Nihilist reactions to self-management

The factory takeover at Republic has captured the imaginations and energy of anti-capitalists all over. I wrote earlier about avoiding illusions and projecting motives onto the workers. Now that the occupation itself is over we are all free to provide our over-analyses and project our desires onto the vague "movement" this may or may not inspire. I'll let others with closer links speak to the results for the workers themselves; what I'm interested here is anarchist response and possibility.

A common failing among anti-capitalist analysis is the impulse to call for self-management of the Republic factory, and the fetishization of re-occupation & production generally as revolutionary strategy. Is self-management good for workers, and is self-management good for revolution? The answer to both questions is -- well, kinda, sorta, maybe.

One report from Republic workers I've heard is that they were wary about taking over and running the factory themselves, not because they don't think they're capable, but instead that the window market is terrible right now, and it would likely be extremely costly and risky for them. Getting their checks was just a better financial decision, and financial ruin is not much of a sustainable revolutionary strategy. A program of self-management here stifles the possibility for more enriching aims -- like, say, workers demanding two to ten times the money they are legally owed, fencing factory machinery, or turning the building itself into a collective home for workers who could no longer pay their mortgages.

If the Republic action is indicative of a form worker resistance could take during this crisis, how does it speak to our desire for anarchy? When anarchists are uninvolved in the intimate planning and execution of worker actions, what points of commonality can be found with the workers and how can anarchists engage with and support these struggles without abandoning their principles?

A discussion over the weekend demanded anarchists not only fight "against" the establishment but "for" something. It is vital anarchists reject this demand, inasmuch as it is a call to develop a positive program for struggle or a blueprint (or even, I daresay, a rough outline) for an alternative society. It is an understandable impulse, but in the same way self-management transforms from a weapon into a limitation, so too does a political program go from a guide to a chain. Political programs are for Leftists -- social planners who want to impose their version of justice onto others. Anarchists desire free societies, decentralized and autonomous communities deciding for themselves as appropriate for their situations. Freedom has no program.

It is from this aspect that anarchists can find commonality with rebellious workers like those holding Republic Windows. The particulars of their action are irrelevant -- what is especially inspiring is the spirit of autonomy and the rejection of capitalist law and logic. Leftists call for the workers to re-start production, to strike and make demands, to fight for a return to normalcy; anarchists should encourage only autonomous decision making (free of the political hacks and boundaries) and offer whispers of radical possibilities.

Anarchist participation was limited not because of an extremist political ideology but the lack of personal relationships with those engaged in struggle. While anarchists waited for guidance and requests from the workers, the workers had no knowledge of the skills and resources anarchists supporters might be able to contribute.

Unconditional anarchist support for workers struggles does not mean a lack of critical analysis -- now that the occupation has ended, anarchists should learn from the action and use it to shape our direction as we move ahead. The quick action of politicians, union officials and others shaped the form of the demands that were made. How should anarchists apply efforts in situations when they are clearly on the outside, and bureaucrats' grip keep it that way?

In the wake of the resolution of the dispute, a fund has been created to attempt to revive the factory operations. Some earlier reports spoke of trying to find new management for the company. It remains to be seen to what extent the fund would create a worker- or union-managed factory, or whether it would be used to find new masters. And either way, the resolution itself re-affirms capitalist power and the workers must again submit themselves to the rule of the global economy. What worthwhile contributions can anarchists make so that this scenario does not continue to play itself out?

If this action really is going to be an example for laborers around the U.S. and elsewhere, what are the best ways to contribute to the spread of its momentum? Is workplace-occupation to become just another issue on the plate of issues for anarcho-activists? Is renewed effort on traditional worker organizing vital to spread resistance to the economy, or are there others ways that will create initiative and space for mass criminality and autonomy that carry the same threat to the capitalist order as a factory occupation would?


AMEN said...

I must say, as an anarchist that drove from a far distance with 5 other anarchists to come to chicago to give a radical push to the movement started by the workers, i was very disappointed by the response of the chicago anarchists. instead of going to the factory to provide the point of conflict, they watched a movie about a factory take-over. i wrote a post here: http://thefranklinhouse.blogspot.com/2008/12/on-chicagoland-resistance-and-our-next.html
i know this will piss people off, but it should. we should all be pissed about our lack of critical response to a call put out by the workers. "we hope this is just the beginning of a bigger movement" - one of the workers of republic.

Criminal Anarchy said...

I think it's great that you were willing to travel 5 hours to support a protest by some factory workers, but the long drive doesn't entitle you to show up and start shouting your own slogans at other supporters during their own rally that you know nothing about. (Interfaith Worker Justice may be a religious and Leftist institution, both sucky ideas, but they are not just there for the cameras). My entire point about the Left in these last couple posts has been that that's their entire lame ass MO -- show up to something you have no part in and start inserting your message before listening to the folks actually engaged in struggle. The only thing you were missing is a stack of the Industrial Worker to pass out.

Yeah, it can be disappointing when anarchists and anarchist ideas aren't leading the charge during ruptres in class struggle, especially totally sweet shit like a factory takeover. But the question of giving things a "radical push" goes far beyond flying in from out of town like an executive from one of those national activist groups and bringing along preachy evangelical methods. I don't know whether what you were doing was because of "white privilege" but it was a totally douchebag thing to do that I'd expect from the Sparts or wacko religious folks (and, well, to be honest, elitist anarchist jackoffs), not wobs. What kind of radical push do you think you can provide in two days without risking anything yourself?

It's pretty fucked when you criticize folks for watching 'the Take' and not being at the factory, because that makes it more obvious you don't know what you're talking about. First, the workers though didn't need a swarm of Lefty tourists standing around contributing nothing and it's pretty lame to hang around just to say "I was there!" and snap a Myspace photo when you're not actually a part of the struggle.

Second, many Chicago anarchist folks had been at the factory multiple times for hours throughout the weekend, delivering food, chatting with workers and organizers, supporting the demos and putting together phone trees. The viewing of 'The Take' was an outgrowth of a discussion had with an organizer at the factory who had asked us to find a copy of it to screen at the factory. Our viewing was complimentary to that, and the purpose of the screening was to spark practical discussion about ideas that had for us until then been only abstract. If the occupation had gone on longer, events like anarchist movie screenings or discussions would be essential to developing anarchists' understanding of the events and finding ways to contribute momentum in ways that are actually worthwhile.

Workers don't need anarchists to provide the point of conflict -- they know what it is, they are living it.