Excerpt from the new book, ‘On Anarchism: Dispatches from the People’s Republic of Vermont’

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What follows is an excerpt from the new book On Anarchism: Dispatches From The People’s Republic of Vermont. Dispatches contains works written by David Van Deusen, and in some cases, the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective. This excerpt is the introduction to a strategic plan that was put forward by the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective in 2004. The proposal, until now, how never been made available to the public. 

By David Van Deusen

The Old Socialist Labor Hall, Barre, Vermont 2004 – The current social and political dynamic within North America, and much of the western industrialized world, is one of both growing hope and an escalation of capitalist oppression.[1]  While workers are being attacked by the forces of capital, and while the U.S. ruling class embarks upon imperialist campaigns of war, conquest, and cultural-political-economic homogenization, a mass movement is building within the very walls of the empire.

The 1999 Battle of Seattle witnessed the coming together of a great and diverse new American left.  As the anti-globalization movement matured, culminating in the 70,000-100,000 strong Battle of Quebec City in 2001, a mass anti-capitalist, pro-democracy movement was in full swing.  This momentum was effectively stalled due to the hesitation demonstrated on the part of the left immediately following the tragic September 11th terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, and the four civilian jetliners.

However, momentum against the empire not only became reinvigorated, but grew to massive proportions with the people’s movement against the imperialist invasion of Iraq.  Let us not forget the more than half-a-million people who marched in opposition through New York City on February 15th.  Nor should we forget the tens-of-thousands of others who marched in hundreds of other North American cities and small towns.[2] Let us also remember the 13 million people who took part in sister demonstrations across the world, making February 15th, 2003, the largest day of global protest in the history of humankind.

While we did not succeed in stopping the war, we did, temporarily, make the neo-conservative’s scale back their rhetoric about invading other nations such as socialist Cuba, communist Korea, Ba’ath controlled Syria, and Islamic Iran. And like in the streets of Seattle, DC, and Quebec, this opposition included millions of union workers (i.e. U.S. Labor Against The War), socialists, anarchists, students, environmentalists, and many others.  In short, while the audacity of the ruling class grows, so too does our movement towards socialism and direct democracy. It is with this in mind that NEFAC must begin to up the ante, and develop a coordinated strategy with the end goal of popular victory.

What is this popular victory?  While it would be arrogant to state exactly what a post-capitalist, democratic, socialist world would look like (as this will be defined by the people themselves), we can, at minimum, say that it will be one where communities are organized by directly democratic assemblies, industry and agriculture will be coordinated by directly democratic unions, and all people will have (among other things) access to food, housing, healthcare, higher education, childcare, jobs, and social security.

While it is always possible that some unforeseen crisis in western capitalism will spur the spontaneous creation of such a society in the northeastern part of North America, it presently appears unlikely in the near future.

Therefore, the task of NEFAC should be that of building the subjective and objectives conditions necessary for such an unfolding of social liberation.  And here, such focused activity will entail the building of democratic mass organizations that reflect the free society that we intend to achieve.  In other words, we must prioritize the building of directly democratic peoples’ assemblies in our communities, the building of integrated workers’ councils in industry, and building of democratic farmers’ organizations where we can.  In the initial phases of such a project it will be likely that these organizations will not present themselves as complete, mature bodies focused on social revolution.

Rather they will be initially focused on concrete issues that people have a direct and obvious personal/class stake in.  For example, instead of calling for a general peoples’ assembly, in many cases it will make more sense to build tenants’ unions in sections of a city, or for us to call for a peoples’ assembly in response to a specific issue (as was the case in Vermont after the imperialist invasion of Iraq).  Our experience in the Green Mountain State has been that farmers are not presently inclined to come together except for immediately practical reasons, such as to fight against the drastically low price paid by larger capitalists for raw milk.  And finally, it is unlikely that workers’ councils will come into being devoid of years of prior groundwork and a spark issue that mobilizes people into avenues already created for their participation.  It will be through these concrete issues that people will become more open to the full critique of capitalism.  For every step of the way we can begin to demonstrate how each of the issues that directly affect them is tied to other issues and how they are all wrapped up in the false totality of capitalism.  But first thing first.[3]

Currently NEFAC is not strategically focused or coordinated on a broader federation level.  Beyond the vague strategic commitment to: 1.) direct intervention in the class struggle; 2.) work on housing/poverty issues; 3.) anti-fascism; and 4.) fighting for immigrants’ rights, we do not coordinate our activities in an effective way.  One collective will prioritize free speech struggles, while another does solidarity work on a local labor strike, while another may be involved in any number of different local campaigns.  While all these activities are good, they do not lead to a measurable advance in the revolutionary workers’ movement in the northeast as a whole.  By enlarge many of these activities are reactive, as opposed to proactive.  While they do result in small victories against specific capitalist attacks, the culmination of these distinct campaigns do not necessarily lead to the overall weakening of the capitalist system or the strengthening of the workers’ movement.

We need to formulate a coordinated plan, to be implemented across the northeast that can begin to demonstrate real measurable success over a period of years.  Our times require that we find a way to move ahead in a concerted effort towards the ends of weakening capitalism and building a directly democratic socialist system that can take its place.  If we do not do this, it is likely that the objective historical opportunities that the present holds will be lost, and serious moves towards socialist victory will not be possible for at least another generation.

In the following sections of this document we will propose one such strategy for the raising of class consciousness, working class empowerment, the creation of duel power, and the general advance of the revolutionary left –that strategy will aim for the creation of workers’ councils in all areas where NEFAC is active.  We recognize that any strategy that solely seeks such formations is inherently incomplete as workers’ councils are only one element of what rightly should be a three prong strategy.

Ideally NEFAC should be seeking to build workers’ councils, peoples’ assemblies, and democratic farmers’ organizations.  For it will be three these three bodies (all working together) that true democracy and socialism will be both functional and possible.  However, this proposal will only seek to deal with one of these aspects of the social revolution.  While reading and considering what follows, one should bear in mind that GMAC does not propose that the below strategy by superimposed upon collectives and individuals who are currently doing work that relates to the building of either peoples’ assemblies or democratic farmers’ organizations.  This includes collectives and individuals that are engaged in the building of tenants’ unions; of which we understand as a potential building block for the eventual formation of directly democratic neighborhood organizations (i.e. people’s assemblies).  The below proposal is only intended for those collectives and individuals who are not presently engaged in these other two activities, or those which do not plan on becoming engaged in such activities in the near future.

The proposal will be broken down into a number of sections.  We recognize that any proposal that calls for the formation of workers’ councils, without giving adequate context, is hollow, meaningless, and utopian.  Therefore, we will begin this document with a detailed discussion of the class struggle in Vermont over the course of the last ten years.  We have included such sections in order to give context to how and why we think NEFAC is and/or could be capable of bringing together such workers’ formations. It is our contention that the lessons of the Vermont working class have a direct relevance upon the class struggle throughout the northeast.  However, for sake of clarity, this document will first give a definition of workers’ councils, followed by a brief framing of the question as to how they can be achieved. It is to this task that we now turn…

The rest of this proposal can be found in On Anarchism: Dispatches From The People’s Republic of Vermont.

 

Notes:

[1] 2017 Note from the author: This document was written by myself (David Van Deusen), with the exception of the first 13 paragraphs that appear in the subsection Origins of the Vermont Workers Center and Internal Structure (these 13 paragraphs were taken from the essay Class Struggle In The Green Mountains: Vermont Workers’ Center, which was written by Lady, and was published in the Northeastern Anarchist, 2003). The entirety of this document was adopted as an official proposal to NEFAC by the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective.  The proposal was presented at the spring 2004 NEFAC conference held at the Old Socialist Labor Hall in Barre Vermont in 2004.  The proposal was discussed and debated at length by the assembled member collectives, and although not being without vocal supporters, NEFAC declined to adopt this strategy and (even though NEFAC did much solid organizing during its time as a federation) largely failed to articulate any unified strategy during the years of its existence.

[2] 2017 Note from the author: In Vermont, just before the start of the invasion, 3000 rallied in the capital of Montpelier, making this the largest political protest up until that time in the capital.  When the war began, 5000-6000 marched in opposition in Burlington; this equaled the largest political protest ever seen in the state also up until that time (a march also in Burlington against the Vietnam War in the early 1970s).  Myself and members of the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective were at both rallies.  At the Burlington rally the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective helped direct a break-away march that left the permitted route and held up traffic for some time.  14 years later both these rallies were dwarfed by the 2017 Montpelier Woman’s March (against President Trump) which drew a record shattering 20,000 protesters (in a city with a population of 7800). I was pleased to have attended this rally too along with my wife Angela, our daughter Freya, and our son William.

[3]  While such an analysis will likely be attacked by fringe elements of the American anarchist community, we must remain steadfast in our recognition that North America, and more specifically the northeast, is a very different place than Italy was in the 1970s, or Germany was in the 1980s, for that matter, Europe today [2004] (which is by enlarge composed of social democratic nation-states).  Europe, for several generations, has been marked by a more advanced socialist movement, and within such a reality armed struggle, as well as the militant rejection of moderate trade unionism may make perfect strategic and tactical sense.  However, where we live, write, and organize today (that being the northeast of North America) is a place where the trade unions only represent a minority of the workers and their numbers are declining, and other than in Vermont & Quebec, democratic socialists are not represented in government.  While Italy in the 70s was a place where workers were militantly rejecting that state’s transformation into a social democracy (instead in favor of a workers revolution), the USA and Canada are currently in a process of rolling back the modest class gains made by earlier generations.  In the USA the incomplete victories of the New Deal are quickly disintegrating under the constant attacks of neo-conservative elements of the ruling class which presently is in control of the federal government.


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