At the bottom of this post is a quote from Otto Ruhle’s ‘Revolution is not a Party Affair‘, but first some thoughts off the top of my head that I had as I thought about this quote, thoughts about what I think those of us in the IWW are doing and what I think the Recomposition web site is about.

One point I took from the Ruhle piece is him saying basically ‘group together already class conscious pro-revolutionary workers into fighting organizations.’ The piece has an underdeveloped presentation of that grouping’s relationship to the rest of the working class/to less class conscious workers. That’s an understandable problem (the piece was written at a time when class conscious workers weren’t in particularly short supply). I think the piece does have an implicit presentation of the relationship between the class conscious minority and everyone else though. Which is, be present in struggle and lead by example. I think this leaves too little room for ideas and propaganda but it’s important because of where it situates the location of political activity/the work of the organization: in workplaces and struggles. Or, more abstractly (thinking of SeaSol’s tenant organizing), it orients toward the places where there’s friction under capitalism.

I am of course reading our perspective into this piece, but I think it’s there, I don’t think I’m just projecting. I find this clarifying in terms of how to talk about the IWW. I think we should see the IWW as an organization for already radical workers, with the caveat that our definition of radical is pretty minimalist. I think from there, we want at least two things in very general programmatic terms. One, our relationship the rest of the class/to workers who aren’t radicals… we’re a revolutionary minority who attempt to become larger and eventually want to become a majority (through a combination of membership growth and spreading ideas like ours – we want more wobs, and we want more wob-like individuals and organizations as well). Our views on how to do that center on participation in struggle, often in trying to create struggle from scratch, and to a much, much lesser extent through propaganda work. We see that as creating more revolutionary workers – expanding the revolutionary minority. Two, internal dynamics. We want membership to be a process. It’s not like people join and then end of story. There’s work to do developing people prior to membership (prior to membership being appropriate), and there’s development after people join. I think we could stand to flesh out our theoretical grasp of current practices better on both of these points, especially the second point. After/in addition to fleshing out current practices (ie, taking what we actually do and realizing what we actually do) it’d be good to survey the existing theories about how to do this. (Incidentally, and I don’t mean to pick a fight on this, I think the issue of political organization which some of us have disagreed over is a disagreement about this issue of how to best conduct development after people join the IWW. Theoretical work on political organization that circulates among wobs serves the role of a theory of how to continue developing people after they join the IWW. People like me who are skeptical of political organization have not presented anything like a theoretical alternative which is worked out in any detail, compared to the org-dualist theories. I think Fighting For Ourselves is a partial exception to this and offers some important resources.) After/in addition to that, it’d be good to get more prescriptive/programmatic, like Phinneas and I tried to do with the member development checklists and campaign timelines including in weakening the dam (review here, pamphlet itself here) to try and experiment further with practices and theories for member development after people have joined. The WPC is also about this, I would say. In general I think in these efforts we’ve seen a lot more practical experimentation than theory. That’s appropriate but I think we could stand to have at least a bit more clarity about what it is these efforts are about.

Thinking about it now, I also think that this is how at least some of us see Recomp – the main goal being to contribute to processes within the IWW, so targeted at people after they’ve joined, and operating in a positive/pro-development way. I think I probably over-emphasize that to the exclusion of other stuff a little too much. Thinking of it now, I think Recomp is (should be) above all a resource for the existing IWW that deepens people’s commitments etc. But I think there’s also room for advocating to existing class conscious revolutionary workers about why the IWW is where they should be, or at least why they should be in IWW-like formations if not the IWW (like SeaSol). I think we’ve had some effects like that, just like objectively, that’s happened, at least on a small scale – like among some of the people who we’re friends with. I think at least among some small circles of class conscious revolutionaries anyway we’ve helped make the IWW a more respectable thing. I think Recomp is never going to be a mass-appeal thing that helps move individuals toward the minimum standard (from relatively non-class conscious and radical to being class conscious and radical) though maybe Recomp can be a place where IWW members reflect together about how to contribute to people making that transition, through literature (like with Think It Over and to some extent through the work stories – getting used to articulating how work limits our lives) but even more through reflection together on practice.

And now, Ruhle quote.

“all proletarians ready for revolutionary combat must be got together at the workplace in revolutionary factory organisations, regardless of their political origins or the basis by which they are recruited. Such groups should be united in the framework of the General Workers Union (AAU).

The AAU is not indiscriminate, it is not a hotch-potch nor a chance amalgam. It is a regroupment for all proletarian elements ready for revolutionary activity, who declare themselves for class struggle, the council system and the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is the revolutionary army of the proletariat.

This General Workers Union is taking root in the factories, building itself up in branches of industry from the base up federally at the base, and through revolutionary shop-stewards at the top. It exerts pressure from the base up, from the working masses. It is built according to their needs; it is the flesh and blood of the proletariat; the force that motivates it is the action of the masses; its soul is the burning breath of the revolution. It is not the creation of some leaders, it is not a subtly altered construction. It is neither a political party with parliamentary chatter and paid hacks, nor a trade union. It is the revolutionary proletariat.

So what will the KAPD do?

It will create revolutionary factory organisations. It will propagate the General Workers Union. Factory by factory, industry by industry it will organise the revolutionary masses. They will be prepared for the onslaught, given the power for decisive combat, until the last resistance offered by capitalism as it collapses is overcome.

It will inspire the fighting masses with confidence in their own strength, the guarantee for victory in that confidence will free them ambitious and traitorous leaders.

From this General Workers Union the communist movement will emerge, starting in the factories, then spreading itself over economic regions and finally over the entire country, i.e. a new communist “party” which is no longer a party, but which is, for the time communist! The heart and head of the revolution!

We shall show this process in a concrete way:

There are 200 men in a factory. Some of them belong to the AAU and agitate for it, at first without success. But during the first struggle the trade unions naturally give in and the old bonds are broken. Some 100 men have gone over to the AAU. Amongst them there are 20 communists, the others being from the USPD, syndicalists and unorganised. At the beginning the USPD inspires most confidence. Its politics dominate the tactics of the struggles carried out in the factory. However slowly but surely, the politics of the USPD are proved false, non)revolutionary. The confidence that the workers have in the USPD decreases. The politics of the communists are confirmed. The 20 communists become 50 then 100 and more. Soon the communist group politically dominates the whole of the factory, determining the tactics of the AAU, at the front of the revolutionary struggle. This is so both at the small scale and large scale. Communist politics take root from factory to factory, from economic region to economic region. They are realised, gaining command becoming both body and head, the guiding principle.

It is from such communist groups in the factories, from mass sections of communists in the economic regions that the new communist movement through the council system will come into being. As for “revolutionising” the trade unions or “restructuring” them. How long will that take? A few years? A few dozen years? Until 1926 perhaps. Anyway, the aim could not be to wipe out the clay giant of the trade unions with their 7 million members in order to reconstruct them in another form.

The aim is to seize hold of the commanding levers of industry for the process of social production and so to decisively carry the day in revolutionary combat, to seize hold of the lever that will let the air out of the capitalist system in entire industrial regions and branches.”