"Get back to work, you muppets."

Proposal Working Class Platform

One of my comrades is a member of Workers’ Liberty. After having a conference recently, the organisation drew up a proposal platform for the radical left in Australia to endorse for a renewed struggle against the bosses and the state. I reproduce the article this comrade wrote here. I endorse the charter.

I     The Article

Is the Turnbull government in such a shambles that Labor can confidently expect to win the next election?

If Labor were to win the next federal election, do many people really expect that Labor would reverse “rising income and wealth inequality”, and insecurity, that are feeding “non-mainstream parties that promote a more nationalistic agenda”. Is Labor in a position to satisfy the “concerns of electorates … who feel left behind by the solutions put forward to address weakened post-crisis economic growth?” (An investment advisor’s description of the problem).

At the last election Labor did eat a long way into the LNPs majority on the strength of commitments to protect Medicare, to tighten bank regulations, and cut back on tax breaks and subsidies to the most wealthy in superannuation and negative gearing. But Labor has credibility problems. Since the Accord it has helped to create many of the conditions for growing inequality, and many union officials have been complicit.

The vacuum of “political capital” is what has opened up room for the right wing nationalists to step in with their line on how to “make Australia great again”. It is a crude appeal to nation, blaming global trade and refugees for insecurity.

We make a class analysis of the roots of inequality and insecurity. In brief:

  • The continuing decline of union density is linked to changes made by successive conservative and Labor governments to the legal basis for collective bargaining. Union leaders show much greater passion and drive for electing the ALP and beating the Liberal Party, than they show for organised labour and beating the employers, or for holding the ALP accountable to the interests and needs of workers.
  • Many leaders of the labour movement have converted the legacy of the setbacks of the 1970s and 80s into a smothering ideological defeatism, educating workers to appeal to and defer to an imaginary national consensus rather than to try to find their own voice. We dissent from official union campaign slogans about workers being sacked for “being Australian”. This obscures the central issue of defending union organisation and conditions.
  • Risk is increasingly being shifted onto workers, through job insecurity and high rates of unemployment and underemployment. Privatisation and cuts to welfare payments further undermine the political economy of the working class, and increase inequality.

The story that neoliberalism is the problem does not point to an alternative, nor does it appeal to an identifiable social force to change things. Growing political instability in the western democracies has cracked open one of the biggest inhibitors for putting forward a radical socialist platform – that it would undermine stability.

Workers Liberty believes that the left could now assert a more radical platform in the labour movement and for the working class to rebuild a movement for itself as the social force that needs this platform for equality and freedom. A platform that clearly addresses working class interests is also a potentially constructive basis for uniting and organising, and could enable the left to transcend some the more factional pursuits that repel many people from organised politics.

II     The Charter

We propose these draft points for a union charter with demands on both government and employers:

  • Union rights, the right to strike and take solidarity action, for organising the unorganised in workplaces and educating their delegates, to take on the employer and the government.
  • Secure employment. For action against insecurity and casualisation. Transfer rights between employers, increase the dole, end work for the dole and renationalise employment services.
  • Public ownership of banks and other financial institutions, and utilities.
  • Union conditions and rates for all workers in Australia, whatever country they are from. Campaign to increase and enforce the minimum wage. Stop bosses blackmailing workers with temporary work visas. International solidarity.
  • Rapid transition to renewable energy, and renewable energy jobs, via public ownership.

We would like to hear responses to this draft charter from labour movement activists.

What to Do After You’ve Punched a Nazi

I was overjoyed when I saw the video footage of the anarchist punching Richard Spencer. Richard Spencer is reputed to have coined the phrase “alt-right”, and behaves in exactly the same way as a neo-Nazi, although he disavows the label. Slate quotes an article from the New York Times that describes what Spencer did at one of his speeches:

He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. When Mr. Spencer, or perhaps another person standing near him at the front of the room — it was not clear who — shouted, “Heil the people! Heil victory,” the room shouted it back.

This is just one example out of many of the toxic activities that Spencer has been engaged in.

The Rise of the Far Right

Racism, white nationalism, neo-Nazism and all other kinds of toxic bigotry are on the rise in Western countries. With the inauguration of Donald Trump as the US President, layers of the population who are sympathetic to these ideas are going to feel more confident in becoming vocal and more organised in their toxic and inhuman ideology.

For many on the far-left, the video clip of Spencer being punched was a refreshing moment of catharsis. For many, Spencer was getting exactly what he deserved, and the attack represented a powerful “Fuck You” to the Far Right. The Far Right has been on the rise in Western countries, and so far it seems like little is happening to stop it.

More than this, to the far Left, it seems like the most prominent attempts to deal with the Far Right have been wrong-headed. People like Spencer take pride in their bigotry, and aren’t open to rational discussion about their views. Far-leftists are correct when they diagnose the white supremacist mind as twisted and out of touch with reality. The system of assumptions upon which their ideology rests are grounded on irrational emotions, not solid empirical evidence. Many on the left think that this means that the only way you can fight neo-Nazism and white supremacism is by doing exactly that–physically fighting Nazis.

Propaganda and Gossip

The video clip of Spencer being punched seemed to represent more than just evidence of an act of praxis. It was a moment for celebration. This was a massive propaganda win for leftists. On the video Spencer skulks off after being attacked, clutching his head and looking back to make sure he can avoid any further violence.

But what seems like a massive propaganda win is turning into a topic for gossip among the in-crowd. I agree with some leading comrades that the ideological value of this video clip of Spencer being punched is radically dwindling. The clip is being used to make more and more abstract memes that appeal to only those “in the know” about what to do about neo-Nazis.

Some leading comrades have commented that the endless celebration of one Nazi being punched is not going to make sense to the common American, or the common American worker. I agree with this. Most workers in the US and other Western countries are not organised, and haven’t been educated about what a neo-Nazi is, and why it is a good thing for this lone anarchist to have punched one. There will of course be different levels of class consciousness among the general population, but we shouldn’t make assumptions that this video clip is immediately going to translate our message over to the average person.

Black Blocs and Direct Action

I would like to broaden this discussion by talking about the significant anarchist presence at the Trump inauguration. Many will already know that many anarchists attended the Trump inauguration in an organised “Black Bloc”. Some anarchists engaged in “insurrectionist” tactics. This means setting out to challenge authority through violent means. Many anarchists at the Trump inauguration took insurrectionism to mean being violent to neo-Nazis and damaging private property. Insurrectionist tactics are one example of what Communists call “direct action”. Direct action is when one engages in direct public protest instead of (usually clandestine) negotiation in order to achieve strategic aims.

The punching of Spencer is an example of an anarchist engaging in insurrectionist direct action. Like the action of punching Spencer, many on the far Left celebrated the violent direct action of the Black Blocs. To me at least, this rioting represented something powerfully symbolic. Against the reverence of the (small) attendees of the inauguration, and the (frustrating) platitudes of liberal commentators and protesters, the Black Bloc advertised the message of the far Left: “We won’t put up with this!”

But like the punching of Spencer, the insurrectionist direct action by the anarchists probably isn’t going to translate into sympathy for our cause among the unorganised working class. In fact I (not without a sense of shame) agree with the trot Paul D’Amato in his 2012 online article Diversity of tactics or unity in action?: by engaging in mere gossiping and in-crowd discussion about the direct action of the anarchists at the inauguration we risk being elitist and sectarian in our approach to building our movement.

The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics

Insurrectionist direct action is a very real and live device in the Communist toolkit for achieving strategic goals for our movement. But it is a mere tactic, and not a strategic goal in and of itself. If we continue to just gossip and celebrate our use of tactics, we lose sight of the bigger picture of the Communist cause. If the celebration of punching Nazis, smashing windows, and getting into fights with the police continues for much longer, we will not be doing our jobs properly.

Insurrectionist direct action is “sexy”. Everyone loves a good story about a confrontation they had with the cops. But it is not enough to build our movement. In fact the direct opposite is going to help us with the revolution. Slow, painstaking and patient organising in our workplaces and communities is going to help us grow in numbers and strength. This is real power. Brute physical strength is not enough to help us grow and win. It is a necessary component of helping us win, but it is not sufficient. Only organising is sufficient, as well as necessary.

Organising is always necessary as well as sufficient tactic for building our strategic goals because it always builds power. Insurrectionism only works sometimes, and in isolated cases. Further, insurrectionism is a corollary of organising. A large layer of people need to have been previously organised in order to make insurrectionism intelligible and understandable.

We can go even further. Insurrectionism is not a good tactic in and of itself. Its goodness as a tactic is derivative. It is good because of what it brings about. It is good because of its consequences. It is therefore not an intrinsic good. Think about the justifications Communists give for insurrectionist direct action: It helps expose systems of authority. It physically resists and dispels bigotry. It displays, in powerful symbolic form, the message and strength of the Left to others.

All of these justifications point outside the internal organisation of the working class. This demonstrates that insurrectionism is not an intrinsic good. It is, however, still a good of some kind. Which means insurrectionism could and must be practiced when it is necessary.

The question all Communists should be asking themselves is: when should I be engaging in direct action? What kind of direct action is sufficient for our overall strategy?

I personally think that Trump’s inauguration was a better time for insurrectionism, than others. But we need to be mindful that we aren’t raising mere tactics to the level of strategy.