I'm always intrigued by what people are paying attention to, thinking about, and writing about. This last week has been great because there have been two parallel events with really important consequences. What has been fascinating is how, for the most part, constituencies seem to only be paying attention to one, totally ignoring the other. It's difficult to discern exactly why folks are ignoring the other, since they're obviously not saying anything about, but I'll do my best to conjecture based on previous experience.
U.S. leftists that I know have been incredibly interested in the Republic factory occupation in Chicago. Obviously, this is an event with far-reaching consequences. Workers from a rank-and-file union occupied a factory and demanded that not just their company, but the entire financial system give them their legally-obligated wages. What's more, it got front-page press in the mainstream media, with pretty positive vibes.
Anarchists have largely ignored this event, focusing on the week-long rioting in Greece, prompted by the murder of a youth by cops. These riots, incited primarily but not exclusively anarchists, have spread throughout the working class, particularly youth, and the "movement," such that it is, is beginning to take on characteristics of decision-making and strategic planning. The cops have been basically beaten back, the Stalinist party has predictably turned against the movement, and the government is in incredibly shaky straits. All good stuff.
But there's been a great deal of exclusivity to the conversations and interest about these things in the U.S. Very few leftists I know are as excited as anarchists about Greece, and anarchists are pretty passive in their interest about Republic.
So what's going on? I think that the silence I'm hearing indicates some important things about ideology and goals.
On one hand, for many post-left anarchos, rioting forms the majority of their praxis. (If I hear one more goddamn thing out of Milwaukee about "social war" I'm gonna puke.) Since politicized rioting does not happen a whole lot in the U.S., and when it does happen its mostly in PoC neighborhoods, which let's face it, have little cross-over with insurrectionist anarchist circles, this kind of thing is great to focus attention on. Lots of the things that we're hearing from Greece are playing directly into the kind of things that their theory plays up. There is little to no organization of the movement, it's violently anti-cop, and based in the lumpenproletariat. This whole thing makes leftists really bored because they don't see it in their framework of class struggle.
On the other hand, a success by a left union in the mainstream is what the U.S. workerist left has been searching for for some time now. UE is inspiring to a lot of folks, and not least of which Wobblies, to which UE looks like a bigger but more bureaucratic version of us. The union movement has been in decline (as everyone keeps going on about) for decades, and this kind of return to 30's-era tactics has all the good feelings of a working class fighting for itself attached to it that we've lost in the last couple of decades. Many anarchists, convinced that unions are firmly a tool of cooption, choose to ignore the Republic victory because they don't want to see workers conciously embracing unions as their tool to fight capitalism. Also, anarchists have yet to offer firm strategies to fight the economic crisis and the left has now appeared on the front page of the New York Times doing just that.
But not so fast. Both of these events are incredibly important but simultaneously overplayed in the respective milleu in which they are celebrated.
First, Greece is not a social revolution. At least not yet. And it appears that exactly the reason it is not is because the movement lacks (*shudder*) organization. It appears that without some kind of mechanism to change the course of the struggle from primarily negative (destroying the old world) into primary productive (building the new) the riots are just serving as a tool of the official capital-L Left to manuever for power. I can't figure out exactly what is going on on the ground (it's sad but true that this whole thing would be taken much more seriously by Americans if it had happened in an English/French/Spanish-speaking country. Nobody fucking speaks Greek.) What I am piecing together though is that despite all the awesome assemblies and burning barricades that are going down, there's still a serious lack of coordination and cohesion. With no way to organize a conscious and public series of proposals, the rioters are in serious danger of becoming just another point on a political scoreboard for the liberal parties.
Second, Republic was a victory, but it does not go as far as its supporters claim it does. Republic was a defensive action that did not nearly go far enough and the reason it didn't is because UE is not a revolutionary union. It's time for leftists to start being critical, even of our limited successes. The workers occupied the plant, they put their hands on the means of production and claimed them for themselves and then...decided to give them back in return for a measly 70 days pay. What we saw in Chicago last weekend was a failure of the imagination. It is exactly the imagination that workerists have not been inspiring, buried with our noses in the day to day of "the struggle," without engaging the utopian desire to actually "demand the impossible." Without a doubt, the return of the factory occupation is a fantastic move and will hopefully inspire others. But it is not the revolution; it is a tactic workers use when the going gets tougher. Unless it takes on a revolutionary aspect, capital is perfectly able to co-opt it and, with Barack Obama publicly supporting the workers, it already has.
So the situation is that both of these consticuencies are right about the other one, even though they are in bad faith. For my money, this means returning to one of my old themes: the cross-pollination of struggles and of ideas. The post-leftists who write beautiful poetry about molotov cocktails and vegan kitchens need to get into the factories and organize. The leftists need to support and aid the rebellious lumpens, even if they may not always see eye-to-eye. It's like, solidarity and stuff, ya know?