Thoughts on Anarcho Syndicalism in Australia

There are presently two anarcho-syndicalist projects in Australia, the ASF and the IWW.

[Update, 17 July: In light of criticism put forward by a comrade in the discussion thread, I’ve changed my opinion on this description of the IWW. It is not accurate to describe the IWW as anarcho-syndicalist, even if it is significantly influenced by anarcho-syndicalism. I recommend Davo’s comments in the discussion thread.]

Both the ASF and the IWW claim to be unions, but at present neither of these two groups organise workplaces. They are small political groups advancing the concept of syndicalist unionism.

In a recent article, Socialist Alternative member Daniel Lopez argued that the IWW in Australia were not really Anarchist at all. He was writing about the 1910s IWW, the same argument could be made about the modern Australian claimant to the IWWs legacy.

The IWW denies that it is anarchist, it’s publications make use of Marxian economics (labour theory of value, surplus value, etc), and it consistently argues that the working class must liberate itself or not at all.

But the IWW is anarchist. Syndicalism is part of the anarchist tradition, it is an anarchist strategy. Syndicalist organisations utilize Marxian economic understandings because Anarchists critically appropriate Marx’s analysis of capitalism.

And Syndicalist organisations include Marxists, because when Anarchists attempt to build mass organisations, they do not make anarchism a pre-requisite for membership. Anarchists seek to draw in militants of all stripes who are in broad agreement with Anarchist aims[1].

Daniel Lopez advances several critiques of the 1910s IWW’s political practice:

It is important to account for why the IWW was wrecked … So long as capitalism is stable, unions of any size are going to accept industrial legality. Either this, or be de-registered and wrecked, as with the Builders Labourers Federation.

Organising a separate, radical union in opposition to the mainstream ones is a mistaken tactic 95 percent of the time.

Rather than take the fight to the bureaucrats, constantly organising within the unions against them, it leaves them unchallenged within their own organisations, and has the effect of separating the best militants.

they didn’t have a perspective for building a party. Such a perspective can anticipate and cope with periods of illegality.

(Ben D* of the IWW’s Melbourrne GMB responded here[2]).

[Update, 17 July: Daniel Lopez has in turn responded to Ben D*’s article here. It’s worth reading.]

[Update, 22 July: Another response from an IWW comrade here.

The decision to deny or announce a syndicalist organisations commitment to Anarchist practice is a tactical one, and in part it ties into that critique of the IWW that Lopez highlights.

In Australia, the ASF announces it’s anarchism. Like the IWW, identity as an anarchist is not a prerequisite for membership:

Being a member of the ASF does not require you to be an anarchist but to simply agree to work within the Aims Principles and Statutes upon which we organise.

But the fact that their name is the “Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation” has much the same effect, deterring non-Anarchists from participation. In the fight against reformism, this has it’s advantages, but it hampers the task of building the kind of mass organisation that syndicalist strategy requires.

From it’s beginnings, the IWW has sought to unite workers of diverse levels of politics, strategically denying it’s anarchist connection helps achieve this. But an organisation that is less explicit in its politics faces a greater challenge in ensuring that it remains revolutionary and does not descend into reformism.

As an ASF comrade pointed out to me recently, these are old debates. But they are still debates that Australian Anarchists have yet to resolve.

Almost all organised class-struggle Anarchists in Australia are involved in either the IWW or the ASF. Whether they are drawn to one or the other seems to depend on where they stand on the tactical question of explicitly anarchist syndicalist organising, or implicitly anarchist syndicalist organising.

They are both tiny groups, neither organise workplaces at this point in time, they are only at the stage of advancing the idea of syndicalist union, yet the effects of this decision are still apparent. The political education of IWW members is lower[3], the ASF’s members have clearer politics, but fail to make the recruiting gains of the IWW[4].

Is Syndicialism the wrong strategy? Socialist Alternative would say so, but they only concieve of Syndicalism as anarchist attempts to build new unions from scratch. Whilst this has been the focus on Anarcho-Syndicalists in Australia, it is not the be all and end all of Syndicalist strategy.

Syndicalism is a radically democratic model for union organising that can be advanced within existing unions, in new unions, or through grassroots solidarity movements that cut across the union movement. The challenge faced by anarchists is not to build new syndicalist organisations, but rather to advance anarchist ideas (and thus syndicalist practice) throughout the labour movement. The decision as to whether to focus on critically engaging with existing unions, or building grass roots solidarity organisations, or to build new unions, should not be made a general principle. It’s a decision to make depending on the present circumstances in particular industries.

This flexibility of approach cannot be undertaken by an organisation that sets itself up as a syndicalist union in competition with the trade union movement. Be it the ASF or the IWW, these organisations are effectively locked into one strategy in all situations.

The alternative for organised Anarchists is to create specifically Anarchist organisations, that bring together committed militants, seek to understand the situation in various industries or political situations, and then advance anarchist ideas using the strategy that best suits the conditions encountered[5]. An effective syndicalist strategy requires organised Anarchist groups.

The gut reaction of many Anarchists is to condemn this as vanguardism.

In his response to Daniel Lopez’s article on the IWW, Ben D* of the IWW’s Melbourne GMB is quick to highlight Stalin, Red Terror and Totolitarianism. As Ben says, Anarchists seek to build organisations that “[maintain] a basic harmony between mean and ends”, an authoritarian party that seeks to lead the workers delivers a dictatorship, whereas the decentralised organisation of the entire working class makes dictatorship impossible.

Critics of specific, united and organised anarchist groups argue that they would function as Lenninist parties, and thus contain the same seeds of dictatorship. But there is a fundamental difference. An organisation of anarchist militants would not seek to make “the revolution”, “lead the working class” or establish a dictatorship of the party.

An organisation of Anarchist militants would seek to build mass popular organisations along syndicalist lines, and advance anarchist ideas in these organisations. If true mass organisations on Syndicalist lines can be built, an organised minoritty of any stripe would be unable to establish control, they could only seek to exert influence. Organised Anarchists seek to develop such organisations to the point that the popular power they embody can topple capitalism. It is through syndicalist organisation that Anarchists seek to topple capitalism.

There is a danger of dictatorship when a single organisation seeks to monopolise power, take leadership in the name of the working class, claim a monopoly on the right ideas and centralise popular power into a single party.

Which brings me back to Daniel Lopez’s recent article on the IWW.

Lopez’s article shows a great respect for the IWW of the 1910s, for a reason. Socialist Alternative seek to appropriate the legacy of the IWW for their version of Marxism.

Lopez’s critique of the IWWs practice is not unique to Marxist observers. Syndicalist practice in Australia to date has been limited. Syndicalism it is a powerful and radically democratic method of Anarchist organising, but without specifically anarchist organisations, it is an incomplete strategy.

[1].Black Flame Chapter V: Anarchism, Syndicalism, the IWW and Labour, for more.

[2]. I must confess, I can’t really work out what Ben D is getting at, beyond a general assertion that Vanguardist organising is a recipe for dictatorship and Syndicalism, despite it’s organisational faults, is not.

[3]. I will be eaten alive for saying this! I am not a member of either the ASF or the IWW, I make this judgement on the basis of observing IWW and ASF groups on FB. Hardly scientific!

[4]. Of course both are tiny, microscopic compared to the union movement they seek to reshape (from little things…), but the IWW is several times larger than the ASF.

[5]. FARJ, Social Anarchism and Organisation.

* Name sanitised at comrades request – 18-July-2012

29 Comments

  1. Interesting conversation, thought I would reply.

    There are presently two anarcho-syndicalist projects in Australia, the ASF and the IWW.

    The IWW is not anarcho-syndicalist.

    Yes it has anarcho’s in it, but the organisation is not. It has elections to office, it’s representative rather than federalist. It organises industrially whereas the ASF organises via federation of both industrial unions AND civic councils, with BOTH having decision making powers. It is working toward a political end, that being libertarian communism. The IWW is specifically non-political. What would an IWW revolution look like?

    The IWW denies it is anarchist, yet (annoyingly for those working toward specifically anarchist revolution using specifically anarchist organisational methods) utilises anarchist imagery as it generally recruits from the anarchist milieu. The ASF is open about the fact it is anarchist, it does not try and hide this from the working class. It does not wish to trick the working class into using anarchist methodology but to show that it is the best way in which to organise via direct action and solidarity toward bringing about libertarian communism, this is why we openly state our intentions. We are groups organising into a federation of groups and promoting federalism.

    But the IWW is anarchist. Syndicalism is part of the anarchist tradition, it is an anarchist strategy.

    No it’s not, I’m sorry but will keep repeating it 🙂 It is a revolutionary union that is syndicalist. Yes, syndicalism is an anarchist strategy, but syndicalism via anarchist methodology, thus anarcho-syndicalism. eg: Organising workplaces is an anarchist strategy, this does not follow that organised work places are anarchist.

    Whether they are drawn to one or the other seems to depend on where they stand on the tactical question of explicitly anarchist syndicalist organising, or implicitly anarchist syndicalist organising.

    Sadly I don’t think this is the case, tho I think you are correct with regard ‘political education’ between the IWW and the ASF. I think anarchists for the most part are drawn by action or perceived action and have for the most part just accepted IWW organising as anarchist due to the fact they advertise as such, widely and consistently using their aged history as activists, appropriating the red and black flag, whilst specifically being non political. Whereas it is revolutionary … the IWW is not anarchist.

    They are both tiny groups, neither organise workplaces at this point in time, they are only at the stage of advancing the idea of syndicalist union, yet the effects of this decision are still apparent. The political education of IWW members is lower[3], the ASF’s members have clearer politics, but fail to make the recruiting gains of the IWW[4].

    Recruitment =/= action.

    The IWW says it has around 100 members in Australia, but how many are active? It’s not about numbers, it’s about action.

    This flexibility of approach cannot be undertaken by an organisation that sets itself up as a syndicalist union in competition with the trade union movement. Be it the ASF or the IWW, these organisations are effectively locked into one strategy in all situations.

    Not at all. Syndicalism is but one strategy. ASF-IWA strategy is federalism, of both industrial and civic groups. This is totally different to the strategy of the IWW.

    Groups agree to work within anarchist principles of the IWA and join the federation as groups/locals that are able to make decisions independantly. The IWW is monolithic in comparison, thus there are very different ways for dealing with issues.

    The ASF has called twice on the IWW for support in a dispute involving it’s members, made to the ROC. Not even a response to the emails was given. The reasoning? As far as we can tell, the IWW has been involved in ‘elections’ which has effectively made it’s ROC unable to respond!

    Yet they were able to get together a large article for their newspaper on it, without at all speaking to the workers involved in the struggle. Large graphic calling for a boycott of Domino’s, the last thing the drivers wanted (it directly affects their wages!)

    Why am I saying all this? Because I am disappoint.

    There are great people involved in the IWW but I have seen a lot of self-promotion via wonderful imagery and memes, recruitment, support via massive FB posting campaigns reformist union struggles, but not even a reply to emails from workers in a revolutionary union asking directly for support. Sure it’s been reflected on in their paper, however why hasn’t the IWW talked directly to the workers that have emailed them? Actually ignored the emails, instead printing 3rd hand information from groups in Melbourne within the same federation, and calling for action that the workers are totally opposed too?

    The IWW has in it’s constitution, “to the end of promoting industrial unity and of securing necessary discipline within the organization, the I. W. W. refuses all alliances, direct or indirect, with existing political parties or anti-political sects.”?

    Reading up on what they mean by ‘anti-political sects’, (from http://www.iww.org/en/history/myths/8 )

    “In any case, the rest of the phrase, “or anti-political sects” was specifically included to rule out exclusively anarchist organizations or tendencies as well “

    Is this the real reason the IWW will not actively support the workers in the ASF that called on them for solidarity? Because the ASF is an exclusively anarchist organisation (as compared to an organisation exclusively of anarchists)?

  2. Yet they were able to get together a large article for their newspaper on it, without at all speaking to the workers involved in the struggle. Large graphic calling for a boycott of Domino’s, the last thing the drivers wanted (it directly affects their wages!)

    The article in the most recent edition of Direct Action is actually a reprint of this in New Matilda.

    More detailed response later.

  3. Yes, with added information surrounding it calling on a boycott.

  4. Which is, as you point out, pretty bloody stupid.

    The ASF is open about the fact it is anarchist, it does not try and hide this from the working class. It does not wish to trick the working class into using anarchist methodology but to show that it is the best way in which to organise via direct action and solidarity toward bringing about libertarian communism, this is why we openly state our intentions.

    And an Anarchist group should of course be open about it’s strategy.

    But successfully bring about libertarian communism will require mass organisations, that extend well beyond whatever small segment of the working class that might one day identify as explicitly anarchist.

    An explicitly anarchist organisation would struggle to be that kind of broad church. Organisational dualism offers a solution, mass organisations that draw in all who agree with broad aims of struggle, and a specific anarchist organisation that can advance a specifically anarchist current within such an organisation.

    Assuming that such a strategy is advanced honestly, that the mass organisation is not a mere front that has no existence independent of the specifically anarchist organisation, then this strategy is not a “trick”.

    But of course, that’s not the IWW…

    The IWW denies it is anarchist, yet (annoyingly for those working toward specifically anarchist revolution using specifically anarchist organisational methods) utilises anarchist imagery as it generally recruits from the anarchist milieu.

    Because the modern IWW in Australia is basically an anarchist project. I’ll concede that they’re not outwardly anarchist, in either statement or structure.

    It is a fiction that the current IWW in Australia is a continuation of the historical IWW in Australia. It consists of people who identify as Anarchists, who have joined a moribund (and for all intents and purposes non functioning) organisation, in order to utilise it’s imagery and history.

    As a consequence, they’re tied into an odd organisational structure. I am not sure how it functions in practice, but at least on paper it doesn’t appear as top down as you suggest. I could be wrong, and I should probably defer to your greater knowledge. 🙂

    It’s not about numbers, it’s about action.

    In principle I agree. Sort of.

    Groups need to recruit, educate and activate. They need to reach the sort of mass that can actually intervene in a given situation.

    The small group who are presently trying to rebuild the IWW in Australia seem to be focused on gathering people to the banner, whether they have much of a plan for educating and involving people remains to be seen. At the moment they are clearly focused on propaganda, Facebook, and a bit of community outreach (I’ve run into their stalls in Melb a couple of times).

    As I understand it ASF membership involves a reasonably high level of commitment, there is an expectation to attend meetings, participate in the political work of the organisation, and so on. Correct me if I am wrong.

    It’s the focus an embrionic political group needs. It doesn’t make for a desirable union for the average worker.

    I wonder if the ASF might not be better concieving itself as an Anarcho-Syndicalist political group rather than a union (from what I have seen that is what it is). Focus instead on building the capacity of that group whilst engaging in struggles that it is capable of undertaking (what the ASF appears to be doing in relation to things like the Dominos drivers), and embark on the project of building a mass syndicalist organisation (either as a new entity or by capturing existing ones) when the ASF reaches that level of capacity.

  5. FranciscoJuly 15, 2012 at 7:28 am

    A most interesting debate and one that clearly identifies the various schools of thought within the Australian libertarian/anarchist environment.

    In my opinion the issue at hand should not be as to whether a grouping defines itself to be anarchist or not, but whether it encourages and promotes the process of workers on the shop floor organising themselves in a non-authoritarian manner. Demonstrating to fellow workers on the shop floor that a union organisation can exist with neither a bureaucratic structure nor a comfortable career path for the limited tenure elected representative of the grouping should be the initial task.

    What an entity calls itself matters not, how it handles industrial conflicts and represents its membership does.

    I recall a letter well over 40 years ago from a close friend that held at the time the position of secretary of the AIT responding to an issue I raised with him,
    “… we recognise the ideological affinity between CRIFA and the AIT, nevertheless the two organisations are autonomous from each other, CRIFA is specifically an anarchist organisation whereas the AIT is a workers organisation…, during our last Congress it was also agreed that we would maintain contact with all workers organisations that adhere to the position of revolutionary syndicalism such as SAC, IWW and OVB…”

    Regretfully the setting up and development of an anarcho-syndicalist union within the current Australian environment is not going to be an easy task which in turn is further complicated due to the negative attitude expressed by the community upon the connotation of the word anarchism. Consequently the need to demystify this misinterpretation is of the utmost importance.

  6. An explicitly anarchist organisation would struggle to be that kind of broad church. Organisational dualism offers a solution, mass organisations that draw in all who agree with broad aims of struggle, and a specific anarchist organisation that can advance a specifically anarchist current within such an organisation.

    The ASF runs under anarchist principles. The way we organise is anarchist.

    This shouldn’t be mistaken with requiring members to be or identify as anarchist. The IWA is an anarchist organisation because it organises via anarchism, and open to all workers.

    At a Congress affiliates choose one group to be the secretariat, locally/regionally/nationally up to internationally and rotated. In the IWW the organising committees as are chosen as individuals via a popular vote of all it’s members. This is a foundational organising difference.

    The reason the ASF/IWA organises the way it does, is that is what anarchism is. The IWW has had problems in the past with statist groups and power plays I suspect for this very reason. Hence I ask what an IWW revolution will look like.

    To me, it seems wishful thinking to just think come ‘workers control’ by such an entity it would magically be anarchist in practice because it was started by (well meaning) anarchists trusting no abuse of the framework will occur.

    Better to organise via anarchism from the start, and to be proud of that mechanism of organising.

    Organisational dualism offers a solution, mass organisations that draw in all who agree with broad aims of struggle, and a specific anarchist organisation that can advance a specifically anarchist current within such an organisation.

    Wishful thinking that come the revolution, anarchism will just spring from it. History shows us that is not the case.

    I’d be interested to see how the IWW would deal with Trots joining en masse. Good luck with elections then 😉

  7. Daniel Lopez has published a response in Socialist Alternative to Ben D*’s article in the recent issue of Direct Action.

    Ben accuses me of failing to give an account of the development of anarcho syndicalism out of the anarchist tradition. This would no doubt be a failing in an article on anarcho syndicalism. But my article was on the IWW. They didn’t see themselves as either anarchists or anarcho syndicalists. In fact the IWW explicitly rejected anarchism. Norman Rancie, the one-time editor of Direct Action, had this to say:

    Anarchists believe in complete individual freedom and each man a law unto himself. They refuse to recognise any form of organisation or authority. This is the very antithesis of the principles of the IWW which believes in organisation, discipline, and not ‘every man a law unto himself’, but every member responsible to his organisation which has a book of rules and a constitution which of course is the very negation of anarchism.1

    This is not an isolated quote. Numerous Direct Action articles directly criticised anarchism, as well as European Syndicalism.2 The anarchists of the day agreed, criticising the IWW in turn.3

    * Name sanitised at comrades request – 18-July-2012

  8. Davo,

    Just in case it wasn’t clear, I am not arguing in favour of the IWW! I would favour building the ASF over the IWW any day of the week, because we need explicitly anarchist projects in order to advance anarchism in Australia.

    I do not think that anarchism will magically spring forth from revolution! If anything, I think we need a greater focus on building a specifically anarchist organisation in Australia before embarking on the project of building syndicalist unions.

    You’ve convinced me to reconsider my description of the IWW, I’ve updated the post in light of that.

    Kieran.

  9. Well yes that’s probably us “multi-cultural” and thus too libertarian for socialists like Socialist Alternative and too socialist for libertarians like Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation.
    Both SA & ASF are tendencies in the wider working class movement in Australia that is they have workers as members as do the Socialist Party of Australia, Socialist Alliance, Anarchist Communists…other workers align to yet other parties and groups, networks and projects but a lot more workers are non-aligned to any group.
    At different times collectively the above groups have all been involved in reformist and revolutionary campaigns. Some individuals and groups within have done well but others fucked up. Alas self-criticism is uncommon and even critical reflection on organisational mistakes made is rare as rocking horse shit.
    The herstory, history of those struggles and roles of specific organisations in them is debated even amongst their own adherents and contested by competitors this is the marginalising legacy of sectarianism.

    While you cannot be in any of their competing tendencies and will be expelled for such
    you can be a member of all the above or none and be a Wobbly.
    You may also be religious or agnostic or atheist and be in the IWW.
    Whatever you chose to do in your own name is your responsibility but you cannot speak for the IWW as an affiliated Anarchist, Socialist nor Religious or Atheist organisation.

    Of course we have ebbed and flowed with membership and activities; we have acknowledged this has caused us some problems with too few doing too much. Yes we are currently holding our internal elections, we have had some resignations, and some new members join and some former members rejoin this has been of priority interest to us what our members are doing.

    Yet several of us have been to Dominoes drivers solidarity events in the recent period mentioned in Brisbane, in Melbourne and elsewhere. But not all of us went to every event, we publicised in our facebook pages and other social media we use as well as an article in Direct Action clearly not well enough according to Dave. So please as a leaflet to insert for next issue of Direct Action can you write a time line of the Dominoes drivers dispute, the players eg SDA, the goal of the ASF in the dispute and what tactics were used (leafletting outside Dominoes, Fairwork Australia hearing) and discouraged (no boycott) so the struggle is better understood for the next groups of workers taking on bosses who want to cut their pay. Is that mea culpa enough for our sins ?

    Note the IWW this year had a stall at Marxism 2012 as were invited by the organisers Socialist Alternative and at the Anarchist Bookfair last year and this year.
    We also do stalls and distribute Direct Action at community days by other political/anti-political and religious/atheist groups.

  10. I do tend to over explain myself and it was not meant as a slight on your posts, simply getting my own opinion across clearly 😉 I did get what you were saying, I just over emphasise because many reading may not be clear on the distinctions 🙂

    I am also not making out the IWW to be some sort of demon, it is not. For myself it comes down to which ‘one big union’ I should go with. For me it’s the one that uses anarchist practice from the ground up, avoiding issues of centralism or the popularity vote, that covers a wider international presence that is not restricted to the anglo-sphere. To be honest I am not sure why anarchists in Australia seem to prefer the IWW over anarchism. The post by Lopez is right in regard how the IWW has been taken since the 70’s by anarchists, levering the history of the group. Why I am not sure.

    I think sometimes it is taken for granted the IWW is anarchist and many people, anarchists included tend to think of it as such, which stifles a number of concepts that are important. I think many confusions in regard anarchism stem from that association of IWW to anarchist practice, eg: the concept of a union, the dynamics of how interactions happen between groups, anarchist organisational practice etc etc. hence my reply.

    A union is any group of workers joined to protect their common interests.

    The ASF is open to all civic unions not just industrial unions into the federation, the only requirement is that anarchism is used as a process. Industrial unions are only one form of union, and unlike the IWW the IWA recognises civic groups as having decision making powers within the federation, not only industrial ones. We have anarchist organisations/groups/unions, many of them. In fact there are multitudes of activist and non-activist groups that could easily join the federation, they already basically work using anarchist practice … we see federating these groups to organise together as the defining movement of anarchism. To those in the ASF and the wider IWA, working toward federation of these unions is what is ‘the anarchist project’ needed. This is not about bringing groups into the ASF monolithic umbrella, it is about groups coming together in federation, organising under anarcho-syndicalist methods. Our process in how we organise this way, from local, regional, national to international, is anarchism. We see this as vitally important understanding. Rotation of positions, ratification, federalism, are important aspects of anarchist organising. The IWW does not encompass these ideas, and it seems a whole aspect of traditional anarchism stops where the IWW seems to have placed itself as ‘the one big union’ within the anarchist movement that it largely recruits from.

    Industrial unions within the federation is only one aspect of the anarchist project of movement toward libertarian communism. Our weapon is solidarity, our vehicle a federation, our method is anarchism.

  11. Friend in WA Mike P wrote me this

    Hi Violet

    I think that Verity Burgmann did not do a great job when she dealt with anarchism in her otherwise pretty fantastic Revolutionary Industrial Unionism book. Here is my response that I have used before but might be useful again times future:

    First of all let me say that I do not have much more than general knowledge of the IWW in the United States. I know that there were anarchists in it but I don’t know much about them so I am arguing from the history of our union in Australia. It seems to me that the biggest part of your argument is based on the research done by Burgmann in Revolutionary Industrial Unionism. This is unfortunate because it is my opinion that she is a bit one-eyed in this area. Anyway she essentially uses two witnesses from the first period of I.W.W. activity to show that the I.W.W. was Marxist and was certainly not anarchistic:

    Bill Genery, who joined the I.W.W. in 1916, conceded in a 1969 interview that Wobblies regarded the I.W.W. as “an offshoot of the syndicalists.” When asked by a new left student whether the Wobblies considered themselves anarchists he replied, very definitely, that they did not.

    And Norman Rancie in a 1957 interview explained: “Anarchists believe in complete freedom and each man a law unto himself. They refuse to recognise any form of organisation or authority. This is the very antitheses of all the principles of the I.W.W. which believes in organisation, discipline, and not every an a law unto himself’, but every member responsible to his organisation which has a book of rules and a constitution, which, of course, is the very negation of anarchism.” Anarchists, he was adamant, “would never by any standard fit into the I.W.W.”

    Coming from the other side of the issue Burgmann gives some references from what she describes as “the real anarchists of the time,” – the Group d’Etudes Scientifiques. This group published in 1916 an attack on the I.W.W. protesting against, “that rotten mass of rules” in order, “to clear Anarchism and to disqualify I.W.W.ists as Anarchists”

    Clearly this evidence does not stand up to even peripheral scrutiny.. To state the obvious critiques, both Rancie and Genery came from the Melbourne Local, which was generally regarded as the most conservative of all the Australian Locals being in some ways more like a political party than other Locals, probably because of the influence of Tom Mann’s Victorian Socialist Party. Rancie’s statement, further, was clearly not directed against anarchism as it was conceived by practitioners of the faith but rather against the popular misconception of it. He clearly never felt the need to research anarchism in any greater depth than this and no one can, of course, blame him for this. Several quotes from Burgmann, however, almost seem to indicate that she shares the same erroneous impression of the movement and this in a historian of working class political movements, is less excusable. “However, unlike the anarchists,” she writes “the Wobblies aspired to be organised”. Or again, “A perceived similarity with anarchism existed primarily in the minds of the I.W.W.’s detractors and cannot be detected an any serious analysis of its political practice, which emphasised collectivity, unity, organisation and centralisation.” Of course, none of the larger factions of the anarchist movement the anarcho-communists or the anarcho-syndicalists would have disapproved of collectivity, unity or organisation. The more the better. So it is only the last of these paradigms centralisation, that would give them any real problems.

    How much of a drawback would this be in fact? If we take the article in *Direct Action *from ‘Flaneur’ (probably Jack O’Neill) in Western Australia, for example, we would not suspect very much at all. “The workers of the West need a new weapon,” he wrote, “Here it is: ‘Direct Action’. The I.W.W. by insisting that each individual unit in that organisation shall retain the power of control, directly, his or her own industrial and social welfare, and by rigorously restraining the profiteering instincts of parasite
    officials to fasten on the organisation, offers the only way out of wage-serfdom. Speed the revolution!” Not much rampant centralism to worry about there.

    The Group d’Etudes Scientifiques was scarcely resting anywhere near the centre of gravity within the anarchist movement. It was an offshoot of the Groupe d’Etudes Scientific of Paris, run by the prodigious author Paraf-Javal its main propagandist in Australia was Dr. Xarus Sphinx, (pseudonym of the Austrian Bjelke Boekgen who with his son lectured on the Sydney Domain and was (as were many Wobblies) deported by the authorities after World War One.) The main purpose of the group was to advocate forswearing of poisons such as tobacco, alcohol and condiments and fighting for logical, scientific thinking. All those indulging in ‘a piori’ reasoning were judged to be ‘abruitis’ – which was apparently close to the source of all evil. You would be hard to find a reference of them today they were an absolute fringe group and represented the opinions of no anarchists but themselves.

    There would almost certainly have been anarchists closer to a mainstream position who would have felt that the I.W.W. was too centralist and that its program could have had authoritarian possibilities should that organisation accomplish its goals fully. But that does not disguise the fact that many anarchists saw in the I.W.W. a practical way of implementing at least a major part of their program. “With the Education of the workers,” Mike Sawtell, for example, had written, “will follow as a necessary sequence, their real organisation. Not only will the workers find they can do without Parliament, but without a host of other barbarities besides – such as unpleasant surroundings, as long hours, high prices and wars etc. The future Parliaments will be at the union meetings, men and women will meet to discuss what they are vitally interested in – the economic resources of the earth. Such questions as divorce, as religion, or bi-metalism, can be left to those who are mutually interested in such things. The I.W.W. conception of what society ought to be, judged by present day standards is, no doubt ‘remarkable’, but it is good.”

    Michael Sawtell, the Kropotkinite anarchist, was far closer to the heartland of anarchism than the troupe d’Etudes Scientific ever could be. He made no great effort to hide his anarchism and had articles admitting this fact published in Direct Action. Which same publication offered for sale pamphlets by Kropotkin, published quotes from Bakunin and, when its own members were jailed could find no better epitaph than those of the anarchist Chicago martyr Spies “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”

    It is not, nor ever has been, my contention that the I.W.W. was an anarchist organisation. It was and is, a union whose membership is open to all members of the working class. It was and remains a revolutionary industrial union – not some sort of positional confession. Its members could and do range widely in the sources that they draw inspiration from. It was, and I very much hope it remains, an organisation in which anarchists felt they could join and participate in without compromising themselves. The anarchists formed a minority within a union while Marxism was the key theoretical tool. This arrangement was made possible because the variant of Marxism present was a leftward revision of Marxism, much as Bernstein’s was a rightward revision, and was a variant that would without doubt have horrified the great man himself.

    One feels that this tension between anarchism and Marxism and that slab of ideas and attitudes Wobblies created all by themselves (and of course other influences – we always had people in our ranks whose first source of inspiration was Christianity, Emersonians were popular in places and, of course, the Irish everywhere added their own insights and style) were found in very different strengths in different members and Locals. It is my belief that this tension was one of the ingredients giving the I.W.W. so much of its vibrancy and its effectively. If the Melbourne Local was at the more conservative, Marxian-socialist, end of the spectrum then Perth and Fremantle were nearer the anarchistic. If Rancie was more Marxist then Sawtell and Miller were more anarchist and syndicalist. If this creativity did stem from the organisation’s ability to take for itself ideas from both camps as it needed and to integrate activists holding these sometimes disparate ideas (all there, it needs not saying, to build the union rather than to win recruits to their own positions at its expense) then any winning out or domination of one over the other would have been destructive.

    This balance became progressively harder due to the preponderant influence of the Soviet Union and its propriety claims over Marxism. I personally think that the experience of a century of so-called Marxist governments over much of our planet will mean that there will probably be a greater proportion of anarchist members in our union than there were in the early days of the last century.

  12. Another comment from WA this time by Monty Miller from Karakatta

    I could only be bothered to skim read the above article. I could offer up a critique on the SAlties as one author, but I can’t be bothered as I’m too busy working on positive action in the bigger non sectarian world – occasionally with WA Salties

    Good that the SAlties are giving the IWW lots of free publicity among their own ranks though!

    I’d be good if rank and file SAlties shook off their controlling hierarchy and joined the IWW (Jokes – Just saying what the converse argument put by the SAlties may be?) We are allowed to have a sense of humor in the Wobblies after all.

    The IWW is primarily a union though, and does not necessarily have an official Anarcho-Syndicalist stance, nor does it not – From “The IWW Stance on Political Parties and Anarchism ” at http://www.iww.org/en/about/political_parties_and_anarchism – “This leads some to argue that the IWW is an anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist union and/or organization, but that is also not the case. That is not to say that either anarchists or non-anarchists are unwelcome in the IWW, quite the opposite, in fact. The IWW is open to all workers.”

    Cheers Fellow Workers and Sister Workers!

    Monty Miller, Karakatta, WA

  13. Thanks for reply Dave
    I first joined IWW over in Perth in early 1970s when member of Perth anti-War on Vietnam movement and worked with members of the ALP, CPA, Trots, Maoists and Anarchists in the moratorium movement and local actions. Was also a delegate for Nurses Aides in the Hospital where I worked; we had an industry wide strike voting for it by open general assembly at the Subiaco oval we also took part in a general strike against then Charles Court Government essential services legailsation which ACTU bureaucrat and later Prime Minister Bob Hawke travelled across as a fireman to hose down our flames of discontent and told us all to go back to work and await election (as he did with Whitlam dismissal to nationwide strikers)
    When I moved across to Sydney BLF in NSW was deregistered but many of the rank and file continued to organise in and outside that industry especially memorable were the Greek, Portuguese and Spanish members out here avoiding conscription who had established the radical tradition of meetings run from the floor with translations for other languages than English.

    IWW old timers like Pat Mackie (infamous for 1965 Mt Isa strike) were around and he always came out against calling Wobblies anarch0-syndicalists and kept distance from the Anarchists but was friends with some of the “Sydney Libertarian push” who worked as wharfies and Bls Jura Books became the office space of IWW regionally and rebel Worker was initially the IWW paper before it became the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation and nowadays Anarcho Syndicalist Network paper.

    Travelling to London and Europe continued to be IWW but we worked with Syndicalist Workers Federation, Autonomous Workers groups and set up the Direct Action Movement. This evolved to become later on the present Solidarity Federation and affiliated to IWA.
    I went as Wobbly to 1979 AIT-IWA end of the CNT in exile event at rue vignoles offices in Paris, as a delegate for DAM to 1984 IWA-AIT assembly in Madrid…highlight for me was meeting some battlers from the FORA in Argentina and Chilean Wobs who had become AIT affiliated group and then anarcho-communists.

    Met good people from both the CNT and the rival “renovados” CGT during the period there was some very sectarian behaviour over the patrimony of the CNT.

    Spent many years in London at squatted social centre 121 in Brixton doing Anarchist Black Cross work, working in the collective publishing Black Flag paper and related projects London like Stop the City and starting up the Anarchist Bookfair.

    Upon return to Australia in 1986 for the Centennary of Anarchism in Australia here in melbourne met up with and worked with the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation who I knw from Sydney in 197s like Antonio Jiminez who with other Spanish exiles had worked assembly lines and at Snowy River and when I moved back here in 1989 joined and remained so until early 1990s. During the 1989-1990 tram lockout campaign I worked as a tram conductor at Brusnwick Depot and worked on Victorian SPARKS the rank and file transport workers paper and welcomed the Sydney SPARKS launch.

    The tram conductors were defeated despite Occupation of depots and attempt to run the trams under workers control … many good union rank and file people departed from the wider industry (bus, taxi, train and tram) I delayed but then also departed SPARKS Victoria folded and the local ASF dwindled and imploded in my experience.

    The acrimonious splits in our small ranks over Rebel Worker, SPARKS and other matters made me decide to depart from ASF and not join ASN but have contact with members in both camps which has been a bumpy ride at times.

    When I rejoined the IWW early 1990s there were only a few members and over the years members and campaigns have ebbed and flowed but we are enjoying a resurgence at present even publishing our paper Direct Action regularly again. There are other anarchists in the IWW too but we are not an Anarchist organisation.

    Love and fun times !
    V

  14. Heya Viola, I’m not too interested in activist credentials, I’d prefer to discuss specifics based on the merit of the position. My views are ones in regard organisations, not individuals. There are awesome people involved in both. To me this is a discussion on practice.

    as well as an article in Direct Action clearly not well enough according to Dave.

    I wasn’t pointing at the fact people started acting that happened to be involved with the IWW, I was disappointed that the organisation bureaucracy as a whole seemed effectively non functional, and that resulted in the good will of it’s own members to the struggle of the drivers misdirected into action that was focussed at hitting drivers back pockets yet again. This is due to emails giving information on the struggle along with a request that the workers be able to maintain direction of it being ignored. It is also the result of IWW Brisbanes not passing on two of our requests to ‘poke’ the ROC into action, asking them why no answer.

    I have no interest in blaming individuals, as it’s not individuals or even local groups issues, it’s the bureaucracy of the IWW that failed it’s own members in informing them of our contact, leading their own members to engage in action that was detrimental to the wages of workers that already had their income slashed.

    There was no attempt at all by the IWW to contact the workers in regard how they can support their campaign, and it was directly requested in the email to ROC that they maintain direction of their own struggle for this very reason. We really appreciate members that happen to be in the IWW supporting the actions and initiating their own, however we followed protocol given to the ASF by the IWW in contacting directly the ROC.

    In regard my wishing to clear up the anarcho-syndicalist/IWW conflation that is continually happening .. an example :

    I was told when starting up the ASF local in Brisbane by well meaning anarchists that we were ‘splitting the anarchist scene’.

    why? Because Brisbane already has the IWW.

    When we talked of federation, it was poo-pooed.

    This identification given the IWW and it’s organisational methodology is a little concerning, especially given the method we organise in the ASF is paramount to what many including myself sees as anarchist practice.

    Let’s put it simply. Good anarchist folk in a city seeing another anarchist group starting as some sort of threat to the ‘one big group’, rather than an expanding anarchist presence. Basic anarchist practice of groups organising and working together is poo-pood.

    wtf?

    I think it is important to point out the differences when anarchist organising is affected by the presence of a local IWW. These are core organisation differences between the two that are specifically based on anarchist practice, and it is obviously disappointing I’m sure you will agree that we are getting good people not only conflating the two, but bringing the same monolithic concepts into the anarchist movement without question.

    The concept that having ‘another group’ of anarchists is a threat to the ‘one big group’ and splits the scene clearly is an issue for anarchist groups practicing anarchism in trying to organise with other anarchists in a federation that includes both civic and industrial organising. It relegates anarchist organising to civic groups at the very best, whilst the worst aspect is fundamental anarchist practice is disregarded in favour of an individualistic methodology of the popularity vote.

    This is not helped by the IWW advertising itself amongst the anarchists as anarchist in all except words, (eg:the consistent use of the red and black flag of anarcho-syndicalism, pictures after pictures of circle A’s etc.)

    So please as a leaflet to insert for next issue of Direct Action can you write a time line of the Dominoes drivers dispute, the players eg SDA, the goal of the ASF in the dispute and what tactics were used (leafletting outside Dominoes, Fairwork Australia hearing) and discouraged (no boycott) so the struggle is better understood for the next groups of workers taking on bosses who want to cut their pay. Is that mea culpa enough for our sins ?

    Over 20 drivers were represented at the FWA hearing (not all in the ASF, we are in contact and working directly with other drivers getting organised), and the dispute involves thousands of workers. The drivers in the ASF have started the beginning of the GTWA and will be working off the ASF statutes in how they organise it, as it’s own group within the federation.

    We are getting something together atm we will pass on publicly anyway, as there was much involved in the hearing, and a huge amount to collate so that it’s understandable (I am want to write WAY to much).

    We did provide most all of the information you request above in the 2 emails sent to ROC asking for support, however a lot has happened since then and the fight is not over by a long shot, we have New Zealand and the USA now going to organise actions, ZSP has also offered so we are most likely going to take that up, depending on what the drivers in our group wish to do next with regard actions.

  15. Ex-South Melbourne Depot ASFJuly 20, 2012 at 2:54 am

    I’d like to comment on Viola Wilkins last post. Having read this biographical vignette, I recognised who he is, signed V. ‘V’ is engaging in a form of censorship by omission. His recollection of events is lacking in pertinent detail and at points inaccurate.

    I was a member of the IWW from 6 June 1975 to 31 December 1977. I was on what was called the ANZGOC of the IWW (now called ROC) in 1976. Before which, I do not recall ‘V’ being involved until 1978 when IWW General Defense Committee No. 5 was established (which allowed for non-IWW members). ‘V’ was not a member of the Sydney IWW at that time because he could not personally stand Mark McGuire (now better know as the editor of ‘Rebel Worker’).

    Jura Books was established in 1977 as ‘Sydney Anarcho-Syndicalists’ (that was the original name of the shop, it was changed in 1979 to Jura Books) by anarcho-syndicalists, some of whom were members of the Sydney IWW. Sydney Anarcho-Syndicalists were a group who had already made public statements in favour of establishing an Australian section of the IWA. ‘Rebel Worker’ did not commence publishing as the paper of the IWW until February 1982 ( subsequently changing to ‘An Anarcho-Syndicalist Paper’ in February 1983 in preparation of an application by the Rebel Worker Group to became the Australian section of the IWA, which failed. At the same time, the last IWW group dissolved to become RWG).

    When ‘V’ arrived in the UK in 1979 he was involved in the founding of the Direct Action Movement (now called Solidarity Federation, British section of the IWA) likening the IWW to ‘a broken-down car on the side of the road’.

    When ‘V’ arrived in Melbourne in1989, he transferred his membership to the Melbourne ASF (membership of one IWA section is transferable to another). He was able to get a job on the tramways as his application was fast-tracked by the then Secretary of the Tramways Union, Jim Harper, as a favour to me who he was trying to recruit me to run on his ticket in the union elections (needless to say, an offer I declined). So ‘V’ commenced work just in time to be part of the Tramways Occupation of 1990. It was from this time that ‘V’ transfered his membership to Public Transport Workers Association ASF, publishers of ‘Sparks’ magazine.

    After the dispute was over and after I had returned from Sydney to establish the NSW version of ‘Sparks’ I applied to return to the tramways. My application was rejected and having obtained a record of my personal file, it was clear that I was being prevented because of my involvement with ‘Sparks’. (I had always signed my articles with my real name and my cap number). My own Depot voted unanimously (twice) to support me and it had failed to get the support of the Union Executive by one vote. I had asked ‘V’ to support me (we were both members of ASF-M at the time) by raising the issue at Brunswick Depot. ‘V’ was less than enthusiatic explaining that the depot had turned ‘conservative’ since the dispute was over. A week later, ‘V’ took the bosses’ bribe in the form of very generous redundancy package. I was shocked. ‘V’ explained that he had a family to look after. I was doubly shocked as I recognised that this is the rationale that scabs use to justify to themselves their crossing of picket-lines.

    Not long after this and in the wake of the expulsion of the Sydney group (formerly Rebel Worker Group now ASN) from the ASF for breach of the ASF Statutes, ‘V’ submitted an article that was published in Issue No.52 of the ASF Internal Bulletin. In this article, ‘V’ proposed that the ASF wholesale transfer to the IWW explaining that ‘we can claim the history’. That is, not only could the IWW claim the glorious history of the WWI wobblies but the record of the ASF during the tramays occupation of 1990 (amongst other things). It was clear to me and others that ‘V’ was embarrassed by his lunge for the cash on offer and without waiting for an answer to his proposal, joined the IWW in late 1992.

    Things were not great for the ASF, that’s for sure but by 1996, things were picking up and in early 1997 the ASF-M were holding public meetings at the Barricade Bookshop. The response of the Melbourne IWW to the apparent revival of the ASF can only be described as hostile. Their angle of attack was to denounce the ASF as ‘sexist’. One wonders what they thought of the women who were (and are) members of the ASF.

    Clearly, there is still an element of hostility to the ASF by some members in the IWW. Bt that’s not true of everybody in the IWW. The fact remains that during the current campaign by ASF-B to support their members, the IWW has not contacted the ASF directly (although there has been informal communication between individuals).

    My own view is that the IWW perpetrates a fraud not only on the anarchist scene by appropriating the symbols and rhetoric of anarchism at the same time as denying they are an organisation of anarchists or an anarchist organisation, but also on the workers by fudging on the issue of what is the precise nature of an IWW-inspired revolution.

    If an IWW-inspired revolution will result in a free and equal society i.e. anarchy – then why not just embrace anarchism? If the IWW eshews taking a political position on the basis that ‘politics divides the workers’, then why all the posturing and grandstanding on just about every political issue under the sun? Does not the recent shitfight inside the IWW over the issue of a women’s caucus resulting in expulsions and the tearing up of red cards the very politics that is supposed not to divide them?

    It seems to me that the IWW in Australia to today seeks the cachet and authenticity of anarchism without having to account for themselves on the basis of anarchist principle and practice.

    I understand the hostility by the IWW to the ASF specifically and the IWA generally as a recognition by them that the IWA represents an existential threat to the IWW. One Big Union? Yes, but which one? The IWW in Australia are fond of using a quantative argument that they are bigger than the ASF. Based on that logic, the answer would have to be the IWA in a global context which would be the context most relevant.

    Love and Even More Fun Times!

    The former South Melbourne trammie who is still a member of ASF-M

  16. Davo “The ASF has called twice on the IWW for support in a dispute involving it’s members, made to the ROC. Not even a response to the emails was given. The reasoning? As far as we can tell, the IWW has been involved in ‘elections’ which has effectively made it’s ROC unable to respond!”

    Yes our ROC collapsed and half the email addresses and forms on the website aren’t working. We’ve also lost a number of membership applications from people in regional Victoria (we found out through other people) and god knows what other correspondence. It’s a really fucked up situation but unfortunately it’s going to take at least a couple more weeks to fix.

    The fact that we published a large article about it should suggest to you that maybe we are trying to show solidarity? It is a lot more space than has been dedicated to a lot of other much bigger disputes by trade unions. Yes the boycott graphic was a mistake. People make mistakes. As Viola said we’d be happy to put in an insert explaining that.

    If you guys were approaching other activists and their organisations with a bit of good will rather than paranoid sectarianism, you could have just rung one of us up and gotten formal support without any problem.

  17. I’m not in the ASF or IWW. I used to be in the ASF and maintain close relations with the group through a bit of mutual aid, affinity and friendships – just so you can take what I say with a grain of salt. (I also have a couple of friends in the Wobblies, though I choose to support the ASF exclusively for many of the same reasons Davo went into).

    If you guys were approaching other activists and their organisations with a bit of good will rather than paranoid sectarianism, you could have just rung one of us up and gotten formal support without any problem.

    It is not in dispute that the ASF-B did precisely this, afaik. Where it breaks down is the insistance that an informal approach could and should be taken to override a broken formal process. It certainly doesn’t work that way in the ASF or in the anarchist group I’m in (MAC). It’s a bit rich to start ad hominem attacks while decrying sectarianism, or to begrudge someone for not anticipating informal contact adequately. Sending emails seems like a pretty normal thing to do.

    I’m also aware of, and participate in 😉 , ongoing disputes between various characters in the anarchist scene. How much of the latest fracas is bound up in that is hard to quantify, but it is there. Is it really so paranoid to suggest that certain members of the IWW can not stand the idea of cooperation with the ASF, and this could lead to less-than-enthusiastic outcomes? This seems like a reasonable account of why nothing was done, and when the cost of doing nothing exceeded the cost of doing something why this was done in a haphazard way, to the possible detriment of the workers (let’s not exaggerate this though) .

    The long, deep, ongoing hostility between individuals in the ASF and the IWW makes explanations like “innocent mistake” unlikely, imho, and this is at the heart of the problem. Talk of the politics and organisational differences is a bit of a proxy for these battles. Basically I’m saying the differences are more mundane than actual.

    These feuds (many with merit, some without) are unlikely to be resolved while facts are in dispute. What can and should happen is organisation so that these disputes do not continue to block cooperation where it should exist. There are good reasons why the IWW and the ASF/IWA are separate entities, as Davo said, this does not imply hostility. But beware of calls to a false unity, as it is usually used to cover real differences and accountability.

    Perhaps the individuals enmeshed in these fights (don’t make me list names!) should excuse themselves. Members of the respective groups who are unknown to each other could meet and talk about a basis for cooperation. Or all interested parties should organise a forum for comradely debate with a view to a cessation of hostility and future cooperation. It will then become apparent on what basis we are able to cooperate if at all and who, individually, is able to form and maintain broader working relationships. “We” being the broader, organised libertarian socialist milieu, a.k.a the non-bossy posse. Individuals who, by their conduct, block this cooperation can be bought into account by their group – or not, as the case may be. At least we’ll know.

    And I’ll make some biscuits and we can talk about how much we hate Socialist Alternative for at least an hour. It will be rad.

  18. Oh an Mr Ex South Melbourne, I really have no fucking idea what happened in 1996, but the “I’m not sexist but feminists are predominantly middle class” line you bailed my mate up with today really doesn’t give me a great deal of faith in you or your comrades.

  19. Life is short, responses will be brief.

    You write: ‘The response of the Melbourne IWW to the apparent revival of the ASF can only be described as hostile. Their angle of attack was to denounce the ASF as ‘sexist’. One wonders what they thought of the women who were (and are) members of the ASF.’ Actually, what happened was that V wrote a letter to Barricade saying that he thought you, me and two others were sexist. No naming of the ‘ASF’ by the ‘IWW’ happened at all; that like a lot of things you say appears to be nothing more than a product of your own fevered imagination. Speaking as someone who was a member of the ASF at the time and as someone who was named in the letter I can say for my part that I think it was a statement of fact. There’s a difference between attacking someone and criticising them and those who care more about respecting the freedoms of others than they do about being right can usually tell the difference. Maybe you should also talk to all the women who don’t join the ASF and all the women who have been members of the ASF but who are members no more, of which there are no doubt many more than are members at the moment.

    You wrote: ‘Clearly, there is still an element of hostility to the ASF by some members in the IWW.’ That’s rich considering the screed you posted above. Never let dispassionate debate get in the way of using personal attacks to get around debates about issues like inclusivity and the destructive effects of informal heirarchies such as those that have long dominated the ASF (and that forms one of the main reason why I’m no longer a member and why the turnover rate of ASF membership is somewhere around the 98% mark) you find inconvenient I always say.

    You wrote: “My own view is that the IWW perpetrates a fraud not only on the anarchist scene by appropriating the symbols and rhetoric of anarchism at the same time as denying they are an organisation of anarchists or an anarchist organisation, but also on the workers by fudging on the issue of what is the precise nature of an IWW-inspired revolution.’ What you think and what you can prove are two different things; never let what you know and can prove get in the way of what you think you know I always say. You could just as easily argue if you were that way inclined that the ‘ASF’ (to the extent that it exists as a functioning organisation anyway) perpetrate a fraud in the anarchist scene and in workers by claiming to be an anarcho-syndicalist organisation while acting in a cliquish and sectarian manner and engaging in personality politicking by demonising members of other organisations on the basis of extremely scant evidence.

    You wrote: ‘If an IWW-inspired revolution will result in a free and equal society i.e. anarchy – then why not just embrace anarchism? If the IWW eshews taking a political position on the basis that ‘politics divides the workers’, then why all the posturing and grandstanding on just about every political issue under the sun? Does not the recent shitfight inside the IWW over the issue of a women’s caucus resulting in expulsions and the tearing up of red cards the very politics that is supposed not to divide them?’ Good thing you said if because we don’t. What you articulated is I believe a myth that groups like Socialist Alternative use to create a strawman argument against the IWW in particular and syndicalism in general, which is interesting to hear coming from someone who is professedly a proponent of syndicalism. So we don’t embrace anarchism and you do? We do try not to embrace manarchism if that’s what you mean. As far as I can tell what you seem to be doing is establishing a false dichotomy between ‘being a clique based around a dominant and somewhat autocratic personality who identifies criticism with attack that talks about anarcho-syndicalism’ and ‘being a union of workers of all genders and from a variety of backgrounds who organise on the basis of anarcho-syndicalist principles’ on the basis that the former is ’embracing anarchism’ and the latter is ‘rejecting it.’ Self-serving logic is self-serving.

    You wrote: ‘It seems to me that the IWW in Australia to today seeks the cachet and authenticity of anarchism without having to account for themselves on the basis of anarchist principle and practice.’ That would seem to be a little rich coming from someone who’s been maintaining for 15 years that a criticism (and an accurate one at that) levelled in 1997 is indistinguishable from a personal attack and appears to have been nurturing a huge grudge ever since.

    You wrote: ‘I understand the hostility by the IWW to the ASF specifically and the IWA generally as a recognition by them that the IWA represents an existential threat to the IWW. One Big Union? Yes, but which one? The IWW in Australia are fond of using a quantative argument that they are bigger than the ASF. Based on that logic, the answer would have to be the IWA in a global context which would be the context most relevant.’ You would seem then to understand wrong, especially since we don’t regard the development of the syndicalist movement as a competition for control of various sectors but rather a means of developing solidarity as part of a common fight against the oppression wrought by the autocratic heirarchies characteristic of capitalist relations of production as well as the myriad other forms of oppression that characterise a highly chaotic and unjust society such as ours. I’d be more inclined to say it’s the other way around. You seem to have come to the conclusion that ‘the IWW in Australia are fond of using a quantative argument that they are bigger than the ASF’ on the basis of my response to you yesterday. In addition to confusing my comments with ‘the IWW’ for whom I by no means speak as a whole and in addition to neglecting to mention the fact that I qualified the comment I made to you yesterday with the acknowledgement that the truth of an idea isn’t determined by the number of people who believe it, you also seem to totally miss the point I was trying to make: maybe the reason why we have 100 members is because we’re doing something right. You talk about existential threats; could there be an element of jealousy that people are joining an organisation other than yours?

  20. Furthermore, you wrote: ‘Does not the recent shitfight inside the IWW over the issue of a women’s caucus resulting in expulsions and the tearing up of red cards the very politics that is supposed not to divide them?’ Again you’re repeating the propaganda line which tends to make an appearance every time someone wants to do a little blame-shifting. And the issue wasn’t with the women’s caucus but with one individual in particular who compared women’s caucuses with Serbian nationalism and then accused anyone who didn’t agree of being beholden to bourgeois identity politics and therefore unable to appreciate the humour in his satire, before going on to attack the indigenous sovereignty movement as wanting to establish a black bourgeoisie to oppress white workers. On top of that he and his supporters weren’t expelled but left rather than be held accountable for their actions by participating in mediation processes as they would have been required to do under the section of the IWW Constitution dealing with harassment.

  21. If someone sends an email and doesn’t get a response, then rather than call that person in order to find out if they got the email, assumes that person is out to get them and then starts making up conspiracy theories about why and writing them online…. Then yes Lumps, I would call that paranoid.

    BTW Keiran, thanks for starting this incredibly productive discussion based on your Facebook research. I’ve learned one thing from this, which is that I’m glad I’ve never had much involvement with the Anarchist Scene, and that I will continue to keep my distance from it in the future.

  22. Groan…. I will get around to reading the assortment of lengthy comments in a bit. In the mean time, I’ve posted this, just in case it wasn’t abundantly clear to some people

    I reserve the right to be arrogant, utterly capricious, to act in a wildly unpredictable or unfair fashion, to hurl insults and generally be an arsehole. This is my space, you have the freedom to f-ck off.

    Thank you.

  23. And for those people who have never been exposed to my sense of ‘humour’, here is the above translated into normal person speak:

    I write in order to further my own understanding. I invite comradely criticism of everything I write. Critique and discussion are the process by which ideas are developed and advanced.

    I have a reasonably thick skin, and I like to think I have something approaching a sense of ‘humour’. However I do not feel compelled to host personal attacks, racism, sexism, or other bullshit that just puts me in a bad mood.

    As such, if you decide to respond to a post, and you would actually like to see your response posted, I ask that you respect the following:

    ASSUME GOOD FAITH. It’s the basis for constructive discussion. Read more.
    BIGOTS F-CK OFF. Racism, sexism, and queer hating or trans-phobic bullshit will just get an IP added to the disallow list. The same goes for anything that even looks like bullying, harassment, intimidation, threats and so on.
    NAMES. Have the guts to own what you say. Preferably use your real name, or the name by which you are commonly known in political work. If you must use a pseudonym, pick one and stick to it.
    EMAIL. Use a valid email address. This is a conversation, you have the ability to email me, I might want to email you. If you’re not comfortable with this, please don’t post.
    INSULTS. Engage ideas, not people. The odd friendly insult is acceptable, but be aware that sarcasm doesn’t convey that well in text. Swearing is fine, but please replace vowels with a dash or asterix, it helps avoid school and workplace internet filters. I often forget this one, feel free to pick me up on it.
    LANGUAGE. Unfortunately I only speak English. I welcome comments in any language supported by Google Translate. I especially welcome comments in Bahasa Indonesia[2] (I am trying to correct my monolingual deficiency). If you’re bilingual and you have the time, why not post your comment in multiple languages? Ok, that’s a big ask, but it expands the potential audience for a discussion.

  24. E:

    Keiran, thanks for starting this incredibly productive discussion based on your Facebook research. I’ve learned one thing from this, which is that I’m glad I’ve never had much involvement with the Anarchist Scene, and that I will continue to keep my distance from it in the future.

    I have encountered variations of this theme a number of times in recent weeks. Words like “not constructive” and “unproductive” are popular.

    It’s basically an attempt to close down a discussion. A person feels uncomfortable with a line of argument, so instead of engaging with the ideas or advancing their point of view, they try to make it go away with a snarky appeal to “solidarity”.

    The response it arrogantly demands is “oops, sorry, I will never criticise your strategy or focus ever again comrade, unity at all costs comrade”.

    It’s an attitude that values false unity over clarity. I tend to believe clear understandings and strategy, developed through thorough critique and discussion, are essential to building a small political group of any description.

    The broad church, where all critique is avoided lest it cause offense, is nothing but a house of cards.

  25. Of course, everybody knows the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network is the only *real* anarcho-syndicalist organisation amirite?

  26. More for those who like such ping pong/tennis “point” out of line calling etc
    http://libcom.org/forums/political-flags-derail-10072012?page=2

  27. I agree with Kieran that characterising criticism as ‘not constructive’ or ‘unproductive’ is an attempt to silence. Unfortunately, it’s all too common and reflects the intellectual weakness and cowardice of the call to unity. It’s predicated on the notion we all desire the same thing and that arguing amongst ourselves weakens our efforts against the enemy. Trotty types often complain that anarchists don’t have unified position (like trots do!) and are always fighting among themselves! The subjection of all ideas to a thorough and rigorous scrutiny is, in fact the strength of anarchism.

    Ben is being disingenuous when he claims I’m advancing opinions as facts. I’ve cited dates and referred to documents when stating facts and preceded my opinions by declaring ‘in my view’ or such like. Ben has made a number of assertions about the ASF without preceding it with ‘in my view’ or ‘in my opinion’ or such like and he wouldn’t know as he is not a member.

    He accuses me of engaging in ‘personality politicking’. Presumably this is a reference to my reponse to Viola’s curriculum vitae. If Viola wants to post a resume outlining his credentials in an apparent attempt to give his opinions greater weight, surely I may contest it when relevant details are left out or there are errors. If you are talking about yourself and make yourself the focus, are you not putting yourself forward as a potential target. If I’ve said something that it is not correct, wouldn’t you correct it?

    Ben makes reference to a letter written by Viola and Viola that accused four people, all members of the ASF, of ‘sexist behaviour’. Behaviour that was never described or defined simply because it was not true and when challenged nothing was ever produced in the way of evidence only that there was a ‘feeling’ that the four individuals named were sexist. All that is required to convict someone of, and condemn someone for sexism is for someone else to have a feeling that they are sexist (or whatever else). I would suggest that this goes against any idea of natural justice and is reflective of a time-worn ruling-class notion that their opinions are the facts. Standby for summary executions!

    The purpose of the letter was to isolate the ASF from the anarchist scene. The two IWW Violas could not attack the ASF for being too anarchistic or too revolutionary, so something had to be made up. If you say something about someone or some group that you know to be false, it is slanderous and defamatory. It is an exercise of power by those who know it is false over those who do not know it is false and, as such, is an authoritarian act in my view. But perhaps even worse, it cynically trivialises the issue of sexist behaviour.

    Ben’s post is clearly an attempt to position the IWW as not-at-all-sexist in comparison to the very-sexist ASF (amongst other things). Ben writes; “Maybe you should also talk to all the women who don’t join the ASF and all the women who have been members of the ASF but who are members no more, of which there are no doubt many more than are members at the moment.” The suggestion is that there is substantial numbers of women who do not join the ASF or those who have left the ASF have done so because the ASF is sexist! But where is the evidence? If Ben would like to talk to women who are ex-ASF, might I suggest Susie Brown (ex-PTWA) or Marta Iniguez (recently published a piece on anarcha-feminism on libcom) amongst others. I know Suse had children to raise and worked long hours and Marta returned to Europe.

    [Moderated, 22 July 2012, 10:08 pm: Three paragraphs, 247 words, removed. Relevant or not, I’d rather not play host to that particular discussion. – Kieran.]

    Ben has made assertions about my opinion of feminism as apparent proof of my sexism and thererfore, by inference, the sexism of the ASF. I’m quite happy to own my own opinions of feminism in the broader sense. I am of the view that feminism, if looked at over the past 30 years or so, has been far more beneficial to middle and ruling-class women than it has been for working-class women. I would not be alone in this view and I’m happy to argue it.

    For an alternative view of feminism in Australia, I’d recommend Aileen Moreton-Robinson’s ‘Talkin’ Up To The White Woman’. When it was first published it was met with a deafening silence by the broader feminist movement for a full eighteen months. The only anarcha-feminist that I know of that responded to this book was Marta Iniguez when she was a member of ASF Melbourne about ten years ago.

    I am well aware that being a male and being even remotely critical of feminism leaves oneself open to the accusation that such criticism is made on the basis that, being male, my priviledged position would be threatened. This is precisely the attempt to shutdown debate or discussion that Kieran has referred to and is anathema to anarchism. It’s bit like criticising the State of Israel and being denounced as antisemetic.

    In my view, the ideas and actions of the IWW, as well as the ASF or any other group, are legitimate subjects for scrutiny.

    LK

  28. A few closing remarks.

    My intention in posting this was to have a brief look at the two syndicalist projects in Australia today, and ask which offers the best strategy for advancing Anarchism.

    I subtly criticized setting up new syndicalist groups, suggesting that advancing anarchist ideas and syndicalist in the Labor movement should involve a variety of strategies, new unions only where appropriate, boring from within where possible, and rank and file movements across the existing trade union movement.

    I hope that it is clear that I favour establishing a specifically anarchist organised political group. I see this is a mechanism for adopting a clear anarchist strategy, that is responsive to the situation that prevails in a given industry, campaign or movement.

    I appreciate Dave’s criticism of my description of the IWW as anarcho-syndicalist. I will have to refine my assessment of the politics of that organisation.

    I thank Viola Wilkins for their contribution on the IWW as a member of the IWW. It seemed to support what Dave was saying as a member of the ASF, about whether or not the IWW was anarcho-syndicalist:

    you can be a member of all the above or none and be a Wobbly.
    You may also be religious or agnostic or atheist and be in the IWW.
    Whatever you chose to do in your own name is your responsibility but you cannot speak for the IWW as an affiliated Anarchist, Socialist nor Religious or Atheist organisation.

    With regards to the history of the ASF and the IWW, I am more interested in which organisation now provides the best vehicle for advancing anarchist ideas. It should be possible to discuss such things without degenerating into a slanging match.

    I suspect Lumps is right where they wrote:

    Talk of the politics and organisational differences is a bit of a proxy for these battles. Basically I’m saying the differences are more mundane than actual.

    The talk about sexism in particular, seems to fit that explanation.

    Perhaps the individuals enmeshed in these fights (don’t make me list names!) should excuse themselves.

    Hear hear.

    A discussion about anarchism, feminism and class would be worthwhile, if it could occur in good faith. I doubt it can, and it is for that reason I will now close this discussion thread.

    Anyone who finds this an imperious display of arrogance is encourages to familiarise themselves with my new comments policy.

    Stay tuned for my thoughts in response to this on the Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair program:

    “Decolonisation: (presented by Loretta, Lia and Maddee with speakers
    to be announced) On decolonisation movements in Australia. Speakers will be asked to comment on what the ultimate goal of sovereignty movements might be and what decolonisation might look like in Australia.”

    I have no doubt that I will provoke similar displays of intolerance and anger.

Comments are closed.