It’s probably fair to say that the Solidarity Federation’s new pamphlet/book, Fighting for Ourselves, is one of the most impressive pieces of writing to come out of the UK anarchist movement for a while. In fact, it might be the most ambitious text produced by any UK-based anarchists that I can remember in the whole time that I’ve been politically active – in other words, it’s kind of a big deal. It’s already produced a fair bit of discussion among class-struggle anarchists (if you’re not an anarchist, you’re a benefit claimant who found my blog because of the stuff about Universal Jobmatch, this might be a bit less interesting, but having said that, if you’re a benefit claimant who’s interested in organising with other people in order to defend your living standards – that is to say, if you’re interested in fighting for ourselves – you might want to give Fighting for Ourselves a read anyway).
So, here’s a few thoughts: if you’re a UK-based worker, looking for an overview of the workers’ movement from an anarcho-syndicalist perspective, read it. That’s what it does, and you won’t be disappointed. I can’t really pick out highlights, because the whole thing’s pretty solid, and the only criticisms I can make are basically that it doesn’t do things it wasn’t trying to do. But, since a review that just said “read this book” would be a bit dull and pointless, here are some criticisms anyway*:
First of all, although it draws on a lot of international examples, it’s very heavily focused on Europe. Outside Europe, the Argentinian FORA and the old American IWW get discussed, but that’s pretty much it. As a text primarily produced for British audiences, this isn’t too disastrous, but if you want to learn about the history of global class struggle, this really isn’t a great starting point. I haven’t read it myself, but I understand that Black Flame is probably a better place to get a genuinely international overview of anarchism and syndicalism. One specific point that could have been expanded on is the role of the COM in the Mexican Revolution; this is touched on in a footnote, but nothing beyond that. Since it’s often pointed to by critics of anarcho-syndicalism, an analysis of the Mexican COM would have been a good chance to discuss what went wrong and why, while also making the pamphlet less exclusively Europe-based.
Just as this isn’t a history of the global workers’ movement, it’s also not an anarchist analysis of gender, race, nationalism, sexuality, or disability. It’s clearly not trying to do any of those things, and so it can’t really be condemned for failing to do so, any more than it’d be fair to criticise a feminist text for not being an analysis of the Spanish Revolution; but, nevertheless, all those things are necessary for a genuinely revolutionary movement. I’d go so far as to say that an analysis of these things are needed before we can even understand class properly.
Perhaps more damning is the lack of attention paid to class struggle outside the workplace. In its practice, SolFed recognises that we’re as likely to come up against capital in the shape of the Jobcentre or a landlord as in an employer, as can be seen by their involvement in the successful struggle against Victorstone Property Consultants, but the pamphlet is almost entirely focused on workplace organisation. This is reflected in the lack of any discussion of the campaign against the Poll Tax. As the single largest victory won by the working class in this country in decades, and a movement that SolFed’s predecessors in the Direct Action Movement were involved in, it’s a pretty notable absence. Fighting for Ourselves is a great contribution towards the development of a revolutionary workplace strategy, but it’s got less to say about those encounters in the class struggle that happen outside the workplace, even those that SolFed/DAM have been involved in. Among people who’ve heard of anarcho-syndicalism, one of the most common objections is to present it as a kind of crude workerism that glorifies workplace struggle to the exclusion of all else. I don’t think the actual practice of most anarcho-syndicalists fits in with this stereotype, so it’s disappointing to see SolFed unintentionally reinforce this image when they could have quite easily challenged it.
So, those are pretty much the only objections I have to offer. I’d happily recommend it to anyone interested in workplace organising in the UK, because it’s one of the best extended pieces of revolutionary writing that’s come out of this country in a long time; I’d be slightly more hesitant to recommend it to an international contact outside Europe, or someone I’d met through pro-choice activity or claimants’ organising. As I’ve said, there are limits to how fair it is to criticise Fighting for Ourselves for not being something it doesn’t try to be, and any text that tried to give a genuinely international overview of the class struggle, taking in issues around race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, disability, and conflicts both inside and outside the workplace, would probably have to be dauntingly massive.
Perhaps the best note to end on is with a quote from the text itself: “Our aim is to build a revolutionary culture within the working class that will form the basis of the future libertarian communist society. And this revolutionary culture will be as rich and diverse as humanity itself. It will comprise of countless groups and interests, formal and informal, that will operate both in and outside of the union.” Fighting for Ourselves is an important contribution towards creating that kind of culture, but it’s certainly not the be all and end all; now it’s time for other thinkers and doers, both inside and outside SolFed, to build on it and develop an even more impressive analysis.
* By the way, I realise that many of these criticisms could equally well be applied to my blog: I don’t really have a reply to that, other than that this is basically just something that I do when I’ve got too much time on my hands, while Fighting for Ourselves is a lot more ambitious and heavyweight, so it seems kind of fair to hold it to higher standards.