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.
- From the archive of struggle: the Spanish Civil War at Warwick, the Marxist Internet Archive, and more (poumista.wordpress.com)
- Histories of the present: The riots etc (poumista.wordpress.com)