What is the difference between Libertarianism and Anarchism?

Tom Wetzel

By Tom Wetzel

Original Link – This article is also mirrored on the Black Rose Anarchist Federation website.

This depends on which of the two meanings of “libertarian” you have in mind. In the original 19th century and early 20th century sense of “libertarian”, which is still predominant in a number of non-English-speaking countries, there isn’t really any difference in terms of which segment of political opinion these terms refer to. In this original sense of “libertarian” the difference is between a positive and a negative definition. “Anarchism” has a negative definition: opposition to top down hierarchies of power (“bosses”, “rulers”) such as the corporations and the state. “Libertarian” refers to a viewpoint that places great emphasis on positive liberty: controlling your life, controlling decisions to the extent you are affected by them, self-management over work & community, and access to the means to develop your potential, and thus your capacity for self-management.

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Fighting for the Future: The Necessity and Possibility of National Political Organization for Our Time


Published April 2013

By Adam Weaver and SN Nappalos

This article is now mirrored on the Black Rose Anarchist Federation website.

In the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades, the left stands at a crossroads. Despite widespread anxiety, restructuring, stirrings, and disruptions, the left has been unable to respond or develop bases for movements and revolutionary organization in any meaningful sense. In many ways the eruption of the Occupy movement onto the center stage with all of its weaknesses in politics, structure, and dynamics, was a reflection of this. The events of Wisconsin, Occupy, the Oakland General Strike, and the May 1stmobilizations have brought to the fore the nature and potential of combative movements from below as well as the limits of present politics. At the very least since the financial crisis of 2008, social activists are looking for clearer paths towards anti-capitalist alternatives. Many are realizing that something more is needed beyond endless activism, protest politics, and vertical-style union and NGO mobilization. The base level of political education on the left, provided largely by non-profits and liberal university campuses, suddenly seem to have even fewer answers than before. This has left many turning towards political study to deepen their analysis as well as taking up questions around the need for political organization.

We need to ask ourselves, in this time of crisis how can movements be built in an atmosphere of ruling class assaults, disorganization of the popular classes, and sporadic resistance efforts? What are the roles of revolutionaries within movements? What are the strategies to keep ourselves going for the long haul work that radical social change requires? What are the lessons of the past decades in social movements and revolutionary organizations? How do we politically develop the existing revolutionaries and help shape new ones to build a larger milieu of revolutionary organizers, thinkers, and supporters based in popular struggle? How would this milieu and potential political organization relate to broader social movements, other forces on the left, those we share perspectives with, and with those we do not?

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Learning from Our Mistakes: IWWs Criticize and Reflect on Their Organizing

Mobile Rail workers marching the picket line on strike outside of Chicago.

Mobile Rail workers marching the picket line on strike outside of Chicago. August 2013.

The other day a friend posted a question along the lines of “The IWW seems to put out a lot of criticism of other union’s organizing, but it doesn’t seem like they are willing to criticize their own organizing publicly.” I thought that would be a fair point- if it was true of course.

There’s actually a pretty robust level of discussion in the IWW around the failures, victories and the organizing models the IWW uses. Naturally not every member is engaged with these discussion and as well some of that discussion takes place in internal forums. For instance in Portland members circulate a booklet called “Learning from our mistakes” that discusses their campaigns and their pitfalls but this would be an example of something not circulated publicly.

But most important is that these criticisms have helped shaped and evolved the IWW’s model of organizing. As well many in the IWW see this as contributing towards a working class intellectual culture- one where shop floor organizers and participants in the organizing are creating the lessons from their experience instead of relying on professional thinkers and academics to do this work for us.

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Fast Food Workers Strike: What is and what isn’t the Fight for Fifteen campaign?


By Adam Weaver

Note: This is a short prequel to a longer soon to be released analysis piece on the Fight for Fifteen campaign.

August 29, 2013 – A called for nation-wide strike of fast food workers by the Fight for Fifteen campaign (FFF) is set to go down today. Surely a historic moment, this is the first large scale and national strike involving fast food workers who are at the core of the low-wage service industry. Beginning with a series of strikes among fast food workers in New York City late last year, the campaign and the called for strike is organized by the SEIU (Service Employees International Union), though in many cities this is being organized in conjunction with allied institutional non-profit organizations.

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Self-Managed Capitalism: Criticism of Richard Wolff and Workers Cooperatives

ImageDiscussing the economic crisis, austerity, and his advocacy of worker cooperatives, Richard Wolff has been getting a boost of attention with recent appearances on Democracy Now!, NPR and with Bill Moyer. But does Wolff represent an anti-capitalist perspective that those who believe in revolutionary social change can get excited about? My take is that while his views represents an important shift in public discourse there are some major weaknesses and in what he presents and which I hope to explore briefly. Continue reading

From Theory to Practice, Taking a Critical Look at Leninism

Understanding the political legacy of Lenin

This review/summation piece is being released in conjunction with a piece by Scott Nappolas,  “Democratic Centralism in Practice and Idea: A Critical Evaluation” that also examines the baggage and experiences of Leninism.

This article is mirrored on the Black Rose Anarchist Federation website.

A Look At Leninism by Ron Taber. 104 pp. New York , New York : Aspect Foundation, 1988

Where can those looking for a critical understanding of Lenin turn? How can we better understand how the Russian Revolution begin as the first modern anti-capitalist revolution from below with workers taking over and running their workplaces, peasants seizing the land, and the creation of democratic soviets (worker committees)? And then in less than a decade its devolution into the brutal dictatorship of Stalin? Is there a continuity between the ideas of Lenin and his particular brand of Marxism that reshaped the Marxist movement in the 1920’s and the number of revolutionary parties that would later achieve state power and claim the Bolshevik party and Lenin as their model and inspiration?

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FIGHTING FOR EDUCATION: Two Organizers Share Their Experiences About the Student Movement, the Building Occupations and March 4th, 2010

Reflections on the student movement that swept CA in 2010

Interviews by Adam W.

These two interviews of student organizers were conducted in early 2010 and published in the first edition of Especifista in May of that year. I think the most relevant themes that these interviews address are roles of radicals within larger mass movements, what are the shapes these movements will take as the possibilities and contradictions direct action and democratic practice. More analysis of the interviews will be added soon. -AW


Esteban Garcia is currently a graduate student at UCLA and a member of Amanecer. Originally from Northern California, Esteban has previously been involved in student as well as community organizing and community media.

What are some of the challenges that radicals face in trying to build a more widespread movement in your area? 

The first challenge is the relationship between formal and informal organizations on campus.  There are student organizations that are very concerned with keeping a certain relationship with student government and the administration and see direct action as a threat.
Formal student organizations face a lot of restrictions due to their funding, which is allocated by the administration.   Student groups who attempt to represent those most affected by the budget cuts feel they must walk a line not to risk their funding.
It is similar to how many non-profits function to not upset their funders.  Their decisions about tactics and strategies are dictated by this fear.
It is not surprising that many are creating a more affinity group style structure so people can come in and discuss these tactics and not feel the need to represent their organizations.
A second challenge is creating a radicalizing experience on a popular level given the political climate on campus. The liberation of Carter-Huggins Hall at UCLA was an attempt to create such a space, by putting the building under student-worker control as long as possible.
Unfortunately, the communication with those inside and outside, logistical difficulties and really, a lack of experience, didn’t allow the action to reach its fruition. Nevertheless, this was not a failure. It forced the discussion of tactics and strategies to the forefront for groups organizing around the budget cuts, which is a very important step at UCLA.

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The Feed March 21: Madison and the General Strike

The Feed will be a semi-regular feature of recommended links and readings along with brief commentary. -AW

Egypt, Libya, Wisconsin! The political moment around the globe is hotter right now than anytime in recent memory. And when even the liberal The Nation magazine runs general strike sympathetic pieces referencing the IWW you know something is up.

The mobilization and hype inside and outside Madison so far around a general strike is nothing short of impressive.  Much of it began with the Feb 21 resolution backed by IWWs and other labor radical that was passed by the South Central Federation of Labor (the local labor council of AFL-CIO unions in Madison) which called for a no concessions stance and to “immediately begin educating affiliates and members on the organization and function of a general strike.”

Following this members of the IWW began passing out in the 1,000’s a “Kill The Bill” pamphlet advocating a general strike as “the ultimate tool of social change” to the crowds occupying the capitol daily.  A second edition is in the works and you can donate towards the efforts here. Spreading the message even further, especially over facebook, was the creation of general strike posters in seven different languages.

The current question is whether the potential of unleashing a general strike will be successfully drained away as Democratic Party and AFL-CIO leaders attempt to drain and channel the mass mobilization into recall and election efforts? Especially as the fight currently stands as at best a draw for an ever declining labor movement in the US, the clamor to push the energy away from the streets and workplaces where workers have the upper hand and into the ballot box and hands of Democrats who already announced their willingness to agree to major concessions and have not pledged to repeal the bill, is a surely a ‘rush to loose’ as one friend puts it.

For some of the latest and most worthwhile analysis here are my recommendations: a member of the US socialist organization Solidarity has been regularly blogging with on the ground analysis and commentary and is now at twelve posts; and both by members of the Workers Solidarity Alliance, a commentary piece critical of the role of mainstream labor officials in the regular column ‘Labor Shorts’ and a critical report back on a recent “Emergency Labor Meeting” of left activists within the AFL-CIO discussing the Wisconsin situation; two worthwhile pieces on organizing a general strike, first, a facebook note titled “Organizing a General Strike: Strategy” and an article with links to the history of general strike and Canadian public sector resistance movements. Finally, see a high definition, panoramic view of the protests with audio clips to feel as if you are there.

[Perhaps some short commentary to be added-AW]

Revised Repost: Revolutionaries in High Places, Van Jones

Van Jones with fist in the air

Note: Bringing this back with a revised version. This commentary piece was removed after the attacks by right-wing blog and media sites on Van Jones intensified and led up to Obama washing his hands of Jones with his resignation. Right-wing sites cited “left wing blogger Machete408” as further ‘proof’ of Obama’s undercover socialist credentials (read an actual socialist refute this total non-sense here). As for Jones’ himself, he’s likely made some major political transitions. A mentor of his touts the pro-business, market-based ideas Van has promoted for years, including in his best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy.” (link) Though I think it’s fair to say that the tendency on the revolutionary left, Van Jones formerly included, which views alliances and involvement with the state and electoral politics—state power if you will— as a strategic orientation is alive and well. (See link, link, link and critique, critique) See also my follow up piece “On Van Jones’ Resignation.”

Did anyone catch the news that Van Jones of Green Jobs for All, and formerly of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland and a revolutionary organization in the Bay Area, was recently tapped by the Obama administration to serve as an advisor around green jobs? The position was officially dubbed the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, that is before Obama accepted Jones’ resignation following attacks by the right-wing blogosphere and Glen Beck on his radical past.

I’ll get back to that in a minute. I was having a conversation with a friend the other night about the legacy of sixties revolutionaries and Marxists who attempted to “proletarianize” themselves or as some called it “colonize the working class.” Many of these radicals, who were largely from more middle-class backgrounds and college graduates (or those who after becoming radicalized dropped out of college), got jobs in factories and various industries with the goal of bringing the messages of socialism and revolutionary politics to the working class. (For more on this see Max Elbaum’s excellent history of the sixties communist left with Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Che and Mao) Many of them also became active in the unions at these workplace, whom were largely conservative bureaucracies if not outright reactionary. Continue reading

Remaking Labor–From the Top-Down? Bottom-Up? or Both?

J4J.jpg picture by adam_freedom

  This is an amazing review which captures what many folks that I know have been saying since the early 2000’s. The writer, long time labor activist Steve Early, contrasts the perspectives between two recent authors and their analysis of the labor movement in LA Stories: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the Labor Movement by UCLA professor Ruth Milkman and US Labor in Trouble and Transition: The Failure of Reform from Above the Promise of Revival from Below by Labor Notes co-founder Kim Moody. It articulates well the critique of the professional staff driven “change from above” unions (such as SEIU and the unions associated with the Change to Win Coalition) which often brand themselves as progressive or social movement unions, or are characterized as such by their supporters on the left and academia. What the review unfortunately doesn’t do well is delve into the concrete of  Moody’s potentially alternative vision for “revival from below.” Early roundly criticizes Milkman’s support for SEIU and the “change from above” approaches in the labor movement:

Milkman “never addresses the serious concern … that SEIU growth has been achieved, in some sectors, at the expense of contract standards, community allies, workers’ rights, membership participation, and leadership accountability.” Milkman’s infatuation with the vanguard role of the union’s “innovators”—college educated organizers, researchers, strategic campaign coordinators, local officers and trustees—also leaves little room for examining more incisively how SEIU operatives actually interact with the working members who nominally employ—and, more rarely, elect—them.

  Unfortunately the boosterism and cheerleading on behalf of the “change from above” self-styled reformers that comes from academics like Ruth Milkman as well as other authors such as UC Berkeley professor Kim Voss (with her Hard Work, Remaking the American Labor Movement with Rick Fantasia)was parroted or perhaps reluctantly swallowed by many on the left so disappointed with the conservatavism of mainstream labor that any promise of change seemed better than nothing. Only with the recent moves by SEIU and the division between HERE-UNITE has the thin curtain been pulled away to reveal the situation that has been at hand for many years. Sadly I feel many radicals, myself included of course, missed the boat in not putting forward these criticisms sooner when they became apparent in the early 2000’s, perhaps even the late 1990’s. Let it be a word to the wise.


Remaking Labor–From the Top-Down? Bottom-Up? or Both?

By Steve Early (original link to this review online here)  

Review of: Milkman, Ruth. L.A. Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006. 244 pp.$24.95 (paper).

Moody, Kim. U.S. Labor In Trouble And Transition: The Failure of Reform from Above and the Promise of Revival from Below. New York, NY: Verso, 2007. 289 pp.$29.95 (paper).

From Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, March, 2008 Vol 11. Issue #1

The veterans of Sixties radicalism who became union activists in the 1970s belonged to a variety of left-wing groups. Regardless of other political differences, most of them shared one common belief—namely, that union transformation and working class radicalization was a bottom up process. As Stanley Aronowitz observed in Socialist Review (nee Socialist Revolution) in 1979—when Ruth Milkman, author of L.A. Story, belonged to its “Bay Area Collective”—young radicals usually became “organizers of rank-and-file movements” and builders of opposition caucuses. They immersed themselves in “day-to-day union struggles on the shop floor” and the politics of local unions, often displaying in the latter arena “almost total antipathy toward the union officialdom.” Because “union revitalization” also required organizing the unorganized, rather than just proselytizing among existing union members, Aronowitz approved, “under some circumstances,” leftists becoming “”professional paid organizers.” But he encouraged those who took this path to “see their task as building the active rank and file, even where not connected to caucus movements.”

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