03 Apr Communalism and Syndicalism: Organizing the New Working Class
By: Emma Chinbook
There are important similarities and differences between communalism and syndicalism. Syndicalism proposes the means and the ends of radical trade unionism towards the creation of federated networks of self managed worker cooperatives that directly democratically manage the economy. Communalism proposes the means and ends of federated community assemblies with embedded workers’ councils that directly democratically manage the political economy. Both theories and practices advocate for the means and ends of participatory democracy through organization and struggle. They both have different focuses for the prefiguration of that democracy (syndicalism focusing on a general union of workers and the workforce and communalism focusing on the community) and different ideal formal structures of social relations (syndicalism focused on radical unionism and workers’ councils and communalism based on integrated communal councils with embedded workers’ councils).
In many ways syndicalism is to the economic sphere (a realm of household management and social housekeeping through production and distribution of goods and services) what communalism is to the political sphere (a realm of city management). Syndicalism is an apolitical economic program. It does not take a stance politically and seeks to reorganize society along economic lines via workers’ self management rather than on political lines through direct politics. Syndicalism organizes workers (and the reserve army of labor) towards economic action. Communalism, unlike syndicalism, focuses on building a non statist political sphere. Communalism organizes (non-ruling class) people throughout a larger community regardless of what workplace they are or aren’t employed at towards any kind of action in line with minimal communalist points of unity and bylaws. Communalist points of unity are rooted in direct democracy, non hierarchy, mutuality, co-federalism, ecology, solidarity, communal self management, and communistic distribution, feminism, anti racism, etc. Communalist assemblies and radical trade unionism can both partake in 1. Dual power 2. Mutual aid networks 3. Direct action and 4. Public education.
Unions can put their resources towards communalist assemblies as pointed out in Koloktronis’s brilliant essay on municipalist-syndicalism. Kolokotronis points out that unions have money, can help with finding meeting spaces, can help set up effective communication systems, can help with canvassing, and more. Kolokotronis calls on the importance of internal struggles within unions to become internally democratic as well as the importance of unions shifting towards a long term goal of community democracy. All of the above recommendations for a union/communalist synthesis are sound. However, there are important ways that communalist organizing can benefit workplace organizing and unionism. Community assemblies can form and catalyze community solidarity networks. These solidarity networks can put pressure on any particular business from the outside. A combination between the internal pressure of agitated workers flexing their labor power and community pressure external to workforces flexing people power can increase the overall effectiveness of any action against any business while strengthening regional anti capitalist action. Solidarity networks do not have the withheld labor power of strikes, but they decrease liability for many people to get involved in actions and can help add community power behind particular working class actions. Furthermore, this community assembly/solidarity network/union alliance gives community assemblies a class struggle character further cementing a class abolitionist ethos to community assemblies. Neighborhood to neighborhood, workplace to workplace, solidarity networks attached to community assemblies in tandem with unions can help build a network that fuels working class action and furthers communalist and syndicalist organizing (as more and more people join the solidarity network, connected communal assemblies, unions, mutual aid projects, popular education events, and direct actions).
Capitalism organizes spatially and temporally. Community assemblies, and federations of community assemblies, can organize spatially and temporally to counter all ruling class action and to build horizontalist institutions. Solidarity networks, connected to community assemblies, can give large scale community support for any particular action that happens throughout a city. Solidarity networks connected to community assemblies can help with everything from fights against landlord abuse, to fights against wage theft, to shutting down banks, to ecological direct actions, to adding support behind a union action, to opposing business as usual etc. They are an organization that can create a variety of content. Community assemblies and solidarity networks can also serve as a bridge between abstract ideals and abstract root problems and concrete ways to oppose hierarchy within a locality.
Syndicalism and communalism are at odds with each other; the workers’ self management model proposed by syndicalism places productive property in collective hands, but in a way that is still relatively private compared to communal property. Under communal property relations, the means of production needed for communes to reproduce themselves are directly in the hands of communes with workers’ councils embedded within the communal councils. The principles of communalism filter particular decisions affecting the commune through the participatory communal councils which are then implemented by participatory workers’ councils.
Under a communalist mode of production, community members integrate into an assembly that discusses qualitative city management as a whole (which includes but is not exhausted by quantitative economic matters). Embedded workers’ councils then self manage decisions within the policies and limits set by communal councils. The decisions made by communal councils are bounded by the points of unity and bylaws of the communal councils. The communalist mode of production is a political economy that integrates production, consumption, distribution, economics, and politics into the horizontal commune. As participatory democratic institutions are created through various means, then they are either integrated within or made auxiliary to communal political/economic re/production. Syndicalist federations can integrate into such a communal political economy rather smoothly, but it requires the shift in long term focus Kolokotronis prescribes in his essay on municipalist-syndicalism.
The lower common denominators of dual power and participatory democracy create a broad libertarian socialist alliance between syndicalism and communalism that has enough substance to meaningfully work in tandem. However, within such lower common denominators are also important incompatibilities; communalism calling for the politicization of economics and syndicalism prescribing an apolitical society. Self management on every level requires communal self management. Communal self management requires communal ownership of means of production needed for communes to reproduce themselves. Therefore communalism is the logical extension of self-governance and merely collectivist models of socialism are a relative negation thereof compared to communalism. The lack of communal self management under collectivization of property without communalization of property is incompatible with communalism. However, syndicalist means can be put towards communalist ends, and communalist means can go towards syndicalist means towards communalist ends. This process changes syndicalism from a means and an ends into a means and an ends towards another ends (the ends of communalism).
Municipalist Syndicalism: Organizing the New Working Class by Alexander Kolokotronis (https://roarmag.org/essays/municipalist-syndicalism-alex-kolokotronis/)
Anarcho Syndicalism: Theory and Practice by Rudolf Rocker (https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/rudolf-rocker-anarchosyndicalism)
The Communalist Project by Murray Bookchin (http://social-ecology.org/wp/2002/09/harbinger-vol-3-no-1-the-communalist-project/)