Dear Black Flag,
Having just read your article “The Miners and the Left” I feel compelled to write to you. Whilst I agree with most of the article – am similarly sickened with the “revolutionary lefts” redefinition of solidarity as selling “THE PAPER”, I believe that funds raised for the miners should go directly to the miners; etc. – I disagree with some of the conclusions you made, which seem to be concerned with how @s should behave during disputes generally.
Firstly, as a anarchist, I don’t like to be told what “my job” is – that, I see as authoritarianism. We’re all continually told what to do by the State and its various forms without other @s doing the same. Surely one of the things which makes @ different is its toleration and support of a variety of actions/means of changing the social order.
Secondly, I question the writers assertion that any papers or leaflets distributed on picket lines should merely inform people of the particular struggle they are participating in. Don’t you think that people on picket lines are aware of why they are there? Leaflets, it seems to me, are useful in describing the particular struggles of those people in the context of the wider struggle (that we are involved in and fighting).
Finally, I don’t entirely agree that we as anarchists should not be allowed to make any criticism of striking workers and I do not believe that, in the case of the miners or any other group, “the structures they choose to work within are irrelevant”. Whilst I obviously support the premises of much industrial action, as an autonomous, thinking person I do not always unreservedly support the action of pickets – I’m not exactly crazy about the sexism of some of the striking miners, for example. I think we should move away from this very middle class, vanguardism view of striking workers as somehow beyond any criticism, “sacred”. Constructive criticism can help bring about change particularly if its from people who are quite clearly showing support and solidarity on picket lines, demos or in any other ways.
Reply The purpose of the article was to stimulate discussion and debate about the nature of solidarity and how it should affect the way anarchists work.
Written propaganda should be used to educate people about the goings on and reasons for a particular struggle and should be directed at those outside the struggle. The widespread ignorance and acceptance of misinformation even amongst political people during the miners strike, points to the need for alternative news. But as anarchists we should not abuse the position of providing alternative information by trying to direct struggles or cause divisions and weakness amongst those we are supporting.
There is no need for us to uncritically support workers involved in struggles, but we should be aware of where our opinions and ideas are going to, and the effect they will have. There is only one way to be sure that our ‘criticisms’ are constructive and not divisive and that is through personal contact made through giving practical solidarity.
As anarchists we believe that people are capable of organising their own lives and although the NUM may not be organised in the pure libertarian way we would like it has been created by the miners for the miners. The reason why the NUM and all other unions are not organised in a libertarian way, is because of the failure of anarchists over the last 100 years to convince people of the advantages of non-hierarchical federalist forms of organisation. For us to go running in during disputes (and to be honest how many anarchists gave a damn about miners, mining communities and the NUM, before this strike?) laying down the line, attacking the structures and generally being negative, neither does our cause any good or helps those involved in fighting against the state and bosses.
Also we must not let our idealistic purity to get in the way of our basic beliefs. People involved in struggle are quite capable of questioning the structures they are involved in and the wider society as a whole, and people do try to change things. During the miners strike great breakthroughs have been made in the struggle for women’s equality (sexism confronted, women organising etc.) in altering people’s attitudes to the police, in questioning local power cliques and society generally. Our solidarity besides helping to win the direct struggle, can also go to strengthen and develop new attitudes, but to do this we must be trusted and respected, which means being involved in practical solidarity on a grass roots level without pushing our politics, self-righteousness and arrogance.
From: Black Flag no.116 (vol. 7, no.6E, 6/8/84).