Industrial Worker spoke with Staughton Lynd and Andrej Grubacic, authors of Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History. Sketched in the pages of this book is an engaging conversation between two generations and two traditions. Andrej Grubacic is an anarchist from the Balkans and Staughton Lynd is a pacifist influenced by Marxism.
Their dialogue aims to bring together the Anarchist and Marxist traditions. These conversations give activists and readers a glimpse of a world beyond capitalism and state bureaucracy by discussing historical examples. The authors invite readers on a journey through modern revolutions, direct actions, Zapatista cooperatives, the Haymarket martyrs, wildcat strikes, the Workers Solidarity Club of Youngstown, forgotten revolutionaries, and prison rebellions to teach us that a better world is possible.
Lynd and Grubacic discussed their intentions for having these discussions, the role of the Industrial Workers of the World in these conversations, and a message for unionizing workers today. The interview below has been edited for clarity and length.
IW: What were your intentions with having this dialogue between Marxism and Anarchism and how does this discussion inspire readers with a vision of a better world?
Staughton Lynd: Andrej and I were both conscious of two streams of radical thought and activity, one of them Marxism and the other being Anarchism. It seemed to us that each had something to learn from the other. A combination of these two is necessary for new movements to thrive. I hope that with this book readers are able to see that synthesis of the two in the events we discuss.
I also believe that there needs to be an action component in the lives of any of us who take this road. I think we are lacking there. We need more people who can stay in one place for a long time to bring a certain fire, life, and a sense of direction. My wife, Alice and I knew people in rank and file labor organizing who had stayed and became known to their comrades as people with brains and heart.
Most IWWers and anarchists who we know put too much emphasis on the intellectual side of things and not enough on forms of actions. The recent events with Amazon Labor Union in New York and other entities across the US are tremendously gratifying to Alice and myself because this is what we believed in all these years.
The persons who we have found exemplary in labor organizing and movements are people who would get to know the people that they work with. They ask them how their kids are doing or what their plans are for the weekend. In time individuals will find it more possible to reconcile and prefigure another world in the way we relate to each other. You don’t relate to people simply as roller skaters on the surface of ideas. There’s got to be something more three-dimensional than that.
This new insurgency which is built on the right to strike brings me so much joy! It is a stark contrast from big established industrial unions–the CIOs (Congress of Industrial Organizations)–who had agreed to no-strike clauses and contracts. That’s fatal! That’s giving away the one weapon that workers have!
Andrej Grubacic: When I think now about the book, two things that strike me as important are the idea of experience and the idea of solidarity. In his previous works, Staughton defines socialism as the extension of the idea of solidarity and that it is indistinguishable from the category of experience. So many movements are rooted in this category of experience which isn’t really theorized or talked about as much.
Before we started to think about the book there was one part of that solidarity that was missing. In the US I felt that it did not extend far enough, or wide enough, or deep enough in the conversation between generations. So everybody always, every struggle, every generation is inventing a wheel of its own and there is no real conversation of the kind that I was used to in Europe between different generations of radicals.
When I came to meet Staughton and Alice, I had this idea in my mind that these new movements, in those days they were called anti-globalization movements, were very much firmly moved in the notion of experience of creating the new world in the shell of the old.
When making the book I thought “So, solidarity and experience, everything that Staughton and Alice have done, how can we make this available, accessible to people who are coming to take the torch someplace else?”
First, I was able to identify in Staughton’s previous work in “Intellectual Origins” a certain consciousness. The book wasn’t about Marxism and anarchism. It was about something that was particularly American. Through Staughton’s work, I found that every country and every tradition has its own synthesis between Anarchism and marxism.
The US and North America has its own formulation and that’s what we meant by Haymarket Synthesis, which is synthesis between anarchism and Marxism. We tried to actually discover what that was and what it continues to be because it is a living synthesis. It’s something that is being reinvented.
When we published “Wobblies and Zapatistas” we were right in the middle of the economic crisis in 2008. So, we wanted people to include the notion of class in their conversations of intersectionality as they face a crisis. When I moved to the US from Europe, I noticed that the subject of class somehow became passé and people were not willing to discuss it.
In all the conversations on intersectionality, it seemed to me that class was somehow pushed into the background as a quaint category that belongs in a museum of the radical left.
Now that it has been 14 years since this book was published, I hope that we were able to suggest some alternative ways of approaching a new and better world without ending up in a museum ourselves.
IW: Where does IWW fall under the points that you wanted to come across in this book?
Grubacic: What we did in the book suggested that there is a continuity between the “Chicago Idea”, which is an experience of struggle and accompaniment that brings both anarchism and Marxism together, and the Haymarket movement. The people who participated in the movement called themselves socialists and anarchists.
They were able to create this synthesis that was awakened by IWW and by the ideas of new in the shell of the old. IWW came to mind when asking ourselves “how does the new world rise from the ashes of the old?”
We felt that there is almost an unbroken continuity since the definition of the “Chicago Idea” and Haymarket synthesis that was revived with every subsequent generation of radicals who created the synthesis between anarchism and Marxism. A synthesis that supplies the people, who are trying to change the world, with immensely potent theory and solidarity.
That also led us to discover Zapatismo and the Zapatistas, who synthesized indigenous traditions, liberation theology, and aspects of Maoism. As mentioned in this book these ideas and movements of horizontally linked self-governed entities, that are not aspiring to become a state but strive to be a more sensible institution, are a source of infinite joy for both Staughton and myself.
My hopes are that people continue the momentum of these movements and look to Zapatistas and Wobblies as examples. We need to preserve and teach the history of these groups and other movements mentioned in the book. By doing so we’ll be able to teach people to be proud and celebrate this lineage.
Lynd: That’s why we mention IWW in the book’s dialogue in the first place to serve as one of many examples to learn from. For instance, the essential reason that there came to be an IWW in the first place is to represent the workers’ needs through the mechanism of direct action. An example I can think of is the IWW lumber workers in the Northwest who thought they deserved a 8-hour day. How did they pursue their interest in a 8-hour day?
They walked off the job after 8 hours! This tradition is the essence of the IWW. You don’t make a complicated agreement with the employer, you act out the thing you need to have and go from there.
IW: What is one thing you want union members to internalize from the discussion in Wobblies and Zapatistas?
Lynd: I will answer it with an anecdote, if you look at the history of the Zapatistas that begins with their “Declaration” in 1994 and it goes on for another 10 years. In those 10 years, Subcomandante Marcos was the organizing figure making sure that the movement had the proper footing it needed. Then some time passes and all of a sudden Subcomandante Marcos goes off the air.
I’ve heard nothing about him for the last ten years and what someone said to me is that Marcos began to feel that people were doing things around him as if he were the movement. He figured that it was a good time for him to disappear.
Now I don’t know if that was the only option, but I will simply offer that one way to deal with these problems of centralization and bureaucracy is to stay in your local place, do what you can, offer a skill to poor and working people, and behave as a moderately decent human being. Over time these acts will become a symbol or an example for other people.
Wobblies and Zapatistas by Staughton Lynd and Andrej Grubacic is available for sale in the IWW Store.