Saturday, April 30, 2011

Anarchist Movement Epistemology

A dynamic area within the discipline of Sociology is the study of social movements. This field of research is far more dynamic than in the past—now various theories compete with each other, scholars advance new ideas and twists to old ideas, and scholarship has broken out of the stodgy ghetto of “collective behavior” to grow into its own vital area. The questions of “what is a movement?”, “where do movements come from?”, and “how do movements behave and succeed?” are vital questions that have been addressed for decades now, with many fascinating (although sometimes conflicting) answers (della Porta & Diani 2006). Yet almost none of this scholarly work has focused on the anarchist movement, surely one of the more dynamic and fascinating movements active today.

Anarchism is not, of course, merely a socio-political philosophy, as it has been mainly referenced in earlier chapters. Its proponents constitute a “movement”, a large collection of people who share similar attitudes, identities, and goals, and who are working towards (however awkwardly) some form of radical social change. This is how sociologist Mario Diani (1992) defines movements: networks of individuals and organizations who are linked by their common identification with that movement, who act in deliberate, extra-institutional ways to modify the structure of a society. Thus, even though “anarchism” refers to a set of immaterial culture (beliefs, theories, and traditions), it also refers to a constituency of real people who take that culture seriously enough to act upon it in the present. It is this present-day activity, this movement (as in “motion”, “trajectory”), that makes anarchism a subject worthy of study by sociolgoists.

Although movements are now routine research subjects for sociologists, some movements offer particularly complicated, contradictory, or counter-intuitive characteristics that befuddle scholars and impede scholarship. The objective of this chapter is to explore these problems of epistemology—the means by which we know something—in order to further the quest to better understand the anarchist movement. In doing so, we will tackle sticky issues of definition, the hurdles that stand in the way of studying anarchists, and the factors which make the aforementioned epistemological problems more formidable for anarchism than for most other movements.

The issues discussed in this chapter may be focused in order to serve a number of practical ends. For example, conventional scholars—say, sociologists—may wish to study anarchists or an anarchist movement. The matters to be discussed herein could help such scholars to focus their research questions, properly operationalize their variables, define appropriate sampling frames, design and administer surveys, or even locate and navigate an anarchist scene ethnographically. Equally important, is this chapter's value to journalists, whether mainstream news reporters, college newspaper editors, web-bloggers, or zine writers. Knowing more about these epistemological questions helps to provide the important nuance necessary to understand anarchism in a way that facilitates useful and meaningful communication to desired audiences. Or, anarchists themselves may benefit from this chapter, as it raises issues—and in some instances, controversies—about that movement. Presumably, to grapple with a wide range of epistemological questions serves not to just intellectually challenge anarchists, but to provide them with appropriate analytical ideas that could grow and strengthen their movement.


della Porta, Donatella and Mario Diani. 2006. Social Movements: An Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Diani, Mario. 1992. “The Concept of Social Movement”. The Sociological Review, 40 (1), February: 1-24.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Program Notes: Special Issue of Working USA on Anarcho-Syndicalism and Unions

Contemporary anarchists have played an increasingly central role in social movements, as witnessed by militant protest at global economic summits. In terms of participation and theoretical contribution and aesthetic, anarchists have strongly influenced the direction of the global justice movement, as well as been themselves influenced by radical grassroots efforts throughout the world, such as the Zapatistas and Peoples' Global Action. It is safe to say that the anarchist movement—thought dead and buried from the early 20th century—has been resurrected and is alive and well.

This special issue of Working USA attempts to take stock of these new developments and what their implications are for class analysis, working class struggle, and labor movements. Part of this accounting involves the study of on-going anarchist actions, while also demanding a historical perspective that considers the integral role of labor in the anarchist movement's development. Numerous contributors to this issue address these concerns, while others step-back to appreciate the theoretical relationships between anarchism and Marxism, technology, and the working class more broadly.

The issue begins with Williams noting a mixture of “new social movement” (NSM) and class-based characteristics in modern anarchism. The NSMs (such as environmental and peace movements) have allegedly rejected class-based struggle in favor of political and cultural forms of struggle. Additional NSM concerns include new constituencies, radical and horizontal organizational structures, and new collective identities, which do pertain to the anarchist movement. Yet, the conceptual landscape is so muddled that it calls into questions the relevance of categories like “NSM”, especially regarding a revolutionary movement, where many anarchists identify as “working class”, belong to labor unions, and claim economic-oriented ideologies such as “anarcho-syndicalist” and “anarcho-communist”.

Robinson's study shows that anarchists living in the central United States—supposedly uninterested in class, unions, and the like, and far away from the more “red anarchist” East Coast—regularly articulated claims revolving around class, participated in radical unions (namely the Industrial Workers of the World or IWW), and critiqued capitalism as a major corrupting influence in society (in the “criminal justice system”, militarism, and day-to-day economic existence). This research gives the necessary qualitative texture to compliment Williams's quantitative study by providing in-depth evidence from an individual anarchist collective. This anarchist collective's actions point to the “continuing significance of class” in anarchist organizing. Robinson's essay also critiques the recent tendency of social movement observers to overlook or ignore class elements and she advocates for a continued appreciation of class inequality and class struggle.

Anarchists have also frequently participated in the labor movement itself. Shantz's essay reflects the consistent anarchist concern for working people and their rights to workplace freedoms, while simultaneously critiquing hierarchical business unionism that dominates many large labor unions. He argues for radical activism within mainstream unions, through a strategy of “flying squads”. These autonomous groupings of unionists within unions can provide support for the organizing work of marginalized groups, such as immigrant workers, as Shantz documents with the example of the overwhelmingly female and immigrant hotel workers in Ontario, Canada. Flying squads represent an anarchist appreciation of organization and democracy, while attempting to create self-empowered workers who are collectively independent of both their supervisors and union leadership.

Still, despite the undeniable presence of working-class anarchists and anarchist participation in the labor movement, this does not mean that modern anarchism is wholly analogous to the anarchist-infused labor movements of the early 1900s. There are categorical differences between the contemporary anarchist movement and the militant anarcho-syndicalist movements that began in the late 19th Century and had their heyday (and brutal curtain call) in Spain in the 1930s. James Joll and others have noted elsewhere that there is no strong, continuous connection between “classic” anarchism and the movement's re-birth in the 1960s. Christiansen addresses the interesting question of how a rejuvenated movement can continue a decades-old legacy. His multi-method study of the IWW in the US explores how the radical union has re-established itself using both its traditional principles of direct action, but also influenced by the ideology of anarchism. The fall of the USSR benefited both the IWW and modern anarchism, and each benefited from the other in this post-Soviet period. Symbiosis has results as anarchists joined the IWW and the IWW has become more anarchist. Although Christiansen notes some problems between the two, the IWW's classic “narrative” has helped to introduce modern “Wobblies” and anarchists to the IWW's history.

Another historical episode running in tandem with the Wobblies in the US was the Italian-American Galleanisti movement. Wellbrook’s reconsiders the Galleanisti and situates them within the US's violent labor history, portending to show that their militancy was not wildly out-of-step with militant working-class resistance that regularly faced-off against violent capitalist offensives. Combined with the death sentence to two Galleanisti Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti for murder, the Galleanisti's radical rhetoric and bombing campaign (notably their suspected bombing of Wall Street) helps to conjure up the worst, rigid caricatures of “mad-bomber anarchists”, but Wellbrook presents them as merely one violent element within an intensely turbulent period of American class conflict (also see the review of Adamic's re-printed Dynamite! on American class violence in this issue). The fierce rhetoric and action of the Galleanisti dovetailed with the US entry into World War I to provide justifications for the social repression of anarchists, labor unionists, and immigrants (especially Italian-Americans and Russian-born), although employer-initiated violence and WWI were clearly responsible for more death and chaos in the US.

Even earlier in US history, and definitely prior to the USSR, the lines between Marxism and anarchism were less clear, although not unimportant. Pinta contributes to a synthesis of these two ideological strains by discussing another prominent incident in labor history (which also happened to involve a bomb): the Haymarket Affair. The efforts to establish the Eight-Hour Day came to be known as the Chicago Idea, which Pinta describes as a unique amalgamation of revolutionary unionism, post-Paris Commune socialism, and pre-figurative and anti-authoritarian anarchism.

Turcato also sees strong connections between labor and anarchism, largely through the words and actions of Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta. For Turcato, the various anarchist ideologies of the 1890s are not so interesting for their theoretical differences, but for their tactical approaches. One approach favors labor organization and collective action, while another approach tended to be wary of large organizations and unions, instead favoring autonomous actions. Although collectivists and communist strains of anarchism (as well as organizationalists and anti-organizationists) were strongly rooted in working class communities, activists differed about the constitution of the future anarchist society as well as the means to achieve it. Malatesta and others constructed a pluralist anarchism that would tolerate ideological differences, treating such differences as “hypotheses” for which sufficient evidence was not yet available. This “anarchism without adjectives” is still a useful concept in modern anarchism, especially with “small-a anarchism”.

The theoretical basis of old anarchism is a worthy subject of debate – particularly how it informs the present – but anarchist theory is still being developed and merged with other theoretical traditions (e.g. feminism, post-modernism, post-colonialism). The ideological and organizational differences present in anarchism also appear in the division between anarchism and autonomist Marxism. Gautney explores the positions held by various contemporary anti-authoritarians, which she argues partially reflects historical differences between anarchism and Marxism. New anarchism shares commonalities with the autonomous Marxist tradition, for example the Italian Autonomia, in principles of prefiguation, anti-authoritarianism, and anti-capitalism. Both anarchism and autonomism have coalesced to inspire projects throughout the world, including social centers, Food Not Bombs collectives, and direct action-oriented networks. Gautney's essay raises the question of where autonomism ends and anarchism begins (or the opposite), and whether this question is ultimately worth answering.

Other philosophical and tactical questions that persist through the anarchist movement include the role of technology in revolutionary movements. Gordon explores this theme, building on his recent book Anarchy Alive (also reviewed in this issue). He compares Promethean anti-capitalism – which sees (limited) technology as useful for liberation – and modern-day primitivism that cynically considers all technology to be created out of unequal power relations and authority. Although some claim that technology is “neutral”, Gordon discusses Langdon Winner's arguments that wide-spread technological developments change patterns of social relations, thereby changing society. Consequently, the invention and deployment of technology has clear political consequences, particularly as it is used for the control and domination of some people by others (namely the state and corporations). Alternately, many technologies have enabled greater (or perhaps merely different) forms of social relationships, which have benefited anarchist organizers: computers, telecommunications, and information technologies. Gordon's appraisal of technology is smartly nuanced, principled and practical at the same time, calling for an applied application of certain discarded technologies, classic folk knowledge, and other scaled technologies useful in anarchist efforts.

This special issue of Working USA is rounded out by a philosophical discussion of anarchist theory, particularly as an ethical theory and practice. Jun argues that classical anarchism has always had a solid ethical foundation, routinely dismissed by other leftists as Utopian, unscientific, or anti-intellectual. However, anarchism involves strong, principled values of freedom and equality, which, according to Jun, cannot be easily disentangled. More importantly, for this issue, classical anarchism has been deeply rooted in the working classes of European societies. The very method of delivery for anarchism – serials, pamphlets, soap-box speeches – contains a uniquely populist character that sets it apart from much of the Marxist left. Anarchism has tended to emphasize both thought and action, considering them to be entwined practices, which demonstrates that anarchism has not been adverse to theory, but merely inappropriately suited for the kind of theory typically generated by “intellectuals” and academics. Although Jun thinks that the character of contemporary anarchism has yet to be as working class as “classical” anarchism, he notes trends that could be changing this—trends observed within this issue's first three essays. He ends his essay with a call to enliven efforts to generate anarchist theory, via inspirational words and actions.

These ten essays may be viewed as calls for greater attention to anarchism within the labor movement and its connection to working class politics. The editors of this special issue of Working USA hope that the ideas contained here will be useful for deeper reflection, future re-articulation, and reinvigorated action on the part of labor and social movement scholars, anarchist activists, and the rank-and-file of today's working classes.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Other Critiques and Conclusions of Work and Organization at Mondragón

Hacker and Elcorobairutia (1987) argue that although Mondragón does facilitate better conditions for women – mainly as surpluses returned back to the community in the form of health, education, and welfare – “women’s place in noncapitalist workplaces is as disadvantaged as in capitalist workplaces” (p. 373). They attribute much of this problem to the dual responsibility women have for home and children that “supposedly excludes them from equal roles in participatory workplace or community democracy” (p. 374). However, women usually earn higher wages in Basque cooperatives than in private firms, although not on par with the men in such firms. Women also played a major role in the Ulgor strike, and after the strike was broken, two-thirds of the members fired were women (Kasmir 1996).

Anarchists have lobbied similar criticisms as those noted above at Mondragón. While observing approvingly that the fundamental nature of a capitalist enterprise – the monopolization of capital and control by use of hired labor – is subverted, management is still not elected directly by managers.[1] Additionally, Benello (1996) observes that most of Mondragón’s output is not designated for local consumption, it makes little effort to export its ideology outside of the complex to other firms, and is openly antagonistic (in fact, bans) unions. Even so, Benello argues that Mondragón is unique for its synthesis of both collective and individual interests, its very clear alternative to both capitalist and state-socialist modes of production, and for offering a strong model for both organization and decentralization (two highly-valued anarchist principles).

Mondragón has created a unique and valuable alternative to typical corporations by forming relatively autonomous cooperatives that are owned by the members who work in them and are run democratically by decisions made in elected councils. In the spirit of this cooperatism, the role of workplace democracy has been experimented with and implemented in varying ways with varying degrees of success. Many have argued that although there have been great victories won in terms of cooperative ownership, governance and (less-so) in the workplace, Mondragón is losing its cooperative nature and becoming more like other multinational corporations. In one key respect – un-elected management – Mondragón has always been like such mainstream corporations. Through all these changes, it continues to be one of the most discussed, praised, criticized, debated, and studied cooperative projects in recent human history, and its importance continues to grow.


[1] In fact, the mere existence of management hierarchy is, in this respect, problematic.


Benello, George. 1996. “The Challenge of Mondragon”. Pp. 211-220 in Reinventing Anarchy, Again, edited by H. J. Ehrlich. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Hacker, Sally L. and Clara Elcorobairutia. 1987. “Women Workers in the Mondragon System of Industrial Cooperatives”. Gender & Society, 1 (4), December: 358-379.

Kasmir, Sharryn. 1996. The Myth of Mondragón: Cooperatives, Politics, and Working-Class Life in a Basque Town. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Effects of Internationalization and Globalization on Mondragón

Gunn (2000) and others (Errasti, et al. 2003) argue that the increased international integration of the world economy (a.k.a. “globalization”) have adversely affected Mondragón, primarily in its ability to retain its unique and democratic features. “[T]he trend toward greater reliance on markets of the past two decades has made it more difficult for initiatives in workplace democracy to survive” (p. 448). He also notes that “the day-to-day objective of democratically-managed firms is the maximization of some combination of income per member and employment stability” (p. 451), factors which are beginning to disappear. For instance, some Mondragón firms have begun hiring non-member workers (cooperative equivalent of other companies hiring “temp workers”). Cultural pressure has arisen for greater individualism and hierarchy in place of the ideal of “socially-coordinated governance structures”. There has also been continual pressure within management for increased pay differentials.[1] All of these factors have contributed to a greater gap in power amongst workers and managers in Mondragón.

Some potential “pros” of globalization – or “the marketization of employee participation” – are detailed by Cheney (2001/2002): a sense of realism about market pressures, a sense of greater customer and consumer responsiveness, increased competitiveness in industry, a unity of objective and language for all employees, and an aesthetic of entrepreneurship at the individual and work team level. Cheney, however, does not describe all these changes positively, and further notes the following globalization “cons”: the [further] subordination of the member’s role as employee with an overriding emphasis on external and internal markets, undermining opportunities for greater cooperation in and outside of the organization, displacement of key social values of Mondragón (for the sake of “efficiency”), increased responsibility and stress without substantial self-determination for employees, and a neglect for the potential role that such larger firms can play in promoting social values and shaping the market itself. In short, Mondragón is facing similar, if not more extreme due to its originally progressive nature, threats to its traditional organization that standard capitalist firms are due to international integration and “globalization”.

Miller (2001/2002) comments that during a visit to Mondragón, he heard a lot of internal discussion about “responding to the market”, but little about “shaping the market”. Both approaches assume a standard capitalist interaction, while a change in workplace roles and organization is neither implicit nor necessary for either. As Johnson and Whyte (1977) remarked about labor unrest in the 1970s and Mondragón’s less than sympathetic response to it, Miller criticizes Mondragón for not fully supporting and working with labor unions for creating “alternatives to the unfettered free market” – although still honoring a General Strike in Spain during 1994. Moye (1993) cites an internal study of Mondragón that found nearly one-fourth of members interested in leaving the cooperatives if private firm positions of a comparable nature were available, and only two-thirds were confident they would stay. Although job satisfaction is still favorable compared to most capitalist firms, this is an especially high-level of dis-ease for Mondragón.


[1] The original maximum pay differential was 1:3 (worker to management), but has since increased in some firms to as much as 1:10.


Cheney, George. 2001/2002. “Mondragon Cooperatives”. Social Policy, Winter: 4-9.

Errasti, Anjel Mari, Inaki Heras, Baleren Bakaikoa, and Pilar Elgoibar. 2003. “The Internationalisation of Cooperatives: The Case of the Mondragon Corporation”. Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, 74 (2): 553-584.

Gunn, Chrostopher. 2000. “Markets Against Economic Democracy”. Review of Radical Political Economy, 32 (3): 448-460.

Johnson, Ana Gutierrez and William Foote Whyte. 1977. “The Mondragon System of Worker Production Cooperatives”. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 31 (1), October: 18-30.

Miller, Mike. 2001/2002. “Mondragon: Lessons For Our Times”. Social Policy, Winter: 17-20.

Moye, A. Melissa. 1993. "Mondragon: Adapting Co-operative Structures to Meet the Demands of a Changing Environment". Economic and Industrial Democracy, 14: 251-276.