"Lefty" Hooligan -- What's Left?

column from MRR #174 - November 1997

"The destructive urge is also a creative urge." Mikhail Bakunin; Russian anarchist revolutionary (1814-76)

"It is we who built those palaces and cities here in Spain and America and everywhere. We, the workers, can build others to take their place. And better ones. We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth." Buenaventura Durruti; Spanish anarchist militia leader (1896-1936)

"Words cannot save us! Words don't break chains! The deed alone makes us free! Destroy what destroys you!" attributed to Michael "Bommi" Baumann; West German urban guerrilla/June 2nd Movement (1948-  )

"We are in favor of mass working class violence, out in the open; not created or led by Class War or others, but developing according to its own dynamic, as a means of self-empowerment, a means amongst others of giving people a belief in their ability to overthrow the state. The violence of a working class community in struggle is always preferable to that of an elitist armed struggle group." from Class War's "open letter to revolutionaries" (summer 1997)

It's a leftist cliché to state that revolutions aren't pink teas. In particular social revolutions, the rising up of the working classes against society's ruling class, are invariably violent if for no other reason than the ruling class in question never gives up power without a fight. Even Gandhi's "nonviolent revolution" experienced the violence of first the British empire and then intercommunal Hindu/Muslim strife. As a rule, the broader the revolution among the general population, the less violent. Yet the shedding of blood is all but inevitable in any revolution.

US political pundits, liberal and conservative alike, deplore revolutionary violence even as they enshrine the American revolution. While not as bloody as the French revolution, the American example confiscated more private property and sent more folks into exile than did those guillotine happy Jacobins. Aside from the dubious moral stance, this distinction between "good" and "bad" revolutions obscures the historic role played by revolution. Hold on to your theory caps. This is gonna require a healthy dose of oversimplified Marxism to explain.

Marx understood the major historical social systems as "modes of production." Slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, etc. are all modes of production. The two major, interacting components to any mode of production, according to Marx, are the "forces of production" and the "relations of production." The forces of production comprise the physical means of production—factories, businesses and farms with their machinery and technologies—as well as such things as accumulated techniques, skills, knowledge, etc. The relations of production are how the major socio-economic classes in society interact politically, economically and socially; e.g. the actual class struggle. Since Marx defined classes by way of their relationship to the means of production (capitalists owning the means of production, workers owning only their own labor which they sell to the capitalists for example), these two components mutually relate in fundamental ways in order to define the greater mode of production. The forces of production are developed through the class struggle, but ultimately they outstrip the relations of production and, in order for the latter to catch up, social revolution occurs and a new mode of production is established.

In Marx's scheme of things, the forces of production in western Europe circa 1700 had advanced to the point where a capitalist mode of production could be sustained, even while the relations of production remained thoroughly feudal, based around nobility, clergy and peasantry. The feudal mode of production in all its complexity had developed these advanced, proto-capitalist forces of production, but by the 18th century feudalism's relations of production were actually constraining the potential in these productive forces. Cromwell's England in 1653, the American states of the "founding fathers" from 1776, France after 1789; these were violent, cutting edge, bourgeois revolutions. The nascent capitalist class's revolutionary overthrow of feudalism's ancien regime in two of these three revolutions started to liberate the capitalist forces of production from the feudal relations of production across Europe, at the same time it initiated a new class struggle between capitalists and workers within a newborn international capitalist mode of production.

In turn capitalism as a world-wide mode of production has presently developed the forces of production to the point where a socialist mode of production is possible. We could have stateless, post-scarcity communism today if it were simply up to the forces of production. The capitalist relations of production now act to restrain this revolutionary potential to abolish wage labor altogether. Fomenting a revolt against work thus can play a central role in constituting a present day revolutionary socialism. Organizing for social revolution from an anti-work perspective can be advanced in a number of ways. I'm fond of a strategy I call pushing the production envelope. The strategy is to force a crisis between the capitalist relations of production and the post-capitalist forces of production.

Something like this might happen if the working class, unionized and not, fought to significantly reduce the work week. As a practical, minimalist demand, say a "four hour work day at eight hours pay" pushes the post-capitalist forces of production toward their limits, slamming them hard up against the capitalist relations of production in a crisis that theoretically cracks the capitalist mode of production in social revolution. This idea has deep historical roots. At the turn of the century the demand for an "eight hour work day at no reduction in pay" that challenged work days of ten, twelve, fourteen hours united trade unionists, socialists and anarchists. The CIO demand for a "forty hour work week at no reduction in pay" that protested six and seven day work weeks helped to galvanize labor struggles in the 1930's.

Many more actions can be taken with a strategy of pushing the production envelope in mind, most of which I've mentioned in previous columns. Some of these can be used individually, but collective action is recommended to make them most effective. Using these informally, that is outside of union struggles and without even a formal link to the demand for a "four hour day at eight hours pay," achieves a similar breakdown in the capitalist relations of production that in turn pushes the envelope of the post-capitalist forces of production, making workers simultaneously less productive and less governable.
Walkout/strike: your basic work stoppage usually carried out by a union, or a group of workers forming a union who leave the workplace to push certain demands. A walkout is of short duration, a strike  is potentially much longer.

Wildcat walkout/strike: same as walkout/strike, only workers are not unionized, or are acting without union backing.

Slowdown: deliberately slowing down the pace of work.

Work to rule: creating inefficiency and confusion in the workplace by following every rule, regulation and order to the letter, even if they contradict each other.

Social strike: usually for service industries, workers strike by remaining on the job and giving away unpaid-for or extra goods and services to the public.

Sitdown strike: strike where workers occupy the workplace so that facilities are unusable and replacements can't be brought in.

Quickie strike: a strike timed and executed so that it can be won in minutes.

Whistle-blowing: reporting fraud, illegal practices, violations of government laws and regulations, etc., to the proper authorities.

Sick-out: everybody calls in sick on a given day or days to cripple the workplace.

Inefficiency: deliberately not doing your best on the job.

Quiet expropriation: taking back some of the time and labor expropriated by the boss through workplace theft, use of company time, supplies and equipment for personal work, etc.

Self-reduction: collective action by workers to initiate proletarian "reductions" in cost of living, such as boarding public transport en mass without paying fares, walking through checkout lines en mass refusing to pay for groceries, etc.

Sabotage: using "dirty tricks," destruction of tools or materials, misinformation, hacking etc. to hamper workplace procedures, hinder production, or hurt individuals in positions of authority.

Monkey-wrenching: same as sabotage, except with a community focus.

Destroying corporate property: deliberate destruction of workplace/corporate property solely to cost the ownership or to demolish the workplace/corporation.

Intimidating corporate management/ownership: use of sabotage, threat or physical violence against workplace management or ownership, their personal property or families to intimidate them individually and breed fear in their class.

General Strike: society-wide strike of workers, affecting whole industries and entire communities.

Dual power: workers ignore management and ownership to de facto run their workplace according to their own processes and authorities. Can also apply to working class neighborhoods and communities.

Big takeover: workers seize the workplace outright and run it themselves, removing management and ownership from the premises. Can also apply to working class neighborhoods and communities.

If you want to explore the above more deeply, let me suggest three resources I've also mentioned before:

1) Sabotage in the Workplace, ed. Martin Sprouse (book; Pressure Drop Press; PO Box 469754, San Francisco, CA 94146);

2) Worker's Guide to Direct Action (pamphlet; Industrial Workers of the World; 1095 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94103); 

3) your imagination. Number three is really your only limit.

The sitdown strike, direct action, sabotage, class intimidation, dual power; the Industrial Workers of the World pioneered many and practiced all of the tactics described above. For more info on the IWW's history there's Solidarity Forever: An Oral History of the IWW by Bird, Georgakas and Shaffer, The Industrial Workers of the World—1905-1917 by Philip S. Foner, Red November, Black November by Salvatore Salerno, and The IWW—Its First Seventy Years—1907-1975 by Thompson and Murfin. A mere romantic artifact, the IWW these days is the curator of its own radical heritage, with a membership hovering around 2-300. The CIO, discussed last column, built on certain IWW ideas and actions, though sabotage and similar types of direct action was strongly discouraged. The UAW, UMW, Longshoremen and other unions unofficially practiced militant forms of direct action, sabotage, class intimidation, etc. at different times in the CIO's mixed history of militancy between 1935-47. Some of the best first-hand descriptions of this class war remain Teamster Rebellion and Teamster Power both by Farrel Dobbs. A Trotskyist, Dobbs was prominent in the SWP and the AFL's Teamsters during their glory days, and was convicted in the first Smith Act trial of 1941.

The molecular strategy of labor organizing described last column is intended to work with this column's strategy of pushing the production envelope. Both are intended to build off each other. Together, they define a revolutionary class struggle that goes beyond the class politics-as-usual of labor unions and labor parties; a revolutionary class struggle capable of pressuring rank-and-file union struggles to become more radical; a revolutionary class struggle that has as its basic premise making society ungovernable at the base. Last column I said it was necessary to threaten real social revolution just to get a few reformist crumbs. That's the least significant reason to encourage widespread class-based rebellion. The proliferation of workers' collectives and revolutionary organizations engaged in direct action, sabotage and class intimidation is an exercise of social power. It opens up a broad arena of self-activity and self-organization out of which working-class organs of self-government can emerge. The working class thus becomes insurrectionary at the same time it starts to become aware of itself as a class, with its own class interests in opposition to the interests of society's ruling class.

A ruling class that needs to be overthrown so that the working class can emancipate itself.

I've spent a lot of time talking about the strategy and tactics of violence. It's time to get back to revolutionary social change. In other words, class war and class violence.
The administration of violence by the capitalist class is characterized by systemic and bureaucratic abstraction. This is most obvious in the role of the state as the monopoly of legitimate violence in society as well as the executive "committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." I'll discuss the state next column. Consider instead when a manager fires a longtime worker at the behest of ownership "downsizing." No thought was ever given to the violence this did to the individual worker and his or her family, until "going postal" stopped referring just to disgruntled postal workers. Managers and owners are now increasingly afraid to discipline or fire workers for fear of sabotage and retribution. The threat of lawsuits has made managers and owners fearful even of passing on detrimental information about former workers to their new bosses. This may not be organized class action, but making the bosses scared to dispense their daily violence is a step in the right direction. It's also one of the first steps in taking on capitalism's systemic violence with working class violence. To paraphrase Class War's final "open letter to the revolutionary movement," the lockout of Detroit newspaper workers is violence, child prostitution is violence, the prison system is violence, living in a cardboard box under the freeway overpass is violence.

Capitalism is violence.

The combined strategies of molecular labor organizing and pushing the production envelope aim at turning fear among the bourgeoisie into terror. Making society ungovernable comes down to terrorizing the rich. Making their lives at least as miserable and as dangerous as they make ours. Destroying what destroys you. I'll get up close and personal about why I think capitalism needs to be destroyed next column.


PS TO JASON USELESS... "Lefty" Hooligan is a pseudonym for a pure political type, that being anti-statist communism, a subset of left communism. Also called council communism, it comes out of the socialist theory and practice of Pannekoek, Gorter, Ruhle, Barrot, Mattick, et al (check out http://www.geocities.com/~johngray/index.htm for left communism on the web.) I myself have somewhat broader politics which sometimes slips into the column, and I feel comfortable identifying with class struggle anarchists, libertarian and revolutionary socialists, autonomists and various other left-of-left tendencies. With left communists, I stand for the autonomous self-activity and self-organization of the working class, not for the unions and political parties that claim to represent the interests of the working class. I work in entirely left communist groups, but I also work in broader organizations with social democrats, Leninists, even (gasp!) liberals.

This spectrum between a "pure" pseudonym at one end and my own day-to-day practical politics at the other end is important. I am highly critical of various tendencies on the Left, though I have and continue to work with many individuals and organizations whose politics I've trashed in this column. Call this a contradiction. I call it being realistic. I work with folks I don't agree with, and I continue to criticize them while still engaging in political activism with them. For example, I'm extremely critical of unionism, which I consider a dead end, yet I belong to a union. I accept incremental reforms though I don't settle for them, preferring to fight for revolutionary changes whenever possible. Aside from paying my union dues (and working a 40/week prol job I might add), I do public transportation activism (anti-BART/bus fare hikes; pro self-reduction), some Critical Mass support (I don't own a bike), some tenant stuff, and other community/labor issues in my home town, which happens to be Oakland. I live in Oakland (a much more racially integrated working class community than St. Louis I dare say), not San Francisco. Please don't confuse the two. Oakland is near but not the same as San Francisco, just as Newark is near but not the same as New York. Yes it is more expensive to live in the Bay Area, which also means that its tougher on working class folks to make ends meet here. You must have only skimmed my book End Time, and poorly at that because there is a poor black character through whom the situation in Oakland is partially viewed. And by the way, social revolutions are pure spontaneity when compared to the stultifying game of electoral politics you advocate. My focus on middle class college kids in the book is so that I can critique those politics, not identify with them. For the record, I portray them as living in a suburban bedroom community outside San Francisco, not a high-security compound, and they are middle class, not rich. Again, some basic reading skills on your part would help. I have no problem with the Zapatistas doing anything they want.

I do have a problem with their knee-jerk supporters (including you apparently) claiming that what they're doing is socialist or revolutionary. It is neither, nor is it very bold. Zapata and the armed movement he lead after 1910 was far more radical (to the point of anarchist communism) than the current lot of Zapatistas. In both situations the peasants worked "16 hours a day for a few tortillas." The difference is that Zapata was a revolutionary. The current EZLN are not. Finally, to social democracy. Funny that you held back your criticisms until your own political ox was gored. Whatever happened to that "ecumenical" Leftist solidarity when it came to defending your Leninist-Trotskyist-Stalinist-Maoist "brothers and sisters" from my slanderous words? Never mind that Leninists-in-power have reeducated, jailed, disappeared, exiled, tortured, assassinated, executed or murdered their social democratic "comrades"—people with politics just like yours—as predictably as sunrise and sunset. In turn I could easily continue the historical examples of social democratic movements and regimes betraying working class militancy and social revolution beyond Germany 1918 to fill an entire book. From that history (as well as from my own experiences from the 1960's to the present) I've concluded that socialism doesn't come about through electoral means, but through "bold, defiant armed" working class "uprising." Through revolutionary action in other words. By the way, now that I've given you a little clue as to what I do politically beyond writing this column, what the hell do you do? Not that tallying up our respective political involvements means much, but you brought it up...

PERSONAL PROPAGANDA... I can be contacted at hooligan@sirius.com. My book, End Time, can be purchased from AK Press (POB 40682, SF, CA 94140-0682) for $10. Keep sending me your newsworthy items and interesting news clippings c/o MRR.