Barcelona diary: Celebrating radical history

The Gonzo Kid:

Recently I was lucky enough to take part in a meeting of radical historians in Barcelona. The event was billed as “a meeting of colleagues and comrades, all active in interpreting and bringing out the radical history of the place where they live”.

As well as sharing experiences and having a good time, the gathering was aimed at establishing “a more or less formal network/platform for the future. An international network of independent tour guides, street storytellers and historical activists”.

Radical historians and tour guides from Dublin, Barcelona, Olso, Berlin and London were present, as well as members of the RaspouTeam who make innovative use of street art, QR codes and radio to celebrate the revolutionary history of Paris. For my own part, I delivered a presentation on Liverpool’s history from an anarcho-syndicalist viewpoint, including some general history of the Solidarity Federation (which goes back to the founding of the Syndicalist Workers’ Federation in 1950), of which I am a member. Also participating and helping to facilitate the meeting was a CNT member who has set up a bar off La Rambla called La Llibertària, which is run as a workers co-operative. The walls of the bar are covered in posters, photographs and original newspapers from the Spanish revolution and it is well worth a visit for anyone spending time in the city.

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1911

Phil Dickens again:

As I noted on Thursday, yesterday I attended Near To Revolution? The 1911 Liverpool General Transport Strike Centenary Conference.
This was only the latest in a strong line-up of events to commemorate 1911. First, there was Steve Higginson, Tony Wailey and Ian Morris’s Rhythms That Carry, which has been put on now at a number of venues. Then, on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, we had a commemoration on the steps of St George’s Hall. Liverpool Solidarity Federation hosted Liverpool in Revolt: 1911-2011, with local historian Frank Carlyle among the speakers.
At all of these meetings and events, we were reminded of the strong syndicalist and anarchist currents that underpinned the events of the Liverpool General Transport Strike. In the midst of the Great Unrest of 1910-1914, it was defined by a rank-and-file revolt against trade union officialdom and an upsurge in militant class struggle.
This, indeed, was the point made by Ralph Darlington, in the workshop on Syndicalism and Trade Union Officialdom. His talk focused on the British syndicalist movement, and its successes and failures in addressing the problems of officialdom. Though he appeared to have far more time for the idea that unions could be de-bureaucratised or “moved left” than I, his analysis of the “boring from within” strategy and its limitations was interesting – particularly in how Tom Mann’s Industrial Syndicalist Education League, despite a scathing analysis of union officialdom in general, tempered criticism of specific leaders in the name of “unity.”
Some of Darlington’s analysis is similar to what I’ve said myself, whilst some was radically different. Though he contrasted the establishment of syndicalist unions in Europe with the looser networks of activists in Britain, and mentioned the CNT, CGT, and USI as specific examples of this, he didn’t touch upon anarcho-syndicalism and how it developed syndicalist methods alongside a more explicitly revolutionary anarchist philosophy. He approached it from the point of view that a party was the best vehicle to address the problem of syndicalism being almost apolitical. Nonetheless, he hit the mark with reference to traditional syndicalism’s flaws, and I was able to pick up on this during the open floor to argue – as Durruti did – that the problem of bureaucracy in fact stems from unions taking on the representative function and removing decision-making power from the mass of the rank-and-file.
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Published in: on October 20, 2011 at 9:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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Occupy!

Rudolf Rocker, German Anarchosyndicalist

Image via Wikipedia

Phil Dickens’ quote of the day…

…comes from Martyn Everett’s introduction to the 1988 Phoenix Press edition of Anarcho-syndicalism by [Rudolf] Rocker;

Historically the oppressed and the disaffected have rallied to the standard of socialism because of its oppositional position within capitalism – an oppositional position which provides the appearance of a radicalism it did not possess. During periods of revolutionary potential, however, people see opportunities to go beyond attempts to ameliorate capitalism, and to instead abolish it altogether. It is important to realise, however, that this is not usually an apocalyptic conversion into revolutionary activity, but is an emerging process involving continual, but unsuccessful attempts to reconstruct a movement of socialist opposition, find new forms of organisation and activity as well as new forms of protest and expression. New movements appear, representing the interests of groups which have not previously confronted capital, and so lack the burden of tradition and the “password” phraseology of socialism, but which nonetheless possess greater potential for revolution. New ideas and new forms of organisation flourish.

Reading this today, I was struck at how readily – though Everett was referring to the movements of the late 80s – this analysis could apply to the anti-cuts struggles of now.

I’ve written before on how UK Uncut, alongside the student movement, had managed to mobilise a whole new generation of people and inject life into anti-cuts struggles. They pushed beyond the traditional leadership structures of the left, and their actions were far ahead of their politics. Adam Ford takes the analysis further in looking at the “Occupy” movement, set to explode globally tomorrow. In essence, what we have is ordinary people looking for new ways to resist and challenge the system, though not necessarily yet having adopted a revolutionary analysis to go alongside it.

This analysis is important because, as Adam says, it is the “no politics” mantra “which enables the formerly social democratic parties and their ‘left’ hangers on, against the building of a true revolutionary movement.” And the failure of such occupations to mirror the Egyptian experience by linking up with workers’ struggle is leaving it prey to a liberal vanguardism which takes ideas such as “direct action” and put a very different spin on them.

As Solidarity Federation argue;

Radical liberal activism talks about ‘direct action’, but it has a very different take on what that means compared to anarchists, based on a very different reading of history. For anarchists, Emile Pouget sums up the concept eloquently: “Direct Action is a notion of such clarity, of such self-evident transparency, that merely to speak the words defines and explains them. It means that the working class, in constant rebellion against the existing state of affairs, expects nothing from outside people, powers or forces, but rather creates its own conditions of struggle and looks to itself for its means of action.” This is the original idea of direct action as mass, collective, working class action carried out by workers themselves. For anarchists, it is mass struggles which change the course of history – winning things from the 8-hour day to universal suffrage.

However, the clarity and self-evident transparency that Pouget saw in the term ‘direct action’ has given way with the later emergence of a rival conception which in many ways is the opposite of the anarchist one. This radical liberal version is best summed up by an oft-quoted maxim by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Here instead of mass, collective, working class action we have individual, exemplary action by ‘committed citizens’. A clearer example of the gulf between anarchism and liberalism would be hard to find.

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Published in: on October 14, 2011 at 8:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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