anonymous on "Insurrectionary Councilism"
Against what various politically worthless duds are saying against this article, this article is an authentic attempt to come to grips with the rapidly evolving situation in an ever more brutal and potentially tremendously unstable United States.
And, characteristic of anarchism, what's offered in the article is a blueprints for the shiny kitchens of the future approach to the problem; it doesn't appear to grow out of efforts to apply these ideas outside of a context of attending lots of demos
Here's something that approaches similar contemporary problems of social struggle and subversion from a somewhat different angle:
For most of the past hundred years various forms of Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism effectively occupied all political space to the left of the Democratic Party. Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism were the politics of the counter-revolution in Russia, but the Leninist left often attracted energetic, capable, dedicated people of a caliber not found among today's anarchists and ultra-leftists. Militants of these forms of left-capitalist politics often played a central role, and sometimes a positive one, in real world social struggles. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the Leninist branch of the left-wing of capital effectively became defunct. Most M-L and Trotskyist groups went belly-up a generation ago. Nothing has arisen to fill that corresponding empty space. More significantly, liberal democracy no longer has the ideological allegiance of the majority of the populace. An opportunity without historical precedent is being neglected. This must change now. We are in a unique position. Authentic anti-capitalists can assert an entirely new kind of mass politics in a rapidly deteriorating society ruled by an ever-more inept and self-discrediting political apparatus.
An effective revolutionary extremist tendency must have rigorous political cohesion that will endure under stress. This must be based on a transparently clear shared perspective.
To begin with we need:
1. Collective reading and discussion of texts, beginning with the Situationists -- ignoring Vaneigem -- and after this works by Gilles Dauve and Unions Against Revolution,
2. Combined with ongoing public action among wage earners, not protesty-protester shit. We should get involved in fights of wage earners against employers. We should assert direct action solidarity with immigrants against the U.S. government. We should take part in fights over housing, gentrification and public space. But our central ongoing emphasis should be on public transit system operators and riders in major cities -- and -- for obvious reasons -- on enlisted people in the Armed Forces.
A well-organized group of anti-capitalists can spread its message, with an effective reach out of all proportion to its small numbers, and reach a strategically significant segment of the wage-earning class, by maintaining an extremely narrow focus among employees of public transit systems. Along with this, we can reach the widest and most diverse working class audience possible through low tech mass communication among transit system riders.
A widespread self-organized movement emerging from joint action between transit system employees and riders can effect an entire urban region. Good ideas of this kind can spread from transit system to transit system, from city to city, and into non-transit workplaces.
We need to think big. This is about the working class recovering the political autonomy from capital that was lost in the U.S. eighty-plus years ago with the New Deal. And we should be wildly visionary: self-organized and extremely self-aware mass wildcat actions growing out of labor strife in metropolitan transit systems could conceivably develop, in depth and breath, and in ways that cannot be predicted at present, to create a working class-propelled political crisis for the regime we live under. A combative working class must become the central force in the unfolding crisis in this society. Mass action on mass transit could be the way that a new social movement begins.
3. We will also need an internal discussion bulletin, in photocopy form to avoid our exchanges deteriorating into empty online chit-chat, and,
4. A series of conferences assessing the strengths and weaknesses of our ongoing efforts and ever-evolving ways to tighten our focus and move forward.
My analysis has grown and changed with time, but it has always been clear that we need to create a network, based around a shared set of distinct perspectives, outside of and against liberalism, against identity politics, against the left, and indifferent to the protest ghetto and related fringe phenomena. This means gathering together the most capable, persevering and inventive troublemakers, people with drive and nerve -- we do not need a social club for college Marxist pedants and anarchist subculture scenesters. A self-styled minority tendency of this type is not a minority out of any desire to lead or manipulate others, or impart a Kautskyian-Leninist gift of socialist consciousness to working people. Until the moment when the capitalist mode of production is being scrapped only a small number of individuals are going to see that the world must be transformed in a communist way. A revolutionary mass movement cannot be organized -- but a small highly visible network of groups of people contributing to the rise of one must be organized, especially under ever more favorable conditions in the U.S. With ongoing involvement in mainstream working people's social struggles, and transparently clear shared perspectives, a high profile minority communist tendency can help give rise to a 21st century version of what the real IWW was at its best -- an anti-wage labor social movement of the wage-earning class. Paraphrasing Marx in The Poverty of Philosophy we cannot forget that the social struggle is also a political one. We must prepare now for great events to come. And we should have started preparing for these future great events during the Jimmy Carter era.
Since my days as a teenage Maoist I have always been eager to see the revolutionary event as being right around the corner. I have always been wrong. I am now more confident that I am less wrong than I have been in the past. A crisis that might take a mass revolutionary turn may not be right around the corner -- but it might be around the corner after that, or the next corner after that. The increasingly poor judgment-making skills of our rulers are creating phenomenal opportunities that did not exist in the past.
Society gets the dissidents it deserves. This can be seen in an acute form with what gets called anarchism in today’s United States. When I write about anarchism or anti-authoritarianism here I am not referring to what might simplistically be called “real” anarchism in the increasingly distance past or elsewhere in the world today. I’m examining what I’ve repeatedly encountered, up close and personal, over a thirty-one year period in the U.S., beginning with the first anarchist group I joined on the East Coast in the spring of 1981 and continuing in the San Francisco Bay Area for three decades after that. Regarding “real” anarchism, in Spain in 1936 anarcho-syndicalism spearheaded the most advanced liberatory social movement of all time. From a high point of overwhelming strength this revolutionary movement of millions of people ceded power to a tiny number of its initially powerless enemies who were openly committed to defeating the revolution, and the revolutionaries gave up in a series of steps without offering credible resistance at any point. An analysis of the strengths and failing of anarchism in the Spanish Civil War in the 20th century is important for the struggle to transform society in the 21st century but this is not what I’m doing here. In point of fact, there are many insights that are still useful in the works of Kropotkin, Rudolf Rocker and Emma Goldman. And the real world actions of individuals like Ricardo Flores Magón, Makhno and Durruti are a powerful inspiration to real world anti-capitalist actors -- but the real world actions of Flores Magón, Makhno and Durruti have absolutely nothing in common with what gets called anarchism in today’s United States.
In theory, at its best, anarchism aspires to the revolutionary overthrow of this nightmare social order, and to replace class society and capitalism with a society worthy of the human beings who live in it; a free, stateless, post-market, egalitarian way of life. In the more than thirty years that I was around the U.S. anarchist scene I did not encounter efforts that could be taken seriously by functional adults contributing to this goal. Most scenesters don’t even think in these terms. It is clear that contemporary U.S. anarchism is not a form of anti-capitalist/anti-statist politics. The various forms of anarchism found in the U.S. are aspects of a subcultural identity phenomenon closely akin to other subcultures spawned by U.S. consumer society in the post-1960’s period.
A subculture is an attempt to escape from a threatening and unappealing reality on a shared fantasy basis. A subculture’s reference points are exclusively internal ones. A subculture does not engage with the world outside of itself; it hides from it. Subcultures tend to appeal to the very young who sometimes indulge in role-playing as part of a personality development process and who try on various forms of identity to see what might fit best. To all appearances an overwhelming majority of people at any given time in the U.S. anarchist subculture are extremely young people whose adult personalities haven’t come into sharp focus yet, who spend a few years passively objecting to the ills of the world and seeking entertainment in this exclusively entertainment-oriented scene, and who eventually drift back to their parent’s social class having done nothing to cause anyone to notice their absence.
This calls attention to the more dedicated long-term anarchist scenesters. Venerable subculture scenesters spend decades spouting ferocious opinions without venturing out of their small and cosy echo chambers to assert their sentiments in the complex and scary larger world around us. These scenesters project their incapacity onto the world at large by in effect claiming that since they aren’t actually capable of asserting their convictions in any credible social context, no one else is either, and so real world subversive action is presumably not possible. In the world of fully adult women and men, people who spend decades spouting implacable sentiments that they lack the nerve to act on are rightly dismissed as fools and frauds. In the anarchist subculture this is uniformly what long-term scenesters are about and no one calls them out on this. There is no real world reality check operating here. Their fellow passive opinion-holders never notice the lack of credibility that their scene as a whole demonstrates with this.
A credible opposition to the existing state of things is an unmistakable and extremely visible public phenomenon. Like the real IWW of one hundred years ago, it gets taken seriously by friend and foe alike. It takes place in the larger society around us, not in the safe spaces of an insular social set. It is not a fantasy role playing game. It is not fan boy activity. It is not just an excuse for scenesters to cavort with each other and sell each other T-shirts and zines. A real world opposition to this society means energetic direct action, in real world social conflicts, based on transparently clear perspectives that are not already being asserted in an adequate form by others, and that are extremely distinct from the perspectives of activists on the left-fringe of capitalist politics: volunteer social workers, compulsive protesters, the voter registration and identity politics crowds and various brands of fringe leftists, including anyone using the word “decolonize.” It is not just the same stuff that is already out there rendered more palatable or exciting with streety verbiage or posturing. The real world revolutionary extremism that we need today is both uncompromising and of immediate relevance to society as it exists now. These two points are often antagonistic to one another. Resolving this contradiction is an ongoing struggle and it is no simple feat, but the times we live in are rich in existential threat and promise and these times demand a distinct and new kind of response.
By all meaningful indicators the United States is a society in accelerating irreversible decline. The once large, stable and aspirational middle class, and the attendant social myth of the middle class that helped dissolve working class consciousness and guarantee rock solid social stability, are in tatters. The U.S. has become the most socially stratified society in the industrialized world. We endure mass impoverishment and attendant social ills on a scale not seen in other advanced democracies. There are no political or economic mechanisms that can reverse this. The U.S. maintains a permanent and extremely expensive military occupation of much of the world in a context of fighting long-running wars that it cannot win or walk away from. This takes place as Uncle Sam’s long-term position as the world’s leading and most unrestrained imperialist malefactor is rapidly being eclipsed by China. The United States is ruled by an awe-inspiringly incompetent, venal and short-sighted elite. In abolishing historical consciousness among the people they exploit and rule, the rich and their political and media servants have also largely abolished it among themselves. This will soon pay considerable negative dividends. It is becoming apparent that a relentless decades long upward redistribution of wealth has not been an intelligent long-term survival strategy for the owners and rulers of the United States, and some of the sharpest among them know this. In a lengthy Jan. 2017 piece in the haute bourgeois New Yorker, the co-founder and C.E.O. of Reddit, valued at six hundred million dollars, is quoted as being "concerned about basic American political stability and the risk of large-scale unrest."
"...awkward conversations have been unfolding in some financial circles. Robert H. Dugger worked as a lobbyist for the financial industry before he became a partner at the global hedge fund Tudor Investment Corporation, in 1993. After seventeen years, he retired to focus on philanthropy and his investments.
“Anyone who’s in this community knows people who are worried that America is heading toward something like the Russian Revolution…”
(‘Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich,' Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, Jan. 30, 2017)
With all this, the long term monolithic incapacity of the anarchist subculture in every conceivable real world context has never been more glaring.
The U.S. anarchist subculture must be understood as the specifically and extremely United States of America cultural and psychological phenomena that it is. The various currents of what gets called anarchism in the U.S. are loyal expressions of consumer society values that celebrate personal rebellion and the primacy of the a-historical individual in all things, filtered through the drop-out culture ethos of the late 1960’s and salted with fringe leftist shibboleths. Efforts that attempt to depart from this animated by people who still want to call themselves anarchists never last long and never manage to go anywhere; they cannot escape the all-entertainment, all-of-the-time ethos of what it is to be an anarchist in the United States. In other parts of the world anarchist currents have some organic continuity with older tendencies surviving from the era of the classical workers movement. The survival of old-school anarchism in other parts of the world unintentionally highlights anarchism’s historically superannuated qualities, but for good and bad this anarchism grew out of combative working people’s actual lived experiences, and this down to earth quality may anchor anarchism elsewhere in the ongoing fight against capitalist exploitation, as opposed to the Harry Potter fan vibe that prevails with the U.S. scene.
A widely held assumption among news media people is that an anarchist is a ferocious and determined revolutionist who is eager to ‘get stuck in’ as they say in the U.K. and cause major trouble for the authorities. After more than thirty years of consistent experiences with many hundreds of people who have cycled through the anarchist scene calling themselves anarchists my impression is the polar opposite. Anarchists are not bold enemies of capital and the state. Anarchists are uniformly complacent, sluggish, terminally disengaged subculture scenesters. Anarchists are easily intimidated complainers and victim-types with a penchant for gaseous philosophizing. For anarchists, public action takes the form of being sheepish followers at easily ignored left-liberal protest ghetto events, where the most ferocious anarchists may try to accrue subcultural capital by breaking a few windows. To the degree that they can be bothered to do anything more than attend protest ghetto events, their energies are focused on playdates with fellow scenesters and staging events that perpetuate the existence of their subculture as a trivial fringe phenomenon. Among anarchists there is no credible engagement with the larger world outside of the anarchist subculture; Food Not Bombs is one admirable exception. In general among anarchists there is no ethos of struggle. There is no capacity for perseverance and sacrifice in the anarchist scene; these consumers sneer at anything that demands more from them than a repetitive and monotonous drive to keep themselves entertained, get their egos massaged and satisfy other immediate emotional and personal needs. That some of their chosen forms of entertainment have a surface veneer of rebelliousness or passive objection to the social order expresses the anarchist scene’s internalization of a consumer culture ethos where individual personal rebellion and non-conformity are widely accepted expressions of consumer identity. The scene is simultaneously rich in trite melodramas and is deeply conflict averse. Adolescent peer pressure and malicious gossip are key forms of connective tissue here. In its internal dynamics and in its relation to the world outside of itself the United States anarchist subculture does not resemble any real world liberatory extremist tendency since the birth of the modern revolutionary movement at the end of the French Revolution; the U.S. anarchist subculture resembles subcultures that form among ardent fans of Star Trek and the Grateful Dead, collectors of Star Wars toys and fan boys playing Dungeons and Dragons. Anarchism in the U.S. is not a real world social conflict phenomenon and many scenesters arrogantly proclaim that anarchism is not supposed to be this. The long-term nationwide social conditions that gave rise to this torpid scene are changing rapidly, but the torpid anarchist scene is not changing with it.
One example is characteristic of what I found in more than thirty years of dealing with anarchist scenesters. A scenester space called Station 40 is located on 16th Street at Mission, in San Francisco’s Mission District, at the virtual ground zero of end stage tech sector-fueled Mission gentrification. Station 40 is identified as an “anti-capitalist social center” on a Facebook page illustrated with a photo of a heroic-looking black flag fluttering in a azure sky. Over a multiple year period S40 hosted events where this space has been packed to the rafters with people grazing on riot porn from Athens, and also one where more than a hundred career college students and compulsive protesters sat in reverent half-lotus positions at the feet of a bloviating pedant from the Invisible Committee, but the people at S40 were unwilling, over a solid two year period of my repeatedly requesting this several years ago, to either host or themselves organize even a single public meeting about the galloping embourgeosification of the Mission.
In any potentially anti-capitalist social struggle, speed is everything. Capitalist society creates opportunities and inventive energetic extremists must take them. In this anti-gentrification struggle trying to get something rolling at a early stage in the ruin of the neighborhood was going to be crucial. The Station 40 “crew” were not only unwilling to host a meeting about Mission gentrification, they were unwilling to say why and too dishonest or cowardly to decisively say that they would not host or organize an anti-gentrification meeting that would be open to people in the neighborhood at large. Finally a certain terminally earnest anarcho-liberal college professor, apparently the designated adult of the space, primly informed me that Station 40 was not going to hold any public meeting about gentrification. The people at Station 40 were not willing to host public events other than ones that serve the ideological consumer needs of subculture scenesters. Reflecting the anarchist subculture’s relationship to the larger world around it, Station 40 has a passively parasitic place in the rapidly gentrifying proletarian neighborhood where they are physically situated. Station 40’s role is to offer a safe space for subcultural bonding rituals and the indulgence of an insurrectionary fantasy life. This is consistent with anarchism in the U.S. being a subcultural identity and fantasy projection phenomenon to the exclusion of all else.
Station 40 is one example among many of the rampant adolescent narcissism that characterizes the United States anarchist scene. The adolescent tenor of the anarchist subculture is a loyal mirror of the adolescent tenor of mainstream United States culture. The anarchist subculture, its pretensions and compulsive incapacities must be understood as a loyal and logical product of the United States consumer society that has given rise to and which wholly owns the U.S. anarchist subculture. United States anarchism is a youth consumer culture thing. It remains a youth consumer culture thing even when the people involved are no longer youths. The anarchist scene does not attract people animated by profound convictions, who have staying power, inventiveness, wit and style. Their occasional street actions and sporadic acts of vandalism are not hallmarks of vital insurrectionary impulses; empty ritual activity plus broken glass equals empty ritual activity with broken glass, and sporadic acts of vandalism not connected to an expanding social struggle or to the possibilities for this have the unmistakable air of adolescents venting at surrogates for parental authority. The fully adult individuals in this scene tend to be hapless cranks or outright liberal voters who aren’t honest with themselves about their liberalism and who find an accommodating space to fantasize that they are something other than liberal voters. With no fears of losing a real world credibility that scenesters don’t aspire to, and no transparently clear, freely agreed upon formal structures for mediating internal disputes, the anarchist scene is rich in toxic melodramas that would put the most cult-like Stalinist sect to shame. It is deservedly famous for tolerating burdensome mental cases who use this scene as a free-fire zone for their pathologies and who can’t be kept in check by the hippie-dippy anything goes ethos of a juvenile and asinine subculture.
This scene does not have the makings of something that can help create a new mass revolutionary movement in a fast-declining United States. People in the U.S. anarchist subculture uniformly do not believe that the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist society is possible. This is one excuse among many for doing nothing -- and many of them explicitly do not believe that a mass revolutionary movement to topple capitalism is desirable. They accept this social order on its own deluded a-historical terms. Strange as seems, the anarchist scene is uniformly devoid of the profound optimism about human beings and the possibilities for profound radical social change that drive more grounded, energetic and serious individuals to become dedicated members of the Maoist RCP or the Trotskyist ISO. A widespread perspective among anarchist scenesters is to passively hope that the reigning global order will simply collapse; passive is as passive does. For anarchist subculture duds, there is nothing left to do, and they are not the ones to do it. The anarchist scene attracts people who can be counted on to not be counted on.
This brings me to antifa. At first glance it is exciting and encouraging to see anarchists and people close to anarchism use mass collective violence against organized racists, anti-immigrant scum, misogynists and homophobes. The contemporary antifa phenomena is not strictly speaking an expression of the anarchist subculture, but the two overlap, and antifa is the most visible public expression of something close to the anarchist subculture in today’s United States. In this the antifa phenomena also parades the worst aspects of today’s anarchist scene. As an extreme left fringe culture fixated on an equal marginal extreme right fringe culture, antifa cannot contribute to the rise of anything more enduring and substantive than an endless series of public brawls with extreme right-wing creeps. As is so often the case, a significant unspoken motivation here is that these actions don’t tax short attention spans and allow scenesters to earn street cred with fellow scenesters. People who catch a buzz off this aren’t subsequently going to engage in ongoing commitment-intensive, non-buzz-inducing activity.
As the UK libertarian socialist group ‘Solidarity’ put it in their statement, As We See It in the 1960’s:
“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.”
On these terms antifa fails. We live in a time that is more conducive to the rise of an anti-capitalist mass movement than any other period in American history. Brawls with racist and fascist scumbags may paradoxically sometimes be necessary but they are for the most part an entertaining distraction from more important efforts that are going completely neglected. Antifa stuff feels good. This is its main appeal. The most that can result from antifa actions in the world outside of sporadic confrontations is enthusiastic spectatorship or passive approval on the part of working and poor people who will themselves never get into public fistfights with Nazis and College Republicans.
Regardless of all claims to the contrary the antifa phenomena is not anti-capitalist. A perspective for the abolition of wage labor and market relations is not integral to this kind of politics. Antifa is not geared toward ongoing social struggles in the larger society around us. A long-term movement for revolutionary transformation can only grow from conflicts between exploited people and the larger commodity society that we reproduce and confront in our daily lives. A revolutionary movement won’t grow out of a fixation with capitalist America’s most clownish and toxic fringe aspects. Collective direct action in everyday life lacks the high drama of violent protest ghetto events -- and this is how it should be. The terrain of the mundane is the only terrain that matters.
It’s useful to examine other libertarian socialist efforts here as well. The ghost of a heroic proletarian movement exists today in the contemporary version of the IWW. The Industrial Workers of the World were a force to be reckoned with for a period of roughly fifteen years after the union’s founding in 1905. The real IWW was the high point of working class antagonism to capitalism in the United States -- so far -- but the real Wobblies were crushed -- murdered, jailed, deported, and eclipsed. As a social movement the IWW lived and died more than eighty years ago. Its empty organizational shell has limped along ever since, playing no role in significant social struggles since then, and next to no role in insignificant ones, either.
The real IWW was more akin to the factory organizations of the German left communists than it was to anarcho-syndicalism, so it is appropriate to borrow an insight noting that:
“…everything in the world is only good and proper in its own time. Once that time is past, what was good becomes bad and what was proper becomes misguided; sense becomes nonsense, merit becomes liability. The revolution, an era of world-shaking change, does not leave the organizations of the proletariat untouched. It throws down all that is old, in order to waken new life from among the ruins.” (German ultra-left Marxist Otto Ruhle, Basic Issues of Organization)
The real IWW was more than a union. It was often and at its best an anti-wage labor social movement of the wage-earning class. It was spawned by hard-core proles, many of them immigrants. The Wobblies were ceaselessly inventive and combative. The IWW attacked Jim Crow in practice. They were multi-ethnic and internationalist. They were willing to use violence as the circumstances demanded. The Wobblies were relentlessly hostile to patriotism and to the U.S. government. The IWW took the organizational form of a union, but it was a union that did not sign contracts with exploiters. Like the factory organization of the left communists and to its great credit the real IWW would swell in membership numbers during a strike and shed most of its members when the strike ended, making it something of a proto-council communist organization and a step towards the organizational forms of the future.(1) This authentic bare-knuckle anti-capitalist dynamic is completely absent from the current day version of the IWW. When the IWW ceased to exist as a social movement it merely became a union, several unions, actually, and relentlessly declining small unions at that. And when we talk about the real IWW we are talking about a long-ago period in the evolution of capitalist society that was closer to the days of John Brown and the Civil War than to the first half of the 21st century.
A tiny percentage of current-day version IWW members engage in actual workplace class struggle action. A stellar example can be seen in the book Wages So Low You’ll Freak, where the author Mike describes his efforts from 2007 to 2010 to organize his fellow Jimmy John’s low wage sandwich shop employees in the Minneapolis area. Mike demonstrates considerable determination and drive. He is clearly out to change the exploitative reality around us. He is not just a scenester spouting gas and going through an anarchy-phase. Anyone who has put time and effort into asserting an oppositional perspective will recognize their struggles in Mike’s fight. Unfortunately this multiple-year long IWW organizing drive ended with defeat in a close election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The struggles Mike details show how problematic it is to invest vast time and effort into getting co-workers to join a union. If the current day Wobblies had won, there may have some improvements in wages, and especially in workplace conditions. But in larger social transformation terms there is nothing to build on with this. The current day version of the IWW is never going to organize all of the employees of all of the Jimmy John’s sandwich stores and stage a general strike to expropriate the Jimmy John’s fast food chain and commence directly democratic worker’s self-management of low wage sandwich-making. Even if this was possible, and it isn’t, it would not be a worthwhile goal. If in some unimaginable utopia 21st century Wobs were to outflank the Fight for $15 effort of business unions like SEIU and get all the low wage service sector proles in the U.S. to join the IWW wages and working conditions might improve, but it would not result in the rise of a new social movement for the downfall of capitalism. A dynamic that could lead in this direction is not integral to unions or to union membership drives.
Persuading people to join a small union in small workplaces is a poor alternative to fomenting mass proletarian resistance in a context of, for an obvious example, big city mass transit systems, as is described in detail in several documents in this work. Unfolding events in a declining United States will create new opportunities for action akin to this. The admirable perseverance, conviction, energy and drive of people like Mike in Wages So Low You’ll Freak will find better expression in forms of anti-hierarchical organization and direct action that are relevant to the terms demanded by the 21st century.
The dedicated active members of today’s IWW add up to a few percentage points out of an overwhelmingly disengaged revolving door membership. At its best their activity is of a kind that can be engaged in by any other protest ghetto folks, or members of other small leftist groups. Nothing about membership in today’s version of the IWW gives them any more reach or impact than they would have without being members of the Potemkin-Village-version of the IWW. As such their actions tend to drive home the obsolescence of the let’s-pretend-we’re-really-still-the-IWW version of the IWW. They might even be more effective by simply saying, “We hate capitalism, we want to abolish wage labor and commodity production, and we are doing this in the spirit of the old IWW…” I’ve occasionally done that myself.
With no analysis of what was uniquely threatening to capital about the real IWW and the reasons for its decline, today’s version of the IWW endlessly recedes into being the least threatening aspect of what the IWW was, describing its goals in terms of “fair wages” and “economic democracy” and obediently participating in National Labor Relations Board elections to guarantee its ongoing presence in workplaces. Regardless of subjective intentions, and utterly unlike the real IWW of a century ago, this is an wholesale surrender to market society, and wholly on this social order’s terms. It is not an incremental or sub-rosa contribution to this malignant social order’s future liberatory destruction.
The real IWW organized strikes in major enterprises. The current day version of the IWW is in no position to do this. It will probably never be able to do this. It doesn’t do so well in membership drives in extremely small enterprises, either. In potentially significant social struggles like the Wisconsin protests in 2011, the IWW meekly aligns itself with larger capitalist labor brokerages and by extension the Democratic Party and does nothing to attempt to foment an independent course of action, since any effective action would mean a sharp political attack on anti-working class capitalist business rackets of the AFL-CIO and SEIU stripe, and this requires escaping the doltish and counter-subversive ideology of unionism. For the most part, today’s IWW organizes “union shops” of small numbers of employees in tiny fringe businesses like arthouse cinemas or worker-owned hippie cookie bakeries. The haphazard quality of this organizing and the shameful modesty of these goals show that consciously or not this is mostly an attempt to pump oxygen into a historically defunct dogma. The failure here is not on the part of a small minority of sincere, energetic and dedicated organizers but of a historically obsolete conception of social struggle and social change. The capitalist mode of production is the most protean form of social organization of all time and in regard to union activity capital moved the goal posts a century ago; what was once class struggle is now social work. It is a hopelessly meek response to capitalist exploitation today...