I went to the 100th anniversary celebration of the Bread and Roses strike, on labor day in my new home of Lawrence, MA. In the Boston area anarchists tend toward being red anarchists (it seems), while I tend towards what might be called green, insurrectionary, or post-left positions. Nonetheless, I am allergic to dogma and like to look for a variety of avenues of affinity.
There were a number of anarchist oriented tables set up at the festival. There was also a Socialist Workers cable, which I avoided as much as possible. Something weird about a middle aged, white, commie trying to sell me books by Malcolm X. I should’ve asked about the Mother Plane and other esoteric aspects of Nation of Islam theology.
The Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration society had a table set up. I engaged the fellow behind it in conversation. His thoughts were a touch scattered, but I’ll give him a pass, as the Boston Sacco and Vanzetti memorial march had just happened and judging from his battered eye socket, he had participated enthusiastically.
There were two Industrial Workers of the World tables set up. One housed the New Hampshire and Maine chapters, the other housed the Boston chapter. I spoke with the Maine and New Hampshire chapters. Though we obviously came from different perspectives, they were willing to engage in dialog. They were enthusiastic, though much of the talk seemed like a sort of sales pitch.
I attempted to talk to the Boston chapter of the IWW, but they seemed to have little interest. Any question was given a short response, with little interest in dialog. This was not due to any more pressing concerns, there were only a couple people who even approached their table. They seemed to ignore these people as well.
One strange aspect of these folks is that the younger members all seemed to be wearing a punk version of old time clothes, almost a crust tinged version of the musical Newsies. I took this as a sort of steampunk fashion. Now I’ve been involved in punk and Discordianism, so I’m not inclined to dismiss fashion and costume out of hand. However, when combined with a disinterest in dialog, this does concern me. It makes me feel as if it may be a politics of style. Dress up like an industrial worker, while attending grad school.
At one point one of the Wobblies stood on a chair and began reading Alexander Berkman to those passing by. He was attempting to do soapboxing. I walked nearby again about five minutes later and there was no more reading. The point of soapboxing is to keep reading, doing it until one is exhausted and then ideally being replaced by another. If you give up because no one is paying attention within five minutes, it defeats the point. It seems to me it was only done in order to say it was done, it was a ritual.
Who knows, I may be wrong. Maybe they didn’t want to engage in dialog because they were shy. However, at this point, it seems to me that, like most of leftism, the wobblies are more of a shell and a viable force to disrupt capital. They may now just be a series of rituals. A commie cargo cult. This seems to be the nature of our postmodern civilization. Everything is reduced to a commodifiable image, a signifier stripped of meaning. The electronic communication systems that have been deployed worldwide have helped in the development of a new stage in late capitalism. Leftist groups, such as anarcho-communists, tend to extend allegiance to a techno-industrial society, feeling that the problem is not the structure of society, but that they are not in charge of it. This is their greatest weakness. It also leaves them open to recuperation on a grand scale, becoming just another identity that can be worn. The society of the spectacle can transform resistance into just another image. At one point the IWW may have been a revolutionary force. Certain incidents in their history suggest that they still maintain the potential to be such, look for instance at the Rebel Worker. However, as long as they remain within the bounds of hegemonic leftism, they will be merely a ritual to recuperate dissatisfaction.