Drugs and Communism

 

The illegalization of kratom represents a blow from the capitalist state against individual freedom and a rational drug policy. The only sensible communist policy on drugs is full legalization and medical treatment for addiction. 

maeng-da-powder

It has recently been announced the recreational drug Kratom is going to be officially placed on schedule 1 of the controlled substances hierarchy of the DEA, right alongside heroin. Anyone familiar with Kratom knows that it isn’t hardcore stuff. While the drug does have addictive properties, it’s nothing compared to morphine and the like. Many opiate addicts use Kratom as a safe and legal substitute for opioids that’s easier to wean off of. Kratom doesn’t have the capacity to repress breaking like opioids do, so it is not a substance one can overdose on, much like marijuana. Yet as of September 30th, this plant is enough to get you a 5 year prison sentence just for possession. While the media panics about an opioid epidemic, a drug that is actually helping people quit opiates is being made illegal! The attitude of the the capitalist state is as paternalistic as ever: how dare you get high, how dare you use an over the counter painkiller that is effective.

The hypocrisy of the drug scheduling system established under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 warrants an article of it’s own. What is so galling about this system is the way it attempts to justify itself with scientific objectivity when it is in actuality blatantly unscientific. The act establishes 5 “schedules” or categories of drugs, with schedule 5 being the most benign and schedule 1 being the worst. The benchmarks for declaring a substance a schedule 1 drug are: high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and lack of a safe way to use the drug even under medical supervision. Having thus established a superficially objective way to categorize these drugs the federal government immediately went about ignoring it, placing drugs on this list based on the needs of politicians and unelected bureaucrats. The fact that marijuana is a schedule 1 drug (cocaine is schedule 2) tells you all you need to know about the scientific objectivity of this system. A growing scientific consensus, along with basic common sense, is showing that marijuana certainly does have medical uses and is safer to use than even many over the counter drugs.

Moreover the federal government does not simply ignore science which does not suite it’s political narrative, it actively prevents research which may yield inconvenient results. Research into the potential medical uses of marijuana were stymied for decades. The potential therapeutic uses of LSD or MDMA remain a mystery because of the difficulty in carrying out objective research. Now the potential use of kratom in treating opioid addiction will likely remain a matter of speculation since research into the subject will likely be made much more difficult. When it does allow studies to move forward it often only allows ones designed to yield a desired result. Several years ago there was a study purporting to show rats overdosing on THC. When one actually looked into the study however it showed the rats were injected with pure THC until they died. Leaving aside the ridiculous method of ingestion (nobody injects pure THC), scaled up for human consumption the amount of THC one would have to consume to OD was the equivalent of smoking a joint the size of a telephone pole in a day. If anything this shows the safety of the drug, but that’s not the picture the headlines painted. By stopping or manipulating scientific research into the potential benefits and real harms of drugs the government is not just being shady, it is endangering public health.

The ideal communist position for drugs is simple: legalize them. ALL of them. If you are truly against the drug war you shouldn’t make exception even for drugs you wouldn’t personally use. This is simply because no one deserves to be incarcerated for experimenting with their brain chemistry. Most banning of drugs in the USA  has been associated with racialized moral panics. With opium and marijuana these substances were respectively associated with Chinese and Black Americans. Today moral panics about drugs are usually about “legal highs” like bath salts, drugs that would not be as popular if MDMA, methamphetamine and cocaine were legal.

Beyond moral panics, we should look at drugs rationally. Drugs no doubt have had bad effects on people’s lives, but this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In capitalist society we live in a world where we must act as commodities on the marketplace, atomized individuals competing for subsistence. This is a world where our lives become structured around the pursuit of the abstract and intangible thing called “value” where the consequence of failing can be death for some. Life is stressful and the human psych is warped, we suffer from alienation. To deal with this some people turn to drugs, and some abuse them.

For those that abuse drugs, making them illegal doesn’t actually reduce the harm associated with that abuse. There is much literature on this topic, and it’s a point that’s been made enough to not have to repeat. You don’t have to be a communist to realize it makes more sense to treat addiction as a mental problem, not a moral failing where one must get a beating from the state for their transgressions.

Not only does making drugs illegal not only make them more harmful, it is also generally an anti-freedom stance. Fears of drugs are largely a result of misunderstandings and not scientific inquiry. As communists we aim for an emancipatory society, one based on the flourishing of human freedom through reason. We know that god will not punish us for sexual acts, and we also know that unsafe sex can have bad (even deadly) consequences. Through rationality we can express our capacities for pleasure, and drugs should be no different. If one wants to explore the highs and lows of drugs, it should an option open to them and be as a safe as possible.

The left doesn’t exactly have a perfect track record on this issue; for example there was support for Prohibition for amongst Socialist Party Members and IWW members. An argument for prohibition was that it would make workers more disciplined and less prone to domestic violence. Instead prohibition created a whole lumpen subculture of Cartels that was exceptionally patriarchal. “Real Socialist” states have failed to legalize drugs, which of course simply allowed for black markets to flourish more. On the other end, many “zones of autonomy” from the near civil war Italy experienced in the 70s became drug dens. Drugs can and do pose real problems. But the solutions are not illegalization, but rather simply making drugs openly accessible yet regulated for safety needs while making deeper social changes.

People abuse drugs, to escape the alienation of everyday life and its traumas. They also use them purely hedonistically and harmlessly. Sometimes this hedonism is simply an expression of the truly empty pleasures capitalist society has on offer. Sometimes it’s good for its own sake. We are aren’t moral puritans of any kind. Moral ‘decadence’ is a scare-word of the bourgeoisie who want to keep society regimented and orderly. The search for some kind of moral “order” in the USA is a thread as old as the republic itself. And it has been an excuse to take away individual freedoms of the populace. There is no “public health crisis” created by kratom but rather a regressive step in drug policy which ultimately punishes the proletariat the most.

Some would say communists should have nothing to say on this issue, that struggles at the point of production should be the point of focus, that issues related to politics not directly connected to this are a distraction. Often this is in the context of avoiding “dividing” workers by being a political partisan, sometimes it is simply a product of theoretical views of certain tendencies in marxism. Either way this economism tries to silence the talk of any form of political oppression than isn’t directly related to the workers struggle. Yet this is counter to the Marxist approach. Marxists fight not merely for economic demands but democratic demands that give more rights to oppressed groups and allow for democracy and political freedom in society in general. Yet we fight for these demands as marxists, never failing to point out their class dimensions. As Lenin said:

“the Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat”

Communists should speak out against and fight against all forms of oppression and authoritarianism when possible, because ultimately we envision a world not simply where workers own their factories but one absent of exploitation and oppression. Marx believed that the proletariat was the class that would fight for communism because it was the class that held the interests of all humanity. By showing that the interests of labor are the interests of humanity, the communist party can lead the struggle for the future of the species itself.

But what exactly can we do about kratom at this point? Sadly at this point the answer is nothing, unless one has much hope in petitioning bourgeois politicians. What we can do as Communists is fight for democratic rights (“win the battle of democracy as” Marx said) when possible or at least when possible show we care about issues such as drug legalization or free speech. Perhaps less people would turn to the libertarian right if leftists had a better record on these issues. Today the right portrays itself as a force fighting against the foes of democracy for free speech, a terrain that cannot be left to the right. If the political right are the mere defenders of democracy then we have lost the battle for democracy, and the image of Communism as Stalinism will be unchallenged.

While we (the Communist League of Tampa) have yet to write a programme (we are hardly at that stage yet) I believe the legalization and regulation of all drugs should be part of the minimum programme as well as immediate release of all drug offenders. Could these demands be won under capitalism? It is possible, but either way communists shouldn’t be silent on them and should fight for them when they have the capacity to. This often mean supporting a referendum to legalize marijuana or using electoral reps to challenge drug laws. While we are a far way off from being a party, as a propaganda group we should make crystal clear what the rational and communist position on drugs is.

A Reply to BAMF’s Eradication “Strategy”

Trigger Warning: Discussion of Sexual Assault/Predators

BAMF has published a “strategy” to eradicate sexual predators from the left. This strategy consists of forming an anonymous and unimpeachable committee of “listkeepers” to track sexual predators and rape apologists, and to organize supporters in a series of escalating direct actions against their participation in the activist scene. While recognizing the need to turn predators out of left organizations, BAMF’s strategy fails to effectively deal with the question of sexual predation, and dangerously proposes to put survivors and left groups at the mercy of a secret clique.

The key issue is who should have the power to determine how to deal with sexual predators in the Left. BAMF writes:

The State shall not determine for the Left who is a sexual predator, which groups harbor rapists, or who is a rape apologist. Listkeepers shall determine that based on a solid combination of experience, knowledge, documentation, and sound judgment. No applications will be accepted to join the Listkeepers. Membership will be determined by express invitation only.”

Modern capitalist states are still dependent on patriarchal family structures to reproduce their labor force, and the state is therefore deeply invested in upholding said anachronistic structures. BAMF rightly distrusts the state’s intent or even capacity to deal with the problem of sexual predators. However, in place of the state they prop up an explicitly self-nominated, anonymous-to-the-public group of people to secretly decide not only who are sexual predators and rape apologists but what sexual harassment and rape apology consists of.  Communist groups, and more importantly survivors, must submit themselves to the obscured whims of the secretive “list-keepers” or face disruption and ostracization.

What are the benefits of the secret committee of list-keepers? To protect survivors, BAMF argues. But how? The most important element to protecting survivors is limiting the ability of the accused to contact or further harass the victim. This is often addressed by charges processes and safe space policies, though constrained by lack of resources. Like a charges process, the strategy only deals with sexual predation after it has occurred. All that the central committee of list-keepers offers is anonymity, contingent on the “solemn vow” of the anonymous list-keepers. In other words, the same trust we’d expect in a charges process, yet now without any form of accountability.

Unaccountability and a lack of transparency in the context of generalized sexist social relations is a recipe for abusive disaster. Groups that foster this sort of behavior, like FRSO with which BAMF is very familiar, use secrecy to hide their crimes. Comintern-inspired Leftist Organizations often depend on secrecy to hide the actions of the leadership and activists from the rest of the membership. Secrecy is a weapon wielded by bureaucracies, private or public. It robs the membership of their agency and denies that they are capable of making this or that decision themselves. Unless extremely repressive conditions make it necessary, secrecy should have no place in the Left.

Unlike an elected committee, the strategy does not serve to spread the skills necessary for dealing with these situations or generalize the knowledge and experiences that may result in the active prevention of sexual predation.  A complaints committee elected by the general membership, and subject to its veto and recall would include the whole group in the general process if not in every particular case. The result is that the entire group learns from the horrors of sexual predation; many members would have the skills necessary for dealing with sexual predators, which at least increases the chance that predators will be dealt with. “The strategy” offers none of these benefits.

Instead BAMF seeks to forcefully compartmentalize the membership by levels of participation, depriving the general membership from experiences which would have helped the group deal with sexual predation and may even have resulted in its prevention. Instead, communist and left groups must bear fully the costs of dangerously “eradicating” sexual predators with force. This is an invitation for violent retribution and legal costs for any organization involved.

Not only does “the strategy” advocate bureaucratic control over victims, and depriving the Left of processes that would generalize experience dealing with sexual predators, but they threaten individuals and groups who do not comply with their strategy with public denouncement as rape apologists:

“We will hold self­proclaimed Leftist organizations and individuals to the highest standard.****** All Communist groups, formations, parties, and organizations must commit to Level 4 or face ruthless, relentless denunciation as enemies of the working class until they begin actively aiding the implementation of the Strategy of their own impetus, with their own resources, effective immediately.”

Thus by implementing their strategy, BAMF argues that they ought to have veto power over the political activities of any organizations on the left, as well as the desires of survivors. This threatens not only to affect those groups misguided enough to subject themselves to a shadowy, self-selected inquisition, but the whole left should this strategy gain much traction. Most importantly, it subjects survivors’ needs in organizational life to the whims of an unelected and unaccountable central committee, running the risk in the long run of being captured by the kinds of predators and abusers it aims to eradicate.

There is no real advantage in the strategy. Instead there are only a slew of potential problems related to the lack of information and accountability. Sexual assault has to be handled in left organizations, and we wouldn’t presume to have all the answers. Some critical problems for left groups include enforcing expulsions or terms of immediate relief and ensuring the process is speedy, both of which require considerable resources. However we should keep in mind core principles of accountability, democracy, and transparency, if we’re to find methods which work.

BAMF’s Original Piece

Toward a communist electoral strategy

While the working class can’t vote away capitalism, electoral politics are nonetheless an essential tool in the class struggle.

Participation in electoral politics, and therefore an electoral strategy, are essential if communists are going to gain public legitimacy as a serious political force. Election cycles are of course endlessly nauseating, particularly this years in the USA with the obnoxious Trump vs. the neo-liberal imperialist Clinton. It is indeed sad that the majority of the public only seems somewhat politically active once every 4 years. Dominated by bourgeois parties that are neither democratic nor republican in the true meaning of those words, electoral politics becomes more and more cynical and corrupt. Yet it would be mistaken to believe that if a communist party simply played the field it would catch this disease.

At one point it was essentially leftist common sense that socialists would take on the electoral realm (excepting anarchists). For the Marxist left, the general view on elections differed little from his classic 1850 Address to the Communist League:

“Even when there is no prospect whatsoever of their being elected, the workers must put up their own candidates in order to preserve their independence, to count their forces, and to bring before the public their revolutionary attitude and party standpoint. In this connection they must not allow themselves to be seduced by such arguments of the democrats as, for example, that by so doing they are splitting the democratic party and making it possible for the reactionaries to win. The ultimate intention of all such phrases is to dupe the proletariat. The advance which the proletarian party is bound to make by such independent action is indefinitely more important than the disadvantage that might be incurred by the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body.”

After the fracture of Social-Democracy in 1914 and then the October Revolution in Russia this would change. Theorists such as Anton Pannekoek (associated with the German KAPD) and Otto Ruhle (also associated with the KAPD) would take the betrayal of social democracy as a sign that it was necessary to abandon parliament and even the party form itself. Amadeo Bordiga, though forced to reconcile his view to remain within the Comintern, would argue for a stance of abstention toward all bourgeois elections. The early Communist Party in the USA also had a majority that rejected elections and argued for illegal work. While Lenin would chastise these political tendencies as infantile and a regression in marxist strategy, the New Left would rediscover these along with anarchist critiques of electoralism to argue for a left purely based on direct action that held no stance toward the electoral sphere. To this day these arguments influence large sections of the left. Yet these arguments have appeal for a reason; the bourgeois state presents itself as a leviathan of sorts, and anything that touches it is therefore doomed.

The ‘leviathan’ nature of the state is due to its level of subsumption to the needs of capital accumulation. While having pre-capitalist roots in class society itself, the state must be outfitted to meet the needs of a capitalist class, and thus will act in the end to assure the reproduction of a society based on class domination. While it may balance the needs of various classes, the state is the protection racket of the ruling class because it is committed to the rule of law, the rule of property, and therefore the rule of the propertied. It is clear that the bourgeois state must be crushed, its armies and police disbanded and new systems of governance established that allow for the rule of the proletariat.

Yet the question of whether we must smash the state and whether we participate in elections are two different questions. The bourgeois state can be smashed, yet we can still participate within its institutions with the purpose of propagandizing and politically training the working class. Election campaigns, even when lost, serve the purpose of forcing Communists to engage the public at large and argue their positions. However what if Communists actually win elections? Would we not just be managing the bourgeois state?

The first clarification to make is that we would not come to power unless we had the mandate to operate our full minimum program and essentially smash the bourgeois state and create the dictatorship of the proletariat. The party would be a party in opposition and would not form coalition governments with bourgeois parties. Unlike other organizations like Syriza, who act as if they cannot accomplish anything until they are in power, a properly Marxist party would remain in opposition and not form a government until conditions for revolution are ripe.

Another clarification is that we are not going to aim for executive powers we can’t realistically win. The extent to which communists are responsible for managing the state is the extent to which they will be forced to make compromises with bourgeois legality. Rather than running for offices like governor or president, we should aim for offices in the legislative branch such as the federal House Representatives, but also state Houses and Assemblies. In these positions we can vote for and against legislation (as well as abstain) and establish our party as a “tribune of the people” that uses its seat of power to propagandize against the bourgeois state and capitalism. By voting against reactionary laws, even if we are outnumbered by the Democrats and Republicans, we can demonstrate that our party stands firmly against the interests of the bourgeois state and develop mass legitimacy for radical positions.

Many would object to even this level of participation. One argument is the idea is that party representatives will develop interests independent from the working class. There of course is merit to this criticism, the German Social-Democrats voting for war credits in WWI being the most infamous example. The issue of why the SPD went social-chauvinist is another question, one I plan to address in depth elsewhere. However the phenomenon that electoral representatives will tend to develop class interests antagonistic to the proletariat can be addressed without having to abstain from electoral activities. For example, electoral reps can be required to donate a certain percentage of their salary to the party and be subject to recall by a popular vote. Electoral reps can also be given party-imposed term limits more strident that those enforced by the bourgeois state.

Another argument against electoral participation as such is that it’s a waste of time and diverts from the real type of struggle; direct action, which is what supposedly really makes history. Usually what this translates to is that energy is better spent engaging in the labor movement – that we should be building our capacity to wage mass strikes for example. This argument makes a false distinction between direct action and voting, the ballot or the bullet. A mass party will have to engage large amounts of workers through “extra-parliamentary” means before it will even stand a chance winning in an electoral campaign. Building class unions, solidarity networks, unemployed councils, mutual aid societies, gun clubs, sports teams, etc. is not to be rejected in favor of electoral action. A critique one could make of Bebel and Kautsky is that they did focus on the parliamentary movement to exclusion of mass actions and strikes.

Gains in the electoral sphere can also translate to “on the ground” victories through a feedback loop of sorts. Getting anti-worker and anti-democratic laws revoked can help the mass movement in the streets organize more effectively. It puts elected representatives in a position where they may be forced to defend the extra-legal and sometimes violent mass actions of the proletariat, thereby exposing to a mass audience revolutionary arguments.

Elections as a tactic have benefits, as does direct action. Today the left acts as if one must pick and choose between the two, yet this was not the case for Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, and Lenin. All saw the need for both the ballot and the bullet to win power. Yet at the same time no true Marxist would think one could abolish waged labor through passing a law. No one would deny that a social revolution involving the participation of mass of proletarians reorganizing the fabric of social life is required to transcend the capitalist system and achieve communism. Civil War will have to be waged against the forces of reaction in some instances. To deny these things is to be either deceptive or foolish.

While it is true aspects of 2nd international Marxism incorrectly comprehended the capitalist state and perhaps overemphasized the importance of electoral action, one could say the opposite plagues the current left which mostly fetishizes direct action. It is only “action in the streets” that vitalizes and gives consciousness to the working class; when it participates in electoral campaigns it is inert and doesn’t recognize the sham nature of the elections. When the left does break with this, it is in presidential election cycles. Most far leftists either don’t vote, vote for the most left-wing candidate on the ballot (Greens?) or vote for their sect’s marginal candidate. Worse, some talk a radical game but end up succumbing to the pragmatic lesser-evilism of the Democrats. The truth is that until we can build a mass party that has a successful electoral strategy, bourgeois politics will dominate the political discourse. This fact is not some “inevitable logic of capital” but a product of the general weakness of the left and the working class. Without a mass working class party, politics will remain the business of the two bourgeois cartels, each selling its brand of ‘rule-of-law’ constitutionalism. This weakens the direct action-oriented left as well, as the general level of militancy the masses is determined by how legitimate they see the state’s authority. A powerful communist party undermining business as usual within the state not only challenges the authority of the state but it expands what the public overall think is politically possible.

In order to take power and enact the full minimum program without launching a coup or delusional military adventure, the party needs to have enough of the politically active working class on their side as possible. If there is not adequate support, the regime will either be overthrown or suppress revolutionary democracy to stay in power. Bourgeois elections are of course not a reliable means of determining legitimacy, but they can give the party an idea of where and how much it garners popular support. So elections can not only serve as way to win support, but also to measure it. For Engels, measuring support alone was enough to utilize the benefits of suffrage:

“And if universal suffrage had offered no other advantage than that it allowed us to count our numbers every three years; that by the regularly established, unexpectedly rapid rise in the number of votes it increased in equal measure the workers’ certainty of victory and the dismay of their opponents, and so became our best means of propaganda; that it accurately informed us concerning our own strength and that of all hostile parties, and thereby provided us with a measure of proportion for our actions second to none, safeguarding us from untimely timidity as much as from untimely foolhardiness—if this had been the only advantage we gained from the suffrage, then it would still have been more than enough. But it has done much more than this. In election agitation it provided us with a means, second to none, of getting in touch with the mass of the people, where they still stand aloof from us; of forcing all parties to defend their views and actions against our attacks before all the people; and, further, it opened to our representatives in the Reichstag a platform from which they could speak to their opponents in Parliament and to the masses without, with quite other authority and freedom than in the press or at meetings. Of what avail to the government and the bourgeoisie was their Anti-Socialist Law when election agitation and socialist speeches in the Reichstag continually broke through it?” (1895 intro to Class Struggle in France).

So what do we make of these conclusions? First of all, CLT won’t be running any candidates anytime soon, as we are a small sect with little support and limited resources. Our energy right now is being put into making ourselves a more effective organization and helping get a General Membership Branch of the IWW started. We are obviously not saying communists should just run for office hoping it will kickstart a revolutionary movement. But in the long-term, if we are committed to building a world-wide party of the proletariat, the question of electoral strategy must be taken seriously. If we abstain from elections, it should be done on the basis of what is tactically best for the situation, not on the basis of anti-electoralism as an eternal principle.

Reaction today: who are the alternative-right and do they matter?

The Alt-Right subculture may be little more than a subculture but could be a prelude to a future neo-fascism. Yet rather than panicking Communists must build a movement worth defending and win the battle of ideas.

richard spencer

Hipster douchebag and head of National Policy Institute Richard Spencer, who claims to have coined the term alternative-right.

From the depths of the internet a subculture of reactionary pseudo-intellectuals who obsess over the supposed “biological reality of race” or “race realism” has arisen. They believe there is a literal white genocide occurring due to immigration and demographic changes. Feminism is seen as a “cancer” as it has subverted the “natural hierarchy” between the sexes, in which gender roles are purely rooted in biology and not a product of social and historical development. Democracy and Communism are all the same, promoting a false ideology of equality that has led to the decay of society since the French Revolution. The Jews are partially to blame, but they are just one culprit amongst the “SJWS” and “cucks” who have subverted society from within and made the typically sexually frustrated white males who participate in this culture the true outcasts while making the leftist extremists come out as the status quo.

The above may be a stereotype, but based on my research it’s a relatively accurate one that essentially sums up the core ideology of the Alt-Right, a subculture which has recently developed more notoriety due to their vocal support for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. To some on the alt-right, Trump is like a figure from mythology; a God-Emperor who comes to reestablish the righteous authority of the ultra-conservative white male in the form of a dictatorship, while violently cleansing the nation of its “degenerate elements.” They often gleefully refer to Pinochet’s reactionary coup, in which leftists were tortured and executed by being thrown out of helicopters, as an example of what is to come. While Trump has nothing to say to the press when asked about his vocal followers in the fringe right, his alt-right followers seem more than happy to attempt to rally around Trump. Others are more skeptical of Trump, seeing him more as simply an opportunity to move the general political discourse further to the right.

Writers like Milo Yiannopolis of Breitbart makes light of the alt-rights racism and sexism, saying that in the most open forms it’s simply the work of trolls poking at the remaining sacred cows (which leftists are of course not allowed to do). However one doesn’t have to look far into the actual online communities of the alternative-right to find that they are indeed racists and advocate for the subjugation of women due to a belief in natural hierarchies. One doesn’t have to dig very far into the works of Kevin McDonald or Jared Taylor to find overt racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny. What we have here is clearly an ideology that at its core is anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic, asserting the need for an order where “natural” hierarchies can prevail while rejecting any notion of a universal humanity with common interests. It’s classical reactionary thought, not really any much different from the long tradition of anti-democratic reaction that goes back to Joseph de Maistre’s hatred of the French Revolutions universalist impulses:

“The constitution of 1795, like its predecessors, has been drawn up for Man. Now, there is no such thing in the world as Man. In the course of my life, I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, etc.; I am even aware, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be a Persian. But, as for Man, I declare that I have never met him in my life. If he exists, I certainly have no knowledge of him.”

The Alt-right can easily be seen as a budding proto-fascism, rejecting the premises of both liberal democracy and communism. Because communism and liberal democracy are both theoretically based on egalitarian premises, they are essentially two sides of the same coin to the alt-right. This type of thinking is ultimately rooted in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from the 19th and early 20th centuries about Marxism and the Russian Revolution being products of Jewish banking conspiracies. Classical Fascism developed as a form of radicalism that promised to wage a revolution of national rebirth that would do away with both the financial elites that squeezed the petty-bourgeois and the Communists who threatened their wealth. It promised a more organic and vital nation, free from the shackles of liberal pretenses to egalitarianism and democracy which simply promoted the growth of Communism.

Today there is no real Communist threat, as much as we’d like to think so. Instead global liberalism has largely consolidated itself as the hegemonic political system and what remains of the classical Communist movement are the shadows of a decaying Stalinism. This puts the far-right in an opportune position to present itself as the only legitimate opposition to global liberalism, which isn’t always identified with capitalism as such but with financial elites (“banksters)” or mass immigration. However, how much alt-right ideologues are critical of markets and capitalism, and economics are overall seen as less important that things like identity and tradition.

So who exactly are these “alt-righters” beyond a few random shut-ins spouting garbage on Youtube? Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute is a sort of think-tank for the alt-right, hosting conferences where different far-right speakers are hosted. The NPI aren’t a political party but seem to be more interesting in doing the intellectual work in making a viable far-right for 21st century. Their fixation is centered on identity, specifically white European identity.

While those of the European New-Right such as Alain de Benoist distance themselves from biological racism in favor of a more culturalist interpretation of what defines a “race” the Alt-right in the USA are quite obsessed with the long disproven idea that humanity is divided into recognizable biological races. This is called “race realism” when in reality it is just a rebranding of old school scientific racism. Proving that race is a biological reality has an almost obsessive quality to Alt-righters, believing that if they debunk the idea of race then the entire mythology that upholds global liberalism will be overthrown. Primary proponents of “race realism” include Jared Taylor (who heads the race realist American Renaissance think-tank) and Steve Sailer.

The latest stunt of the National Policy Institute was to set up a “safe space” at the University of Berkley for whites to discuss their identity and interests. “If other groups get to have identity politics, why don’t we?” is the typical argument made to try and mask this kind of nonsense as non-racist. We also have an example of how the alt-right weaponize and appropriate various leftist concepts, similar to the classical fascists. Another common talking point amongst Alt-righters is that they simply want self-determination for all ethnic groups and support nationalists of all skin colors, they just want the same right given to whites. Using this rhetoric “free association” is used to mean what in reality would require bloody ethnic balkanization.

NPI have also tried to make inroads with the Trump campaign, proudly proclaiming they were a presence at the Republican National Convention. Spencer realizes Trump isn’t the savior of the supposedly endangered white race, but sees him as opening space for white nationalism/European identitarianism (European) to organize within the party: “we can go to meetings and call ourselves Trump Republicans” says Spencer in one of his podcasts.

That said NPI is simply a think-tank, not a fascist political party. They see themselves as waging a “metapolitical” struggle of ideas, which mostly translates to trolling online and holding conferences. Their ideas will only become a material threat if organizations put them into practice.

The other organized group of the alt-right are the Traditionalist Workers Party, who are arguably more worrisome due to their desire to build an institutional electoral party based on the interest of whites. Partly led by the former leader of the White Student Union Matthew Heimbach, who got some notoriety from a Vice documentary, their motto is “faith, family and folk”. The Traditionalists Workers Party are openly and adamantly against abortion and rights for gays, speak about the need for a white ethno-state, and point to both Hezbollah and the Golden Dawn as an inspiration for party building. This form of third-positionism that draws on patriarchal religious faith as well as white identity workerism could be a serious source of reaction within the United States. Yet as of now they are merely a sect, and their attempt to hold a public rally in Sacramento was essentially shut down by local leftists (though with wounded individuals on both sides).

NPI and the TWP both differ on the issue of homosexuality, which NPI is tolerant of while Heimbach’s crew see it as an abomination. This lead to a rift between the two organizations, with NPI hosting gay speakers like Jack Donovan. Patriarchal gender roles are still generally upheld by alt-righters however; they are seen as being corroded by feminism to the detriment of civilization itself. In fact much of the basis for the alt-right phenomena seems to be rooted in a revanchism against the gains women have made through feminist and gender related movements. Much of the alt-rights “base” seems to be young men who spend their time being resentful and angry at women, yearning for a (mythological) day when being born a white male gave a guaranteed career and a “trophy wife”. Living in an alienating and atomized society and looking for answers to the general question of “why is shit fucked up” many find feminists (or women in general) as well as non-whites as an easy scapegoat.

The difference between the views on homosexuality is just one example of the divergence of ideology within the alternative-right. Ideologues that fall under this label range from National-Anarchism to Pinochet worshipping anarcho-capitalists who follow the monarchy apologist Hans-Herman Hoppe. What in the end unites the alt-right is its opposition to democracy and communism, personalized by the “SJW”. The term is broadly applied to all who have any problem at all with the existence of exploitation and oppression in this society, no matter what their actual politics are. This creates a phenomena where there are no real understood differences between actual Marxist and Communist politics and the identity politics of the neo-liberal “left”. By focusing on the most extreme examples of the latter camp, alt-right trolls try to create a mythological threat of a tyrannical and oppressive political correctness that is destroying society.

So are the alternative-right an actual threat to be worried about? The actual threat that fascists will become to society generally depends on the extent to which an organized left exists. The organization of the alternative-right ultimately only exists as small sects (much like the left) and isolated internet weirdos. It is more of a counter-culture of sorts that is creating the ideology of what could potentially be a budding fascism. But for fascism to actually be on the table the ruling class needs to ultimately to have an incentive to repeal constitutionalism to restore order in a crisis situation. The bourgeoisie needs to essentially be posed with some sort of threat to their existence that they would need to pull back democratic norms and give power to a dictators backed by paramilitaries who will restore order. We are far from this case in the United States. In the case that Trump were to win the presidency we would not so much as likely see a fascist dictatorship of the “God Emperor” as just a buffoon mismanaging the state. On the other hand it could also potentially increase the public appeal of far-right ideas and give more confidence and legitimacy to white nationalists. This isn’t to embrace “anything but Trump” style politics, but being aware of and hostile to the far-right is still of importance, as they will likely become shock troops of reaction in times of heated class struggle and revolution.

Rather than embracing a popular front with liberals to fight Trump and win voters to Clinton, we need to build a politically independent movement from all bourgeois parties composed of working people and the entire dispossessed that can stand as a real alternative to the “quick fix” populist demagoguery of the far-right. This will inevitably involve mobilizing people to shut down the organizations of the far-right, and it also may also involve debating their “intellectuals” in some circumstances. I would go as far to argue that Communists should debate figures like Milo Yiannopolis and even Richard Spencer if we are truly confident that our ideas are more correct. This may be heresy to many leftists, who argue that we should never debate the far-right ever because it gives them a chance to spread their platform. The problem is that far-right ideas are spreading regardless, and refusing to challenge them simply makes the left look like we’re not capable of actually proving our ideas are correct and rational. To quote Marx:

“Censorship does not abolish the struggle, it makes it one-sided, it converts an open struggle into a hidden one, it converts a struggle over principles into a struggle of principle without power against power without principle.”

The point is not that we should actively pursue debates with prominent alt-right thinkers but be prepared and willing to debate them when necessary, just as we must be capable of actually fighting fascists physically when necessary. If the growing popularity of the alt-right ideology and general racist nationalism are to be effectively challenged, flexibility of tactics is necessary.

With the Bernie Insurgency Contained, the Democratic Party Continues its Rightward Drift

11174876_903334636389733_2191364501962816506_n Hillary Clinton’s logo points right for a reason.

The day that deep down we all knew was coming is here. Hillary Clinton is officially the Democratic nominee and Bernie has given her his full throated endorsement. This article will not be an “I told you so” or an attempt to rub salt in the wounds of of those who passionately felt the Bern and who now only feel burned. Frankly Bernie exceeded my admittedly low expectations. I think at points he may have even made a self satisfied and complacent Clinton camp sweat. Even this cynical anarchist was excited that so many people were actually open to the idea of socialism, however ill defined their idea of it may have been. At the very least it seemed possible that Bernie and his surprisingly passionate supporters might drag the Democrats, kicking and screaming, to the left. Alas, even that seems not be. The rightwing of the party appears ascendent and will likely continue to be.

 

Why would this be? Bernie ran as good a campaign as one has any right to expect. He delivered into the Democratic fold loads of previously disaffected or apathetic voters that could, at least through sheer force of numbers, pull the party to the left. But of course that’s not how the major political parties work in America. The Democrats will condescend to these people, take their money and their votes, but give those wackos real influence? Lol, no thanks.

 

To understand why the Democrats can burn the Berners and expect to get away with it we need to look at the Republican party. The rise of Trump and his anti-free trade nativism has alienated major business constituencies. In the last fundraising period Hillary raised some $40 million, compared to Trump’s paltry $3 million. Wall Street  and Silicon Valley, generally Democratic leaning anyway, have lined up behind Hillary even more solidly than usual, the eccentric Peter Thiel notwithstanding. More worrying to Republican bean counters, the Chamber of Commerce, normally a stalwartly Republican pile of money, has been openly flirting with the Democrats. Most spectacular though is the Koch Brothers who are tacitly backing Clinton. With them goes not only their money, but the money of a whole clique of douchey one percenters that the Kochs would normally funnel into Republican coffers.

 

Much of the money diverted from Republican pockets will find its way into Democratic ones. Bill Clinton is infamous for having flipped Wall Street and getting this previously Republican constituency to mostly line up behind his “New Democrats.” The Clintons no doubt view this as a golden opportunity to do the same thing on an even grander scale. You better believe that the Democratic establishment is going to do everything it can to get its hands on every last red cent possible. If that means kowtowing even more forcefully to business interests than so be it.

 

Thus the logic of the Tim Kaine VP pick presents itself. At first blush the pick of a conservative blue dog Democrat for Vice President seems jarringly tone deaf in a year defined by populist insurgency. Tim Kaine, in addition to having the charisma of a stranger that wants to talk to you about Jesus, is on the right of the party on labor issues, on trade deals, on the banks, on and on. He even sucks on abortion, which is probably the best reason to vote Democrat. With this pick Hillary and the Dems are saying to the monied interests “ignore all that Bernie break up the banks bull, the Democrats are ready to be the partner of business in government.” they will tell the public that this pick was made to shore up support in newly purple Virginia, or bolster the ticket’s national security cred, as though anyone has ever cared about what congressional committee Tim Kaine has sat on. Make no mistake; the Tim Kaine is an olive branch to business interests potentially alienated by Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric and a slap in the face to the progressive wing of the party, a normally impotent force which has suddenly become activated. For the first time in my life the progressives within the party have not just relevancy but actual power. The Democratic machine will do everything it can to co-opt and undermine that power.

 

The Democratic establishment has attempted to buy off the the progressives with, and Sanders has justified selling out to Clinton by pointing to, the party platform which is being called the most progressive in history. Now, party platforms are meaningless documents which as a rule are ignored and forgotten almost immediately and play basically no role in governing, so excuse me if I’m not super impressed by this concession. Sanders claims he and his people are going to use it to hold Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment accountable, but it’s not clear to me how he could actually do this. Once the election ends so to will Sanders’ leverage. If the Democrats win then they don’t need Sanders and his people anymore. Flushed with corporate cash and with favors to repay they’ll do whatever they like in the lame duck session and the carping of the few congressional progressives won’t matter much. If they lose then Sanders makes for an easy scapegoat; all his demands are discredited and unimplementable anyway. A progressive party platform is a patronizing ploy to get progressives to partner up with a candidate that views them as a tiresome annoyance.

 

The current plight of the liberal left show that electoralism, at least within the Democratic party, is a dead end. The best thing the liberal left can do now is bolt and try to build political power independent and defiant of the Democrats. Sanders, and in his own inverted way Trump, has shown that there is a political appetite for something outside the neoliberal consensus. Perhaps in spite of himself, Sanders has created a historic opportunity to break with the Democratic party. This opportunity will not likely present itself again in 4 years, as party bosses will be on the lookout for it and take measures against it. What progressives in the Democratic party must understand is that the party establishment would much rather be partners with corporate power brokers than with its own progressive wing. So long as they remain within the Democratic machine progressives will remain junior partners with little influence. Despite the painful promise wrought by the Sanders campaign, as the Democratic party takes advantage of the Trump fiasco to cozy up even closer to business the situation for progressives inside the party will only get worse.

 

Cultural Appropriation or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Blonde Cornrows

culappr

A critique of the supposed problem of cultural appropriation

The movement of social justice has collided with mainstream culture. It’s a movement aiming to make current institutions that interact with the disadvantaged more just, where as radicals see these institutions as largely dead ends in achieving any meaningful equality. Though its values are derived from a somewhat undisciplined starting point, the social justice movement has presented many valid, imperative issues that the mainstream would otherwise ignore. It often attempts to present its grievances with high emotion and a confrontational attitude, in order to lend a seriousness to their causes. However, as they are limited by the reformist nature of their politics, they see oppression and seek to lighten its grip, not to prevent it. In some cases the change they seek and the ideas they create/inherit only change the cosmetic composition of oppression, the best example being the notion of cultural appropriation and its supposedly negative attributes.  

Firstly, proponents of the idea of cultural appropriation seem to often adjust the borders of what counts as appropriation. Both white people with cornrows and Football teams with American Natives for mascots are equal examples of conscious aggression against minority cultures by their metrics. This seems like a disingenuous and vague standard for appropriation, so I’d like to get it out of the way quickly. Racial mimicry cannot be so casually lumped in with the idea cultural mingling. Caricatures of American Natives as mascots, people dressed up in Blackface and other acts of ethnic mockery aren’t appropriation or borrowing, they are simply displays of racism and prejudice. There’s quite obviously nothing being taken on by the dominant culture in these forms, so calling this appropriation seems to just be an easy way to add credibility to their claims. Therefore, I will be contending with the positions based around the ‘problematic’ cultural borrowing put forward by the social justice community.

The core beliefs in the idea of appropriation are pretty messy as they are rooted in the sense of cultural and ethnic authenticity. Many seem to believe that an experience is represented in a single hairstyle or item of clothing. This often leads them to argue that it is in poor taste for people not of that experience to consume it. In this general rule, centered around the sanctity of the experience of the individual, belonging to a particular race grants one ownership in the aesthetic of their traditions. I would contend that this seems to ignore the real world implications of commercialization and the derivative nature of culture.

The ideal scenario of those against cultural integration is one in which other cultures are represented, but only by those who can claim membership to these cultures. This representation can be in clothing, hairstyles, and cuisine. Furthermore, those that are allowed to commodify them would be those belonging to that identity. This comes to the conclusion that fighting for an indigenous-style capitalism is a useful challenge to systemic racism. The view that supporting the more colorful bourgeoisie to sell the relics of the culture is entirely wrong headed as a strategy in dismantling racism. Their main reasoning for this is that ‘outsiders’ using another’s culture demeans and cheapens that culture. In reality though, there isn’t a difference in whether it’s commercialized by the indigenous or the ‘outsider’, and no concrete reasons for why it would be otherwise have yet to be explained by the social justice community. Bottomline, white guys with tribal tattoos are tacky, whether done by a white artist or someone of Maori descent. However, this idea’s worst result is the distraction it acts as from the more pressing issue for the people they are trying to protect, their stratification. The social justice community certainly understands that wealth disparity is an issue for people of color, but their Liberal politics lend to little more than a praxis of pitying the poor and recognizing the privilege of wealthy whites. Although “white guilt” is largely a term championed by fedora-clad Alt-righters, it’s possibly the reason why those seeking justice to see appropriation as a major component to the plight of non-whites.That sort of thing happens when you don’t see class as the major factor in racial disparity.        

The idea that a trend generally attributed to a non-dominant culture becoming more widely accessible being a bad thing, traces back to this sense of authenticity. It becomes more clear as you read their remarks that the opposition to cultural integration(what they call appropriation) is largely anger over a cultural trend becoming acceptable only once it becomes part of the dominant culture. It is that they are essentially witnessing a natural process as different cultures share a space. Growing up black, a common sentiment was “you knew a fad was dead once white people started doing it”. I find this significant because I see it as an example of how natural this cultural inheriting is, that it almost happens as clockwork. Culture by its very nature is derivative, even many of the oldest incarnations of cultures we can look back to took on the attributes of the less dominant cultures around it. Cultural appropriation as conscious aggression against non-whites seems highly unlikely, even conspiratorial when any sort of historical lens is put on the phenomenon.

Currently with the SJ movement, outrage is manifesting over traditional black hairstyles being ‘appropriated’ by non-blacks. A certain kind of almost racial realism creeps up in this dialogue, as they offer that blacks must hold on to their identity by keeping these traits as a signifier for those who have lived the black experience. The rallying of those who have lived an oppressed experience is a fine cause, but it should be understood that the introduction of their cultural symbols is not an aspect of their oppression in the grand scheme. With the rise of the black celebrity, their aesthetic is becoming heavily incorporated into the dominant culture in America. The black image has been in close proximity with popular American culture long enough to have this dominant culture take on those characteristics. It should be acknowledged that this revolves on a separate axis from actual views on black people and our treatment by this culture. The SJ community confuses some of the causation in the situation, believing if a culture adopts from another it logically must respect that culture. Unfortunately, this is not it often works.

   Although the anger over white use of black hair comes from an inaccurate view of this phenomenon, black people have a right to the anger of the stigmatizing of their hairstyles and aesthetic. The act of having your own natural hairstyles seen as ‘unprofessional’ and seeing the white people use it and not have similar criticism should make blacks, in this scenario usually black women, upset. However, the target should be the injustice and racism in the workplace, the policing of others ability to simulate black hair is fruitless. It’s baffling these people don’t see the employers in this case as the problem, they would rather go after non-black celebrities who sport black hairstyles. If your movement’s trying and expecting to convince a teenager from the Kardashian family to reverse her ways and champion civil rights, you have quite a few problems.

The culmination into what the social justice community sees as the fight against cultural appropriation is a mix of good intentions and wasted outrage. It seems to be carrying on the liberal tradition of observing problems and refusing to look at underlying roots, substituting any sort of resolution with a pretty gloss paint. It also heavily ties into this need to claim national/traditional pride as a way to fight racism, and flirts much too closely with separatism. This belief that oppression of minorities will be weakened by a re-connection with their culture completely misunderstands how the subjugation of a people happens.

On Staff and Policy in the IWW

IWW GHQ

Bill Haywood and various staff at IWW GHQ in the 1910’s

 

Thinking About Policy and Staff in the IWW

In this essay I argue that the organizing policy pursued by the IWW for the past decade or so has been ineffective in large part because it’s informed by assumptions which are incorrect. The central assumption being that the IWW ought to avoid using paid staff at all costs. This viewpoint concedes that a division of labor is useful, but only by volunteer worker organizers who cannot be tempted to corruption by virtue of not drawing a salary. Certainly this assumption is itself informed by others, which I hope to address below. Most of these assumptions are not often made explicit, but are definitely current among the left today, and in the works of authors revered by many in the IWW.

In much the same way, the IWW’s organizing policy is itself not entirely explicit. Many of the formulations of principle are found across blogs and Libcom forums, as well as occasionally in the Industrial Worker. A central premise which supports my conclusion in the affirmative for paid staff is that contrary to the claims of many on the left the working class does not ‘self-organize’ or not in the sense that they often seem to imply. By this I mean that a division of labor, including full-time staff, are necessary to form any working class organization that is to be both more than ephemeral, and large, regardless of its political commitments. Obviously these political commitments matter, and that is why I take up the concept of policy as the means for the membership to direct and keep accountable staff and officers. Of course, I do not have all the answers, and I hope to invite discussion with this essay.

A Past Campaign

In the early 00’s, Wobblies helped try and organize bike couriers in Chicago. Their initial strategy was to organize a central, Industrial Organizing Committee, which would be made up of members of “shop committees” at each employer. The IOC employed an Organizer at two points in the campaign. The first, Pete, was an experienced organizer, who for about 2 and 1/2 months helped propel the campaign forward, alongside worker committees. The second organizer, Andrea stepped in after organizing had dropped off altogether and, having little organizing experience, employed a series of misguided schemes to ‘get workers involved’ (everything from yoga to zines). She had a familiarly difficult time of it. However, she was the first person to be interested in organizing the Bike Couriers, into the Windy City Bicycle Messenger Association, which lasted several months before it was dissolved. Shortly after, members met with the IWW, who began assisting them with organizing. Prior to the arrival of the the first organizer, Pete, two members of the Chicago GMB worked alongside workers, energized after a first mass meeting, to map the industry and gather contacts. Matt and Colin had begun working with the WCBMA before its dissolution, and Andrea met Pete on a trip in Portland. The idea was that upon his arrival in Chicago, Pete “would focus his energies on teaching workers how to organize, handle grievances, and strategize about the union effort.” Indeed, he did just that.

One of the organizers, Colin, wrote up a post-mortem of the campaign. But his analysis is consistently viewed through the lens of ‘activism’ current now and in the early 00’s. For example, FW Colin states,

“With Pete in town, we were able to capitalize on this information (contacts) and to organize several shop committees. However, these committees were not capable of functioning without an outside IWW organizer present. Despite this limitation,the shop committees began to build the union slowly by winning small grievances at individual workplaces.”

A bit later, after detailing the successes of grievance handlings in the campaign with the organizer’s presence, Colin notes

“During Pete’s time in Chicago, we held two organizer trainings, a program started by the IWW in 2000 to give everyday workers on the job the tools and skills (and confidence as well) to organize their workplaces…..The trainings provided messengers with the basic information they needed to organize but did not seem to provide them with confidence to be independent organizers.”

The Shop-floor committee is the first place a worker really interacts with the union.The IWW has had for at least the past 10 years an “Organizer Training 101.” This 2-day training introduces people to the IWW and trains them to form the shop committee. Colin continues,

“I speculate that MK, Pete, and I served as a crutch and that with us to rely on the messengers did not need to develop their own leadership. Pete left Chicago in June 2004, and his absence was immediately felt. MK and I lacked his experience at group facilitation, and the organizing began to falter.” (emphasis my own)

On one level, this poses a question of leadership in general, and on a more concrete level it is a question of the role of the organizer.

On leadership, the left generally is stuck in a rut of ‘authenticity’. Here, a given leader is chastised as not being a part of working class, either sociologically (‘They make six figures!’) or more to the point, by the leader’s support for bourgeois aims.The question is irrelevant. It is factually true that workers can and will make up their own minds to follow this or that course. Our job then is to convincingly address the issues concerning workers and present clear paths forward. Workers may get tricked into letting someone into power over them, but they cannot trick the workers into taking power for themselves. We cannot deal with the inevitable corruption of some leaders by eliminating all leaders if that means the sacrifice of success.

In the IWW this question comes up partially in attitudes to the ‘third-partying’ tactic employed by the boss. While it is true that the union ‘is the membership’ it is also true that the union employs staff. What ought to be emphasized is that the staff of the union serve the members and that the independent nature – i.e. ‘third party’ – of the union is to the benefit of the worker. Independence from the boss is the precondition for organization against the boss.

The second question is that of the relationship between paid organizers and leadership in organizing drives. It seems reasonable to me that the first leg of the Courier campaign illustrates a healthy relationship. Workers made up the decision making bodies, and Pete and other non-worker members of the I.W.W. provided the necessary advisory roles to support workers in training, confidence, and labor. Once Pete left, and one of the IWW volunteers got a job as a courier to help form a shop committee at one of the bigger shops, the other shop committees and the jointly formed IOC (made up of one worker from each shop committee) dissolved. Colin writes,

“Toward the end of the summer, MK took a job with Arrow as a bike messenger. He began to focus his energy more and more on building a shop committee at Arrow and less on his work with the IOC. This shift in energy ultimately spelled the end for the IOC. We spent much of the autumn and winter trying to get members of the IOC to focus on building shop committees but were unable to establish functioning committee at any shop other than Arrow. I spent months working with workers from two mid-sized companies, but in both cases, neither committee developed to the point where it was able to take on a worker’s grievance and win.”

It seems clear that with the reduction of the pool of labor outside the shop reduced by ⅔, the drive was of course bound to change in nature. What followed, was that one volunteer organizer ‘salted in’ and the paid organizer left. It’s not entirely clear what specific duties they could have continued to play outside the shop committees. Why doesn’t Colin draw the conclusion that it resulted from a decline in outside support, and instead locates it in ‘worker confidence’?

Our Current Orthodoxy

Perhaps it is because the predominant sentiment in the IWW is anti-contractualist union activism. That means we don’t aim for the long ‘peace’ secured by contracts, legitimated by the NLRB. We could of course, within the confines of the current constitution, pursue contracts in our organizing. We are prohibited from signing contracts with no-strike clauses. This seems a fine provision, amounting to the outlawing of workers bargaining away their strength. That said, anti-contractualism in general does not change in any meaningful way the work that we’re required to do to remain effective. Contract or not, unions still have to provide their memberships with services. Here, I mean trainings, administration, calling people, house-visits, research, editing news media, designing agitational materials and much more. However, the prevailing orthodoxy takes anti-contractualism to mean a total rejection of the union providing almost any services. This orthodoxy amounts to IWW practice being “Join our union, and do everything yourself!”

Many have pointed out how workers are willing to go some distance, especially against their immediate material interests, in order to support their values. The union has certainly used this fact to it’s advantage over the years. But the reality is that workers just don’t have the time. Even if they think capitalism is wrong or awful, people must resign themselves to keeping their heads down and weathering the storm. The amount of effort involved is too much for one person to figure out alone. Put simply, there is a relationship between moral feeling, and ability to spend time fighting back. As the time necessary to win goes up, the ability to seriously fight back just disappears; even if people wanted to, the simple fact is they have to eat first.

Here we get into messy territory on the left. On the one side, we have the DIY attitude of many anarchists and ultra-leftists. This suggests that decision making (ALL decision making!) must be in the hands of everyone involved at all times. This is somewhat of a caricature. In reality, it is mostly the phenomenon of seeing formal structures doing the work that substantive democratic movements would otherwise take care of. For example: We must decentralize the powers of the I.W.W. GEB because then it will allow locals to make their own decisions and flourish. It will keep officers accountable (rather, it will get rid of officers!) and will forestall any ‘incipient bureaucracy.’ This logic is very similar to that of classical political economy. Here, a ‘civil society’ of independent private property owning producers, would work out their exchanges and grievances with each-other efficiently, if not for the interference of the heavy hand of the state. This also has considerable purchase among ideologists of neoliberalism writ large. States (the main form of social authority) ought to only pursue those efforts which lower the costs of transaction and communication or disappear altogether,save for enforcing the property rights of the idlers!

On the other side we often find some variant of Comintern inspired ideology, which clings tightly to forms of ‘democratic centralism’ that in reality are essentially bureaucratic centralism. That is, a small clique of bureaucrats, continually elected to the same or similar positions, rules on most issues, and dissent from their line is cause for expulsion. Ultimately, purity of political line becomes the goal, with organizational ‘purging’ or splitting, the main form of activity. While these organizations have some semblance of policy and program, they suffer from a combination of bad politics and bad organizational imperatives.

A Better Way?

But what does this have to do with organizing a union in fast food? Or the IWW? Well, the suggestion is that both strategies are ultimately wrong. If the union is going to have campaigns that go beyond DIY shop-level resistance efforts, it’s going to need the consistent help of staff in administration and organizing. While this is embraced to a fault by the bureaucratic sects, it is rejected by the ultras. We saw how in the case of the couriers, when the organizer left, it became difficult to sustain the campaign. What’s needed then is a staff and administration – in a word, a bureaucracy – but one which is subordinate to the will of the membership.   

Here we get into the troubles that the union has had in the recent past. While being successful at building shop committees and maintaining them for a short amount of time, the volunteer salts often suffer burnout. Further, we lack a more concrete medium/long term vision for a union with stable membership in one area. Contemporary efforts regarding unionization in the mainstream labor movement are completely geared toward contractualism. It secures dues income for the union, and secures some benefits for workers. It’s cutting a deal. If we’re going to refuse this route, then we need to think seriously about what it is that we offer. And it can’t just be a “value-system.” If that’s the case, how are we better than a church?

Part of going beyond the shop committees, and using resources outside them effectively, is having a model of how to build the union as a local social/political force in the city or area where the organizing is taking place. This is necessarily outside the ongoing workplace activity. This requires social events, educational events, canvassing and a number of other activities involving the union in order to cement it as a social force.

The old IWW did this in numerous ways. Until 1913 when Big Bill Haywood was formally expelled, the Socialist Party’s left-wing and IWW members often shared resources, published complimentary literature, and directly helped in organizing strikes. This even continued in some areas after Haywood left the Socialist Party.

The IWW also had its own robust publishing department, with paid editors for various newspapers and journals in several languages. Agitation, Education, Organization were constant processes. IWW organizers, paid and volunteer, would leaflet working class districts, soap-box, pamphlet shift changes, hold meetings, etc. This Agitation on the outside helped workers on the inside carry on Education about what was possible if workers stood up on the job.

But this was all possible because workers had previously stepped up and chipped in their money to hire staff to coordinate an organization. The IWW could speak authoritatively on questions of wages and safety, and also social and political questions; the role of the working class in society, why the bosses can’t be trusted at work or in the government.

One way that this has been thought about is in terms of “legitimacy.” As in, traditional US unions get their ‘legitimacy’ from the state securing and enforcing their contracts to some degree. This, plus their well organized nature. (We may disagree with their politics, and a lot of their strategy, and even some aspects of how they’re organized, but they have resources, and they sometimes use them effectively). John O’reilly writes:

The legitimacy of the union springs from struggling together, from the relationships that grow from struggle, and from showing that the union and our vision is just as viable a thing to believe in as the boss and their vision. If we can show workers that our organizing can make their lives better, or at least give them powerful emotional experiences associated with trying to make their lives better, it is reasonable for them to believe other things that we say, like that we are fighting for the whole pie. ”

While the question is interesting, it seems to miss the point. Legitimacy, something we do need in order to organize effectively, will ultimately only come from organizing effectively. But we can be clearer about what that means. As noted above, if workers are not going to be forced to pay dues to to us, but do it voluntarily, then they really have to benefit from what we’re selling.

But, if we’re not selling health-insurance, a grievance arbitration procedure that is ultimately useless, and an admonition to vote for Sanders, then what are we selling? The things which immediately come to my mind are:  Effective offensive and defensive organizational support.

Working class organization means having a clear and reliable source to go to with your problems at work. It means that they will be dealt with in a reasonably consistent and effective fashion, and it means that the worker aggrieved will have a role to play in addressing a grievance. Concretely this means having the infrastructural, administrative, and organizational abilities to turn out hundreds of workers in support of a local grievance. This itself would require an initial level of organization, as well as a degree of ‘legitimacy’ in the eyes of the participants. It also would require local bookkeeping, administration, reports filing and public relations work. This would likely would require the local or regional establishment of shop committees across an industry, campaigning by the same to win some public demands, and then their spread outside of that framework. What the worker would get in exchange for their dues is membership in an organization that has some material benefits for them (increased wages, job protection, actual grievance handling, better schedules, etc.) but that also offers an alternative political institution to the ones that dominate American politics (membership in an organization where the members set policy, vote, hold office, draft proposals, defend each other etc.). The second feature is no less important, as it is the last resort method of defense we will have to make use of in our efforts. That is, reliable, effective legal support, and other forms of defense where powerful organization is not yet possible.

Up to this point, the organizing work that the IWW has done has relied almost *entirely* upon small committees made up of volunteer salts. I do not for one minute doubt the dedication of these members, but I do suspect that we might chart a better course.
Let’s think about organizing at 6 grocery locations with 100 employees each, in the context of the prevailing orthodoxy. That would mean at least 1-2 initial Salts per store. Finding and orchestrating the hiring of 12 wobblies into a chain of grocery stores would itself take work to do. Once inside, these salts have to talk to coworkers, set up and do 1-on-1’s, socially map the workplace, physically map the workplace, do research about suppliers and the workers involved there, identify grievances, and begin thinking about recruitment from the shop-floor onto the shop committee. Further, they would have to identify production choke-points in their own stores, devise consistent and useful tactics for settling grievances, train newcomers in the practice, research the business’ growth strategy to identify tactical moves to pinch growth as a means to get concessions (as one example), engage in graphic design and PR, administer and manage funds, etc. That is, under our current model, we expect 12 people, working full time hours for little pay, to take on these tasks.

Alternatively, a union which places rank-and-file committees as it’s core, could delimit the activity they must engage in, and provide them with resources for building on their struggles. While those shop committee’s begin to recruit, the staff of the union could help lay the basis for local growth. They can train and coordinate door-to-door campaigns with volunteers to get the word out about the union when the time comes. They can host the trainings needed for the emerging shop committees (OT-101) on how to use direct action to solve grievances and build the ‘underground unionism’ phase of the campaign. They can work with other parts of the IWW to do industrial research (research staff) to help flesh out possible tactics and strategies for engaging with an employer, especially going public. They can handle educational and advertising initiatives to help newly forming locals (graphic design, pr, educational staff). They can help with the maintenance of web interfaces which allow members to debate and publish writings and arguments in a transparent fashion (web admin and publishing staff).

Instead of volunteer committees of workers handling every aspect of an organizing campaign we could augment the efforts of those workers with a division of labor using employed staff. Workers on the shop-floor would still settle grievances, and would still set organizational policy but they’d be assisted by staff that would utilize discrete skills to implement aspects of policy.

No Policy in the Union? Come Off It

A big concern for paid staff in the IWW is accountability. But what do we mean by accountability? Accountable to who? And in what manner? In contrast to the traditional activist mode of accountability, where ‘organic leaders’ are championed alongside a hodgepodge of democratic mechanisms (recallability), I’d argue that policy is the core of an effective accountability process. Mechanisms (recallability) are necessary in order to execute the rescinding of support for elected officials and staff which deviate from policy.

As it stands now, the IWW has a fractured, franchised organizational policy. One off campaigns devised by upstart members and branches, are meant to demonstrate success and seriousness before requesting resources from the Organizing Department. The Organizing Department acts as a networking tool for people who happen to be organizing on similar turf. That is, if the Tampa GMB and the Atlanta GMB happened to both be involved in organizing at a regionally prominent grocery chain, the ODB would, ideally, forward contact info.

This policy, in line with aforementioned tendencies toward neoliberal thought, presupposes (correctly) a general atmosphere of labor unrest in the capitalist U.S., but responds (incorrectly) with a policy of ‘limited authority’. The unrest merely needs to be ‘unleashed’ by the removal of stubborn ideology, a task best suited to ‘worker organizers’ on the ground. This will lead linearly to growth of resistance and fight back, when the pendulum of ‘high struggle’ finally swings back in a favorable direction.
This viewpoint often treats problems of approach, what might be termed ‘qualitative’ problems, as problems of quantity. Workers simply need the ‘tools’ of resistance (in the form of the OT-101) to unlock their potential to fight back. If we increased the OT-101, with the use of volunteer trainers, we’d lead to organizational growth and an increase of working class fightback etc. But if the issue, as stated above, is not simply putting the right frame of mind in the hands of workers, but of pursuing tactical and strategic ends, then a quantitative increase in the OT-101 is besides the point. It would certainly help us to some degree, but would not grapple with the failures of past campaigns.

What’s more, it would not grapple at all with the above mentioned need for a technical division of labor within the organization. Volunteer work, and member activity is necessary but not sufficient. Instead of a passive policy, of keeping tabs on local organizing carried out by ‘self-starters’ the union ought to pursue an active policy of identifying key industries and targets for growth, that put the union in a better position than today.It is the job of the members to develop a general organizing policy, and the job of national officers to direct staff to help implement policy alongside the membership.

I don’t mean to attack the OT-101, it’s to a large degree responsible for my membership in the organization and what success the IWW has had in the last decade or so. But it is limited.

By way of conclusion, I’d suggest that the following principles could guide the development of paid staff within the IWW.


1) Paid Staff are conceptually different from paid officers.
2) Staff serve the membership. As such, they are subject to the will of the membership. 
3) Staff work on projects as directed by membership, or where organizing more generally, directed by policy developed by membership, in consultation with officers.
4) Policy should be a central feature of the IWW, as oppose to simply resolutions and constitutional amendments; policy sets tasks to be undertaken, and directs specific bodies to undertake them in given timelines.

While mechanisms for ensuring compliance with policy are vital, in the absence of policy, they function as idle tools, or worse, weapons in ideological factionalism. Constructing a system of hashing out and implementing policies through the vehicles of officers, staff, and the membership, give substance to mere ‘democratic mechanisms’.
There are further questions. I touched on these above, but what are the roles we need filled in the union? What is the role of the organizer? Publishing? Web administration? Industrial research? Education and training? We have to figure which roles, if given our preference for initial investment, will yield us the resources with which to build. We have to view hiring an organizer as a growth strategy for our organization. Will this organizer, applied to this drive, yield an increase in membership sufficient to spread our organization? This is a perfectly reasonable basis for measuring our finances and budgeting appropriately, and does not in the least approach a Faustian compromise of socialist principles – unless poor management of finances is to be raised from the level of ‘common socialist habit’ to ‘foundational socialist principle’!   


Referenced Texts-
https://libcom.org/blog/who%E2%80%99s-charge-here-25092012

Colin Bossen, Chicago Couriers Union: A Case Study in Solidarity Unionism Working USA
Andrea, The Making of An Organizer: A History and Analysis of the Chicago Couriers Union