Unionism and Anti-Fascism
Submitted on Wed, 11/30/2016 - 3:13pm
Statement on Opposing All Oppression from the Twin Cities GDC Local 14
1. ANY SUCCESSFUL WORKER REVOLUTION WILL REQUIRE PARTICIPATION FROM DIVERSE MEMBERS OF THE WORKING CLASS, CURRENTLY DIVIDED BY MANY OPPRESSIONS.
We fight against capitalism. We do so because capitalism is organized theft based on hierarchy. We unionize because fighting this authoritarian theft can be done most successfully in the workplace, at the point of production. In unionizing we face many challenges, from creating strategies and tactics to accomplish our goals, as well as maintaining morale, fighting spirit, and solidarity with each other.
One of the most difficult challenges the working class faces is that of oppressive social divisions. We may be of a single class, but we are not the same as a result. In addition to experiencing the oppressions of our class, we have differing experiences of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-semitism and Islamphobia, along with other types of oppressions. Some of us experience privilege on the basis of our race, sex, gender, or religion, while others among us experience oppression on precisely the same grounds.
The ruling classes know this, of course. It is one of their favorite strategies for destroying organized workers: divide and conquer. Many of these oppressions exist in starkest relief in America’s massive prison-industrial system, where wardens encourage and enforce racial segregation and violence among prisoners, precisely as a system of maintaining control. These forms of control through oppression are not limited to prisons, of course. We see and experience them in our daily lives, and in our workplaces as well.
To maintain solidarity with all workers requires that we maintain explicit solidarity with workers on the diverse grounds of their oppression. Our revolution cannot maintain a merely minimal, workerist, program which concentrates on the oppression of labor and leaves other problems solely to those workers who face them. Given the still relatively homogenous makeup of the Industrial Workers of the World, to do so sends a clear message to the working class experiencing such oppressions that the class struggle and their struggles against racism, gendered, or religious oppression are separate issues. If you were already struggling to keep the basics of your life together in the face of constant attacks on your person, would you be interested in taking on another massive but unconnected struggle in your workplace? By pointing out the ways in which struggles against all oppression support and further our collective freedom from class and other oppressions, we gain strength as a union.
Neither have we proceeded, historically, with a minimal program of workplace organization that leaves other oppressions unchallenged. The Industrial Workers of the World were founded in 1905 in part precisely to overcome the divisions of race, sex, religion, language, nationality, etc., among the working class. Militantly in favor of the organization of the entire working class, Wobblies quickly turned toward the power of young women in garment factories, racially-mixed work-gangs on the waterfronts, and nationally diverse immigrant groups. The IWW took on the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations that attempted to divide the class on the grounds of race. More recently, some IWW branches have begun to successfully undermine the divisions of oppressions based on gendered identities in ways that seem truly revolutionary.
2. THE STRUGGLE AGAINST FASCISM IS NOT AN ELECTIVE STRUGGLE.
The notion that organized workers can choose to avoid struggle against fascists is peculiar and ahistorical. Fascism is a modern political ideology, much like marxism or what we might term contemporary anarchism. Fascism responds to the conditions of modern state capitalism, coordinating the desires and resentments of sections of the working class with the aims and desires of the capitalist bosses. Some historical fascisms have been pronouncedly ‘proletarian,’ appealing primarily to members of the working class who have many privileges, but are genuinely oppressed on the basis of their position as workers in capitalism. Early German National Socialism (until the Night of Long Knives) was colored by a conflict within the fascist camps between such proletarian fascism and an aristocratic fascism (which eventually triumphed). Contemporary Greek Fascism is far more proletarian than German fascism was, focusing on issues of employment, food security, and neighborhood safety. The current appeal of Golden Dawn fascists to working class Greeks is precisely on the basis of their opposition to capitalism’s depredations in Greece. The danger, of course, is that the primary targets of fascist groups are not the capitalists, but other victims of capitalism who are easy to attack with impunity: immigrants, racial minorities, queers, and religious minorities.
Historically, the appeal of fascism’s anti-capitalist rhetoric has been far more successful among the working classes than we might prefer to acknowledge. In the early days of the National Socialist regime in Germany, many former communists, anarchists, and unionists (to leave aside the Social Democrats entirely, who were a lost cause from the beginning, it seems) transferred their loyalties to the National ‘Socialists’ quite quickly. Since they were already in power and promised fixes to such bread and butter issues as food security and employment, these former radicals were content to see what the new ideology of fascism could offer. Those workers who were incapable of making such accommodations – such as Jews, queers, publicly-known leftists, etc., had to flee or go underground.
Fascists are not the same thing as capitalists, and may share many of our left-wing criticisms of capitalism, though their solution is more hierarchy and authority, and their preferred solutions are gangs of paramilitary violence (what a recent sociologist of Fascism terms an ideology of ‘transcendent violence’). From the point of view of a genuine worker’s organization, fascism may be seen as an attempt to destroy the class solidarity that is our strongest weapon in the war against capitalism, by mobilizing existing oppressions outside of capitalism to divide the working class.
Moreover, historically, the recent resurgence of the IWW owes a great deal to contemporary anti-fascist struggle, including locals such as Portland, where anti-fascist struggle led directly to increased workplace organizing and worker militancy.
We don’t get to choose our enemies. We were born into the capitalist world, ruled by bosses and cops. Our enemies in many ways determine the grounds on which we organize ourselves. We cannot choose to ignore fascists, because they won’t ignore us. But we can develop strategies and tactics to suppress them, weaken their power, and even possibly recruit confused members of the working class to a truly revolutionary and anti-oppressive vision of the future.
3. ANY ORGANIZATION SUCCESSFULLY STRUGGLING FOR THE ENTIRE WORKING CLASS WILL NECESSARILY HAVE TO CONFRONT FASCISM.
We must always remember that most people do not currently share our hatred of authority and command, and many will be quite happy to accept a proposed authoritarian solution to their oppressions, as long as its negative effects are felt by members of differently oppressed groups. Given that fascists recruit their most active members from the same working class that unions do (while paramilitary violence by gangs of young men is a particularly fascist strategy, you rarely find members of the elite classes among them, for instance), any anti-oppression workers’ organization will necessarily need to distinguish itself from fascists in a way that makes it clear that our organizations have a better chance of succeeding against capitalist oppression than do the fascists.
Fascists have historically been used as shock troops by the employing classes. This includes fascists of the proletarian variety, who seem to be motivated by the idea that after the installation of a just world through transcendent violence and purification of ‘impurities,’ their internal merit will be recognized and rewarded. Wherever organized workers have made gains that genuinely worry the boss class as a class, that class will reach out to fascist paramilitary groups and deploy violence against the workers. This violence may take place in workplaces (Golden Dawn’s constant attempts to take over Greek hospitals, e.g.) but at least as frequently takes place in neighborhoods (Golden Dawn’s charity works for “Greeks Only,” and their provision of “security” and “immigration” to neighborhoods, in which they attack immigrants or non-Greeks who dare show their faces in public.
Any workers’ organization that fails to recognize the potential threat of fascists to both the solidarity of their own membership, and to that membership’s physical and social safety, will fail to meet the fascist threat of the capitalists when we encounter it.
4. ANY ORGANIZATION THAT DOES NOT PLAN FOR FASCIST ATTACKS ON ITSELF, OR ITS MEMBERS, WILL BE UNPREPARED FOR SUCH ATTACKS.
In the Organizer Training of the IWW, we emphasize the acronym A.E.I.O.U.: Agitation, Education, Inoculation, Organization, and Unionization. It’s an excellent model for organizing, and implicated in many of the union’s recent organizing successes. I want to focus here on the word ‘Inoculation.’ What we mean by inoculation in organizer training is that workers must consider the responses of the bosses to their attempts to better their working conditions, and prepare for those responses. If we were to encourage a handful of employees to march on their boss without adequate preparation, or helping them think through the boss’ response, we would be guilty of the worst kind of idealism: suggesting that merely because something is ‘right,’ it is bound to be successful. Instead, we continually train ourselves, each other, and improve our skills in organization, and prepare for the boss’ response. We play a chess game where we must predict the boss’ various possible responses, and prepare for each of them.
If overcoming non-capitalist oppressions is crucial to the building and maintenance of working class solidarity, as argued in point one above, then we must prepare for this. We cannot wait for oppressed groups not already a part of our union to raise these issues themselves, but must join with all oppressed groups in fighting against their oppressions. We must also actively prepare for such struggles, and the responses to those struggles. We have too many union martyrs in our history, dead or languishing in prison as a result of our inability to properly plan and protect them when the bosses came back at us, whether it was with Pinkertons or fascist gangs. We remember them every November (In November, We Remember), but we betray these martyrs’ memories and struggle if we value their martyrdom, rather than their organizing. Instead of valuing the heroic loss of life and freedom, let’s protect the heroic organizing through which we will accomplish the free world.
If unions inevitably face oppression and violent attacks on our solidarity with each other, whenever we become a real threat to the bosses, people who experience other oppressions in addition to capitalist oppression face even more. The number of attacks on queers, racial minorities, religious minorities, and the homeless in our own metro area of the Twin Cities is horrendous. These are attacks experienced by the working class.
5. INTELLIGENT STRUGGLE AGAINST FASCISM & OPPRESSION MAY SERVE AS NOTICE OF SERIOUSNESS TO THOSE COMMUNITIES, AND HELP RECRUITMENT.
We cannot control the fascists’ attacks on us. And we must assume, given the consistent history of employer’s use of fascist gangs to destroy and fight worker organization, that they will eventually attack us. They will do so, because we are going to be effective in workplace organizing, and will do so at the behest of the bosses. We can, however, use struggle against all the various forms of oppression that currently divide the working class, to consolidate and expand our vision of a workers’ world free of hatred, violence, and authority.
Far from scaring away members of the working class who experience the greatest forms of oppression and intersectional combinations of oppression, public struggle by the union against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, anti-semitism and Islamophobia, may actually serve positive recruitment functions. The history of Business Unions in American is partly a history of unions themselves destroying the solidarity of the working class, preferring White, (cis-)Male, Straight, English-Speaking, Skilled, and Protestant workers to all others, and rewarding that narrow class of workers just enough to keep the oppressions alive within the working class itself. The IWW has always, from its founding moments, opposed this preferential strategy. Public struggle against such oppressions beyond the workplace itself clearly distinguishes the IWW from such oppressive strategies, which many associate as a union norm, and announces that we will fight for all workers.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.