Tag Archives: Revolutionary Strategy

Should Anarchists Make Demands on the State?

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Occupy Oakland rally in front of Lakeview Elementary school. Photo Cred: https://oaklandnorth.net/2011/11/19/occupy-oakland-marches-again-sets-up-tents-in-new-downtown-site/

The global movement of the squares (Taksim in Turkey, Syntagma in Greece, Tahrir in Egypt, OGP in Oakland, etc) against capitalist austerity, displacement, and overall inequality has pushed activists around the world to consider important questions of revolutionary strategy.  One of the central contradictions that tended to be posed between “radicals” and “liberals” was that of whether or not to make demands on the state, capitalists, or other institutions.  There have been many anti-state communists/socialists, anarchists, and others who have advocated the perspective that demands should not be made on ruling class institutions.  There is good reason for skepticism and antagonism toward programs of demands, as they have at times been used by more liberal, social-democratic forces to limit the politics of struggle into reformist channels.  

This recent cycle of struggle that we’ve participated in has brought to light some of the limits of “demand-lessness.”  While Occupy Oakland was at its peak, for instance, there was a move by the Oakland Unified School District to close 5 elementary schools, as well as the passing of a “West Oakland Specific Plan” which lays out a program for continued gentrification of a historically (at least since the 1930s*) black neighborhood.   What if there had been a more concerted effort to defeat some of these attacks on black and brown proletarian communities?  Would this have been a reformist deviation from an otherwise militant struggle?  Or could it have been a way of bringing in larger layers of proletarians into struggle against some of the effects of white supremacist capitalism?   It is in this context that Wayne Price, noted anarchist writer and activist, has written a useful essay arguing in favor of anarchists raising a program of demands.  We re-post it here for your consideration and commentary.  

Should Anarchists Raise a Program of Demands?

by Wayne Price

http://anarkismo.net/article/26648

This essay is slightly expanded from one which was rejected by a US anarchist magazine for political reasons. It deals with a disagreement among activists: Should we propose that the movement raise a program of demands? I think that anarchists should, but with a more libertarian-democratic version than the liberals and state socialists. The essay is followed by a response to the political points raised by the editors of the anarchist journal.
During the height of the Occupy Wall Street encampments, a dispute broke out among activists. Various liberals and state socialists advocated that the movement raise a program, a set of demands on the capitalist class and the state. This approach was opposed by a number of anarchists. Given the economic situation, the program-raisers typically called for full employment policies, such as public works projects providing useful services, to be paid for by taxing the rich and cutting the military budget.

While many anarchists vehemently opposed to the Occupy movement raising demands, others were for a more libertarian-socialist approach to raising programs (as I am). To some degree this disagreement among anarchists reflects a long time split, or more precisely, a polarization, since the alternatives are not sharply either/or. Since Proudhon, one anarchist pole has primarily advocated building alternate institutions within capitalist society. These might be worker or consumer coops, bike clubs, community gardens, or block associations. These anarchists hoped that community Occupations would be such “dual power” institutions. These would gradually expand to take over—and replace–the economy and state. Such activities do not lead to making demands on the state or the ruling class—except maybe to be let alone.

From the other viewpoint, all these things are good in themselves and worth supporting, but as a strategy for changing society, they are limited. Most likely they do not threaten the system (can they really replace the auto industry with an alternate national transportation system, or replace the armed forces with a popular militia?). If they do threaten vital institutions, the state will crack down on them. As the state disbanded Occupy encampments all over the country.

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Union Debate: Mara Responds to Jocelyn and James

Below is a piece by Mara, a member of Advance the Struggle, in response to Jocelyn Cohn, of Unity and Struggle, and James Frey’s piece, Our Friends with Benefits: On the Union Question.”  This is another very serious contribution to the ongoing debate that has unfolded on this blog.  Considering the critical struggles currently occurring, we’d like to further encourage other groupings and individuals to put forward clear positions on how revolutionaries should relate to the unions in this historical moment.  Let’s continue this principled and thought provoking debate!

Mara

What I appreciate about this piece is it’s aim of historicizing the situation of unions today as being incarcerated within the logic of capital accumulation (keeping a set of workers working for capitalists; keeping workers divided against one another in competition over wages and benefits to the benefit of the capitalists) and state hegemony (restricting worker agency through bourgeois law, keeping workers organized in a legalistic and hierarchical manner that negates changes possible local by local).

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

However, I’ve read analysis like this before. There’s a whole reading list on Libcom that also features excellent analysis of such historical incorporations of unions under the wings of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois state. You can find that reader here.

What’s lacking in this piece is a serious engagement with the following question: Do we think that healthcare, education and transportation are important industries for revolutionaries to engage in? If so (and by no means do I think that there is agreement by the authors on this point), then how do we propose to organize alongside these workers (or as these workers for those of us who work in these industries) without interventions in the union? Our debate is back to square one, and revolutionaries from Latin America who we’ve talked to about these debates will continue to have puzzled faces and ask, “is this really what you all are debating? it seems very low-level”

The original positing of the question: how should revolutionaries relate to unions? was not stating, “Unionized workers are the most revolutionary.” Rather, as I understand it, it was saying – once you’re in a union, or once you have contact with unionized workers, what is to be done? This is the question that still needs to be answered, in my opinion, both by looking at the history of revolutionaries attempting to do so and by investigating current efforts to intervene within unionized workplaces.

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