sects who are the carriers of state capitalist ideology and the embryonic nuclei of repressive, state- capitalist power.

These groups are prefigurations of alternative types of exploitation, Their critiques of the social-democratic, ‘stalinist’ or ‘revisionist’ left may appear virulent enough, but they never deal with fundamentals (such as the structure of decision-making, the locus of real power, the primacy of the Party, the existence of hierarchy, the maximisation of surplus value, the perpetuation of wage labour, and inequality). This is no accident and flows from the fact that they themselves accept these fundamentals, Bourgeois ideology is far more widespread than many revolutionaries believe and has in fact deeply permeated their thinking. in this sense Marx’s statement about ‘the dominant ideas of each epoch being the ideas of its ruling class, is far more true than Marx could ever have anticipated.

As far as authoritarian class society (and the libertarian-socialist alter- native) is concerned the trad revs are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Those who subscribe to social-democratic or Bolshevik ideology are themselves either the victims of the prevailing mystification (and attempts should be made to demystify them), or they are the conscious exponents and future beneficiaries of a new form of class rule (and should be ruthlessly exposed). In either case IT FOLLOWS that there is nothing ‘sectarian’ in systematically proclaiming our opposition to what they stand for. Not to do so would be tantamount to suppressing our critique of half of the prevailing social order. It would mean to participate in the general mystification of traditional politics (where one thinks one thing and says another) and to deny the very basis of our independent political existence.

  1. Because the traditional parties cannot be ‘reformed’, ‘captured’, or converted into instruments of working class emancipation – and because we are reluctant-to indulge in double-talk and doublethink – IT FOLLOWS that we do not indulge in such activities as ‘critically supporting’ the Labour Party at election time, calling for ‘Labour to Power’ between elections, and generally participating in sowing illu- sions, the better at a later date to ‘take people through the experience’ of seeing through them. The Labour and Communist parties may be Marginally superior to the Conservative Party in driving private cap- italism along the road to state capitalism. The trad revs would certainly prove superior to both. But we are not called upon to make any choice of this kind: it is not the role of revolutionaries to be the midwives of new forms of exploitation. IT FOLLOWS that we would rather fight for what we want (even if we don’t immediately get it) than fight for what we don’t want and get it.

The trade union bureaucracy is an essential component of developing state capitalist societies, The trade union leaders neither ‘betray’ nor ‘sell out’ when they manipulate working class struggles and seek to use them for their own ends. They are not ‘traitors’ when they seek to increase their material rewards or to lessen the frequency with which they have to submit to election – they are acting logically and according to their own interests, which just happen to be different from those of working people. IT FOLLOWS that we do not urge people to elect ‘better’ leaders, to ‘democratise’ the unions or to create new ones, which under the circumstances of today would suffer exactly the same fate as the old ones. All these are ‘non-issues’ about which only those who have failed to grasp the real root of the problem can get worked up.

The real need is to concentrate on the positive task of building the alternative (both in people’s minds and in reality) namely autonomous job organisations, linked to others in the same industry and elsewhere, and controlled from below. Sooner or later such organisations will either enter into conflict with the existing outfits claiming to ‘represent’ the working class (and it would be premature at this stage to define the possible forms of this conflict), or they will bypass the old organisations altogether.

  1. This section differentiates our concept of socialism from most of those prevailing today. Socialism, for us, is not just a question of economic reorganisation from which other benefits will ‘inevitably’ follow, without consciously being fought for. It is a total vision of a completely different society, Such a vision is linked to the total critique of capitalism we have previously referred to.

Social-democrats and Bolsheviks denounce equality as ‘utopian’, ‘petty- bourgeois’, or ‘anarchist’. They dismiss the advocacy of freedom as ‘abstract’, and reciprocal recognition as ‘liberal humanism’. They will concede that the radical transformation of all social relations is a valid ultimate objective, but cannot see it as an essential, immediate ingredient of the very process of meaningful change.

When we talk of ‘man’s positive self-consciousness’ and of ‘his under- standing of his environment and of himself’ we mean the gradual discarding of all myths and of all types of false consciousness (religion, nationalism, patriarchal attitudes, the belief in the rationality of hierarchy, etc.). The pre-condition of human freedom is the understanding of all that limits it.

Positive self -consciousness implies the gradual breakdown of that state of chronic schizophrenia in which – through conditioning and other mechanisms most people succeed in carrying mutually incompatible ideas in their heads. it means accepting coherence, and perceiving the relation of means and ends. It means exposing those who organise conferences about ‘workers control’ .. , addressed by union officials elected for life. It means patiently explaining the incompatibilities of ‘People’s capitalism’, parliamentary socialism’, ‘Christian communism’, ‘anarcho-zionism’, ‘Party-led “workers councils” ‘, and other such rubbish. It means understanding that a non-manipulative society cannot be achieved by manipulative means or a classless society through hierarchical structures. This attempt at both gaining insight and at imparting it will be difficult and prolonged. It will doubtless be dismissed as ‘intellectual theorising’ by every ‘voluntarist’ or ‘activist, tendency, eager for short cuts to the promised land and more concerned with movement than with direction.

Because we think people can and should understand what they are doing, IT FOLLOWS that we reject many of the approaches so common in the movement today. In practice this means avoiding the use of revolutionary myths and the resort to manipulated confrontations, intended to raise consciousness. Underlying both of these is the usually unformulated assumption that people cannot understand social reality and act rationally on their own behalf.

Linked to our rejection of revolutionary myths is our rejection of ready- made political labels. We want no gods, not even those of the marxist or anarchist pantheons. We live in neither the Petrograd of 1917 nor the Barcelona of 1936. We are ourselves: the product of the ‘disintegration of traditional politics, in an advanced industrial country, in the second half of the 20th century. It is to the problems and conflict of that society that we must apply ourselves.

Although we consider ourselves part of the ‘libertarian left’ we differ from most strands of the ‘cultural’ or ‘political’ underground. We have nothing in common, for instance, with those petty entrepreneurs, now thriving on the general confusion, who simultaneously promote such commodities as oriental mysticism, black magic, the drug cult, sexual exploitation (masquerading as sexual liberation) – seasoning it all with big chunks of populist mythology. Their dissemination of myths and their advocacy of ‘non-sectarian politics’ do not prevent them from taking up, in practice, many reactionary stances. In fact, they ensure it. Under the mindless slogan of ‘Support for people in struggle’, these tendencies advocate support for various nationalisms (today always reactionary) such as those of both IRAs and of all the NLFs.

Other strands, calling themselves ‘libertarian marxist’, suffer from middle class feelings of guilt which make them prone to workeritis, Despite this, their practice is both reformist and substitutionist. For instance, when they (correctly) support struggles for limited objectives, such as those of squatters or Claimants’ Unions, they often fail to stress the revolutionary implications of such collective direct action. Historically, direct action has often clashed with the reformist nature of the objectives pursued. Again, such tendencies support the IRAs and NLF s and refrain from criticizing the Cuban, North Vietnamese or Chinese regimes. Having rejected the Party, they nevertheless share with leninism a bourgeois concept of consciousness.

Because we think our politics should be coherent we also reject the approach of others in the libertarian movement who place their whole emphasis on personal liberation or who seek individual solutions to what are social problems. We dissociate ourselves from those who equate the violence of the oppressor with the violence of the oppressed (in a condemnation of fall violence’), and from those who place the rights of strikers on the picket line on the same footing as the right of scabs to blackleg (in an abstract defence of ‘freedom as such’). Similarly, anarcho-catholicism and anarcho-maoism are internally inco- herent outlooks, incompatible with revolutionary self -activity.

We feel that there should be some relation between our vision of socialism and what we do here and now. IT FOLLOWS that we seek as from now, and starting with those closest to us, to puncture some of the more widely held political myths. These are not confined to the ‘right’ – with its belief that hierarchy and inequality are of the essence of the human condition. We consider it irrational (and/or dishonest) that those who talk most of the masses (and of the capacity of the working class to create a new society) should have the least confidence in people’s ability to dispense with leaders. We also consider it irrational that the most radical advocates of ‘genuine social change’ should incorporate in their own ideas, programmes and organisational prescriptions so many of the values, priorities and models they claim to oppose.

  1. When we say that socialist society will be ‘built from below’, we mean just that. We do not mean ‘initiated from above and then endorsed from below’. Nor do we mean ‘planned from above and later checked from below’. We mean there should be no separation between organs of decision and organs of execution. This is why we advocate workers’ ‘management’ of production, and avoid the ambiguous demand for workers’ ‘control’. (The differences – both theoretical and historical – between the two are outlined in the introduction to our book on ‘The Bolsheviks and Workers Control: 1917 -1921′.)

We deny the revolutionary organisation any specific prerogative in the post-revolutionary period, or in the building of the new society, Its main function in this period will be to stress the primacy of the Workers Councils (and of bodies based on them) as instruments of decisional authority, and to struggle against all those who would seek to lessen or to bypass this authority – or to vest power elsewhere. Unlike others on the left who dismiss thinking about the new society as ‘preoccupation with the cookshops of the future’ we have outlined our ideas about a possible structure of such a society in some detail in our pamphlet on The Workers Councils.

  1. This section is perhaps the most important and least understood of the whole statement. It is the key to how we view our practical work. It defines yardsticks with which we can approach everyday political life and rationally use our mental and physical resources. It explains why we consider certain questions significant while others are dismissed as ‘non-issues Within the limits of our own coherence, it explains the content of our paper.

Because we do not consider them of particular relevance to the attitudes and aptitudes we seek to develop, we do not get worked up about such matters as parliamentary or trade union elections (getting others to do things for one), the Common Market or the convertibility crisis (partisan involvement in the problems of the rulers is of no help to the ruled), or about the struggle in Ireland or various putches in Africa (‘taking sides’ in struggles waged under the domination of a totally reactionary false consciousness), We cannot ignore these events without ignoring a portion of reality but we can at least avoid endowing them with a relevance to socialism they do not possess. Conversely we think the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the French events of May 1968 were deeply significant (for they were struggles against the bureaucracy, and attempts at self -management in both Eastern and Western contexts).

These yardsticks also help clarify our attitude to various industrial disputes. While most are a challenge to the employer, some have a deeper socialist content than others. Why for instance are ‘unofficial’ actions on conditions of work, waged under the close control of the rank and file, usually of deeper significance than ‘official’ actions on questions of wages, run from afar by the union bureaucrats? In terms of the development of socialist consciousness how a struggle is waged and what it is about are of fundamental importance. Socialism, after all, is about who takes the decisions. We believe this needs stressing, in practice, from now.

In our accounts of disputes our guide line is that one cannot tidy up reality, and that more is gained by honestly analysing real difficulties than by living in a mythical world, where one takes one’s wishes for reality, IT FOLLOWS that we seek to avoid the ‘triumphalist’ (in reality manipulatory) tone that mars so much of the industrial reporting and so many of the ‘interventions’ of the trad revs.

Finally the emphasis in Section VII on self -activity, and its warning about the harmful effects of manipulation, substitutionism or reliance on others to do things for one have deeper implications, of relevance to our own organisation.

  1. We are not pacifists. We have no illusions about what we are up against. In all class societies, institutional violence weighs heavily and constantly on the oppressed. Moreover the rulers of such societies have always resorted to more explicit physical repression when their power and privileges were really threatened. Against repression by the ruling class we endorse the people’s right to self-defence, by whatever means may be appropriate.

The power of the rulers feeds on the indecision and confusion of the ruled. Their power will only be overcome if confronted with ours: the power of a conscious and self-reliant majority, knowing what it wants and determined to get it. In modern industrial societies the power of such a majority will lie where thousands congregate daily, to sell their labour power in the production of goods and services.

Socialism cannot be the result of a putch, of the capture of some Palace, or of the blowing up of some Party or Police Headquarters, carried out ‘on behalf of the people’ or ‘to galvanise the masses’. If unsuccessful, all that such actions do is to create martyrs and myths – and to provoke intensified repression. If ‘successful’, they would only substitute one ruling minority for another, i. e. bring about a new form of exploitative society. Nor can socialism be introduced by organisations themselves structured according to authoritarian, hierarchical, bureaucratic or semi-military patterns. All that such organisations have instituted (and, if ‘successful’, are likely to continue instituting) are societies in their own image.

The social revolution is no Party matter. It will be the action of the immense majority, acting in the interests of the immense majority. The failures of social-democracy and of Bolshevism are the failure of a whole concept of politics, a concept according to which the oppressed could entrust their liberation to others than themselves. This lesson is gradually entering mass consciousness and preparing the ground for a genuinely libertarian revolution.

  1. Because we reject Lenin’ s concept that the working class can only develop a trade union (or reformist) consciousness IT FOLLOWS that we reject the leninist prescription that socialist consciousness has to be brought to the people from the outside, or injected into the movement by political specialists: the professional revolutionaries. It further follows that we cannot behave as if we held such belief’s.

Mass consciousness, however, is never a theoretical consciousness, derived individually through the study of books. In modern industrial societies socialist consciousness springs from the real conditions of social life, These societies generate the conditions for an adequate consciousness. On the other hand, because they are class societies, they usually inhibit accession to that consciousness. Here lies both the dilemma and the challenge confronting modern revolutionaries.

There is a role for conscious revolutionaries. Firstly through personal involvement, in one’s own life and where possible at one’s own place of work. (Here the main danger lies in ‘prolier than thou’ attitudes, which lead people either to believe that there is little they can do if they are not industrial workers, or to pretend to be what they are not,in the false belief that the only relevant areas of struggle are in relation to industry.) Secondly, by assisting others in struggle, by providing them with help or information they are denied. (Here the main danger lies in the offering of ‘interested help’, where recruitment of the militant to the revolutionary’ organisation is as much an objective of the ‘help’ as is his victory in the struggle in which he is involved.) Finally , by pointing out and explaining the deep (but often hidden) relations between the socialist objective and what people are driven to do, through their own experiences and needs, (This is what we mean when we say revolutionaries should help make ‘explicit’ the ‘implicitly’ socialist content of many modern struggles.)

  1. This section should differentiate SOLIDARITY from the traditional type of political organisation. We are not a leadership and do not aspire to be one. Because we do not want to lead or manipulate others, we have no use for hierarchy or for manipulatory mechanisms within our own ranks. Because we believe in the autonomy – ideological and organisational of the working class, we cannot deny groups such autonomy within the Solidarity movement itself, On the contrary, we should seek to encourage it.

On the other hand we certainly wish to influence others and to disseminate SOLIDARITY ideas (not just any ideas) as widely as possible. This requires the coordinated activity of people or groups, individually capable of self-activity and of finding their own level of involvement and their own areas of work, The instruments of such coordination should be flexible and vary according to the purpose for which coordination is required.

We do not reject organisation as necessarily implying bureaucracy. If we held such views there would be no socialist perspective whatsoever, On the contrary, we hold that organisations whose mechanisms (and their implications) are understood by all can alone provide the framework for democratic decision-making. There are no institutional guarantees against the bureaucratisation of revolutionary groups, The only guarantee is the perpetual awareness and self- mobilisation of their members. We are aware, however, of the danger of revolutionary groups becoming ‘ends in themselves’. In the past, loyalties to groups have often superseded loyalties to ideas. Our prime commitment is to the social revolution – not to any particular political group, not even to SOLIDARITY. Our organisational structure should certainly reflect the need for mutual assistance and support. But we have no other ulterior objectives, aspirations or ambitions. We therefore do not structure ourselves as if we had.

 

III. Revisions
As We See It

The revised version

  1. Socialism is not just the common ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. It means equality, real freedom, the end of oppression based on restrictive male/female social roles, reciprocal recognition and a radical transformation in all human relationships. It is people’s understanding of their environment and of themselves, their domination over their work and over such social institutions as they may need to create. These are not secondary aspects, which will automatically follow the expropriation of the old ruling class. On the contrary they are essential parts of the whole process of social transformation, for without them no genuine social transformation will have taken place.
  2. A socialist society can therefore only be built from below. Decisions concerning production and work will be taken by workers’ councils composed of elected and revocable delegates. Decisions in other areas will be taken on the basis of the widest possible discussion and consultation among the people as a whole. This democratisation of society down to its very roots is what we mean by ‘workers’ power’.

Self-managed institutions and collectivities will be the living framework of a free society. There can be no socialism without self-management. Yet a society made up of individual self-managed units is not, of itself, socialist. Such societies could remain oppressive, unequal and unjust. They could be sexist or racist, could restrict access to knowledge or adopt uncritical attitudes towards ‘expertise’. We can imagine the individual units of such a society – of whatever size or complexity (from chicken farms to continents) – competing as ‘collective capitalists’. Such competition could only perpetuate alienation and create new inequalities based on new divisions of labour.

Genuine freedom will only be possible when our lives are no longer the object of economic, cultural and political forces which we experience as external to ourselves, and which constantly tend to regenerate capitalist or authoritarian social relations. A socialist society would therefore abolish not only social classes, hierarchies and other structures of domination, but also wage-labour and production for the purpose of sale or exchange on the market. Th fulfil their needs and desires, people would live and work in free co-operation. The national frontiers of armed states would be replaced by a democratic human community, on a world scale. The elimination of competition (and the decay of competitive attitudes) would have profound social effects which we can hardly imagine today.

As We Don’t See It

  1. This section differentiates our concept of socialism from most of those prevailing today. Socialism, for us, is not just a question of economic reorganisation from which other benefits will ‘inevitably’ follow, without consciously being fought for. It is a total vision of a completely different society. Such a vision is linked to the total critique of capitalism we have previously referred to.

Social-democrats and Bolsheviks denounce equality as ‘utopian’, ‘petty.bourgeois’, or’anarchist’. They dismiss the advocacy of freedom as ‘abstract’, and reciprocal recognition as ‘liberal humanism’. They will concede that the radical transformation of all social relations is a valid ultimate objective, but cannot see it as an essential, immediate ingredient of the very process of meaningful change.

When we talk of people’s understanding of their environment and of themselves, we mean the gradual discarding of all myths and of all types of false consciousness (religion, nationalism, patriarchal attitudes, the belief in the rationality of hierarchy, etc.). The pre-condition of human freedom is the understanding of all that limits it. Positive self-consciousness implies the gradual breakdown of that state of chronic schizophrenia in which-through conditioning and other mechanisms-most people succeed in carrying mutually incompatible ideas in their heads. It means accepting coherence, and perceiving the relation of means and ends. It means exposing those who organise conferences about ‘workers control’ . . . addressed by union officials elected for life. It means patiently explaining the incompatibilities of ‘people’s capitalism’, ‘parliamentary socialism’, ‘christian communism’, ‘anarcho-zionism’, ‘Party-led “workers councils”‘, and other such rubbish. It means understanding that a non-manipulative society cannot be achieved by manipulative means or a classless society through hierarchical structures. This attempt at both gaining insight and at imparting it will be difficult and prolonged. It will doubtless be dismissed as ‘intellectual theorising’ by every ‘voluntarist’ or ‘activist’ tendency, eager for short cuts to the promised land and more concerned with movement than with direction.

Because we think people can and should understand what they are doing, IT FOLLOWS that we reject many of the approaches so common in the movement today. In practice this means avoiding the use of revolutionary myths and the resort to manipulated confrontations, intended to raise consciousness. Underlying both of these is the usually unformulated assumption that people cannot understand social reality and act rationally on their own behalf.

Linked to our rejection of revolutionary myths is our rejection of ready-made political labels. We want no gods, not even those of the marxist or anarchist pantheons. We live in neither the Petrograd of 1917 nor the Barcelona of 1936. We are ourselves: the product of the disintegration of traditional politics, in the advanced industrial world, in the second half of the 20th century. It is to the problems and conflicts of that society that we must apply ourselves.

Although we consider ourselves part of the ‘libertarian left’ we differ from most strands of the ‘cultural’ or ‘political’ underground. We have nothing in common, for instance, with those petty entrepreneurs, now thriving on the general confusion, who simultaneously promote such commodities as oriental mysticism, black magic, the drug cult, sexual exploitation (masquerading as sexual liberation) seasoning it all with big chunks of populist mythology. Their dissemination of myths and their advocacy of ‘non.sectarian politics’ do not prevent them from taking up, in practice, many reactionary stances. In fact, they ensure it. Under the mindless slogan of ‘Support for people in struggle’, these tendencies advocate support for various nationalisms (today always reactionary) such as those of both IRAs and of all the NLFs.

Other strands, calling themselves ‘libertarian marxist’, suffer from middle class feelings of guilt which make them prone to workeritis. Despite this, their practice is both reformist and substitutionist. For instance, when they (correctly) support struggles for limited objectives, such as those of squatters or Claimants’ Unions, they often fail to stress the revolutionary implications of such collective direct action. Historically, direct action has often clashed with the reformist nature of the objectives pursued. Again, such tendencies support the IRAs and NLFs and refrain from criticizing the Cuban, Vietnamese or Chinese regimes. Having rejected the Party, they nevertheless share with leninism a bourgeois concept of consciousness.

Because we think our politics should be coherent we also reject the approach of others in the libertarian movement who place their whole emphasis on personal liberation or who seek individual solutions to what are social problems. We dissociate ourselves from those who equate the violence of the oppressor with the violence of the oppressed (in a condemnation of ‘all violence’), and from those who place the rights of strikers on the picket line on the same footing as the right of scabs to blackleg (in an abstract defence of ‘freedom as such’). Similarly, anarcho-catholicism and anarcho-maoism are internally incoherent outlooks, incompatible with revolutionary self-activity.

We feel that there should be some relation between our vision of socialism and what we do here and now. IT FOLLOWS that we seek as from now, and starting with those closest to us, to puncture some of the more widely held political myths. These are not confined to the ‘right’-with its belief that hierarchy and inequality are of the essence of the human condition. We consider it irrational (and/or dishonest) that those who talk most of the masses (and of the capacity of the working class to create a new society) should have the least confidence in people’s ability to dispense with leaders. We also consider it irrational that the most radical advocates of ‘genuine social change’ should incorporate in their own ideas, programmes and organisational prescriptions so many of the values, priorities and models they claim to oppose.

  1. When we say that socialist society will be ‘built from below’, we mean just that. We do not mean ‘initiated from above and then endorsed from below’. Nor do we mean ‘planned from above and later checked from below’. We mean there should be no separation between organs of decision and organs of execution. This is why we advocate workers’ ‘management’ of production, and avoid the ambiguous demand for workers’ ‘control’. (The differences both theoretical and historical between the two are outlined in the introduction to our book on ‘The Bolsheviks and Workers Control 1917-1921′)

We deny the revolutionary organisation any specific prerogative in the post-revolutionary period, or in the building of the new society. Its main function in this period will be to stress the primacy of the Workers Councils (and of bodies based on them) as instruments of decisional authority, and to struggle against ail those who would seek to lessen or to bypass this authority – or to vest power elsewhere. Unlike others on the left who dismiss thinking about the new society as ‘pre-occupation with the cookshops of the future’ we have outlined our ideas about a possible structure of such a society in our pamphlet on workers councils and in discussion in our magazine.

This section seeks to evoke a fuller vision of a new society than is encompassed in the usual economistic definitions. It also seeks to rescue the term ‘self-management’ from those who, for various (and often contradictory) reasons, have sought to debase it. But it does more. It also raises awkward questions such as ‘what is the “self” that it is to be self-managed?’ However self-managed, a racist or sexist ‘self’ cannot abolish racism or sexism. A ‘self’ that accepts heirarchy will encourage the appearance of hierarchs. The ignorance of the many both allows and fosters manipulation by the few

If society is to be truly self-managed, then all aspects of collective life must be democratically controlled by the people. The persistence of market forces would remove the area of work from the control of those involved in it. Such forces would perpetuate the alienation of the producers from their product, and the state of affairs where people go-to-work-to-get-money-to-buy-the-things-that-keep-them-alive-to-go-to-work, and so on, ad nauseum.

Economic competition between ‘self-managed’ units would inevitably restore hierarchical social structures. Self-management in production, therefore, means the total control by the producers over their products and the ending of production for sale or exchange. A self-managed society would constantly strive to overcome the division between work and play, and would realise (in both senses of the word) the joy of creative activity.

The social institutions of the new society will not develop (or even survive) within a value system inherited from capitalism. The old will reassert itself unless specifically fought against. The process of change involves us all – and starts here and now. It implies an on-going and conscious cultural revolution in which – unlike what happened in China – there will be no taboos whatsoever, and no attempts by anyone (with or without bayonets) to restrict the ‘permissible’ areas of criticism, experiment or debate.

Print Friendly
by recomposition | tags : | 2

A Worthless Piece of Plastic

| Filed under For discussion

Surprise - by Monica Kostas

Surprise – by Monica Kostas


This week’s piece comes to us by a regular Recomposition contributor, Invisible Man. In the face of fierce debates on racism, profiling, protests, and riots, his anecdote detailing an altercation with cops in Alberta feels painfully relevant.

A Worthless Piece of Plastic
by Invisible Man

There’s nothing to do on a Saturday night in Lacombe. We want to see a movie. In the fall of 1999, the nearest theatre is half an hour’s drive away in Red Deer, Alberta.

So, as usual, we drive into town with a borrowed ride – Terry at the wheel. (He’s white, you have to think of these things.) We turn into the theatre parking lot to read the lighted billboard on the north side of the building. As usual, there is nothing worth seeing.

“Let’s go to the cheap theatre. At least we won’t be wasting our money on a crappy movie.”

“You wanna walk?”

“Yeah, let’s walk.”

It’s not far from one theatre to the other. We joke and chatter as we cut through the parking lot. An older White couple passes. They stare; maybe they have never seen so many Brown people at one time. After they have passed, someone makes a crack that they are probably calling the police right now.

Three minutes later, the police arrive. Red and blue lights reflect darkly off brick and glass. The sound of a buzzer shatters the thick evening stillness. Three cop cars for four guys (…to be more precise, for three Brown guys and one White guy). One of them is the paddy wagon – and Red Deer’s only Brown cop is driving it. Apparently, we aren’t the only ones with nothing to do on a Saturday night.

They climb out of their vehicles, motors still running. We stop and turn. (There’s nothing to be afraid of if you haven’t done anything.)

They stand in a circle around us; two in front of us, one behind.

“Ok, boys…let’s see some ID,” says one of the White cops.

We pull out our wallets. I hand over my birth certificate.

“What are you boys doing?”

“Going to the theatre.”

“The theatre’s behind you.”

“We’re checking out the cheap theatre.”

“Did you walk through the parking lot?”

“Yes.”

“We had a report of some guys matching your description breaking into cars.”

“We weren’t breaking into any cars.”

“So you guys just walked through the parking lot and didn’t touch any cars?” the Brown cop asks.

“Yeah,” we reply.

“I’ve got this,” the White cop quickly tells the Brown cop. “Where are you from?” Mr. I’ve-got-this turns to face us.

“Scarborough,” James mumbles.

“And you?”

“Oh, I’m from Vancouver,” says Phil politely.

“You?”

“I live in Lacombe,” I respond.

“Well I see what the ID’s say.  But where are you guys originally from?”

You guys. The blameless words are inflected with an intangible chill. Originally from. We look away spite of ourselves.

“Sri Lanka.”

“I’m Filipino.”

“…And you?”

I have stayed quiet, staring at the pavement. A streetlight glints off the steel handle of a hip-holstered pistol. As my eyes slowly travel upward, I look straight into metallic grey eyes.

“I’m a Canadian citizen.”

“No, where are you originally from?”

The policeman flashes that familiar smile – no, that smirk – that red-faced baring of teeth that reveals what it also conceals. He fingers the plastic edging on my birth certificate.

“I was born in Canada.” I involuntarily point to the card as I speak.

“Well where are your parents from, then?”

“My father is Italian and my mother is Sri Lankan, but they’re both Canadian citizens too.”

“Sri Lanka again. OK.” He mutters under his breath as he scratches something into his notepad.

“Well, look,” the White cop continues. “We don’t have any evidence that you did anything. And you’ve been cooperative. But you’re going to be on file…”

(none of the cops, White or Brown, has so much as looked at our White friend yet) “…so make sure you guys keep your nose clean when you’re in Red Deer.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you very much, sir.” No one feels like watching a movie anymore.

I put the card into my wallet as we move on. The setting sun outlines my reflection in a darkened window. But I don’t see it. My head is lowered. I am staring at the pavement again. At the age of eighteen, I finally understand what I’ve been missing all this time.

Print Friendly
by recomposition | tags : | 0

The Intermediate Moment

| Filed under For discussion

This week we bring you a piece from our friends at Unity and Struggle. They’ve written a longer assessment of trying to navigate a revolutionary path in our time. Engaging ideas of some of us in Recomp and others around the country, this strikes us as important conversations to have as things are still up in the air from the events of 2008, 2012, and continuing. The intermediate moment is the first part of a two part series, the second of which is likely to be about their experiences organizing a solidarity network that has worked on housing issues in largely immigrant neighborhoods in Houston. We’re looking forward to it. 

by Adelita Kahlo and Tyler Zee

*The perspectives advanced below are those of the authors and do not represent an official “line” of U&S. U&S, as will be seen below, does not have formal positions. While many of the ideas will be common starting points for U&S, there will be nuanced differences and perhaps some disagreements according to individuals and locales.

PART ONE

Introduction

This piece is the result of many conversations and has been informed by engagement with a cross section of various nodes of activity. We, the authors, have learned so much through these conversations; many assumptions we held prior to this effort have now been either thrown out or complicated. While a number of questions remain, a few starting points have been clarified.

As a consequence of these conversations, the scope of this piece has also changed from one tailored primarily to debates within the solnet milieu, since the two of us have been doing aspects of solnet organizing for a while now, to being fundamentally about the intermediate concept and its strategic merits for revolutionaries in the current moment that takes the solnet (and others) as a kind of case study. While the scope has shifted we very much want to enter into more systematic exchange with the above folks and others that are grappling with these and parallel questions.

Part one of the piece is geared toward making sense of the current moment and elaborating on concepts the writers have used to do so. This also means a discussion that might appear as tangential but what for us represent an attempt to have a holistic, systematic, and rigorous approach. The conclusions drawn here are of necessity temporal and are toward the ends of building the bridge between the present and the medium-term future. So as “scientific” as we have tried to be, there are limits to this piece both in scope and in the factors entering our analysis.

Furthermore, this isn’t an exhaustive treatment of the possibilities and measures for militants to undertake (and certainly not the limits of the life of revolutionaries as a whole) since it deals more exclusively with the relation of revolutionaries to “advanced” workers that we have tried to understand using the intermediate concept. Advanced is in quotes because we use it in absence of a more precise term though we try to be as accurate and lucid as possible in our presentation of the intermediate concept. (Though we are familiar with Lenin’s conception of the advanced worker, we do not use it here in the same way. Hopefully in the comments folks can help flesh out this concept of “advanced” in the contexts in which we use them). We are hedging our bets, so to speak, on this relation as a primary strategic necessity of the contemporary period. We hope that whatever needs clarification can be done through further discussion in the comments section and elsewhere. We know that ultimately the conclusions we’ve drawn and have the ability to draw are tentative and partial and that we can only reach toward something more total through conversation, association, and collaboration with others.

Shouts to Nate Hawthorne, IWW-Minneapolis and Recomposition, for the initial inspiration for this piece. (more…)

Print Friendly

The truth about the million dollar coffee company

| Filed under For discussion life on the job

swuThis week we bring you a second piece from a Starbucks worker about a firing, following Work to Rule. Part of struggle is not only the lessons and strategies, but also the experiences and the real life costs that occur when we start to take action. This submission succinctly takes us though one woman’s experience that ended too soon. 

By: Lyssa 

I think back to the last I worked at Starbucks on 80th and York, and recall what a beautiful day it was outside, that day was a nice break from the harsh winter we had this past year. As I walked into the store that day, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right. However I still clocked in for my shift at 2:15 pm to close the store with one of new supervisors, put on the “happy barista persona” required of me, and went on the floor to work. About 15 minutes after I had clocked in I watched my supervisor Margret waltz in (15 minutes late and out of dress code) with her sister (another Starbucks partner) in tow, she had the most confused look on her face at the site of me. She said to me “Lyssa are you closing?” I looked at her with an even more confused face and responded to her. “Yeah I am. Why?” To which she replied, “So why did Jennifer have me bring my sister in to close?” At her response I simply shook my head, shrugged my shoulders, and thought to myself, so this is how it’s going to go down. A few minutes later my other shift supervisor Julian pulled me to the side and said to me, “Jennifer asked me to write a statement about the incident that occurred on Saturday even though I wasn’t here, but I told her that I wasn’t going to write it because I did not witness anything. After I told her I wouldn’t write it, Jennifer instead asked me to write a statement about what a bad partner you are, stating that you give me an attitude and that your insubordinate.” I asked her if she was serious, and she said, “Yes”. I told her I didn’t feel comfortable writing a statement like then when we work well together and that I’ve never had any problems with you. I also told her that I think your shift material, and it’s unfair for her to treat you the way she does.” All I could say to Julian was thank you. It almost brought a tear to my eye to know that I her on my side, especially because I know that I’m fighting a losing battle. I told her it’s okay, that I know Jennifer wants to get me out her store because she can’t control me, I’m a strong partner who will not let her walk all over me, and I’m not afraid to voice my opinions or my concerns. It just hurts that Jennifer will get the satisfaction of firing me, for a situation I had no control over, and handled to the best of my ability.

Around 2:35 Jennifer and Katrina (the district manager) asked to see me in the back; it’s not like I didn’t already know what was coming. I knew it from the moment I walked into the store on that beautiful March day, from the moment I saw my supervisor Margret and her sister walk into the store, from the moment my shift Julian pulled me to the side to clue me on Jennifer’s sneaky plan, and from that final moment I looked at the front door and saw Katrina walk into the store. They had finally figured out a way to give me the boot, and I had no control over what was about to happen. I took my time and finished the task I was doing before I waltzed to the back and sat down between the two of them. Jennifer broke the silence first by saying, “Based on the investigation (that lasted three days) and the statements we collected from partners and customers (falsified reports, one of the statements being her own), we’re going to have to separate with you”. I thought to myself, separate? That’s an odd word to use; I didn’t know we were dating. She continued with, “Although you may not have done anything wrong, you didn’t protect yourself and you put your partners as well as customers at risk by not saying anything to your supervisor (who witness the situation and didn’t do anything to prevent it) to prevent the situation from arising”. I said, “So I’m getting fired for handling the situation the best way I know how, even though my supervisor was present and didn’t do anything to help or stop it?” She shook her yes and proceeded to ask me to sign the separation papers (which by the way I refused to sign). She then tore off a carbon copy of the separation paper which was so faint I couldn’t even read the reason she wrote why I was being “separated” from the company, handed it to me and said, “I wish you the best of luck”.

As I sat there looking at these two women there were so many things running through my mind, things I felt I should say, things I know I had no business saying, violent things I wanted to do to Jennifer because of what she was doing to me. While I sat there I recalled the number of times that I had come in to cover shifts for her, working 6,7,8 days straight while going to school full time, working 13 hours shifts, coming in early or staying later because she had no coverage, this was the same women who had turned against me. I had done countless favors for her, looked out for her when no one else had her back, and this was what I got in return. Jennifer knew that this job was my only means of supporting myself, of paying my rent, feeding myself and paying for transportation to get to school, but she didn’t care. I was fired to protect the brand. A brand that feels their partners are replaceable, and if a partner won’t do everything they say, well they can find someone who will. This is what Starbucks does, once they feel threatened in any way by a partner, they find a way to get you out, because your replaceable and they figure someone else who will do anything and everything for your job. In that moment I had come to accept that this was the reality of; this was why the corporation is sosuccessful and why Baristas cannot come together to organize, and fight for their rights. By the time partners come together to organize, they are so broken down by the corporation that they have nothing left in them to fight. So Instead of doing something rash I kept my composure, I thought if I’m going to go, I’m not going to give them the satisfaction of seeing me break. I got up handed them my hat and apron, cleared out my locker, packed my bag, said goodbye to partners and took my last mark out. As I walked out that I door I took one long last look at the store, winked at Jennifer and said, “Don’t worry I’ll be back.”

 

 

Print Friendly

Beyond “F*ck You”: An organizer’s approach to confronting hateful language at work

| Filed under For discussion life on the job

slide_4026_56291_large

The people we work with usually reflect what the dominant culture of our society is like. This includes some of its worst aspects, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and heterosexism. For worker-organizer’s, these present their own difficulties. They impede our short term goals such as being able to withstand the drudgery of a job, as well as exist as obstacles to uniting our coworkers against management. In addition to these problems, they stand in stark contrast with our long-term goals of creating a new world free of oppression and exploitation. But how do we deal with this? Here is an account from Coeur de Bord about their response to hateful language at their workplace.

(more…)

Print Friendly
by recomposition | tags : | 1

Being a woman organizer isn’t easy

| Filed under For discussion

LaborMarch was International Women’s Day and the IWW celebrated it with a special issue of the Industrial Worker. It’s worth reading the whole thing via the Industrial Worker here and you can get a subscription via this link if you want to support it and see more writings like that. Much of the time discussions around organizing center on what keeps us from winning or building the union up to those fights. There’s less discussion around things that prevent workers from becoming their own radical agents, particularly in gendered terms. The article we’re running today comes from Miami, Florida and was published in the Industrial Worker. It’s a personal account of one organizer’s journey to becoming a committed IWW, and how she has seen race and gender play a role in her life. Though only one snapshot of these big issues, contributions like this give us a window into deep forces at play in our work and neighborhood lives, and are things we hope IWWs can continue thinking around and fighting for an alternative. 

from Luz Sierra

This past year I became politically active. I went from being completely unaware of the existence of radical politics to doing organizing work in Miami with an anarchist perspective. It has been both a rewarding and difficult journey, yet gender seems to haunt me wherever I go. I am probably not the first woman to experience this, but I believe that I should demonstrate how this is a real issue and provide my personal insight for other women to have a reference point for their own struggles.

Being raised by Nicaraguan parents and growing up in Miami’s Latin community, I have firsthand experience with the sexist culture in South Florida. Many families that migrated from South and Central America and the Caribbean arrived to the United States carrying traditions from the 1970s and 1980s. Daughters are raised by women who were taught that their goal in life is to be an obedient wife and to devote their time to raising children and making their husbands happy. Latin women are supposed to be modest, self-reserved, have the ability to fulfill domestic roles and be overall submissive. Some Hispanic families might not follow this social construction, but there are still a large number of them who insert this moral into their households. For instance, this social construct is apparent in the previous three generations of my father’s and mother’s families. My great grandmothers, grandmothers, mother and aunts never completed their education and spend the majority of their life taking care of their husbands and children. Meanwhile, various male members of my current and extended family had the opportunity to finish their education, some even received college degrees, and went on to become dominant figures in their households. The male family members also had the chance to do as they pleased for they left all household and childcare responsibilities to their wives. As the cycle continued, my mother and grandmothers attempted to socialize me to fulfill my expected female role. I was taught not to engage in masculine activities such as sports, academia, politics, and other fields where men are present. Unfortunately for them, I refused to obey their standards of femininity. I have played sports since I was 10 years old; I grew a deep interest in history, sociology and political science; and I am currently part of three political projects. Such behavior has frustrated my parents to the point that I am insulted daily. My mother will claim that I am manly, selfish for devoting more time to organizing and promiscuous because the political groups I am involved with consist mostly of men. My father will state that I am senseless for wasting my time in politics and should devote more time in preparing myself to become a decent wife and mother. (more…)

Print Friendly

Industrial Unity: A Response to “Locality & Shop”

| Filed under For discussion Our writings

foodservworkWe received a number of replies and great discussion from the piece by S Nappalos on the IWW’s locality versus industrial structures. E.A. Martinez has sent a lengthy response raising points of criticism and agreement that is worth engaging. While the discussion centers around structures of the IWW, bigger issues are at hand. In reality the debate centers around the role of the workplace organizer, how they relate to their job and neighborhood, and where we situate their struggles. We’re glad to see this thoughtful reply, and hope it generates some reflection and responses.

E.A. Martinez

The division between local organization and industrial organization – and which should prevail over the other – has been a hot topic of debate within revolutionary unions for decades, and the IWW is no exception. Locality and Shop Inside Revolutionary Unions provides one perspective on whether the local form (the General Membership Branch, or GMB) or the industrial form (the Industrial Union Branch, or IUB) is superior.

After examining attempts by the Portland IWW to build a patchwork of IUBs in the early 2000s, the author concludes that industrial organization is not suited for the present socio-economic conditions in which we find ourselves, or for the present state of the IWW. Rather, we should look to build the IWW as local groups of militants and political radicals who “take [their militancy] with them through their jobs.”

The author points to many Wobblies’ opposition to activism as one of the chief causes for the preference of industrial units over local units, which is not untrue. Many Wobblies have argued that locality-based IWW branches are often mistaken for merely another acronym in a city’s alphabet soup of revolutionary groups, book clubs, NGOs, and non-profits. To combat the perception of the IWW as anything but an industrial union, Wobblies have pushed for more workplace- and industry-based organization, as this will demonstrate to activists that we are in fact a union, and not one of many political clubs. (more…)

Print Friendly