Monday, 21 March 2011

Zusammenmarschieren & the 'New Syndicalists'

THIS MONTH a dispute broke out among the 'new syndicalists' formerly attached to the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) about how best to proceed and create a movement for radical syndicalism. The main argument was about the best tactics to use in the everyday world of work and the labour movement. The basis of the dispute was the dissembling behaviour of a union leader, in this case Bob Crow in his apparent support for the Socialist Party (formerly the Militant Tendency), against the other political groups in the NSSN.

One side argued that given the slippery vacillation of Bob Crow over this issue which led to large-scale resignations by syndicalists and others from the NSSN steering committee in January, was such that he and the half-baked political group - the Trade Union & Socialist Coalition (TUSC) - to which he and the Socialist Party are linked became a valid target for criticism and lampoon: after all, why had we resigned from the NSSN if we didn't want to hurt people's feelings? Others said that we should exercise foresight, be more pragmatic and restrained in our dealings and, it seems, avoid hurting the feelings of union leaders so that henceforth they would not be able 'to hold a justifiable public grudge in future'.

This confrontation in turn led to some interesting comments, one from 'Nick D' who wrote: 'I want to see syndicalism develop as an industrial and political force that moves millions. That requires pragmatism, to build power. Not anarcho political program in a vacuum (sic).' About a century ago the idea of syndicalism had a strong following among some groups of industrial workers and trade unionists in this country, and in 1912, the South Wales Miners published a syndicalist booklet called 'The Miners Next Step'.

One of the things that attracted me to these 'new syndicalists' with their historical roots in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and Liberty & Solidarity was their down-to-earth, business-like approach to the trade unions and labour movement. Here were a group of young people who seemed to lack the antiquated sectarian baggage of the other affiliated anarcho-syndicalist organisations. But not being sectarian should not mean that we lose the critical vitamin when dealing with people like Bob Crow and smelly little political orthodoxies like their TUSC.

The call of 'Nick D' for 'an industrial and political force that moves millions' and 'power before programme' is what Wyndham Lewis called the 'associational habit' of mind and is very north European, very Anglo-Saxon and very retro. We had such a thing in the TUC for much of the last century up to about 1985: that is what Jimmy Pinkerton, international secretary of the Syndicalist Workers Federation circa 1960, used to call 'pure syndicalism' or 'syndicalism without the vision'. It ended with the defeat of the miners. In Germany, according to Ignazio Silone, it went some way to explain why the German workers' attitude toward fascism was different from that of the Spaniards. Silone wrote in 'School for Dictators' that 'the growth of big industry has been a powerful help in reinforcing the tendency of Germans - workers included - toward zusammenmarschieren (marching together).' His conclusion regarding the German workers was that 'individual initiative has been reduced to zero' and 'their interparty struggles are essentially struggles between different machines'.

Nick D's proposal for 'power before programme' would mean that the program or vision would be set by others such as the Labour Party or, shabby little shockers like the Trade Union & Socialist Coalition under Bob, Alex Gordon of the RMT and Linda Taaffe of the Socialist Party. This weekend will see the British Left marching together against the Government cuts in public services - zusammenmarschieren - like a machine but it will be an intellectually and morally bankrupt machine and one perhaps even more derelict than the Government of millionaires that we are protesting against.

1 comment:

Dick Dutch said...

Another priceless quote that came up was "I see no point whatsoever in
offending the leadership of any trade union at all at this point in
time". Jesus wept...