State Socialist Anti-Communism

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In the 90s an article written by political scientist Michael Parenti was circulated. This article was an attempt to show that that the non-Stalinist left (Anarchists, Trotskyists, and pretty much any leftist critical of the Soviet Union) were essentially for a left wing version of anti-communism. This anti-communism was like right wing anti-communism in that it supposedly opposed the communist project and sought to prevent it from being realized. Unlike right wing anti-communism so called “Left Anti-Communism” cloaked it’s opposition to communism in a leftist ideological veil. An example of this Michael Parenti gives is professor Noam Chomsky who despite giving very open and cutting critiques of US empire and propaganda, none the less says that the fall of the Soviet Union was actually “the best thing that ever could have happened for socialism”. In his essay “The Soviet Union vs Socialism” Chomsky argues that the Soviet Union was an authoritarian regime that used the word “socialism” and the imagery associated with it to garner support from socialists and revolutionaries and thus to hide the fact that in actuality (according to Chomsky) it was really a repressive capitalist state that exploited workers through wage labor in place of private capitalists.  Anarchists, since the Bolsheviks consolidated their rule after the Russian Revolution, have argued that the state socialist regime in Russia lacked the direct control of society by freely associated self-managing producers required for genuine socialism. Parenti attacks this view as left anti-communist as well.

So why are these two positions anti-communist? According to Parenti because they attack the communist project in practice. Parenti argues that state-socialist regimes like the Soviet Union were the real experiments in socialism and communist revolution. They were the result of the in practice application of the ideas of the communist and socialist movement. As such, by attacking the communist project’s realization in practice state socialism’s critics are effectively putting down the communist project and arguing against it, and just as well, working to undermine it. “The pure socialists regularly blame the Left itself for every defeat it suffers. Their second-guessing is endless. So we hear that revolutionary struggles fail because their leaders wait too long or act too soon, are too timid or too impulsive, too stubborn or too easily swayed. We hear that revolutionary leaders are compromising or adventuristic, bureaucratic or opportunistic, rigidly organized or insufficiently organized, undemocratic or failing to provide strong leadership. But always the leaders fail because they do not put their trust in the “direct actions” of the workers, who apparently would withstand and overcome every adversity if only given the kind of leadership available from the left critic’s own groupuscule. Unfortunately, the critics seem unable to apply their own leadership genius to producing a successful revolutionary movement in their own country.” -Parenti

Parenti, as you may have gathered by now, is a defender of state socialism. He sees the regimes of the USSR, China, Cuba, ect. as something close to models of how socialism and communism are really enacted. In a speech given after the Soviet Union’s collapse Parenti argued that despite having layers of sometimes repressive bureaucracy that limited economic efficiency, despite Stalin being a bit despotic, the Soviet Union implemented socialism for the first time on a mass scale and created a generally prosperous and humane society. Followers of the state socialist model today, or as they call themselves “Marxist-Leninists”, or sometimes “Maoists” depending on what traditions they particularly fallow, echo this criticism throughout time. Despite the collapse of the USSR and sweeping market reforms in China and Vietnam modern day state socialists will accuse leftists who are critical of certain regimes as fundamentally anti-communist, working against socialist and communist goals rather than toward them. These regimes include Cuba, North Korea, the Syrian Baath government, Iran, and sometimes even China, or the Russian Federation.

A particular brand of modern state socialist, Maoists, apply this principle to Stalinist guerrilla movements in the third world such as the Naxalites in India, the New People’s Army in the Philippines, the Shinning Path in Peru before it’s defeat by state forces, and sometimes the FARC in Columbia. In his reply to Left Communist working class historian Loren Goldner’s critical article on the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and leftist support for Mao Maoist academic J. Moufawad-Paul calls on Loren’s publication, Insurgent Notes, to drop “insurgent” from it’s name. Moufawad-Paul argues that Maoists through their presence in the form of these aforementioned guerrilla groups are the people fighting for communism in modern times, by rejecting Maoism, Loren Goldner is in effect rejecting the communist movement itself. “Not so with Loren Goldner’s Notes Towards a Critique of Maoism which is not only insulting to maoists but also insults the intelligence of anyone who has bothered to critically investigate the history and theory of the communism that was influenced by the Chinese Revolution.  And yet Insurgent Notes published this article that mocks the ideology of the only communist insurgencies that currently exist and have existed since the fall of the Soviet Union proving that it only cares about insurgency insofar as to denigrate actually existing revolution.  Indeed, even Insurgent Notes’ general readership appears to wallow in the ignorance Goldner’s article promotes as evinced by many of the comments, all of which betray the same shallow understanding of the subject matter.”-J. Moufawad-Paul

So, how can I, a Libertarian Communist and someone who rejects state socialism respond to this claim? Well if we examine the actual facts of the legacy of state socialism we can formulate a response pretty easily, a response that shows that state socialism and it’s ideological support base are the real “left anti-communists”.

Defining Communism

If we are to determine who indeed is the real anti-communist we must have a working understanding of what communism is. Communism is a term that has it’s roots in the word “commune” carrying the meaning of “communal”. It was most famously used by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels to describe their politics. Since the word “socialism” was at the time being used by all kinds of people who Marx and Engels disagreed with fundamentally such as Ferdinand Lassalle and Pierre Joseph Proudhon Marx and Engels adopted the word “communism” to differentiate the socialism which they believed in from the socialism of these others. Socialism is a term with the root word “social”, just as communism has “commune”. These are words that imply social interaction and collective living. Socialism in the tradition of the socialist movement always meant a society organized socially, that is cooperatively without social hierarchy, where production is the property of the whole society and is carried out to directly meet it’s needs. Communism means basically the same thing with it’s similar emphasis on “communal” ideas. After Marx and Engels picked up the term to describe their socialism Anarchists such as Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, Elise Reclus, and Rudolf Rocker would use “Anarchist Communism”, or “Libertarian Communism”, (a synonym for both these terms was “Libertarian” as used in early French Anarchist circles) to refer to the socialism they were for. They used the word “communism” to describe the practical implementation of a socialist society where social organization of society and production is carried out through the free cooperation of self-organized producers forming horizontal networks of administration and producing to meet the needs of each individual in society.

From this bit of etymology and this history of the usage of these terms by respective movements we can infer that communism means a freely, but cooperatively organized society without any form of exploitation, or domination, where production is owned and carried on by the whole society to meet the general needs of all individuals.

The Practice of State Socialism

Starting in Russia in 1905 a wave of working class upheaval swept over eastern and western Europe. This eventually culminated in February 1917 when the Russian workers overthrew the Czarist regime that ruled the Russian Empire and October 1917 where workers overthrow the liberal replacement regime headed by Alexander Kerensky which continued Russian participation in WW1 that produced revolutionary anger among the workers and peasants in the first place, and the workers took over Russian cities through the Bolshevik party.  In the proceeding months and years the Bolshevik party would construct a new Russian state that it presided over, in conjunction with this it would set up an international of communist parties that aligned themselves with the Bolshevik regime. Once Stalin came to power through gaming the Soviet party bureaucracy’s murderous and repressive tenancies he solidified the state socialist regime in Russia. He carried out his rule through secret police terror on the population, he declared that the nationalization of production and land created socialism in the USSR, and carried out huge state directed industrialization and collectivization projects. Through the Comintern international set up by the Bolsheviks, international relations with other countries, and outright invasion of other Eastern European countries the Soviet Union exported it’s state socialism internationally to countries like China, Vietnam, Korea, Cuba, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and China. This launched an era of “socialist” states competing with capitalist states such as the US and the members of NATO for global hegemony.

These socialist states were not complete dystopian failures like the capitalist west painted them as in their media. They were quite successful in specific areas, specifically accomplishing the same urbanization, industrialization, and transforming of self-sufficient peasants into wage workers that western capitalism’s industrial revolution took many more decades to accomplish. On the front of repressiveness, these societies were bureaucratic police states. Stalin’s rule was probably the worst in any of these examples because he ruled Russia almost exclusively through the brutality of the secret police. After Stalin the Russian communist party resumed it’s function as the major authority in the socialist state (Stalin had circumvented it with his secret police terror), but the use of the secret police to keep people in line continued. These societies have been compared to Fascist regimes such as Italy under Mussolini and Germany under the Nazis. This even spawned a whole new theory of societies called “totalitarianism”.  These sort of comparisons are often very misleading. The state socialist regimes were at least products of failed revolutions where the masses of people overthrew the existing state and ruling class, only for a small clique to take power, construct a new state, and solidify itself as the new ruling class. Fascist regimes were installed by moderate conservatives to protect the capitalist system from revolutionary movements and economic crises by killing and jailing all of it’s opponents.

So how did state socialism work? As previously stated these regimes came into being when there was a popular uprising that overthrew the old rulers and exploiters, typically semi-feudal empires(Russia, North Korea), nationalist warlord governments(China), or capitalist dictatorships backed by the west(Cuba, Vietnam). Once this was achieved a tiny group of bureaucrats, specifically within the communist party, appointed themselves the new ruling clique, set up their own state, and nationalized production to position themselves as the group with control over production – the ruling class.

As Anarchist Communists pointed out in almost a century of debate with Marxists; communism being a free society without class division and domination, could only be achieved through the action of the masses of oppressed and exploited people themselves. The state would have to be destroyed, and all ruling cliques and classes dethroned and replaced by collective popular power and administration. By consolidating themselves as the ruling class through setting up a new state that protected their power these revolutionary communists destroyed even the possibility of moving toward communism in the first place.

These regimes declared themselves “socialist” because they nationalized production and land, meaning they turned it over to the state. They claimed that communism would be reached at a later stage when socialist development was complete. “Real” socialism, as fought for by centuries of socialists meant that production and land be completely socialized becoming the property of all mankind, rather than just being handed over to the state. Socialism also isn’t possible without communism. If production is owned and controlled by the whole human race than it’s products must be distributed directly to satisfy their needs.

State socialist societies were organized first and for most, by the state. They were organized by the managerial bureaucracy within it, principally within the communist party. Since the state these bureaucrats ran owned all production they were the group with control over it. The vast majority of people owned no production and to get access to means of consumption and subsistence it produced had to work wage labor jobs for the state. What these workers produced above what they needed to survive was extracted by the managerial bureaucracy and used to develop the nation’s economy with part of it going to the bureaucrats subsistence. This is effectively the economic structure of capitalism. The only major differences are that what workers produce is reinvested into competing firms rather than the national economy and that the state owns production rather than private persons. However, the state firms that made up the state socialist economy competed with each other and capitalist property is not always the property of private individuals. State owned enterprises, or SOES have become a main fixture of the modern capitalist economy. An example would be postal services around the world, including the US Postal Service. State socialism was capitalism, developing state capitalism. State capitalism is a word Marx and Engels used to describe capital under state monopoly. Moreover because the state lead industrialization and collectivization was developing capital these societies were certainly not transitional to any kind of socialism, or communism.

State socialist governments were also quite fond of killing other communists. During the reign of the original Bolshevik party and government the Bolsheviks assassinated Mensheviks and Left Social Revolutionaries who campaigned for independent soviets and factory committees, and members of the Bolshevik party who disagreed with Bolshevik policy. Despite the fact that Russian Anarchists were largely friendly to the Bolshevik party (even at one point thinking that the Bolshevik “dictatorship of the proletariat” would advance the Anarchist idea of working class control of society) the Bolsheviks carried out Czarist like repression against them. Anarchists were disappeared, thrown in jail where they would often undergo hunger strikes for their rights, exiled, and murdered out right. Anarchist publications such as “The Voice of Labor” were also repressed and shut down.

The spread of the Russian revolution to Ukraine created a peasant and worker movement that aimed to destroy states and redistribute land for collective use. An Anarchist Communist named Nestor Makhno was freed from prison by the insurgency and would end up becoming it’s prime military leader uniting the insurgency militarily against the opposing counter-revolutionary forces of the white army. Originally the Bolsheviks, who were trying to include Ukraine in their sphere of influence by fighting nationalists and the whites, collaborated with Makhno and his insurgency. The insurgency being a movement of anti-state workers and peasants it eventually could no longer harmoniously cooperate with the Bolsheviks and their interest in conquering Ukraine, however, after the first alliance was broken unity between the Bolsheviks and Makhnovists against the whites once again became tactically advantageous. The Bolsheviks wanted to subsume Makhno and his forces under their command to eliminate him as a threat while still profiting from his military value. Makhno refused this and the Bolsheviks mercilessly crushed the Ukrainian insurgency. This involved a particularly brutal incident where Bolsheviks captured a Makhnovist unit, the Makhnovists laid down their weapons and the Bolsheviks mowed them all down with machine guns. Trotsky was quoted as saying that the Makhnovists needed to be “wiped off the face of the earth”.

Later when Stalin took the seat of power the late 1930s were dominated by a period called “the great purge”. Historian J. Arch Getty compares it to the witch trials of the 15th century. Countless members of the communist party were tortured, disappeared, executed, and jailed. Their family’s right to housing would often be revoked and they would often be exiled from their community. The original Bolsheviks left after the Russian Civil War were slaughtered by this process. High profile Bolshevik Leon Trotsky fled to Mexico and was assassinated. Albert Meltzer points out that unlike Trotsky who fled with fan fair and an entourage almost equally high profile Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin was quietly charged and killed.  When the Soviet Union broke with Yugoslavia the former carried out a similar anti-Yugoslav purge of Eastern European communist parties of Soviet satellites, and the latter did the same with an anti-Soviet purge of it’s ruling party.

At the end of a long a bitter struggle within the Chinese Communist Party the “revisionists” lead by Deng Xiaoping who favored market reforms over continued state lead industrialization defeated the “gang of four” composed of Mao Tse-Tung loyalists including his wife. They were purged and one; former general Lin Biao, suspiciously died in a plain crash. When Ho Chi Minh took power in North Vietnam to do it he slaughtered the mass popular Trotskyist movement. It’s members were disappeared and killed. The list of violent acts that state socialist regimes have committed against communists continues, on and on.

The Anti-Communism of State Socialism

Michael Parenti argues that opponents of state socialism are really just opponents of communism. I counter argue that proponents of state socialism are proponents of an anti-communist ideology which dolls itself up in red flags and socialist realist art. State socialism was not communism, or socialism put into action. It was counter-revolution that used words like socialism, Marxism, Leninism, communism, and anti-imperialism to ideologically mask societies that differed from the west only in their political form. “Marxism-Leninism”, the ideology of state socialism, is the ideology of developing state capitalist societies. Like all other capitalist societies their rulers have a fundamental interest in masking their rule and repressing efforts at creating a free society which meets human needs. G.P. Maximoff called this “power communism”. Today’s state socialists, when they complain about “left anti-communism” are really just pushing an anti-communist agenda, attacking the actual communist project in the favor of a red liberalism. Will the real communists please stand up!?

Bibliography:

What Was The USSR?, Aufheben

Loren Goldner on The Chinese Working Class and Global Crises July 2015

The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939, J. Arch Getty

Nestor Makhno: The Man and The Myth, Paul Averich

Nestor Makhno: Anarchy’s Cossack, Alexandre Skirda

My Further Disillusionment In Russia, Emma Goldman

And Now?, Ngo Van

Reflections on Anti-Communism, Ralph Miliband and Marcel Liebman

There Is No Communism In Russia, Emma Goldman

Bolshevism. It’s Class Character, Peter Arshinov

Sorghum and Steel: The Socialist Developmental regime and the Forging of China, Chuang

Communism and Anarchy, Peter Kropotkin

Anarchist Communism, Peter Kropotkin

 

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“On Authority” Revisited

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The debates between Anarchists and Marxists in the first international were instrumental in the development of both schools of thought and as such in how both movements organized themselves. The fundamental Marxist text on the subject of authority was authored as a result of these debates; “On Authority” by Marx’s closest theoretical ally Fredrick Engels. Historically Marxists have used this text to guide their ideas about the subject, specifically in regard to the state. From the point of view espoused by Engels authority itself is not negative, but can be positive if used by specific groups for a specific end. In the case of state authority Engels and Marxists after him argue that if it is created by and for the working class against the capitalist class within the class struggle then this authority becomes a weapon of the workers for their emancipation.

Anarchists have always maintained “anti-authoritarianism” which means that they oppose what they have referred to as “authority” in all circumstances, rather than viewing it as a tool which can be used for negative, or positive outcomes. For Anarchists this included state authority which they always conceived as a coercive mechanism that forced exploitation by the capitalist class on to the working class. Engels argues against “anti-authoritarianism” as such.

In Engels view “anti-authoritarianism” is a childish over-reaction to a multifaceted social question. If we oppose authority in every instance then we can 1; not properly carry out the operation of day to day life in a society and 2; not properly carry out the task of a socialist revolution against capitalism.

The aim of this article will be to review Engels’ arguments and see how exactly they hold up to scrutiny.

The Running of Society

It is pretty obvious that in order to maintain a functioning society people need to exert force over things. They need to operate the railroads and trains to make them run on time, they need to organize factories to produce the needed products on time, ect. ect.. Engels argues that this is “authority”. By exerting physical force over the railroads and trains we are in effect exerting our “authority” over them. “Let us take another example — the railway. Here too the co-operation of an infinite number of individuals is absolutely necessary, and this co-operation must be practised during precisely fixed hours so that no accidents may happen. Here, too, the first condition of the job is a dominant will that settles all subordinate questions, whether this will is represented by a single delegate or a committee charged with the execution of the resolutions of the majority of persona interested. In either case there is a very pronounced authority. Moreover, what would happen to the first train dispatched if the authority of the railway employees over the Hon. passengers were abolished?”

For Engels the Anarchist desire to abolish authority is ridiculous. All practical organization of society would be rendered impossible if authority was to be abolished. “We have thus seen that, on the one hand, a certain authority, no matter how delegated, and, on the other hand, a certain subordination, are things which, independently of all social organisation, are imposed upon us together with the material conditions under which we produce and make products circulate.”

So the question is, are “the anti-authoritarians” , as Engels refers to Anarchists, really so ridiculous as to not recognize the authority exerted in social organization over things and even people? To answer this question we have to understand what Anarchists mean when they say “Authority”.

When Anarchists rail against authority they are typically railing against a specific kind of authority, rather than authority in the abstract. Specifically the authority most prominent in our lives as members of a hierarchical class society. The authority of rulers over the ruled. The authority that capitalists impose over workers by monopolizing social production as their private property, the authority that the state imposes over society by creating and enforcing laws and regulations that establish and protect the claim capitalists have to social production, the authority of the family relations that allow men to control women in order to saddle women with the housework that reproduces the lives of the working class, ect. ect.. Here it is useful to quote an article from the Anarchist Mikhail Bakunin on the same subject written not long before Engels’ piece.   “The most stubborn authorities must admit that then there will be no need either of political organisation or direction or legislation, three things which, whether they eminate from the will of the soverign or from the vote of a parliament elected by universal suffrage, and even should they conform to the system of natural laws – which has never been the case and never will be the case – are always equally fatal and hostile to the liberty of the masses from the very fact that they impose on them a system of external and therefore despotic laws.” “The Liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognised them as such, and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatsoever, divine or human, collective or individual.” 

This explanation makes clear that when Anarchists say they are against authority what they mean is that they are against the domination of one person by another, the rigid and hierarchical control of the mass of people by a bureaucracy, the exploitative power that bosses hold over workers, the misogynist restriction that men impose on women through patriarchal social norms. But what do Anarchists have to say about the authority that is exerted for practical purposes in social organization? Let us again turn to Bakunin. “Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting a single authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognise no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.” “I bow before the authority of special men because it is imposed on me by my own reason. I am conscious of my own inability to grasp, in all its detail, and positive development, any very large portion of human knowledge. The greatest intelligence would not be equal to a comprehension of the whole. Thence results, for science as well as for industry, the necessity of the division and association of labour. I receive and I give – such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subbordination.”

Here we can see that Bakunin recognizes authority that is based on expertise, efficiency, and practical social organization, precisely the authority that Engels accuses Anarchists of rejecting. Anarchists want an efficient, large scale, organized society created through the free agreement of associated people and as such accept the authority of delegation, expertise, and natural laws. We can then safely conclude that Engels’ assertions about Anarchists ignoring the need for practical authority in social organization are fundamentally wrong.

Authority In Revolution

Engels also argues that without authority a revolution against capitalism can not be carried out. He exclaims “Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution?!” and goes on to describe how when workers rise up against their oppressors they will arm themselves and exert supreme coercive and forceful authority over them with canons, bayonets, ect.. “A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?” So then how do Anarchists conceive of revolution?

Anarchists are fully aware that a revolution against capitalism will mean that the working class overthrows the capitalist class by force and uses the same force to destroy the reactionary forces aiming to preserve capitalist society. In the 1936 social revolution in Spain lead by Anarchist unions, the CNT and FAI, the working class took up arms and forcibly suppressed an attempted coup by Francoist Fascists forcing them to flee the country. In this social revolution the Anarchist Buenaventura Durruti lead armed Anarchists in a fight against the Fascist reactionary forces. The question then is whether this revolutionary force of the masses of people is in contradiction with opposition to authority.

We have already established that Anarchists only oppose the kind of authority which is imposed from above through the domination and exploitation of people by other people. In this sense, to reverse Enegels’ statement, a revolution is the most anti-authoritarian thing there is. When the masses of working people rise up to take possession of the production which they operate every day, when they destroy the state that exists to forcibly prevent them from taking this action, when women challenge and reorganize social relations to create equality between genders in the place of patriarchy, the hierarchical domination of people by people is being destroyed through the free organization of those formerly subjugated to said domination. Anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker illustrates this point well when he contrasts the Marxist view of revolution to the Anarchist one. “We already know that a revolution cannot be made with rosewater. And we know, too, that the owning classes will never yield up their privileges spontaneously. On the day of victorious revolution the workers will have to impose their will on the present owners of the soil, of the subsoil and of the means of production, which cannot be done — let us be clear on this — without the workers taking the capital of society into their own hands, and, above all, without their having demolished the authoritarian structure which is, and will continue to be, the fortress keeping the masses of the people under dominion. Such an action is, without doubt, an act of liberation; a proclamation of social justice; the very essence of social revolution, which has nothing in common with the utterly bourgeois principle of dictatorship.”

Does Engels Have a Leg To Stand On?

The investigation of his arguments we have done here shows us that, in fact, he didn’t. It is clear from the text that Engels did no real investigation into the positions of “the anti-authoritarians”. He finds himself in debates with anti-authoritarians such as Bakunin and feels the need to respond and to do this pulls his own prejudices about the anti-authoritarian point of view out of a hat, regardless of any relation they have to the actual views of the anti-authoritarians. He compares the hierarchical domination and exploitation that Anarchists oppose to practical social organization between freely associated people, and then, even worse, the overthrow of these systems of exploitation and domination to said systems themselves. It’s high time this little bit of Marxist common sense be discarded.

Bibliography:

On Authority, Frederick Engels

What Is Authority, Mikhail Bakunin

Anarcho-syndicalism: Theory and Practice, Rudolf Rocker

Durruti Is Dead, Yet Living, Emma Goldman

Anarchism and Sovietism, Rudolf Rocker


 

I Don’t Value Value: Capitalism, Value, The Value Form, and Commodity Production

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You have probably spent at least a little bit of time wondering why everything in our society seems to be for sale; why people have to pay for food, shelter, and clothing, why advertisements clutter your TV screens, why every politician is seemingly bought out. You might also wonder, if you pay particular attention to political issues why the United States spends more on healthcare than any other country, yet gets less actual positive health results for their buck than any other country, why the US military fought two wars that killed millions of people simply for oil and other natural resources and why there was a huge anti-terrorism propaganda campaign to hide this fact, why the prison system in the United States is almost completely run by and for for profit private companies. If you live in a “developing” country you might ask why the nation you live in and so many others is so stricken with poverty. If you pay attention to statistics you might have at one point wondered why millions of children die of hunger every day, or why wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few very rich people globally. If you find yourself thinking deeply about the why things are you might wonder why you and everyone around you has to go to work everyday just to survive. The reason for all of these things is actually rather simple. It’s what Karl Marx and classical economists called “value”.

WHAT IS VALUE?

The concept of value can be explained in a few different ways. Some more complicated and some less, some more accurate and still some less. Marx in the first volume of capital lays out a general formula for value, or what he calls “the value form”. The “value form” Marx expounds is as fallows: use-value + exchange value. Use value is the amount of utility and item possess, specifically social utility. Use value in other words describes what use people generally have for an item. Exchange value is a type of use value, but a very specific type. Specifically exchange value is the social utility an item has in exchange. In other words exchange value is the rate at which something can be sold and thus exchanged for something else, specifically money. The kicker with the value form is that Marx distinguishes form from content. Form is how something appears, it’s outward expression, while content is what form expresses, what that thing really is. In terms of actually explaining value effectively we have to look at the content of value rather than just it’s form.

The content of value as such is the fact that things are produced to be sold, i.e. production of things is carried out in the words of Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin “with a view” to be sold on the market. As such to explain value Marx starts in the first volume of Capital with the “commodity”, or the item that possesses exchange value. Thus value can be described as “commodity production”, or “production of commodities”.

HOW DOES VALUE RELATE TO CAPITALISM?

Value is the nucleus of capitalism. It is the one factor from which capitalism springs. It is the social relation that holds together all webs of capitalist relations and is the over-arching social relation that strings all those individual webs together under the broader capitalist mode of production. Capitalism can be defined as “generalized commodity production”, or all of society and social labor being geared toward the production of commodities. Value, as detailed above, can loosely be defined by “commodity production”. As such capitalism is a society where value dominates everything. Capitalist society is dedicated to the production of commodities, or “value”. Without value and value production capitalist society simply does not exist. As such “capital”, the basic law of motion of capitalist societies, is often referred to as “value valorizing itself”, or “value which produces more value”. This is because capital is categorized by investment for return in which value is input so that more value can be created.

VALUE AS OPPRESSION AND EXPLOITATION

The classical economists such as Adam Smith and David Richardo saw “value” as inherent to human interaction. They all assumed that production for exchange inherently took place when humans interacted and took part in exchanges of goods and services. Marx argued against this view by pointing out that it “reduced [value] to it’s mere use-value”. As Marx repeatedly pointed out value is only created by relations between people rather than being a “gift of nature” as he described the classical economists’ conception of surplus value. Value does not only, or primarily reflect the physical property of things, but also and primarily reflects how production is organized. If production is not organized to produce things to then be directly exchanged rather than directly used value does not exist. Value above all else is a social relation.

Since value is a social relation we can examine it and determine whether we should keep organizing society so as to allow it to exist. So what does value do to people in society as a social relation? Value subordinates production to a specific time and amount of social labor. Producers must adhere to this average amount of time and labor in order to be successful since in order to participate in exchange one must have something to exchange. This means that producers must produce a specific quantity of things at a specific time to meet the demands of exchange. Producers comply with this average amount of labor and labor time so that when they enter the market they can exchange commodities. They must exchange because value production requires that to acquire items of use they need they must exchange another item of use. Marxist economist Richard D. Wolf compares this to a family dinner in which when you ask for the salt in order to receive the salt you must pay the other person to pass it. As such value produces and sustains a class system of exploitation and oppression where people take advantage of other people’s needs out of necessity and those who have hoarded the most exchange value possess social and economic power.

In capitalist society value enables the oppression and exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class. In capitalist society people’s labor power (their ability to work) becomes a commodity in itself. The vast majority of people do not control production, or it’s product and thus can not make use of them to meet their needs directly. Instead they must enter the market and sell their very ability to perform productive labor to the very select few who do control production and it’s product as their property. In exchange for their labor power they get just enough of what they produce back in a wage to sustain themselves, while most of what they produce takes on the role of “surplus value”, or a stock commodities that is sold by capitalists on the market for profit. As such without production for exchange, the market, and value there would be no exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class.

HOW TO VANQUISH THE VALUE MONSTER!

Since value is a relationship of class oppression and exploitation it must be done away with. We must organize society in such a way that value no longer exists and it is replaced with free arrangements people make between one another to meet each others’ needs. How can we do this? The answer is simple yet complicated.

For most of human history value did not exist. Humans produced things to directly satisfy a need, or a use they had for them rather than to be exchanged. For example, chairs weren’t produced to then be sold for a certain amount of money. Instead they were produced because people needed chairs to sit in. The development of class society where some control production and others do not through “primitive accumulation”, or the theft of what producers create from them, created value production and spaces where commodities are exchanged (markets). As such what needs to be done to get rid of value is to create a society where things are produced to meet people’s needs rather than to sell. There remains the question of how this is to be carried out and what it will look like.

In terms of how we have to ask who will be able to make this social change. Capitalists who gain profits by selling the commodities workers produce are not candidates for making this social change because their power comes from value. They will employ everything at their disposal to keep this social change from happening and the historical record proves this. When workers in Paris rose up against capitalism in 1871, took social and economic power, and organized communally to meet each others’ needs providing utilities such as healthcare and education for free in what became known as the Paris Commune the government at the behest of the capitalist class brutally squashed this effort. Thousands of Paris workers were sent to prison camps outside of Paris, arrested, and slaughtered with the dead being piled up in mass graves that exist to this day. On a related note no government/state power will ever make these changes either. Governments need healthy capitalist economies in order to sustain themselves, meaning that they can only keep existing by participating in value production and circulation themselves through taxes and nationalized industries. Thus the state will always act as the coercive “executive committee of the bourgeoisie” as Karl Marx puts it in The Communist Manifesto.

So if the ruling class and governments will not put an end to value, who will? To answer this question we have to look at who benefits from the abolition of value. As mentioned above the working class is the class which is held down, made destitute, and oppressed by the value relation. Without value the exploitation of the working class would cease to exist. The working class, as such, is the only class with the capability to abolish value. With this in mind we have to ask “how can workers abolish value?”.

Since value runs on the exploitation of workers’ labor abolishing value is a matter of workers withdrawing their labor. Historically revolutionaries such as the IWW (Industrial Workers Of The World, a revolutionary syndicalist union in the United States) and it’s leading militant Big Bill Heywood have taken this concept very literally. IWW militants used to say that to resist all workers needed to do was keep their hands in their pockets. As such Big Bill expounded the syndicalist concept of the expropriating general strike. The idea is that workers across the capitalist economy all strike with the demand that production and it’s products be handed over to them by the capitalists. On paper this idea sounds both simple and powerful, but if this actually happened it would lack the direct action to be effective. Instead of directly taking control of production workers would have to wait for the capitalist class to hand over production willingly and concede to their strike demand. This is one concessions the capitalist class will never make and workers will be waiting with their hands in their pockets while the capitalist class sicks police and maybe even militaries on them. While general strikes can be a powerful tool in the hands of workers we need more than that if we are really going to abolish value.

Workers need institutions which they form freely in order to fight for their interests and ultimately the abolition of value. Historically workers have formed “unions” to this end. Often these unions become co-opted by a managerial bureaucracy which manages the union to reduce the militant action workers take, for the capitalist class. They do this because their careers as bureaucrats are held up by bosses if they carry out the boss’s biting. As a result these unions often become reformist which means that they only fight for concessions for workers rather than the abolition of capitalism and thus the abolition of value. Anarcho-syndicalism is a solution to this problem which seeks to create militant unions organized collectively by and for workers themselves rather than a bureaucracy, which fight for workers’ daily interest AND for the abolition of capitalism in general. These unions become schools of struggle for workers where workers learn through experience how to struggle for freedom and organize their own lives for themselves. Anarcho-syndicalist unions have existed throughout history and participated in revolutionary movements such as the Russian and German revolutions, and the Spanish Revolution of 1936. Workers have also historically organized themselves into councils which they control themselves for the take over and running of production. In the Russian Revolution these councils were known as “soviets” and “factory committees”. These councils in practice didn’t operate very differently from Anarcho-syndicalist revolutionary unions and the Anarcho-syndicalist revolutionary union the FAUD and the revolutionary syndicalist union USI heavily participated respectively in the workers’ council movements in Germany and Italy. As such an Anarcho-syndicalist strategy seems to be particularly conducive to the project of abolishing capitalism and value.

So we have established that workers are the ones who need to abolish value and that they can do this through an Anarcho-syndicalist revolutionary strategy, but what exactly is the endgame of this strategy? We have established that a general strike across the whole capitalist economy lacks the direct action needed to divest capitalists of their control over production. For this reason workers need to organize themselves to take over production directly. This will require that a mass movement of workers is organized so that the working class can use it’s combined collective force to defeat the state which will try to defend the property of the capitalist class and physically take over the means of production and the consumption goods they produce.

Once production as a whole has been taken into the hands of the working class and the state and capitalist class it protects are liquidated each person will become a producer being an equal owner of production which is now the property of all of humanity. It is not enough to simply overthrow the capitalist class, however. With capitalism destroyed wee need a new system in it’s place. Once capitalist property and class relations have been destroyed and production is the common property of all that production can then be administrated through the collective self-organization of the freely associating producers. Through this collective organization of production things can be produced which meet the needs of the producers. When these things are produced they can be distributed through the same method of self-organization to the people that require them directly.

This type of society is what has historically been called “socialism”, or “communism”. Anarchists and Anarcho-syndicalists refer to it as “libertarian communism”. Since things are produced to be directly consumed by freely associated laborers they are not produced to be sold and thus have no exchange value. Value itself ceases to exist. Given that this production for use takes place through the free collaboration between producers who all have meaningful control over production and it’s product we have also created an alternative to value production that is non-oppressive, non-exploitative, non-alienating, and non-class. HUZZAH! THE VALUE MONSTER IS DEAD!!

Bibliography:

Capital Volume 1, Karl Marx

Theories Of Surplus Value, Karl Marx, p.g. 52

How Socialism Can Organize Production Without Money, Adam Buick and Pieter Lawrence

Economics Of Freedom, Solidarity Federation

The Conquest Of Bread, Peter Kropotkin

Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice, Rudolf Rocker

Anarcho-Syndicalism in the 20th Century, Vadim Damier

The importance of Russia, Workers’ Solidarity Movement

The Peccadilloes of Gun Control Activism

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After literally one of the worst mass shootings in history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Highschool in Parkland Florida which killed 17 and wounded 17 more the gun “debate” in the US has had a fire lit under it’s stomach. Polls show more people supporting gun control policies and the conservative Florida Governor has signed into law new and more expansive gun control policies. The NRA has seemingly suffered a major PR defeat with many liberals feeling even more emboldened to call out the agency’s lobbying against gun legislation.  This is all thanks to a group of the students from Stoneman Douglas who have come out vocally to express their fear of mass shootings and the need to make sure they never happen again. This is quite understandable given that they were subject to, again, literally one of history’s worst mass shootings.

Many are eager to join the chorus of support for the students saying that we need to listen to them and ostensibly endorsing what they are calling for. Recently a “manifesto” was published in the school’s newspaper outlining the policies that the students supposedly support. This brings us to the first issue of the situation.

Many students of the Stoneman Douglas High School have made their voices heard. Claiming to know all of their thoughts on the issue, or that their views can all be collapsed into a program for more gun control legislation is naive at best and disingenuous at worst. What many people over look about the “manifesto” in the Stoneman Douglas newspaper is that it was written by the newspaper; “That’s why the Eagle Eye has come together and proposed these following changes to gun policy. ” , rather than being a commonly authored declaration of all the students, or something similar. The Parkland students undoubtedly have different opinions from person to person and this is not something that has even been close to recognized by the mainstream media’s rhetoric about them.

The biggest problems with the gun control debate that Parkland has sparked go beyond even this basic failure by liberals, democratic politicians, and the media to recognize that the victims of school shootings are not one homogeneous mass with completely unified points of view as such. I will be identifying some outstanding problems that have not been addressed by the recent Parkland gun debate. I will show how the current rhetoric and activism fails to address them and I will point the way to a radical, ant-racist, anti-oppression gun rights movement rather than a liberal gun control movement which the Parkland debate seems to be emboldening at the moment.

The Non-Epidemic

The Parkland movement has conjured up a public discourse about a fake epidemic. People are now under the impression that mass shootings are an extremely common occurrence and that as the March For Our Lives Movement (organisation started by the Parkland movement) says “Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last.” While we can understand why the victims of one of the most brutal school shootings in history might come under the impression that school shootings are a common occurrence (even if we really can’t understand why liberal commentators would) this simply isn’t reality. The amount of mass shootings generally has declined immensely in the last twenty years. The statistics which show this also have a pretty wide ranging threshold for what constitutes a mass shooting, i.e. a shooting of 4, or more people.

As such school shootings are actually extremely rare. This doesn’t mean that the reality of school shootings, especially one as brutal as the one that took place at Stoneman Douglas, is negligible. The fact that children have to live in such an alienated and violent society that mass shootings even happen with any regularity at all is a function of the fact that the kind of society we live in doesn’t provide us with the safe and secure lives we need. It does however, mean that the urgency with which gun control advocates push gun control policies, at least when they appeal to a fake school shooting epidemic, is a manufactured narrative with not much basis in reality.

The Specter of The Mentally Ill

People such as myself with mental illnesses are often used as argumentative tools for liberals when making the gun control case. We are perceived to be unpredictable a-moral crackpots that will snap and go on killing sprees as a result of the most minor offenses. As such in order to keep those damned mentally ill from getting their hands on guns we need universal background checks, mental health screenings, or even as the Parkland “manifesto” proposed to “change privacy laws to allow mental healthcare providers to communicate with law enforcement”. This particularly ill-informed and downright offensive snap proposal from the manifesto states it “will allow us to prevent people who are a danger to themselves or to others from purchasing firearms”. As a mentally ill-person I refuse to be categorized as a potential mass shooter and be denied my democratic right to own a fire-arm as a result of said categorization.

The mentally ill are not murders waiting in the wings. We are people, with moral compasses and conscience. Most of us are good people that are just as horrified by the mass shootings as anyone else. Contrary to the narrative painted by gun control advocates we are typically victims of violent crimes rather than perpetrators of them. The police who the Parkland manifesto want to roll back doctor patient confidentiality to give more access to information have a history of killing mentally ill black women in cold blood as Kimberley Crenshaw points out in this lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DW4HLgYPlA&t=35s

This method of gun control argument is a function of the saneist society we live in where people without mental illnesses have power over people with them. People without mental illnesses aren’t subject to the automatic assumption of being amoral violent terrorists. Highlighting another theme of this article, the lack of attention payed to the role of white supremacy in the mainstream gun debate, Muslim people are also often assumed to be amoral violent terrorists as a result of racist demonetization of people from the middle-east and white supremacist mass shooter Dylan Roof actively refused to mount the mental illness defense in court vigorously denying any mental illness. The manifesto claims some link between the Parkland shooting and mental health, yet authorities have yet to establish a motive for the shooting.

The Specter of The NRA

Another typical fixture of arguments for gun control that has found it’s way into the parkland discourse is the looming threat of the NRA’s deep pockets. The NRA is argued to be a lobbying machine that can buy out all the proper people to defeat gun control legislation at any time. This bogyman ignores a couple realities. The NRA spends less lobbying politicians than tobacco and alcohol companies do (both tobacco and alcohol kill more people annually than guns) and the NRA’s real power has never come from lobbying. It’s real power comes from it’s mass base of thousands of affluent white men who own fire-arms ready to use them to defend white power and the status quo against people of color and anyone who challenges the first two. Recently the NRA ran an add saying that citizens need to be armed against the threat of antifa (the anti-fascist movement) and other activists and that the police need to “do their jobs” and quell these groups.

The fear of the NRA as a block to gun control legislation also assumes that gun control legislation is even desirable in the first place. As I shall soon get to, gun control legislation should not be desirable to anyone who wants to change society for the better.

“””Inaction”””

Every time a mass shooting occurs gun control advocates deride the lack of gun control legislation and action to implement it by law makers. The March For Our Lives organization says “March For Our Lives is created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar”. If only we had some common sense restrictions rather than this free for all, and soon, these catastrophes wouldn’t happen. This ignores that gun control laws in the United States are not a free for all. Some states have lax restrictions, but others have very tight ones. Gun owners even have apps which tell them which states they are legally allowed to have their guns in. Clearly the gun violence in the US isn’t a result of lack of restrictions since they exist in many states.

There is the liberal mating call about closing “gun show loopholes” which means that individuals can buy weapons fairly easy without having to go through the legal whoops such as background checks, supposedly this specifically occurs at gun shows. In actuality gun-show loopholes are not appropriately named because usually individuals who buy guns without having to go through legal whoops are people who buy guns from others online, out of the back of a truck, or on the street rather than at gun shows. As such there is a large black market in guns in the United States.

The Bright Idea of Police In Schools

“Increase funds for school security” is the last item on the Parkland “manifesto”. It states “We believe that schools should be given sufficient funds for school security and resource officers to protect and secure the entire campus”. It’s interesting to see gun control activists take up the “no gun free zones!” talking point of the right. Right wing, NRA style gun nuts have been calling for police, armed guards, and armed teachers in schools since god knows when. I can’t imagine why anyone involved in the Parkland tragedy would want more police in schools. The FBI and the local sheriffs department repeatedly ignored warnings that the perpetrator of the shooting was planning to carry it out.

Police in schools is not an untested theory/hypothesis. Since the Columbine massacre in the 90s police officers have been planted in schools left and right, schools surveyed in the early 2010s had much more school resource officers then schools surveyed in earlier decades. The result of this experiment has unsurprisingly been abysmal. School resource officers have simply furnished the school to prison pipeline. Children have experienced brutality and arrest in schools for simply being disobedient (as most youths will be at some point in their lives). Unsurprisingly children of color are targeted much more than their white peers. The end result is a racist policy that funnels children of color out of schools and into the criminal justice system for doing nothing more than being normal kids.

The idea of police in schools is horrendous on it’s face because police are not the protectors that gun control advocates think they are. The ideology of policing institutions states that the police are a preventative armed service for the protection of communities and the public. Neither the history nor the contemporary reality of the police bare this out. In America specifically the police started out as slave patrols that would apprehend run-away slaves. The police have always been an institution organized to carry out coercion which forces the general population under the thumb of society’s dominant classes. Inviting them into our schools is making our children even more susceptible than they already are to such an oppressive institution.

Concluding Remarks Towards a Leftist, Anti-Oppression Gun Movement For Public Safety

As I have shown the gun control rhetoric that has been picked up by the Parkland movement and discourse mostly just imports the problems with gun control rhetoric in general. In the case of rhetoric about police in schools liberal gun control activism has picked up the reactionary rhetoric of the pro-gun right it despises. The positive aspect of the Parkland movement is that students themselves have stood up against a reality where they are terrorized in mass acts of violence. They are correct to organize themselves for a world where this sort of thing no longer happens. Unfortunately the Parkland movement has since been diluted by democratic politicians, liberal commentators, and even Stoneman Douglas’ own newspaper.

The energy of communities organizing themselves for a better future should not go into initiatives to disarm the oppressed, which is what “gun control” means in the final instance. The only way to make a world with the absolute least violence possible, where violence really becomes an irregularity rather than a regular facet of our culture is for those oppressed by the existing capitalist society (workers, people of color, women, queer people, the mentally ill, ect.) to organize themselves into a common movement for replacing the existing oppressive capitalist society with a free socialist one, a society without police, without mass violence, without alienation, where people live together in cooperation to meet each others’ needs. Part of this movement can and should be oppressed people arming themselves. In every instance where oppressed people have organized such a counter-cultural movement for an alternative society they have had to take up arms to defend their project of social change from the existing coercive institutions (such as the police) and reactionary groups bent on reversing social progress in favor of the status quo (groups mirrored by the modern day NRA). In the working class revolts starting in the 1840s leading up the Paris commune the Paris state twice attempted to disarm workers as Fredrick Engels notes in his preface to Karl Marx’s The Civil War In France:

“the disarming of the workers was the first commandment for the bourgeois at the helm of the state. Hence, after every revolution won by the workers, a new struggle, ending with the defeat of the workers.”

“Therefore, as soon as the bourgeois republicans in control felt something like firm ground under their feet, their first aim was to disarm the workers. This took place by driving them into the insurrection of June 1848 by direct breach of faith, by open defiance and the attempt to banish the unemployed to a distant province. ”

“During the war the Paris workers had confined themselves to demanding the vigorous prosecution of the fight. But now, when peace had come after the capitulation of Paris, now, Thiers, the new head of government, was compelled to realize that the supremacy of the propertied classes — large landowners and capitalists — was in constant danger so long as the workers of Paris had arms in their hands. His first action was to attempt to disarm them. On March 18, he sent troops of the line with orders to rob the National Guard of the artillery belonging to it, which had been constructed during the siege of Paris and had been paid for by public subscription. The attempt failed; Paris mobilized as one man in defence of the guns, and war between Paris and the French government sitting at Versailles was declared. On March 26 the Paris Commune was elected and on March 28 it was proclaimed.”

Bibliography: 

https://marchforourlives.com/mission-statement/

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2018/mar/23/parkland-students-manifesto-americas-gun-laws

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/03/there-is-no-epidemic-of-mass-school-shootings.html?utm_source=fb&utm_medium=s3&utm_campaign=sharebutton-b

https://www.vox.com/2015/10/28/9626820/police-school-resource-officers

https://worxintheory.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/origins-of-the-police/

Why the Left-wing Needs a Gun Culture

https://libcom.org/library/gun-control-we-deserve-patrick-blanchfield

Gun Fight, Adam Winkler

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoneman_Douglas_High_School_shooting

 

Anarcho-syndicalist Trans-Feminism

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This is a submission to CEDAS-ASCED for their collection of writings on intersectional Anarcho-syndicalism. The goal of this collection as they state is to challenge the narrative of Anarcho-syndicalism as a movement of “white hetero settler men”, and to put forward Anarcho-syndicalists contributions to the problems facing oppressed people today. If you wish to submit a piece of writing you can contact them before March 15th 2018 here: cedas-asced@riseup.net.

Anarcho-syndicalism is a movement which seeks the liberation of all people oppressed by capitalism through the struggle of those people to abolish capitalism and create a libertarian socialist, or Anarchist society. One of the groups of people oppressed by capitalism are transgender people, something I know well as a trans-women myself. Trans people are people who do not identify with the gender classification they were given at birth. Our society determines what gender identity people can have when they are born based on what reproductive organs they posses, accordingly people are assigned as either “male”, or “female”. Trans people are people who reject the gender identities assigned to them and attain/create new gender identities for themselves. These people may identify as men, or women, both, or neither.

PATRIARCHY AND CAPITALISM

Our capitalist society is a patriarchal one, meaning that those who identify as men have power over those who identify as women. Men make up the majority of the ruling class and their bureaucratic flunkies such as politicians, or CEOs, and women make up the majority of the working class. As such men generally hold the lion’s share of wealth and power in society and gender roles which privilege the power of men predominate. Men are seen as being inherently masculine and powerful while women are seen as being inherently nurturing and week willed. As such society is constructed around masculine power. Institutions such as the state are based on masculine ideas of competition, warfare, and control. This patriarchal system is based on reproduction.

Women are predominantly saddled with the house-work since they are (supposedly) nurturing and weak and men are predominantly charged with being the head of the household going out to make a living by selling their labor power on the market since they are (supposedly) strong and conditioned as such to labor. In such a set up the women performs a large amount of unpaid labor for the capitalist that employs her husband and the capitalist class generally because she carries out the labor needed to keep the worker’s life going and raise the next generation of exploitable workers. Effectively the women becomes a member of the working class through this unpaid labor as she is performing labor for the capitalist class’s profits.

Even after women have gained access to the workforce and been given the ability as such to directly sell their labor power to the capitalist class on the market they have been saddled with what is called the “second shift”. They still take care of the majority of the house work, but also go out to work themselves and based on the norms of gender have to juggle their work life and their lives as nurturing mothers. As such capitalism holds women down and gives men advantages of wealth and social power/status in order to extort women’s unpaid labor for the capitalist class.

TRANS OPPRESSION AND CAPITALISM 

Trans people fit into this with the fact that they reject patriarchy’s classifications of gender assigned to them at birth. Gender is a matter of personal identification rather than reproductive organs, but patriarchy tells all of us that our gender identities are strictly based on our body parts despite many people being born without traditional sexual organs, or the traditional amalgamation of chromosomes. As such trans people are chronically underemployed and thus chronically impoverished and are disproportionately victims of violence. Racist, queerphobic, misogynist attacks on trans women of color are a regular occurrence with many of them being killed as a result. Trans people are socially barred from going into the bathrooms they want because they are viewed as the opposite gender they identify as. Trans people are legally classified by the state as a their assigned gender at birth often with a corresponding name attached to that gender. We are viewed as unnatural, mentally ill, or trendy attention seekers despite many indigenous and eastern societies having a wide range of gender expressions historically that don’t fit the male/female binary based on reproductive organs.

As such patriarchy in capitalism also forms the oppression of trans people with social norms and institutions being much more attentive to the interests of cis (non-trans) people than those of trans people. As such trans people are made into a surplus population superfluous to capitalism, marginalized, repressed, killed, beaten, and injured.

TRANS-FEMINISM

In the 80s predominantly trans women of color involved in the feminist movement organized a movement within it based on a critique of the mainstream of the Feminist movement. The critique was that the mainstream Feminist movement represented the interests of white middle class cis women over those of poorer women, women of color, and trans-women. This was no doubt the case in a Feminist movement post the civil rights era of the 60s and 70s where struggles by different kinds of marginalized groups had been reigned in by politicians and capitalists for their own interests. In the women’s movement the radical rank and file action of women had petered out and organizations such as HRC had become part of the state bureaucracy in the US under the guise of fighting for women’s interests with the real intent of fighting for their own careers.

This sub-movement within Feminism was called “trans-feminism” and put an emphasis on the oppression of trans women and women of color specifically. It developed a Feminist narrative that rebelled against typical what is called “white Feminism”, or Feminism based on the interests of white, cis, middle class women.

ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM

The history of Anarcho-syndicalism is a long one with large volumes of writing dedicated to it so I will only go over some basic history and the fundamental ideas of Anarcho-syndicalist theory and practice. Anarcho-syndicalism is a strategy which Anarchists adapted by combining “revolutionary syndicalism” (organizing militant workers’ unions to secure workers’ interests and overthrow capitalism to create socialism) and their political philosophy of Anarchism (a tenancy of the socialist movement which holds that socialism can only be established through the self-organized struggle of the oppressed against all top down systems of domination such as capitalism and the state). As such Anarcho-syndicalism became the theory and practice of the Anarchist labor movement at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. Anarcho-syndicalism remains alive and well to this day with Anarcho-syndicalist propaganda groups and revolutionary unions around the world.

FOR ANARCHO-SYNDICALIST TRANS-FEMINISM

Trans-feminism seeks to abolish patriarchy and trans-oppression along with it. As explained above, trans oppression and patriarchy are reproduced and formed by capitalism. There can be no trans liberation, or women’s liberation in general without the destruction of capitalism and the liberation of the working class. Nobody can be free when a society built on the exploitation of one class by another exists. Capitalism can only exist when the majority of people don’t own the tools they use to produce the things they need to consume to survive. This is the class dimension of capitalism where a small minority of people (capitalists) control production and the production process. Because production is the property of the capitalist class under capitalism the majority of people have to sell their ability to work (labor power) to the capitalist class on the market by agreeing to work for capitalist firms. In exchange they receive a wage which Peter Kropotkin and Karl Marx estimated is only about a third of what workers produce while working for these firms. The rest is pocketed by the capitalist owner of the firm and put up for sale on the market to generate profits where workers buy said product with their wages in order to survive.

So how can we as trans-feminists get rid of capitalism for a better a society? Anarchism as a political philosophy seeks to abolish capitalism in favor of a society without class distinctions, where production is collectively owned, and as such all coercive institutions such as the state disappear and are replaced by the free cooperation of working people to meet their needs. This kind of society would be “socialism”, or “communism”. Since only those oppressed by capitalism have the power and the knowledge to dismantle it Anarchism holds that workers and people oppressed by capitalism through mechanisms  such as patriarchy and transphobia need to organize themselves directly without supervision from any outside party against capitalism and for socialism.

How can we create this self-organized struggle? Anarchists have adapted Anarcho-syndicalism because the strategy of Anarcho-syndicalism is creating a self-organized mass Anarchist movement through workers organizing into militant associations which they themselves control (unions) and through these associations fighting for their interests against those of the capitalist class as well as against capitalism as a whole and thus for it’s overthrow and replacement with socialism.

Since trans people and women are also oppressed by capitalism the Anarcho-syndicalist movement needs to support the fight of trans people and women against their oppression. This involves supporting trans-people and women in whatever ways possible in developing their specific self-organized struggle against transphobia and patriarchy. For it’s part the Anarcho-syndicalist international organization IWA has emphasized women’s liberation as a key aspect of working class self-emancipation, not only paying lip service to it’s importance, but aiming to give men and women workers equal say within the organization and carve out specific spaces for women to pursue their specific interests as gender oppressed people. When it was founded in the 20th century the IWA was named after the “International Workingmen’s Association” founded in the 19th century. For the specific reason of gender equality it took out “workingmen’s” and replaced it with “workers” becoming the “International Workers’ Association”.

In the 19th century the Anarcho-syndicalist union in Germany, the FAUD, created specific spaces for women to discus their oppression among themselves. This was because the FAUD recognized how women’s relegation to domestic labor lead them to be exploited by the capitalist class. This project was limited in the sense that it never really questioned the assumption that women should be home-makers and thus failed to give them a broader place in the movement. That said, the project is still notable in terms of the experience of Anarcho-syndicalism being mixed with gender liberation. The mother of Anarcha-Feminism (Anarchism which adapts a specific Anarchist version of Feminism) Emma Goldman was an Anarcho-syndicalist and argued for syndicalism as the strategy of the labor movement.

In the Anarcho-syndicalist social revolution in Spain 1936-7 when workers took control of production and the management of society patriarchy lived on in the worker controlled society. Women were still relegated to house work and were not treated as equals to men in the revolutionary struggle for a new society. As such an Anarcho-syndicalist group with the name “Free Women” emerged to address this problem. They fought so that women were included as revolutionaries equal to men organizing women and challenging the patriarchal narratives of the Anarchist movement dominated by men.

The liberation of trans people, women, and the working class from capitalist society and the construction of a free society requires a marriage of revolutionary Anarcho-syndicalist politics and a trans-inclusive Feminism. I would call this “Anarcho-syndicalist Trans-Feminism”.

Bibliography:

Gender, Power, and Struggle, Polite Ire

Wage Labor and Capital, Karl Marx

Conquest of Bread, Peter Kropotkin

Lexicon: Gender, Institute For Anarchist Studies.

Trans FAQ, GLAAD

Anarcho-Syndicalism, film by Thomas Beckmann, Barbara Uebel, and Markus Hoffmann

Fighting For Ourselves, Solidarity Federation

Work, Anarchist Federation

De-essentializing Anarchist Feminism: Lessons From The Trans-Feminist Movement, J Rouge

2009 Dublin Anarchist Book Fair Talk, Martha Ackelsberg