To resist Trump’s agenda, Oakland longshore workers shut down their workplace

by Peter Cole

On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, many Americans wrung their hands. Some took to social media to express their discontent while others protested. But, perhaps, the most dramatic and important action was taken by dockworkers in Oakland, California: They stopped working. Their strike demonstrated the potential power ordinary people have on the job, when organized.

Longshore workers, who load and unload cargo ships, chose not to report to their hiring hall. As a result, “Oakland International Container Terminal, the largest container facility at the Northern California port, was shut down Friday,” according to the Journal of Commerce. It also reported that all other Oakland container terminals were essentially shut down, too.

Crucially, these workers did not first come together to protest Trump. They belong to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), one of the strongest and most militant unions left in the United States.

The ILWU, founded in the 1930s, represents logistics workers up and down the West Coast of the United States, in Alaska, Hawaii, British Columbia and Panama. For some 80 years, the union has fought for equal rights, democracy, economic equality and a vast array of other social justice causes. ILWU Local 10, which represents workers in the San Francisco Bay Area, often has been at the forefront of those fights.

ILWU members refused to load scrap metal intended for Japan because it had invaded China in the 1930s. The ILWU condemned the racist, apartheid regime in South Africa and Local 10 members periodically refused to unload South African cargo, including in the face of federal injunctions and employer pressure. They also refused, in 1978, to load U.S. military aid for Augusto Pinochet, a Chilean military general who led a coup against a democratically-elected, socialist president, Salvador Allende. On May Day 2008, the ILWU shut down Pacific Coast ports to protest the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Activists take the lead

One key element of ILWU power is its job dispatch system. In the aftermath of its legendary Big Strike of 1934, which briefly became the San Francisco general strike, the union basically won control over job dispatch. Quickly, workers implemented a “low man out” system, which enshrined the idea that the person with the fewest number of hours worked be the first one dispatched. Such socialism in action should not be surprising from a union whose founding members included socialists, communists and Wobblies, the name for members of perhaps America’s most radical union, the Industrial Workers of the World. The ILWU also inherited the Wobbly motto, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Today, though some workers are assigned to specific companies on a long-term basis, many still are dispatched via hiring halls. This system gives workers incredible power because they decide when to report for work, creating the possibility for workers to coordinate not showing up. The result, as seen on Friday, was to shut down the port of Oakland.

Obviously, many workers, nationwide, do not operate under a dispatch system. But they can still organize something similar without technically calling a strike.

At the end of 2014, New York City police officers coordinated a “virtual work stoppage,” nicknamed the “Blue Flu.” And last year, Detroit public school teachers, enraged by the awful conditions students and teachers suffer from because of a lack of state funding, organized an effective “sickout.” In other words, workers need not officially “strike,” or even belong to a labor union, to engineer a shutdown.

Importantly, Friday’s action was not organized or endorsed by the ILWU leadership. Since its inception, the ILWU has stood on the left tip of the U.S. labor movement, but even this union has become more conservative during the past few decades. Nowadays, rank-and-file activists in Local 10 often take the lead.
“There is power”

Like most unions and working people, the ILWU opposes much of Trump’s anti-labor agenda, which promotes “right-to-work” (more accurately right-to-work-for-less) legislation, condemns public sector unions, seeks to privatize public schools and reverse the Obama administration’s actions on paying more workers overtime, reducing wage theft and ensuring worker safety. Trump’s proposed labor secretary, for one, has made his anti-worker positions clear. (That said, Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership is welcome.)

Nor have Bay Area longshore workers forgotten Trump’s insult of Oakland. The president once said, “There are places in America that are among the most dangerous in the world. You go to places like Oakland. Or Ferguson. The crime numbers are worse. Seriously.”

To resist Trump’s agenda, Oakland longshore workers shut down their workplace and reminded us of the potential of organized labor. As the old song, written by Joe Hill and sung by Utah Phillips, declares, “There is power, there is power in a band of working folks, when we stand hand-in-hand. That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land.”

Peter Cole is a Professor of History at Western Illinois University. He is the author of Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive Era Philadelphia and is currently at work on a book entitled Dockworker Power: Race, Technology & Unions in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area. He tweets from @ProfPeterCole.

Defeating Capital to Save the Planet

by James Herod, ASR 69

How can we defeat capitalists quickly? Why quickly? Because we have run out of time. Capitalists are on the verge of killing most life on earth, including humans, with global warming. This essay presents some exploratory thoughts on the dire situation we find ourselves in, especially with regard to our anti-capitalist struggles, our hopes for anarchy, and our prospects for cooling the earth. This is only a sketch; it will take a lot of work to flesh it out, probably more than I will be able to do.

We are way past the time when getting off fossil fuels could have alleviated global warming. If a determined, concerted effort had been made forty years ago by the governments of the world when James Hansen first alerted the president and Congress of the United States of the dangers of the excessive buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, getting off fossil fuels would probably have averted the severe crisis we now face.1 But now? Our only option now is to find ways to remove carbon dioxide and other green house gases from the atmosphere. This has to be done now, immediately, and fast, because there is already enough CO2 in the atmosphere to melt the frozen Arctic.

It is estimated that there are 1,700 gigatons (a gigaton is a billion tons) of methane stored in the shallow Arctic continental shelf, and another 1,750 gigatons trapped in the frozen tundra all across Siberia and northern Canada.2 There are at present only 5 gigatons of methane in the atmosphere. The unfrozen methane is already being released. A few years ago Scandinavian and Russian teams studying this found several plumes a few hundred feet wide bubbling up along the Siberian Arctic coast. Now the plumes are one kilometer wide, and there are hundreds of them. Some scientists are fearful that 50 gigatons could be released rather quickly in the near future, much of it perhaps even in a great burp, which would warm the earth further, causing the release of even more methane in a self-reinforcing feedback loop. The earth could become very hot within just two or three decades. Eventually, the atmosphere could even become poisonous to life, like the atmosphere of Venus, although that is probably down the road a bit.3

A poisoned atmosphere is the most serious of the imminent threats to life from global warming. Another very serious one is the acidification and warming of the oceans, which is killing marine life. Forty percent of the plankton is already gone. The ocean is losing its oxygen. A dead ocean is probably incompatible with the continuation of life on earth. Many climate scientists do not see our situation as quite as dire as I do, but they may be underestimating the methane threat. I have been following the reports of the scientists studying the Arctic methane. They are all quite alarmed.

So here is the absolutely terrible bind we are in. Almost every proposal for cooling the earth would require massive, coordinated, global efforts by most governments of the world. Yet these governments are mostly controlled by capitalists. Capitalists are causing global warming. They put profit ahead of life. As a result governments have failed for forty years to take any effective action to halt or reduce global warming.

For example, one proposal for removing CO2 from the atmosphere, suggested years ago, is reforestation. For this to be effective, it would have to be a massive, planet-spanning, international campaign. Instead, the remaining forests are being cut down at a rapid clip. It might be possible to build a factory that could remove CO2 from the air (much more than is used to build and run the factory). These factories could then be installed all over the planet. This would take enormous resources. Under present arrangements, only governments could undertake such a campaign. Similarly a proposal advanced more recently would shift to organic, small-scale, sustainable agriculture to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. This would require the defeat of global agribusiness and industrial agriculture. Paul Beckwith, the eminent Canadian climate scientist, has proposed setting off carefully designed and controlled hydrogen bomb explosions in deserts to create enormous dust clouds, like huge volcano eruptions do, to cool the earth for two or three years. Then set off more explosions, at intervals. This would give us some time to try to cool the earth more permanently using other strategies. (But what about radioactive dust?)

There are many such proposals for cooling the earth. The point is, though, that they would all take global cooperation. How can that happen as long as capitalists control governments? They couldn’t even agree to phase out fossil fuels. Nevertheless, it seems that in terms of saving ourselves and the earth by cooling the earth, especially given the brief time left which we have to do this, however much we are committed to abolishing capitalism and states, we are stuck with them for now. This is a dismal thought.

Is there a way out of this bind? Remember, if we could suddenly abolish capitalism and states (they are thoroughly intermeshed, one system), we would die, or millions or billions of us would, because the essentials we need to live are currently available only through these institutions (for most of us for most essentials). It would take decades to re-establish an autonomous, self-sufficient existence independent of capitalists and states. [This is why syndicalists work to build revolutionary unions which can effectively fight the bosses today while building the capacity for administering a future free society. eds.] We must at least face up to the vast reorganization of social life that would be necessary if we did defeat them.

We must also acknowledge the failure of the three historical strategies for defeating capitalists: (a) seizing the state through elections and using it to destroy capitalists and get to communism (no state/anarchy) – that is, social democracy; (b) seizing the state with an armed revolution and using the state to destroy capitalists and get to communism – that is, Leninism; (c) seizing the means of production, establishing workers councils, federating the councils into a dual power structure in order to defeat capitalists, dismantle the state and get to communism (no state/anarchy) – that is, anarcho-syndicalism. These strategies did not work, and will not. [Obviously, we disagree about anarcho-syndicalism’s potential. eds.] It would be a huge mistake to try to rebuild such parties and unions to try again. And even if we did try again, it could not be done soon enough to save the earth. Given the urgency of the situation, however, this does not mean that we should stop asking the existing parties and unions for whatever help they can offer.

So where does this leave us? In dire straits, that’s for sure. But where else? We must find ways to weaken capitalists, and their grip on national governments, enough so that the governments, perhaps even with the help of a small minority of capitalists, both under tremendous pressure from below from globally organized citizens, could undertake the massive campaigns needed to cool the earth. Is this even possible? I’m not sure. It doesn’t much look like it is.

Perhaps if we consider new and different ways to attack capitalists we could weaken them enough to deal with global warming. I’m suggesting that we shift the focus of anti-capitalist struggles to the entire contemporary international financial system, that is, to money: interest, debt, rent, stocks, dividends, stock markets, banks, taxes, but also to where money comes from, who controls it, and its role in the historical evolution of capitalism and its current functioning. Capitalists use money in various ways to enslave us. If we could take money away from them, perhaps this would be a step toward saving the earth, and toward our own liberation as well.4

Interest. Let’s start with interest. We could launch a campaign to discredit the very idea of interest and to agitate for its abolition. There is something to build on: the laws against usury in the Middle Ages. Although usury eventually came to refer only to excessive interest, originally it condemned all interest. Isn’t it obviously ridiculous that anyone should be able to make any money just by loaning money? It is especially ridiculous for governments to borrow money from rich people and then pay interest on it, when they could simply print the money themselves. Yet this practice is quite central to capitalism, and has been from its earliest days. Giovanni Arrighi, in his magisterial history of capitalism,5 demonstrates that from the earliest days of capitalism in northern Italy in the 15th century, rich people helped finance governments – for a price, of course. Stopping this practice would be a serious blow to capitalists. So we need to be thinking of ways to do this.

We might also consider getting rid of loans as such. Even interest-free loans are still debts. All wealth is socially created. If it were also socially controlled then communities could decide whether to finance a project or not, and absorb the loss if it didn’t pan out. In a cooperative anarchist society, loans, debt and taxes could be dispensed with completely and forever.

Debt. In recent decades capitalists have enslaved the world with debt (debt peonage) to an extent never seen before – national debt, mortgage debt, student debt, medical debt, credit card debt, automobile debt, business debt. For a brief period after Occupy Wall Street it looked like an attack on debt might get under way, but it didn’t. Yet debt is a great target. It resonates with people.

Debt and global warming, are two current crises around which it might be possible to build a massive anti-capitalist movement. These affect everyone. They are global. More and more people should be able to connect the dots between these crises and capitalism. Whole countries are being destroyed by using debt as a weapon.6

We could organize debt strikes. Just refuse to repay the loans. If these strikes were massive enough it would seriously harm capitalists and disrupt and undermine their system.

Rent. Rent is one of the most egregious forms of capitalist exploitation, especially housing rent. I’ve always been puzzled by the paucity of leftist interest in housing. It is a huge issue for most people, especially those who have to rent. Why would anti-capitalists pay so much attention to the wealth stolen from wage-slaves at work but neglect the wealth stolen from them through housing (owned or rented)? Rent is another great target that affects billions of people. A campaign against rent, including rent strikes, would resonate with them. Such a campaign would involve theoretical and practical attacks on the property laws upon which rent is based.

Stocks, Dividends, Stock Markets. How strange it is, and totally unjustified, that someone can buy stock (or shares) in a corporation and then receive dividends without doing anything. It is just money making money. Dividends are profits from the corporation, that is, the appropriated surplus wealth that has been created by, but seized from, the direct producers. Or most of the profit. A large chunk now goes to bloated salaries for the executive officers. Stocks are traded in stock markets (although a great deal of trading now takes place in so-called over-the-counter or off-exchange trading). It shouldn’t be hard to discredit these practices and institutions as immoral, unjust and exploitative. But this radical critique would need to be infused into an effective strategy for attacking these capitalist oddities. What if thousands of angry protesters occupied the stock markets of the world? What if every shareholder meeting was picketed, occupied and disrupted, with demands to abolish stocks, dividends and stock markets? Ultimately, it would mean abolishing property rights, which rest at the core of capitalism. But some intermediate blows to this aspect of the system could be found, if we searched for them. At present, anti-capitalists are hardly even broaching this issue.

Banks. Banks create money by making loans, with the interest attached of course. They can be public or private: public, meaning government-owned; private, meaning corporate-owned. In the United States, most banks are private, especially the big banks including the Federal Reserve Bank. The exceptions are the government-owned Bank of North Dakota, and member-owned cooperative banks and consumer credit unions. Some countries have many cooperative banks, but they are relatively powerless, compared to central banks. We need to focus on the power of the international network of national central banks. They practically run global capitalism. They control the money supply and interest rates. They are enormously destructive. Their power must be broken.

The European Central Bank is illustrative in this regard. The European Central Bank floats above any national sovereignty. The European Union is not a true federation, with political sovereignty. It is a monetary union that adopted a common currency, the Euro, controlled by the European Central Bank. The European Parliament has no power. The EU member states retained political sovereignty but gave up their national currencies by adopting the Euro, thus losing control over fiscal policy. It turns out that the establishment of the European Union was a neoliberal capitalist coup. The ECB has been pursuing the current capitalist offensive (neoliberalism) of impoverishing its weaker members (such as Greece) by first indebting them and then seizing their assets to repay the loans, as capitalists have been doing throughout the global south for decades.

The European Union is a special case, though. Most central banks are still national banks, although they are networked internationally, and work in tandem with the other big banks to fleece nations. The five biggest U.S. banks, for example – JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, Goldman Sachs – simply seized the U.S. Treasury and stole trillions (22, it is estimated) to cover their losses from bad loans, with a little assistance from the Federal Reserve Bank. I saw a sign at an Occupy Wall Street rally: “Give It Back,” it read, referring to the trillions of dollars stolen to bail out the banks.

IMF and World Bank. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were set up to enslave the weaker nations of the world to debt, and then to strip these nations of their wealth to repay the loans. It has been a fabulously successful strategy and has enormously enriched the ruling classes of the core countries, and also the smaller, local, ruling classes of the targeted nations. These institutions absolutely must be abolished. It is not nearly enough to demand that the unpayable debts be forgiven (a jubilee), or at least reduced to what can be repaid. No, the whole idea of loans with interest must be overthrown. The trouble is, ruling classes have the power to inflict devastating punishment on any nation which default and refuse to pay. But this is the way to go. This is what Greece should have done, what Argentina tried to do but backed off, what Iceland did. Multiple national debt strikes are what is needed to help break the power of the international financial oligarchy – one of the things. Why aren’t anti-capitalists trying to organize such strikes?

Money and Wage-Slavery. Isn’t it strange that the money (wage) part of wage-slavery receives so little attention from anti-capitalists? The focus is always mostly on the extraction of surplus value from the workers. Yet from the wage-slave’s point of view the wages are certainly of paramount importance. To get money is why they work, in order to buy the necessities for survival.

How did this happen? Capitalists have been destroying relatively self-sufficient peasant societies for centuries; today peasants are approaching extinction. Peasants have been, and are still being, driven off their lands, billions of them over the centuries, and forced to look for jobs, in order to get money, in order to live. They were forced to become wage-slaves.

How weird it is actually, and how recent historically, that one has to have a job in order to live. Why isn’t this totally unnatural relation under constant attack? Isn’t it obvious that in order to escape capitalism the link between jobs and income has to be broken? Why are so many leftists still clamoring for “full employment,” which accepts as a given that we have to have jobs to live? Nor are the revived proposals for a “guaranteed annual income” via the government a solution, especially at a time when ruling classes are dismantling the welfare state everywhere.

We could only get out of wage-slavery by shifting to cooperative labor. But we don’t have time for that now. I mention this here only to show how central money has been to capitalists, embedded as it is in one of their most essential social creations – wage-slavery. An attack on money therefore might actually prove to be helpful in abolishing wage-slavery.

Taxes. Taxes are debt. Everyone who is a “citizen” of a state is automatically placed in debt. The state says: “You owe us.” This practice goes back to antiquity and to the first formation of states. Taxes are the income of states. You would think that anarchists, at least, who want to abolish states, would have thought a lot about how to deprive states of this income. But they haven’t. And now, we need national governments to help cool the earth. I doubt that it could be done without them. So, sadly, anarchy is off the agenda for the time being. After the earth is cooled we can take up our attack on states once again. A fight against taxation might be a part of that struggle.

Corporations.  Can we tie in an attack on corporations per se to our attack on money? It seems it would be a good idea. Publicly traded corporations issue stocks, pay dividends, typically use credit, and are otherwise integrated into the financial system. What we are dealing with now is a global capitalist ruling class. So why don’t we start with the 147 transnational corporations that control 40% of the global economy?7 How could we abolish even one of these corporations? We can’t seize their factories and offices – they are scattered all over the world. We can’t outlaw them in just one country – they exist elsewhere. They are wealthier than most countries. They are defended by armies. Can we discredit their very existence? We have thousands of anti-capitalist books. Just asking.

Attacking Capital to Save the World

So what weapons can we bring to this fight? (a) Intellectual ones, at least. Pound them relentlessly with critiques. Expose their destructive practices. Discredit them. A lot of work has already been done. It needs to be expanded and promoted. We need more media. For these critiques to have a serious impact, however, they would have to be backed by a powerful mass movement, and we don’t have that (yet?). Sadly, many of the most prominent global warming activists are not anti-capitalist.

(b) Mass marches and rallies, although 400,000 people marching through New York City on September 21, 2014, in the People’s Climate March doesn’t seem to have accomplished much. Maybe a lot of people were encouraged to get active. It boosted spirits. We obviously need a lot more than mass demonstrations.

(c) Occupation of buildings. Which ones? Corporate headquarters? Governmental buildings? (d) Occupation of public squares. That didn’t go anywhere, did it?

(e) Picketing of persons and corporations. This tactic is often effective in raising awareness and attracting attention to especially egregious offenders of the common good.

(f) Strikes – debt and rent strikes, everywhere.

(g) Organizations. We have lots of organizations, dealing with dozens of important issues. They could coalesce into a mass anti-capitalist movement, one which is also linked to cooling the earth, but they aren’t, so far: transition towns, new economy movement, slow food, reviving the commons, solidarity economy, organic agriculture, eco-villages, urban gardening, cooperatives, participatory budgeting, permaculture, local currencies, co-housing, clean energy, and so forth. What would it take to radicalize these movements?

Just this brief survey of the left’s standard tactics shows how hopelessly inadequate they are for the task at hand. We need more, much more: more militancy, more mass, more organizations, more critiques, more media, more agitation, more strikes, more disruption, more insurgencies, more occupations, more anger. Perhaps if we make a big enough stink we can force some changes. I wish the World Social Forum would become more militant and start concentrating more on global warming.

One good thing: after the Paris climate accords at the Conference of Parties last year (COP 21), the climate justice movement has been finally moving to organize outside the United Nation’s framework. This should have been done after COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009. But it seems to be getting underway now, thankfully – a global alliance to try to stop global warming. Perhaps this movement will bypass not only the United Nations but also the United States, which has sabotaged the UN’s efforts to deal with climate change from the original Rio treaty in 1992 on down through COPs 1 through 21. Several countries are less hostile to addressing global warming than the United States. Perhaps the number of such countries will increase.

What I would like to see is a new international anti-capitalist organization that focuses specifically on money, debt and the entire international financial system, and the oligarchs who run it. It is obscene that the Rothschild family and other historical banking families still have such inordinate power over the peoples of the earth.


1. James Hansen recounts his efforts to alert the government in Chapters 1-3 in his book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009. 

2. These figures are taken from Paul Beckwith’s Fall 2016 YouTube videos on global warming, the recent six-part summary of the scientific evidence, “Rapid Climate Change & Impacts for Environmental Assessment.” Part 1 begins at: Beckwith is a Canadian climate scientist.

3. See Chapter 10, “The Venus Syndrome,” in Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren. 

4. The two best studies of the international financial system are: Michael Hudson, Super Imperialism: The Origin and Fundamentals of U.S. World Dominance. Pluto Press, 1972, new edition in 2003; and Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalisation of Poverty: Impacts of IMF and World Bank Reforms. Zed Books, 1998. Second edition, 2003. See also James Herod, “Abolishing Money: A Proposed Research Project, with Bibliography,” 2008, at:

5. Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times. London: Verso, 1994, 2nd edition with an added 15-page postscript, 2010. 

6. See Michael Hudson, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy. ISLET-Verlag, 2015. Hudson proposes ten reforms to reign in the financial oligarchy. See Chapter 29, “The Fight for the 21st Century.” Two more of his recent books are: Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents; and The Bubble and Beyond: Fictitious Capital, Debt Deflation, and Global Crisis. 

7. “The network of global corporate control,” by Stefania Vitali1, James B. Glattfelder1 and Stefano Battiston, on the web at:


from ASR 69

Despite losing the election, Donald Trump will be installed as U.S. president on January 20. Just over 25 percent of eligible voters cast ballots for Trump or Hillary Clinton, about 47 percent didn’t vote, and the other 3 percent voted third party. (Millions more aren’t permitted to vote.) Clinton – a right-wing politician with a long history of war-mongering, mass incarceration, environmental devastation and neoliberal economics – received some 2.7 million more votes than did Trump. And exit polls and referendum results suggest that most voters are far to the left of either party. Voters in several states raised the minimum wage, legalized marijuana (not that this will stop the feds from throwing potsmokers in jail), and rejected anti-labor measures.

Why, then, did Trump win the presidency (despite getting fewer votes)? In large part, for the same reasons both houses of Congress are dominated by Republicans despite Democratic candidates (as a whole) receiving more votes. This is in large part an artifact of gerrymandering, in individual districts and entrenched in an Electoral College designed to ensure that popular revulsion could not force an end to slavery. Also contributing was a barrage of voter suppression laws that prevent millions from voting. In Wisconsin, for example, 10 times as many voters were disenfranchised in the last few years as provided Trump’s margin of victory.

But the main factor seems to have been widespread disgust. Voter turn-out was down by 10 million since 2008, even though the number of people eligible to vote is much higher. Trump received fewer votes than did Mitt Romney four years ago (and also fewer than John McCain or John Kerry), even though he ran slightly stronger (though still quite poorly) among Black and Latino voters. But Trump did much better than Romney in rural areas and in depressed mining and industrial regions.

While many pundits blamed white working class voters for Trump’s victory, exit polls indicate that Clinton carried the votes of those earning less than $50,000 a year, and Trump those earning more. But huge numbers in both categories stayed home, unwilling to pull the level for either of the millionaires on offer.

Since the election, we have seen waves of mass protests, calls for a general strike on Inauguration Day (though no major union has endorsed these), and nominations of right wing hacks and millionaires to serve in the new Trump administration, including a climate change denier to head the environmental protection agency, an anti-civil rights zealot to head injustice, an anti-minimum wage fast food mogul to head labor, the man responsible for killing coal miners at the Sago Mine to head commerce, a charter school fanatic with no education experience to run education, etc. Trump is sending a clear message that he intends an all-out assault on the environment, on workers’ rights, on women and minorities, on our very ability to survive as a species.

It is not enough to say – true though it is – that the majority have no illusions that either political party serves their interests. The question is what they are going to do about it – whether we can build a movement inspired by a vision of the world that could be, and willing to act to bring it into being. We asked several of our readers and contributors to reflect on this challenge…

The Tragedy of Trump

By Jeff Stein

Democracy is a commons. The election of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of the modern enclosure movement. The 20th century was a struggle between capitalists and the labor movement and liberals to recreate a commons: old-age pensions for workers, universal health care, public education, national parks and wilderness areas, assistance for the unemployed and children, environmental protection for air and water, and public infrastructure.

Commons were nothing new. Before the industrial revolution local communities set aside common areas for pasturing animals, collecting water and firewood, hunting and fishing, and these provided a form of assistance for low-income families to support themselves. As capitalism developed these commons areas were seized and sold off (or given away) by governments to the capitalists.

Then, as now, this enclosure was justified on the grounds that capitalism would result in a more efficient use of the natural resources and the benefits would magically trickle down to the poor as products became cheaper. The fact that the rural poor were left with no income to buy the cheap goods and were forced to the cities and “Satanic mills” was never a concern. Yet from the ashes of the commons was born the union and socialist movements (including anarcho-syndicalism) that fought back. Threatened by social revolution and by their own excesses, the capitalists relented and the modern commons were born.

But capitalism is still capitalism. Commons only benefit capitalists if they can control them and make a profit. Privatization was advocated as a solution to “the tragedy of the commons” – the tragedy was that resources were being used for the common good instead of lining the pockets of the 1% of greedy families at the top of the economic pyramid.

As an environmentalist and labor activist I paid attention when the term “tragedy of the commons” was mentioned on a public radio program while travelling to work. The phrase was coined by conservationist Garret Hardin to refer to the tendency of an unregulated commons resource to be over-exploited. As Hardin’s argument goes, the enclosure movement was necessary to preserve the environment because the benefit derived from overuse of a common resource goes to the individual but the cost is shared by all, so individuals have no incentive to conserve common resources. On the other hand if the resource was owned by the individual or a family, that person had an incentive to take care of the resource in order to continue to benefit him or herself and their descendants.

I decided to write an anarchist rebuttal of Hardin’s argument but the more I delved into the literature the more I realized that Hardin’s argument falls apart because he misunderstands the nature of capitalism. Capitalists are not small farmers growing crops or raising cattle for their own subsistence, but investors making a profit by extracting as much value from their resources by putting them on the market. Markets are commons. If markets are unregulated, there is the same “tragedy of the commons” tendency for individual capitalists to over-exploit resources – to invest in a resource, use it up and abandon it for the next profit-making opportunity perhaps in another country. Growing one’s capital is the goal, not saving communities, not saving a farm or factory, not saving the environment, not even saving the market itself. The individual capitalist is oblivious to the costs being suffered by everyone else.

Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” is the “Tragedy of the Markets.” The only way to avoid the tragedy of the commons is to “stint,” to place limits on what individuals can do in common resource areas. (E.P. Thompson, the British historian wrote a number of articles about how pre-industrial villages avoided the “tragedy of the commons” before the 18th century enclosure movement by creating local rules favoring conservation called “stinting.”)

Since the rise of Reaganism in the Republican Party and of Clintonism in the Democrat Party, the capitalist establishment has pursued an effort to once again enclose the commons and sell them to the highest bidders. It is only natural that the enclosure effort would eventually engulf both parties and the government itself.

Democracy has been slowly and steadily eroded. The parties are for sale, the political candidates are for sale, elections are for sale, and finally a billionaire has bought his way into power.

Since being “elected” in a rigged contest in which many voters were denied the opportunity to vote or have their votes counted based upon their race, neighborhood or age, President-“elect” Trump has made it clear that his administration is open for business. Democracy has been privatized. He has sold his administration to the right-wing elements of the Republican Party, appointed billionaires and authoritarian generals to his cabinet, and refused to sell off his business interests or even disclose what they are. Where President Trump and Trump, Inc. begins and ends, no one knows.

We can expect a level of corruption that is unprecedented even for banana republics, for it will be backed by the most powerful military and corporate empire the world has known. It is the “Tragedy of Democracy” come home to roost.

1,500 blacklisted in Bangladesh

from our FaceBook site:

Monday’s New York Times reports on the ongoing saga (covered elsewhere weeks ago, such as a Jan. 8 article from The Guardian:…/bangladesh-garment-workers-fa…) of Bangladeshi garment workers facing fierce repression. Jahangir Alam, president of a union near Dhaka, was seized by police a month ago and has been held essentially incommunicado. He is one of at least 14 labor activists seized since a wave of strikes and protests hit garment factories manufacturing for companies like H&M, Zara, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger and others. Police say another 1,500 workers have been fired for taking part in the strikes, and thugs ransacked union offices across the country.
Employers claim they support an increase in the current 32 cents an hour minimum wage law and other reforms. Indeed, once you get past the jump the NYT article is largely devoted to “two coalitions dedicated to improving the lives of workers” which were founded by global apparel firms. The head of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Assn says its all very well for the transnational garment firms to say they support higher wages and better standards: “while global retail brands had called on Bangladeshi factories to improve safety standards and wages, they had resisted paying higher prices…”…/bangladesh-protest-apparel-clothi…

Garment workers in Bangladesh endure harsh conditions and the world’s lowest minimum wage
“Industrial unrest close to Christmas was particularly provocative, raising fears among factory owners that lucrative contracts with western brands such Gap, Zara and H&M could go unfilled.”

from our Facebook page

Corporate media keeps telling us we need to bring the country together under the new Trumpublican regime. I was reminded of a Woody Guthrie’s Hobo Lullaby song:

Go to sleep you weary liberals.
Let Trump’s rigged election pass you by.
We must have a smooth transition.
That’s the corporate lullaby.

Do not think about tomorrow,
Or what Paul Ryan has in store.
Who gives a damn you have no healthcare,
Or cares ’bout families of the poor?

I know the police cause black folks trouble.
They cause trouble everywhere.
Trust to justice up in heaven.
Let policemen have their way down here.

So go to sleep you weary liberals.
Let Trump’s rigged election pass you by.
We must have a smooth transition.
That’s the corporate lullaby.

Good night and good luck,

Several union workers did not show up for work today at the Port of Oakland, effectively closing one marine terminal and suspending vessel operations…

Piecards for Bosses: Former SEIU President Andy Stern has come out in favor of “right-to-work” for less laws, allowing employers to opt out of overtime and other “burdensome” regulations, and generally “modernizing” employment law to make things easier for the “gig economy” exploiters who now employ him:

Wobbly shot protesting neo-fascist

A Seattle IWW member was shot in the stomach at a protest against neo-fascist Milo Yiannopoulos. The fellow worker (whose name has not yet been released by police or supporters) is in critical condition. Funds are being raised for medical care, lost wages, etc.:…

This newspaper report includes information about the 34-year-old fellow worker, who remains in hospital:…/police-release-man-arrested-…/

Police have released the shooter, “pending investigation.” He claims he thought the victim was a white supremacist, and fired in self-defense. This sort of argument, apparently, is good enough to free folks who shoot at unionists; one suspects police would be far less receptive were it the other way around.…/person-shot-at-uw-protest-…/389516924

ASR 69, Winter 2017

2. Collective Editorial: Trumpocolypse

3. A New Wave Of Radicalism? By Martin Comack

3. The Tragedy Of Trump By Jeff Stein

4. Wobbles: A Workers’ Climate Plan, Economic Inequality, Dangerous Unions?, Precarious Futures…

6. International Labor News  Compiled by Mike Hargis

8. A New Vision or a New Reformism?  By Wayne Price

10. Trumpocolypse: After the Election  By Wayne Price

11. Here We Go Again  By Samantha Berangi

12. Tendencies of Trumpocalypse  By Jeff Shantz

13. Mother/Caregiver by Elena Hontangas

15. Defeating Capital to Save the Planet  By James Herod

18. Feature: The Fall of the First International

18. Anarchy and Democracy  By Robert Graham

21. Workers Unite! The International 150 Years Later Review Essay by Iain McKay

33. Marx’s War on the International Labor Movement Review by Jon Bekken

34. Marxism & Anarchism in the First International Review by Iain McKay

36. Reviews: Revolution and Dictatorship by Luigi Fabbri; Translated by Paul Sharkey

38. From Russia with Critique  Review by Iain McKay

40. Nakov & Bulgarian Anarchism  Review by Jeff Stein

41. Frank Little, A Wobbly Life  Review by Gerald Ronning

42. Anarchism in America  Review by Jeff Stein


ASR would like to hear from our readers on what it means for the revolutionary labor movement, and particularly how we can move forward during this period.  (We’re pretty sure our readers already know that Trump is a particularly obnoxious member of the employing class, with a long history of abusing workers here and abroad. So we’re looking to discuss what we can do about it instead.)

You can post your contributions here or email them to ASR at by Dec. 12. We will print as many as we can in ASR 69.

The CNT’s Revolutionary Principles

Translated by Jeff Stein for Libertarian Labor Review.

(This is the third and last installsment of a three-part series about the Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union. It is translated from the pamphlet Anarcosindicalismo, Basico. The CNT presently has about 35,000 members.)


Anyone can voluntarily belong to the anarcho- union, with the exception of police, soldiers and members of security forces. No ideological qualification is necessary to be in the CNT. This is because the CNT is anarcho-syndicalist, that is, it is an organization in which decisions are made in assembly, from the base. It is an autonomous, federalist structure independent of political parties, of government agencies, of professional bureaucracies, etc. The anarcho-union only requires a respect for its rules, and from this point of view people of different opinions, tendencies and ideologies can live together within it. Ecologists, pacifists, members of political parties … can be part of the CNT. There will always be different opinions, priorities and points of view about concrete problems. What everyone has in common within the anarcho-union is its unique way of functioning, its anti-authoritarian structure.

Revolutionary syndicalism defends itself against the maneuvers which would convert the union into a tool of the political parties, or profit-making enterprise for some individuals, or a platform for leaders, or a personality cult, or a rigid ideological structure. Because of this the CNT usually repels hierarchical or authoritarian personalities. The CNT is an open structure, but its members have to know where it stands and for what.

The Principles of Anarcho-Syndicalism

The anarcho-union is based on three fundamental principles: Self-Management, Federalism and Mutual Aid.

Self-management means self-government. The anarcho-union desires that individuals, workplaces, villages, cities and all other entities, manage their own affairs, without the interference of any authority.

Federalism presupposes autonomy, and is the bond which joins in free union all groups, as much economic as social. Federalism is the basic principal that prevails within the structure of the CNT, which is nothing but a confederation of sovereign organizations, not subject to a central power.

Mutual Aid is seen as a better system of development, in contrast to the competition which exists in the capitalist system. Mutual Aid sees the world as a whole, in spite of different races, languages and cultures.

In consequence, anarcho-syndicalism is anti- authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-militarist, anti- centralist, anti-theocratic, anti-nationalist… Or if you prefer, libertarian, communists, pacifist, secular, internationalist…

Direct Action: The Tactics of Anarcho-Syndicalism

The word tactic signifies action taken on the terrain of concrete situations. Direct action presupposes action without intermediaries, the direct solution of problems by the interested parties. Direct Action is a rejection at the same time of the activities of parliaments, magistrates, [bureaucratic] committees, governments, etc. in the affairs of the people.


    • You decide one month to go on strike requesting improvements in the terms of employment and to stop implementation of management’s production plan. The same strike with the same strike call can be carried forth by means of Direct Action, made in an assembly of all the workers and their delegates elected from the different departments of the workplace; or by Mediated Action, in which the strike is called by the [official] enterprise committee, which negotiates without informing nor asking the opinion of the assembly, and with the intervention of the [government] labor authorities who can dictate a settlement.
    • You have been fired. Direct Action means that your problem is taken up as the problem of the anarcho-union and by your fellow workers, who spread the word, exert pressure, job actions, sabotage, etc. in order to get your reinstatement. Mediated Action goes directly to a lawyer and awaits the action of a magistrate.

The only type of action approved by the anarcho-union is the tactic of Direct Action, in all its congresses since 1910.

Nevertheless, and to be frank, it is necessary to consider the times and our [meager] forces. We have to resort at times to a type of mediated action by way of our legal offices and the labor magistrates. We always prefer to solve our problems without resort to lawyers, who tend to put our sovereignty into the hands of the judicial system, prolonging processes which could be more quickly resolved without it, and spending a great deal of money to maintain an expensive, parasitical, pernicious and useless legal system.

But there are times in which for lack of a resolution, or support from the people… there remains no other remedy than to resort to a lawyer, or else do nothing. For this reason on occasion it has been proposed to accept into the accords of congresses, the use of direct action preferably, but mediated action when other remedies don’t exist. It has not been done, because as long as Direct Action is held to be the only tactic acceptable to anarcho-syndicalist militants, we will maintain a commitment to it, and every time that we act contrary to Direct Action, we are aware that we are breaking an accord. If we admit a type of tactics against our structure and we swallow the indigestible, it is possible that when we have enough strength and enough people to carry out our point of view without supporting legal norms, we will not be able to see it and will routinely appeal to the tribunals. [It might make more sense to adopt a clearly defined and more consistent policy on when legal means may be used, and set some limits, than to officially denounce such tactics but pretend not to notice that the union is using them. – Translator’s note]

Direct Action is always quicker, cheaper and more effective than recourse to mediation. It has the disadvantage of requiring more energy and courage to carry out.

The Final Goal of Anarcho-Syndicalism

Anarcho-syndicalism wants to transform society. It wants to abolish the capitalist system and the state. It believes that no one has the right to impose their will on others in order to rob and exploit their labor, and to maintain this system supported by an apparatus of organized violence and terror which is the state and its police system. There exists a large quantity of literature dedicated to a critique of the capitalist system, and we are not going to dwell much on this theme.

In order to arrive at this transformation, the anarcho-union affirms that there exists no other means than the Social Revolution, an abrupt change by which the authoritarian structures are demolished. It is the end of a process and the beginning of something new. The revolution occurs when the people collectively see it as necessary, when the moral, ethical, philosophical and economic basis of the system is seen as bankrupt. It is not a predictable phenomenon, nor realized by a minority, but you prepare for it, then there comes a moment when it is possible, something breaks loose, and it happens. The role of the anarcho-union is to build upon the contradictions of the system, to make clear to the people the falsehood, the deception, the exploitation committed by a ruling minority, and to be present during the revolutionary process to incite it if possible, and to avoid on the side of the revolution the self-seeking benefit of minorities, vanguards, parties, etc., and on the other, when the counter-revolution comes, that the people lose as little as possible of what they gained. The revolution must abolish property, the state, governments, police, the army, universities, churches, banks, industries, the competitive and individualist mentality… and establish new structures and forms of life.

The revolution is thought, liberty and desire in action. People who have lived through revolutionary times describe them as a festival of lights, sounds and joy. It is not a bath of blood and violence such as they show on television. The people stop in the street and talk, this happens always and is very important. They talk about everything, they talk with people of other languages and they understand them because they want to communicate with you. They talk about things that nobody before had ever said and that now comes out naturally, without effort. They accomplish things which days before would have been inconceivable… Whoever has seen such moments on any occasion will never forget them.

The revolutionary act is an act of the people. It is realized by the existing people with all their defects. There has been a debate over the centuries whether the revolution could be brought about through normal beings, who are more or less as forceful, authoritarian, violent as is this sick society, or by people who are better formed and who carry within them the form of future behavior and have been changed by education and other methods. In general, although there are as many opinions in the anarcho-union as there are persons, the CNT holds the opinion that the revolution will be realized by the people as they are today, and that the way to form persons in liberty and responsibility is first to have a social transformation. That is to say that it is first necessary to change the social structure and the people will change afterward. It likewise happens that the revolution purifies people, at least until the time in which the counter-revolution comes, and the longer the revolution lasts, the better they become.

In spite of this idea, the anarcho-union makes an effort to turn the union into a school of the people, transmitting through it by means of constant debate with other schools of thought, and foreshadowing the future society by creating here and now, a structure similar to that which we hope to substitute to authoritarian society, a new moral and ethical way of life.

The capitalist state has taken on the responsibility over the decades, with the valued aid of the establishment unions and political parties, of inculcating us with the idea that revolution doesn’t bring anything more than disasters, and that in our developed western civilizations, democracy is the only viable invention. The CNT is certain that the social revolution is the only worthwhile, sincere and realistic future for the human species, that the revolution is not the bloodbath depicted in films and history books. The revolution must be treated as a process that is gestating now, that will arrive, as it always arrives, and we should be prepared to meet it without fear, and add fuel to the blaze. Whether it will be provoked by a strike, by a military coup, by a crash in the stock market, by the refusal to pay taxes, by a capitalist war, by factory occupations, by an invasion of immigrants, is something that we can’t know. That which is certain is that a large CNT, merged with the people, will be the revolution’s best guarantee of triumph, and that what has happened in previous attempts, in which the state has reasserted itself and the same conditions in a different guise, does not happen again.

The structure that society will take once the revolution is carried out, is that which the confederation calls, Communismo Libertario [Libertarian Communism], an economic system in which each person will take from society what they need, and will give in exchange what they are able.

The CNT and the Spanish people had the opportunity of developing the most profound and beautiful revolution in human history, during the period of social war from 1936 to 1939. They put into practice the ideas which have been expressed above, and demonstrated that a free life and equality doesn’t depend on anything more than free will. For capitalism it was necessary to wage a war of extermination, in order to destroy Utopia for the moment.

Voting in the Anarcho-Union

In the CNT voting is avoided and agreements are reached by consensus. Unfortunately when there are large numbers of people involved in the discussion it is more difficult to reach agreement and there comes a time when it is necessary to take a vote.

In local union assemblies this problem is resolved with ease. Normally votes are not taken because people within the union know each other directly and from their daily contact they are accustomed to having more or less the same ideas, and if it becomes necessary to vote by the number of those agreeing, each one gets a vote.

The problem arises when decisions have to be made in local or regional plenaries or congresses. It is already been explained that the basic structure of the CNT is the industrial union branch, or where these do not exist, the union of various occupations [SOV – Sindicato de Oficios Varios]. Well then, there is no completely fair method for making decisions through voting.

    • If each union gets one vote, a union of 1,000 members would have the same voice in decisions as a union of 50. Two unions of 25 (2 votes) could impose their opinion onto a union of 1,000 (1 vote).
    • If votes are by the number of members, a union of 2,000 members would have 2,000 votes, and 100 unions of 20 members would have the same voice in decisions as just one union. The geographical distribution of 100 unions is wider than that of just one, but an agreement obligates all unions equally even though a small union would have the same responsibility to enforce it as a big union, in spite of the greater difficulty for the small one.
    • We find besides the problem of minorities. For example, union A decides to go on strike by 400 votes against 350, and would have to support its decision to strike, since that was the outcome of its assembly. Union B of the same local federation says no to the strike by 100 votes to 25. Union C of the local federation says yes by a unanimous 15 votes. There are thus two unions in favor of the strike and one against, so a strike would be called if based on one vote per union. But adding the negative votes together, 450 voted against the strike, leaving 440 in favor. In order to avoid these possible inequalities in the anarcho-union, when a vote is needed a proportional system is called upon, which bases the decision on the number of people voting one way or the other according to the following table:
        From 1 to 50 adherents – 1 vote
        From 51 to 100 – 2 votes
        From 101 to 300 – 3 votes
        From 301 to 600 – 4 votes
        From 601 to 1000 – 5 votes
        From 1001 to 1500 – 6 votes
        From 1501 to 2500 – 7 votes
        From 2501 and beyond – 8 votes

This system benefits minorities, but its results may be disputable. For example, ten unions with 25 adherents would total 250 members having 10 votes. This would be more votes than a union of 2,500, which with 10 times more members, would only have the right to 7 votes. As you can see it is a mess. [Although perhaps no more so than in a representative body like the U.S. Congress in which tiny states like Rhode Island have proportionally more representation per citizen than populous states like California. – translator’s note]

The reason the CNT does not look for another system is because in the present day it is not necessary. The agreements consented to after discussions can seem absurd to those who started with something else in mind in the anarcho-union, but they are extremely important for the union or region which defends their position. What one thinks about the outcome of all forms depends on your frame of reference.

Whenever there is voting, one has to recognize that what is being discussed is a problem of power, and in the anarcho-union therefore one must try to vote as little as possible, and reach agreement by consensus. All our votes are open, and with raised hands. They are never secret.

Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism

The CNT is not an anarchist organization. This is something which must be made clear. The CNT is an anarcho-syndicalist union. Although there are many similarities between both things, there are also differences.

Anarchism is by definition illegal, a negation of the state which cannot give it permission to live. Anarcho-syndicalism moves within legality: it legalizes its union sections and federations in order to function more easily. Anarcho-syndicalism operates inside of major contradictions.

The base of anarchism is the affinity group, a group of close friends, without regard to jobs, or geographic location. The base of anarcho-syndicalism is the [local] union of various occupations or the industrial union branch.

Anarchist action is theoretically more revolutionary than that of the anarcho-syndicalist. Anarcho- syndicalism struggles for immediate demands, a reformist activity, even if it is outside [capitalist] institutions and based upon its own forces.

Anarcho-syndicalism permits the coexistence within it of people of various ideologies: marxists, christians, anarchists… it only requires that they be workers. Anarchist organizations are necessarily formed only of anarchists.

Anarchism functions more on the ideological level, in education, propaganda, information, cultural activity, as well as within anarcho-syndicalist unions… The union acts above all within the places of work.

Anarchism is more than an idea. Anarcho- syndicalism is more than a structure. Anarchists are supposed to be better persons than the social average, with better ethics and less egocentrism. Anarcho-syndical-ism expects nothing more from its members than that they are workers and respect its structure.

Anarchism does not direct anarcho-syndicalism. For the latter it is more than enough to push forward its own projects. Besides, in Spain it has been anarcho- syndicalism which on more than one occasion has carried along, directed and employed for different purposes the anarchist organizations which supported it.

There exist good relations, fraternal, between the CNT and the different libertarian organizations on a national scale, which are in Spain, the FAI [Spanish Anarchist Federation], the FIJL [Spanish Anarchist Youth Federation], and Mujeres Libres [Anarchist Women’s organization], as well as with clubs, groups and individual anarchists. The vast majority of anarchists work within the CNT, and their organizations generally help the anarcho-union without conditions.

Translator’s Comments

The three parts of this series were excerpted from a longer pamphlet. I dropped the historical quotations which accompanied the original to concentrate on the contemporary material as well as to save space and translation time. I also did not include the material concerning CNT positions on various bargaining topics like salaries, hours, redundancies, etc., as well as social issues like militarism, ecology, gay rights, etc. This material would have added little to the text since CNT positions on these issues do not differ from standard left-wing socialist and labor positions. What is unique about the CNT, and separates it from other Spanish unions, is its anarcho-syndicalist structure and practice.

What is important about this look into the CNT is it shows the similarity between the CNT and the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). Although the IWW is not officially an anarcho-syndicalist union, it functions in much the same way. Like the CNT, the IWW emphasizes building worker-run industrial union branches at the point of production. In geographical areas where this is not immediately possible, the IWW allows its members to organize into General Membership Branches, similar to the SOVs (Sindicatos de Officios Varios) of the CNT. Like the CNT, the IWW maintains that direct action is the most effective form of worker resistance to employers, but also like the CNT the IWW is ready to use whatever legal recourse it can to protect its members when direct action is not possible.

There are differences between the CNT and the IWW, of course. Unlike the CNT, the IWW is not federalist. The branches and industrial unions of the IWW are self-governing, but the IWW has a mass elected General Executive Board with policy-making powers, although the Executive Board’s actions can be overridden by member referendum. The IWW also gives its members an appeal process whereby union disciplinary actions or constitutional violations by local unions can be overturned by higher bodies. These elected central bodies and powers give individual members in the IWW more protection from arbitrary actions by local unions than in the CNT, but it is at the expense of diminishing local authority. Neither the CNT’s federalism nor the IWW’s elected representation is a perfect system, and both depend on their membership’s vigilance and common sense to see that their system is not abused.

The CNT may have some lessons for the IWW. In the coming months, the financial crisis within the IWW may force it to reevaluate the way it is structured. Maintaining a central office with a paid General Secretary Treasurer and paid office helper may no longer be affordable. If the IWW can’t straighten out its finances, a shutdown of its central office or a shift to an all- volunteer staff might be necessary. If this happens how will the IWW function as a centralized organization? Can its General Executive Board direct a non-existent or part-time General Headquarters? Perhaps adopting a more federalist structure with a General Secretariat composed of volunteers from the same or nearby General Membership Branches could be a solution. What this would mean for IWW members living in areas where there are not enough Wobblies to form a branch, is unclear. Would these individuals be forgotten by a decentralized IWW? Would a Secretariat based upon a single branch or region, serve the whole union’s interest or just a local one? If the CNT is to be used as a model, we need to look at both its faults as well as its benefits.

In a forth coming issue, I would like to see a study of the SAC, the Swedish syndicalist union. The SAC may have its own answers to how to maintain a labor organization with workers’ control. Stay tuned.

— Jeff Stein

Principles of Libertarian Economics: Part 3

by Abraham Guillen (translated by Jeff Stein)

This is the final installment in this three-part series. Part I ran in LLR #14, Part II in LLR #15.

Information and Self-government

A self-managed economy will have to rationally organize the branches of industry and, within each one, integrate the small and medium enterprises with the big enterprises to constitute a unified whole. For example, in the branch of industry of domestic electronics, which seems to have no relationship with the construction industry, it may be suitable to control home heating and cooling not with individual refrigeration and individual furnaces but centrally, with the goal of saving energy. In this sense, the construction industry, to construct new housings, would build them to work in the manner of hotels, with all included services, so the worker would live similar to a present day bourgeois in a great hotel. For this to happen it would be necessary to increase the productivity of labor in the primary and secondary sectors, so that each worker in agriculture and in industry would be capable of producing for many people so that, in compensation, they would proportion him the necessary services of a sort of social hotel, as we have indicated. But for this to happen will require a great revolution in culture and technology, investing much in Research and Development.

The self-managed economy will have to invest a good portion of the national income in the production of both consumer and capital goods, particularly in its first years of operation, so that the productivity of the labor is increased to unprecedented levels. In this order of ideas, economic growth, with libertarian socialism, would be greater than with private capitalism or State capitalism, since the surplus-value wasted on the parasitic classes under capitalism would be invested instead. Consequently, it wouldn’t be necessary to harshly tighten the belts of the workers, as did Stalin; instead the gross national or social income would increase annually in greater proportion than under industrialized capitalism or bureaucratic socialism (which wastes too much in armaments, in salaries of unproductive officials, and slows economic growth to no greater a pace than that of the developing capitalist countries).

By means of the application of information and of computer networks, well supplied with all types of data, the Federative Council of the Economy would have the actual information for each branch of production or of services. Therefore, the economic integration of branches of production and of service would be a positive science, which would know everything necessary in order to avoid crisis of disproportional of growth in those branches, without the production of excesses of personal, of goods not sold, or of raw materials, since it would be known, at each moment, the amount necessary to produce, to distribute or invest so that the social economy has a law of harmonious development.

For example, the central computers of the Federative Council of Economy, with informative contributions of the computer terminals in local factories, provincial and regional, would make known what was everyone’s production, reserves and shipments to the self-managed market. In the case of the industry for manufacturing of paper containers, the central computer would register the number of establishments, the personnel employed in each one of them, total of work-hours, cost of the personnel in stable monetary units, electric power consumed in the process of production, value of the fuels and gas used, value of the consumed raw materials, general expenses, taxes, value of the total production, value of the employed labor, amounts destined to pay debts and for new investments. In sum: programming the economy would be simple, without need of bureaucrats, of capitalist managers or of technocrats.

When we speak of taxes we don’t refer to the tribute of the western capitalist type nor to the business taxes (mainly figured as a business expense usurped from the enterprises by the State in the USSR and in the “popular republics that made up the COMECON), but to the delivery of a pre-determined quota of the economic surplus, extracted by the self-managed enterprises, transferred to the self-governments, responsible for returning those transfers to society in social and public services according to their ability: sanitation, hygiene, paving of streets, highways, roads, ports, railroads, education, public health and other responsibilities of the self-governments which would be too great to enumerate.

Labor-Value Money

In this case we would attempt to strengthen the economy of the free self-managed municipality, not in the traditionally Roman [state-citizen] nor modern bureaucratic sense, but as the social and public enterprise of the citizens; as well as the industrial, agricultural, of research enterprise or certain global services which would constitute the task of the associated workers with their means of production, self-organized into Worker Councils of Self-Management and in Basic Units of Associated Labor, where the economic accounting should be automated by means of computers and take as their unit of calculation, the labor-hour (LH). It would have thus a monetary equivalence of the same value, if the money is intended to remain stable. The LH would circulate monetarily in the form of ticket which would give the right to consume reasonably, always leaving an important portion in order to invest more capital than wornout during a year, so that libertarian socialism would enlarge the social capital, with the goal of progressing more with self-management than under the dominance of capitalists or of bureaucrats.

The LH, as labor-money, wouldn’t lead to monetary inflation like capitalist money or like the soviet ruble, which conceal by being the money of cass, the parasitical incomes of the western bourgeoisie, or of the eastern bureaucracy, inflating the growth of the gross national product (GNP), with salaries of officials or unproductive technocrats, or with dividends, interests, rents and surplus values received by the capitalists, according to the western economic model, where each day there exist a growing parasitical class at the expense of productive workers. Every project of investment would be calculated in hours of labor (LH), as well as in terms of personal and public consumption required. It would be monitored that neither would be excessive in the carrying on of a libertarian, self-managed society, of direct associative democracy, so that a part of the global economic surplus would be invested in achieving a greater automation of industrial production and of agricultural production. It would thus be possible to continue reducing the working day to a range which would allow a more leisure time, so that all the citizens could occupy their time in more relaxation and, above all, in better scientific, cultural and technological preparation.

The LH, as labor-money and as a quantification of the economy, having a stable monetary value would program the economy: to account it; to establish the costs of the goods and services; programming the integrated branches of the division of the labor and correct disharmonies between them; quantifying in the products the cost of raw, energy, amortization of the capital, value of the work, economic contributions to the local self-governments and to the national co-government, etc. All of this would function within a libertarian socialism of a self-managed market, without speculators, hoarders or merchants, in order that competition benefit the workers and the consumers, the cooperative groups and self-managed enterprises, in the manner similar to the way the market functioned in the Spanish libertarian collectives during the Spanish Revolution of 1936-39. The goal would be to avoid the bureaucracy of a centrally planned economy, such as occurred in the USSR and China, where the officials decided everything and the people participated in nothing. As if that were socialism, however much they try to introduce it thus by means of a totalitarian propaganda, as if lies could be converted into truths by force of repeating them as the only truth, thanks to the state monopoly of the radio, the press, the television, the universities, the schools, so that Power regulates knowledge according to their political convenience.

In a libertarian economy, labor-money wouldn’t be money in the capitalist sense such as we understand it and need it today, since it wouldn’t allow the individual accumulation of capital in order to exploit the labor of other people and obtain a surplus value. Rather it would be intended to facilitate the exchange of goods and service, in a self-managed market, where these exchange at their true labor value, so that it fulfill economically the law of equal exchange in equality of condition for all the integrated branches of the social division of the labor and the law of the cooperation of those same branches or federations of production and of service. If, on the other hand, there were no free operation of the self-managed market, things would fall into economic chaos, by trying to centrally plan everything. Prices and their economic calculation, as well as the market that really forms them (without maintaining bureaucratic costs) are only possible within an indicative global programming, but which leave the day-to-day market free, so that all the enterprises are able to produce the best and most economically, about which the consumers must ultimately decide. From this method, there is an invisible hand which self-regulates the social economy, better than thousands of officials and technocrats equipped with thousands of computers who without liberty, order disorganization by being poorly informed or because of the self-interests of the totalitarian bureaucracy, who manage more like inquisitors or cruel police (as happened in the USSR and China).

If the LH, the unit of labor-money, would have, for example, an purchasing power of 1 hour of average social-labor and this were equivalent, roughly speaking, to one dollar, one could establish, among others, the following calculation of economic-accounts:

Calculation in (LH) of an Industrial Enterprise

  • Costs of machinery = $1000 = 1000 LH
  • Raw materials, energy, etc. = $50,000 = 50,000 LH
  • Hours worked in production = 50,000 LH
  • Total of LH = 101,000 LH
  • Units produced during the period of work = 100

Dividing the total number of LH, spent in the process of production, and the total of units produced in that time of work which could be daily, monthly, or yearly, we would have an average of labor value for unit produced of 1.010 of LH or of labor-money.

Now then, as no money could be absolutely stable, since if the productivity of the labor increases, due to improvements in machines, education of the workers and more efficient methods, it would result that the LH will end up having less value of exchange, increasing its value of use, driving this economic process toward an economy of abundance where, overcoming venal value, the value of use would only remain. Consequently, having reached this stage in the economy and technology, with most of the work automated, the value of the produced goods wouldn’t be based much on living labor, but almost everything would be labor of the past (accumulated capital), which would determine thereby a self-regulated production of abundance. Then the wonderful time will have arrived of overcoming finally both money and the commodity, each man receiving according to his necessity, although he only contributes according to his unequal capacity, or in other words, that it would make possible the economic equality between the men: libertarian communism, rationally and scientifically, economically possible, without which it must considered as a beautiful utopia.

Only a self-managed economy, rational and objective, based on scientific laws, from the commencement of the establishment of libertarian socialism, avoiding the fall into one phase or another, into either the socialism of group property, into forms of corporatism or of narrow syndicalism, but towards a condition of always placing the general interest above the particular interest of the professional or work groups.

The Libertarian Society

On the subject of the future of a libertarian and self-managed society, Kropotkin warned and advised:

We are convinced that the mitigated individualism of the collectivist system will not exist alongside the partial communism of possession of all of the soil and of the instruments of labor. A new form of production will not maintain the old form of redistribution. A new form of production will not maintain the old form of consumption, just as it will not accommodate the old forms of political organization.

In this order of ideas, explains Kropotkin, the private ownership the capital and of the earth are attributes of capitalism. Those conditions were consistent with the bourgeoisie as a dominant class, although the public [state] ownership of capital and of the earth is consistent with the capitalism of the soviet-State, which elevates the totalitarian bureaucracy as a new dominant class.

The private ownership of the means of production and of exchange created capitalism as a mode of production and the bourgeoisie as dominant class.

“They were”, says Kropotkin, “the necessary condition for the development of the capitalist production; it will die with her, although some may try disguising it under form of a ‘labor bonus’. The common possession of the instruments of labor will bring necessarily the common enjoyment of the fruits of the common labor.” (The Conquest of Bread, p.28)

If upon changing the mode of production and of distribution, daily life doesn’t change, including distribution, consumption, education, the political system, the legal and social, in the sense that one dominant classes are not substituted by other, then, really, nothing essentially has changed. Thus it happened in the Soviet Union, where the economic categories and the economic laws of the capitalism were hardly modified, with the result that the economic dictatorship of the bourgeoisie was replaced with the political and economic dictatorship of the bureaucracy and, in consequence, private or anonymous capitalism for the capitalism of State. A revolution like this, although it is called socialist, constitutes a great swindle to the detriment of working people, for whom in the majority of cases, it has not meant more than a change of master or of a saddle, to the unfortunate beast of burden. So instead of being the proletarian of the bourgeois, they have a new Patron, that is to say, the technocrat and the bureaucrat. In our way of thinking, the alternative to capitalism is not Marxism Leninism, but libertarian socialism.

The True Social Revolution

For a revolution to be true, in the sense of emancipating working people from the oppression and exploitation of the dominant classes, it has to establish a new mode of production, exchange, distribution and consumption and create new social relationships; new and more powerful productive forces; new political forms of popular direct participation; new legal institutions having as their basis the popular jury, new universities and technical schools integrated with industries, agriculture, mining, energy, fishing, the forests and other sectors; new philosophic, political,social, artistic, and cultural doctrines; new conceptions of national and social defense based more on the people in arms (than on a bureaucratic professional army, expensive and wasteful) in order to defend the society, as much inside as outside of it. It is necessary to affirm the system of popular self-defense, since without which there couldn’t be a guarantee that self-management will be accepted by a professional army, the latter always having tendencies to stage a “coup” in order to take Power.

On the other hand, in order to avoid the coming to power of a one-Party-state, which is the worst and greatest single political wrong, as happened in the USSR, there will need to be created a participatory socialism. This would entail a respect for the free personality within the collective, the self-determination of the local governments within a federalism which coherently maintains a unified market, the social and national self-defense, diplomatic relations with the exterior, the socio-economic system as a relatively homogeneous regime. A federalism which keeps a national and social accounting system in order to estimate and program the authentic valuation of the national or social global income, making it possible to know where we have been and toward where we are going economically, socially, politically, scientifically and technologically.

But a new economic system, based on self-managed socialism, will have to have another way of estimating the annual economic growth on the basis of short, medium and long term plans, constructing a macro-economic picture of the national and social economy, departing from the known figures and projecting toward figures to be attained in the next trimesters, semesters, years. Thus the future, in certain manner, will be anticipated by having a Federative Council of the Economy, where each federation of production or of services knows that which it has and that which it wants, in accordance with the effective demand of the self-managed market. Libertarian socialism, if it wants to distinguish itself from authoritarian soviet communism, must respect the law of the supply and demand, without falling into bourgeois liberalism, since in the self-managed market the federations of production and of social and public services act competitively. Because if the market is suppressed, and with it the law of labor-value, the law of economic competition, the law of formation of just prices in the market, it would not be possible establish a rational economy of costs and prices, necessary investments and appropriate consumption. In its place would be a centralized and bureaucratic planning which places the total-State above the oppressed, exploited Society, as happened in the USSR under a planning of economic decrees, without respect for objective economic laws.

On the other hand, libertarian socialism has to respect the pluralism of ideas, although it wouldn’t provide a space for byzantine struggles. People would be self-organized in their own interest in self-managed enterprises, mutual cooperatives, local self-governments and all types of socio-economic and political forms of direct participation. Politics would be deprofessionalized, abolishing the political class and the political parties as expression of antagonistic interests, since each citizen or worker will participate in their enterprise, local self-government, federation, daily, without falling into the trap of electoralism, where they only participate for a day to elect a government worse than another.

Traps of Bourgeois Economics

Libertarian socialism will have to create a new economic doctrine and a new system of estimating the national or social income. Actually, the concept of gross national product (GNP), of which there is so much talk and is so little understood, counts in unstable monetary units, the total of the goods and services obtained by economic activity: agriculture, industry, services, as large integrated sectors of the national economy.

If the GNP, the way it is constituted in the bourgeois economy, were estimated in monetary units of constant purchasing power, thus deflating the official figures, it is possible that it actually diminishes instead of increasing. On the other hand, the GNP, in its bourgeois form, includes the economic participation of the unproductive “tertiary” and “quaternary” sectors, in the sense not that this should be concealed, but that the GNP shows “growth” when it may have diminished materially, in effective production. Thus, for example, in many countries which are diminishing their industrial and agricultural production during some years, but if salaries increase and the number of tertiaries in the state bureaucracy, commerce, the banks, and in social and public services grow, it is said that the GNP has grown, for example, an annual 3%, when the reality is that this macro-economic figure only represents salaries, incomes without effective work, surplus values taken, parasitic income , etc.

Libertarian socialism, creating a social economy based on truthful figures, would have to estimate the GNP in a different manner than the capitalists. It is necessary to give to the concept of social income, units which are measured or concrete and in constant money based on material output: agriculture, cattle raising, forests, fishing, energy, mining, industry, or whatever is actual production. As for the “services”, only transportation, railroads, trucking, marine and air would be included in the concrete estimate of the effective or material income, since although transportation doesn’t add production, it transports it from one side to another and, in consequence, it should be included in the concrete income of one year to another.

Adding the concrete income alongside gross income (administrative “services”, commerce, banks and other social and public services), it would be seen if these take too great a percentage in the total income by having too many unproductive personal who, in order to not drain the social economy, would have to be recycled as productive personnel. Now then, in the “services” which could be considered as productive, would be included the personnel destined for Research and Development (R &D), without whose presence an economy will stagnate for lack of economic and technological progress; but the personnel of R&D should be, besides in the Institutes or Centers (which tend to be bureaucratic and technocratic), directly in the industrial enterprises, agricultural, energy, forests, mining, fishing, etc., since science and technique should be united directly to labor as immediate factors of production and not as though the ostentation of an academic title should make one a technocrat.

In sum, the net income of a country would have to be estimated, in a libertarian socialism, at costs determined in relatively stable physical and monetary units which don’t mislead, deducting the necessary investments of social capital in order to enlarge production and not simple reproduction as happens to the bourgeois economy in a crisis.

The estimate of the national and social income must be transparent: from the total of the wealth created in a year must be deducted the material consumption of people and that of self-administration (where there should not be much bureaucracy, by reason of better information) and to deduct, set aside or remove the social or national saving destined for investment in order to increase the reproduction of effective wealth, create new enterprises, design improved and more productive machines, carry on scientific investigation, automate industrial production and public services, and mechanize and electrify agriculture.

Liberation of the Working People

In sum, the libertarian economy should liberate the worker from their old employers, either private managers or from the State as Manager, to end that the workers, by means of their Self-Management Enterprise Councils, direct the economy which they create with their labor upon the means of production associated, from the bottom up, by means of the federations of production and of social services composed in a Federative Council of the Economy; only thus could there be planning and liberty, an associative democracy of full participation of the working people, a self-managed socialist society, avoiding any form of totalitarian communism (which, as a matter of fact, is capitalism of the State).

Without economic liberty there can’t be political liberty; since with capitalism there is an economic dictatorship of a plutocratic minority over the majority of working people; and with capitalism of the State, in the soviet manner, the State exploits and oppresses Society by means of the one-Party which is a bad one for the majority and a good one for the bureaucratic, oppressive and exploitive minority. The solution is: neither totalitarian communism nor capitalism but self-management, direct democracy, federalism and socialism.

An Afterword by the Translator

by Jeff Stein

Abraham Guillen has given us some useful concepts for analyzing the economic systems of state-socialist and corporate capitalist countries. Although these economies are no longer dominated by individual capitalist owner-managers, they remain exploitive, class systems. According to Guillen, ownership of the means of production is now collective, spread across a stratum of “techno-bureaucrats.” These techno-bureaucrats are just as much concerned with accumulating capital through exploitation of workers, as the old “robber baron” capitalists. However, the surplus of the system is shared (although not on an equal basis) within the techno-bureaucratic class. Under these systems, legal ownership means less than one’s position in the state or corporate hierarchy. Only a system of worker self-management of their own workplaces, can eliminate this exploitation by the techno-bureaucracy.

This does not mean Guillen’s theory is without problems. His proposals for a “market without capitalists” and the establishment of “labor-money” are built open the assumption that the labor theory of value can provide the basis for a libertarian socialist economy. The labor theory of value provides a powerful argument for the elimination of capitalists and bureaucrats, since their incomes represent an unnecessary drag on the economy. However, in a self-managed economy inequalities having nothing to do with labor productivity would arise between self-managed enterprises, giving some a competitive advantage over others. For instance, the size of the enterprise, the availability of scarce raw materials, the presence or absence of strict environmental regulation by the local municipality, etc., would all come into play, and these are not always factors which are easily calculated in labor-hours.

Augustin Souchy, another anarcho-syndicalist who made extensive studies of various attempts at establishing workers self- management, observed that:

working hours as the only value determinant is unrealistic. Experience shows that the lack of raw material, rarity of quality, differences of consumer goods, highly qualified services, etc. are equally vague determinants. These factors will not change in a socialist economy.” (Beware! Anarchist!, Chicago, 1992. p.42)

One factor which is becoming increasingly important in determining production costs is energy. As the amount of labor decreases due to automation, the amount of energy in terms of fossil fuels, electricity required, etc., increases. This means that while the labor value of many products is going down, their energy value is going up. As long as energy is cheap and abundant, this does not necessarily present a problem. However, in the future, as the southern hemisphere becomes increasingly industrialized and there is a greater demand for energy, and as fossil fuel supplies dwindle, a purely labor-based system of economic accounting would collapse. Energy would either have to be rationed, or some sort of global federation would have to set a tax on energy. Either way, the labor-exchange economy would be forced away from an unregulated market system. On the other hand, the sort of energy accounting based system proposed by some “green” economists is not adequate either, since the energy theory of value does not take into account the qualitative difference between human energy (labor) and non-human energy.

There is no such thing as a perfectly, objective theory of economic value. Each theory has its own hidden biases which will tend to skew the results of any accounting system (this includes the bourgeois scarcity-value system, which favors those who own capital and scarce resources). The best a labor theory of value can do is identify that part of a thing’s (a good or service) value, which is the result of social production. The rest of a thing’s value is contributed by energy, nature, the social infrastructure, and a host of other variables. In a libertarian, self-managed economy, the accounting of these non-labor costs and the distribution of these benefits, therefore needs to go beyond the individual workplaces and their labor accounts. An economic role must be played by the free municipalities (communes), who must set democratic controls over energy, environmental standards, and scarce resources, in order to make sure that those exchanges which take place do not undermine social equality or the capacity of the earth to sustain itself. Therefore, contrary to Guillen, we should insist that whatever exchange or currency system exists in the future, it provide for greater community control and allow all citizens a voice as to how value should be determined.