Friday, 11 August 2017

Guilt by Association: Weak Arguments Then and Now

"Never had a Revolution more surprised the revolutionaries" Benoit Malon

A few days ago twitter user Jehu provided a crystal clear example of a really poor arguing style that is sadly very common in political debate and squabbling. That is a form of guilt by association, here we have Jehu blaming Bakunin for the Paris Commune and its subsequent defeat. The evidence is that Bakunin called for a workers insurrection and in March of 1871 the Parisian working class districts rose up, ousted their government and proclaimed a city wide Commune.

The problem here is that its merely an allegation, there's no substantive proof to any of it. This was the start of a 250+ tweet thread and in not one of them does Jehu provide by explanation or a link any proof that Bakunin led the workers of Paris to anything. There's two very serious flaws here, the first is that this is a complete misrepresentation of Paris in 1870-71 and the events that led to the founding of the Commune, and its not even an accurate summary of Bakunin's advocacy of insurrection. I'll deal with the second first quickly.

Bakunin didn't urge the workers of Paris to rise up against their government, he urged all workers to rise up against all governments. For example in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war he denounced the German Social Democrats for trying to build a national coalition of German workers and its plans for building a German state precisely because this would hinder the ability of German workers to fight a class war in alliance with the workers of other nations.

If, in case of conflict between two states, the workers would act in accordance with Article 1 of the social-democratic program, they would, against their better inclinations, be joining their own bourgeoisie against their fellow workers in a foreign country. They would thereby sacrifice the international solidarity of the workers to the national patriotism of the State. This is exactly what the German workers are now doing in the Franco-Prussian War. As long as the German workers seek to set up a national state – even the freest People’s State – they will inevitably and utterly sacrifice the freedom of the people to the glory of the State, socialism to politics, justice and international brotherhood to patriotism. It is impossible to go in two different directions at the same time. Socialism and social revolution involve the destruction of the State: – consequently, those who want a state must sacrifice the economic emancipation of the masses to the political monopoly of a privileged party.
Now the example here is particular, the workers of the German states, but its still linked to the need for an international workers revolt. He was consistent on the need for working class internationalism even when speaking about individual sections of it.

 So even on the superficial man said something, then thing like that happened level this is an incorrect argument. Now onto the heart of the matter.

There is absolutely no evidence that Bakunin was a major influence on the workers of Paris in 1870-71. There was an Anarchist and an insurrectionist current active at that time in Paris that did have influence and support amongst some of the population but the Anarchists were supporters of Proudhon's Mutualism, (in most historical texts they're referred to as Proudhonists), and the Insurrectionists were supporters of the Communist Auguste Blanqui. Bakunin's supporters were part of the French section of the International Workingmen's Association (IWMA) and at that time they sat and organised with the other tendencies within it including the supporters of Marx. Officially the view of Marx held the most weight within the group and they as an organisation urged the workers of Paris to be restrained and patient.

Though a few like Eugene Varlin did take part in anti government demonstrations.

Blanqui on the other hand was an enthusiastic supporter of  insurrection, and quite an influence on the Commune. He was declared in absentia because he was in prison the President of the Commune, his supporters were elected to it, and the Commune was willing to trade all of its hostages for Blanqui, the government of Theirs declined.

His believe in the power of insurrection by a small revolutionary elite was so great that he tried to engineer an insurrection on the 14th of August 1870. It failed very quickly, because it had no support, Balnqui and his members were literally expecting the army and the workers of the district of Belleville to join his armed demonstration. It didn't work. The uprising against the Bonaparte regime three weeks later (September fourth 1870) doesn't seem to have had any instigation from the Blanqui current, though he did become notable in the insurrection of October 31st as one of a group of revolutionaries who briefly toppled the government before troops loyal to General Trochu restored power to the "Government of National Defence". His constant pushing for armed insurrection was considered dangerous enough to get on the most wanted list, and he was arrested on the 17th of March a whole day before the insurrection that lead to the creation of the Paris Commune.

So we know that Blanqui was a tireless advocate of insurrection and was present at several abortive attempts before March 18th 1871. And yet there is no evidence that Blanqui had much of an impact on that day either. Blanqui was quite curious for a Communist, he believed the working classes couldn't achieve revolution on their own and had to be lead by a small elite of the enlightened middle class. And I do mean small, I've seen one figure put the party membership as high as 800 in 1868 with a few fellow travellers, and that was all in Paris. That's the reason why the insurrection in August was a failure Blanqui and his comrades had just assumed the workers of Paris would rally to them once they started the insurrection, they didn't actually know that the workers would support them. It may seem contradictory given how prominent the Blanquists were once the Commune got going but its easy to explain. Blanqui had spent most of his life denouncing a series of governments that were seen as corrupt and brutal, and championing the poor. He had also tried multiple times to topple these governments and took part in these attempts at uprising taking on great risks and suffered many punishments, spending over half his life in various prisons.

To quote from one of his many court appearances:

I am accused of having said to 30 million French people, Proletarians like myself, that they have the right to live... Yes, there is a war between the rich and the poor, but the rich have brought it on themselves because they are the aggressors... These privileged people live in luxury from the sweat of the Proletariat.
As such Blanqui the man was well known to political circles and had a lot of respect, but his methods and the groups paternalistic ideology doomed it to futility. Its no accident that Blanqui and his party did better in the October insurrection and the Paris Commune, these were general revolts with the support of other groups and individuals, while solo attempts at action like in August fizzled out very quickly.

So if Blanqui and Bakunin didn't lead the working class to slaughter, who did? The answer is simply no one. The Paris Commune is one of those events that's been celebrated by so many (Marx, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Trotsky, CLR James, Gluckstein, etc) that it's easy to forget how it actually happened.

How it Actually Happened
 Image result for paris commune montmartre

On the 18th of March 1871 the people of Paris awoke to find a hostile army had seized the heights of Montmartre, they captured and killed several guardsmen and were busy trying to seize the cannons on the heights and thus disarm the defences of the city. The army was lead by a General who was known to have carried out massacres in French cities under his control. Of course this wasn't the triumphant Prussians, they were the French army lead by General  Clément-Thomas and the massacres he was infamous for happened in Paris in 1848.

Alarmed the workers of the Montmartre district -many of whom were women and children not exactly typical acolytes of radical political insurrectionist cells- rose up with what weapons they could muster and attacked this threat. Fortunately the rank and file of this army refused the orders to fire and the opposition collapsed. The Generals Clément-Thomas and Lacomte who had ordered his troops to fire on the workers of Montmartre were executed instead.

The revolt spread from Montmarte, the National Guard threw its support behind it and the standing army left in Paris either fled or surrendered, soon a demonstrators and guardsmen had occupied the abandoned government buildings and the Commune was declared. While its possible that Bakunin and Blanqui and Marx and Proudhon et al may have inspired some Parisian workers before hand there is no escaping the simple fact that the insurrection was an act of defence against an already hostile and murderous regime. No one lead the workers of Montmartre on the 18th of March they discovered a threat and defended themselves, and in the process toppled what was left of the government. The only conspiracy was the secret plans by the French General Staff to reinforce their hold on Paris. It caught everyone by surprise. The quote at the top comes from the socialist Benoit Malon, who was in Paris at the time and would serve on the Commune Council.

The IWMA the organisation that included Marx and Bakunin and their supporters in Paris, was caught so unaware by the events that the first official comments by the organisation were made on the 23rd five days later.

Funnily enough what the user Jehu, is doing is just what the reactionary press did to Marx in the aftermath of the Commune. He was repeatedly accused of planning an insurrection and of being responsible for the damage and bloodshed that followed. He responded to these allegations in an interview with a reporter from the New York World.

I: And the last uprising in Paris?
Dr. Marx: First of all I would ask you to prove that there was any kind of a conspiracy and that everything which occurred was not simply the inevitable result of the existing circumstances. And even if we assume that there was a conspiracy, I would still ask you to prove to me that the International Association took part in it.

I: The presence of so many members of the Association in the Commune.

Dr. Marx: Then it could just as easily have been a conspiracy of Freemasons, for their individual part in it was not small by any means. I really would not be surprised if the Pope did try to push the whole uprising onto their account. But let us try to find another explanation. The uprising in Paris was carried out by the Parisian workers. The most capable workers must therefore have been the ones who led it and carried it out; yet the most capable workers are also members of the International Association. But nevertheless, the Association need not be responsible for their actions in any way.

I: The world will look at it through different eyes. People are talking about secret instructions from London and even about financial assistance.Can it be maintained that the allegedly open activity of the Association rules out any secret communications?

Dr. Marx: Has there ever been an association which carried out its work without having confidential as well as open communications? But to speak of secret instructions from London as if it were a question of decrees in questions of belief and morals, emanating from some centre of papal rule and intrigue, would be to completely misunderstand the nature of the International. This would presuppose a centralised form of government in the International; in reality, however, the organizational form of the International gives the greatest scope to the working class; it is more of a union or an association than a centre of command.
The allegation of a conspiracy regardless of alleged mastermind is just a form of red baiting, by blaming internal dissent on outside agitators. So we should be very wary of those who use this tactic especially when corroborating evidence is not forthcoming.


Does this matter outside of this narrow subject? I would say yes, what the press of the 1870's and Jehu are doing is a form of guilt by association to discredit a view or tendency they don't like. You may think its a bit silly comparing an international press to one user on twitter and I agree, but like I said at the beginning this is just one example of very common practice in discourse. Its not really the size of the influence or even the subject at hand, I just picked this one because I know a lot about the Paris Commune so its easy for me to show the problems with it here.

This practice when used actively strangles debate and education. It actively spreads disinformation and makes it harder to learn lessons from the past. This doesn't help anyone at all. Even if you hate Marx or Bakunin or just disapprove of insurrection in general this tactic doesn't help you, you don't learn anything much about either you just get some emotional reassurance.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

1948 French Coal Miners Strike

There are a lot of important events in Labour history that get overlooked. The Coal Miners strike in 1948 in France is one of them. I have tried for days to find information on this event and so far all I've found is a short interview on Radio Fours History Hour, some archival footage from Pathe with no commentary just a few minutes of film reel recording random events during the strike and one article by a French Trotskyist organisation written at the time and translated into English at a later date. I'm assuming there's more information in French, but even with my limited French I wasn't get many results and couldn't read what I found.

The Trotskyist article is interesting but unfortunately the authors were motivated by a desire to discredit the French Communist Party (PCF) and cast themselves as its replacement, rather than recount the events of the strike accurately for the benefit of all. And since its the only source I've found I can't tell how accurate the information it does provide is. Indeed it seems to contradict the miner being interviewed, in the BBC documentary. I have found two other sources, however one is hidden behind a pay wall and the other has only translated a brief abstract, the rest of the article is in French, so no help there.

 In frustration and a desire to make things a little easier for other searchers I've made a video by splicing some of the Pathe footage together with the part of the History hour on the strike.


A French user shared this( an eleven minute account of the strike including more footage and commentary, worth watching if you understand French.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Stitched Up

I owe my mother a lot, she's taught me many things and the debt keeps growing. For example recently she's given me a perfect example of the inherent conflict between employee's and their bosses. A lot of modern left wing discourse tends to miss the point of class dynamics to a degree, the focus is mainly on sweatshops or massive corporation so small time businesses and "ethical" capitalists tend to get a pass. This was one of the problems with the Occupy movement and its 1% vs 99% it kinda blurred the lines a lot with its populist framing.

My mother recently got a job with a small textile business that makes ships sails and boat covers. She really liked, she got on with her two co-workers and she even got along with the boss, lets call him Dave. The money while small was enough to live on and she does enjoy sewing and has experience with industrial sewing machines. And yet just after three months the relationship has soured, and its simply because of the capitalist/worker dynamic.

Dave is unusual as far as bosses go like many smallish businessmen he does do some productive work mainly arranging sales (as in purchasing) and machine maintenance. He's also a hippy type, my mother told me how laidback he is and he's only interested in providing for his family and he was more than accommodating for his employees personal issues. So a nice guy, there were a few warning signs I could of picked up on but why spoil some much needed good news for my mother? What productive would be achieved? So instead I just made vague noncommittal agreements.

Now the use of past tense is giving it away, now Dave the hippy has turned around and said he wants my mother to give up her permanent position in favour of an as and when piece work basis when its busy. He's said the reason for this is because there aren't enough orders but the number of orders have increased since my mother started not declined. Its seems more likely that he's overspent, for a Hippie he isn't lacking in luxuries, and so instead of tightening his belt he's trying to reduce the payroll and holiday pay of his business while keeping personal expenses.

This is obvious because he hired my mother not on a temporary basis when business was unusually good, it was a permanent placement complete with paid holidays, holidays which my mother just so happens to be taking next month when this new employment terms would take effect. So its clearly an excuse, perhaps though this nice Dave is making an excuse because he wasn't happy with my mothers work and hoped to let her down gently? Well he has a funny way of showing his displeasure if so, every piece my Mother has made including the ones on her trial shift have either been sold, or placed for sale within the general stock, she's even been trusted with making some special orders.

The workshop mainly makes general sails and covers differentiated by size and colour but does do special orders for say special patterns or the name of a vessel stitched in, etc. She is by her own admission slower than the other seamstresses but that is part of the process for a textile worker. Usually how it works is you learn the stages needed for creating the article, whether it be a sack, a shirt a blanket etc, and once you've shown you know how to use the machine and handle the materials you then focus on eliminating what's often described by management as excess or wasted time. Muscle memory in a word, to maximise efficiency in textile production a worker has to get to the point where every step is an automatic response. I remember as a child being taken to the textile factory my mum worked in in the 90's after school waiting for her to finish her shift. A lot of them weren't even looking at their work they were just doing it.  They were working constantly and the ratter tatter of the sewing machines never stopped but all of the steps were just subconscious movements, no mistakes no slow downs.

And that was what my mother was doing these past two and a bit months, she went from an average of 3 sails to 4 and occasionally 5. All of which were sold or put up for sale. The other full timers could average a standard sail at 45 minutes give or take. Covers and special orders are too different to standardise.

But moving beyond my mother for a minute her workplace relations provide a perfect example of the inherent exploitation of capitalism. One of the warning signs from the very beginning for me was how much my mother was being paid. She and her co-workers are on minimum wage (£7.50), that seemed rather meagre for a workshop catering mainly to the luxury market. Standard hours are three eight hour days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) with extra days to cover for time off or when orders have increased quite a bit. So I asked her how much a standard sail sells for, on average they go for £500. Now that doesn't include covers or special orders but the bulk of sales are standard sails, so 7.50 times by 24 (average hours) and multiplied by three (number of staff) is £540 so one sail by one staff member covers most of the wage bill, if all three employee's turn up and fulfil one sail, Dave has made nearly a thousand pounds of profit. As it stands my mother with her four sails clears the wage bill and makes him nearly fifteen hundred pounds of profit per day. And remember she's below average at the workshop.

But of course wages aren't the only outgoing for a business, there's rent on workspace, though he owns the workshop outright so doesn't pay rent, the cost of building or buying the business, though Dave inherited it from his father so that doesn't apply, the machines, industrial sewing machines aren't cheap its true. But the ones he uses he got from his dad and have been in use for over ten years, haven't broken down and show no signs of breaking down or any noticeable decline in performance and probably won't for years, so we can scratch that off the list too.

Ah but what about materials! Well its true that materials for sails can be quite expensive (but then that is covered in the sale price) and the workshop uses several. But the main material they use is a form Polytarp, now as material Polytarp, its a bit like the material for water proof overalls, and its incredibly cheap in its raw form and can be bought in bulk easily. So while materials do add to the outgoings unless Dave is being ripped off it doesn't add that much.

 So business issues aren't really the issue here, what is the root of this conflict is power dynamics. Dave owns the business so he calls the shots, and while it is incredibly unfair of him to shift the burden for his own spending sprees (this isn't the first time he's done something like this after a big splash on something) onto his own employees, but legally speaking he's in the right his workshop his rules, and the power relationship means there isn't much to be done within the system. Either he changes his mind and learns to take his own problems on the chin or workplace resistance convinces him to back down.

No matter how friendly and nice an employer is, they are incapable of being your friend. Its not because they're bad people Dave does seem genuinely nice and kind and I'm sure he thinks he's being magnanimous by pushing my mother onto a piecework rate instead of firing her outright, though the fact he's singling out the employee whose been employed for the shortest period and thus has fewer legal protections and obligations is kinda telling. Its the power relationship and the mutually conflicting interests of capital and labour. He has the power to transfer his problems onto others and can do so in a way that maintains his livelihood, and so he is taking it.

Its not personal its just business, and that is the root of the problem.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Mad Marx:

From Existential Comics

I may have been a touch pessimistic about the stagnation of leftist education. In the past couple of days I've encountered some new materials. For today here's a mini series on Marx by Philosphy Tube, that I find to be very interesting and presenting in an engaging way. It won't make you an expert but it does explain a few things.

The playlist,

Episode 1 Labour & Class Conflict

Episode 2 Capitalism's Consequences

Episode 3 Cultural Marxism & Political Correctness

Episode 4 Beyond Capitalism

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Napoleon: The Man and the Myths

Historian Andrew Roberts presents a series, recorded partly on location in Paris, which dispels some myths about Napoleon Bonaparte.

As a history buff I've spent a lot of time in Bonaparte's shadow. For a man who left such an impact on historical accounts its surprisingly difficult to find neutral accounts of the man and his record. Historians and authors tend to fall into one of two camps, Napoleon L'Empereur, admirers who view him as the great liberator and moderniser of a stagnate Europe, or Napoleon the bloodthirsty Antichrist. 

There's not much overlap, and this podcast series by Andrew Roberts leans toward the former, but it does demolish quite a few myths about old Boney, so I think its worth listening too.

 épisode Un

 Napoleon was savaged by British caricaturists during his lifetime. They loved to portray him as 'little Boney' - a short, uncouth, villainous, Corsican upstart. In this programme, historian Andrew Roberts dispels some of those myths. Recorded partly on location in Paris, Roberts visits Napoleon's tomb and the Foundation Napoleon, where the Emperor's huge correspondence is kept. Far from the short bully of contemporary propaganda, Andrew Roberts suggests Napoleon was charming, learned, a gifted military tactician - and of average height. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

 épisode Deux

 It's said that France became a police state under Napoleon. He wanted to know everything about his growing empire and, despite the revolution, crowned himself as Emperor to rule over it. Historian Andrew Roberts challenges this bald account of events. He presents Napoleon as a ruler who rescued France from its post-revolutionary chaos, whose sense of order and efficiency was welcomed by his countrymen. Roberts also argues that Napoleon was not interested in interfering in the lives of his subjects and that he broke with tradition by rewarding people of merit and talent - regardless of their class. For the first time, those of humble birth could rise to the highest positions in the country. The programme is recorded partly on location in France. Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

 épisode Trois

 Vaulting ambition, a politically calculating marriage, endless battles across Europe, a Russian campaign that cost the lives of half a million French troops - there is much for which history can criticise Napoleon. But historian Andrew Roberts defends Napoleon against these charges and makes the case for him as a man more sinned against than sinning - though the retreat from Moscow, vividly described, left Napoleon's army in dismal disarray with many men succumbing to deaths from disease and cold and suicide. As a result, Napoleon was exiled to Elba. Although of course, he would return. The programme is partly recorded on location in Paris. Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio Production for BBC Radio 4.

 épisode Quatre

The battle of Waterloo changed the future of Europe and sealed Napoleon's fate. But why did such a successful and experienced commander as Napoleon lose that battle, 200 years ago today? Historian Andrew Roberts describes Napoleon's uncharacteristic catalogue of errors, the poor communications on the battlefield and the Emperor's miscalculation about the vital part that would be played by the Prussians, fighting on the Allied side. Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

 épisode Cinq

 What does history make of Napoleon? Exiled to St Helena, where it was hoped by the British that he would be forgotten, he in fact remained - and remains - a figure of fascination. For Europeans, he is still the author of civil reforms that underpin laws today. In France, his schools, architecture and infrastructure are a constant reminder of his rule. Opinion is of course divided. Those on the right in France tend to admire Napoleon as a strong Enlightenment leader; those on the left stress his warlike and tyrannical side. In this programme, historian Andrew Roberts allows listeners to make up their own minds. The programmes are partly recorded on location in Paris. Simon Russell Beale is the voice of Napoleon. Produced by Victoria Ferran and Susan Marling A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Well in Theory

 “During the past nine years the International has developed more than enough ideas to save the world, if ideas alone could save it, and I challenge anyone to come up with a new one. It’s no longer the time for ideas, it’s time for actions.” Mikhail Bakunin 1873,

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it" Karl Marx

For the past couple of days Left Twitter seems to keep stumbling back into an argument over the role of theory. Some good points were made, but as usual they tended to get drowned out and it wasn't long before the disagreements became embittered.

I have some thoughts on the subject but think it best to outline them here rather than on the 140 character limit platform. To summarise in an admittedly unfair but sadly not that unfair manner the debate boiled down to everyone should read big bulkly and inaccessible tomes to have an opinion worth listening too, or a complete rejection of theory if it can't be explained in an easy way for a contemporary and virgin audience.

Now that didn't apply to everyone but that was where both poles were placed and as the argument drew on they started pull more users closer to each of them. Personally speaking I find this divide to be largely arbitrary and not really helpful.

I personally struggle with theory, as I said in my post on the Discourse Collective, I don't really like dealing with abstract concepts, I understand and remember the words, but usually they don't really mean anything to me until I'm more acquainted with it. One way I've found make theoretical works more accessible to me was to got to it from history. The first texts by Marx, Bakunin and Kropotkin I read were their essays on the Paris Commune. I read them because I was familiar with the events of the Commune so when they used terminology I wasn't familiar with I had an image I could link it to. And from there I worked my way up.

I think a lot of the difficulty lies in finding the best way to come at something.

Lets start with theory;

Theory: Theory (the concept I mean) is a bit misunderstood. When we use the T word we usually refer to big bulkly tomes full of abstraction and a language unique to the author. A good example would be the word state, nearly every political outlook under the sun means something a bit different by that word, for Weber the state was a monopoly on violence, for Marx and instrument of class domination, for anarchists a hierarchical power relation that props up and defends other hierarchical power relations like class rule etc. And yes these books are an example of theory and the criticisms levelled at what we can call pure theory are quite accurate. They can be impenetrable, they assume you've read multiple other books before hand, even if they're supposed to be an introduction, the text is mostly abstract or to heavily linked to an event or process, the language has become outdated etc.

But that isn't all that theory is. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, is a novel about painters in 1910's England. And yet its full of socialist theory and criticism of capitalist economics. So long as you can read you don't need any background knowledge to understand the theory in Philanthropists its does an incredible job using its narrative as a teaching tool. You don't have to agree with its ideas my father certainly didn't when he read it, but you know its theory and you understand the argument being presented.

The same is true of The Jungle or the Grapes of Wraith, I often find recommending these three novels to people interested in social history but not necessarily socialist theory is a good first taste. But not everything can be turned into a novel, but there are other ways to learn theory in a more accessible form.

Capital was a big offender in the twitter storm, it is pretty hard to get into, but there are a few ways to lessen the workload. For example, their is a Manga that adapts part of the Capital. In addition to imagery to associate with the idea it uses a narrative to demonstrate and explain some of the concepts like surplus value, and so on.

It doesn't cover everything but its a light read and it does give you a frame of reference for the rest of the work. It certainly helped me with Volume One. There is also an abridged (60 or so pages) version compiled by Otto Ruhle, That does a similar thing without pictures, but with more concepts.

There are also many introductions to Capital and reading guides online. I've never used them though so can't comment.

Society of the Spectacle:

Society of the Spectacle (SOS) is without doubt the most impenetrable text I've ever come across. Indeed Debord deliberately wrote in as opaque a manner as possible. He came to regret that as he spent the last years of his life complaining about how misused and misunderstood SOS was. I've read a lot of Situationist texts and they are all much easier to understand than SOS which is the introductory text!

 For example,


In a world that is really upside down, the true is a moment of the false.

Fortunately other Situationists were less willing to play silly games with their readers, their are several ways to break it open.  Tiernan Morgan and Lauren Page came up with an illustrated guide to SOS

In addition to the graphics the pair take the time to explain several of SOS thesis's, like the manga and the abridgement in addition to explain several specific concepts they provide a point to access the rest. Though its still pretty hard going.

In addition the group Audio Anarchy have done something interesting with SOS. Instead of just turning the text into audio like they usually do, the group instead had readers read out a thesis, explain it and then relate it to their lives. Well except for the one title the Anarchists, he just reads it out and says he agrees with it, which is basically useless, but the rest is good.

Action as Theory:

Another issue with this divide is the obscuring of action as a form of theory. This is I feel one of the greatest strengths of syndicalism, much of its theory is developed and taught through action. To take the IWW as an example they mainly do education through practicals and workshops. The organiser training is not only a tool to build confidence and help members learn how to organise, its also a demonstration of class dynamics and the use of solidarity and direct action.

The Wobblies were also pioneers of other forms of teaching without relying solely on reading. Joe Hill, arguably the most well known Wobbly organiser, wrote songs to teach theory and bind workers together through singing. And he wasn't alone, the Wobblies had a large roster of singers and song writers, in particular Ralph Chaplins most famous song written in 1915

When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one
For the Union makes us strong

Solidarity forever, solidarity forever
Solidarity forever
For the Union makes us strong

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite 
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?  
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?  
For the union makes us strong
It is we who ploughed the prairies, built the cities where they trade
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid
Now we stand outcast and starving 'mid the wonders we have made
But the union makes us strong 
All the world  that's owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone 
We have laid the wide foundations, built it skyward stone by stone 
It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own  
While the union makes us strong
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn
We can break their haughty power gain our freedom when we learn
That the Union makes us strong
 In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousandfold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the Union makes us strong
And then there's our old friend Mr Block. Mr Block was a comic strip character whose daily misadventures explained the obstacles of class society to workers in a very accessible format. He gets screwed over by the bosses he admires, he struggles to get anywhere despite being a model worker and his attempts to break into the upper class all fall flat.

To be perfectly honest I think the only way out of a bottleneck is to develop a plurality of education tools, audio, video, graphics, books, practicals, music and even games. Relying on the same texts that even by 1939 where considered partially obsolete isn't going to be enough.


There is one other aspect to this that I think is worthy of commenting. The issue of gatekeeping. I'm not really happy with the term but its the one in general use so I'll go with that. In my experience there is an attitude that someone's opinion isn't worth hearing if they haven't done the same reading everyone else has. This is a fairly common thing but it amazes me how common it is amongst Communists.

Communism is supposed to use a scientific analysis and rooted in materialism i.e. economic reality. So if your discounting a view because it doesn't tally with your own reading list that is neither scientific nor material its just another form of literary elitism. The whole point of communist theory is to relate to the material world in some way. If it doesn't do that, then either the theory is poor or the person extolling it isn't as familiar with it as they like to assume.

One of the worst behaviours I've seen in left wing discourse is this fundamentalist approach of reciting quotations without substantiation or grounding in reality. If Marx/Kropotkin/Mao/Debs/Debord/Lenin/Bakunin/Bookchin etc said it, it must be true and you are wrong if you disagree for any reason and that's the end of it, is what this approach is saying. Its very frustrating dealing with these people, especially if you do know the works their quoting too. Even if the quotation is correct by some fluke, its not an answer and once someone starts reciting from the good book(s) the conversation is over. There's no point continuing it, even if what they're quoting was disproven by the course of events, unless it was retracted by the author at a later date its just walls made of words that they'll use again and again and again.

I believe a worryingly large number of people who bury their heads in texts have forgotten the point of the endeavour. Quotations are fine but of themselves all they prove is that you have read the text and can remember it. Without applying its lessons to the real world and seeing how it measures up, you're just using up your free time. To go back to the quotes at the top there for a minute, that's the point Marx and Bakunin were getting at, theory divorced from action, or rather theory that can't be translated into action is pointless.

Then there's the issue that since Communism is materialist by far the greatest teaching tool is practical experience with the economic system, and the class struggle itself. Who understands the concept of alienation of labour more? Someone whose read of it or someone who lives it? What about surplus value, someone whose calculated the national averages or someone who compares their wage packet to the projected profits of the company? and so on, and so on. You can understand the workings of capitalism without reading economic texts, you can understand oppression without reading anti authoritarian literature, you can understand the importance of the environment without subscribing to Greenpeace's email lists etc. And to be honest if someone can't tell another person who does understand the subject from someone who doesn't without the use code words (same terminology) then I don't believe they've understood the theory either.

Just as it its important to have a frame of reference for understanding theory, its important to have a frame of reference for applying it. Often what happens in arguments the views of some will be written off simply because they don't use the approved terminology favoured by the approved reading lists. That's another warning sign the conversation is going nowhere, by the way, when one side starts getting really picky with the word choices of the others. To be honest if either start happening your better off breaking it off.

The idea that we must all study the same texts to have ideas and opinions worthy of consideration is put bluntly just a form of snobbery. And a symptom of a closed mind, its one of the reasons this left unity thing won't work because a large number have nothing but contempt for the theory of schools of thought that aren't their own.  Left unity in practice usually means everyone should listen to us.

This is why a lot of interleft criticism is just insults and mischaracterisations, why bother learning what the others actually think when its all trash anyway? The point of the majority of lefty  criticism isn't to help everyone improve and develop its to discredit competitors so everyone ends up joining your "side".

This theory/action divide is often just another excuse to do the same.

Give and Take:

But of course this isn't one sided, both sides have justifiable frustrations. It isn't fair or practical to expect those familiar with a work to dispense knowledge on demand. But on the other hand dumping a book in someone's lap and expecting them to not only muddle through but come to the same conclusions you have (I speak from experience here, often disagreement is seen as a sign of incomprehension or you being overly emotional) is simply daft.

But there is a potential solution, rebuilding study groups and book clubs. In the past most parties and radical unions and propaganda groups developed programs to not just read books but to help members and sympathisers understand them. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense is famous for confrontation and wearing berets and waving shotguns around, but much of what they actually did was provide community services and support for members. Most large Chapters had reading and discussion groups for the texts on their reading lists.

The IWW has had some success reviving the Working People's College and summer camps and workshops at branch levels. And the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) has maintained a fairly consistent study program and summer school. But these are exceptions really, the trend has been to just leave education to individual members in their off time or have members follow the lead of important members.

The internet has seen a bit more of a revival though, had a Capital reading group, the Something Awful literature sub forum has a book of the month reading and discussion thread that occasionally reads political and philosophical books. And I discord I recently joined has a book club channel. I think rebuilding discussion and study groups are the way to overcome most of these problems.

It'll open up texts to more readers, allow the community to develop their analytical and critical thinking skills, limit the tendency of theory reading to lead to group think and mindless recitations and remove the burdens from our shoulders.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Big Reddebrek PDF Archive

For about four or so years now I've been indulging in a rather strange hobby, I like making PDFs. My father got me an e-reader as a present but unlike Kindles and Ipads the company that made it went broke before I got mine, so it had no online service to get books from. You could however manually add texts to it either through usb or a cameras memory card. So I got into the habit of doing that, and reading on the go.

Unfortunately free e-books can be hard to find if you don't want to be limited to pre 1923 English language texts. Sites get taken down or ask you to download dodgy addons etc. Fortunately online texts are more plentiful and stable (though not always a lot of these sites were hosted on platforms like geocities) and after a little practise you can make them into pdfs/epubs fairly easily.

Depending on the websites formatting it can be as simple as highlighting, and then copy and pasting into a text document, and then exporting them into (pdf is the standard) a e-format and then you can transfer into all the others using software like Calibre.

I then decided to share them and a few people thanked me and it just escalated from there. I now have over 400 made and I keep making them now and then. So I'm making this blog as an archive of sorts for the pdfs I've made. Feel free to download and share if you like them.

Most of these use text hosted on and can be found attached to their articles or in this thread,

Link to the folder

Search This Blog

#blog-pager { display: block !important; float: none!important; } .blog-pager-older-link, .home-link, .blog-pager-newer-link { background-color: #FFFFFF!important; }