Tuesday, 21 April 2009

I'm gonna come back to this

Just using this as a bookmark for now - I'll try to come back and have a go at discussion when I have some time.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Types of Class Power in Beverly Silver

Here's a quote from Beverly Silver's excellent Forces of Labour (2003), which uses the term associational power in a slightly different way.

Contentions about the state of world labor are based on assumptions about the impact of contemporary globalisation on workers'bargaining power. A useful starting point for differentiating types of workers'bargaining power is Erik Olin Wright's (2000:962) distinction between associational and structural power. Associational power consists of "the various forms of power that result from the formation of collective organisation of workers" (most importantly, trade unions and political parties). Structural power, in contrast, consists of the power that accrues to workers "simply from their location...in the economic system." Wright further divides "structural" power into two subtypes. The first subtype of structural power (which we shall call marketplace bargaining power) is the power that "results directly from tight labor markets." The second subtype of structural power (which we shall call workplace bargaining power) is the power that results "from the strategic location of a particular group of workers within a key industrial sector."

Ok, so this interesting for me, not only because Beverly Silver is brilliant (check this review of the book, by Aufheben), but because it makes me think about why I think my use of this term, associational power is useful, but distinct from Silver's use of it. God this sounds pretentious.

Anyway, I guess the ímportant thing about the paragraph above is that its talking about class power in a specifically antagonistic relations with capital, i.e. the relative strengths of the capitalist and working classes. Fair enough, that's the topic of the book.

My problem is that I want to be able to talk about something underlying this, which is how the internal organisation of the class can both reproduce the disempowerment of the class in relation to the forces of production by maintaing sectionalism, clientelism, etc, but can also be the basis of a wholly different organisation of society.

So, let's say we have a big-ass trade union, like Siptu or whatever. It is a free association of workers, and it certainly does have a certain amount of power, associational and structural in the terms used above - it could shut down the country (in potential anyway). But power vested in a body like Siptu is obviously not equivalent to class power - because the actual people who have power in this structure are very few, and the majority of members are left disempowered by this mammoth body. The trade union structure, as has been remarked countless times, has a basically clientelist mode of organising, which empowers TU leaders to make decisions on behalf of members. So it's difficult to see the origins of a mass movement in such a body.

My concern is that we need to be able to identify fertile ground for anarchist intervention, and that these should be defined, not primarily by numbers or structural position (although these are also important criteria), but by a mode of organising which can be the basis of class power. Without which, in fact, we cannot really speak of class power, but only of discrete sectional agendas. This is what I want to use "associational" modes of organising to distinguish.

I don't want to use this in an exclusivist way, as if there are "associational" modes of organising, but these are immediately cancelled out by the intrusion of clientelism or whatever. I think that such modes will, and do, coexist within various social structures, and the role of revolutionaries is to develop the relative strength of associational power bases.

I'm still skirting around an exact definition.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Starting thoughts...

Biographical aside...

After a year of discussions about defining socialist politics with the comrades from the Black Cat Group, I began to reconsider my initial position, which aimed to incorporate all the various bad things of the world under the term 'capitalism' and thus incorporate all struggles against them into the term 'class struggle'.

I think this was a reaction against bad identity politics, as well as a discourse of 'tolerance' which basically relativised and made equivalent all forms of of struggle against these bad things. The negative reaction is correct, I believe, but the alternative I posited relied on a total equation of 'anti-capitalism' and 'class struggle', which tends to overlook the actual specificities of exploitations & oppressions for the sake of rhetoric. So I tried to think about what exactly the basis of socialism in everyday society is, as an actual principle, or tendency within human organisation. I started by thinking about different modes of social organisation that create change in the world, then thinking about motivation, and differentiating activity based on its cause. We can then proceed to think of class strugggle as a 'struggle-for' where the 'for' is an expansion, or generalisation of some principles already present in the social world.

I don't fully agree with either of these notes, and they're both clearly quite limited (god, "happiness" is so lame), but I think the principle of associational modes of organising is useful enough. I'll flesh it out in a later, more focused piece (if I defined it clearly earlier, I can't find it now...)

In M->C->M', capitalist activism finds itself as the transformational logic of capitalist society. But for the capitalist, the transformational quality is obscured by the simple reflexive continuity of accumulation; the social/material transformation of the world created by capitalist projects is a side effect.

If the capitalist class identifies the corporation as the structure for the realisation of their projects, the political class identifies the state political structure. It is from there that they can develop and implement their various plans.

The working class must find its own structures. People who do not have access to such structures as State and corporation must find or develop their own. On the lowest levels, these are simply social structures by which we aim to realise the type of life that we want. On another, these are structures by which we aim to enact a force upon society.

I suggest that is when people use social structures dominated by associational principles of organising that they are happiest.

Later notes

We can reconfigure the terms and problems of classical anarchism into spatial terms.

The 'venting', or symbolic protest action of the electoral left is intended to generate a stance, a block of recognisable mass.

Direct action is conscious, projective movement. It contains a direction, defines its path en route and applies a force.


Capitalism and all hierarchical systems maintain the relative privilege of a minority through compulsive behaviour. However, it's survival/growth depends upon its ability to harness initiative based on impulsive behaviour.

This is fostered in a wider group of people via economic and ideological infastructures and is, passively, the ideological status quo (initiative within certain bounds).

We are looking for a society based on redistribution of weight between impulsive and compulsive behaviour.

Reaction [i.e. Reactionary forces] in capital arises when the generalisation of impulsive behaviour exceeds manageable bounds both in scope and in breadth.

Consider the Octopus...

This blog will be a space for the discussion and analysis of social organisation with a view to finding theories, methods and forms of organisation that will be useful for the creation of a better world.

The slightly opaque title comes from a reference to the octopus as a interesting model, or at least a useful analogy for how the authors see the structure of an ideal revolutionary organisation, as octopus tentacles, while directed ultimately by the central brain, have nerve clusters which enable them to determine variations in movement autonomously. (Hopefully Rowan will come along and put some science on this before I get embarassed)

Anyway, we both have a lot of existing material on this topic (organisation, not octopi) so the next few days should see this transcribed. Hopefully we can then start moving onto new discussion.