Thursday, November 16, 2006
Why Anarchists Oppose Workers' Democracy Pt 37.
While attending a performance of much famed Japanese freakout band Acid Mothers Temple I fell into conversation with a former SWP member who has, due to the degeneration of that centrist-populist sect, become an anarchist. After chatting about mutual friends, meaning former friends now enemies, I asked my chum whether he was still active in his union. His reply was illuminating.
One element of my friends critique, if we may give such a grandiose label to misgivings based on the grotesque internal regime of the SWP (humourously known as 'Democratic Centralism'), of Marxism is a commitment to direct action as being somehow more revolutionary. Such a view is, as it always has been, opposed to Workers' Democracy in the name of the spontaneous forms revolt must take. In practice the actions of small self appointed groups are more valid, how irrelevant, than the more cautious halting movement of the masses. And if the masses will not follow the self appointed revolutionaries then so much the worse for them the fools!
Yet at the same time my friend, like most anarchists today, wishes to be seen to be more democratic, not less, than is the case with both offical party politics and the bureaucratised union machines. That said my friend is not a syndicalist, if indeed he is aware of syndicalism as an ideological current, still less a Wobbly, or an advocate of a new Rank and File or Minority Movement in the unions and workplaces. His lack of knowledge of such ideas is as much the fault of the SWP, as it is of the anarchist movement for failing to provide him with adequate knowledge of the history of the workers movement.
But whatever my old friend is, he is a sincere enemy of the boss class and dedicated trades unionist. He knows full well that the trade union bureaucracy is a barrier to class struggle, that they collude with the bosses to oppose strike action, and use the law as an excuse not to fight for workers rights. Indeed on a good day he is quite capable of correctly describing the trade union bureaucracy as a bureaucratic caste, sat atop the workers movement with interests of its own, which stand in contradiction to those of the class as a whole. Crucially he is aware that one reason for this is the undemocratic nature of the unions today.
It came then as a small surprise to be told that he has accepted a position as an appointed trade union official. For the moment it is only part, two days a week, but he hopes to gain a fulltime position soon. He has his misgivings of course and seemed uneasy when asked if he had been elected to the post he occupies. But a wage is a wage and working for the union is better than working for the state mending the highways. Far more interesting too and one can do some good, or so we are told by every aspiring reformist on the make.
But is it not a contradiction being an anarchist and an appointed trade union offical I asked. My friends reply was a long time coming and not terribly easy to hear as he muttered and looked around for a way to evade the question. But after a while I did make out an answer and learned that there was no contradiction as being an anarchist and being a trade union offical were both about getting things done. No more was said and much I felt was left unsaid.
On the way home, after a most excellent performance, I wondered what my friend had meant by his enigmatic remarks. After giving the subject some though I realised that both his local anarchist group and the trade union bureaucrats act free of and in isolation from the workers or people they claim to act on behalf of. Neither the anarchists with their fetish on direct action, always concieved as a more noisy shouty demonstration and not as workers action at the point of production, and the trade union bureaucrat who typically 'represents' his members, while denying them the opportunity to speak for themselves, being able to concieve of workers acting self consciously in pursuit of their common interests as a social revolutionary class.
Why should they when they oppose at every step each movement of the class itself as being too militant or not militant enough. For the bureaucrat the class must be represented and the class organisation, the union structures from which they derive their generous wages, the machine by which this aim is satisfied. What can never be allowed to happen is for class organisations to emerge in the workplaces based on the radical democracy of a conscious working class for this is anathema to the bureaucrat. Meanwhile the anarchists are quite happy on their small shouty demonstrations denouncing whatever the cause is this week. Denunciations of the workers and others for not joining their cause being an optional extra as it were. Happy just as long as there is no need for democratic structures, for democracy is anathema to the anarchists.
And for my friend there is no contradiction as he cannot in truth concieve of the trade unions ever taking militant action. As a result of which he can see no role for the workers as such in struggling against bourgeois society except as individuals. Lacking any understanding of the collective strength of the workers at the point of production he therefore rejects the class as the instrument of its own liberation and can then easily ignore the elementary need for democracy within the workers movement. Having sold his soul to the bureaucracy he can salve it by calling for anarchy on the weekends. A sad fate I thought for somebody who might once have become a revolutionist and ironic too as he has drifted towards both anarchism and union reformism, both in essence undemocratic, as a result of his objections to the lack of democracy within the SWP.