Struggle Changes Everything: A Statement on the Dissolution of Common Cause

The key to finding the proper organizational structure is to avoid “organization for the sake of organization.” Specific anarchist organizations must always be linked to the concrete struggles and needs of our class, and should never outlive their usefulness. They must be flexible, and adaptive to the ebbs and flows of material conditions. […] Organization is simply a vehicle, or structure for sharpening our praxis collectively. As the Batko Group succinctly put it […] “form is always dependent on the capacity of initiative.”

Charted and Uncharted Territories: Common Cause and the Role of the Anarchist Organization – Mortar Volume 2.

On Sunday March 6th 2016, members of Common Cause Ontario unanimously voted to dissolve as an organization. As revolutionaries and anarchist communists, we remain united in our belief that political organizations are necessary vehicles for collectively sharpening political analysis and practice. Common Cause has been invaluable to our membership in this regard. We are proud of the work we have accomplished in the past nine years, but this time has not been without challenges. Both the accomplishments and hardships that emerged from our organization have shone light on what it is that our members wish to pursue, as well as leave behind, in future political organizations dedicated to the self-emancipation of the working class. It is because of the invaluable lessons that we have learned through Common Cause that we know that it is time to move on, and we all have a better idea of in what direction that should be. read more

On Contesting Populism

By Two Toronto Members, One Hamilton Member, One Kitchener-Waterloo Member

In recent decades we, the Left, have had shockingly little to show for ourselves. Our various tendencies each have their own take on why this is, and the explanations are all familiar to us. Material conditions are not yet ripe. The Left is fragmented and sectarian. There is a crisis of leadership in the unions. Our activists lack the requisite commitment and discipline. The movement lacks militancy. Those of us with privilege have not yet become good enough allies. And from our class struggle anarchist scene, too often: the Left just needs to refocus on “class.” While there are no doubt kernels of insight to be found in some of these worn out tropes, let’s be honest. There are material conditions, and then there is the North American Left of 2015.

In Canada, neoliberal restructuring continues to erode the living standards of large sections of the working class. Urbanization, capital flight, and reaccumulation-by-gentrification have reorganized our cities. In Toronto, this reorganization pushes the growing lower strata of the class into the new inner-suburban proletarian districts. State immigration policies swell the ranks of a migrant worker underclass labouring under worsening conditions in the agricultural, manufacturing, and service sectors. All these pressures combine to fragment and re-fragment our class. We cannot overstate the Left’s failure to contend with this onslaught. Countless hours of internal debate have not produced a productive reorientation to these conditions. Our public forums, publications, and Internet presence are an echo chamber that deafens us to the very voices that should inform our politics: those of our neighbours and co-workers. Marginal, isolated and inward-looking, no matter our particular tendency we share a common affliction: our politics are ridden with populism. read more

Active Corrosion: Building Working-class Opposition to Pipelines

By Two Toronto Members, Two Kitchener-Waterloo Members

Pipelines transport approximately 95% of Canada’s crude oil and natural gas, and are crucial to the viability of the petroleum industry. New pipeline construction is essential to the distribution of oil to other markets and in the profitability of an increased rate of oil extraction. This makes pipelines a linchpin in the struggle against climate change, not because of the act of construction or the transport of oil itself, but because of the increase in oil extraction that will occur throughout Canada if they are built. As the petroleum industry makes considerations about their growth, they trouble only one thing: can they build more pipelines? The industry’s predicted expansion is entirely dependent on whether or not pipeline projects will go forward, a process called “market diversification”. In The Decade Ahead: Labour Market Outlook to 2022 for Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry, a report put out jointly by the Canadian government and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a lack of community support is identified as the main impediment to pipeline construction. They seek to engage community stakeholders and strengthen their “relationships with Aboriginal communities,” as this is “key to the sustainable growth of this sector.” Of course, increased profitability and not environmental stability is the “sustainability” desired here.

In 2016 construction is slated to begin on the Energy East Pipeline: 4600 km of new and converted pipeline stretching from Hardisty, Alberta to Saint John, New Brunswick moving 1.1 million barrels of oil daily. Workers are being trained to complete this work by their union, United Association, with financial support from TransCanada and the Energy East Pipeline Project team. Training facilities are located in Toronto, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sarnia, Montreal, Miramichi, and Dartmouth. The challenge faced by capital is to “gain the social license to expand and operate.” Our challenge is to shut them down. read more

Combating the Reactionary Forces of Liberalism

By One Hamilton Member, Two Toronto Members, Two Former Members

To be honest, this is not the article that we set out to write months ago. Our original intention was to take the three most potent reactionary tendencies that we see percolating under the surface of Canadian working-class culture: an emboldened, backward-looking misogyny, a domestically jingoistic nationalism intransigently opposed to anti-colonial struggle, and a supposedly enlightened secularism that only thinly conceals a deep seated racism – dissect them, and prescribe treatment. Relying on recent and more historical struggles against reaction and backwardness within our class, we intended to help light the way forward by contributing to a deeper understanding of what it is that we are up against, and how it is that we will defeat it. This did not come to pass.

Instead, what we have for you is less a treatment regimen for what ails the working class (and, by extension, the Left), and more of a diagnostic report of three salient examples of reactionary tendencies attacking its composition and consciousness: Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), anti-Native sentiment, and Islamophobia. We intend to take up how to mount a counter-offensive in a later article. It is imperative that multiple counter-offensives target these three reactionary tendencies and “movements” and defeat them.

In taking on the work of better understanding the political underpinnings of our adversaries, it gradually became clear that we are not faced with the forces of reaction our political forebears struggled against. Further, in our colonial, North American state of affairs, we cannot uncritically adopt strategies and analysis from our anti-fascist contemporaries in Europe without recognizing major differences in historical and political context. Our enemies today are not the neo-fascist boogey men we make them out to be; they are liberals – through and through. Make no mistake, we are not claiming that this political alignment makes them less of a threat to the interests of the working class. In fact, they may present more of a threat, in that we (the Left) continue to misread them as we fail to mount an effective response. These reactionary currents destabilize the working class by attacking its more marginalized segments, opposing working-class interests and struggles, and shifting liberatory politics even further into the realm of the liberal. read more

Canadian Bacon: Opposing Police and State Power

By One Toronto Member, One Hamilton Member, One Former Member

The past year has witnessed the emergence of a popular movement whose scale and intensity has surprised radicals and social conservatives alike, and which has provoked shock waves of reaction in the ranks of police agencies across North America. In the wake of the protests that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, and subsequently spread to dozens of major American cities, there has been a corresponding increase in public awareness of police violence and its relationship to racial dynamics in Canada. Anti-police sentiment is on the rise.

When flagship liberal publications like Rolling Stone are publishing articles envisioning a world without cops, and tens of thousands of first-time demonstrators are taking to the streets across the continent to protest police violence and demand racial equality, something is definitely in the air. These are exciting times for anarchists, and all those who have long viewed the police as the violent goon squad of a white supremacist, capitalist state. But public perceptions are a fickle thing, and mobilizations themselves will not address systemic racism or police violence any more than much larger demonstrations were able to stop the Iraq War. While it is important for anarchists and other anti-authoritarian revolutionaries to actively participate in this developing movement for police accountability, we also need to consistently and emphatically push for a long-term organizing strategy with abolition as its goal. read more

Charted and Uncharted Territories: Common Cause and the Role of the Anarchist Organization

By 1 Kitchener-Waterloo member, 1 Toronto member, and 2 Hamilton members

I. On the Question of Organization

The decision by a group of people, no matter how few, to commit themselves to collective and protracted struggle and to reject ‘on the go’ politics, shapes everything that follows.
Grace Lee Boggs (1972), Organization Means Commitment

These days, the phrase “anarchist organization” is widely seen as a contradiction of terms. For those whose opinions of anarchism are shaped by dominant society, this is perfectly understandable. In the crude caricature fashioned by capitalist media depictions and reinforced through popular culture, anarchy is synonymous with chaos, spontaneous violence, and a vicious, Hobbesian state of nature.

However, more pertinent to us is that even within anarchist circles, the idea of an anarchist organization is often seen either as an oxymoron, or more commonly, as an inherently authoritarian structure somewhat akin to a Leninist cult. And as anarchists who have derived considerable practical benefits from our participation in a formally structured organization, we feel that much of this confusion boils down to a misunderstanding of terms and history.

There has always been well-defined distinctions between different types of revolutionary organization. Whereas Marxist-Leninists of various stripes have sought to lead the masses to revolution under the strategic direction of a vanguard party (with the goal of seizing state power for themselves), anarchists have sought to create, through the establishment of specific anarchist organizations, a “vanguard of ideas.” That is, through direct participation in struggle, and through the creation and distribution of revolutionary propaganda, anarchists have historically attempted to provide insight on movements of the class, while popularizing anarchist strategy and tactics. Because specific anarchist organizations yield no kind of authoritative power, nor do they seek to, they rely solely on the strength of their ideas and practice to influence others. read more

Anarchism, the Welfare State, and Social Assistance

By 1 Toronto member, 1 former Toronto member, 2 Kitchener-Waterloo members

Unemployment is a permanent fixture of capitalism. It is not simply the outcome of those who make bad life choices. There are no “cracks” to fall through when the entire foundation is designed with gaping holes. Mass unemployment is not merely a failure to apply a more compassionate capitalism, or a more Keynesian economic model with progressive taxation and better state provisions for the working class. Even the major structural reforms that brought about the post-World War II establishment of the Welfare State never ended unemployment. In fact, in hindsight we can see that these reforms merely set up a system whose subsequent dismantling has left a pacified and disorganized working class in its wake.

For too long, many anarchists have adopted a defensive posture to these issues, focused on the short-term and immediate needs of the unemployed and those on social assistance. Reformist goals cloaked in militant tactics have drawn anarchists like moths to the flame, and have born little reflective analysis on how appeals to the State could ever truly prefigure our broader goals of mutual aid and revolutionary dual power. In this article we’ve attempted to find contemporary and historical examples than can potentially aid in realigning this tendency towards a broader revolutionary strategy.

Defining Parameters

Supporting the welfare of people means more than making sure they have the bare minimum needed to survive, but actually meeting their need to live in fulfilling and creative ways. The Welfare State, in the context of a capitalist economy, has built a social safety net that can support people through hard times―such as unemployment insurance and welfare programs that provide unemployed people with often paltry levels of monetary assistance to help them survive while they find themselves in between jobs. These programs, however, are an attempt at stabilizing an unjust and functionally unstable system, and even the inadequate level of protection that they do provide is under attack. The Welfare State emerged out of a history of consolidation of capitalist and state interest across much of the western world, but within the current historical moment capitalist and state actors currently see many taxpayer-funded programs as extraneous and unnecessary. Worse, many members of the working class, swayed by the commonsense rhetoric of belt-tightening so prevalent under the current international regime of austerity, seem to agree. read more

Bourgeois Influences on Anarchism – Redux

By 1 Hamilton member, 1 Toronto member, 1 former Toronto member

Reading Luigi Fabbri today, an anarchist of the revolutionary communist bent in Canada may feel a sense of smug satisfaction coupled with a dash of arrogant resentment. The way he set his sights on the debasement of our political tradition might have us thinking we’re reading the words of a kindred spirit. How very accurate and tragically humorous his polemic feels to us. All the more because it was penned nearly a century ago. However, have we really earned the self-satisfied head nodding and chuckles that accompany our reading of Bourgeois Influence on Anarchism? Fabbri took to task the growing sentiment within the anarchist tradition that glorified the outlaws, bombers, and assassins of his day. We read on with our own anarcho-rogues gallery of anti-organizationalists, black bloc puritans, and deep green resisters playing in our head. But are these really the contemporary correlatives of bougiefied anarchism?

Luigi Fabbri is among the ranks of dead anarchist communists of years passed. With his comrade Ericco Malatesta, Fabbri not only shared Italian birth and revolutionary zeal, but also a remarkable talent for political analysis and the turnings of phrase. The following passage from his above-mentioned 1917 essay should suffice as testament to his ability and a brief explanation of its content.

The minds of men, especially of the young, thirsting for the mysterious and extraordinary, allow themselves to be easily dragged by the passion for the new toward that which, when coolly examined in the calm which follows initial enthusiasm, is absolutely and definitively repudiated. This fever for new things, this audacious spirit, this zeal for the extraordinary has brought to the anarchist ranks the most exaggeratedly impressionable types, and at the same time, the most empty headed and frivolous types, persons who are not repelled by the absurd, but who, on the contrary, engage in it. They are attracted to projects and ideas precisely because they are absurd, and so anarchism comes to be known precisely for the illogical character and ridiculousness which ignorance and bourgeois calumny have attributed to anarchist doctrines. read more

Taking Account of our Politics: An Anarchist Perspective on Contending with Sexual Violence

By 1 Hamilton member, 1 Toronto member, 1 former Toronto member

In the fall of 2010, several female members of Common Cause took on the task of developing a sexual violence policy for the organization. At the time, and as far as we were aware, there had never been an instance of sexual violence in Common Cause. Our drive to write the policy came from some members’ past experiences of being sexually assaulted while participating in other organizations, from a desire to do better, and from our own readings on sexual violence and accountability processes generally. Since then, we have, unfortunately, had to make use of the policy to address issues of sexual violence as an organization. There have been situations in which our members have been sexually assaulted, situations where members have been aggressors, and situations outside our organization where we have been asked or felt compelled to offer our perspective.

We strive to develop our politics through a process of trying things, analyzing our successes and failures, and using our conclusions to make a better attempt in the future. There are few situations we encounter with as high stakes as sexual violence. Failures have been devastating, both to individuals and organizations. For this reason, our analysis must be thorough and considered. It is often easy to attribute failures of accountability processes to factors specific to the situation―this aggressor was too manipulative, this support committee couldn’t get its shit together, this or that person flaked out on their assigned tasks. Specifics do need to be considered, but our analysis needs to come from our politics. As anarchists, we are seeking to develop a strong foundation from which to address issues of sexual assault and sexism seriously and genuinely, and we seem to be struggling. read more

With Allies Like These: Reflections on Privilege Reductionism

By 2 Hamilton members, 1 Toronto member

Over the course of the last several decades, anti-oppression politics have risen to a position of immense influence on activist discourse in North America. Anti-oppression workshops and reading groups, privilege and oppression checklists and guidelines, and countless books, online blogs and articles make regular appearances in anarchist organizing and discussion. Enjoying a relatively hegemonic position in Left conversation, anti-oppression politics have come to occupy the position of a sacred object—something that expresses and reinforces particular values, but does not easily lend itself to critical reflection. Indeed, it is common for those who question the operating and implications of anti-oppression politics to be accused of refusing to seriously address oppression in general. A political framework should be constantly reflected upon and evaluated—it is a tool that should serve our struggles and not vice versa.

Against this backdrop, this article aims to critically engage with the dominant ideas and practices of anti-oppression politics. We define anti-oppression politics as a related group of analyses and practices that seeks to address inequalities that materially, psychologically, and socially exist in society through education and personal transformation. While there is value in some aspects of anti-oppression politics, they are not without severe limitations. Anti-oppression politics obfuscates the structural operations of power and promotes a liberal project of inclusion that is necessarily at odds with the struggle to build a collective force capable of fundamentally transforming society. It is our contention that anti-oppression furthers a politics of inclusion as a poor substitute for a politics of revolution. The dominant practices of anti-oppression further an approach to struggle whose logical conclusion is the absorption of those deemed oppressed into the dominant order, but not to the eradication and transformation of the institutional foundations of oppression. read more

Run This Town: Building Class Power in the City

By Three Hamilton Members, One Toronto Member

The Marxist urbanist Henri Lefebvre wrote that the working class is made out of urban material. His point was that to understand the working class and to organize it, one had to look at everyday working class life from the totality of urban life, not only at the part of it that occurs on the factory floor. Further, one had to look at the totality of the urban working class, not only at its industrial or factory segment.

David Harvey, another Marxist urbanist, points out that most Marxists have largely not taken Lefebvre’s lessons to heart, and have instead tended to ignore both working class life outside the factory and working class segments outside of the industrial proletariat. This point is less true of anarchism as a whole. Anarchists have historically theorized about and organized amongst the full range of working class and dispossessed groups, such as the peasantry and indigenous people. Neither the anarchist canon nor anarchism in practice identified the industrial working class as the indisputable vanguard segment of the dispossessed.

Indeed, since the revival of anarchism in the 1990s, a great deal of anarchist theory and practice has focused on the terrain of urban class struggle; particularly, in the form of squatting, anti-police and anti-racist organizing, local food security, struggles against ecologically destructive and colonialist urbanization, building counter-cultural spaces in the city, and building urban sanctuaries for migrant workers. This is especially true in North America where the link with the broader anarchist tradition has been almost completely broken. read more

What Wears Us Down: Dual Consciousness and Disability at Work

By Two Toronto Members, One Hamilton Member

Anarchists have in recent years taken up the topic of disability in our political analysis and activism, which is a positive development. The historical resistance of disabled people to segregation, institutionalization, poverty, and oppression has yielded strong political theory from which we can learn, and social movements in which we should participate. To avoid confronting disableism ignores its profound implications for the entire working class.

Historically and presently, anarchist orientations toward disability are extremely varied. While a clear refutation of Social Darwinism and eugenics can be found in Kropotkin’s writings on Mutual Aid, some of his contemporaries and followers promoted these backwards and vicious ideas. Presently, anarchist orientations range from the extreme disableism embedded within anarchoprimitivist thought, to an almost exclusive emphasis on identity politics and intersectionality from the social movement activist milieu, to the vulgar class reductionism often encountered within the anarchist communist tradition. Our goal is an understanding of disability that avoids class reductionism, while remaining firmly based in class struggle politics.

There remains a great deal of ambivalence, discomfort, and contradiction in our actions surrounding disability. Able-bodied working class people often times actively participate in the oppression of disabled people, while at other times standing in solidarity with their struggles. In working toward building strong working class resistance, these divisions and contradictions within the working class must not be stepped around, but examined and addressed head-on. Stating ‘we are all disabled’, or ‘we may all be disabled some day’ are insufficient; what’s needed is an examination of disableism’s broad manifestations in the class. read more

The Nature of Militancy

By One Toronto Member, One KW Member

It is a truism common among Western anarchists, and the revolutionary left more generally, that militancy is in short supply these days. This sentiment is often expressed in a rather offhanded way, as a lazy excuse to rationalize decades of working-class defeats, or else through fiery polemics denouncing the cautious reformism exhibited by trade unions, “progressives”, liberals and social democrats. Far too infrequently is an honest attempt made to clarify precisely what we mean by the term militancy—or better yet, how we can help qualitatively develop this characteristic within movements struggling for social and economic justice. Instead, militancy is often presented uncritically, as though it were some sort of esoteric derivative of political ideology, a synonym for violent tactics, or even as a tactic unto itself—a vital and yet somehow unattainable sine qua non of radical change.

In this article we will attempt to clear up some of this confusion by providing a working definition of the term militancy, and an answer to the related question of what it means to be a militant. We will then move on to explore the contentious ‘diversity of tactics’ debate that emerged within the anti-globalization movement, and continues to this day—a disagreement rooted in the heterogeneous political composition of the movement’s participants, and two opposing, yet ultimately liberal conceptions of violence. Finally, we will offer a brief study of past movements that have exhibited a high level of militancy and political cohesion, with an eye to distilling common characteristics that could potentially aid in the development of a contemporary North American movement able to effectively wage war on the forces of neoliberal capitalism currently embodied under the rubric of austerity. read more

Some Assembly Required: Beyond False Conceptions of Democracy

By Two Toronto Members

Democracy is a term of primary importance to liberals and radicals alike, used as a means of justifying the legitimacy of their power or political position. Whether the ability of all citizens to make decisions extends only to allowing them to periodically vote for their leaders, or whether it reaches the perceived-radical level of people directly making decisions on issues that affect them, it is democracy nevertheless. Similar to politicians who justify the legitimacy of their rule by pointing to a successful election result, the left points to our positions being the will of the people – or at least it would be, leftists tell themselves, if the working class ever had the opportunity to make decisions for themselves.

In this radical race to the most-democratic democracy, anarchists claim that directly democratic structures are the best way for the working class to make decisions according to their collective class interests. As anarchist communists, we herald a federated structure of assemblies and councils who provide delegates carrying directly-determined mandates to higher-scale decision-making bodies as the ideal decision-making structure, both as a way to bolster the class in workers’ bodies under capitalism, and the way to run a post-revolutionary society.

With the prevalence of Occupy, and the successes of the Québec student strike being attributed to CLASSE’s federated general assembly model, the topic of direct democracy has in the past couple years reached beyond the realm of anarchist lip-service, and become a more broadly talked about concept in the media, on the left, within universities and amongst community organizing bodies. What remains unclear is the political content of these discussions. Are leftists just looking to legitimize their positions and actions, as any politician does, by saying theirs is the will of the people, or is a true anarchist position being put forward: a decision-making process that assists in building an empowered working class ready for militant direct action, and free of the hierarchies and oppressions that are endemic in the current capitalist liberal democracy? One of these is revolutionary; the other is not. read more

Short Circuit: Towards an Anarchist Approach to Gentrification

By Two Toronto Members

I. Defining Gentrification

No matter how different the reasons may be, the result is everywhere the same: the scandalous alleys and lanes disappear to the accompaniment of lavish self-praise from the bourgeoisie on account of this tremendous success—but they appear again immediately somewhere else, and often in the immediate neighbourhood.
– Freidrich Engels, The Housing Question

Gentrification, etymologically speaking, is a relatively new word, coined in 1964 by the English Marxist sociologist Ruth Glass. Conceptually, some would claim that it has been a feature of urban life for hundreds of years. Between 1853 and 1870, for instance, the Haussmannization of Paris forced thousands of poor people from the centre of the city, where rents had traditionally been cheaper, to the urban periphery; these migrations were the forced results of structural changes Baron Haussmann had proposed to the city’s urban geography, and rapidly increasing rents. We might anachronistically consider displacements such as these an example of gentrification, but, as we will explore below, the term has some specificity and nuance that such comparisons fail to capture.

Glass came up with the term gentrification to describe the growing displacement of residents of working-class neighbourhoods in London by middle-class property buyers, often under the auspice of “urban renewal”. Much like in the United States, London witnessed a flight of monied residents from the city-centre to the suburbs following the second World War, precipitated by a boom in suburban housing stock. This boom was largely facilitated by the state: plans for the post-WWII reconstruction of London favoured the suburbs as the supposed future of the city. High demand for housing in the city-proper led policy planners to envision a city population dispersed across a wider geographical area. Financial and infrastructural incentives, like those included in the U.K.’s 1946’s New Towns Act and 1952’s New Towns Development Act, provided developers with public capital to create new suburban areas designed to contain “overflow” from crowded urban centres. This meant that many older neighbourhoods in London quickly converted to multi-occupant dwellings; as monied residents moved to the newly expanding suburbs, the demand for housing in the city decreased and became more affordable for working-class people. Like it did in many other cities, this transformation involved converting dwellings that had previously been single family houses into rooming houses or shared accommodations. read more