Here is a selection of our correspondence over the last year. Our dismissive remarks about comrades in the North of England in the last Letters Page has, fortunately, made no difference to the volume of correspondence we receive from that periphery. We do not make a point of publishing every letter we receive but do so when we think it raises an important issue or forces us to do this in reply. Both the letters and replies are often edited to some extent to remove personal details, requests for publications and other material irrelevant to the discussion.
1. Letter from Nottingham
I recently had a read of "Outside and Against the Unions" and have a few questions that have arisen from it. Most seem to be historical so if you don't have the time to answer them perhaps you could point me in the direction of some relevant publications.
First off, I know little about the events at Orgreave and would appreciate some more information on this. Why, apart from it being 'trench warfare against the pigs on a terrain they have chosen', was it a waste of time? Also, in what way was it pig-chosen?
The issue of when to support a particular struggle I find quite confusing. Are you saying that a struggle is to be supported while it is making demands but when it begins to compromise (i.e. negotiate the struggle away?) is when it should be criticised and, if necessary, actively opposed.
You say (on p8) that many miners' picket lines allowed non-NUM members to cross. I find this astonishing, have you any documentary evidence I could see? Surely this is a relatively recent development, I was under the impression that strikes used to spread quite readily in the '70s and before. It's frightening to think how blinded people become with the whole union game/rulebook.
When you talk of union bureaucracy on pg. 9 you missed a well-hammered point (maybe because it goes without saying) in that in creating professional negotiators you create a body of people who have an interest in continuing a situation where they retain their livelihood and status and for that reason (as well as the others you state) will only allow a struggle to go so far.
I would be interested to know more about the CGT's U-turn on the 1st World War. How did they justify it? Could you also explain what you mean by 'an area official in the NUM... would simply lose control' (bottom of pg. 10). How did the Communist Party undermine France May '68? Was it a simple case of telling the unions to tell the workers to go back to work?
I agree entirely that the unions, by their institutionalisation, can't help but promote corporatism, but isn't this inevitable with traditional trades based in long-standing communities? It seems that with an increasingly mobile workforce that, although you lose this corporatism, you 'gain' individualism, therefore losing the inherent strength of an old community.
Thanks for your time. Wildcat is, in my humble opinion, an excellent and provocative read and very accessible without being populist (although I thought the recession guide was a bit sketchy) and I look forward to seeing the next issue. Oh Yes, I was completely taken in by the Columbus half-page!
All The Best,
P.S. In your reply to Collide-O-Scope you say 'We are against any state, not for the moralistic reasons put forward by anarchists, but because it cannot be used for our purposes'. Could you explain further?
2. Reply to Nottingham
I'll deal with your comments about the OATU pamphlet starting with Orgreave. Orgreave was THE mass picketing event of the strike. It was widely seen by the Left and most miners as an opportunity to repeat the famous victory at Saltley in February 1972 during a previous miners' strike. Saltley coke depot was successfully shut down by a mass picket of thousands of miners joined by thousands of engineering workers from nearby factories. The picket was extremely peaceful by today's standards but the police were completely unprepared for dealing with such a thing and just had to admit that there was nothing they could do. This victory had been important because Saltley contained Britain's last substantial stockpile of coke for gas works (remember this was in the days before North Sea gas!) and power stations. Saltley is generally seen by the Left as THE example of mass workers' power, of defeating the enemy by sheer weight of numbers. Unfortunately for leftist mythologists (and the working class) police crowd control techniques have improved enormously since 1972. Large crowds can still take the police by surprise (as at Trafalgar Square) but not if we tell them in advance what we're going to be doing! Despite the heroic efforts and sacrifice of the pickets the attempt to shut down Orgreave coke depot was a complete failure. Some idea of what the pickets were up against can be got from reading State of Siege (Canary Press, 1984).
I think you are fundamentally misunderstanding what we're on about when you talk about "the issue of when to support a particular struggle". Their is no question of supporting a struggle or not. We always support the class struggle. The problem is one of when we support various organisational forms (strike committees, support groups, defence campaigns, soviets, hit squads, workers' militias...) which arise in the course of struggle. The creation of one of these forms can start off as an important advance in the struggle but later the committee (or whatever) can become something that holds the struggle back. At this point revolutionaries should denounce it and try to organise something else - a real strike committee as opposed to a trade union dominated negotiating committee, for example.
You find it astonishing that NUM members allowed members of other unions to cross their picket lines? It is standard trade union practice, you know! I'm not sure what you consider to be real documentary evidence (does it have to be signed by two school teachers in the presence of a magistrate?) but here's a copy of Workers' Playtime from during the miners' strike. We plagiarised quite a lot of information from the article "The Miners' Strike in Lancs". It contains a picture of some miners with a banner saying "Your day at work is your day of shame", which can't be bad. When I say that "an area official in the NUM... would simply lose control" I mean just that. If he became too "moderate" the miners would no longer feel they needed his permission to go on strike because he would have "sold out", ceased to be one of the lads.
You're right, I didn't mention the fact that union bureaucrats are often "corrupted" by their privileged position. Partly this is because, as you say, that it goes without saying that this happens. Partly it's because I think far too much is made of this, particularly by those who want to reform the unions or replace them with other unions. The point I wanted to make is that an organisation can act as a trade union (and therefore undermine struggles) even if it doesn't have an army of full-time officials and all the usual trappings of a respectable labour movement body. In any case, if you just want to make money and generally "get on" in the capitalist system you don't become a union bureaucrat, you become a manager. It may be shocking to low-paid workers that the leader of "their" union earns, say, £50,000 a year plus a flash car but by the standards of top company directors this is peanuts!
The Communist Party undermined May '68 not just by telling the unions to tell workers to go back to work (although it did do this). It ran the unions. It was also responsible for providing march stewards and other anti-proletarian thugs who physically prevented "outside agitators" from going to occupied factories. It also put out a great deal of misinformation (for example, trying to claim that left-wing "extremists" were really fascists - that old trick again!) and generally did everything they could to maintain "Order".
Yes, it's true that corporatism is almost inevitable where you have a long-standing community based on a particular industry (as in the coal industry). But unions don't just promote corporatism under these conditions. Unions promote corporatism in Basildon as well as Barnsley. It's certainly true that the destruction of these traditional working class communities is a defeat for the class. As capital comes to dominate more and more areas of life it becomes more and more difficult to live in any kind of community at all, apart from one which is openly antagonistic to capital.
When we say we are against all states "but not for the moralistic reasons put forward by anarchists" we are distancing ourselves from the view that it's wrong to run a state because revolutionaries are not in the business of "telling people what to do". The revolution does involve telling people what to do or, more often, telling them what not to do. Call us old-fashioned if you like... but we still believe in the dictatorship of the proletariat, something which is expressed in an embryonic form whenever strikers threaten to beat up anyone who crosses their picket line or a landlord is terrorised into reducing rent or calling off an eviction. The state is not some neutral administrative organ which can express the interests of any class, it can only express the dictatorship of capital. That's why we're against it.
Thanks for your encouraging remarks about Wildcat. We don't receive nearly enough fan mail.
3. Letter from Portland
I've been sent the last two issues of Wildcat, and I thought I'd drop you a letter. All in all I think Wildcat is one of the most dynamic revolutionary magazines I've read. Could you get it out more often?
Here's some comments on specific points.
1) In Wildcat #15, I felt one major connection was not made. In rejecting progress as a capitalist ideology (the review of Perlman's Against Leviathan!) we need to identify its meaning to the revolutionary projects of the past. Specifically, the Marxian trends... Your article on the Russian Revolution was a little too conspiratorial for my taste. I just cannot picture Lenin and the Bolsheviks being capitalists giving a line to the working class. It is just too simplistic. But the Bolsheviks definitely had a capitalist line. How come?
I would like to suggest that the social- democratic view of evolutionary socialism (i.e. that socialism would be the next stage beyond capitalism) was a major cause for the downfall of the Bolsheviks. This stages theory is consistent with most of Marx's and all of Engels' work and is the weak point in their Marxian methodology. Lenin et. al. believed that industry was necessary to the development of socialism. "Socialism is state ownership plus electricity." Being realists the Bolsheviks admitted that industry needs trained and coordinated administration. Thus, an administrative elite came about, usually from the former middle-to-upper administrators from the czarist regime, and capitalism recreated in a new form.
Now the need for centralized administration of large scale industry is realistic given the belief in industry. In being consistent with Messrs. Marx and Engels the Bolsheviks needed to develop and maintain capitalist industry, thus wound up being capitalists, through function. And our anarchist comrades shouldn't get too smug, these arguments were made by the anarcho-syndicalists during the Spanish revolution for their collaboration with the republic to keep the industries going. Thus the attack upon industrialism and work is fundamental to the attack upon capitalism. The break with leftism must come from a thorough attack upon the ideology of progress.
2) The issue of small action groups. Sticky question guys. yeah, small groups do get a lot done, but there are specific dangers to them as well, and your enthusiasm, while understandable, needs to be tempered - especially in print. Small action groups need to avoid substitutionism on their part and especially on the masses' part. There is a real tendency for people in mass movements to become less involved because action groups do the dirty (and dangerous) work for them. Small action groups also tend to become elitist amongst themselves.
3) Columbus (Wildcat #16) - the joke backfired here in the US, guys. Even I couldn't tell at first if you were kidding or not. I could only imagine what a lot of the people around here who would read this mag. would think, since those who are sympathetic to this trend tend to also be involved in Amerindian struggles.
4) Earth First! - In the US, EF! is an amazingly heterogeneous grouping, and your assessment of the organization is somewhat accurate. The problem is the development of the organization occurred in the exigencies of a large number of EF! people doing monkeywrenching. thus there was no center. "How can they infiltrate a marshmallow?" was the standard reasoning. The lot of them tended to be wanderers and outdoors types who would arrive, gather and disappear like a nomad tribe. But they got the necessary stuff done. The original people in EF! tended to be working class folks or at least oriented that way. The concept of monkeywrenching was supposed to have been taken from the experiences of the IWW and combined with the politics of the Luddites. (But for us to be successful it needs to be the other way round - kind of.) But this was also the 'redneck' (racist, anti-human) faction, who in many ways are unfortunately representative of rural working class culture in the Western USA.
The success of EF!, if there was one, was to give a subversive expression (i.e. sabotage) to the efforts to halt the destruction of the earth. With the development of the environmental movement the usual hangers on came to EF!, the students and the middle-class do-gooders. With them came the baggage of their social-classes, pacifism, etc. I was at the meeting where the end to tree spiking in the Pacific Northwest came about. Spiking (the placing of spikes in trees to ruin the timber milling blades) can endanger workers. While Eco-defence was very clear about avoiding injuring workers through spiking, the authors made a fatal assumption. That being the timber companies cared enough about workers' safety that they wouldn't send spiked trees though the mill. Of course the mill owners did send through spiked trees, and at least one worker was seriously injured. and this threat to workers' safety was used by the timber industry to divide workers and "environmentalists". Now at this meeting earth firsters met with radical loggers for the first time. It was agreed that EF! should abandon tree spiking because it attacked workers. But I also remember EF! people saying they wouldn't give up other forms of sabotage - especially against timber company equipment and property. One of the workers laughed and replied of course, sabotage as much as you want. He then went on with a short talk about all the sabotage by workers in the mills. Sabotage was eventually essentially abandoned by EF! for mass demonstrations as the organization became more hip and student orientated (i.e. middle class). The older, redneck faction refused (like most of the US working class) to recognize the social nature of the problem of environmental destruction, Thus couldn't effectively use the tactic of sabotage they rediscovered. The students and activoids refusing to give up the benefits of being middle class and able to access 'justice' could never accept sabotage and thus renounced the only tactic that really worked. EF!/US really doesn't exist any more. The activoids have run on to the newest mouvement-du-jour. The diehards continue to keep the name going, but the only place EF! seems to be growing is in the eastern US and in Europe - both places without much wilderness left.
Enough on the comments. Keep up the good work.
4. Letter from Ian, Sheffield
I'm pretty new to this game having a bit of involvement with some anarchist stuff but mainly living a hedonistic life on no money. However, escapism is the easiest way out of things. What I would like to know are your views on "Workerism and Workerist attitudes" within the left. Recently I have gone to a couple of meetings of a local Socialist Workers' Party branch just really to see their (lack of) reasoning and sit as an observer. I find their extreme workerism hard to take and their attitude to the unemployed is laughable. Recently we have seen another boost for the shoe leather industry -- yes, the left are organizing a "Right to Work" march to London.
Anyway, back to workerism. What really worried me was the latest issue of Organise! [magazine of the British group, the Anarchist Communist Federation - ed.] (who seem intent on forcing a strict definition parting of anarchist between rich liberal drop out types and arganised sub-trots). They had an article on the miners' struggle and I thought that this would be good to start a fucking positive discussion. Two reasons: (i) coal mining is the shittiest, hardest, degrading, body/mind destroying work ever. Never mind alienation a la Marx, you end up being alienated from your brain! (ii) coal mining is the driving force behind all the production in this country, ie. electricity, steel (for car working, industry) etc. etc..
So the ACF say "Keep the pits open, link up with car workers". We don't need any more fucking cars on our roads. Cars these days are designed to fall apart in five years, and are also designed with safety features forced by the notion that YES YOU ARE GOING TO CRASH because the traffic density is totally fucked up. It is ok. to argue should we organize in the workplace or not -- but we should be arguing to put an end to this useless commodity production. Workers talking with workers about what they want to do and what they don't want to do. My brother works at a car factory and the only thing he looks forward to is the game of football in his dinner hour. Sometimes I feel that a blatant "Keep the pits open" stance is little better than the trots who have their eyes on managing the whole show. As Against Sleep and Nightmare discusses - production for capitalism's sake vs. production for production's sake... when you're at the bottom of the pile misery is the only thing you experience. Maybe the ACF would call me a rich-liberal-anarchist, maybe I should be writing to the ACF? Working class... my dad started turning on his lathe at 16 and has been there for nearly 40 years making huge bobbins for yarn for the fashion industry, is this something to be proud of or romanticize?
For total change, for communism.
5. Reply to Ian, Sheffield
If you're living a hedonistic lifestyle on no money you're not doing too badly. Personally, I found that I couldn't live a hedonistic enough lifestyle on no money so I had to get a job!
But seriously.... We reject workerism of any kind. The proletariat is defined by its dispossession and its resistance to that dispossession, not by the fact that it sweats at the point of production. This is not to deny the importance of workplace struggle (or struggle in any other area of life). Historically the workplace has been an important site of struggle just because it has been a place where large numbers of proles were concentrated under the same roof with similar immediate concerns around pay/hours/conditions. This has even led the bourgeoisie to partially "legalise" the class struggle in this area through allowing official strikes, granting workers immunity from liability for loss of business etc. At the same time we have to recognise that the very category "workplace struggle", as something separate from the rest of life under capitalism, represents a defeat for the working class. It is an expression of the victory of the "factory system", beginning in England in the early 19th Century. As is well described by E. P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class (if you haven't read it its well worth going out and stealing, his new Customs in Common is pretty good too) the factory system developed before large-scale machinery - it was a means of curbing the indiscipline of semi-artisanal workers by bringing them together under the watchful eye of the overseer and factory boss. Before the victory of this system there was no clear distinction between workplace and community struggles. Were the Luddites a "community struggle" or a "workers' movement"? It's a meaningless question. In the 18th Century it was usually prices rather than wages which brought the dispossessed out onto the streets - and why not?
Today workerism (overall fetishism?) is quite obviously opposed to the class struggle as was clearly demonstrated by the anti-poll tax struggle. For months and months the SWP denied that there could be an APT struggle because it wasn't a workplace issue. They finally jumped on the bandwagon when they realised that if they didn't Militant might gain more recruits than them!
I think your question about the relationship between struggling for improvements within this society (keeping your job, getting a higher wage, more dole money etc.) and struggling against this society (dynamiting the pits, demolishing the car factories, fucking in the streets etc.) is a very important one. I think one way of looking at it is in terms of the limitations of any struggle which confines itself to one sector of the economy or one area of life. If you are struggling purely as a miner what else can you do besides "save the pits"? We discuss this in some depth in the pamphlet about the trade unions.
The slogan "Keep the pits open" is pretty reactionary (though, perhaps, not as bad as "Save the British coal industry"). But I don't think this means that we're against all "reformist" demands. There was nothing wrong with shouting "No Poll Tax", particularly while trashing the West End of London. There would be nothing wrong with the demand "No Redundancies" in connection with the pits, particularly as its really a demand against work given that the reason companies make redundancies is either because they don't have enough orders to keep everyone busy or they think they can get away with increasing the intensity of work for the workers who are left.
Yours for the Abolition of Work, for real hedonism on NO MONEY,
Alan for Wildcat
P.S. Thanks for the tenner.
6. Letter from ABC, Sheffield
PO Box 446, Sheffield, S1 1NY, UK.
It was good to see an article (Wildcat #16) seriously getting to grips with the whole issue of prisons and (Ruling Class) "Justice". As a member of the Anarchist Black Cross and writer for Taking Liberties it pisses me off how most revolutionaries either ignore it or dismiss it as somehow not central to the class struggle. Obviously this is bullshit as the Prison system and the whole concept of (Ruling Class) "Justice" is the biggest stick the state has to beat us with. It's a reality we all face and as such should be part of any Class Struggle revolutionary's agenda. British prisons are concentration camps for the working class and although only a tiny minority are in for 'political' crimes, the prisons are full of our class engaged as a result in direct confrontation with the state and all its bully-boys.
The article itself was good, comprehensive in its coverage of recent events, but I'd like to comment on a few things.
Of course the Royal Commission will be a whitewash; the State has no interest in improving the lives of those it locks away, it'd quite happily leave them to rot if it thought it could get away with it. The only reasons it considers 'reforms' is to shut up the liberals such as Judge Tumin, and most importantly because prisoners have shown that if they don't then they'll take the fucking places apart! This Royal Commission will not happen until probably 1994, results made public a couple of years later - plenty of time to paper over the cracks. No doubt the Home Office will buy a few more table tennis tables, install in-cell lavatories etc. but meanwhile there'll still be 23 hour lock-up in most prisons and the standard screw brutality. Naturally we should welcome changes that make the lives of our incarcerated friends and comrades easier, but our fight is not one for reforms but for the destruction of all prisons.
You wrote that we should not "demand Justice": well, we should never demand the sort of "Justice" that we're brought up on - it's as likely as nicking fog. What we should be demanding is CLASS JUSTICE. Whether we all agree as what this means in theory and practice is by the by - we have to start working towards it now. If we want to take back control over our own lives then we've got to be able to look after our communities, defend them from attacks by the state and also from the anti-social dicks among us, and protect the weaker and more vulnerable sections of the community (eg. the old and sick). Class Justice can only come from us, from our communities, whether it be running drug dealers out, punishing rapists etc. we have to start working towards it because when the cops fuck off (as is the case in many parts of the country) there's only us left.
I completely agree with your statement that we should support demands of Irish prisoners (see Taking Liberties #7). Issues such as location of prisoners, however, is not something peculiar to Irish POWs, though of of course it affects them most severely. One of the reasons why teenagers, sent down for the first time as vulnerable and scared kids, when imprisoned 200 miles away from their families and friends, take their own lives, is the isolation, fear and depression this causes. As a consequence the State has the blood of these "young offenders'" deaths on its hands.
As you say revolutionaries must make prisoner support work a priority and about time too. Since the demise of Black Flag, Taking Liberties has been reporting on the Class Struggle within Britain's prisons trying to encourage increased understanding of what goes on in them and to draw comrades on the outside into the struggle. A major reason why this is not a priority is that prisons and what goes on in them remains 'mystified' and 'distant' to many people, but this can be changed.
Grem for Taking Liberties.
PS. There are TWO jails in Durham - Albert Dryden (no. CK0635) is in FRANKLAND. Kenny Carter (no. AD3434) is now in Full Sutton. Please print our address - enclosed are TL 2-7, #1 is now out of print.
7. Reply to ABC, Sheffield
Thanks for your letter of 30.9.92. It was particularly welcome in that it was the first positive response we have received to Wildcat 16. Most of the feedback we have had so far has been totally negative and frankly discouraging. If however the Justice article has helped in however small a way to push the issue of prisoners' support up the agenda, it will have been worth publishing. Now to come on to your detailed differences with our positions. Originally, the article was intended to be a theoretical discussion about the origins of the concept of Justice and its development during early capitalism, describing how the rise of wage labour measured by labour time corresponded with, physically and conceptually, the emergence of the prison system. Unfortunately, we didn't get time to write that article, so the bits explaining why we are against Justice got a bit squeezed by the LA stuff.
The point we tried to make is this : Justice, if it means anything at all, means exchanging a particular quantity of punishment for a measurably equivalent quantity of crime. Judges, in sentencing people, refer to the need to deter others, the need to protect the public, and other such noble motives, but one rationalization they usually come out with is the rightness of punishing miscreants according to a "tariff" of sentences which correspond to the crime allegedly committed. Each crime is "worth" roughly a given amount of punishment. For example, robbery of larger amounts of money is likely to result in longer prison sentences than smaller amounts. Murder carries a longer sentence than burglary because a human life is considered to be worth more than a video recorder. A murder is worth about 16 years, a rape about 4 years, and a burglary perhaps 2 years. So, roughly speaking, 1 murder = 4 rapes, 1 rape = 2 burglaries. Justice means quantifying crimes according to some theoretical unit of measurement, just like money is used to measure the value of goods, a unit which must be equally applicable to crime and punishment, otherwise it would be impossible to assign the punishment which equals the crime.
We agree with what you say about the need for the working class to deal with anti social elements within its ranks. However, this has nothing to do with Justice. We are not interested in punishing someone, in making them pay. We are only interested in preventing anti working class activities. The actions of self-defence carried out by the working class should not be calculated according to what the anti social element in question deserves, but solely according to what is required to achieve the deterrent and preventative aim. Victims of criminals understandably want revenge, but this is not something we defend. Since we do not defend the exchange relationship, we are not interested in Justice. So we would not use the term "Class Justice" to describe acts of working class defence.
We take your point about the Royal Commission being a whitewash as far as improving prison conditions is concerned, but we do think there is a serious effort within the ruling class to improve the record of the police. The growing contempt for the bastards in blue worries the state, because the police are nowhere near strong enough to control even a medium-sized upsurge in class confrontation by brute force. They rely on consent. They are by their brutality and arrogance, undermining this consent. The bourgeoisie therefore wants to reform the police - and the rest of the criminal justice system which, it is increasingly clear, has conspired to put hundreds of innocent men and women behind bars. Whether they can achieve this reform, is another matter. We also accept what you say about the demand to be kept near families applying to prisoners from the mainland as well as to Irish prisoners, particularly young first-time prisoners from the mainland, who, as you rightly argue, are often driven to suicide by isolation.
Finally, we reiterate our commitment to make prisoner support work one of the priorities of revolutionaries today. Thanks for the numbers of Albert Dryden and Kenny Carter, and the copies of Taking Liberties. Keep up the good work.
Yours for communism,
in the spirit of Eugene V. Debs,
an American Beowulf, who was like both a
sacred covenant rainbow
for all the blue proletariat
bolt of crimson lightning from a
powerful electromagnetic storm
and struck fiercely against the
industrial money monsters who
were mute, blind, stark and cold
to all colors of tears and as
brutal, bloodthirsty and beastly
as the Anglo-Saxon monster Grendel!
Strike like a prairie grass fire by the light of the Morning Star at dawn, or
Strike like a heat wave by the light of the scorching sun at noon, or
Strike like a hurricane by the reflective light of the full moon at midnight,
But strike, as passionately as you love to make love.
[We assumed that our readers would realize that we published this as a joke. Keep up the good work, Tashunka, wherever you are... though we suspect it might be on the West Coast...]