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.

Bolsheviks’ and Workers’ Control

An analysis of the Russian Revolution shows that in allowing a specific group, separate from the workers themselves, to take over the function of managing production, the working class loses all possibility of even controlling the means of producing wealth. The separation of productive labour from the means of production results in an exploiting society. Moreover, when institutions such as the Soviets could no longer be influenced by ordinary workers, the regime could no longer be called a soviet regime. By no stretch of the imagination could it still be taken to reflect the interests of the working class. The basic question: who manages production after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie? should therefore now become the centre of any serious discussion about socialism. Today the old equation (liquidation of the bourgeoisie = workers’ state) popularized by countless Leninists, Stalinists and Trotskyists is just not good enough.

Bolesheviks’ and Workers’ Control

“The Bolshevik Party was torn by a contradiction which helps explain its attitude before and after 1917. Its strength lay in the advanced workers who supported it. There is no doubt that this support was at times widespread and genuine. But these workers could not control the Party. The leadership was firmly in the hands of professional revolutionaries. In a sense this was inevitable. A clandestine press and the dissemination of propaganda could only be kept going regularly by militants constantly on the move and at times compelled to seek refuge overseas. A worker could only become a Bolshevik cadre on condition he ceased work and placed himself at the disposal of the Party, which would then send him on special missions, to this or that town. The apparatus of the Party was in the hands of revolutionary specialists. The contradiction was that the real living forces that provided the strength of the Party could not control it. As an institution, the Party totally eluded control by the Russian working class. The problems encountered by the Russian Revolution after 1917 did not bring about this contradiction, they only served to exacerbate it. The attitude of the Party in 1917 and after are products of its history. This is what rendered so futile most of the attempts made within the Party by various oppositions between 1918 and 1921. They failed to perceive that a given ideological premise (the preordained hegemony of the Party) led necessarily to certain conclusions in practice.

But even this is probably not taking the analysis far enough. At an even deeper level the very conception of this kind of organization and this kind of relationship to the mass movement reflect the unrecognized influence of bourgeois ideology, even on the minds of those who were relentlessly seeking to overthrow bourgeois society. The concept that society must necessarily be divided into “leaders” and “led”, the notion that there are some born to rule while others cannot really develop beyond a certain stage have from time immemorial been the tacit assumptions of every ruling class in history. For even the Bolsheviks to accept them shows how correct Marx was when he proclaimed that “the ruling ideas of each epoch are the ideas of its ruling class”. Confronted with an “efficient”, tightly-knit organization of this kind, built on ideas of this kind, it is scarcely surprising that the emerging Factory Committees were unable to carry the Revolution to completion.

The final difficulty confronting the Committees was inherent in the Committee Movement itself. Although certain individuals showed extraordinary lucidity, and although the Committee Movement represents the highest manifestation of the class struggle achieved in 1917, the movement as a whole was unable to understand what was happening to it and to offer any serious resistance. It did not succeed in generalizing its experience and the record it left is, unfortunately, very fragmentary. Unable to proclaim its own objectives (workers’ self-management) in clear and positive terms, it was inevitable that others would step into the vacuum. With the bourgeoisie in full disintegration, and the working class as yet insufficiently strong or conscious to impose its own solutions to the problems tearing society apart, the triumphs of Bolshevism and of the bureaucracy were both inevitable.”

Are you sure we’re talking about Syndicalism here?

By Steve Ongerth

“It seems to me, then, that the real transgression that the IWW committed, in the eyes of Lenin and his followers, is that it refused to align itself with Moscow. It wouldn’t have made any difference if the IWW had been syndicalist, communist, or Satanist (or all three), the results would probably have been the same. The IWW might have even been willing to affiliate (debatable as that decision might have been), had the demands of Comintern not stipulated that the IWW cease to function as it was intended, and while it’s true that there had hitherto been some debates and disagreements between anarchists and communists (most famously between Bakunin and Marx, though it should be noted that the political aspects of their quarrels have been somewhat overstated and their personal competutiveness with each other vastly understated as motivations for their animosity), the deep schism that exists between us really didn’t happen until the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Of course, it goes without saying that the ISO, today being Fourth Internationalists, has its own problems being aligned with Comintern (or what’s left of it!)”

“It is clear that the defeat in Spain was due to a failure not of anarchist theory and tactics but a failure of anarchists to apply their theory and tactics. Instead of destroying the state, the CNT-FAI ignored it. For a revolution to be successful it needs to create organisations which can effectively replace the state and the market; that is, to create a widespread libertarian organisation for social and economic decision-making through which working class people can start to set their own agendas. Only by going down this route can the state and capitalism be effectively smashed.”
Does revolutionary Spain show that libertarian socialism can work in practice?