All this is really scattered and lacking adequate citations, so, whatever. Between several articles I’ve been reading on libcom, general historical interest, and anti-fascist stuff happening either locally or news coming from Greece, Poland, etc., this seems to historically “relevant.” Although I’m not sure if there’s much all that helpful in here.

A few links first, in no particular order.

Communisation theory and the question of fascism – Cherry Angioma –

Critique of Autonomous Anti-Fascism – Wildcat (Germany) –

Nazism and the working class – Sergio Bologna –

Mussolini, Sacco-Vanzetti and the Anarchists –

A good stepping stone into American anti/fascism

About stuff happening right now, a few clippings…

Golden Dawn violence and police collaboration –

The Rebirth of Radical Nationalism: Welcome back to the 30s –

All the above are things I’ve recently read, as opposed to looking stuff up right now. I’ve got libcom up in a separate tab and might look through other articles as I type up these. (Wow how spontaneous improv and jazzy right…) All the comments to follow are scattered and represent mostly various thought processes that I’m thinking through right now, more so than a well prepared thesis.

I’d also add in, as a reading suggestion (not sure if it’s online and not gonna look right now for it), a book a comrade lent to me a couple years ago from some US anti-fascists revolutionaries, called, if I remember right, Confronting Fascism.

A never-ending topic of leftist theorists is the “meaning” of fascism. What “is” fascism? A problem I have with some marxist writing is a bad habit of abstracting too much in search of finding the “class character” of movements, ideologies etc.. A never-ending historical/theoretical debate rages on over whether Nazism was a racist “workers’ movement,” a desperate resort of capitalism, or represents the “rage of the middle class,” or what have you.

Some rev-lefts like to see ideologies as having an intrinsic class character, as in “blank was started by workers and calls for working-class emancipation so therefore blank is a working-class ideology” then refutes by “ah, no, it was started by an aristocrat in 18something and therefore expresses non-proletarian interests” etc.. And then folks of course confuse several different things that could all be used to designate “class character”:
i. self-designation/intended class appeal: “National Socialist German Workers Party” ah well that’s a workers party! right!
ii. economic policies: “blank economic policies benefit workers’ interests so therefore it’s a workers’ thing” [government, party, politician/”friend of the worker” etc.]
iii. demographic composition/background of (a) leaders and/or (b) rank and file as in “well Hitler, Himmler et. al. came from blank-class background and thus Nazism represents a blank-class ideology” or “Nazism had/didn’t have mass working-class support so therefore it was/wasn’t a working-class movement.”

All those are worth researching, but they aren’t equally informative as to something’s “class character.” Apart from that, fascistic and Nazi movements in different times and places haven’t all had the same demography or even the same attitudes about class or vague economic intentions. Ideology exists in a person’s head, not in their demographic background. A bourgeois marxist politician might believe they are a “class traitor” at the service of the working class, while an anarchist might call them a bourgeois socialist, or a left-commie might say they aren’t really a socialist but a “state capitalist” who uses fake socialist pretenses. Socialism is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.

All that’s even more confused when it comes to rank-and-file demographics. A bunch of racist German proletarians in the Nazi Party could be interpreted as evidence of a “working-class character” or merely as a typical example of workers being used as cannon fodder by politicians. After all, the military is predominantly working-class, but that doesn’t make it a “workers’ movement.” Cops are working-class, that doesn’t make the PD a workers’ movement.

The question of leader demographics isn’t always informative either. A lot of dictators have come from lower-class backgrounds and risen up the ladder. While a predominantly bourgeois demographic background of the leadership probably indicates something isn’t a workers’ movement, it’s less clear whether a predominantly proletarian background makes something a workers’ movement. At least depending on what “workers’ movement” actually means, which is a can of worms in itself.

I gotta cut this off for now, I’ll come back later with some more historically oriented notes. A final thought, however, following from the above point.

A thing I’ve been looking into lately is the role of cross-class alliances. I think this is an under-developed point in rev-left analyses. A lot of the confusion over whether something is a “workers’ party” or whatever, doesn’t seem so confusing anymore when it’s viewed a cross-class alliance. Nazism seems like an obvious example in this case, since the most frequent usage of “cross-class alliance” that I’ve seen is in reference to nationalist movements… which is Nazism is. White supremacy in the US has also been looked at as a cross-class alliance, in the form of a “white brotherhood.” Nazism is an “Aryan brotherhood.” While some Nazis might have held onto a more proletarian identity or been hostile to cross-class collaboration (evidence suggests that was a phenomenon in Nazism… like in other nationalist movements and in leftist movements), that wasn’t the winning faction. Hitler was the winning faction. Which doesn’t mean some neo-Nazi groups might not be more of a “proletarian” nature, but the German Nazi Party wasn’t. At most it was a cross-class racial alliance.


The Army of What-tion?

While on break at work the other day, I repeatedly walked by, and briefly chit-chatted, with a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army, in front of the grocery store next door, which prompted the following thoughts. I’ll probly clean it up and post on libcom or something. I realize it’s a bit sprawling and lacking a coherent message, but, that’s okay with me cuz I’m a ramblin’ man.


The Army of What-tion?

The IWW is sometimes described as church-like and its philosophy as a “religion.” I know wobs who like play up the churchyness, emphasizing the union as a “values-laden organization” and invoking moral outrage and moral principles as the stuff of mass movements. A semi-famous example of the IWW comes from a line in the WWII book “From Here to Eternity” by James Jones, in a character monologue by an ex-IWW member called Jack Malloy: “You dont remember the Wobblies. You were too young. … There has never been anything like them before or since. They called themselves materialist-economists, but what they really were was a religion.”

The character compliments the IWW’s ingenious use use of “passive resistance” but laments that they never understood it, because they believed in “militant force.” A longer quotation [thank you amazon]:

Jack Malloy had read a tremendous lot. … Born the son of a country sheriff in Montana in 1905, he had been 13 in 1917 when his father started jailing the IWWs in earnest. That’s what started him off: The Wobblies had taught him to read. He started reading in his father’s jail with their books they always carried with them. In his gratitude he offered to help them escape from his dad’s jail. When the Wobblies turned down his offer, he learned the first lesson in what was to become his passion for passive resistance.
“They utilized it … but they didnt use enough of it. They didnt understand the principle. That was their greatest fault, and damn near their only one. But it was enough to make them fail. They believed in militant force. It was written into their covenant. They never fought or killed one-tenth as much as they were accused of, and not one-twentieth as much as their enemies fought and killed them; but the point is they believed in it abstractly, and thats what defeated them: a mistake in abstract logic.”

The monologue goes on to describe their churchyness:

“You dont remember the Wobblies. You were too young. Or else not even born yet. There has never been anything like them, before or since. They called themselves materialist-economists, but what they really were was a religion. They were workstiffs and bindlebums like you and me, but they were welded together by a vision we dont possess. It was their vision that made them great. And it was their belief in it that made them powerful. And sing! you never heard anybody sing like those guys sang! Nobody sings like they did unless its for religion!”
The sharpest memory of his youth was of bunches of them, ten or twenty at a time, in out of the harvest fields in the fall for one of their free speech fights, sitting in the barred windows of the second floor of the jail singing their songs Joe Hill had written for them, or Ralph Chaplin’s Solidarity Forever, a singing that swelled through the town until nobody could escape it.

All of this points to some interesting themes.

Union people and labor scholars have written a fair amount about inter-union competition (usually negatively, with some interesting exceptions…). The old IWW, while preaching “one big union,” was accused of “dual unionism” in competition with the IWW. Bill Haywood respond mockingly to this accusation at the founding convention:

It has been said that this convention was to form an organization rival to the American Federation of Labor. That is a mistake. We are here for the purpose of organizing a LABOR ORGANIZATION (laughter and applause); an organization broad enough to take in all of the working class. (Applause). The American Federation of Labor is not that kind of an organization, inasmuch as there is a number of the international bodies affiliated with it that absolutely refuse to take in any more men. When this organization is properly launched there will be a place for every man that has been refused. They may place us on record as being dual, but remember that the United Workers of the Industrial Union will recognize those men as union men.

The AF of L wasn’t the IWW’s only competition. The old IWW frequently competed economically and ideologically with an older organization, founded a few years before the Knights of Labor. That organization was the Salvation Army.

As explained here

The IWW concentrated much of their efforts on organizing the migratory and casual laborers of the lumber and construction camps. In between jobs these migrants would gather in the Skid Rows of Chicago, Portland, Seattle and other cities they used as a “base of operations.” There on the street corners was the inevitable Salvation Army band anxious to save lost Wobbly souls.
But the Wobblies were more interested in filling their stomachs than in saving their souls, and they ridiculed the Salvation Army hymns with biting parodies aimed at what came to be known as “pie in the sky” preaching….
The most successful of these parodies was Joe Hill’s masterpiece, “The Preacher and the Slave,” more widely known as “Pie in the Sky” — a devastating take-off on the hymn “Sweet Bye and Bye.”
Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, Songs of Work and Protest, New York, NY, 1973, p. 157.

Like Haywood’s attitude to the AFL, Wobbly songsters mocked their preacher rivals, portrayed them as hypocrites and compared them unfavorably against the “One Big Industrial Union Grand.” Songwriters like Joe Hill parodied spirituals like “Nearer My God to Thee” with their takes like “Nearer My Job Thee,” and made comical use of cliche religious imagery such as this verse from “Mr. Block” [in “block quote” below, wink]

Poor Block he died one evening, I’m very glad to state,
He climbed the golden ladder up to the pearly gate.
He said, “Oh Mister Peter, one word I’d like to tell,
I’d like to meet the Astorbilts and John D Rockefell.”
Old Pete said, “Is that so?
You’ll meet them down below.”

… or this longer portion from “Casey Jones – The Union Scab

Casey Jones hit the river bottom;
Casey Jones broke his blessed spine;
Casey Jones was an Angelino,
He took a trip to heaven on the S. P. line.


When Casey Jones got up to heaven, to the Pearly Gate,
He said: “I’m Casey Jones, the guy that pulled the S. P. freight.”
“You’re just the man,” said Peter, “our musicians went on strike;
You can get a job a’scabbing any time you like.”

Casey Jones got up to heaven;
Casey Jones was doing mighty fine;
Casey Jones went scabbing on the angels,
Just like he did to workers of the S. P. line.


They got together, and they said it wasn’t fair,
For Casey Jones to go around a’scabbing everywhere.
The Angels’ Union No. 23, they sure were there,
And they promptly fired Casey down the Golden Stairs.


Casey Jones went to Hell a’flying;
“Casey Jones,” the Devil said, “Oh fine:
Casey Jones, get busy shovelling sulphur;
That’s what you get for scabbing on the S. P. Line.”

Wobbies would sing their lyrics to the tune of Salvation Army band music, in an interesting example of sabotage (another common theme in IWW song, such as “Ta-Ra-Ra Boom De-Ay”) or in Jack Malloy’s words, “passive resistance.”

As the old saying goes: “imitation is the sincerest form flattery.”

While it would be easy to read religious mockeries in IWW lyrics as merely disdainful gestures, sarcastic lyrics, cartoons etc. were not only expressions of scorn, they were also powerful recruitment tools. The Wobblies made it a regular point not only to mock proletarian stupidities (in particular, racism and nationalism) but also rival recruiters who were seen as deceiving the working class, using “dumb worker” characters to illustrate the point. Again from “Mr. Block”

Block hiked back to the city, but wasn’t doing well.
He said “I’ll join the union — the great A. F. of L.”
He got a job next morning, got fired in the night,
He said, “I’ll see Sam Gompers and he’ll fix that foreman right.”
Sam Gompers said, “You see,
You’ve got our sympathy.”


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 to his job.”


The money kings in Cuba blew up the gunboat Maine,
But Block got awful angry and blamed it all on Spain.
He went right in the battle and there he lost his leg.
And now he’s peddling shoestrings and is walking on a peg.
He shouts, “Remember Maine,
Hurrah! To hell with Spain!”

Mr. Block serves as, eh em, a Joe Hillustration [hah] of the opportunist exploiting of gullible workers by, respectively, the AFL union bosses, electioneering Socialists, and the military, for their own agendas, and to the benefit of the capitalists. Religious preachers were, like the AFL bosses and opportunist Socialists, rival recruiters, and they responded much as they did to the AFL, with hostile imitation. Addressing would-be “saved” workers, Hill mocked “holy rollers” in “The Preacher and the Slave”

Holy Rollers and jumpers come out,
They holler, they jump and they shout.
Give your money to Jesus they say,
He will cure all diseases today.


If you fight hard for children and wife —
Try to get something good in this life —
You’re a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

Workingmen of all countries, unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight;
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain:


You will eat, bye and bye,
When you’ve learned how to cook and to fry.
Chop some wood, ’twill do you good,
And you’ll eat in the sweet bye and bye.

The preachers, however, weren’t always as inattentive to the needs of the flesh as is portrayed in Wobbly lyrics. As with the AFL, the mock tone adopted by IWW artists, while succinct and powerful as propaganda, can be historically misleading.

The Salvation Army stood out as churchy rivals of the IWW, because they had a unique zeal and ability to appeal to the lower working class, combining economic aid with the use of popular music to reach their proletarian audience. Founded in 1865 in East End London by William Booth, according to Wikipedia [at least, as of 11/15/2012, until the page is revised]

When William Booth became known as the General, Catherine was known as the “Mother of The Salvation Army”. William preached to the poor, and Catherine spoke to the wealthy, gaining financial support for their work. She also acted as a religious minister, which was unusual at the time; the Foundation Deed of the Christian Mission states that women had the same rights to preach as men. William Booth described the organization’s approach: “The three ‘S’s’ best expressed the way in which the Army administered to the ‘down and outs’: first, soup; second, soap; and finally, salvation.”

… The Salvation Army’s main converts were at first alcoholics, morphine addicts, prostitutes and other “undesirables” unwelcome in polite Christian society, which helped prompt the Booths to start their own church.

Booth had his own tint of materialist-economism, writing a vaguely socialistic reform scheme called “In Darkest England and the Way Out” in which he explains his motives:

the misery of this class has been an impelling force which has never ceased to make itself felt during forty years of active service in the salvation of men. During this time I am thankful that I have been able, by the good hand of God upon me, to do something in mitigation of the miseries of this class, and to bring not only heavenly hopes and earthly gladness to the hearts of multitudes of these wretched crowds, but also many material blessings, including such commonplace things as food, raiment, home, and work, the parent of so many other temporal benefits. And thus many poor creatures have proved Godliness to be “profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is as well as of that which is to come.”


… And yet all the way through my career I have keenly felt the remedial measures usually enunciated in Christian programmes and ordinarily employed by Christian philanthropy to be lamentably inadequate for any effectual dealing with the despairing miseries of these outcast classes. The rescued are appallingly few—a ghastly minority compared with the multitudes who struggle and sink in the open-mouthed abyss. Alike, therefore, my humanity and my Christianity, if I may speak of them in any way as separate one from the other, have cried out for some more comprehensive method of reaching and saving the perishing crowds.

He goes on to defend his Christian credentials:

I have no intention to depart in the smallest degree from the main principles on which I have acted in the past. My only hope for the permanent deliverance of mankind from misery, either in this world or the next, is the regeneration or remaking of the individual by the power of the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ. But in providing for the relief of temporal misery I reckon that I am only making it easy where it is now difficult, and possible where it is now all but impossible, for men and women to find their way to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Armed with bread and butter and a “vision we dont possess,” the army of salvation marched to the tune of popular folk music with Christian lyrics and set about saving the poor both physically and morally. Aside from their religious rivals in the established churches, they also made violent enemies in the liquor business by preaching temperance to the proletariat, provoking enemies in England to form their own “Skeleton Army.” Again from Wikipedia…

The ‘Bethnal Green Eastern Post’ (November 1882) stated:
A genuine rabble of “roughs” pure and unadulterated has been infesting the district for several weeks past. These vagabonds style themselves the ‘Skeleton Army’…. The ‘skeletons’ have their collectors and their collecting sheets and one of them was thrust into my hands… it contained a number shopkeepers’ names… I found that publicans, beer sellers and butchers are subscribing to this imposture… the collector told me that the object of the Skeleton Army was to put down the Salvationists by following them about everywhere, by beating a drum and burlesquing their songs, to render the conduct of their processions and services impossible… Amongst the Skeleton rabble there is a large percentage of the most consummate loafers and unmitigated blackguards London can produce…worthy of the disreputable class of publicans who hate the London school board, education and temperance and who, seeing the beginning of the end of their immoral traffic, and prepared for the most desperate enterprise.

Salvationists responded to persecution in various ways, but were mostly known for making pacifistic displays of brother-and-sisterly love toward their attackers.

Skeleton riots continued elsewhere until 1892 when they faded out. In 1889 at least 669 Salvation Army members were assaulted, including 251 women. On one occasion, while defending themselves 86 Salvation Army members were arrested and imprisoned on disorderly conduct charges. When a new Salvation Army Corps was opened in Potton in Bedfordshire on 1 June 1890, large contingents of the Skeleton Army made fun of the local Salvationists. The War Cry reported:
“… the skeletons did all the shouting and we had only the opportunity of blessing them by showing unruffled love in answer to the disturbance in our proceedings”….”The skeleton flag was out with its coffin, skull and cross-bones as well as the whole Skeleton force, uniformed, beating a drum, playing flutes, whirling rattles and screaming through trumpets. One of their chosen leaders was carried shoulder high, ringing a bell and attired in an untrimmed coal-scuttle bonnet. I noticed that the publicans looked pleased to see this array and several waved their hats. But we were good friends of the skeletons, twelve of whom sat at our tea table… Their leaders were very courteous and sincerely desirous of keeping their somewhat rabble followers within bounds. Almost implicit obedience was given them. Their skeleton War Cry was freely sold, but doesn’t quite beat the original”.

While keenly aware of and sympathetic to the plight of the poor, and despite its quasi-military organization, the Army was not a militant working class movement, but rather at best an idiosyncratic brand of progressive “Social Gospel” with an emphasis on charity. The Army didn’t seek class warfare, but rather social tranquility via economic alleviation and moral reform, appealing successfully to the middle and upper classes for funding and personnel to carry on its mission.

The Army’s special blend of quasi-military organizing, social gospel and economic pragmatism, are portrayed in the George Bernard Shaw play “Major Barbara” which was later successfully adapted to film. I’ve seen the movie, but haven’t read the play. The film is worth watching if you like old movies from the ’30s-’40s period, it’s funny, well-written and from my highly limited research, seems to accurately protray the missionary style, beliefs and methods of the Salvation Army from that period. The play was written in 1905 and published in 1907, when the IWW was still in its infancy, making for interesting comparison with IWW references and parodies.

The story follows an “officer,” Major Barbara Undershaft, the idealistic daughter of a capitalist arms-manufacturer who works in the slums and insists on refusing money from evil capitalists like her father or from liquor merchants, insisting “the Army will not be bought.” The interesting part of the film is the first half, which features a kind of three-way ideological battle between Major Barbara, her father who declares that will “buy” the Army and prove her wrong, and an unbelieving slum proletarian and drinker named Bill, who she attempts to win over after he assaults Barbara’s charity workers. You can find a series of movie clips of Bill, on Youtube [at least until it’s taken down by the capitalist pigs] at Bill is cynical and unmoved by Barbara’s preaching, but shamed of his initial violent behavior, and attempts in his own way to pay for it, only to be repeatedly refused, with Barbara insisting “we want all you!” The ending is lame, although it could be spun around to say something about how the idealistic prodigal children of the bourgeoisie eventually return to accept their bourgeois inheritance, but that’s not the play’s or the film’s intention. The road there is entertaining though and develops some interesting themes. The real climax of the film is when Barbara’s superiors show up and eagerly accept her father’s money, leaving her disillusioned and beaten, while Bill asks her triumphantly, “What price salvation now?” After that the film slowly goes downhill, culminating in an asinine “happy ending,” but again the road there is entertaining enough to be worth it. Bernard Shaw clearly saw himself as a pragmatist and favorably quotes a salvationist officer saying “they would take money from the devil himself and be only too glad to get it out of his hands and into God’s” [if I remember right that quote is used in the movie, but I can’t find the part on Youtube].

The Army of What Now?

The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. …

The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.

The IWW and the Salvation Army both loosely drew on militaristic language and imagery in addition to their shared use of folk songs. While in the Salvation Army’s case, this is clearly metaphorical (especially given their pacifist inclinations), it had a far more literal meaning for many Wobblies. The IWW preamble calls for “abolition of the wage system” and made comparisons with the abolition of slavery, describing workers as “wage slaves” and capitalism as “wage slavery,” and quoting Abe Lincoln in the founding convention speeches. The radical labor movement was seen as a kind of sequel to the Civil War. And as with Joe Hill’s spiritual parodies, Ralph Chaplin wrote the union’s anthem “Solidarity Forever” to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

At the same time, IWWs generally opposed the military and wars of the capitalist state, and employed the same propaganda techniques against military recruiters that it similarly used against religious preachers and the labor bosses of the AFL. Joe Hill wrote the song “Should I Ever Be a Soldier” as an anti-militarist song.

We’re spending billions every year
For guns and ammunition.
“Our Army” and “our Navy” dear,
To keep in good condition;
While millions live in misery
And millions died before us,
Don’t sing “My Country ’tis of thee,”
But sing this little chorus.


Should I ever be a soldier,
‘Neath the Red Flag I would fight;
Should the gun I ever shoulder,
It’s to crush the tyrant’s might.
Join the army of the toilers,
Men and women fall in line,
Wage slave of the world! Arouse!
Do your duty for the cause,
For Land and Liberty.

Again here Hill is not just dissing the army, but attempting to recruit would-be soldiers to fight instead for the union. The “Mr. Block” lyrics quoted earlier also mock patriotic workers in the same vein as Hill’s similar sarcastic jabs at preachers and Sam Gompers. 

It’s worth pointing out that religion, folk music and militarism were all shared outstanding features of the then still recent memory of the American Civil War. The Civil War was a kind of “folk war” with both armies steeped not only in the usual patriotic and militaristic rhetoric of wartime, but also with widespread musical traditions drawing on pre-war religious hymns, minstrel songs, etc., converted to military usage. The music of the war would probably be worth a documentary in itself. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was actually based on a song called “John Brown’s Body” co-written by Union soldiers as a humorous marching song during the early days of the war, and that in turn was based on an older spiritual tune called “Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us.”

The “Battle Hymn” in particular was a fitting choice of anthem to adopt for the IWW, due to the abolitionist associations of the song and of “John Brown’s Body.”


A couple more anti-war songs…

“Stung Right” –

“Don’t Take My Papa Away From Me” –


And some anti-preacher lyrics…

From “The Tramp” –

Tramp, tramp, tramp, keep on a-tramping,
Nothing doing here for you;
If I catch you ’round again,
You will wear the ball and chain,
Keep on tramping, that’s the best thing you can do.


‘Cross the street a sign he read,
“Work for Jesus,” so it said,
And he said, “Here is my chance, I’ll surely try,”
And he kneeled upon the floor,
‘Till his knees got rather sore,
But at eating-time he heard the preacher cry:


Finally came that happy day
When his life did pass away,
He was sure he’d go to heaven when he died,
When he reached the pearly gate,
Santa Peter, mean old skate,
Slammed the gate right in his face and loudly cried:


In despair he went to Hell,
With the Devil for to dwell,
For the reason he’d no other place to go.
And he said, “I’m full of sin,
So for Christ’s sake, let me in!”
But the Devil said, “Oh, beat it! You’re a ‘bo!”

From “We Will Sing One Song” –

We will sing one song of the preacher, fat and sleek,
He tells you of homes in the sky.
He says, “Be generous, be lowly, and be meek,
If you don’t you’ll sure get roasted when you die.”
Then we sing one song of the poor and ragged tramp,
He carries his home on his back;
Too old to work, he’s not wanted ’round the camp,
So he wanders without aim along the track.

And lastly another “dumb worker” song with some religious parody, similar to “Mr. Block”…

“Scissor Bill” –

Don’t try to talk your union dope to Scissor Bill,
He says he never organized and never will.
He always will be satisfied until he’s dead,
With coffee and a doughnut and a lousy old bed.
And Bill, he says he gets rewarded thousand fold,
When he gets up to Heaven on the streets of gold.
But I don’t care who knows it, and right here I’ll tell,
If Scissor Bill is goin’ to Heaven, I’ll go to Hell.
Scissor Bill, he wouldn’t join the union,
Scissor Bill, he says, “Not me, by Heck!”
Scissor Bill, gets his reward in Heaven,
Oh! sure. He’ll get it, but he’ll get it in the neck.

drunken notes…

I’m re-using the “drunken notes” format I started this blog with, as a place to post random alcohol-fueled rambles about whatever, probly mostly anecdotes and links and such, that aren’t meant as draft writing. Primarily stuff I find amusing or funny. The hope is that will make me more likely to use this blog for actually developing articles by focusing on rough drafts and notes, and less likely to post random stuff here that isn’t meant to go anywhere. I might post super-rough draft material there once in awhile instead of posting it here, hard to say really.

The drunken notes will be posted here

revolutionary transformation

I was browsing libcom, and saw a comment from Juan Conatz on Nate’s old “Mottos and watchwords” piece

I like the final part of Juan’s comment.

On the revolutionaries should be organizers bit, I of course agree, and as we’ve talked about, one of my issues with current anarchist political organizations is that this was not prioritized. But, along with being able to push people towards the sort of transformative experiences in struggle, such experiences transform revolutionaries, too.

Being a revolutionary is something that can be easily isolating. To the point where you begin to surround yourself only or mainly with other revolutionaries. This holds true for everyone: anarchists, socialists, communists, Wobblies…we’ve all seen this. While understandable (I’m so glad I’m not around meth addicts and people with fucked up domestic abuse relationships), it can be problematic as well. Emphasizing being an organizer challenges revolutionaries in ways isolating oneself among a community of revolutionaries doesn’t.

I like the point who you surround yourself with… sorta relates to problems I have with “cultural” radicalism, but also recognizes how hard it is to be a radical surrounded by non-radicals. At the same time it speaks to how this happens… radicals feel individually isolated in a world of non-radicals (“alienation”), and seek community with other radicals which leads them to form radical cultures that isolate them as a group (“ghettoization”).

I especially like this point, which is led me to want to write this post: “along with being able to push people towards the sort of transformative experiences in struggle, such experiences transform revolutionaries, too.”

I like how open-ended this is. I’m not sure what specifically Juan had in mind when he wrote it, but, it can mean a lot of things… both good and bad. I like the nod to “social forces” (incl conflict and struggle and competition, and also social environment and who and what you are surrounded by) so to speak, and the implicit acknowledgement that revolutionaries don’t know it all or have it all planned out, no matter how much we like to flatter ourselves that we do, and we aren’t all the fearless firebrands we’d like to think we are.

A separate, tangentially point from the same comment:

Militancy is not radicalism

Pretty much agree. Direct action doesn’t always get the goods and the goods are not all we want. However, I find ‘Militancy is not radicalism’ kinda contradicts ‘it’s not about what you say, its about what you do’, which is something you’ve said before.

I’ve been thinking and chatting a lot about this. I made the same point in reverse in the “Small Time Unionism” piece more in the form of “ideological radicalism doesn’t guarantee militancy.” At the same time I’ve been really interested in, and reading a lot about, militant forms of conservative unionism (in particular, Hoffa/Teamsters). I’m interested in general in “non-ideological”/capitalistic forms of class conflict, for a few reasons, but two big ones are that it demolishes a lot of political stereotypes and established theories on the left (which is fun), and that I’m strongly attracted to the militant side of the (non-)equation. I’m more impressed by it than by the radical side, probly partly because I’ve been around plenty of radicalism and found verbal expressions of radicalism (or paper radicalism, like this blog, for one) are a lot easier than “the real thing.”

At the same time, I think radicals have a bad habit of conflating radicalism with militancy in a way that leads them to get sucked into “militant” (in various degrees) organizing as cannon fodder for reformists. The same happens with radicalism, too, sometimes radicals overestimate the radicalism of reformists, either because they take reformist left lip service at face value or because they project radical or even not-so-radical motives on folks (both “leaders” and “masses”) who haven’t necessarily even claimed to hold those motives. And then said radicals feel betrayed later when the non-radicals (who never said they were radical) turn out not to be as radical as the radicals believed. A leader example of this would be Obama. A mass example would be the “radical labor movement of the ’30s.”

(Radicals, like conservatives, are emotional creatures who operate as much or more on “feeling” and bias and prejudice, and like conservatives, radicals make good cannon fodder for politicians…)

Back on the militancy thing, though, part of the explanation for conservative working-class militancy is (non)-ideological: militant tactics can be useful.

But the other part is social/conditional: conservative workers who were militant, were militant partly because the world they lived shaped them to be. If ideology is, partly, an expression of social conditioning, let’s just say there’s different ideological expressions for growing up in a violent working-class environment. Radicalism is one expression; cut-throat, cynical capitalism is another… both of which can be, but aren’t always, militant. Reformist aversion to self-destructive violence and militant romanticism, is another possible response to those conditions… usually less militant, but even the peaceful reformists of the “radical ’30s” did their share of violent and militant deeds.

Which leads back to Juan’s point about “transformative experiences of struggle.” A lot of anarchist, syndicalist, IWW and whatnot comrades, have sayings like “action precedes consciousness” or “struggle changes everything” and the like. Well, it does, just not always in predictable ways. I’d say “it’s complicated.” Among other things, it does transform revolutionaries.


I started this blog out of encouragement from folks I know who use bogging to help them develop drafts, take notes, etc.. I also started it in an attempt to get back into the habit of writing, because for a long time I stopped writing anything and now find I’m much slower at it and find it to be a lot of work, especially if it involves source citations. What I’m finding is that I have multiple conflicting impulses for writing:
research – focus on historical note-taking and draft work, which is what I’m most into
debate – regularly write down political analysis, notes and replies to new articles etc.
reflection – write down reflections from personal experience, etc..

The problem is, I don’t like mixing those in the same blog format. I’m gonna probly revive the original “drunken notes” format for doing non-publishable stuff that’s more about daily observations, drunken rants etc.. I might also set up a different thing for research work… but I’m holding off on that because I wanna see if some comrades would be interested in co-working on that. I’m thinking, stuff I’d wanna eventually publish on libcom is what I’d mainly be interested in for that, while stuff that’s more written in reply to other people (esp fellow wobs) or that doesn’t have a specific audience but isn’t really historical research, I’d publish on this blog.

A survey of conflicting stuff I feel like writing about, and can’t decide what to prioritize:

– political observations (the elections etc.), for no specific audience (just anyone who’s listening)
– research, especially old labor history and stuff related to that
– organizing, that’s where the debate stuff comes in
– work and daily life, something I haven’t written about but want to get more into the habit of writing about that (not so much a diary/journal in the sense of keeping track of the days, which I’m purely uninterested in… just a place for random stuff)

Will get back to all this later.

building community vs. “strictly business”

I read this interesting piece from recomp:

I liked this piece, and I also strongly agree (as usual) with Juan Conatz’s comment I can say, from personal experience (because, despite superficially being from the “young white, male twentysomethings” demographic, I’m not hip and like Juan I’m not from the artsy music hipster subculture, nor from the overlapping punk subculture or any other countercultural scene really), if I had joined the union out of a need to build non-alienating social relationships, I would’ve left long ago. As much as folks in counterculture scenes talk about being “alienated from the dominant,” I often feel more alienated around radical comrades than around more conservative folks with whom I have strong political disagreements. (I’m not a socialite anyway, so that makes it worse, but there’s definitely a cultural component to the issue.)

I’ve never been super comfortable in the dominant social environment in the union, especially in that which again, superficially, most closely matches my own demographic (young white twentysomethings). The only thing I will say in partial disagreement with Juan is that, in my experience, the young hipster crowd (at least within the union, again I don’t really float in hipster circles outside of union functions) is actually the least male-dominated compared, especially compared to older generation radicals (both in the union and outside of it) that I’ve encountered. The massive influx of that crowd into the branch during and after the Jimmy John’s campaign also accompanied an influx of a lot of younger women who at this point are some the biggest “social leaders” in the branch, incl folks who work(ed) at Jimmy John’s as well as folks from the broader social milieu surrounding the JJWU. So I think gender-wise the hipster crowd is doing better than most of the radical left that I’ve encountered outside that scene. A point on which the scene isn’t doing so well, however, is racial demographics… it isn’t actively racist, but it’s overwhelmingly white dominated. Which is also by and large equally true of the union as a whole, incl the older generation, so hardly a hipster-specific problem as far as the union goes.

An issue I’ve been thinking about a lot, and don’t have very good answers for, is the permeation of subcultural trends and norms within the union, some of which I’m friendlier to, and some of which I’m more ambivalent about. I know for me, I can live with this despite being uncomfortable or unfamiliar at times with it, since I adhere what I call a “strictly business” policy (I don’t gotta be friends with everyone there, I don’t gotta share the same culture or background, I don’t even have to like everyone personally, but I can be in the same union and share the same cause). Which is exactly how I’ve survived in the union and avoided negative personality clashes with folks who come from starkly different backgrounds, because I don’t tend to impose on folks and I tend to just suck it up if I have minor issues with folks. But, except to some extent (not entirely) for the formal business meetings, the union definitely does not follow this policy, rather it’s very distinctly informed by the dominant cultural demographics in the union, which to some extent might be unavoidable, I’m not sure.

What makes this issue complicated is that folks in the subculture (which after all is often framed as a “counterculture” scene) despite often verbally claiming to want to break out of the union’s cultural insularity, and even within the subculture claiming to be “welcoming to all types of people,” folks from this cultural background have a strong habit of viewing their own cultural norms through a highly moralistic lens and are easily offended (sometimes rightly, sometimes more dubiously) by anything that violates those norms. Which means they feel deeply uncomfortable outside their familiar milieu, have a hard time dealing with folks who don’t fit into the scene, and instinctively tend to push those same norms in any groups they get involved with (leading to cultural and interpersonal clashes, and thus resentment and eventually an outflux of the “losing” social group, whether it be the hipsters or their rivals).

All of which is totally unsurprising and pretty much common to most “scenes” and cultural movements, especially those with a strong ideological component (incl left-gravitating counterculture movements, like punk scenes, etc., and right-gravitating movement like most fundamentalist churches).

I instinctively tend to view my position in this as conservative, so I hesitate to raise it when it comes up (for instance, I strongly dislike being required at some meetings to state my “preferred gender pronoun,” I have a visceral gut level reaction to it probably the same I would if it was required to state one’s ethnic identity, sexual orientation, etc., but I’ve never challenged it- in fact this is the first time I’ve even brought it up in a non-private setting- both because I’m ingrained to suspect my own motives since I do have a conservative streak, and because even if I knew my motives were “pure” I also know how my position is perceived among the folks who consistently push stuff like the pronouns thing). I’m also more pliable when it comes to these kinds of “cultural” issues, again because I have this “strictly business” attitude which naturally lends itself to a kind of thick-skinned amoralism, in contrast to the heavy moralism of those folks in the milieu that makes them more easily offended. Added to the fact that I’m a minority as far as this stuff goes, and to the fact that again I have “suspect motives” since I’m a white male twentysomething, with a conservative streak (notwithstanding coming from a lower-income demographic than a lot of fellow radicals, and that probly half of the relatives and non-related friends/folks I grew up around are latino, neither of which is visibly obvious nor would it likely impact how my stance on this stuff is perceived since there’s plenty of sexist hetero-normative machismo among poor folks and within latino culture).

The thing is, all this really translates into in practice is a personal policy of mine amounting to little more than “go with the flow and get along with everyone.” Sometimes that falls apart if I spend too much time immersed in the leftie hipster crowd, which can lead me to get grumpy and impatient and antisocial (due to what feels like a never-ending string of compromises to the milieu, that is not reciprocated and knowing full well the negative reaction I’d get if I made an issue out of it). I’ve never made any attempts to push this “strictly business” thing in the union as an organizational philosophy, and I suspect if I did it would provoke a deeply negative reaction from most folks, in particular younger folks in food and retail (which is where I’m most involved right now, and happen to have a lot of love and respect for a bunch of those same young hipster folks no matter how annoying I might find that scene to be). I’m not even convinced it’s necessarily a better take, but I definitely think there are problems with the insular form of “community building” that a lot of folks, especially in the younger crowd (no matter how much they might claim otherwise), gravitate to.

As said earlier, I don’t really have good answers for all of this, and I don’t feel like I’m a good position to push for anything different than what’s already the norm for reasons said above. I hesitate to even make this post (!) but maybe it’ll get some weight off my chest, since it’s something that’s bothered me for a long time, that I’m bad at articulating.

Wobblies and ULPs

A slightly edited version of this was published in the “Workers Power” column of the Industrial Worker. A few, mostly minor, changes were made to the published version by the editor of the column, which I found personally annoying but anyway… below is the pre-edited version I submitted to the column. I also got a more than usual amount of help in the writing process (being a stubborn individualist, I’m usually more protective of my writing), the little intro “hook” paragraph was actually suggested by someone else, and the whole thing went through multiple revisions in which a lot of other suggested edits were incorporated. A lot different from how I usually do things but, it was actually pretty helpful in getting the piece done quickly, and it came out pretty good I think, so…

The Industrial Worker/Workers Power version of this piece can be found here:

Wobblies and Unfair Labor Practices

We stand up against the boss, demanding change and stopping work. The boss fires us. We immediately mobilize, rushing to… the office of some government lawyer. What’s wrong with this picture?

When private sector employers in the US break the law, workers can file what is known as an Unfair Labor Practice charge (ULP) with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Violations include threatening or retaliating against workers for lawful union activity or for acting as a group without a union, also known as “protected concerted activity.” When found guilty of a ULP, an employer may face various penalties, like an order to reinstate a fired worker with back pay.

Examples of IWW use of ULPs include charges against Starbucks which led to a fired worker’s reinstatement, and charges against Jimmy John’s in Minneapolis over illegal activity during the failed union election in 2010, and last year when the company fired six union members. The NLRB nullified the election due to management’s illegal behavior. The illegal firing charges were won in court, but the employer appealed and the appeals process could take years.

ULPs are widely used in the IWW, for pragmatic reasons: we need protection against employer retaliation, and it makes good press when we charge employers with breaking the law. Protection is hard to ensure through direct action alone, especially in the IWW, since we are small, with few friends in high places, and little interest having such friends. Yet filing ULPs is precisely calling on friends in high places to solve problems for us – except the NLRB is not really our friend.

ULPs are a crucial component of the state’s most perfected instrument for enforcing labor peace: arbitration. While many wobblies criticize union contracts with their “management’s rights” and no-strike clauses, and bureaucratic grievance processes (“work now, file a grievance later”) as being obstructions to direct action, all these practices predated and were far less effective at preserving class peace than government arbitration. Workers have hostile interests to employers and may force their unions to adopt a militant posture. As a result, even the craft unions of the old AFL often used violent disruption against stubborn employers and broke their own no-strike agreements, due to threats from angry workers who frequently split and formed more radical competing unions. The capitalist state’s answer to this was state-sponsored arbitration.

Labor law as we know it was a response to mass “industrial warfare” during the last century. Courts, local and state governments, and wartime federal agencies all experimented with various practices to ensure “industrial peace” in order to protect the flow of commerce and meet the production needs of the state. Federal legislation codified these practices in the 1930s, with the explicit intention of restoring economic tranquility. ULPs are a product of this period and are part of the state’s mechanism for controlling labor conflict.

Wobblies often rightly view labor law with skepticism. Awhile back the Industrial Worker published some critical responses to a discussion paper called “Direct Unionism,” which criticized the “pitfalls of contractualism” and called for “organizing without contracts,” describing some historic examples and specific tactics for non-contractual organizing. (You can find the paper and responses to it online at I disagree with some of the paper, however, I fully agree with its aversion to legalistic union practices. It expresses doubt that “labor law can ever be a liberating force for workers,” asking “Can even defensive use of labor law, ULPs for example, disempower workers?” While “not universally opposed to ULPs,” it turns “a very skeptical eye,” concluding:

“ULPs and other forms of government-recognized grievance procedures […] removes power from the worker’s hands. Knowing basic labor law and being able to ‘represent oneself’ are worthwhile skills, but labor law always attempts to individualize grievances, and thus lessen collective power and put up walls to effective solidarity.”

This skepticism could go farther. Wobblies ostensibly use ULPs as a last resort when other forms of escalation fail. In practice, folks often treat it as a form of escalation when in fact it’s a form of de-escalation. A phrase some FWs use goes something like “direct action is our sword, while labor law is our shield.” A better phrase might be “direct action is our sword, while labor law is capitalism’s shield.” The whole point of labor law is to restrain workers’ power, encourage class collaboration, and prevent economic disruption.

It’s problematic that ULPs are treated as standard union practice. ULPs often act as an escape valve when struggles reach a point where further escalation poses hazards for the union, especially potential legal consequences. This happened when Jimmy John’s fired six wobblies. A plan to escalate through a series of direct actions fell apart when an action was canceled due to the lawyer’s concerns about potential legal issues and whether this would have negative repercussions for their court case. After that the firings became a strictly legal battle.

When individual workers file ULPs, this can be a smart move depending on the situation. Because workers have little power right now, often the odds of winning grievances are better in court than in the street or on the shop floor. Because of this we get in the habit of filing ULPs when we want better results. Yet when the union pursues legalistic practices like ULPs, even when individual cases are won, it does nothing to build power for the union or the working class.