Report from the St Imier Conference

By Hanna Waldman  

Hosted by Solidaridad Obrera, a group with friends’ status with the IWA, based in Chile, September 17.

This report was submitted to Workers’ Solidarity Alliance’s September 29 International Committee meeting. The Link to the Youtube recording is at the end. 

Conversatorio Internacional: “150 años del Congreso Anarquista de Saint Imier”

Facilitating is Nanda, from Revista Libertaria. She introduces the conference by explaining that there are representatives from several different organizations, in different parts of the world, who have come together to remember a very important moment in history—the Congress of Saint Imier, on its 150th anniversary. She says that they have come together to discuss the historical background of the Congress, and how this can be brought to the present.

There are four presentations ahead, and the first is that of Erick Benítez, a comrade representing the Anarchist Federation of Mexico. He is discussing the antecedents of the Saint Imier Congress. Erick begins:

Two days ago, the 150th anniversary of the Congress of Saint Imier was celebrated, where the definitive rupture between Marxists and anarchists occurred in the 19th century. It’s not possible to understand the Congress without understanding the circumstances that led to it. We will have to look back to a few years before the Congress so that we can establish its antecedents.

Perhaps the most important protagonist of the Congress, in ideological terms, is Mikhail Bakunin. By the time of the Congress, he was quite experienced in terms of his

ideology and had faced imprisonment in Siberia for his actions in line with that ideology. At this time, we see the beginning of a confrontation with the Marxists, first because of the question raised by Bakunin regarding the abolition of inheritance, and also because of other conflicts that had existed since the foundation of the First International in 1864. It will not be a secret to anyone that Proudhonians were the founders of the AIT (in 1864, not referring to the current IWA). Despite being present almost from the beginning, Karl Marx was not its founder. Marx did draft some things for dissemination, but the meeting minutes remain from 1864 to 1869, showing what really happened. Concepts such as reciprocity, mutualism, federalism, and other such foundations of Proudhonian extraction from the French anarchists were of great importance.

Marx, at that time a member of the General Council of London, began a low-intensity struggle against Bakunin and the anarchists. In Marx’s correspondence, he complains that, “the fat man Bakunin is behind all this. It is evident, if this damned Russian really plans to put himself at the head of the labor movement, that we must prevent him from doing damage.”

Marx’s fear was founded. Until then, the preponderance of united anarchist activists— the “damage” to which Marx was referring—was the increasingly growing anarchist influence within the International in Spain. Despite making Engels the delegate for Spain, it was the anarchists, led by Giuseppe Fanelli, that made the Spanish labor movement strong and organized. But, as it was outside Marxist influence, they considered it damaging.

Regarding the Franco-Prussian War (in which Germany tried to impose itself on France in a monarchist movement), Marx wrote the following to Engels in July 1870: “the French need a beating. If the Prussians win, the concentration of State Power will be useful for the concentration of the German working class.” We also see a fairly large

trace of German nationalism in Marx, which fully justified Bakunin’s criticism of him for wanting a strong state like the one Bismarck had built.

Then, when the Paris Commune came together in March of the following year—that is, a few months after the Franco-Prussian War—Marx does react to the uprising with joy. But it must be taken into account that, just a few months before, he applauded the monarchist invasion of France even more so. While the first clashes were taking place at the Paris Commune, Marx was dedicating himself to insulting the communards. Once the Commune triumphs and achieves the recognition of everyone, Marx rushed off to write his book The Civil War in France, a truly discordant piece in Marx’s oeuvre, which shows the chameleon nature of his ideologies and sentiments.

At the end of 1871, the hostility of the General Council of London against the anarchists had not ceased. Federalism and the destruction of the State were the main points that the Marxists disagreed with when the Paris Commune was established in 1871–aspects which Marx wrote about critically in his eponymous book.

The dictatorship of Marx, Engels, and company within the General Council of London was already overwhelming. They were resorting to the censorship of correspondence, direct attacks on anarchists, and manipulation of agreements to maintain control of the labor movement.

In his book The Militant Proletariat, Anselmo Lorenzo has left us a description of that sad meeting of Marx’s lackeys after one such conference. Marx and company dedicated themselves to a series of slanders against the anarchists.

During the Congress of the Hague, the venue was chosen by the London General Council for an express purpose—so that Bakunin could not attend due to warrants for his arrest. The Congress of The Hague was Marx and Engels’ declaration of war against the anarchists. Even the International itself made a summary judgment against the anarchist alliance at the congress, forgetting its true purpose.

Indeed, one of the agreements of the congress and its fictitious majority was to send the General Council of London to the United States, to where the headquarters of the International was being relocated. Marx and Engels extended the power of the council by suspending entire federations if they didn’t submit to their dictates.

There was hardly anything constructive in the congress. All coordination of revolutionary forces was forgotten, the reports were barely touched on, there were no positive plenary sessions for the workers’ movement, nor plans for such at all. All this was brushed aside to make way for the execution of the Marxists’ plans, outlined in advance, to suppress the anarchists and expel Mikhail Bakunin and James Guillaume.

The anarchists, however, would respond to this Marxist attack on the international labor movement. They would declare the Hague Conference illegitimate and meet in Switzerland at the Congress of Saint Imier, which the following speakers will tell you about. In general terms, that was the panorama that existed before the Saint Imier Congress.

Nanda returns to thank Erick, and express appreciation for the large amount of effort it

must have taken to collect all that background information which will give us a solid foundation for the presentations to come.

She then introduces Pedro Peumo, representing Solidaridad Obrera in Chile, who will speak about the resolutions of the Saint-Imier Congress and the birth of anarchism.

Pedro begins by briefly explaining the difference between the Saint Imier Congress and the Saint Imier International (the latter being the workers’ organization founded during the Congress, after the split from the AIT, which lasted until 1877 when it was succeeded by the International Working People’s Association). He also gives his own interpretation of the conflict between the authoritarian and anarchist factions of the International, a dictatorship of the proletariat versus more grassroots communes—the conquest of political power versus the destruction of political power. The antagonism between the two grew to a fever pitch by 1872, the conflict became unsustainable, and the inevitable rupture occurred.

Eight days after the Hague Conference, the Saint Imier Congress took place on Sunday and Monday, the 15th and 16th of September 1872, in the town hall of Saint Imier, in the Francophone Jura Bernois district in the Canton of Bern, western Switzerland. Delegates who attended the Congress include: James Guillaume and Adhémar Schwitzguébel from Switzerland; Carlo Cafiero, Errico Malatesta, Giuseppe Fanelli, Andrea Costa from Italy; Rafael Farga i Pellicer and Tomás González Morago from Spain, and the French refugees Charles Alerini, Gustave Lefrançais, Jean-Louis Pindy, and of course, Mikhail Bakunin. Bakunin attended as a delegate of the Italians.

Together with the international congress, a regional congress was held, in which they established many of the agreements that would later be embodied in the general congress of Saint Imier.

Practically all the participants in the Saint Imier Congress were anarchists or revolutionary socialists and federalists, and many of them played important roles in the development of the revolutionary socialist movement after the Congress. However, there were quite a few differences between them, as well.

In general, they adopted a federalist structure for this new International. It was thought of as an authentic and legitimate continuation of the First International, carrying on the work that had been done since 1864. One of the main agreements reached was the decree that there would be full autonomy for each of the sections. This was the first time that established textually within the international, that “no one has the right to deprive the federations and autonomous sections of their right to decide for themselves and follow the line of political conduct that they deem best.” They also said that the aspirations of the proletariat cannot have any other purpose than the establishment of an economic organization and federation which is absolutely free, founded on the basis of equality for all, absolutely independent of any political government.

So what did they do? They turned around the resolutions of the Congress of The Hague, instead stating that it has to be absolutely independent of any political government—that the destruction of all political power is the first duty of the proletariat.

The fifteen delegates who attended Saint Imier approved a total of four resolutions in the Congress.

The first resolution was to expressly reject all the agreements of the Hague Congress,

including the expulsion of Bakunin.

The second resolution agreed on this pact of friendship, solidarity, and mutual defense between free federations, which in practice materialized as a confederation of international self-defense against the centralist and authoritarian ambitions of the Marxists.

The third resolution had to do with the nature the political action, as a commitment of solidarity through revolutionary action outside all political power.

The fourth resolution spoke about the Bakuninist theses on economic collectivism.

So in this first Congress of Saint Imier, we find at least two principles of what international anarchism is going to become: the first is that anarchists organize themselves without their participation in politics and parliaments, what is called anti- parliamentarianism. This was the first principle that united and brought together anarchists at the international level. We define ourselves as anarchists by saying that we are going to be anti-parliamentary, we are going to work to destroy all bastions of political power. The second was the principle that had to do with Bakuninist collectivism. These two ideas emerge from this first congress of Saint Imier in 1872. The congress in question did more than save the continuity of the internationalist movement and rescue it from the clutches of the authoritarian politicians that surrounded Marx; it even inaugurated the friendly coexistence of the movement of different tendencies within the same organization to establish the foundations of solid mutual respect for all shades of opinion and tactics.

The resolutions of the Congress received statements of support from the Italian and Spanish federations, Jurassic federation, and some of the English-speaking American federations of the international. Most of the french federations also approved it. In the Netherlands, three of the four Dutch federations approved.

The English federation resented Marx’s attempts to keep it under his control, but “rejected” the decisions of the Saint Imier Congress, The Hague Congress, and the so- called General Council of New York, while also tacitly giving support to the International. In a Congress of the Belgian federation in December of 1872, the delegates also repudiated the Congress of the Hague, supporting instead the “defenders of pure anarchist revolutionary ideas, enemies of all authoritarian centralization and indomitable supporters of autonomy.”

Some will have already realized, however, that on the one hand, there is a resolution that tells us that there is an incontrovertible right of the federations and autonomous sections of the international “to decide for themselves and follow the line of political behavior that they consider best.” In this, one could understand that there is also the possibility that each of the sections participate in politics through political parties. On the other hand, there is another part of the resolutions that tells us emphatically that the destruction of all political power is the first duty of the proletariat. This contradiction between one part of the resolutions that tells us that each one of the sections can organize itself however it wants and pursue whichever tactics it wants, but on the other hand there is one that limits that way of carrying out the tactic that is not to participate in politics.

Sections can organize themselves in the way they want, can establish the structures that they want, with total autonomy—but the principle that unites us is that we must destroy political power. It allows absolute freedom and develops federalism for the first time, in an absolutely open, transparent and libertarian way. At the same time, it establishes a

principle that identifies us as anarchists: anti-parliamentarianism.

The congresses that followed later kept saying the same thing, except for in 1877, when Kropotkin came into the picture. Together with Malatesta and Reclus, Kropotkin changed this principle of collectivism that had been there since the first and the idea of libertarian communism began to predominate. Then, as a result of the Congresses of the Saint Imier International, the principles of anti-parliamentary federalism, of the absolute freedom of each of the sections, and libertarian communism were established. These three principles are established for the first time in the organization, constituting the birth of anarchism at the international level.

Nanda returns to thank Pedro for presenting us with a lot of background information that listeners can take note of and continue investigating at their leisure. She then introduces Vadim Damier, speaking from Russia as a representative of KRAS, to speak about Kropotkin and the Saint Imier International. Vadim begins:

Peter Kropotkin established contacts with the anti-authoritarian International even before the Congress of Saint Imier, during his trip to Europe in the spring of 1872. Interested in the work of the First International, he met with representatives of its various Belgian syndicalist, Bakuninist, and Marxist currents. He was arrested in 1874, but he managed to escape from Russia in the summer of 1876 and reach Great Britain.

From there, he began to renew old contacts. He wrote to James Guillaume, who began sending materials. In the end of February 1877, he arrived in Switzerland, planning to live and work there.

During the following years, until his expulsion by the Swiss government in 1881, he left the alpine country only for a short time for revolutionary matters. It was in Switzerland, in 1878, where he married a young Russian student, Sofia Ananyeva Rabinovich, who became his life partner to the end. The Swiss years of were the epoch of continuous independent anarchist revolutionary work. It was during this period that anarchism as we would come to know it in the following decades and century, was established.

In the summer of 1877 he edited a newspaper, where he published editorial articles criticizing social democracy and parliamentarianism, proclaiming the constructive ideas of an anarchist alternative. He supported the idea of propaganda of the deed, but interpreted it not as a tactic of assassination attempts and conspiracy, but as the organization of a kind of exemplary uprisings, during which it would be possible to start organizing the ideal anarchist society.

At the same time, he helped organize an anarchist movement among the German- speaking workers of Switzerland and, in August of 1877, was one of the main initiators of the creation of the French federation of the International of Saint Imier. The constitutive assembly of this French federation was held in Kropotkin’s apartment in September of the same year. He moved to Paris in the spring of 1878, actively helping to restore the French movement after the defeat of the Paris commune. He then returned to Switzerland, but soon went to Spain, where he tried to reconcile the rival anarchist factions of the International in in Barcelona and Madrid. In August, he returned to Switzerland and participated in the Jura Federation’s congress in Freiburg. There, he gave an important speech on the anarchist program, with a proposal to intensify agitation with the goal of a free commune, which should become both an organ of insurrection via propaganda of the deed, and the basis of a future free society.

After Freiburg, Kropotkin moved to Geneva, where he finally approached the Geneva branch of the Jura federation, which was at a critical juncture in its reorganization. This was an historical moment in which the movement begins to experience an internal crisis. Together with Paul Brousse, he edited and published La Révolté—the avant- garde newspaper which had become the organ of the federation and indeed of world anarchism until it was banned by th e Swiss authorities. Kropotkin became perhaps the most prominent figure and authority of the Federation. He had to assume the entire burden of organization and propaganda tasks, and he managed brilliantly with this work.

La Révolté became a truly innovative publication in the pages of which comrades formulated and analyzed the main theoretical and tactical questions of the anarchist movement. The articles by Kropotkin have not lost their relevance to anarchist theory to this day. At the same time, he continued to speak at meetings of workers, traveling throughout the country of Switzerland on almost continuous propaganda tour.

The Chaux-de-Fonds Congress, in 1880, was a truly magnificent moment for Kropotkin. He delivered a speech in which he consciously and clearly demonstrated the differences between anarchist/libertarian socialism and democratic/moderate/reformist socialism.

Kropotkin could rightly be considered the main theoretician of the international anarchist movement, the activity of which concerned European governments more and more as time went on. Even to the authorities of Switzerland, he was seen less as a prince, and more as a rebel. His activities aimed at restoring the collapsed international caused particular dissatisfaction. He consistently defended the ideas that later formed the basis of the trade union movement. He insisted that the preparation of the working masses for the revolution was only possible through the economic struggle against the capitalists and landowners, for the immediate interests of the workers—not through the

actions of small clandestine groups, individual attacks, or political struggle for power. He proposed to restore the international as a world union of trade unions—of workers’ unions—within which would operate a more determined union of anarchist militants (such as the Bakuninist alliance). He defended this idea at the social revolutionary congress in London in July of 1881. The congress proclaimed the re-establishment of the international, but this decision turned out to be a formality. In the following years, the anarchist movement was increasingly dominated by tendencies towards disorganization and dispersion.

Nanda introduces Laure Akai, a ZSP colleague from Poland, who will speak about the end of the federalist International to its reformation. Laure says:

Although it seems that the organizations adhering to the federalist ideologies had common positions, in 1874, you could already see different positions within the federation.

For example, regarding the real role of parliamentarianism, with some delegates thinking a more social democratic vision and others more interested and in the popular revolts (like the Italians) or in propaganda (of the fact). There were differences between the organizations and there was no consensus on what had to be done. Many members of the AIT (again, not the current one) felt more inclined to cooperate with social democratic elements. Many people from the AIT believed that all anti-capitalist or socialist workers should be brought together. In the Bern Congress, two years later in 1876, some others fought concretely for the reunification of the anarchists with all the other socialists, including the Marxists and regardless of their tactics.

The following year such a project of bringing together all socialists was taken up by the world socialist congress in 1877. It can be said that many people resigned due to their hopes of reunification. Many of the former members participated in that congress with ideas that were already different, and in a space of a few years many people and organizations had changed their positions—especially towards social democratic or even Marxist positions.

On the other hand, there was a massive defection from the AIT when they thought that another organization would be formed.

The revolutionized anarchists and syndicalists kept trying to form something else, and the first serious attempt was in 1881. A congress was held in London, and they formed an organization called the Black International. What is interesting is that this organization—this federation—did not have significance at the international level, but it gained importance in the United States. We all know the names of the Haymarket Martyrs, and other people who were active in this federation. In terms of size, however, it was perhaps 5,000 people at its peak. So it was not a very broad federation, but it was important and after the Haymarket situation, it fell apart for 20 years.

There was no serious attempt to form anything for quite some time, but in 1907 there was an anarchist conference in London. It was not a syndicalist conference, but the delegates discussed syndicalism as a tactic. An anarchist international office was founded, and in this office there were two very important people for the foundation of the current situation.

They wanted to make propaganda towards the founding of something new. Then, in

1913, they organized a trade union congress in London. There were many problems.

The first problem was that the French were in another international, a social democratic federation, and they did not want the anarchists to form something new because they did not want competition. Because of this, there were delegates who did not support forming a federation. So there was no consensus, and instead of forming a new movement, they began to publish a bulletin. But soon it was 1914, and WW1 broke out.

The war was a catastrophe for trade unionists, because on the one hand it again showed ideological differences between the organizations that held interventionist ideas, and those that did not.

It was also very difficult to carry out any activity during the war.

And then after a few years it was the Russian Revolution, and this was also a problem for the foundation of a new movement as well. The Bolsheviks had a project to unite all the socialist workers in a red international under the party’s control. Some thought that there was no point in making a desperate organization at that time. Some Russian anarchists indicated that they were organizing and working hard, but they were brutally repressed by the Bolsheviks. Many of them were arrested, tortured, murdered. Some members of the future IWA were aware of this, while others were not.

But when the red international held its congress in 1921, the delegates who had previously been more in favor of working with the Bolsheviks decided that they could not be in this red international, and finally decided to form the current IWA-AIT and this year is the centenary of the foundation of that international, which was founded in December 1922.

Nanda returns to thank Laure for her presentation, and gives the floor back to Erick, who wishes to add some more information. Erick says:

When comrade Pedro talks about the resolutions of the Saint Imier Congress, it is important to add that most of the sections of the international were not even aware of the Congress in The Hague. The unions in London, which at that time were beyond a million members, did not even know Karl Marx, despite the fact that he had spoken on behalf of these unions. They joined the proposals of the Saint Imier Congress, not because they were all anarchists, but because there were unions that shared the idea of autonomy of the sections, even as pertains to the level of ideological questions. That is, as long as they were independent and respectful of the autonomy of the federalism of the other sections, it was even possible for them to have ideas outside of anarchism, and have those ideas be respected.

Marx and Engels, who tried to liquidate this autonomy, this federalism, this freedom of action within the international…when there are people who say that what happened in Russia, [the authoritarianism which occurred in the wake of] in the Russian revolution has nothing to do with Karl Marx..well, they are blatantly lying.

Because there is a fairly clear antecedent in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels of the aspiration to centralism, even before taking political power within the international. Since its inception, Marxism is centralist and tries to attack autonomy and federalism from the beginning.

Another thing that I found very interesting about Vadim’s presentation—he was very right when saying this is the concept of propaganda due to the fact that it is one of those who give it its name, referring to a series of events, organizations, acts, uprisings or even facts that could promote the ideas of anarchism already on the field of practice.

It did not refer to those attacks of which the tabloid press takes great advantage to exploit against anarchism, events that happened because the anarchists were forced to act in that way to defend themselves—not because it was an aspiration of the anarchists to act violently, but because they were attacked, harassed, imprisoned, murdered in the streets. Violence is not necessarily propaganda in and of itself.

Nanda announces the beginning of a brief Q&A session, as viewers have asked the following three questions:

1. Today the democratic paradigm appears hegemonic, so workers act as citizens and vote every few years. In what way does anarchism currently participate in social struggles without falling into asking for solutions from the state and thus legitimizing it?

2. What would be the reflection that you make regarding the present of anarchism, in thinking about the past?

3. What role has the platformist tendency played in the IWA?

Pedro spoke first, saying: Unfortunately, the International of Saint Imier declined towards social democracy mainly because the governments were opened at that time, from the 1870s. For example, in the United Kingdom, laws were created in favor of legal trade unionism. That began to happen throughout Europe, the legalization of unions to bring them within the structure of the state as institutions—part of the gear of the proletarian meat-grinding machine—and also the political parties were growing with workers’ militancy.

As Laure described, this caused large masses of workers who were to go over to social democracy. This is a phenomenon that did not occur so much in Latin America, because in Latin America this sort of thing always occurs with a time lag. So for us, the Congress of Saint Imier was very important. There are many who said that it was impossible that things like railways and other public works could be developed through workers’ organizations, and that it was necessary to maintain a certain state—that was a discussion that took place within the San Imier international. They allowed it to develop in a completely anarchist way. The reason this

International is interesting is because it built all the characteristics that would later be repeated in anarchist organizations throughout the world—including ours,in 1922. So, although it was a first attempt that failed, the postulates that remained allowed, for example, in Latin America to develop the workers’ organizations at the beginning of the 1900s that collected all that remained, thanks to those who were part of the Saint Imier International, who condensed and collected these ideas.

In Latin America, for example, from 1900 onward there was an explosion of labor

organizations that knew these European texts. Revolutionaries began arriving who already had experience from the Saint Imier International, or at least knew of it and what happened there. So it was possible to put together a large number of workers’ organizations prior to 1922, because of that knowledge and experience.

When it comes to the tendency of elements within radical movements to transition toward social democracy, this is a story that has repeated over and over, and is still relevant to us today. So it’s important to know this story.

Pedro adds: Social democracy was one of the things responsible for the catastrophe that occurred in the 20th Century. Social democracy bears much of the responsibility for Hitler coming to power, due to its lukewarm measures, as does the communist party for trying to sabotage all kinds of independent action. If we take into account these serious events that happened in the context of the 20th century, the lesson of the Congress of Saint Imier is that you cannot have alliances in a concrete way with people or with organizations that aspire to the conquest of political power. I measure as one of the decisive moments of the Congress of San Imier, the resolution that says that the destruction—not the conquest—of political power is the first duty of the proletariat. It does not seem to me that we can base all the actions, attitudes, organizations, or thoughts that we may have for the present on what happened 150 years ago. But today, as 150 years ago, political power is not conquered. It is not reformed. One cannot attempt to beautify it. Rather, it must be destroyed. That idea has to be the backbone, so to speak, of our actions.

And finally, Vadim says: Two things are important for participation in current social movements. The first is to propagate and defend the sovereignty of the general assemblies of the workers in struggle. The second is to defend the independence of the workers in struggle against all the institutions of the state and all parties in the social democracy. That is our legacy of anarchism from the past and our duties for the

present time.

Nanda closes the presentation by thanking the colleagues who participated, as well as the listeners in the audience, and those who asked question, and stating her hopes to meet again in a space where we can share experiences and other important things that are part of the history of anarchism.

link to the Youtube recording of the Conference –

Two WSA Pieces in Anticipation of the IWA History Conference, Łódź, Poland

1

IWA, And Local Connections 

By Pete M Reclus

I’m an example of an activist who joined WSA, in large part, because of WSA’s relationship to IWA. I’m very excited about the upcoming IWA History Conference this Saturday and Sunday (October First and Second) In Łódź, Poland, and I’m glad that WSA’s International Committee is organized organizing a WSA “Watch Party” for us; I think the group experience will be an inspiring and bonding event. 

I’m volunteering to be one of the WSA members who’ll schedule my sleep to watch in real time, although that will be the middle of the night for US time zones. Then, we’ll have a Watch Party later on, where we all get to watch the recorded livestream of the presentations. 

My thoughts about the Conference, and IWA’s Centenary, are that this feels like an historic moment. Of all the tendencies in Anarchism, the IWA—representing the Anarchist-Syndicalist tradition—stands out to us as the oldest continuous anarchist international, having been founded in 1923. It is inspiring to be part of the celebrations as IWA turns one hundred years old! 

In WSA, one of our ongoing conversations is about how local pro-IWA activists can plug into IWA work, and how we can build relationships with other pro-IWA folks, both locally and around the world. I think as a group, our bearing witness to the IWA’s one hundredth birthday will be a major impetus toward moving forward on this goal. 

History can be a great organizing tool. I know that my co-workers have not been familiar with the IWA, but I’ve been sharing what I know with them. The response has been one of interest, because these co-workers are interested in working class history in general.

In activism, information about current IWA work has helped give a strong sense of global connection on the local level. Again, not that these activist friends are ready to join, but they are genuinely interested as they read. Some for the history of labor, and seeing one of the most visionary traditions in labor union work. Others are some who were first introduced to Leninism, and became disillusioned by the reality of red party dictatorships. They can find, in IWA history, a radical alternative to the Comintern and red bureaucratic class society, as well as a living tradition that is truly “communist”—not just in name, but in group-process and economics, which for us are inseparable. 

Others, who are new to ideas of anti-capitalism, can find in IWA history such personalities as Rudolf Rocker and Augustin Souchy, and just out of interest in their great lives, can begin to feel the tradition that we inherit, and relate to the things we are writing about today. 

After our WSA Watch Party, we plan to write out reflections on witnessing the Conference. These writings will go into to the hands of our interested co-workers and fellow activists. We hope that it will inspire engagement in the IWA’s future work.

Anarchist Łódź and Our Histories

by Hanna Waldman

Among my most cherished possessions is a box of old photographs, many from before WW2. For someone whose ancestors are Polish and Jewish immigrants, pre-war photographs are quite precious indeed. Among them is a photo of my great-great-grandparents, standing outside their home in Poland, sometime in the early 1930s. 

I never met them, of course. Their son—my great-grandfather—was approaching 90 years old when I was born. Growing up, I heard tales of his youth in exile, his family having run afoul of the Tsarist regime for some unknown reason. My great-grandfather was quite fond of tall tales, so nobody looked into the situation much further.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I read more about the history of Łódź, his hometown. I was shocked to find my great-great-grandparents’ names on a list of people arrested in association with a militant anarchist group.

The Łódź they knew was part of the Russian Empire, and many of the city’s workers toiled in Russian-owned factories. Workers faced sixteen-hour workdays, poor wages, no pensions or insurance, punitive lockouts, and other such egregious violations of their rights. 

By the spring of 1905, the city had seen a series of large-scale strikes and demonstrations, which had been put down violently by Russian police and military. The workers and students were demanding an eight-hour workday, support for sick and injured workers, and an end to oppressive Russification policies. On the 18th of June, Russian police opened fire on one such demonstration, killing ten workers and injuring many more. The workers’ funerals, attended by more than 50,000 mourners, broke out into spontaneous demonstrations. Most of the protesters were not affiliated with any revolutionary political group, instead acting on what Stanisław Pestkowski referred to as “proletarian instinct.”

Over the following night, in what would become known as the Łódź Uprising, citizens put up over a hundred barricades to prevent the Russian police from entering their streets. Nine Russian military regiments—three on horseback—were brought in to pacify the rebellion. Two days later, at least 160 residents of Łódź were dead, the last barricades had come down, and martial law was declared in the area.

This event was part of the Polish Revolutions of 1905 to 1907, the largest people’s movement in Polish history until the late 1970s. Far from a total defeat, some of the rebels’ demands were met, including a reversal of Russification in the Polish education system. It also resulted in increased political consciousness of the working class, invigorating the movement for years to come.

Despite the extreme risk to those involved, actions in and around Łódź continued until the outbreak of the First World War. A strike involving 500 factories (just about every factory in the city) and over 65,000 workers closed out the year 1906. Revolutionary anarchists drove much of the action, including assassinating corrupt factory owners and Russian military police.

When the Łódź Uprising broke out, my great-great-grandparents were twenty-five year old newlyweds, employed in local factories. I don’t know exactly how they were involved in the drama that unfolded, or when they first became involved. They were arrested in February of 1914, in association with an anarchist group that had been reported on in international newspapers for its subversive activities. They were, as I understand it, lucky to avoid execution, but were sent to separate locations for exile. After being freed, they and their children moved to Radom (75 miles southeast of Łódź). Not long after the May Coup in 1926, which saw the overthrow of a democratically-elected government by Jósef Piłsudski’s authoritarian Sanacja faction, they emigrated to Toronto, Canada, close to a residence Emma Goldman is known to have used. Their eldest son—my great-grandfather—his wife, and their younger children followed in 1938. Almost no one in the family who remained in Poland survived the war, and several of their children and older grandchildren sacrificed their lives in resistance of the country’s occupation. My grandmother, who almost stayed behind in Poland, was taken in by her father’s parents, whom she credited with her survival of the war.

If my grandmother was aware of her beloved grandparents’ past as revolutionaries, she never said so. But the values they raised her with were passed on to me. They continue to be passed along to my young son, who will also know the personal history that accompanies these values.

The history my son will learn in school is the history of the wealthy, powerful, white, and male. It’s the history of “great” men, ignoring the unpleasant facts that they purported to own human beings as chattel or committed terrible atrocities. It is not our history. Ours is the history of the factory worker and farmer, the rebel and revolutionary, the self-taught intellectual and the illiterate worker struggling to survive blow after blow from the mighty fist of inequality and oppression. Our history is the fight against imperialism, the fight for a fair wage and a free press, the fight to speak our own languages, live on our own land, and choose our own path. That history can be painful, and it can be difficult to find, but it’s the history that’s ours. It can be found in our own stories, and in the IWA itself.

The world can look pretty bleak, these days. The pandemic still lingers in our communities. Far-right ideologies are on the rise, having made big strides in the Italian election just last week. The authoritarian government of Russia is, once again, brutally invading a neighboring country, causing civilian suffering on both sides. Income inequality is higher than it was in France before the Revolution, and many people are worried about how they’ll afford to heat their homes this winter. Climate crisis and threats of nuclear war threaten to send us careening toward the brink of annihilation. I could spend all day listing the things that keep me—and maybe you, too—up at night. No one can be blamed for feeling a twinge of despair when considering the future.

But if we look back at history, even just our own working-class families, we see stories of survival and endurance through the darkest of times. We, as humans and as anarchists, are not defeated by the current situation. Łódź, too, was not truly defeated in 1906. Despite Soviet attempts to erase their anarchist past, they are today, courtesy of IWA affiliate group Związek Syndykalistów Polski, the proud hosts of the IWA’s Centenary celebration. 

And if we keep fighting for justice and equality regardless of the odds, perhaps our great-great-grandchildren will be celebrating the IWA’s 200th anniversary someday, remembering us. Let’s inspire them, shall we?

Roe Overturned! Working Class Bodies Under Threat -July 2ed and 3ed

Join Philly WSA for a discussion of Abortion Rights from a Labor Perspective. 

Presented by Alexandra, Clarissa and Danielle 

Saturday, July 2, 8:30 pm EST, Jitsi meeting link:

https://meet.jit.si/WSA1bbVdBdDXXESE7GCcuTeUJpcTQV25Df3y3kGC3YV4

and 

Sunday, July 3, 8:30 pm EST, Jitsi meeting link:

https://meet.jit.si/WSA2T5RXZ5cHgT4D4cCy5E75C3a5ruxfTLYPK2EgncNm

Schedule : 

Saturday, July 2,   8: 30 pm EST

Brief History of Choice 

Labor Unions and Why Abortion Access is a Labor Issue 

Sex Worker Activism 

Black Health and Activism 

Discussion and Support 

Saturday, July 3  8 30 EST 

Red States 

Polish Activism 

Queer Access 

What Now and Solid Answers 

Discussion and Support 

WSA May Day Gatherings

By Hanna Waldman

This May Day was certainly a reason to celebrate for members of the Workers Solidarity Alliance working to rebuild their organization after the pandemic. It was a day to connect with new friends, to reconnect with old ones, and to try new things. All of that was accomplished with this year’s May Day events, held via videoconference.

On the afternoon of April 30th, the WSA held its first ever event for families and children. The children in attendance were preschool-aged, and this was reflected in the planned activities. After a cheery greeting, Clarissa (Albany) sang “Alice the Camel,” a classic nursery rhyme song, with the children. Next, Hanna (Indiana) read them the short book A is for Activist by Indonesian activist and author Innosanto Nagara. Finally, the children participated in a craft project, thought up by Sachio and Danielle (Philadelphia), pasting pictures of working people onto a globe,  celebrating the workers of the world united–May Day’s true purpose. The children greatly enjoyed the event, expressing delight at making new friends.

The following evening, May 1st, was the highly-anticipated main event, attended by people from all over the United States and Canada. It was opened by Melissa (New York City), who read a very brief speech, reminding attendees of the hope and potential of labor movements past, and a vision of bringing that potential into the future. Next, Sachio (Philadelphia) performed the folk song “Banks of Marble,” accompanied by Hanna (Indiana) on piano.

Clarissa (Albany) recited a very poignant, moving poem—a remembrance of absent comrades, an expression of the purpose behind the fight for racial justice, and a reminder that while May Day is a day of celebration, there is still much work to be done.

Following this introduction, the event opened to lively discussion. Hanna and Sachio reported on the children’s event the day prior. Many attendees hadn’t gone to May Day marches this year, as the pandemic raged on in their areas. This event gave them the opportunity to hear about May Day happenings in other parts of the continent.

Lucien-Charles (Quebec) discussed events in Quebec, including a family-friendly IWW event, and other events that involved clashes with police. He said that he was searching for ideas about what to do in his own neighbourhood, especially pertaining specifically to anarcho-syndicalism—a sentiment the other attendees affirmed.

Lucien-Charles explained that anarchists are in the minority in his area, and that “most of the leftists in his area are Trotskyist or social democrats.” Others chimed in with their own anecdotes and comments regarding the larger presence of other leftist groups in their local areas. Piper (New Jersey) discussed how, in some areas, the Democratic Socialists of America are the only representatives of the left, causing people whose views might differ— such as anarchists— to join them by default. Sachio mentioned that the DSA used to have a libertarian socialist  caucus for this reason, and that WSA members participated in that caucus. Adam (Chicago) suggested using DSA connections to meet local leftists, both as allies and as potential WSA members.

Lucien-Charles mentioned the unfortunate closure of Black Cat Press, an anarchist publisher in in Edmonton, AB, after fifty years of operation. The discussion then moved on to favorite anarchist reading materials, which attendees were eager to share with each other.

At this point, the forty-minute time limit for Zoom meetings had nearly been reached. Lucien-Charles suggested an alternative, free platform so that future meetings could be longer. The discourse was so engaging and enjoyable that several attendees continued it on this other platform after the event came to a close.

Greg (New Jersey) said, “We’ll keep listening for how different IWA sections are celebrating May Day,” and offered to find out more about what other groups did, so those ideas can be incorporated into next year’s event.

“This is an experiment,” Sachio said of the event. “We’d love to do more events like this in the future… if the pandemic is over next year, we could do some really cool stuff.”

A spirit of eagerly looking forward pervaded the evening. Attendance was double what the organizers had expected, and enthusiasm was high. It brought WSA members together and renewed their enthusiasm for the fight ahead.

May Day Labor and International!

(Labor and International is a section for report backs for Impulse)

1 From the Branch 

2 From the Workforce 

3 IWA-AIT 

1 FROM THE BRANCH 

May Day Greetings from Philly-Metro WSA! 

Happy May Day to our comrades and fellow activists! 

This morning we look forward to joining El Paro and Philly We rise to march in Center City, Philadelphia for the human rights of immigrants, and for a May Day Zoom event in the evening. As we get ready, just a few short thoughts for this morning. 

As organizers, it’s easy to get lost in the work, trying to understand and support local strike campaigns, opposing war, as well as recognizing the pandemic’s horrific toll on the working class and oppressed communities. It’s easy to lose sight of our history, and the future we want.

May Day is a day of resistance. It is also a day to reconnect with comrades from the past. Each year as we march, our phones are a flurry of May Day greetings from across the country, comrades we organized with years ago. By participating in May Day events, we also open the door to new connections in the present, so we can work together for the future.

May Day always carries with it a chance to reflect on our own history as working people. We remember an anarchist pilgrimage to Chicago’s Waldheim Cemetery in the early 90’s, to the grave of Emma Goldman. When we were there we also saw the memorial to the Haymarket Martyrs. In NJ we visited the Batto House Labor Museum, and we marched in the May Day parade in Paterson, with banners celebrating the Silk Mill Strike of 1913. 

So much of May Day rekindles in us the past. May Day invites us to an earlier history, when workers felt the creative potential of their strikes and direct actions. This was before the labor moment made a devil’s bargain with capitalism and the state. 

In these early days of labor history, our fight for day to day rights was connected to our potential as working people to usher in the end of class society, social oppression and exploitation, and to create a world of freedom. On this May 1, we seek to rekindle this vision.

Anarcha-Syndicalist Study Group

Last October, Philly Metro WSA launched its new reading group called Anarcha-Syndicalist Study Group. The first meetings have been helpful and inspiring, averaging about 9 people attending or doing the reading. Below is the original outreach flyer- 

“Anarcha-Syndicalist Study Group is a project of The Philly Metro Branch of WSA.

We come from traditions of Anarcha-Feminism, Intersectional Feminism, and Anarchist-Syndicalism. In order to bring Anarchist-Syndicalist Theory and organizing up-to date, it’s  necessary to re-examine our syndicalist history in light of feminist values. 

Our reading group will start with some classic Anarcha-Feminist texts, 

To Destroy all Domination (an introduction to Anarcha-Feminism) 

The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman aka Joreen, and The Tyranny of Tyranny by Cathy Levine 

The Free Women of Spain  by Martha A. Ackelsberg 

After this we’ll arrange for a gathering for free discussion and next steps. 

While this is a local reading group, anyone interested in Anarcha-Sydncalism or impacted by capitalism, patriarchy, racism, or queer-phobia, you are welcome to participate. Contact us!  

Why Anarcha? 

You might ask why we say AnarchA and Not AnarchO? This goes back to early Anarcha-Feminism of the 1970s, when activists realized it felt strange to talk about AnarchO-Feminism with the male form of AnarchO, (as with Anarcho-Communism, Anarcho-Syndicalism) and that this use of language was equivalent to using ‘Mankind’ as a synonym for ‘Humanity’. It was more comfortable to use the feminine form of AnarchA, or the gender neutral compound AnarchIST-Feminist. 

The truth is that in the wider anarchist movement, there’s a negative stereotype of syndicalism as dominated by grumpy white men. The fact that using the feminist form of AnarchA-Sydicalist seems refreshing and new, even now in 2021, is further evidence that it’s time explore our Anarchist-Syndicalism in light of Feminism.”

Syndicalism and The Cooperative Commonwealth! (How we shall bring about the Revolution) 

  Last year, two WSA comrades banded together, texting during work hours to start reading the great forgotten classic of early French Anarcho-Syndicalism. Syndicalism and the Co-Operative Commonwealth of 1913 was written by Emile Pouget and Emile Pataud, with its introduction by Tom Mann and preface by Peter Kropotkin. The two comrades started out looking at two proceeding Victorian socialist Utopias, William Morris’s News From Nowhere of 1890, and Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backwards of 1888. They also looked over the context of The Co-Operative Commonwealth, the Syndicalist movement at that time, where Anarchists were an influential minority of the wider and eclectic syndicalist movement. Beginning to finally read the novel has been inspiring!

2 From The Workforce- 

Inspiring campaign  

As part of learning about recent janitors’ campaigns,  we’ve been learning about the Twin City Janitors, SEIU Justice for Janitors, and reading about the 2016 campaign victories. The majority surpassed winning $15 dollars an hour and more sick days, better health care and reduced lifting of heavy loads. It was a victory that took big steps toward fighting structural racial disparities in Minneapolis.

In the SEIU account of  the campaign, we read a quote from janitor Lucia Guaman, “My supervisor once told me, when I brought up our increasing workload, to ‘vacuum with one hand, mop with the other and dust with your mouth.’ No one deserves this treatment.” 

Workforce Allies

We’ve started to look at different allies’ trainings for workplaces, especially workshops and resources developed by organized labor. In the workforce, the role of allies becoming aware of institutional oppressions will look very different from situations for white, middle-class office workers. Many ally trainings we find are developed for allies in white-collar professions. 

By exploring what resources are available to blue-collar workplaces, we can create a report back to share. Capitalism divides us by racism, sexism and queer-phobia. But these ally trainings have potential for helping us overcome major divisions as working people.

3 IWA-AIT

When in March Lucien-Charles Tronchet-Ridel met with Philly-Metro WSA to discuss the Climate Strike (See Impulse article ‘Climate Strike’), members of the branch expressed interest in learning how, as local organizers, we can support IWA-AIT work in the future. For example, how can we, on a local level, plug into support for the IWA Climate Committee’s work, and the upcoming Centennial celebrations. Over all, how can a local workers’ organization connect and build relationships with local organizers of other IWA Friends and Sections? 

We will start trying to use google translate more, to keep up on the literature of other Friends and Sections. While Google translate is not perfect, it can get us started in the right direction.

One pamphlet we want to read soon has recently been translated into English, “How We Coped with Problems at Work. Conflicts of Priama Akcia Union (Slovakian section of IWA)  in 2015-2019,” which they released as part of the International Week Against Unpaid wages, dealing primarily with labor conflicts in the Hospitality Sector. We’re excited to read it.

Climate Strike!

By PMW

Philly Metro WSA was visited by Lucien-Charles Tronchet-Ridel, a Quebec-based WSA activist. He met with members of the branch last month to discuss his work in Quebec with Workers for Climate Justice, a network of union activists.

The “Earth Invites Itself to Parliament” in 2019 built solidarity between workers and students, and culminated in a mass climate march in September 2019. This climate march was not only the largest demonstration in Canadian history, but also one of the biggest climate-marches in world’s history..14 unions declared a climate strike, which was mostly carried out by teachers of various CEGEP (publicly funded colleges). CEGEPs have a tradition of organizing student strikes for social causes. 

Cédric Gray-Lehoux, spokesperson for the youth network of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, was one of three people to make a speech in September 2019. Before this, a training camp linked non-native activists with native activists during two days to share their knowledge and experiences. There is a growing concern in the Quebec ecological movement to connect itself to First Nation struggles. The student movement mostly works to build connections with Native people.

In 2021, Earth Invites Itself to Parliament created a separate network of green unionists: Workers for Climate Justice. This network decided to have another mass mobilization for fall of 2022, when they plan to be more oppositional than in the fall of 2019. The 2019 march was mainstream enough that even the prime minister of Canada marched. The Workers for Climate Justice, for their more oppositional march, have prepared a workshop for workers to present on the workshop floor. 

Waging a strike campaign outside of a bargaining period between two contract periods is technically illegal. Since it will be a social strike, a strike for bettering society, it will be a legitimate campaign even if not a legally sanctioned strike for collective bargaining.

Lucien-Charles is helping Workers for Climate Justice to get in touch with environmental and radical ecology groups in North America, and branch members of WSA were happy to put him in touch with their contacts in Philly and Delaware County. 

When asked what pro-IWA groups can offer to this work, Lucien-Charles replied,“the IWA, I feel, can provide a critical anti-capitalist and anti-statist viewpoint, which is lacking in the mainstream Climate movement, which is largely oriented toward the Green New Deal, and is limited to the UN Recommendations for Carbon Emissions.” He added, “IWA and the IWA Climate Committee can bring a much more radical viewpoint, grounded in the creative possibilities of workers’ direct action, to such as strikes and boycotts, and the ideals of anarcho-communism/anarcho-syndicalism.”

Branch members expressed interest in how to engage on a local level with IWA Climate committee work. When Lucien presented a small film from the mass mobilization of 2019, the visual effect of the never-ending march was inspiring..Branch members shared their reactions and reflections. 

Clarissa was brought to tears remembering the mass demonstrations of the World Trade Organization in 1999, and she commented on the marchers in Sea Turtle costumes with signs that read ‘I am Not a trade Barrier’. She said that the sea turtles marched with the Teamsters in “An inspiring moment of the labor and ecology movements working successfully together,” adding, “the role of art in the protests contributed to a visceral sense of the breadth and depth of the movement,” which she re-experienced seeing the footage of the Quebec Climate march. 

Members shared their experiences working on the NYC Peoples Climate March of 2014, with further reflections on what role Syndicalists can play in these mass mobilizations. Similar to the Climate March of 2019, the NYC Climate march was largely liberal and social democratic in orientation. 

“We need to be there and in these mobilizations,” said Sachio. “In our organizing, we need to keep bringing our anti-capitalist values to the forefront.”

The Pre-Syndicates 

By Sam Mainwarring 

From a talk first given by Sam in North Nj in 1995, a Philly-Metro WSA pamphlet.

For decades I’ve given out syndicalist literature, to co-workers and friends. They usually thank me, and I’ve managed to have some good conversations with folks over the years about syndicalism.

The question comes up, here I make all this talk about unions and anarchism, and what do unions have to do with freedom ? I talk about a self-managed society, abolishing capitalism, and replacing it with mutual aid and cooperation, and they see unions as the opposite of all this. 

This is the main point. The unions we are talking about are not the same as what you see in the current AF of L or Teamsters, what we call pro-business unions. While we support the efforts by workers to fight for rights, when the spirit of labor comes to our minds, it will look different. Instead of fighting for only bread and butter issues, we want to completely change society. To quote classical anarchist Max Baginsky, “what we want: living, not dead, unions.” These unions will be several things all at once. While still under capitalism, they will be centers of democracy where workers fight for our basic rights. They will be centers of self-education, a working person’s university, where we can learn about the industry we’re in, preparing us for the future where we change our industries into democracy, where human needs are met in the day to day. 

Working people don’t get anything close to a fair shake, even in the best of times. And when things get bad, we get the worst of it. 

Let’s say right up front, if workers are in a pro-business union currently, fighting for their rights, we stand with them. We don’t say, “That union is not anti-capitalist enough for us, so we’re not gonna support the members. ” If workers are out on strike, we’ll do everything we can to support them, no matter what trade union it happens to be. (This is not including cop unions of course.)

After decades of union busting, most workers in the US are not organized together, but are separated out from each other as wage earners. Often, we only all sit next to each other at training sessions organized by the employer, or some such thing like this. Other US workers, a small minority at this point, are part of established, recognized, labor unions. 

Our movement has to welcome all workers, whether they‘re already part of a recognized union or are fighting from scratch, moving toward creating one. 

When you become interested in revolutionary unions, what we call anarcho-syndicalism, and you’re already part of a union workforce, there is plenty to do inside the union structure. Building relationships with fellow workers; introducing others to the fight for union democracy; ideas of  environmental justice, and that environmental justice and the idea that workers’ rights are connected; addressing the racism and sexism of society out there, the bigotry against the gay community, and in our unions—these are all things that move us upward to a bigger goal, creating unions that can change society from the bottom up.

For many workers, where labor isn’t organized… Yet,  there is another route. That route is organizing your workplace into a bottom-up, not top-down group that keeps people together for addressing grievances. If a group like this has a much more idealistic view, like being a seed for challenging capitalism and changing society, leading up to a general strike that can transform us, this is what we call a ‘syndicate’ (originally French for “trade union”).

As centers of self-learning, our syndicates can have workshops or other ways for workers to learn what our industry is all about, how it’s full of upper dogs and lower dogs, how it’s part of larger systems like capitalism and the state and bigotry. We can learn about our counterparts around the globe—and that is revolutionary! A lot of our manufacturing has been off-shored to poorer countries, where workers have fewer rights and even fewer environmental protections. In our reading groups we can learn about our fellow workers all around the earth, and what is different about our cultures, but also all that we have in common; how we really are brothers and sisters, even as multinational corporations play us against each other.

And the much bigger vision, how our syndicates can be bodies of democracy and be revolutionary: What is the general strike? What if all workers in all industries, agricultural, manufacturing, and service, joined together in action, for all of our sakes, and the democracy of our syndicates becomes the democracy of society and the economy? What if top-down state and capitalism were ended forever, and replaced by a new kind of society, self-managed by all who do the work, for the good of everyone? 

2

Once I was giving a talk and someone asked me,  “What is this anarcho-syndicalism stuff?”

I explained it by saying,  there’s a short answer, and a long answer. If you were going to really get into the theory of it, the history of it, that’s a long, long answer. There is a history, including a social revolution in Spain in the 1930s, a long history of radical workers’ unionism. But here’s my short answer:

Anarchism points to the future-where everyone shares the goods of this world together, where working people have real democracy in our workplaces, and where industry is there for meeting the needs of the community, not for making the rich richer, and brainwashing us with commercialism.

We use the word ‘state’ to mean all the top down government. The politicians are as bad as corporations, and they try to make us think that ‘democracy’ means they get to decide on our behalf. They spend money and time trying to convince us to vote them in and keep them in power; to keep buying what they have for sale, to keep themselves in power. In so-called ‘Communist’ countries, the political class, the Red Bureaucrats, control everything completely, and workers have no rights to organize unions that challenge them. So the revolutionary unions are for real worker’s self-management. We oppose any system where there’s a class system, even if it calls itself ‘Communist.’

Far as I’m concerned, everything I’ve just said is not really theory, but practice. Building workers’ organizations that can turn into revolutionary unions, and then, the revolutionary unions can lead up to the general strike, and the making of an anarchist society. That’s real democracy, and real communism— ‘free’ communism. These are all things we learn by trial and error, by experimentation, by learning from our mistakes. 

The anarcho-syndicalist movement has talked about practice, not academic theories of this kind or another. Its theory is based on experimentation and struggle.

Now there have always been syndicalists much more into the theory side of things, like studies of industry and economics and such like that. I’m all for this, and I have a few of my own ideas.

Firstly, I think anarcho-syndicalist ‘theorists’ should make themselves clear to the common worker and they should say they don’t represent the movement. As I’ve said, there has always been, and always will be, a strong belief that our theory comes out of practice. Not from academics. I want to see the theorists, (who I do appreciate), I want them to make clear the traditional side of syndicalism, that doesn’t rely on fancy economics, geography or what have you, but really stresses that we do our theory in our workplaces, in experiment with democracy and self-education.

Ok, that said, a second thing that we need to be clear on is that syndicalism is, and has always been, multi-tendency. No one detailed ‘theory’ will ever be promoted by our workers’ organizations. And clearly no one name of a theorist will ever be promoted either, like happened with Marxism. We can use the help of intellectuals, but they will never be our prophets or our gods.

Take, for example, our comrades the anarchist geographers, they’ve started doing this stuff in one form or another, carrying on this tradition of some of our famous anarchists, Kropotkin  and Reclus, teaching  themselves revolutionary social science. I’m all for that, for a few reasons. For one, they don’t claim to represent the whole syndicalist movement. And I see what they are doing as a good part of the trial and error of the movement. If other anarchists in the same workers’ organizations like a different approach, all the better. The point is that anarchists do not worship academics the way many Marxists do.  But teaching ourselves geography, economics and the like, sharing what we learn in the worker’s revolutionary syndicates, I’m all for that.

The last thing I wanted to say was about anarcho-syndicalism being up to date. I went to NYC to hear a talk not long ago, and someone was there, an old white guy like me, giving a talk about “all the workers in all the factories,” etc. He was basing everything on Marxism. It was like he came in a time machine from the past, and no one had told him how much industry has changed since Das Kapital, or how much it’s changing now. 

We in our syndicates, in our study groups, have a task before us, to learn how capitalism and the state are different through history. If we are going to support labor struggles today, and sow the seeds of revolutionary syndicates, we have to understand how in different ways we were exploited as agricultural workers, then as factory workers, and service industry workers. We have to see how different the history is of black workers whose ancestors were brought here by violent slavery. 

Everything is speeding up. Now our economy is driven by shipping containers, packed with temporary trash to sell us and make us feel free. These things traveled here by ships, largely from third world countries with fewer protections. Every product out of the container has a history, and this history of each thing they are selling us, well you can’t separate that thing from human rights. We as US workers, unionized or not, are tought to consume these things. But we are also taught to not think about the working conditions people labored in to create them. 

From here to the worldwide general strike, we are at square one. We’re at the point of starting to sow seeds. So let’s make these study groups. Let’s learn exactly what kind of economy we have today, as opposed to where so much older literature was written. Organized labor has dwindled, and so much manufacturing has been off-shored. So many workers in de-industrialized areas are trying to adapt ourselves to the service economy to survive. 

This is my last thought, and I know some folks in the audience will be happy I got here in the talk. Our study groups and syndicates have to, and I really mean have to, reflect the real lives of working people today. I read this old anarcho-syndicalist magazine, written by white men like me. And then I’m on a hospital visit, talking with the aides and nurses and what have you, and they come from diverse backgrounds. And the health service economy is booming now. And there is no way I would show them a magazine where only white men have written articles. In my recent hospital visits, the health staff I have had the pleasure to talk to, they would be put off by it if I showed them this magazine, as if this were what anarcho-syndicalism is all about. 

So two main points: We have to sow seeds for our future syndicates (revolutionary unions in industries); we have to teach ourselves the stages of industry and where we are in the here and now.  And we have to build study groups and then syndicates that reflect our workforce. The stereotype of the grumpy white syndicalist has really got to come to an end (and maybe this is funny, spoken by a grumpy syndicalist).

To bring all of this all together (I’m referring back to notes from past meetings, when someone talked about the early French syndicalism, when the anarchist geographers were here). The anarchist geographers pointed out that industry has gone from agriculture (‘primary sector’) to manufacturing (‘secondary sector’ ) to service economy (‘tertiary sector’) I think even though there are not many anarcho-syndicalists, as few as we are, we can make a big difference. We’ve already said we are at square one, so far as building revolutionary unions.  So be it. What we should do as a syndicalist movement today is come together, if there are none of us in the same workplace, and none of us in the same business or industry, then here’s what we do- we start out with the widest phase of industry. 

If there are two or three agricultural workers among us, then they should come together and form a study group about the history and geography of agriculture, and the history of  workers in agriculture, understanding their place in history and geography, and promoting solidarity among all agriculture workers. And then the same with manufacturing workers, and the same for service economy workers. Even though we are far from actual revolutionary unions or syndicates, these agriculture workers, manufacturing workers and service workers would be sowing the seeds of a syndicate- call them ‘pre-syndicates.’

Then as time goes on, among service workers for example, two or more end up in the same general industry, say secretarial, and then they make a study group tracing the history, geography of secretarial workers, locating themselves in this history and geography, all the social justice parts of this industry, engaging in labor activism from this. And then, in this group, if someone in a working group draws in someone new from their worksite— even if it’s only two at first—they start a study group about their work site, its history, economics, what have you, and begin workplace organizing. This I’m calling ‘pre-syndicalism.’ You start out with the broadest categories and get more and more specific. At each level of this, even if there are not many people involved, it doesn’t matter, because it’s sowing seeds for building revolutionary unions, study groups and organizing teams; sowing the idea of the future general strike; what it could look like; the culture of all equal worker’s democracy; the values of a future world where work is creative; and where workers transform our industries from the inside out. Where all workers the world over build relationships together in common industries, uniting with all their workers, building the future through the all-encompassing general strike. 

The end. 

Against Invasion and War ​

Statement of Philly Metro Workers Solidarity Alliance, Friend of IWA ​

We stand against all Nationalism and Militarism – and we witness with horror Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the targeting of civilians. It is with great disquiet that we recognize this moment in history where we are closer to the brink of nuclear catastrophe than we have been in decades.

In all places where workers and organized labor are taking a stance against invasion and war; by strike, by boycott, by protest in the streets, we stand with you!

NATO’s military might is not the solution to this crisis. Action by the international working and poor will bring us to the path of justice. We are not fodder for war, and refuse to be a target for nuclear gambling! We Stand for Resistance! 

You’re Not as Radical as You Think

By Danielle Kulp 

Your Facebook says you believe Black Lives Matter, and of course you’re a feminist. Maybe you’re an intellectual tm and know the definition of intersectional feminism. You believe in equity and making resources accessible to everyone. This is fantastic! 

You pat yourself on the back and share a post about centering Black queer femme voices, then hop on a zoom for your local anarchist organization chapter, comfortable in your growth. The alt right would seethe if they saw you now. You’re doing great!

You are not as radical as you think. Check out all the squares on you’re next zoom meeting. How many people of color fill those squares? How many queers, diasabled people, women/femmes? Is anyone checking all those boxes? Have you questioned why you have a scant handful of marginalized folks in your organization? “I can’t control who joins and who doesn’t” you scoff and wonder what I’m even getting at. I sound a little too combative and aggressive for your taste, but it’s got you reading doesn’t it?

You’re doing good work, you’re fighting for the revolution, smashing the heteronormative patriarchy, but in your organizations and activist groups you’re failing marginalized people. The left has a big problem and it is reproducing toxic environments for its small membership of marginalized people. Your marginalized members are drowning in microaggressions and in some cases outright aggression, and it’s driving them to silence and scaring away new prospective members. 

You, my dear white anarchist, dream of leading the revolution, breaking down structures of oppression and creating something better. But your eyes glaze over, ignoring the misogyny and racism right in your local group. 

Some of you will swear up and down that it doesn’t exist in your organization, and demand solid proof, while your nose is pressed up against it. Some of you see it, see the thin webs of these structures, but don’t speak up when the only woman in your group gets silenced, when someone seems to have a problem with all of the proposals your Black queer comrade sends out. How can you dream of revolution and uphold these violent structures in your organizations? 

We need you! We need you to wake up right now! We need you to shake the white supremacy out of your eyes and shut down the white toxic masculine behaviors of your comrades. Members of oppressed minorities have strong proud voices-  but in our groups, we have to demand that our comrades respect all voices, and start to notice when cis white men are doing all the talking, and no one else is.

When you go to your next anarchist meeting, I need you to look at those squares, and start thinking about what you could be doing to create an environment that stops repelling the blpoc disabled queer from joining; I want you to question why the only woman in your group is barely speaking. I want you to bring up proposals that encourage your group to partner with more diverse organizations and do outreach with marginalized communities.

If your anarchist membership is so white and male that it could pass for a snapshot of Congress, I need you to go out of your way to ask why that is, and how you’re contributing. I need you to go out of your way to make your minority members feel comfortable and heard, and go further out of your way to seek more diverse membership. 

Check in with your minority members and believe them when they say they’re uncomfortable. If one indigenous comrade says something is racist and the other says they’re ok with it, don’t just take the path of least resistance and assume racism didn’t occur because one of the only two indigenous members said they were ok. Make that effort. No matter how small the infraction seems to you, everytime you call attention to it, you are training your fellow anarchists to see the structures that make your organization toxic. 

Being a radical isn’t just a title, it’s a muscle that has to be worked, and the moment you start feeling comfortable in your gains, it atrophies.

You’re not as radical as you think, until you topple the racist misogynist ableist structures in your own groups, and create in your small corner of the left, the revolution you dream of for the world. It is hard work, but you didn’t become an anarchist because it was easy. If you were looking for easy, you would have just become a liberal and put out a “hate has no home here” sign on your front lawn and called it a day. You’re not as radical as you think, but I believe you will be, because we can’t do this without you.

May Day Greetings

Happy May Day from our Philly Metro Branch of WSA (Workers Solidarity Alliance, Anarcho-Syndicalist ). It’s been a long and hard pandemic, and our thoughts continue to be with you and yours experiencing the impact of this virus on all of our personal and work lives. While we know that medical workers, as well as retail and other service workers, were hardest hit by this pandemic, we also want to especially recognize all of the Black Lives Matter organizers and activists, initiating another historic chapter of the civil rights movement. The Black community was, and still is, dealing with three pandemics: being hit more than most communities by the virus, ongoing police violence, and the violent structures of racism. It is imperative we recognize the layers of danger heaped on our Black comrades and actively educate ourselves and offer support. As the local economy begins to open up and as new labor struggles take shape, we want to renew our activist relationships and begin new ones, as we anticipate working together again. We especially want to support all the Amazon workers who are trying to unionize. During a pandemic where going out into any public space was a danger, Amazon workers strained to meet the growing reliance on online shopping, exacerbating already infamous poor working conditions. While workers in Alabama lost this round of the fight to unionize, we hope to be involved in future union efforts. These workers were part of the lifeblood of the world when everything halted. We cannot allow their exploitation to continue unchecked. Recently much of our Branch’s energy has gone into WSA national work, but looking ahead to the next year we are hoping to move forward on our local projects, and to support community based organizing, the heart of so much positive, lasting, change. This May Day, we honor workers everywhere: Workers are not disposable!