An Introduction to Collectivist Ansynd


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Introduction

The purpose of this guide is to introduce you to worker self-management. It will outline the methodology that governs our workplace, enabling you to participate alongside us, prior to undertaking more comprehensive training.

Ownership

img_0198
you can’t take it with you…

Ownership is not simply possession, rather it pertains more to power, control, and responsibility. It exists in the here & now, and doesn’t accompany us into some sort of afterlife.

The power and control at a business owners’s disposal actually arises from owning responsibility for the asset… from carrying the can.

A worker cooperative is perfectly in step with this reality. Once someone has been voted in as a cooperator, they share in the responsibility, and may thereby exercise control over the business. Cooperative ansynd is structured in such a way as to limit the need for voting, meaning workers take most decisions autonomously. Cooperators have equality of power, and most of that power is exercised individually rather than collectively.

So… welcome to our business! This guide will help you make the most of the experience.

Jargon

These pages contain a few unusual words (and a some long ones too), which you may be unfamiliar with. To help you become fluent in the terminology, there’s a concise (and often somewhat blunt) translation provided at the end of each section.

Overview

Democracy1
cooperation can accomplish great things

Worker cooperatives come in two forms, the reformist hierarchal kind, which function similarly to most other businesses, and the subversive non-hierarchal kind (like this one), which aim to supplant capitalism. The latter are often referred to as worker collectives.

A worker collective consists of workers, both paid labour and unpaid volunteers. Each worker starts out as a newbie, and on completion of coop training they graduate to probie (probationary member). Probies serve a probationary period of 10-20 months, prior to facing a vote on whether to make them a cooperator (legal member). The intent is for every worker to become a cooperator, and thereby an equal participant in the coop. Newbie and probie are just transitional stages towards this goal, which must be completed within a set timescale, rather than ranks or positions as such.

Everyone is expected to actively participate in the operation of the cooperative, and to assume a level of responsibility commensurate to their time commitment. Newbies are able to exercise around 75% of the power available to cooperators, and for probies this rises to 95%. Ideally the workforce will mostly consist of cooperators.

The three distinct classes of worker do form a rational hierarchy, which exists purely to transition workers into the cooperative. Those who fail probation must be released from the cooperative before they gain full employment rights, as this would impose a permanent management hierarchy from underneath… defeating the entire point of the exercise! With this in mind, it’s best to maximise the time available by completing cooperative ansynd training as early as possible, ideally commencing probation within 2 – 6 months of your start date.

The cooperative is collectively owned by the cooperators, each of whom sit on the board of directors. Cooperators have a say over any decision that affects them, and because those decisions are taken by consensus, a cooperator cannot be forced to go along with anything they disagree with. In order to be voted in as a cooperator, you must prove to be willing, conscientious, diligent, reasonable, constructive, and disciplined.

Translation: This isn’t a free lunch. It’s going to take a concerted effort on your part, and we won’t be giving you the benefit of any doubt. Succeed and you’ll be the equal owner of the business, and firmly in charge of your own destiny.

Organisation

railway
example of a horizontal structure

In a hierarchy power is derived from your position within the structure, whereas in a horizontal organisation your power is dependent on your own ability, with the structure governing its application.

If a vertical organisation is analogous to a pyramid, then a horizontal one is more like a railway. Each train is autonomous, being powered by its own engine, but its passage is in accordance with the tracks, switches, signals, stations, platforms, timetables, bridges, tunnels, sidings, and buffers etc.

The structure of this workplace is a based on a methodology known as Collectivist Ansynd, which functions a little like the railway in the above analogy, where the workers are like the engines.

Translation: The methodology exists to prevent train wrecks.

Collectivist Ansynd

Cooperative Ansynd.jpg
the toothed wheel represents cooperation

Ansynd is an organisational praxis: a theory, method, and practice for organising without hierarchy. It’s an abbreviation of anarcho-syndicalism, which literally means “unions without hierarchy”, where union is in the sense of being united by a common purpose.

Collectivist ansynd refers to a current within anarcho-syndicalism, which focuses on collectivism and worker self-management. This presents a significant threat to the capitalist hegemony because management is very expensive, and successfully dispensing with it thereby makes any workplace inherently more efficient.

The methodology is predicated on individual power and assertiveness. It recognises the inherent weakness of group-think, and mandates creativity and ambition, over opinions and apathy. Participants are thus encouraged to become aware of their own limitations. A non-hierarchal workforce must collectively possess all the skills more usually encapsulated within a management team.

Collectivist ansynd consists of: a set of principles; a statute; elected officials; and a sophisticated take on democracy. It is deemed a militant praxis because each participant may exercise their power unilaterally.

Translation: Talk is cheap. The default position is to go ahead with ideas that are creative or ambitious, unless there’s a good reason not to. We’re collectively running a business not dicking about. Everyone has the power to kick ass, and they don’t need to ask permission to do so.

Principles

Here is a brief synopsis of the eight principles that apply to an ansynd cooperative. As a newbie you should work to familiarise yourself with these, by observing the members, and asking questions. Failure to adhere to any of them automatically constitutes a breach of cooperative ansynd praxis, inviting disciplinary action from the other workers.

Translation: Here are the basic principles, if you’re struggling to grasp anything, then please just ask someone to clarify.

Solidarity

solidarity.jpg
solidarity is an expression of Mutual Aid

The combination of the business, its reputation, the workplace, the equipment, the workforce, and the customers, represents the common good. Self-interest is ultimately best served by safeguarding the common good. The workforce therefore shows solidarity around the common good.

Translation: Our needs are best taken care of, by taking care of business. We do what’s right by the coop first, then one another, and all our little duckies fall into line.

Autonomy

Autonomy
autonomy is empowerment

A worker is empowered to take any decision that will have negligible impact on the business, the workplace, their colleagues, or the cooperative as a whole.

Translation: Do whatever you like, so long as it doesn’t majorly affect the business or anyone else who works here.

Restitution

restitution3
assume responsibility for your actions

If a worker does something that jeopardises the common good; or which substantially and negatively impacts upon the business, the workplace, or any co-worker(s)… then they should endeavour to put that right. The same principle applies to negligence. Restitution must be commensurate, and the onus to restitute lies with the offender.

Translation: You break it, you fix it, or volunteer to make it good… somehow… else you’ll be in a world of shit.

Equality

equality
power should be accessible to everyone

Everyone is entitled to equal treatment.

Power arises from responsibility, therefore the cooperative must endeavour to allocate responsibility evenly amongst its workforce.

Any member, may unilaterally exercise the power to fairly discipline any worker who is in breach of cooperative ansynd praxis, but only a cooperator can dismiss a worker.

[Please refrain from reporting personal problems with co-workers to the membership. There is no chain of command – you are empowered to deal with such issues yourself, and are expected to do so. This is also covered by the next principle.]

Translation: Everyone here receives equal treatment regardless of who they are. We all have access to the same set of powers. You have the power to fight your own battles, so don’t go bothering other people with that crap. Stop looking for a boss because there really aren’t any.

Freedom of Association (FoA)

FoA
association should be voluntary

This takes two forms, FtA (Freedom to Associate) and FfA (Freedom from Association).

Under FtA, workers may choose to associate with any individual or group, except those who preach hate or advocate tyranny. They can also choose to form their own exclusive groupings within the workplace, provided those adhere to the principles being outlined, and are not utilised as a means of persecution. There’s also scope to join wider industrial unions.

Under FfA workers may choose to disassociate from one another, and any such arrangement is automatically deemed to be both mutual and all encompassing. The only exception being around any necessary workplace communication, because the common good takes priority over FfA. Refusal to respect FfA is deemed to be beyond the bounds of restitution.

If you experience a serious problem with anyone at work, then simply declare FfA. Refusal to respect that (by either party) will create scope for disciplinary action.

Translation: Form teams with whomever you want, so long as those aren’t intended for some sort of power grab. People don’t have to include you in stuff that doesn’t concern you. If you don’t get along with someone then declare FfA, click your ruby slippers three times, and you are effectively dead to one another… except to say “pass the salt”. Either of you so much as bad mouth the other then you can be shit-canned for it. Your call.

Direct Action

Direct Action.jpg
worker self-management is direct action

Members are co-owners rather than employees, and must therefore participate in cooperating the business. This means doing our fair share of all the stuff that would normally be handled by bosses and owners. Cooperating a business is arguably the most direct form of action there is, since it bypasses the rationale for capitalism altogether.

Translation: If you “just want a job” then consider applying to somewhere like Sports Direct. This is much more than that. Action speaks louder than words. Everyone is expected to carry their fair share of the load.

Rational Authority

img_0237
expert decision makers

All recurring aspects of the business are divided into zones, which are like mini departments. Ideally whomever is most experienced, and/or knowledgeable on a particular aspect, is appointed to be its ZA (zone authority), and made responsible for that thing.

The smooth functioning of zones is integral to the common good.

Each worker must volunteer to assume their fair share of responsibility, which usually means that everyone ends up being in charge of at least one thing. This division of labour can either be allocated via the commissioner, or enacted through an election.

The zones and their assigned ZAs are presented on the labour matrix – you can refer to this document in order to learn who is responsible for what.

ZAs are subject to instant democratic recall, but beyond that wield absolute authority over their zone(s). You may not interfere with how someone else does their job.

Failure to keep on top of a zone is likely to result in recall, and may also invite disciplinary action.

Translation: If you want to call the shots over something, then offer to own it. There is no invisible fairy that goes around turning your ideas into reality. Everyone is expected to volunteer for their fair share of responsibility.

Collective Accountability

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we are all owners

ZAs are obliged to individually report their activity to the collective. Members should monitor levels of participation, and everyone must assume responsibility for safeguarding the common good.

Translation: We’re each accountable to one another. There’s nowhere to hide. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, or is demonstrating undue care, then any one of us has the power to kick their ass. If something is jeopardising the common good, then we’ve each individually got an obligation to address that, no matter how small it may be… up to and including picking up litter!

Statute

old-testament-sermons.jpg
together we make the rules

The statute consists of the cooperative’s purpose, plus the outcome of each subsequent consensus process (where applicable). The statute is dynamic, and is based upon collective recollection. Aside from the mission statement it must not be compiled into a written legislature. This is mandated in order to maintain a pragmatic, flexible, and contemporary outlook, so that the cooperative is capable of adapting to ever changing circumstances.

Translation: Other than the mission statement, we deliberately don’t write stuff down in a big book, because if no one can remember what was agreed, then it probably wasn’t worth having in the first place. Circumstances change over time, and any precedent that hasn’t been enacted in a while is likely best forgotten about.

Mission

mission
our collective purpose

This is a statement of the cooperative’s founding purpose. The mission is set in stone, and cannot be amended. Newbies should familiarise themselves with the cooperative’s mission statement. Members may act in accordance with the mission.

Translation: The mission statement cannot be altered, so deal with it. This is in order to remain true to the intent of the cooperative’s founders, who will doubtless have contributed start-up capital. The way to escape such restrictions, is to found your own cooperative.

Precedent

precedent
rules that are applied consistently

By default any democratic consensus process will set a precedent, which any member is then empowered to enact, provided they can somehow demonstrate its prior existence.

Translation: If we voted to do something once, then you have the power to execute similar action whenever you want. You’ll soon come to appreciate that this is a very big deal.

Tradition

tradition
tried and tested principles

Precedent that is regularly enacted becomes tradition, and continues in effect even where the root of the underlying precedent has been lost in the mists of time. Any worker can compel adherence to a tradition.

Translation: If we do something a lot then that’s just the way it is, and it’s not for anyone to go unilaterally changing that. You have the power to take action against other workers who breach those traditions.

Officers

Officer
for slick, smooth, and efficient operation

Cooperators must elect at least one of each of the following officers from within their own number. These roles exist to ensure the smooth running of the cooperative. Officers are subject to instant democratic recall. Find out who those people are, because you’ll likely want to interact with them at some point!

Translation: We elect people to make things slicker. Anyone elected can just as easily be unelected at any time. These people are there to help you get stuff done.

Custodian

The custodian is tasked with safeguarding the cooperative’s mission, and ensuring adherence to ansynd praxis.

The custodian must maintain strategic oversight of (but has no control over) the cooperative, and he or she also serves as the decision taker of last resort.

The custodian is subject to democratic override by members.

If you are unsure of anything then just ask the custodian for guidance.

Translation: The Custodian understands how all this stuff works. Their job is to make sure we’re all on the same page. If you’re not sure what to do then ask them, and they’ll probably respond with some riddle that encourages you to think for yourself. Anything they decide can be voted on, so they have no actual authority. If you’re still looking for a boss, then this isn’t them.

Commissioner

The commissioner is tasked with safeguarding the common good.

The commissioner is empowered to commission zones, and to appoint (but not recall) ZAs. This is encapsulated within the labour matrix, a document listing each of the zones and their assigned ZAs. This is to expedite the division of labour, and mitigate the need to hold elections.

The commissioner must endeavour to allocate responsibility commensurate to each worker’s time commitment.

The commissioner is subject to democratic override by members.

You can request that the commissioner create a new zone for any responsibility that you’d like to assume, and this will be added to the matrix.

Translation: The commissioner is there to divide the work up so that we don’t have to vote on who does what all the time. Anything they decide can be voted on, so they have no actual authority.

Agitator

The role of the agitator is to safeguard and encourage engagement within the workforce. This may relate to worker involvement and responsibility within the cooperative as a whole, or to their participation in any democratic processes that is presently underway.

If you believe that someone’s participation is lacking, then feel free to bring this up with the agitator.

Translation: The agitator is there to bug you into participating. If you get involved then they’ll leave you alone. This person is a hassle merchant rather than a boss figure.

Democracy

Democracy2
democracy underpins everything

Every single aspect of a coop, aside from its mission, is subject to some form of instant democratic intervention. However meetings and votes can be stressful, time consuming, and divisive. With this in mind, collective decision making should be reserved for issues, which are of significant impact (beyond autonomy), but aren’t zoned under rational authority, and cannot be dealt with by officers under their delegated powers.

The most appropriate form of democracy should be utilised for any given purpose, and this is open to debate. Newbies are mostly excluded from the democratic process, because their involvement often proves disruptive. A cooperator may insist on all probies being excluded from a vote, provided there’s a valid reason for such an exclusion.

Translation: We decide on the best way to vote. You don’t become eligible to vote until you understand how the voting process works.

Arbitration

arbitration
for settling differences of opinion

This occurs in response to a disagreement, and is usually takes the form of simple majority.

Translation: When people disagree, we get to vote on who’s right.

Elections

Democracy 4
collectively deciding who does what

Workers can force an election on any vacant zones.

At a bear minimum the cooperative should hold an AGM, where workers can request an election on any zone or official post.

Elections typically adhere to the format of a rational veto of candidates, followed by either simple majority or alternative vote.

Any worker can stand for election to a zone, but only members can vote in these elections.

Translation: You can either put yourself forward for a zone when it’s vacant, or wait until the AGM. Any member can choose to veto candidates from the list prior to the vote, provided there’s a valid reason for doing so.

Recall

hook2
power is dependent on consent

Any member can call a confidence motion on any ZA or officer at any time. This is always undertaken by consensus.

Translation: People can be kicked off stuff at any time, provided everyone else agrees.

Decision Making

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good ideas don’t require force

Any member can initiate a consensus motion on any issue that falls outside of autonomy and rational authority. Consensus means that the motion cannot go ahead without the consent of everyone.

Consent doesn’t necessarily indicate support for something, but rather a willingness to go along with it.

The above diagram depicts a simple process that is suitable for straightforward decisions, with a high level of support, which don’t require rigorous due diligence. The process for complex decision making is far more nuanced, with the members fixing a “consensus point” early in the process, after the specific wording of the question has been decided upon, but prior to actual discourse getting underway. This consensus point typically defaults to 60%, but any member can insist on raising it as high as they like (potentially all the way to 100%), but only during that stage of the process. The consensus point remains fixed in each of the stages thereafter.

Beyond that there’s also scope for amendments, expert veto, conditional votes, concessions, and safeguards. The process is designed protect a minority right down the the individual, without impeding progress.

consensus incorporating due diligence

It’s crucial to use whichever process is most appropriate to balance the hassle factor against due diligence.

Translation: We try and handle stuff autonomously wherever possible, because voting can be a drag, but members can call a vote on any issue/aspect that someone else isn’t already in charge of. Whatever it is can only go ahead if we all consent to that. There’s a long way and a short way of doing this, and where there’s potential for disaster we choose the long way.

Suspension

cooperation is a steep learning curve

A cooperator can rationally suspend a newbie or probie’s rights & powers for any breach of cooperative ansynd praxis. Suspension remains in effect for 4 weeks. This relegates the worker to the status of an employee in the traditional sense. Suspension will in effect make everyone else your boss.

Whilst under suspension the worker remains as a ZA and retains all their zonal responsibilities, but their authority becomes subject to cooperator override. They are excluded from the democratic process, and also relinquish the powers of autonomy, freedom of association and restitution. They can also be unilaterally recalled or dismissed by any cooperator, pending right of appeal. If you’re suspended from probation, then its recommended get your zones in order ASAP, else one of the cooperators may opt to dismiss you for negligence.

While suspension may seem harsh, it actually forms the basis of a two-strike yellow card system. This sort of safety net only applies to newbies and probies, but not cooperators.

Translation: Step out of line and you’ll get a second chance, but you’ll be on thin ice, and we’ll hammer the point home that ansynd is not in the least bit touchy-feely.

Summary

make it work – together

This workplace is governed by a methodology, which neatly dispenses with bosses, whilst limiting the need for voting. This is accomplished by distributing responsibility throughout the workforce, and imbuing workers with the power to tackle any issues that arise.

Cooperative ansynd is predicated on mutual respect and conscientiousness, its about treating the workplace as you’d like it to treat you.

Now lets put all this stuff into practice!

“…but Democratic Socialism…”


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The Myth of Broad Appeal

The notion that Labour must encompass a broad church in order to win elections is nonsense. The Tories are institutionally rightwing and elitist. Their token nod to a broad church was allowing the likes of Ken Clarke to participate in the party.

the joy of screwing the poor is palpable

The Tories win elections on an economic agenda that favours the capitalist class.  They promote what passes as a manifesto via the BBC and the billionaire controlled media.  The former employs the patronising tone of our ‘betters’, whilst the latter engages in a three pronged campaign upon the rest of society.  

“he’s literally Lenin”

PR Aspects of Class Warfare

Pseudo leftwing broadsheets aimed at intellectuals provide a platform for columnists who espouse a twisted centrist logic… with the likes of Owen Jones tossed in to add some leftist legitimacy to all that word salad.

the word salad case for centrism

The petite bourgeoise are targeted with harsh appeals to individual responsibility.  Commentators ‘splain that poverty is caused by laziness and poor choices, and how taxation mainly functions so that benefit scroungers can rob enterprising people of their hard-won earnings.  

“…stealing food from your mouth…”

Meanwhile the tabloids are hitting up the less literate with a relentless and bigoted populist narrative, one that blames various minorities (migrants, feminists, gays, intellectuals, blacks, socialists, and the poor) for the damage that neoliberal policies have wreaked upon society.  

dehumanising a minority

The Political Cycle

Periodically (around once in a generation) life becomes so grim for so many people, that the left capitulates and lends its support to the so-called centre.  The outcome is a ‘reformed’ Labour Party that vehemently rejects democratic socialism in favour of a kindler gentler capitalism, and whose policies are all but indistinguishable from those of a wet Tory Party.  

New Labour were just Wet Tories

The downward march then resumes on a gentler slope… until the working class realises it has been betrayed, and ‘punishes‘ Labour by reelecting the Tories.  Thus we come full circle.

“Working Class Votes Tory to Punish Labour”

The reality is that we live in a totalitarian capitalist state, where the establishment will never permit the election of a democratic socialist government. 

Establishment Histrionics

Outside of the BBC, the bulk of the propaganda apparatus is privatised, rather than being state controlled.  Its insidious machinations weren’t particularly visible until 2015, when the threat Corbyn posed to billionaire interests precipitated a melodramatic meltdown.  Suddenly the lifelong antiracist and peace campaigner was supposedly a racist terrorist… as exclusively revealed in a histrionic media orgy of epic proportions.  

It must have been true because they were all so shrill and insistent – right?

”No smoke without fire!” – arsonists

It now appears as though those in power would even go so far as to rig the postal ballot – if that’s what it took.  They didn’t on this occasion… but only because on err “sampling the postal votes” they deduced that no further action was necessary.  Five decades of tabloid propaganda had gotten the job done already. The BBC then glibly informed us [paraphrasing here] that “resistance is futile, and anyway it’s going to rain (so no point in heading to the polls).”  

nothing to see here

Don’t Fall for the Rope-a-Dope

Politics is a distraction.  Time after time the left is suckered into punching itself out.  We need to stop wasting energy on a game that is so obviously rigged against us.

it’s a trap

Build from the Bottom Up

Real change can only be effected through positive direct action.  The only viable recourse is to start building a new society within the shell of this one, from the bottom up, by gradually implementing a cooperative economy ourselves.

the grassroots approach to real change

Bogus Criticism

The common criticism of this approach is that “it takes too long, and all this time people are suffering/dying”.  Well – now hear us out – people have been suffering/dying throughout the entirety of the time that every UK national over the age of 18 has been entrusted with the right to vote! Ninety years have already passed, some twenty four opportunities to end suffering have come and gone a begging.  Only once, back in 1945, did we succeed in bringing about actual positive change! Thousands of avoidable deaths have occurred… and are still occurring.  Voting isn’t making the slightest bit of a difference; it just makes us feel better because at least we ‘tried’.  

ok FAKE NEWS he didn’t actually say this

It’s Time to Act

If you’d like to know more about founding, organising and operating an anarchal (non-profit non-hierarchal) workplace, a collective business that operates for the benefit of the community, then please get in touch.

Together we can restructure society.

Ref-er-en-dum Lies


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Voting…

Anarchists don’t believe that it’s possible to vote the world better – hence we’re all about direct action… and would usually advocate spoiling your ballot.

UK General Election 2019

That said, the forthcoming UK General Election on the 12th December 2019 at least affords scope to mount a damage limitation exercise.  On one side there’s child poverty, widespread environmental destruction, selling off the NHS, food banks, zero hours contracts, the working poor, populist xenophobia, 120K deaths on universal credit, student debt, spiralling homelessness, WASPI women, social housing clad in firelighters, escalating knife crime, a retirement age of 75, the Windrush Scandal, and seemingly endless overseas conflicts.

On the other side there is ‘hope‘.

Toxik Ephex feat. BCWC

With that in mind, we figured to take some direct action and teamed up with legendary Aberdeen punk band Toxik Ephex, to rework Gary Gilmore’s Eyes into Referendum Lies, with the blessing of TV Smith.  We were fully aware that something not dissimilar had already been done once before, but the clock was ticking.

You can listen to the track for free below, or download it in MP3 or WAV format – please share it!!! It’s also available on YouTube!

Referendum Lies MP3 format

Referendum Lies WAV format

Lyrics

Refer-en-dum lies!
I’m toiling in a sweatshop,
A prisoner of production,
A slave to universal credit,
My mind can barely function.
They scrapped our health & safety,
Now I’m sick from all the fumes,
Downsizing to a smaller flat,
We’re five to a bedroom.

I’m seeing through Boris Johnson’s lies,
Seeing through Boris Johnson’s lies,
Seeing through Boris Johnson’’s lies,
Seeing through Boris Johnson’s lies.

This isn’t what they promised us,
Ain’t taking back control,
No millions for the NHS,
Just dug a deeper hole.
I was duped by all the tabloids
Blaming cuts on immigration,
Said the Tories had our backs,
And they would build a stronger nation.

I’m seeing through tabloid media lies,
Seeing through tabloid media lies,
Seeing through tabloid media lies,
Seeing through tabloid media lies.

BRIDGE

Seeing through referendum lies,
Seeing through referendum lies,
Seeing through referendum lies,
Seeing through referendum lies.

I cast my vote in anger,
Thought “to hell with the EU”,
Hoping for a brighter future,
But none of that came true.
Should have never trusted Farage,
He went to public school,
Bankers don’t care for the working class,
He’s yet another lying tool.

I’m seeing through Nigel Farage’s lies,
Seeing through Nigel Farage’s lies,
Seeing through Nigel Farage’s lies,
Seeing through Nigel Farage’s lies.

Seeing through referendum lies,
Seeing through neoliberal lies,
The way they lied about austerity,
It’s a self-serving twisted ideology.

Chiz Pirie – Drums
Ross Cunningham – Bass
Elias Eiholzer – Guitars
Fred Wilkinson – Bouzouki, Vocals
Frank Benzie – Vocals
Snaba Noble – Vocals
Brittney Ellis Cameron – Vocals
Iona Macdonald – Vocals
Andy Philip – Vocals

Music by TV Smith
Arrangement by Fred Wilkinson
Lyrics by Flash
Engineered by Andy Philip at Musical Vision
Videography by Iain Ball

The Problem with Private Property


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There are several conflicting definitions of property, depending on one’s perspective.

Common Classification

Property is most usually separated into three categories:

  1. commons – land or natural resources that aren’t owned by anyone in particular, but which may be accessed by all.
  2. public property – that which is owned by a state entity.
  3. private property – that which is owned by a person or non-state legal entity.

This view fails to take into account the various differing circumstances that may factor into private property.

Marxian Classification

Karl Marx sought to expand on this by distinguishing between personal possessions consisting mainly of consumer goods, which he termed “personal property”, and absentee ownership of capital goods, which he somewhat confusingly termed “private property”. Marx then went on to critique the exploitation that arises structurally when the means of production are privatised.

There’s a problematic hole in Marx’s definition though; it gives the impression that the means of production should be held in common, effectively rendering all workplaces ‘open access’… which is clearly an unworkable proposition.

Composite Classification

Hence from an alternative perspective there would need to be five categories:

  1. commons – land or natural resources that aren’t owned by anyone in particular, but which may be accessed by all.
  2. public property – that which is owned by a state entity.
  3. personal property – that which is occupied or possessed by an individual for their own personal use.
  4. private property – that which belongs to an individual or non-state legal entity, and is either set aside, or mainly occupied and/or used by third parties on a commercial basis.
  5. collective property – that which is occupied and/or used by a group of people or non-state legal entities, on the understanding that any notion of ownership is relinquished once membership of said group is terminated.

While this affords is a much more nuanced perspective, it’s also more complex and harder for people to grasp.

The Problem

Thus we arrive at the problem with private property, in that there exist at least three conflicting yet overlapping interpretations. This is troublesome in any debate where the protagonists refuse to agree on a common terminology, and instead insist on arguing at cross purposes.

The Solution

Rather than attempting to alter the definition of private property, which many people would find confusing, a better approach is to define various subcategories of it. This makes it possible to discuss the problem without arguing over what does or doesn’t constitute private property.

Terminology

It’s necessary to concisely define each of the terms that shall be applied throughout. Where these labels appear they are intended as substitute definitions rather than being interpreted according to a lexicon (and in particular the Merriam Webster Dictionary). If you have an issue with this, then feel free to contact us suggesting alternative labels, rather than twisting the discussion into an argument around semantics.

Lets start with some basic concepts:

  • ownership – the right to assign exclusive access to, responsibility for, or control over an asset.
  • occupied – recognised to be occupied by.
  • possessed – recognised to belong to.
  • used – recognised to be used by.
  • property” – where the ownership of something is acquired on the basis of it being occupied, possessed, or used by an individual, a group, or some other entity.

The pedantic will invariably choose to assert that ‘strictly speaking’ something is only being occupied, possessed, or used while someone is present – hence inclusion of the wording “recognised to be…” thus clarifying that the recognised owner may be absent until such time as others choose to no longer respect said ownership (which in the absence of authority would indeed leave scope for conflict).

This allows us to define “absenteeism as being where ownership of property is recognised despite it either being ostensibly vacant, or primarily being occupied, possessed, or used by others (this latter scenario may include the owner being present, but as a minority participant).

We can now move on to define four subcategories of private property:

  1. personal property” – property that is primarily occupied, possessed, or used by an individual (but which does not constitute an example of absenteeism).
  2. collective property” – property that is primarily occupied, possessed, or used by a group (but which does not constitute an example of absenteeism), on the understanding that any notion of ownership is relinquished once membership of said group is terminated.
  3. dormant property” – absenteeism not being undertaken for financial gain.
  4. leveraged propertyabsenteeism being undertaken for financial gain.

Therefore private property” – encompasses personal property, collective property, dormant property, and leveraged property.

Anarchist Perspective

Anarchists reject public property, since it presupposes the existence of a state. Anarchists do not propose to abolish the commons. Neither are they necessarily opposed to private property in the commonly understood sense.

In respect of the four subcategories defined above, anarchists respect personal property. They will also respect collective property on the proviso that participation isn’t being forced. There’s also no objection to dormant property where the absenteeism is upheld by mutual respect, and likewise for leveraged property provided it’s uptake is enacted voluntary.

Summary

The issue with private property is dependent on whether said claim is genuinely being maintained through mutual respect, rather than being imposed upon society (either forcibly or structurally) by those in positions of power and dominance.

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Origin of “Snowflake” as a Pejorative

Interesting fact: in the 1860s the pejorative “snowflake” was used by abolitionists in Missouri to refer to those who opposed the abolition of slavery. The term related to the colour of snow, referring to valuing white people over black people.

Anarchists (with their acute appreciation of the history of class struggle) resurrected the phrase in the early 90s, around the time that Internet flame wars first became a ‘thing’, and employed it in reference to the authoritarian right. A “snowflake” was someone who believed their genetic makeup to be ‘pure white’, and who would enter total meltdown in reaction to anything that conflicted with their ideological perspective (be it gays, blacks, or breastfeeding in public).  This subtlety went entirely over the heads of the auth-right, who perhaps due to their lack of self-awareness perceived “snowflake” as just “name calling”, and ironically started using it in retaliation!

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‘White Power’ snowflake flag.

This is likely how “snowflake” came to feature in Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel Fight Club, which famously included the quote: “you are not special, you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake”. This line was later included in the film adaptation, and thus entered into popular culture. Nowadays “snowflake” is sadly associated as a pejorative used by the alt-right against the liberal left… unless of course you were a Generation X anarchist in the 90s.

Conservative Snowflakes
Snowflakes enter meltdown if their worldview is challenged.

Thus ‘anger’ was originally the prerogative of conservatives and other reactionaries on the right. These ‘snowflakes’ would take offence at anything ‘different’ (typically anything not white or ‘straight’) and become morally outraged about it. Their authoritarian tendency was to ban, prohibit, censor, or segregate stuff they were’t comfortable with.

Political Correctness

The notion of “political correctness” was first applied in reference to that which strictly adhered to a range of ideological orthodoxies. For example, in 1934, The New York Times reported that Nazi Germany was granting reporting permits “only to pure ‘Aryans’ whose opinions are politically correct.” Ffwd post-WWII, and the term was being used sarcastically in reference to Marxist-Leninist doctrine. By the 1970s the left had also begun using the term in a sarcastic manner, albeit in reference to the sort of lip service routinely employed to placate them (the sentiment being in reference to the political perversion of fundamental correctness).

Political correctness can be a form of oppression.

Up until the 1980s mainstream egalitarian thought had predominantly been social, in that it dealt the politics of class, and advocated equality of treatment. Gradually this was supplanted by a populist liberal take on egalitarianism that dealt with the politics of identity, and advocated equality of outcome. These liberal egalitarians unironically adopted political correctness as a strategic method of delivering social justice. They began to express outrage, at the outrage being expressed by those on the right. This heralded the Age of the Pathologically Offended.

Egalitarianism: Social vs Liberal

Black Cat Worker Collective is founded on social, not liberal, egalitarian principles. Correspondingly, as a dive bar, Krakatoa is steeped in a culture of respect and tolerance, as opposed to one of judgement and intolerance. Our view is that outrage cannot be counteracted with outrage, and that the notion of being offended at someone else taking offence is nonsensical. One cannot preach tolerance from a position that is in itself inherently intolerant. Respect cuts both ways. Yelling in an angry person’s face is unlikely to change their mindset. Make love not war.

Social egalitarians advocate equal treatment. 

The problem with liberal egalitarianism is that it’s reactionary and therefore inherently authoritarian in nature. Advocates believe that others will slowly conform to its ideals, through the application of political force. All this does is thought police fundamentally wrong opinions underground, where they bubble away, giving rise to perceptions of oppression. Liberals have in effect birthed the alt-right: a reactionary movement, to the reactionary movement, to the original conservative reactionaries.

Or as George Carlin more succinctly put it:

Intolerance may not be the best response to intolerance.

The social egalitarian response is three-pronged. It not only seeks to address the underlying structural issues, but also strives to reeducate, and is outspoken in its rejection of the authoritarian solution… that latter aspect being crucial to flushing this nonsense out. If people are harbouring views that are racist, sexist, or homophobic, then forcing them to conceal those, makes it much harder to address the problem on an interpersonal level.

Any worthwhile progress in equality, has arisen from structural changes facilitating equal treatment rather than via the banning of free speech.

For example “the right” actively seek to criminalise homosexuality, whereas liberals actively seek to criminalise homophobia. They are in effect pursuing the exact same means in an effort to secure polar opposite objectives.

Social egalitarians reject criminalisation as a solution to anything. Instead they focus their efforts on education and securing equal treatment. In this case legalising marriage for same-sex couples. Other welcome structural levellings have included universal suffrage, common age of consent, allowing everyone to the use public transport regardless of race, and numerous changes to the school curriculum to encourage equal treatment early in life.

It’s often assumed that those seeking to ban stuff are the same people as those working to dismantle coercive structures. Although these strategies tend to parallel one another, there’s seldom any real overlap. While liberals express similar aims, their approach actually impedes structural reform, as it mainly serves to entrench opposition to it.

Class Struggle Anarchism

Although oppression assumes multiple forms, there is but one mechanism. It is impossible to oppress someone unless you have scope to dominate them. Class struggle anarchism is predominantly about dismantling those passive structures that facilitate domination. We eliminate class distinctions by levelling the playing field. Rather than criminalising the use of slurs, you seek to render them meaningless and obsolete.

Highlighting the differences between people, actually creates scope for oppression. People can only be targeted if they are perceived as a distinct group. This is why the social egalitarian component of class struggle anarchism advocates for equal treatment.

There are both social and economic components to class.

Class struggle anarchism, does not propose lumping everyone into a single economic class, rather it’s the recognition that we are all equally worthy parts of the same human race.