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by Brian Oliver Sheppard
Saturday, Aug. 11, 2001 at 7:56 AM
Anarcho-syndicalism is the point at which the anarchist and radical labor movements intersect.
Recently, local Industrial Workers of the World distributed a flyer that exclaimed: "Globalize worker self-management, not corporate rule!" In a nutshell, this is precisely what the anarchosyndicalist answer to corporate globalization is.
The internationalization of the Western capitalist economic model is nothing new, however. Colonialism, which one socialist writer of the past claimed was a cousin to the stock exchange, was one era's "globalization" problem.
Capitalism thrived perfectly well in an environment characterized by subordinate nation-states that served as titanic supply depots of natural resources and labor for their colonial master states.
In the middle of the 19th century, Marx and Engels observed in _The Communist Manifesto_ that the "need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe." The bourgeoisie "must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere." The _Manifesto_ claimed furthermore that "modern industry has established the world market" and that this global market "compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production;
it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves." Regrettably, "it creates a world after its own image."
Mikhail Bakunin, writing in "The Immorality of the State," traced the same problem to the nature of nation-states:
"Every State, whether it is of a federative or non federative character, must seek, under the penalty of utter ruin, to become the most powerful of States. It has to devour others in order not to be devoured in turn, to
conquer in order not to be conquered, to enslave in order not to be enslaved - for two similar and at the same
time alien powers cannot co-exist
without destroying each other."
Commenting on this same phenomenon, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky gave an
interview in which he said that the "state system is a very artificial
system. In its modern form it developed in Europe, and you can see how
artificial it is just by looking at European history for the last hundreds
of years, a history of massacre,
violence, terror, destruction, most of which has to do with trying to impose
a state system on a society to which it has very little relation."
"As Europe expanded over the rest of the world, pretty much the same thing
happened - you look at Africa, India, Asia, any place you go, they've got
these boundaries which are the result of coloring different colors on the
map that usually have to do with European colonization. They cut across all
kinds of communities and interests and they bring people together who have
nothing to do with each other. The result is constant warfare and struggle
and oppression and so on. Furthermore, within each of these
artificial systems, imposed usually by force, you have some kind of usually
very sharply skewed distribution of power internally. The concentration of
power inside usually takes over the state for its own good. It suppresses
other people, suppresses people outside, etc."
The system of nation-states "cut[s] across all kinds of communities and
interests and ... bring[s] people together who have nothing to do with each
other," creating the perfect precondition for global corporate rule. Markets
can be laid across dissimilar cultures and traditions under a
uniform system of laws and regulation. The groundwork laid by the
globalization of nation-states has made corporate globalization possible.
EARLY FORMS OF INTERNATIONAL RESISTANCE
The increasingly global nature of capitalist exploitation led to the
creation of the International Workingmen's Association, an organization that
Marx, Engels, and Bakunin belonged to. The professed purpose of the
International was to coordinate global working class resistance against a
system that was replicating itself
across the planet at a frightening pace. The market system threatened to
swallow whole continents, like a cancer multiplying arithmetically, and int
he process would overtake workers and their communities before they were
organized to fend off the approaching onslaught.
Even after the famous split of the International, when Marx in effect
excised Bakunin - thus exacerbating rivalry between anarchists and statist
socialists - anarchists still attempted to organize internationally.
In 1907, the International Anarchist Congress in France declared "unions
both as combat units in the class struggle for better working conditions,
and as associations of producers which can serve to transform capitalist
society into an anarcho-communist society." The French syndicalist Fernand
if a federation of unions organized along non-hierarchical lines "would ...
not be an almost libertarian organization, ready to succeed the existing
order, thus effectively abolishing all political authority; each of its
controlling the means of production, managing its own affairs, sovereign
over itself by the free consent of its members?"
According to the anarchist historian Daniel Guerin, Bakunin had foreseen
"that self-management would open perspectives for [economic] planning on a
world-wide scale." To be precise, Bakunin and other anarchists felt that
capitalist exploitation would become so globally unbearable that an
international class of
subject-workers would arise, and would forge the shape of the new global
society through organizations rooted in necessity and practicality. The new
international class of workers would not have the privilege to make
distinctions of nationality or culture; they would all be thrust into the
same lot through the tyranny of capital. The workers would then collectively
organize to chase the bosses out of the factories, establish lines of supply
and production across borders, and render the authority of leaders,
politicians, and company owners moot.
"Workers' cooperative associations are a new historical phenomenon; today as
we witness their birth we cannot foresee their future, but only guess at the
immense development which surely awaits them and the new political and
social conditions they will generate. It is not only possible but probable
that they will, in time, outgrow the limits of today's countries, provinces,
and even states to transform the whole structure of human society, which
will no longer be divided into nations but into industrial units."
It was a given that capitalism tended to globalize, and that, in turn,
resistance would also have to become globalized. In light of this, it only
made sense to anarchists and syndicalists that the post-revolutionary
society would be a global society, having transcended the limitations of
nation-states and the constraints of competition.
CORPORATE GLOBALIZATION TODAY
The contemporary impetus towards "globalization" is but the newest phase of
this continuing phenomenon. However, unlike the helter skelter, unplanned
globalization trend of the past, the modern era of globalization is being
planned and managed consciously. What Noam Chomsky calls "the de facto
world government" - namely, institutions like the WTO, the G8, the OECD, the
World Bank Group, and others - enforce the globalization of Western
corporate power through a legal, rational process that nonetheless wreaks
devastation upon working people everywhere.
Bakunin, Pelloutier, and other anarchists might not have ever imagined a
world in which companies were more financially powerful than entire
nation-states. These large economic institutions, structured internally
according to what could only be called fascist lines, rely upon a
continuing supply of human labor to produce wealth for them - wealth that is
immediately put back into play to expand the enterprise somewhere else,
preferably where workers can be paid even less to do the same sort of work
that higher paid workers do. These corporations mercilessly crush attempts
by their own workers to collectively organize, which is something that
workers are often
compelled to do as a defense against the tendency of bosses to lower wages
and submit employees to dangerous working conditions. When workers become
too uppity, the shop doors are simply closed and reopened where workers
aren't such a nuisance; they are reopened where workers would accept
subhuman conditions, conditions that workers are driven to accept if only it
means to the workers that they might eat for a few days.
People across the globe thus find themselves bridled to jobs where they mine
the resources of their native lands and ship them off to be sold across the
sea, to foreign markets. Generally, this flow of resources travels from the
poor Global South to the wealthier Global North. As Juliette Majot wrote in
"Brave New World Bank: 50 Years is Enough," from 1982 to 1990 alone "debt
service remittances ... from poor countries to rich countries totaled 45
while at the same time _total_ resource flows from rich to poor countries
As their resources deplete, workers' living conditions grow worse - but,
they can say to themselves, at least they are getting a paycheck. However,
even that runs out, and they are finally laid off when their living
standards become too high for the corporation to continue to support. The
government of the country that hosts the corporation promises to slash
minimum wage laws, hand over schools and hospitals, whatever the companies
want - so long as they stay, and continue to give business and job
opportunities to citizens. This sort of process, which is being played out
in countries across the planet today, simply ensures that workers work for
their own continued subjugation, and for their own eventual undoing.
Corporations have succeeded in using the World Bank and IMF to strong-arm
foreign nations into letting them onto their soil, to take advantage of
depressed labor markets and harvest whatever resources might be available.
The deals that the World Bank makes to allow this to happen may be with
corrupt governments, despotic and
unelected, or they may be with elected, popularly chosen officials of a
country. Either way, once the decision is made by these elites to borrow
money, or to eliminate laws unfriendly to corporations, the entire
population pays the costs, and accepts the consequences. If people try to
resist the fate their leaders have consigned them to, intervention by
foreign armies and repression by their own armed
forces have generally been what they receive.
Often what happens is a country's elite will borrow excessively from the
World Bank Group, and make poor investments with the money, or simply use
the money to prepare certain agricultural or industrial sectors for foreign
investment and ownership. Then, when the country is
called to repay the loan, the debt is shifted to the public, who must be
taxed to pay it off. As the interest becomes unbearable, more previously
publicly owned assets are sold off to foreign interests to meet the payment
schedules of the Western financiers. Social services, health care, welfare
programs - all shift to the private
sector, as advised by Western bankers. Soon the country is unstable, with no
guaranteed minimum standard of living, pervasive job insecurity, massive
inflation, and perpetually poor citizens. Perpetually poor citizens mean
perpetually cheap labor, which is what corporations prefer.
In February, 2001, South Korean autoworkers employed by Daewoo, and
represented by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), occupied
factories near Seoul and engaged in physical skirmishes with police. Due to
corporate globalization pressures, many workers were laid off; the entire
would be laid off unless the company could be put into foreign (US) hands.
President of the KCTU, claimed, "Two years of structural adjustment programs
of the government, guided by the IMF, saw a senseless bargain sale of
national assets to foreign concerns. In the process, the rich have taken
over most of the benefits, becoming even richer."
With no jobs, no resources that are public domain or not owned by groups of
foreign investors, workers everywhere are often not even guaranteed the
means with which they might try to survive.
STATES SERVE THE INTERESTS OF CORPORATE GLOBALIZATION
The nature of the current phase of the globalization of capitalist power is
not to be framed as a competition between private sector and public sector
power, as has often been mistakenly done. Some articles have suggested that
the nation-state is shrinking in significance to the power of transnational
corporations, or that these corporations want to do away with nation-states
the drive to globalize their power. The corporation is jealous of the power
of the nation-state, such writers say, and seeks to replace it.
But nation-states have proved enormously useful to corporations seeking to
internationalize their markets. States themselves are nothing but economic
arrangements that secure the integrity of an exploitative system that
The State is the guarantor of the capitalist system; as guarantors - as
publicly subsidize the exploitative processes that the public is subjected
to - they cannot be eliminated by corporations, but are needed now more than
ever. States have helped corporations craft enormous economic blocs like
NAFTA, the European Union, the FTAA, and others. These economic blocs do not
power of States; rather, they subject States to market rule, and make the
still-necessary States subject to the dictates of bodies of foreign
investors who will continue to need States to carry out their will.
The international economic bodies through which corporate capitalism
engineers its globalization - the WTO, World Bank, and others - do insist
upon pruning the State apparatus of programs that were previously public. It
either turns these programs into private, capitalist
schemes - as in replacing public pensions or retirement insurance with
corporate insurance plans - or it eliminates them altogether, as when it
eliminates environmental regulations that might prevent logging or anything
else. But this is not eliminating the State. The armies of these States, the
police forces, the jails, the property laws that protect corporate assets,
the hierarchical system of governance that allows corporations to make deals
with a minority of "leaders" that ostensibly represent the entire nation -
these integral functions of the State are still useful. The most violent
of nation-states are retained as corporate power becomes globalized; the
ones that get in the way are eliminated.
Many of the corporations that are seeking globalized markets were themselves
benefactors of highly protectionist States, such as those corporations that
reside and were founded in the US. The US has a highly protective system of
patents, tariffs, and regulations that shield domestic industry from the
of foreigners. The State itself even gives outright subsidy to various
segments of industry and to the productive process. This is surely a
violation of free market principles - but it is a violation that benefits
corporations, so it is acceptable.
However, the same protectionist luxuries are out of the question for foreign
countries. Protectionist laws are assailed by IMF ministers as barriers to
free trade, as unfair competitive advantages that do not allow the greatest
product to come forth, etc. The IMF ministers are right: it isn't consistent
free trade to demand free, unfettered competition for others while
maintaining tariffs and other protective measures for oneself. But corporate
elites have never wanted consistent free market capitalism for themselves.
They have wanted an ensemble of market advantages and State protectionism
that benefits their class, or the integrity of the system in general. This
is part of the reason that States exist and are important to their
THE ANARCHOSYNDICALIST ALTERNATIVE
The program of anarchosyndicalists, to the extent that one has ever been
cohesively formulated, draws from the toolbox of radical labor and anarchist
organizing, and applies these tools to contemporary bourgeois society.
Capital - by which anarchosyndicalists mean workplaces, factories,
equipment, and the wealth used to buy these things - must be wrested
mercilessly from the control of their owners, who
constitute the ruling class of our era. It is the ownership of these things,
sanctioned and guaranteed with the violence of the State, that has led to
the current inequality of wealth and living conditions across the globe.
Anarchosyndicalists exist at the point where the labor and anarchist
movements intersect. Workers who hate the system, who recognize how they are
exploited, bossed around, regimented and treated as drones, only to be used
up, disposed, thrown away like garbage, and treated as inferiors every day
working lives, constitute the strength of the anarchosyndicalist movement.
The wealthy men
that push for the globalization of corporate power are men who depend upon
the eternally continuing subjection of a global class of wage slaves to
generate their wealth for them. Anarchosyndicalists are those whose
bitterness and desperation have driven them beyond the point of simply
talking about how bad things are; anarchosyndicalism is comprised of the
ideas of workers
willing to act to ensure a swift, immediate remedy to the problems of
authoritarianism and economic subjugation.
Veteran anarchosyndicalist organizer Sam Dolgoff stated that "the
revolutionary libertarian concepts of class-struggle, federalism, direct
economic action, local autonomy and mutual aid -- are all deeply rooted in
American labor traditions." Historically, direct action was the only choice
of workers who had no say in the affairs of society through either political
or economic means. Direct action is the only refuge, and the most democratic
expression, of powerless workers to exact change over the material
conditions of their
Phillip Randolph, an African-American socialist and writer from the early
part of the 20th century, saw direct action as the only viable means for
black workers in the US to take their lives back:
"The Negro must engage in direct action. He is forced to do this by the
Government. When the whites speak of direct action, they are told to use
their political power. But with the Negro it is different. He has no
political power. Therefore the only recourse the Negro has is industrial
action, and since he
must combine with those forces which draw no line against him, it is simply
him to draw his lot with the Industrial Workers of the World."
The IWW is the closest thing to a large anarchosyndicalist organization that
the USA has ever had.
The capitalist class, through corporate globalization, can disempower
workers, and settle in areas where workers have no political voice to affect
change. Already the WTO is set to meet in the remote desert nation of Qatar,
which is ruled by a monarchy, and where rival political factions and freedom
of speech are illegal. In the USA, corporations increasingly rely on the
easily exploitable labor of illegal aliens and prison workforces, two
segments of the labor force that have no real rights. Direct action is their
only recourse. Likewise, oppressed workers in other lands often have no
political say. What else can they do but act directly upon what is
immediately oppressing them?
As to what it is that direct action should achieve, Rudolf Rocker spoke
clearly on the subject when he stated:
"Anarcho-Syndicalists are convinced that a Socialist economic order cannot
be created by the decrees and statutes of a government, but only by the
solidaric collaboration of the workers with hand or brain in each special
production; that is, through the taking over of the management of all plants
by the producers
[workers] themselves under such form that the separate groups, plants and
industry are independent members of the general economic organism and
carry on production and the distribution of the products in the interest of
the community on the basis of free mutual agreements."
Rocker saw that this would have to be characterized by three things: "1.
Organisation of the plants by the producers [employees] themselves and
direction of the work by labor councils elected by them. 2. Organisation of
production of the country by the industrial and agricultural alliances. 3.
consumption by the Labour Cartels [affiliated workers' syndicates]." Such a
realizable because its points of germination already exist. The
organizations that would carry
these things out, that is, already exist, if only in nascent form: labor
unions, collectives, and cooperatives of various kinds. Incidentally, these
are the sorts of organizations corporations are always trying to eliminate.
In a 1979 interview, Noam Chomsky reaffirmed that "for advanced industrial
countries at least, an organization in the manner that has been developed in
anarchosyndicalist theories is exactly correct; it would be the best form of
organization for an industrial society and possibly for any society."
Chomsky went on to say
that "a very reasonable position to take is that all forms of centralized
domination, including the highly concentrated centers of corporate power,
which with state power forms the two major functioning, closely related
centers of power in Western capitalism [sic]. Both of these things are, in
historical anachronisms, inconsistent with any fundamental commitment to
democracy." "The true aim of
a social revolution," he continues, "should be to dissolve these centers of
leading to a social organization based on such principles as workers'
control of industry, local
control of communities, federal interaction, interchange, and so on."
The hard, day to day work of anarchosyndicalists is simply this: to organize
workplaces along radically democratic, non-hierarchical lines to wrest
control of industry from its managers. There can be no single act by any
single person that will bring about an anarchosyndicalist society. It is
dependent, for better
or worse, upon the massive coordination of laboring people the world over to
capitalist encroachments internationally, and to strike back to expropriate
the expropriators. No true revolutionary has ever claimed such a monumental
feat was easy, or that results would come swiftly. The basic building blocks
of a society worth living in can only be created by the persistent, hard
work of dedicated activists willing to organize in their industry, so that
industry may ultimately be seized and operated in accord with the public's
As Thomas Skidmore wrote of various new inventions in the 1830s, "the steam
engine is not injurious to the poor when they can have the benefit of it . .
. instead of being looked on as a curse, it could be hailed as a blessing .
. . let the poor lay hold of it and make it their own . . . let them also in
the same way appropriate the iron foundries, the cotton factories, the
rolling mills, houses, churches, ships, goods, steamboats, trades of
agriculture: as is their right."
So it is that the global poor should lay hold of all the wealth, all the
equipment and all the productive apparatus of the globally privileged, and
make it their own. Let
the poor, the workers, and disenfranchised of the world linger no more in
and misery; let them instead claim what is rightfully theirs, and transfer
to the whole
population of the earth what all the peoples of the earth have made.
Copyright (c) 2001
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