Theses on the Union Question

Introduction

If one observes the draft points of unity for our Fraction, they will notice a point that is glaringly absent from it: the union-question. The union-question was a significant point of contention among the members of our Fraction; some having strong unionist-sympathies, others identifying with the historical positions of the Dutch-German Left on unions, and the rest being neutral on the issue. Those members who carried unionist-sympathies were dues-paying members of the Industrial Workers of the World for a little more than a few years, though never part of an official general membership branch. For these reasons, the union-form was not dealt with in our points of unity. It wasn’t until correspondence and coordination with Workers Offensive (based in Miami) that we further developed and solidified a position that was cleared of any unionist illusions.[1] We owe it to our discussions with Workers Offensive in formulating our theses.

Theses

  1. A union is not simply a collection of workers united for a common goal; unions are a particular form of organization with a particular end—negotiation and enforcement of labor contracts.
  2. By virtue of the properties inherent to the union-form itself, unionism can neither break with the capital-labor relationship in theory nor practice. Even the end-goal of “revolutionary” unionism—the total organization of the One Big Union—is totally limited by the presupposition of this relationship.
  3. There isn’t a meaningful distinction between “business” unionism and “rank and file” unionism. The division between the bureaucracy (those who negotiate/enforce contracts) and rank-and-file (those whom the contract is enforced upon) is an inevitable result of the labor contract as the defining feature of the union-form. As contracts continue to be won, “rank-and-file” unions will tend to produce a strata separate from the class itself assigned the task of negotiating/enforcing labor contracts.
  4. Unions were initially a defensive form of organization during the rising phase of capitalism, but in its declining phase, the unions function as an instrument of capital regulating the price of labor-power. The few gains that could be possible within existing capitalist society are achieved by the direct confrontation of the class with the wage-labor relation, effectively expressing the negation of wage-labor, which the union-form is incapable of performing.
  5. Even in terms of reformist ends, it has become increasingly apparent that the union-form is unsuitable for organizing workers in fighting for short-term demands, especially in the service sector. With the casualization of work and intensifying precarity, unions are incapable of protecting the interests of labor even as a mere factor of capital.
  6. Communists should focus on organizing workplace councils that don’t bind themselves to contracts with the employer as an alternative defensive organ of the class.
  7. In cases of workplaces that are already unionized, it would be foolish for communists to abstain from participating in the unions of their own workplaces, as such a policy would leave the rank-and-file to the unchecked assaults of the leadership, thus ruining the possibility of a revolutionary minority having a presence in the workplace.
  8. In cases where the majority of workers in a given workplace have decided to unionize, it would, again, be foolish for communists to abstain from this process in their own workplaces.
  9. Though communists should join the rank-and-file in many cases, they should always refrain from becoming a part of the leadership.
  10. Whether inside or outside of the unions, concomitant with the increasing self-organization of the class, the overall task for communists is to struggle against the unions as an instrument of capital.
  11. The IWW is not an adequate counter-example to the Marxist critiques of unionism. On the national level, the contemporary IWW is not a union, it is, for the most part, a counter-cultural civic association.
  12. In the majority of the GMBs, the IWW does not function as a union, but more as a general leftist political group that utilizes an eclectic form of organization. The Burgerville Workers Union is one of the few IWW branches that does function as a union, and the critique of unionism applies to it just as much as “business” unions.
  13. The Burgerville Workers Union doesn’t prove that widespread unionization of the service sector is possible, but demonstrates how unionization, in a specific context, can function as a public relations niche akin to “fair trade”.
  14. We affirm the thesis that the downfall of the old IWW was due to its failure to recognize itself as a political party, which has implications for today.[2] If anything, the contemporary IWW is limiting itself by positing industrial unionism as its end-goal, whereas we would encourage it to continue refocusing itself on solidarity networks and overt political struggle.
  15. Depending on the particular GMB, limited coordination with the IWW in certain struggles is not out of the question for us.

Chad Armchair and Leigh O’Rourke

References

  1. workersoffensive.org
  2. http://en.internationalism.org/ir/125-iww
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The Need for Communist Fractions: A Brief Introduction

One may wonder why we refer to ourselves as a fraction of the proletarian-left, and not something more ambitious such as a party, vanguard, or some other form that doesn’t preclude the possibility of becoming a mass organization? The answer to this question would require an explanation of the need for fractions to facilitate the development of the proletarian struggle against capitalism; the notion of the fraction itself rooted in a certain conception of the party, and the necessary conditions for its formation. In more orthodox, Trotskyist, and ‘Leninist’ currents, the formation of the party is always an urgent task for communists of the present, regardless of the conditions of the class struggle. These conceptions of the party promulgate that its formation is always the task of the hour, no matter what the present conditions of the class struggle are, because it is conceived as the necessary precondition for the upsurge of the class struggle in favor of the proletariat. One may argue that this approach to the party has led to a vast array of tiny sects that delude themselves with the ambition of becoming the party of the working class in the present historical moment by the sheer organizational will of its members, or worse yet, that they already are the party. These confusions and opportunist maneuvers have made political currents that outright reject the need for a communist party altogether, like council communism, autonomism, Situationism, and communization theory, look more attractive to internationalists. However, there is a political tradition that offers a more sophisticated notion of the party that recognizes that the necessary conditions for its formation are dependent on the given situation of the class struggle. This political tradition is best expressed by the Italian Fraction Abroad (1927-1939), the French Fraction of the Communist Left (1939-1943), and the French Communist Left (1943-1952). These were the fractions of the International Communist Left who understood that the historical moment of the class struggle was a necessary precondition for the formation of the party, in contradistinction from the notion that the formation of the party is independent of whether the historical moment is favorable or not to the proletariat. They understood that the task of the hour was to regroup into a communist minority in order to create a balance sheet of the present situation, formulate class positions in the face of defeat, and maintain the thread of continuity between the past and future party. This was the work of the communist fractions.

Adherents to the communist theory of the fraction would assert that the dynamic between party and fraction has existed for as long as the proletarian-communist movement since Marx and Engels has existed, but, for the sake of exposition, one can focus on the most explicit formulation of the fraction in the Italian Fraction Abroad and its derivatives. The Italian Fraction Abroad originated in the more general Italian Communist Left, which began to diverge from Third International Bolshevism as early as 1921, with the introduction of the ‘united front’ policy. Due to the rise of fascism combined with the expulsion from the increasingly Stalinized Italian Communist Party, militants of the Italian Left had dispersed from Italy and largely regrouped in France as the Left Fraction of the Italian Communist Party by 1927. This regroupment also consisted of communists dispersed throughout Europe and North America who held positions convergent with the milieu of the Italian Left. The activities of these fractions were characterized by drawing on the lessons of the degeneration of the Third International, and the implications this had on understanding the historic defeat of the revolutionary wave. The fractions acknowledged that, though the parties of the Third International continued to exist in form, the defeat of the revolutionary wave caused the parties to either dissolve or lose all revolutionary content, thus the proletarian party ceasing to exist in any real sense. The disintegration of the world proletarian party made it imperative for what was left of the internationalist left to regroup into fractions. In the process of regrouping into a fraction, there isn’t a strict alignment to a pre-established program for workers and militants to simply rally around, but a rigorous scrutinizing of the past program through discussions and coordination with other groupings of the proletarian-left. It should be noted that members of the fraction did not conform to some strict ideological line; it was a forum for lively debate among the communist-left. The point was to prepare for the development of the program articulated by the future party. Taking inventory of the strengths and weaknesses of the old program, the Italian Fraction Abroad moved closer to the positions of Rosa Luxemburg and the Dutch-German Left on the questions of national liberation and unions. The Fraction conducted these theoretical elaborations by means of various publications, most notably Bilan. At this time, the major issue at hand was actively struggling to defend class politics against the confusions of united fronts and anti-fascism produced by the inter-imperialist conflict that was the Spanish Civil War. Unlike those who were caught up in confusing imperialist war with class war,  militants of the Fraction fought to keep radicalized workers from sacrificing themselves into the ranks of the anti-fascist militias for the sake of the left-wing bourgeoisie, and agitated workers to undermine the discipline enforced by the popular front that protected arms production for the “anti-fascist” Republic. In fact, the communists of Bilan correctly observed that the war in Spain was a foreshadowing of the impending global imperialist massacre that was named the Second World War. The Italian Fraction Abroad insisted on going against the tide of defeat of the proletariat by exposing the “war against fascism” to be a mass mobilization of the working class for the bourgeoisie. The lack of a defeatist response to the outbreak of war by the working classes of Europe was so disheartening to militants of the Fraction like Vercesi, that they theorized the ‘social non-existence of the proletariat’: an ideological justification for the communist minority resigning into utter inactivity,  accompanied by a consequent dissolution of the Italian Fraction Abroad. However, majority of the Fraction disagreed with this thesis, regrouping into the French Fraction of the Communist Left. Against the ‘left-wing of capital’ that composed the now counter-revolutionary Comintern, the Fractions of the International Communist Left actively opposed participation in the war on grounds of revolutionary defeatism, and intransigently stood firm on the basis that the only solution to imperialist war is the self-determination of the working class.

Throughout the entirety of both the war in Spain and the global imperialist conflict, there were various convergences and divergences within the Fraction; an activist minority of the Fraction believed that communists ought to turn the imperialist war into a civil war by entering into the anti-fascist militias, while another minority around Vercesi resigned to complete inactivity as previously mentioned (later strangely capitulating to anti-fascism). Towards the end of the Second World War, approximately 1943, a series of strikes broke out in Northern Italy, prompting many militants of the Italian Left to call for the formation of the new party. By 1945, other militants from Southern Italy, along with the majority of the French Fraction of the Communist Left, merged into this newly formed organization that would be called the Internationalist Communist Party. The formation of the Internationalist Communist Party was a response to an analysis of the breakout of strikes in Northern Italy that asserted the latter to be a sign of another postwar revolutionary wave akin to the one that occurred after the First World War. However, a minority of the French Fraction of the Communist Left refused to join the Internationalist Communist Party because they thought it to be a premature voluntarist act. The minority of the French Fraction of the Communist Left had an analysis that greatly differed from that of the communists who formed the Internationalist Communist Party; they viewed the strikes in Northern Italy to not signify the coming revolutionary wave, but to be the swansong of a proletariat defeated by imperialist slaughter. Unless one counts the farcical ‘liberations’ under the tutelage of the Allied powers, the fact that there weren’t outbursts of workers discontent against the war that weren’t successfully suppressed by both the anti-fascist fronts and the fascist state made it evident that there wasn’t any good reason to expect a postwar revolutionary wave mirroring the one after the First World War, therefore, according to the theory of the fraction, the formation of the party inevitably falling into opportunism as a result of grasping to maintain itself as a formal organization. This minority of the French Fraction of the Communist Left that learned from the experiences of the general fractions of the International Communist Left, deeming the formation of the party in non-revolutionary moments to be an inappropriate maneuver, regrouped itself into the French Communist Left. The French Communist Left offered the most sophisticated articulation of the party-fraction dynamic.

The tradition of the French Communist Left is what the Gulf Coast Communist Fraction most closely identifies with because of the merits of the theory of the fraction. The theory of the fraction allows communists to historicize the tasks of communist activity, to understand that the historical situation of the class struggle is a necessary precondition for the formation of the party, as opposed to thinking the party can be constructed in any historical moment, whether in defeat or an upsurge, by a voluntarist act. In times of historic defeat, the party, which has a direct and immediate influence on the class, essentially disappears, necessitating the regroupment of the communist-left milieu into fractions that acknowledge the brutal reality of having a much weaker and restricted impact on the class, while additionally being much more determined by objective circumstances than the party. In the contemporary period, the vast majority of parties are only so nominally, and these delusions hinder them from even having enough political coherence to function as small sects. The idea that the “real” party lives on invariably through all historic phases of the class struggle is to reduce the party to a metaphysical force on the level of Platonism. Rather, the party is the section of the class secreted by the class itself that is organized into a force self-conscious of its historic task to seize political power from the bourgeoisie. This is not to say that the party is the section of the class that directs the rest of the class as if the party was a managerial organ, but simply that the most self-conscious sections of the proletariat are more “the first of the herd to jump off the cliff” than the “leadership”. Only in the profound upsurge of the class struggle, can the various fractions of the revolutionary milieu unify into the world communist party. Through the process of the organic reformulation of the communist program, the fraction functions as the bridge that constitutes the continuity of the past party with the new party. It is necessary for the party to dissolve and reconstitute itself contingent upon the situation of the class struggle, so the fraction is the link that fills the gaps in between.

It is the project of the Gulf Coast Communist Fraction to integrate itself into the current regroupment of the Communist Left, collaborate with these formations in re-articulating the program for the future party, prepare for the development of the class struggle, and facilitate the secretion of the proletarian party through the unification of the fractions.

Chad Armchair

Toward a Points of Unity

These are the basic points that all members of the fraction must agree on:

  1. Capitalism is a system that is constituted by the antagonism between the exploited (proletariat) and exploiting classes (bourgeoisie).
  2. Generalized wage-labor and commodity-production are defining features of capitalism.
  3. Generalized wage-labor and commodity-production are governed by the law of value.
  4. Imperialist war is the inherent symptom of capitalist crisis.
  5. Capitalism is actively hindering the human community from entering into its final stage of a classless and stateless society.
  6. It is the historic task of the state to protect capitalism.
  7. It is the historic task of the proletariat to negate capitalism, effectively establishing a classless/stateless society.
  8. Communism is the existing movement of the proletariat to complete its historic task.
  9. Common ownership of the economy is the defining feature of communism.
  10. Communism is not governed by the law of value.
  11. Capitalism cannot be gradually reformed into communism.
  12. Communism cannot be established through the administration of the capitalist state.
  13. Communism is not the state management of the economy.
  14. Communism is not workers self-management of the economy.
  15. Communism negates the nation-state.
  16. Communists support women’s, queer, and sexual liberation.
  17. Communists support the struggle against white supremacy.
  18. Communists support the decommodification of animals.
  19. The ‘left-wing of capital’ is the opportunist co-opting of proletarian struggle, and degeneration into bourgeois-democratic politics.
  20. Communists oppose joining fronts and coalitions with sections of the ‘left-wing of capital’.
  21. Communists oppose participation in electoral politics
  22. Communists oppose national liberation.
  23. The USSR (1921-1989), Eastern Bloc, China (1949-1978), Cuba, etc. are all examples of state-capitalism.
  24. Communists equally oppose state-capitalism and private capitalism
  25. Communists oppose all sides of imperialist war.