Saturday, February 28, 2009

Anarchism and Radical Governments

Anarchism is more influential and wide-spread than at any time in the last 70 years. And the movement continues to grow and develop. This does not necessarily mean that we will become the predominate tendency. Even during anarchism's previous zenith – the years immediately after World War One – we had to share the stage with other socialist currents. The most important and far-reaching anarchist movement – that of Spain in 1936 – saw the formation of a united front involving the CNT-FAI, the left-communist POUM and rank and file militants of the Socialist trade unions.

It is safe to claim that social change – let alone social revolution – will involve a number of different tendencies, of which anarchism will be one, and not always the predominant one. Anarchists will work together with the other tendencies which promote self-government and self-management, in essence, all tendencies that in some manner or other support the popular struggle. This notion is not a controversial issue among us. We are already working along side other tendencies in the environmental, peace, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist movements.

The problem comes for anarchists when the pressure of social movements gives rise to populist, democratic socialist or “revolutionary” governments. Examples of these are to found in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador. How do we , as resolute anti-statists, relate to governments, which in some manner, reflect and act according to the needs and desires of the social movements and the working population? How we react to these situations can be fraught with danger to our movement.

In the past, anarchists have reacted in two opposing and erroneous ways. One might be called “liquidationalism”. Here anarchists give up their distinct program and dissolve themselves into the governing “revolutionary” tendency. During the Russian Revolution, thousands of anarchists joined the Bolsheviks or formed-Bolshevik inspired organizations in their respective nations. Needless to say, the Bolsheviks did not enact our program! After The 26 July Movement made its turn toward the Communist Party, and Cuban anarchists were suppressed, many anarchists outside Cuba tended to ignore the plight of their comrades out of solidarity with the Cuban Revolution. Liquidationalism means giving up on anarchism entirely, in exchange for a bit of social progress, and sometimes not even that.

I think that liquidationalism comes about through anarchist weakness. There had been few attempts at anarchist revolution prior to 1917, and anarchism had “growing pains.” Bolshevism seemed to show the way. The early 1960's were the nadir of the anarchist movement and a lot of anarchists looked for anything to be optimistic about, and Cuba seemed to fit the bill. Since anarchism today is a growing force, I do not see liquidationalism as a major problem, though, of course, one never knows for sure.

Sectarianism is the other error. Surprise, surprise, democratic socialists and populists are not anarchists! We cannot expect them to carry out our program, but we can expect them to carry out the aspects of their own program that help the populace. If they do this, should they be condemned as enemies as evil as the corporatists and oligarchs? What do the people think when anarchists damn these reformers ? Sectarianism separates anarchists from the mass of the populace, who cannot understand why erstwhile revolutionaries are condemning the very actions which are improving their lives. What is even worse, is when sectarianism leads to propaganda imitating the reactionaries. According to the sectarian, the glass is never half-full, it is always empty. Should reaction triumph, the sectarians will be tortured and killed along with the other tendencies, and their sectarianism will remain as a bitter taste in the mouths of a defeated people. (1)

This is most particularly the case in Latin America where the mobilization of the populace immediately leads to polarization between the masses and the oligarchy and its supporters. If the oligarchy gains the upper hand in this struggle the result is the suppression of popular movements, torture and massacre. To think that one can stand aside during this polarization, or that it is "only a struggle between bourgeois factions and doesn't concern us" is to live in a dream world.

One cause of sectarianism is fetishizing the alleged or actual lessons of the past. The Bolsheviks turned on their anarchist allies, so too, Fidel Castro. Wherever Stalinism took over, anarchists and other radical tendencies were eliminated. From this tragic history comes an unspoken view that any revolution or government led by Marxists, real or alleged, will end up following this pattern. But history does change not merely repeating itself like a rubber stamp. Stalinism is not some Platonic Form, hovering in the cosmos, just waiting to manifest at the first outbreak of revolutionary change.

The alternatives to Stalinism – Trotskyism, democratic socialism and anarchism – were too weak in the 1940's and 50's. Stalinism was hegemonic at this time. But
people learn what works and what doesn't. What was once seen as a viable model for revolutionary change – the one party state plus nationalization of productive wealth – is no longer seen as an answer. It does not create the sort of society that anyone wants.

The movement away from the hegemony of the Stalinist model began in the late 1960's. The Unidad Popular government of Chile attempted to create socialism, through a democratic process. The Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua did not go in a Stalinist direction. Rather than suppressing all tendencies but their own, they favored a multi-tendency democracy – even for the right-wing, a kindness that was not acknowledged.

What then should anarchists do in the face of new revolutionary or progressive regimes that work to some measure in the interest of the population? First off; Our loyalty is to the people, not the government – or any government. If the people support a progressive government it is because that government is responding to their wishes. A direct frontal attack on such a government – until it truly begins to work against its supporters – is futile and creates a wedge between us and the people.

We should remain non-committal, as long as the government somehow acts in the popular interest. When it deviates from that path, we criticize. But there is also a way of criticizing that is not off-putting to the people. That method is one of positive re-enforcement. To never cease bringing up the need for direct democracy and self-management. If the progressive government is reticent to go beyond words, our unending needling on these points will be a powerful criticism, yet will not be seen as a negative attack. Our goal should be to push the progressive government, from below, to either the breaking point where it exposes its reactionary other face, or to where it begins to dissolve itself into popular power. And if this process cannot be pushed to its libertarian fulfillment, we must win a strong base among the people, in the unions, neighborhoods and social organizations, to defend our gains and build a base for the next step in the struggle.

We must involve ourselves with the populace, if the people win some measure of self-government and decentralization, we should be there, pushing these measures to the full. If the revolutionary government encourages coops, we should form them or join them, making sure they are autonomous and democratic. Should reactionaries attempt to re-establish their rule through a coup, electoral fraud or invasion, we must be at the forefront of the resistance, not as government lackeys, but as supporters of the popular movements the reactionaries will destroy if they regain power. Our slogan should not be “Defend our Government”, but “Defend the People ... our Neighborhoods, Trade Unions, Cooperatives etc.” At no time must we ally with reaction, even verbally, no matter what our differences with the progressive government.

This article also appears in Anarkismo See

1. During the campaign to overthrow Allende, the CIA funded a strike of truck drivers. The sectarians of the day crowed about the strike as an example of "class struggle" against the wicked Allende reformists.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Self-Management in Cuba? Part 3

Worker Coops

There is something missing from the statements of both Pedro Campos, the proponent of worker coops, and Jorge Martin of the IMT criticism of this option. Campos states that workers in these coops would not get wages but an equitable sharing of the profits. Martin points out that this would led to extreme inequality and competition.

What is the prime function of a cooperative or mutualist organization of any type? It's prime function is to create a product or perform a service – the production of use values, not to amass profits as with a capitalist company. A cooperative eliminates the exploiter, and what profits are made are certainly divided up among the members, but maximizing profit is not the real reason for the cooperatives. Take but one example – a coop store. People join to get good products at a lower price, and also because it keeps wealth circulating in the community rather than being sucked out of it like a capitalist corporation. They also belong because they like the idea of having a say in what the store does, which they would not have with a capitalist institution. Once a year they might receive a small cheque, their share of the store's profits, but this is hardly the reason for their membership.
Marketing coops like for dairy and grains exist to prevent cut-throat competition among farmers, smooth out the market vagaries, eliminate parasitic middlemen and of course, sell the farmer's harvest.

All the worker coops I am familiar with pay wages. The function of worker coops is two-fold; to create a product and to provide jobs for the members. Like with the other coops, the dividend at the end of the year is not its raison d'etre. (2) Sharing out the profits rather than paying wages is more like a capitalist business partnership than any worker coop I am familiar with.

Mutualists and cooperators were aware of the problems of competition and inequality a 150 years ago and found remedies for these problems. Rather than having worker coops ruthlessly competing with each other, driving members into bankruptcy or forcing workers to self-exploit, the coops can associate, just like the farmers in the example above. Indeed, the main function of the worker coop federation ought to be one of solidarity and mutual aid among members. (And from the examples I know, these are among their main functions)

Martin suggests that Campos' worker coops, could through competition and an emphasis on profit taking, evolve back into capitalist companies. Maybe so with the Campos version. But here in Canada we have coops that are more than 100 years old, and they still function as coops - in spite of having to endure an economic environment where the cooperative and non-profit sector is only about 5% of the economy. While it is true, they have adopted many capitalist aspects (1) the core cooperative values are still there - primacy of use values, democracy, localism, and federation. And by being democratic, rather than authoritarian institutions like capitalist companies, these conservative policies can be changed by a simple vote at the annual general meeting, were the members to chose to do so.

I would suggest that Campos consider the creation of worker coops as they have been done elsewhere – de-emphasizing profit-taking and competition, emphasizing solidarity, mutual aid and association - and this would go a good way to eliminate the potential problems that Martin foresees.

Martin, of course, prefers a planned economy, but not a bureaucratic top-down one, rather a democratic bottom-up version. But I would suggest that the existence of a genuine worker coop sector in the small-medium layer of the economy does not preclude planning and organization. (Existing cooperative federations already engage in both.) It is not an either-or situation. Planning and association are not ideals to be imposed no matter what, they are there to improve the economy and the situation of those who do the work in that economy. If planning and association improve the lot of the workers in the cooperative sector, those workers will eagerly embrace it.

1.A number of credit union branches have had strikes in the past decade. See also

2. What is a Worker Co-op?

Worker co-ops are cooperative enterprises that are owned and democratically controlled by the employees... The main purpose of a worker co-op is to provide employment for its members... Members combine their skills, interests and experiences to achieve mutual goals, such as creating jobs for themselves, providing a community service or increasing democracy in the workplace. Taken from;

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Self-management in Cuba? Part 2.

During the last few decades we have seen the greatest expropriation take place in history, barring the conquest of the Americas. Trillions of dollars worth of ostensibly public property, bought with tax money, sweat, and in the case of the USSR with the lives of millions, has been given away to trans-national corporations or the friends of politicians. The politicians were able to do this because the state owned these properties, and in the same way I am free to sell my house because I hold title to it, the government can do the same. This is the great failure of state socialism, what the state gives, it can also take away. All that has to happen is a change in government policy. Seemingly, the leaders of the social democratic and communist parties never saw this as a possibility. (1)

Here lies the greatest danger for the Cuban people. A group might arise within the government which decides to give away the store, like has happened in the rest of the world. This is vastly more of a threat than the prospect of a worker coop system evolving back into capitalism, but more on that later. Now here is a very important point – what the state does not own it cannot give away. State ownership plus worker-management, though it makes it more difficult for the capitalists, does not eliminate the problem of “privatization”. As long as title lies with government, a give-away is possible. If the Cuban government were to give legal title directly to the people, no “privatizations” would ever be possible. In other words, create a form of public or national ownership that is not governmental.

“Public ownership that is not governmental, how can that be?” you ask. Well, I have good news for you, this concept was invented 90 years ago by the French syndicalist union, the CGT. The syndicalists realized that the French economy had changed radically in the 20th Century and that the old Proudhonist slogan “the mine for the miners” no longer applied in many cases. Huge industries such as railways, electrical power, steel mills made more sense owned and run on a national basis. They rejected state ownership fearing the growth of bureaucracy and a loss of workers democracy, and so invented non-statist nationalization. (2)

It worked this way. Every nationalized industry would become its own entity. It would be overseen by an elected board of directors of 18 members comprising 6 worker representatives, 6 consumer reps (included the coop federation and consumer association) and 6 government reps – 2 from the central government, 2 from the departements and 2 from the communes. All nationalized industries were to be unionized and under worker management. It goes without saying that such industries would be next to impossible to “privatize.” Furthermore, all the nationalized industries were to have belonged to a planning council, along with other economic actors such as the coops and trade unions.

I am not suggesting the Cubans should adopt this model verbatum, but something along these lines would provide both work place democracy and avoid the possibility of capitalist restoration.

Next posting – mutualism and worker coops

1, I suspect the social democrats for their belief that the class struggle had been tamed and the CP out of faith in a supposed linear evolution of society.
2. This was actually the suggestion of the French Cooperative Movement, but the CGT adopted it as policy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Self-management In Cuba?

A debate is going on within the Cuban Communist Party as to the future direction of the country. One faction around Raul Castro wants a China option, basically opening the country to corporate pillage under the guise of developing socialism. Two opposing currents think differently. Mutualism is proposed by Pedro Campos (1) and worker-managed nationally owned industries by Camila Piñeiro Harnecker. (2) The following is a selection from an article by the International Marxist Tendency on the future of Cuba. They are quite critical of the Mutualist option, and are favorable to Camilia Harnecker's position. I will add my own comments in the next posting.

"As part of this debate on the renewal of Cuban socialism, some have proposed the idea of self-management as a way forward. Pedro Campos and others have signed a document in which they raise 13 programmatic measures as part of the debate towards the IV Party Congress that will take place later on this year. Without doubt, the document raises a number of interesting proposals, including the formation of “workers’ councils in all workplaces”. It is clear that Pedro Campos is deeply worried about the problems the Cuban economy is facing and is trying to find solutions which imply the full participation of the workers in the management of the economy and the decision making process at all levels. On this, we agree.

However, we think that the main idea of the document is not only wrong but also very dangerous. Basically, it proposes that in small and medium-sized enterprises “the property over the means of production would be given directly to workers in full, either through sale, paid up front or on credit, or transferred by the State”, and that the “companies of national or strategic interest” would be “co-managed between the State and the Workers’ Collective, where ownership and administration could or could not be shared by the relevant State body, handed over partially or completely as a lease or in usufruct to the workers”. In all these companies, “the form of payment of wages” would be replaced by “the equitable sharing out of part of the profits”.

This means that ownership of companies would be handed over to the workers who work in them and they, instead of receiving wages would share out any profits. This system which is being proposed is very similar to the “socialist self-management” which was implemented in Yugoslavia and which led to the economic collapse of that country and later on to its break up. This type of ownership and sharing out of profits inevitably generates an outlook which is not a collective one, but rather individual of each group of workers in each company. If there were, for instance, two transport companies in the same city, the workers in each one of them would be pushed to compete with the workers in the other in order to get higher profits to share out (this is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia)....

The fact that workers’ wages would be linked to profits would reproduce all the problems that co-operatives face in a capitalist economy. The workers would be forced to exploit themselves further in order to get enough profits to share out, or in order to get more profits than the workers in other companies they compete with, through longer hours, higher intensity of labour, leaving to one side health and safety considerations, etc. We understand that in the system proposed by Campos there would be competition since he says that: “the state monopoly controls in the domestic market which currently exist, would have to disappear and give way to commercial activity”.

In reality, self-management with a market, inevitably leads to capitalism, and it is not very different from the proposals of those who are pushing for market measures, material incentives and the privatisation of small and medium sized enterprises, which we have analysed earlier. Far from liberating the workers, this programme would turn them into capitalists.
Camila Piñeiro Harnecker has criticised both those who defend market mechanisms to stimulate production, and those who, like Pedro Campos, propose that the workers should be the direct owners of the companies in which they work. In an interesting article published in Temas magazine, Camila Piñeiro argues that: “the participation of the workers in the management of the companies would not only contribute to their full development, but also would be an important source of motivation." "



Saturday, February 07, 2009

Whistleblowers And Management

[We] find that whistleblowers start out expecting a constructive or at least modest organizational response to their disclosures. In our interviews whistleblowers told us time and again that they started out believing that because they were valued and respected employees, their information presented to the "higher-ups" would be taken seriously and would be the catalyst for the constructive organizational change they sought. As a result few were prepared for what was about to happen to them...

...the full resources of the organization will be brought to bear against them... In cases we studied... management immediately fired the individual, or if that was not possible, then they set up the process by which they could later be fired, by abruptly downgrading their job performance. When claims of "incompetence" could not be sustained, they would endeavor to get the whistleblower labeled "crazy"... "out of their mind" or a "paranoid schizophrenic."... management reprisals begin as soon as management becomes aware that the individual might become a whistleblower. (1)

Now isn't this exactly the process that happened to Kevin Annett when he exposed the genocidal practices at the Alberni Residential School? He thought the United Church officials would deal with the issue but was told to shut up. When he refused to keep quiet was fired and his sanity questioned. From the above quote, we see this to be a normal process that happens to whistleblowers. For any readers taken in by Church propaganda about Kevin – read the above quote and think again! See:

1. Joyce Rothchild and Terance D. Miethe, "Whistleblowing as Resistance in Modern Work Organizations..." in A. Baum and J. E. Singer eds "Advances in Environmental Psychology" pp 264-266 as quoted in Kevin Carson "Organizational Theory – A Libertarian Perspective" p.255 (For Carson's work see;

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