The Next Step for Organized Labor? People in Prison

In the early 2000s, the small but militant Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) launched union drives at Starbucks and Jimmy John’s. At the time, many in the mainstream labor movement scratched their heads. Traditionally, labor groups believed that the high turnover of fast food workers would make them impossible to organize.

Nearly a decade later, fast food workers and the Fight for $15 are a central focus of the mainstream labor movement. And, given IWW’s ability to unionize workers who once seemed out of reach, many labor organizers now look to them as an incubator of new organizing strategies.

Now IWW faces one of the biggest challenges in its history: convincing the broader labor movement to embrace the approximately 400,000 Americans employed as prison labor across the United States.

This spring, the IWW and allied community groups organized prison labor strikes of thousands of incarcerated workers in Alabama, Wisconsin, Texas, Mississippi, and Ohio—all demanding the right to form a union. The IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee has called for a nationwide prison strike on September 9 to mark the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising and claims it has the support of thousands of prisoners throughout the United States.

“It could really shake things up,” IWW organizer Jimi Del Duca told me. “A lot of working-class people are afraid to organize because they have a few crumbs to lose. [Many] prisoners have nothing to lose and that gives them courage. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

However, the barriers to organizing prisoners are high. Communication between prisons is difficult, as most prisoners are not allowed access to e-mail. Even within prisons, inmates are limited in their ability to meet face-to-face. While they are allowed to assemble routinely for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or religious activities, the 1977 Supreme Court case Jones v. North Carolina Labor Prisoners’ Union denied them their First Amendment right to assemble if a warden feels a gathering is a threat to prison security. As a result, wardens block most prisoners’ union meetings.

However, Elon University Labor Law Professor Eric Fink says that prisoners may have another option. The right of prisoners to form a union has never been challenged in a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) union certification case, and Fink believes that prisoners could use the NLRB process to push for the right to meet regularly and form collective bargaining units. He argues that prison workers—employed by private contractors in 37 states—should have the same right to form a union as other workers employed by those contractors. According to Fink, if the IWW were to bring a case before the NLRB, then the board could declare that prisoners are employees who are eligible to join a union.

“I think the Board is capable of saying there are issues that [incarcerated people] have the right to bargain for—such as hours and wages—as any other worker would have the right to do,” said Fink.

As for prison workers who are employed directly by the state, Fink feels they could organize more easily. Under federal labor law, each individual state has a Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) which governs how labor law is applied in the jurisdiction. Often, the leadership of the PERB is heavily influenced by local labor leadership. So, if a public sector union such as AFSCME were to endorse the right of prisoners to form unions, state-level PERBs might be inclined to extend that right.

However, there is a catch: Many public sector unions also represent guards, who may be lukewarm to the idea of prisoners forming unions.

“The problem is that insofar as a number of public-sector unions have prison guards as members—and sometimes in large numbers—it has an impact on the ability to have that discussion,” said Bill Fletcher, the former education director of the AFL-CIO.

Heather Ann Thompson, professor of history in the African American Studies department at the University of Michigan, believes that guards should see prisoners’ unions as a win for them, too.

“These are workplaces that are deeply unsafe and barbaric,” said Thompson. She believes that giving workers a collective voice may reduce gang violence, because it will give prisoners a structure through which they can advocate for themselves. Unions would also provide guards and prisoners with the means to push together for a safer prison environment.

Thompson also argues that it is in organized labor’s best interest to help prison workers. Some Republican governors—such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker—have used prison labor to replace unionized public employees.

“Prisoners have no power to resist being employed as scab labor,” said Thompson. “Rather than resent the prisoners, the idea would be to support prison labor workers’ right to resist work.”

It remains unclear if the mainstream labor movement will support the prison-labor strike movement. Both AFSCME and the AFL-CIO declined to be interviewed, but they have indicated that they view mass incarceration as an employment issue. In April, while touring an apprenticeship program at a prison in Washington State, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “Mass incarceration has become a big business whose product is low wages and blighted lives, and the time has come for us to do something about it.”

IWW organizer Del Deluca is hopeful that the broader labor movement will support this effort. With more than 2 million people in prison, he sees potential in this new path of organizing.

“We could change the direction of history,” he said. “We could change the way our world works.”

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What Could the Social Structure of Anarchy Look Like?

I.5 What could the social structure of anarchy look like?

The social and political structure of anarchy is similar to that of the economic structure, i.e., it is based on a voluntary federation of decentralised, directly democratic policy-making bodies. These are the neighbourhood and community assemblies and their confederations. In these grassroots political units, the concept of “self-management” becomes that of “self-government”, a form of municipal organisation in which people take back control of their living places from the bureaucratic state and the capitalist class whose interests it serves. Bakunin’s comments are very applicable here:

“[A] truly popular organisation begins from below, from the association, from the commune. Thus starting out with the organisation of the lowest nucleus and proceeding upward, federalism becomes a political institution of socialism, the free and spontaneous organisation of popular life.” [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, pp. 273-4]

“A new economic phase demands a new political phase,” argued Kropotkin, “A revolution as profound as that dreamed of by the socialists cannot accept the mould of an out-dated political life. A new society based on equality of condition, on the collective possession of the instruments of work, cannot tolerate for a week . . . the representative system . . . if we want the social revolution, we must seek a form of political organisation that will correspond to the new method of economic organisation . . . The future belongs to the free groupings of interests and not to governmental centralisation; it belongs to freedom and not to authority.” [Words of a Rebel, pp. 143-4]

Thus the social structure of an anarchist society will be the opposite of the current system. Instead of being centralised and top-down as in the state, it will be decentralised and organised from the bottom up. As Kropotkin argued, “socialism must become more popular, more communalistic, and less dependent upon indirect government through elected representatives. It must become more self-governing. [Anarchism, p. 185] In this, Kropotkin (like Bakunin) followed Proudhon who argued that “[u]nless democracy is a fraud, and the sovereignty of the People a joke, it must be admitted that each citizen in the sphere of his [or her] industry, each municipal, district or provincial council within its own territory, is the only natural and legitimate representative of the Sovereign, and that therefore each locality should act direct and by itself in administering the interests which it includes, and should exercise full sovereignty in relation to them.” [Propert is Theft!, p. 595] While anarchists have various different conceptions of how this communal system would be constituted (as we will see), there is total agreement on these basic visions and principles.

The aim is “to found an order of things wherein the principle of the sovereignty of the people, of man and of the citizen, would be implemented to the letter” and “where every member” of a society “retaining his independence and continuing to act as sovereign, would be self-governing” and any social organisation “would concern itself solely with collective matters; where as a consequence, there would be certain common matters but no centralisation.” This means that the “federative, mutualist republican sentiment” (as summarised these days by the expression self-management) will “bring about the victory of Labour Democracy right around the world.” [Proudhon, Op. Cit., p. 574 and p. 763]

This empowerment of ordinary citizens through decentralisation and direct democracy will eliminate the alienation and apathy that are now rampant in the modern city and town, and (as always happens when people are free) unleash a flood of innovation in dealing with the social breakdown now afflicting our urban wastelands. The gigantic metropolis with its hierarchical and impersonal administration, its atomised and isolated “residents,” will be transformed into a network of humanly scaled participatory communities (usually called “communes”), each with its own unique character and forms of self-government, which will be co-operatively linked through federation with other communities at several levels, from the municipal through the bioregional to the global.

This means that the social perspective of libertarian socialism is as distinctive as its economic vision. While mainstream socialism is marked by support for centralised states, anarchists stay true to socialism as equality and argue that means decentralisation. Thus socialism “wears two distinct faces. When it is said that a man is a Socialist, it is implied that he regards the monopoly of private property in the means of production as the cause of the existing unequal distribution of wealth and its attendant ills . . . Socialists are divided into the centralising and decentralising parties, the party of the State and the party of the federatic commune.” [Charlotte M. Wilson, Anarchist Essays, p. 37] Only such a federal, bottom-up, system can ensure people can manage their own fates and ensure genuine freedom and equality through mass participation and self-management.

Of course, it can (and has) been argued that people are just not interested in “politics.” Further, some claim that this disinterest is why governments exist — people delegate their responsibilities and power to others because they have better things to do. Such an argument, however, is flawed on empirical grounds. As we indicated in section B.2.6, centralisation of power in both the French and American revolutions occurred because working people were taking too much interest in politics and social issues, not the reverse (“To attack the central power, to strip it of its prerogatives, to decentralise, to dissolve authority, would have been to abandon to the people the control of its affairs, to run the risk of a truly popular revolution. That is why the bourgeoisie sought to reinforce the central government even more. . .” [Kropotkin, Words of a Rebel, p. 143]).

Simply put, the state is centralised to facilitate minority rule by excluding the mass of people from taking part in the decision making processes within society. This is to be expected as social structures do not evolve by chance — rather they develop to meet specific needs and requirements. The specific need of the ruling class is to rule and that means marginalising the bulk of the population. Its requirement is for minority power and this is transformed into the structure of the state.

Even if we ignore the historical evidence on this issue, anarchists do not draw this conclusion from the current apathy that surrounds us. In fact, we argue that this apathy is not the cause of government but its result. Government is an inherently hierarchical system in which ordinary people are deliberately marginalised. The powerlessness people feel due to the workings of the system ensure that they are apathetic about it, thus guaranteeing that wealthy and powerful elites govern society without hindrance from the oppressed and exploited majority.

Moreover, government usually sticks its nose into areas that most people have no real interest in. Some things, as in the regulation of industry or workers’ safety and rights, a free society could leave to those affected to make their own decisions (we doubt that workers would subject themselves to unsafe working conditions, for example). In others, such as the question of personal morality and acts, a free people would have no interest in (unless it harmed others, of course). This, again, would reduce the number of issues that would be discussed in a free commune.

Also, via decentralisation, a free people would be mainly discussing local issues, so reducing the complexity of many questions and solutions. Wider issues would, of course, be discussed but these would be on specific issues and so more focused in their nature than those raised in the legislative bodies of the state. So, a combination of centralisation and an irrational desire to discuss every and all questions also helps make “politics” seem boring and irrelevant.

As noted above, this result is not an accident and the marginalisation of “ordinary” people is actually celebrated in bourgeois “democratic” theory. As Noam Chomsky notes:

“Twentieth century democratic theorists advise that ‘The public must be put in its place,’ so that the ‘responsible men’ may ‘live free of the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd,’ ‘ignorant and meddlesome outsiders’ whose ‘function’ is to be ‘interested spectators of action,’ not participants, lending their weight periodically to one or another of the leadership class (elections), then returning to their private concerns. (Walter Lippman). The great mass of the population, ‘ignorant and mentally deficient,’ must be kept in their place for the common good, fed with ‘necessary illusion’ and ’emotionally potent oversimplifications’ (Wilson’s Secretary of State Robert Lansing, Reinhold Niebuhr). Their ‘conservative’ counterparts are only more extreme in their adulation of the Wise Men who are the rightful rulers — in the service of the rich and powerful, a minor footnote regularly forgotten.” [Year 501, p. 18]

This marginalisation of the public from political life ensures that the wealthy can be “left alone” to use their power as they see fit. In other words, such marginalisation is a necessary part of a fully functioning capitalist society. Hence, under capitalism, libertarian social structures have to be discouraged. Or as Chomsky puts it, the “rabble must be instructed in the values of subordination and a narrow quest for personal gain within the parameters set by the institutions of the masters; meaningful democracy, with popular association and action, is a threat to be overcome.” [Op. Cit., p. 18] This philosophy can be seen in the statement of a US Banker in Venezuela under the murderous Jimenez dictatorship:

“You have the freedom here to do whatever you want to do with your money, and to me, that is worth all the political freedom in the world.” [quoted by Chomsky, Op. Cit., p. 99]

Deterring libertarian alternatives to statism is a common feature of our current system. By marginalising and disempowering people, the ability of individuals to manage their own social activities is undermined and weakened. They develop a “fear of freedom” and embrace authoritarian institutions and “strong leaders”, which in turn reinforces their marginalisation.

This consequence is hardly surprising. Anarchists maintain that the desire to participate and the ability to participate are in a symbiotic relationship: participation builds on itself. By creating the social structures that allow participation, participation will increase. As people increasingly take control of their lives, so their ability to do so also increases. The challenge of having to take responsibility for decisions that make a difference is at the same time an opportunity for personal development. To begin to feel power, having previously felt powerless, to win access to the resources required for effective participation and learn how to use them, is a liberating experience. Once people become active subjects, making things happen in one aspect of their lives, they are less likely to remain passive objects, allowing things to happen to them, in other aspects.

All in all, “politics” is far too important a subject to leave to politicians, the wealthy and bureaucrats. After all, it is (or, at least, it should be) what affects, your friends, community, and, ultimately, the planet you live on. Such issues cannot be left to anyone but you.

Hence a meaningful communal life based on self-empowered individuals is a distinct possibility (indeed, it has repeatedly appeared throughout history). It is the hierarchical structures in statism and capitalism, marginalising and disempowering the majority, which are at the root of the current wide scale apathy in the face of increasing social and ecological disruption. Libertarian socialists therefore call for a radically new form of political system to replace the centralised nation-state, a form that would be based around confederations of self-governing communities. In other words, in anarchism [s]ociety is a society of societies; a league of leagues of leagues; a commonwealth of commonwealths of commonwealths; a republic of republics of republics. Only there is freedom and order, only there is spirit, a spirit which is self-sufficiency and community, unity and independence.” [Gustav Landauer, For Socialism, pp. 125-126]

To create such a system would require dismantling the nation-state and reconstituting relations between communities on the basis of self-determination and free and equal confederation from below. In the following subsections we will examine in more detail why this new system is needed and what it might look like. As we have stressed repeatedly, these are just suggestions of possible anarchist solutions to social organisation. Most anarchists recognise that anarchist communities will co-exist with non-anarchist ones after the destruction of the existing state. As we are anarchists we are discussing anarchist visions. We will leave it up to non-anarchists to paint their own pictures of a possible future.

Militant Tactics Against the Far Right (Audio)

MILITANT TACTICS AGAINST THE FAR RIGHT

In the aftermath of the shutdown of far right celebrity Milo Yiannapoulos at UC Berkeley, there’s been much debate among progressives and leftists about the use of militant tactics against the right.  Some of the questions under contention are whether militant tactics bring down repression on the most vulnerable, and whether free speech—even for fascists—is sacrosanct.  Undocumented UC Berkeley student Juan Prieto talks about why he supported the shutdown. And Kieran discusses the history of the group Anti-Racist Action and makes the case for mass militant organizing and action.

The IWW and Electoral Politics: An Historical Overview

Election Day he shouted, “a Socialist For Mayor!”
The “comrade” got elected, he happy was for fair,
But after the election he got an awful shock,
A great big socialistic bull did rap him on the block.
And Comrade Block did sob, “I helped him get his job. “

When Joe Hill wrote this verse to his famous “Mr. Block” somewhere around 1910, he was expressing a common view held by most members of the IWW that electoral political action, even in support of leftist candidates, was a futile exercise. As it turned out Hill’s words proved to be prophetic since the “bull” that arrested him, the physician who treated his wounds and later notified the police of his whereabouts, and the lawyer who misrepresented him were all Socialists. On the other hand, much of Hill’s support in Utah came from the Socialist Party or its supporters.

In any event the anti-electoral politics stance of the IWW is long-standing. Its roots go back to the very beginning when a wide coalition of individuals including socialists like Eugene V. Debs, Daniel De Leon and others, formed the IWW in 1905. Between then and 1908 when the union was reorganized, tensions between the various groups in the IWW were manifest in disagreement over tactics. Some urged the new union to establish a political component which would capture power at the ballot box. Others believed in direct action and taking power “at the point of production.” Those advocating the latter position pointed out that large numbers of workers, particularly blacks, women, and immigrant workers were legally dis­enfranchised, thus weakening the chance of the strategy’s success. Moreover, since large segments of IWW support came from migratory workers who moved fre­quently, it would be difficult to endorse a strategy which involved permanent electoral polling booths and voters residences.

The choice, these Wobblies argued, was to emphasize areas of strength, not weakness. At the union’s 1908 convention — where as Fred Thompson noted there was a “hearty disrespect for politicians” — the advocates of direct action dominated, though some sympathy for electoral politics and even cordial fraternal relations with some groups like the Socialist Party continued at different times and in different places. Indeed, some historians have argued that the union was not so much anti-political as it was non-political in an electoral sense. At the same time, the actions of the 1908 convention unified the IWW and moved it in a more coherent and cohesive direction. As Fred Thompson has observed:

In one sense this [convention] is the launching of the IWW. It is from here on that it exists as an organization with its own distinctive character … The five thousand members it had after the 1908 convention were no longer divergent groups trying to live together but a compact organization of [workers] attached to the IWW rather than to something else, largely rebels who had been organized by the new union, but who had long experience in the struggle with the employer …

In understanding the IWW’s position on electoral politics it is also important to examine the career of a founding member of the union, and its best known advocate in the years before World War I-William D. “Big Bill” Haywood. A son of the West, Haywood’s roots went back to the Western Federation of Miners, of which he was an officer. Because his experiences lay in industrial unionism, not electoral politics, Haywood never really championed the educational possibilities of electoral politics like his colleagues in the Socialist Party. Though he urged workers to vote and even ran for Governor of Colorado himself, Haywood believed that the im­portance of electoral politics existed only in so far as election to office could trans­late into the ability to protect working people. In this sense, Haywood saw politics as a secondary, though impor­tant, part of the overall attempt to seize political control through direct action. Haywood’s views on socialism and . politics are succinctly expressed in a famous talk he gave in New York entitled “Socialism: The Hope of the Working Class:”

With the success of socialism prac­tically all of the political offices now in existence will be put out of business. I want to say also, and with as much emphasis, that while a member of the Socialist Party and believing firmly n political action, it is decidedly better in my opinion to elect the superintendent in some branch of industry than to elect a congressman … Under socialism we will have no congresses such as exist today, no legislatures, nor parliaments nor councils of municipalities. Our councils will not be filled with aspiring lawyers or ministers, but they will be conventions of the working class, composed of men and women who will go there for purposes of education, to exchange ideas, and by their expert knowledge to improve the machinery so that we can use it for the advantage of the working class.

For a time, Haywood was an active , member of the Socialist Party of America, serving on its national com­mittee. Ultimately, he was removed from that office in 1913 by a party recall, ostensibly because he had publicly advocated violence and sabotage. At the same time, Haywood had alienated segments of the Socialist Party because he promoted dual unionism, rejected the notion of gradual reform’ as meaningful to his working-class’ constituency, and clashed with important figures on the right and center of the umbrella Socialist Party. After Haywood’s dismissal, the influence of the IWW and others in the Socialist party who shared a syndicalist view was greatly diminished.

Also important in understanding the IWW’s avoidance of electoral politics is a recognition that the union has always emphasized direct action, the general strike and workers control of the workplace. In this sense, the IWW view represented in part the influence of the anarcho-syndicalist ideas of later 19th century Europe and similar trends introduced into the United States. But the IWW represented an indigenous form of industrial unionism that sought to create “one big union” through which the working class would take possesson “of the earth and the machinery of production and abolish the wage system.” In this way society would be transformed by workers control of industry. As the preamble to the IWW puts it “it is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism” through organizing the working class into an “army of production not only for the everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown.”

In the 1920s and 30s, the union came into conflict with the Communist Party which emerged as a proponent of an electoral approach to bringing about a workers’ government. While the Com­munists accepted the importance of industrial unionism, they also believed in the Leninist concept of a revolutionary “vanguard party.” The IWW, committed as it was to democracy preceding from the bottom up, was out of step with the Communist notion of democratic centralism. Over the years, the IWW has continued to oppose support for electoral political action and distanced itself from political solutions as a whole, continuing to stress action at the point of production.

Today, these attitudes towards electoral politics continue to be very evi­dent in the organizational work of the union, and among the members at large. At the same time, it should be noted that this has not kept Wobblies from working with others whose first priority, tacti­cally speaking, may be somewhat dif­ferent. A poll taken among Socialist Party members a decade or so ago, for example, demonstrated that there were a number of party members who had dual membership in the IWW, or subscribed to the Industrial Worker. At the same time, it should be noted that at the present, the Socialist Party national office in New York City is an IWW job ‘ shop. And indeed, there were several in attendance at the recent Socialist Party national convention in Chicago in September.

Like Fred Thompson, I think it is healthy to have a “hearty disrespect” for politicians. Perhaps the message in all of this is that there are many ways, and many strategies, to achieve common goals. November is the season of elections, and we will all be besieged with the promises and pleadings of politicians. But November is also a time when we remember Joe Hill. As he said:

“Don’t Mourn, Organize!”

On the Black Bloc Tactic

BACK IN BLACK

“It may be that the black bloc’s time is over, that it remains completely inadequate to our present conjuncture. But it may also be the case that we can find ways to reintegrate the bloc into today’s struggles, which might ultimately make our movements even stronger. We will get nowhere by indulging in knee-jerk denunciations based in moralism, dubious appeals to the authority of history, or fixed ideas about what struggles ought to look like, as the real struggles rage outside. We have to begin with a concrete analysis of the concrete situation to see what kind of political experiments we need today, making sure we don’t miss the possibilities of unprecedented events. Instead of drawing conclusions from behind closed doors, we should base our strategy on what’s happening in the streets.”

The Uprising in Baja California

tijuana_tierra_y_libertad_1911
Magonista guerrillas with the banner “Tierra y Libertad” in Tijuana, 1911

Baja California (Lower California ) is the long finger of land that stretches down into the Pacific south of the border with California in the USA. The border towns of Tijuana and Mexicali and the coastal town of Ensanada are its chief towns. Here for six months during 1911 a major insurrection took place. Organise! Looks at this little-known event, in which the famous Wobbly Joe Hill is rumoured to have been involved.
On 29th January 1911 twenty armed Magonista militants led by Jose Maria Leyva seized the town of Mexicali. Leyva called himself the General in Chief of the Insurgent Forces and was assisted by Simon Berthold. This act threatened the rich agricultural estates as well as the water resources used by the US farmers of Imperial Valley. The Magonistas were soon joined by many volunteers from the USA, boosting their numbers to 80. A column of soldiers was sent from Ensenada to drive them out.

At the same time in the US press an eccentric businessman Dick Ferris, with backing from important bankers, began to make announcements about creating an independent Baja California, and to recruit 1,000 men to carry this out. The US press began to falsely amalgamate the Magonista actions with Ferris’s plans.

The government troops were defeated and the insurgents increased their numbers to 200. The socialist John Kenneth Turner brought them a delivery of arms over the border . A few days later, thirty Americans led by ex-sergeant William Stanley seized a border post to the east of Mexicali. The following day Leyva and Berthold declared the foundation of a cooperative commonwealth in Baja California. The insurgents now numbered 300 at Mexicali, with two thirds of them from the USA. On 1st March another Magonista column led by Francisco Vasquez Salinas and Luis Rodriguez crossed the border into Baja California and started requisitioning the big estates near Tecate.

Indecision within the insurgent ranks at Mexicali led to serious disagreements with Stanley attempting to strip Leyva of his command, which was countered by Berthold. Stanley then crossed the border into the USA with the aim of convincing the Magonista leadership in Los Angeles that he should lead an independent expedition.

Luis Rodriguez seized Tecate on 12th March, whilst Stanley again seized the same border post and built up his forces to a hundred. Meanwhile the US government, affrighted by the perceived threat to its interests, massed 20,000 soldiers on the border. Fighting now broke out between the government troops and the insurgents , Tecate was retaken and Leyva and Berthold failed to retake it. Antagonisms between the Americans and the Mexicans within the insurgent ranks continued, with Leyva being blamed for the defeat. He was dismissed as commander and replaced by Salinas. Disobeying Salinas, Stanley launched an attack on government troops and was defeated dying a day later. He was replaced by Cary lap Rhys Pryce, a Welsh “soldier of fortune” who accused Salinas of having betrayed Stanley.
On 13th April Berthold died of an infection of a wound he had sustained in the previous month. The election of a new commander aggravated the conflicts between Mexicans and Americans and a group of Indians led by Emilio Guerrero quit the detachment. Meanwhile the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) delivered arms to the insurgents.

Salinas arrived in Los Angeles to meet with the Magonista leadership but was arrested by the US authorities. Francisco Quijadas replaces him. Meanwhile Mosby was wounded and replaced by Sam Wood, who was joined by Pryce at the retaken town of Tecate. They seized Tijuana after fierce fighting. Tijuana was and still is, a playground for Americans to come over the border to spend their money in saloons, casinos and brothels and at the racetrack. The capture of Tijuana led to great enthusiasm in radical circles with 30 deserters from the US Army crossing the border to join the insurgents.
However media attention went to Pryce’s head. He set up a system where for 25 cents American tourists could visit the sights of battle. He allowed the saloons and gambling dens to continue their activities, taxing them and sending 850 dollars to the Magonista leadership. Pryce became more and more out of control and started talking about uniting Baja California to the USA, in several interviews to US papers. He regularly crossed the border, dining at the best restaurants in San Diego and establishing contact with the businessman Dick Ferris.

The Madero regime had now come to power on 21st May. The Magonista leadership refused to cease hostilities, and Pryce, who was favourable to a ceasefire, went to L.A. to argue for this. He was dismissed. His place at Tijuana was taken by Louis James, also under the influence of Ferris. James called for an independent republic and the new regime used this as a pretext of accusing the Magonistas of serving US interests. Fortunately, James was ousted and forced to flee. Mosby attempted to control the situation and closed down the saloons and casinos. However he still looked for tourist revenue and set up a Wild West Show in the style of Buffalo Bill!

The Mexican government convened with the US authorities, which allowed 1500 Mexican troops to cross and re-cross the border and attack the insurgents. The detachment of Guerrero, who as we have seen, earlier separated from Leyva, was massacred. For their part the US authorities arrested the MAgonista leadership in Los Angeles. Leyva, who had gone over to the Madero regime, negotiated a surrender of the insurgents at Mexicali. Leyva later made a career in the Mexican army.

The forces led by Mosby at Tijuana refused to surrender and were attacked by government troops. The insurgents fled, Mexicans and Indians disappearing into the countryside and the Americans fleeing over the border where they were disarmed by the US Army.

The attempt at revolution in Baja California, had proved to be a fiasco, with the insurgents crippled by dissensions between Americans, Mexicans and Indians, and with opportunism and lack of political principle rife among some of its leading actors.

This article originally appeared in issue No 77 of Organise! the magazine of the Anarchist Federation.

Anton Pannekoek

Fighting for freedom is not letting your leaders think for you and decide, and following obediently behind them, or from time to time scolding them. Fighting for freedom is partaking to the full of one’s capacity, thinking and deciding for oneself, taking all the responsibilities as a self-relying individual amidst equal comrades. It is true that to think for oneself, to think out what is true and right, with a head dulled by fatigue, is the hardest, the most difficult task; it is much harder than to pay and to obey. But it is the only way to freedom. To be liberated by others, whose leadership is the essential part of the liberation, means the getting of new masters instead of the old ones.

Freedom, the goal of the workers, means that they shall be able, man for man, to manage the world, to use and deal with the treasures of the earth, so as to make it a happy home for all. How can they ensure this if they are not able to conquer and defend this themselves?

The proletarian revolution is not simply the vanquishing of capitalist power. It is the rise of the whole working people out of dependence and ignorance into independence and clear consciousness of how to make their life.

True organization, as the workers need it in the revolution, implies that everyone takes part in it, body and soul and brains; that everyone takes part in leadership as well as in action, and has to think out, to decide and to perform to the full of his capacities. Such an organization is a body of self-determining people. There is no place for professional leaders. Certainly there is obeying; everybody has to follow the decisions which he himself has taken part in making. But the full power always rests with the workers themselves.

The Vanguard Concept

“The Vanguard” = those layers of people in the working class who are either militant unionists, or are at least class conscious, or in some ways anti-capitalists or full on revolutionaries.

Thats all it means. So if you’re talking and debating the merits of “The Vanguard” you’re probably of it. So this includes (most) anarchists

So, we’re all invited to The Party? Great!

But the thing is, you’re leaving out the part where The Vanguard takes over state power:

What happens is that the Party, shall we say, absorbs the vanguard of the proletariat, and this vanguard exercises the dictatorship of the proletariat.

V. I. Lenin, The Trade Unions, The Present Situation, And Trotsky’s Mistakes, 1920

Lenin’s concept of The Vanguard was of rulers in waiting:

The art of politics (and the Communist’s correct understanding of his tasks) consists in correctly gauging the conditions and the moment when the vanguard of the proletariat can successfully assume power, when it is able—during and after the seizure of power—to win adequate support from sufficiently broad strata of the working class and of the non-proletarian working masses, and when it is able thereafter to maintain, consolidate and extend its rule by educating, training and attracting ever broader masses of the working people.

Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder, 1920

So, as workers with no wish to assume power over “the most backward strata and masses of the working class”, we anarchists can’t really count ourselves among the Leninist vanguard.

I mean honestly though, having read Lenin you must  realise that this is a bit of a stretch. What do you think Lenin would’ve made of an attempt to include anarchists in his definition of the proletarian vanguard? He’ll be spinning in his display case.

SOCIAL ANARCHISM AND ORGANISATION

Especifismo: Anarchist Organisation, Historical Perspectives and Influences


As we have seen, in especifismo there is ideological and theoretical unity, an alignment in relation to the theoretical and ideological aspects of anarchism. This political line is collectively constructed and everyone in the organisation is obliged to follow it. Because we consider anarchism something very broad, with very different or even contradictory positions, it appears necessary to us that, between all these positions, we must extract an ideological and theoretical line to be advocated and developed by the organisation. As we have emphasised this line must, necessarily, be linked to practice since we believe that “to theorise effectively it is essential to act”.

Texas Farmworker: 1966 Strike ‘Was Like Heading Into War’

RIO GRANDE CITY, TX

“Bathrooms were nonexistent; medical services were a fantasy. Even drinking water was a luxury.

“I remember we would drink from puddles left by the irrigation system, full of frogs and crickets,” Diaz says. “We would push the critters out of the way and drink from the puddles.”

Workers decided in the spring of 1966 to walk off the job. Union leaders from California — including Cesar Chavez — came to Texas and helped organize the strike.

“It was like heading into war,” Diaz says, “because ranchers were not budging.”

Indeed, ranchers dissed the farmworkers’ demands and called in the Texas Rangers.

“They used to beat us up and would arrest us,” Vera says.

But even beatings and arrests failed to break the strike. So ranchers opted for a different route. They started busing in workers from Mexico.

Strikers knew their only hope for success was to damage the ranchers financially. To do that, they blocked the U.S.-Mexico bridge in Roma, Texas.