Reflections and Conclusions on Haft Tapeh

Introduction

We present below a brief reflection on the repression of the recent wave of class struggle that took place in Iran, submitted to us by a sympathizer of our group and contact of the International Communist Current. We welcome this contribution.

Gulf Coast Communist Fraction

Reflections and Conclusions on Haft Tapeh

Since the beginning of November this past year, a series of recurring strikes broke out in Khuzestan Province, Iran. The movement situated itself on the basis of revolutionary ideas, ideas which have historically been promoted by internationalist organizations and the like. It vehemently opposed all forms of nationalism as reactionary, posited the necessity of revolutionary change, and distanced themselves from all other previous groups. [1.]

“Our alternative is a Soviet, a collective one. We are not person-centred and we do not want individualism. Individualists, nationalists, racists and reactionaries do not associate yourselves with us. Our alternative is a worker’s soviet; collectively we will decide for ourselves, we will issue demands from the below. Enough is enough!” – Ismail Bakhshi [2.]

The movement was named Haft Tapeh, originally taken from the sugar company where workers began protesting at the beginning of the strikes. This movement was not expressly communist, but at their earlier stages they did not have to be. It was a full expression of working class discontent with bourgeois barbarism; one which is a historical trend in its own totality. From Kronstadt in 21’, to Hungary in 56’, to Paris in 68’, and to Poland in the 80’s. But what all of these movements have alike was their inability to organize on an open political level.

This was less so for Kronstadt, as it was during the period of revolution within Russia. Essentially, Kronstadt marked the inevitable turning point for the Russian revolution into counter-revolution. This is due to the fact that Kronstadt was an actual display of workers’ discontent with the situation in Russia. As they acted out, they were painted as ‘white terrorists’ by the Bolshevik party, and were crushed with an iron fist. The destruction of the workers’ councils and the establishment of the NEP soon followed after.

A distinction should be made here between two forms of organization: the unitary organizations which serve the purpose of gaining the direct material interests of the proletariat by putting aside political differences (usually in the form of soviets or worker’s councils), and the political organization which (in order to join) necessitates subscribing to and being in the constant defense of a program.

Why is this relevant at all to the discussion of Haft Tapeh, and to the historical discussion of proletarian movements as a whole? There exists a certain necessity for the unitary organizations to be in direct coexistence with the respective political organization. The Haft Tapeh movement had the possibility to form worker’s councils, a very necessary step in the attempt to intensify class struggle. And as with all four aforementioned situations, these councils are unable to elect (either to disorganization or the simple lack of one) a party or organization which upholds the invariant Marxist method.

In fact, instead of going forward in their revolutionary progress, they have in some ways thus far followed the Polish event in the 80’s. Some leaders of the protests, as well as workers, have entertained the idea that workers self-management will be the best way to rid themselves of the exploitation currently present in Iran. This idea gained popularity after the more class conscious organizers of the strikes proposed formation of those aforementioned soviets. This idea went out the window after the arrest of those in question, most of whom were tortured and murdered. The answer to their current situation should not, and cannot be the replacement of that exploitation with democratically-managed exploitation.

In fact, the very lack of a revolutionary organization in Iran has already drawn up its’ consequences. After multiple leaders of the protests were rounded up and arrested (some even killed) by the Iranian ‘Revolutionary Guard’, the massive protests have slowly declined. Even more so now with the flood that has destroyed entire areas and killed tens of people.

So what is to be gained from the lessons of Haft Tapeh? What can future movements do to prevent the similar failures of this movement? History has proven time and time again, as shown by the four other historical outcries of proletarian dissatisfaction, that there is a necessity to turn this dissatisfaction into useful action. When there arises the unitary organization, there must be a political organization willing and able to step up to the task of leading the working class to victory. For without the proper organization of the proletariat, there will be no victory for the proletariat.

Vil M.

  1. Saadati, D. “Iran: Workers’ Strikes and Protests Continue.” Leftcom, CWO, http://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2018-11-19/crisis-rise-workers-militancy-iran.
  2. Saadati, D. “Iran: Workers’ Strikes and Protests Continue.” Leftcom, CWO, http://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2018-11-19/crisis-rise-workers-militancy-iran.

 

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Nuevo Curso on Loneliness

We publish an English translation of this article by our comrades in Spain for the painfully relevant content that is presented here. The worst ills engendered by capitalism – impoverishment, starvation, malnourishment – are of a brute physical nature, but there is also the aspect of capitalism that engenders social alienation, the psycho-social degradation of the very subjective experience of the worker. We members of Gulf Coast Communist Fraction know all too well the social atomization concomitant with the everyday grind of life in the predominantly service-based economy of Southwest Florida that employs the mass of precarious workers. Precarious workers in Southwest Florida maintain the lawns of some of the most expensive properties in the entire United States, properties that are vacant for all but a few weeks due to being some multi-millionaire’s third or fourth piece of real estate, only for these workers to arrive to their own isolated living spaces spending their leisure time alone watching Netflix and consuming drugs. Precarious workers in Southwest Florida serve food, at essentially piece-rates, to the tables of some of the most profitable high-end restaurants located in some of the most expensive shopping districts that regularly attracts bourgeois tourists from everywhere, from the Northeastern United States to Germany; yet these workers are some of the most lonely people one could meet. Real estate and vacation magazines constantly rave about the Naples-Fort Myers area being a must-go vacation destination free of worries or hardships, the popular perception of this area is it being a little paradise detached from the reality of urban or suburban life in the United States. Tourists and “snowbirds” (a colloquial term coined by the local residents to refer to retired bourgeoisie who reside in Southwest Florida during the winter and go back to their homes in the North for the summer) find it hard to believe that any of the local year-round residents of this area, no matter how much of a precarious wage-slave, experience any hardship. However, any year-round resident of Fort Myers or Naples knows the first complaint they have of living here is the profound sense of boredom that plagues them everyday. With over half of residential neighborhoods being gated communities that threaten prosecution if an outsider from another neighborhood enters without proper authentication, an almost total absence of public space, lack of social activities that don’t involve eating at a restaurant or shopping at a store, even these available social activities only being afforded by the bourgeois tourists, Naples-Fort Myers doesn’t have a civil society. All there is to life here is commuting alone in one’s car from home to work to home to store to restaurant to gas station to drug dealer’s place back to home to do it all again. The personal car is the true home of the precarious worker in Southwest Florida, and the commute is their primary social activity outside of work.

We also know very well that the situation described is not unique, and it becomes increasingly apparent that the mind-numbingly artificial malaise that defines life in Naples and Fort Myers is a foreshadowing of the capitalist future to come. This is why, in a sense, we do view our daily activity as communists as resisting the social alienation that blinds us to our class character of human solidarity.

Gulf Coast Communist Fraction

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Loneliness? The Communists Don’t Know That

At the time of early workers’ socialism-the Icarian communists in France and the League of Communists in Germany-the social life of the communist militant was intense. The tradition of banquets, inherited from republicanism, was followed by picnics, meadow parties that mixed family leisure, discussion and political formation. In one of the few successes of “The Young Marx”, it shows how Marx and Jenny know Proudhon and Bakunin in one of these Icarian festivals outside Paris. The film, on the other hand, does not show by a long shot what was the daily life of the League workers, whom it reduces to extras and human decoration. The truth is that they were far from it. At the end of the day’s work he stayed to smoke and drink a beer discussing the day’s newspapers, which were bought in common. The famous second congress of the League in which the Communist Manifesto was approved was preceded by months of correspondence between members from all over Europe, meetings and long discussions. And when it was finally held in the “Red Lion” – a hotel/pub in Soho that is still open as a cocktail bar – it lasted for three full days of intense and passionate debates. The importance its members attached to their commitment can be measured not only by the brutal work of preparation and prior debate, but also by what it meant for a worker at the time to travel to London and give up his salary for an indeterminate period… if he was not stopped along the way.

We can imagine the atmosphere of the communist meetings by the accounts of the assistants, for which such trips were great adventures that they described in letters and chats to their companions to the return. Thus we know, for example, that when the delegates to the meeting of Sant Martin in the Fields in which the First International will be born arrived at the sidewalks in which they would work those days, they found a bag of tobacco and two pints of beer. A workers’ congress was a space of fraternal relationship, of listening and reflection. A place where class consciousness developed. That is why the miserable tricks and conspiracies of Bakunin and his sect generated so much violence in the great majority of workers’ representatives. It was the first warning of how poisonous the decomposition of the petty bourgeoisie would become for the communists.

If we go to the Second International, with its weekly assemblies, its workers’ schools, its athenaeums, its village houses, its songbooks… it is really hard for us to imagine to what extent the independent political expression of the class mobilized around a whole form of socialization that multiplied the workers’ struggle and its political representation in every aspect of life. These “little things” help us to understand more than a century, and a few defeats away the deep relationship with the workers party of millions of workers, the drama of the betrayal of social democracy and the strength of the militant behaviors of the revolutionary epoch that followed.

All this that academics today call “worker sociability,” all those “little things,” that experience of fraternity, intellectual self-improvement and continuous political development that socialist life offered, were generators of meaning in the life of each militant.

Small things, without great things abound in human life. But in History, one never achieves great things without small things. More exactly: small things, in a great epoch, integrated into a great work, cease to be “small things”.

This does not mean at all that it was easy or that it even had an understanding of the environment, especially in countries such as Spain, where the proletariat was weak not only numerically. Juan José Morato – a typographer who was a witness, militant and historian of the first PSOE – tells us that in 1882

The seed from which the General Union of Workers would be born [developed by] widening the sphere of personal relations of the socialist nuclei (…) Not strong nuclei, but rather as an agglomeration of few friends and supporters, all humble mechanical workers, who were always faced with the hostility of the anarchists, the disdain of the Republicans and what was worse, the indifference of the working masses.

To read Morato is to discover the slow decanting, the almost heroic intellectual effort of those workers who could barely access and even less translate, the European Marxist texts and who had to sustain the effort between repression, forced migrations and the most absolute scarcity. It took them years to get their own weekly newspaper. They never aspired to anything other than self-financing – an obvious thing for an organization that considered itself revolutionary – and little by little they built around it a fabric that pivoted on the “houses of the people”, raised and financed by the meager salaries of the militants themselves.

We can imagine the pride and sense of fortitude given to them by those buildings, modern and beautiful, erected with their own hands and that rivaled the casinos of the provincial chiefs and even, in the capital, with the Circle of Fine Arts of the Republican bourgeoisie. And let’s not talk about literacy campaigns, kindergartens, conferences, i.e. the “little things” next to the resistance boxes and, from a certain moment on, political representation. The life of the militant worker was a life sacrificed by definition, often risky and always hard. But it was full of meaning, collectively and individually. It was exalting and involved the worker from day one in a process of personal improvement, formation in community and permanent collective discussion in which he went from learning to read to write and even to know the rudiments of the art of printing.

Without this school of the Second International it is difficult to understand, for example, how the rank and file militants of the Bolshevik party who maintained the organization and defeated the first great counterrevolutionary attempt, the Kornilov coup, confronted the leadership of the party and coinciding, without knowing it, with what Lenin defended from his Finnish isolation. Isolation that, on the other hand, was only physical, since it did not stop sending letters and criticisms to the Central Committee of the moment.

The experience of communism has always been, from the origins of the movement, the opposite of the petty bourgeois ideology, destined for individual consumption, reducible to “experiences”, aesthetics and attitudes. The activity of the communists has been, even in the worst moments, collective learning and debate. We see it in the testimonies we have left of the worst moment of repression of the counterrevolution, the famous “Midnight in the century”. Even the communists of the generation that lived the most dramatic moments of the defeat of the class and the exile, resumed and reconstructed the militant activity creating collective routines of study, criticism, discussion and intervention, no matter how modest the means and adverse the conditioning factors. If there is one thing the communists have not suffered, it has been individual loneliness.

What About Today?

Today more than ever, capitalism denies us as a class in all its ideological manifestations with the crushing force of its media machine. The union of guilty and denying ideology, crushed in every minute of radio and television, with the precarization of work and life imposed by historically and economically exhausted capitalism is a real machine of atomizing and crushing. That is why the first act of effective consciousness, now as always, is to come together, study and recover the theory and history of our class and begin to understand and analyze reality with these instruments.

We invite you to do what all the generations of communists who preceded us did every day: read the world’s available press. To make it more accessible to you, we put it on your mobile phone through our Telegram channel. They are tools, information, and a minimum framework so that you don’t get too lost in it. Because what is important comes later. The first collective element: the conversation -public or private, whatever is most comfortable for you- on twitter and facebook.

The long dozen of us who walk in and around the daily elaboration of this blog and the news channel are very geographically dispersed. But we always go with the open conversation on the mobile. As we said, if there is one thing that we communists never suffered, it was individual loneliness.

Nuevo Curso

Letter from the International Group of the Communist Left

Introduction

We publish here some comments on our draft “Points of Unity” from the International Group of the Communist Left.

Gulf Coast Communist Fraction

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The IGCL to the GCCF,

Dear comrades,

The purpose of this letter is to present you our first comments about the political positions that you’ve adopted since the constitution of your group. But first of all, we want to renew our salutations to this setting up, which is, according to us, fully part of a general process of international communist forces’ rise and regroupment at the present time. We deeply believe this process is linked with and determined by, in the last instances, the development of the historical contradictions of capitalism such as they concretely develop and express themselves since 2008 : the capitalist crisis, the renewed attacks against the world proletariat, the rise of economic and imperialist rivalries and wars, the upheaval of the political apparatus of the different capitalist states, the mass migrations, etc… The indispensable International regroupment that you’re de facto also part and factor of, does not reduce merely to the simple regroupment in a single organization in itself, nor to adhesions to a specific  communist political organization. It actually requires and depends on a whole process of worldwide political discussions, debates, confrontations and clarifications of the basic, or programmatic, positions of the communist movement with their material and concrete implications nowadays. Without a minimum of political clarity and homogeneity, that is its genuine unity, the future party, even though formally constituted, would be inefficient and unable to fulfil its historical task as political vanguard of the revolutionary class in the midst of the historical storm to come sooner or later. That’s precisely the process and struggle that we want to be part of and active in and to which we encourage you to be, at your turn, full part of and active in.

Several reflections and comments that we should present you here have already been expressed in the editorial of our last journal. For instance, you limit and reduce your “presence of attraction for revolutionaries [in] the Southwest Florida region” (see the presentation text About). As we argued in our journal with regard to Intransigence, we believe and defend that it is crucial for any communist group today to consider itself and set its activities and intervention as international and from an international point of view, even if it can physically intervene and work in one single city or area only[1].

We would have many questions, comments and clarifications to make on many of the Basic Points that we can’t really deal with in this letter. Most of them are clear communist principles and the fact that “the positions of [your] group are generally influenced by and oriented towards the various fractions of the International Communist Left” (idem) means you set and base them within this historical current political framework. We also notice that you even identify “most closely with the tradition of the French Communist Left”[2]. This implies that you already intend to take part in the historical debates between two of its main currents, that is the ones of the ICT and “historical” ICC. The claiming of this historical continuity and legacy is very important since it refers to the method for establishing, developing and defending these class positions, which  are not an invention coming from any brilliant genius, or individuals, but the product of the working class historical experiences that the three Internationals and their successive left communist fractions and groups, that is collective political bodies, have materialized all along the history of the working class revolutionary struggle. Thus, one of the first aims of any new communist political group or circle, and even isolated militants, is to “re-appropriate” – critically and not as an absolute dogma – the lessons and the experience of these political parties, fractions and currents. Why such a need ? Because it would be useless and endless to make this huge work again when it has already been done by the previous generations and the historical currents of the Communist Left; also and above all, because it would be engaging in a wrong and dangerous path, the one of ignoring the past experiences on which the present revolutionary positions of today, or the program of the future party, are and will be based upon. Your claiming of the legacy of the Communist Left fits within this understanding and method and we agree and support this approach.

But there is a third “because”: because the method for clarifying and establishing the revolutionary positions and principles has to be an historical one. And there precisely,  is the first and main critical remark we want to make on your Basic Positions. Certainly they could not be but short and incomplete for the present days. But we think it important to point out and call your attention to the fact that they suffer from a lack of any historical dimension in their presentation. They are presented as such, in abstract. Just one single example : “Communists oppose national liberation”. By itself, that position is in our present days, or in the present historical period, a clear class position. But, in the 19th Century, the communists, Marx and Engels foremost, “supported” some, not all, national movements. Thus, it is important to distinguish the communist method from the anarchist one: the main characteristic of the latter is that it is a-historical with eternal, and thus abstract, principles while the former, that is historical materialism (or Marxism), considers and states that the positions and principles are not absolute but historical, that is in relation with the course of history of the class societies. This lack of historical dimension has already its political consequences in your very basic document which “all members of the fraction must agree on” (About). “Communists support the decommodification of animals”, says point 19. We have nothing against the need to protect animals as much as possible from any suffering but, according to us, this point has nothing to do in a communist program. Nor can it be considered as equally important, at the same level, as “the historic task of the proletariat to negate capitalism, effectively establishing a classless/stateless society”, or as the point on the vital need of “a world communist party” or still the claim of the October 1917 Russian Revolution experience. And, while this point on animals is part of the Basic Positions and despite their previous reference to October 1917, they say nothing about the working class insurrection, the destruction of the bourgeois state, the exercise of the Dictatorship of the proletariat, and still the workers councils as organ of this insurrection and class dictatorship[3]. Yet they are central principles of the communist program. They distinguish “us” from the anarchist currents or trends, and even from many “a-political currents” referring themselves to the Communist Left, such as the Councilist one for instance. To develop a real and consequent political activity, these questions, particularly the Class Dictatorship, are crucial and can’t be ignored whatever is the final position one adopts on them. These principles – main lesson of the Russian October 1917 Revolution – are not general, ethical or abstract principles only important for a revolutionary future, but have direct and permanent “tactical” implications in all the situations and moments, including the present one. Ignoring or leaving them aside can only place very quickly, that is in the present situation, any communist group in front of important concrete contradictions and ultimately make it impotent and lead it toward a political dead-end; if it does not actually set it objectively contrary and opposed to the proletariat’s interests and struggles.

Thus, in our opinion, your Basic Positions are not yet complete enough for a consequent communist political group or fraction. And that’s… very normal. We just want to point it out so that we all are conscious that these positions are only a necessary moment, or step, in the process between political break with bourgeois leftist positions and ideology and the political clarification of the Communist Left positions. This inescapable process can only develop through the open and wide discussion and confrontation with the positions of the Communist Left (you refer to) in a systematic way; especially its main programmatic documents that the different currents of the Communist Left have produced and, particularly, by the platforms that its organizational expressions of today have adopted. It is a practical and concrete way, because it is a militant one, to clarify and state on basic positions that have to provide the programmatic framework of any communist group[4]. It compels one to refer to the historical, programmatic, theoretical and political documents or texts of the working class movement, that is the classics of Marxism and the history of our class; and it encourages one to discuss them.

This process of discussion and clarification should be “opened”, locally and internationally, to all comrades and groups on the basis, or within the framework, of your Basic Positions as criteria for participation. To ease its setting up, this proletarian space of discussion does already exist: the comrades who are intervening in the Nuevo Curso network could easily be part of a systematic and centralized discussion of the main programmatic documents of the Communist Left. It could even be a “public blog” or “website” where the confrontations and the clarification of the basic positions of the present Communist Left would be exposed and could represent, according to your own words, a “presence of international attraction”.

These are our first comments and orientations we think we all should reflect on and discuss. We sincerely hope you understand these remarks as a fraternal. We also propose to you, we’ll wait for your approval, to send this letter to Nuevo Curso as well as to the ICT. For us, as the ICT remains the main and central organization of the Communist Left today, and despite – or better to say because of – the political disagreements and debates we have with it, it is all the more important that it can actively and openly participate in these discussions.

Fraternal greetings, the IGCL

[1]. We can’t develop this point here but it could be a specific issue to discuss and clarify since it deals with the important question of method and determines in great part the approach of the communist groups from their very beginnings as well as their ability to be efficient and effective, including in the… local and immediate situations. Localism is the worst and erroneous way to understand and intervene correctly in the local situations and struggles…

[2]. see The Need of Communist Fraction: A Brief Introduction. We also would have several comments and historical clarifications to make about this text. We even think it would be worth discussing. Certainly one day…

[3]. We don’t mention the absence of the union question since we know it is under discussion within your group. We’ll send you critical comments on the Thesis you made in the next few days.

[4]. For instance, you can refer to the statement of our comrade Stavros, before he was in agreement with and adhered to our group, wrote on the ICT and ICC platforms as an example – and why not a point of departure for your own discussion ? See: http://igcl.org/Statement-on-the-ICT-and-ICC.

Marc Chirik on the Role of Fractions and Regroupment

Introduction

We publish here an excerpt from the letters by Marc Chirik, a partisan of the French Communist Left, while living in Venezuela, sent to us from the International Communist Current.  The excerpt is meant to help clarify the distinction between the fractions, which were a direct product of previous parties, and the groups which lack such an immediate continuity. It is our pleasure to present this short extract.

Gulf Coast Communist Fraction

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Extract of Letters from Afar

The Fraction was an organic, direct continuation for a relatively short time. Often it continued to live in the old organization until the break-up. Its break-up often amounted to its transformation into a new Party (e. g. the Bolsheviks and Spartakists) like almost all left-wing fractions in the old one. This organic continuation is now almost non-existent. Let’s take the example of the GCF (Gauche Communiste de France). The organic continuity with the old movement (the Communist International) is very distant and very indirect. There are several intermediate chains, the main ones being the Gauche Communiste Internationale and the International Opposition (Trotskyist). Physically the continuity is even more distant. It is an exception today in any group to find militants who were members of the old Party, that is, during Ilyich’s time. Because the Fraction did not have to respond to fundamentally new problems as posed by our period of permanent crisis and evolution towards state capitalism and was not dislocated into a dust of small tendencies, it was more rooted in those acquired revolutionary principles, so that when it was called to formulate new principles, it had more to maintain than to build. For this reason and that of its direct organic continuity in a relatively short period of time, it was the new Party in the making. It did not rebuild the Party but transformed itself into a Party in the new rising period. The whole position of Bordigism on the impossibility of forming the new Party by merging various groups and tendencies, at the risk of altering the principles and compromising its subsequent evolution, was valid and understandable from the perspective of the notion of the Fraction as we have just analysed it. But this no longer corresponds to anything today and becomes even more ridiculous than harmful, when today’s Bordigists refuse to discuss and maintain contacts with other groups and tendencies. Because our period of decline is particular, the fraction – the type of normal organism in a period of normal decline – gives way to a new type that is more elementary, more fragmentary, more organically distant from the old movement –  more like a group. And this is not a pun, a simple substitution of terminology. Just as the fraction has particular tasks, different from those of the Party, so the group’s own tasks are different from those of fractions. It is not only a type of political organization of the class, more elementary, more primitive, but it is distinguished by its function. Let us define it in broad terms.

1) What it has in common with the other types (party, fraction) is that it is a political organization of the class and not a circle of people intellectually curious about sociology and theory, a Philippine “elite” of men of good morals and good will who do not compete in the market of ideas (oof ! Philippe dixit). It is a militant organization, proclaiming as the purpose of its existence to work with and in their class for the transformation of society. It still has in common with the other types that it is constituted on the basis of a doctrine, an ideology, and as a political current in continuation of the previous revolutionary movement. It does not fall from the sky, is not a new beginning of the world (Chaulieu’s ridiculous claims) but a product of previous experience and achievements. It is a link in a chain where there is a past and a future.

2) What distinguishes it is that if it is a part, a fraction (and not the Fraction) of yesterday’s united movement, it is not however the framework of the new Party but only an element of its future reconstruction.

3) Its organizational structure – is infinitely looser than that of other types.

4) If its tasks are partly those of the Fraction, namely, re-examination of the experience, training of militants, he has in addition that of analysing new developments and the new perspective, and in less that of rebuilding the programme of the future Party. It is only a contribution to this reconstruction as it is only one element of the future Party. Its programmatic contribution is partially in its organizational nature.

In a sense, in its internal activity, it is more called to build than to maintain, and in this it is more than the Fraction. But in the relationship between the part and the whole, in relation to the future programme, it is only participating alongside other groups. And in this sense it is less than the Fraction.

This also results in a difference in the necessary relationships between one group and another. It does not aim at their destruction (post-war Bordigist position) but at establishing as many contacts and as much collaboration as possible for the widest possible discussions aimed at clarification. It is the relationship of one element to other elements that together constitute the revolutionary vanguard.

5) Contacts with isolated militants and solidarity between militants. This task also existed in the Fraction type but was an additional, secondary thing. But in the group (in other words in the present period) this task of physical and political safeguarding of the militants is of prime importance.

Through this brief enumeration we can already see the difference between the Group and the Fraction. What is identical is exactly what makes the distinction of our period. It is an adjustment of the political and ideological life of the class to the period. But however elementary it may be, the group remains a political organization. For a situation to come about, where any organized form is impossible, it is necessary to consider a period in which all possibility of a socialist perspective definitively disappears, since the proletariat has been permanently wiped out as a historical subject? Then, and only then, would the impossibility of the existence of any organized form be theoretically justified. But then too, the militants would disappear individually to make way for mere rebels. Until then, and as long as the proletariat remains, there is objectively the possibility and the need for an organization of political expression. Only repression and external pressure can physically suppress this organism. So it’s about our ability and knowledge to cope with pressure. This is a completely new issue, which can only be resolved within an organization…

Marc Chirik 1952

Nuevo Curso on Communist Militancy

We republish an English translation of Nuevo Curso’s entry on communist militancy

Gulf Coast Communist Fraction

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What Is Communist Militancy?

The emergence of new internationalist groups around the world has renewed the discussion about the nature of class militancy. It is not about establishing the mold, a “new man” or an ideal. It is a question of understanding the responsibilities that result for each one of us from that “school of political thought and, consequently, organization of struggle ” that the party must be, even if, as today, it is a party in formation, in becoming.

THE FUNDAMENTALS

  1. From the first political expressions of the proletariat, the internationalist worker was aware that his militancy meant embracing an extraordinary life: living consciously meant “subordinating his own ends to those of the species.” That is, making his life useful to a process that transcends much the individual as capitalism defines it. But if the individual can exist only as alienation in a society divided into classes, the object of that “real movement that annuls and surpasses the present state of things”, communism, makes the “discovery of man by man himself, at the end possible”, projecting on the forms of today’s militancy, the demand and the promise of a different form of integration into History through collective doing. The militant’s commitment is not a denial of his personality, but an overcoming of individualism and atomization to distill a consciousness that struggles to become human consciousness, of species.
  2. To begin with, joining the class-conscious movement means embracing a way of contributing and intervening that can only live in collective political discussion and practice. That collective knowledge that is distilled into program, the very core of class consciousness, is what establishes historical and political continuities. It is the program and the method that animates it, the one that allows an exploited class to equip itself with a conscious strategy on the back of the combativity that its situation in society imposes on it. There is no soul other than the body, there is no consciousness without materiality, the program is not a pure idea that has existed for as long as the class receives or adopts mechanically and completely, carried by the pure immediate need or spurred on by the disasters of an exhausted system. The program and method is the result of the experience of the processed class in its most conscious minorities. There is no class program without a class party, and even in phases in which the party is no more than a set of more or less dispersed minorities and in which class struggles are weak, there is no possibility of programmatic development outside the attempt to build the party and without these organized minorities fighting for their own entrenchment in the majority of the class.
  3. Also from the beginning of the communist movement, the class borders gave form to the organization and not only to the program. The first of these, internationalism, the affirmation of the proletariat as a single world class and thus the denial that it has any “national” interest once the bourgeoisie has succeeded in defeating absolutism and seizing political power, was a conquest of the first steps of the League of Communists. And it had, of course, organizational consequences. Engels recounts how the first revolutionary workers’ organization was formed by becoming international in its own composition and program: “practically, by the diverse nationality of its members, and theoretically, by the consciousness that every revolution, to succeed, had to be a European revolution. In a very significant way, he ends by saying that “the English chartists were left aside as non-revolutionary elements, because of the specifically English character of their movement”.  “The enemy is in the country itself.” – Karl Liebknecht. Internationalism, in its result of revolutionary defeatism, will shape the Second International from its origins – when August Bebel and Wilhem Liebknecht denounce the Franco-Prussian war and are brought to trial and prison – until their death, when the Social Democratic parties support recruitment in the war and the left calls for turning imperialist war into civil war… paving the way for the class struggle against war to become revolution. Until then, no one had swum so against the tide or suffered such brutal repression. That spirit, with internationalism and its clear meaning, will be the one that will shape the young communist parties like the Spanish or the Italian whose founding groups will later become the left of the Third International defending in the worst conditions of repression and isolation the revolutionary defeatism in the Second World War. But it is that in an era of imperialist wars, internationalism is the most present class divide and the one that most directly shapes the life of class political organizations, demanding the maximum from militants.
  4. The other great frontier, centralism, gave life to the correspondence networks of the League of Communists, it was the centre of the battle of the 1st International against anarchism and its secret societies, but also of the left of the 2nd International against the national identities within the party… And without a doubt of the communist lefts that confronted Stalinism, that is to say the counterrevolution, and its deformation of the term to drown the discussion in the communist parties. Because the new model of militancy imposed by counterrevolution was not that of discipline to collective decision, but that of obedience to directives from above and the use of militancy as a mere “transmission belt”. In reality, the Stalinist model of militancy is the negation of centralism. And from that model and from that of social democracy arises the whole range of militances of leftism: submission to bosses, worship of leaders, absence of theoretical debate, division into a thousand groups “by identities” with no other objective than “framing”. In the working class, “centralism” does not mean adherence to a formal principle, the defense of a certain typology of command structures. And of course, it does not mean concentrating power in a single person or group, but on the contrary, extending the deliberative and decision-making scope of any organization to all its members, reflecting the universal character that beats under each expression of class and putting it before any particularism, any feeling or prejudice, imaginary privilege or real oppression. The centralism of the workers is that of an assembly that organizes a strike, not that of a board of directors standing on an organization chart. Therefore, it is a natural tool of the development of class consciousness and in the life of every organization. This, from the point of view of the militant, also means a responsibility, a certain form of discipline: to contribute topics of debate; to articulate in arguments their differences; to contribute to the collective consciousness of what the decisions taken among all mean and of course to be coherent with them and if the disagreements become disagreements of principle, to break them argumentatively. That is to say, the responsibilities of all those who decide to form part of a process of discussion and collective decision.

A WAY OF LIVING CONSCIOUSNESS

In daily practice, militancy is a way of living class consciousness. It therefore implies accepting a collective responsibility, the performance of which transforms our daily lives by making it part of a practical and conscious critique.

  1. Daily militant practice involves collective learning and studying reality from a global perspective of class struggle. We read every day and pool press sources from around the world. The aim is to make us a framework of analysis that responds to the moment of the tendencies of capitalism. From there, sharing and discussing in common, emerge the reports that, in our case, make up the current sections of the blog: from the state of the imperialist conflict to the difficulties of the national bourgeoisies of Spain, Argentina or wherever we go forming a particular picture of analysis. Since the times of the League of Communists, this type of routines, reading the news and maintaining a framework of updated analysis of the global reality has been a central part of the daily life of the militants, a collective effort in which it was not a minor part to have access to the media. Today the Internet makes it much easier for us. And it also makes much easier what historically was the daily debate, the sharing of the day in the workers club or the village house. It is from this permanent discussion that the themes that allow us to work “formally”, to investigate, to base and to contrast with method emerge.
  2. What is by no means easier is to collectively re-appropriate the Marxist method of analysis that makes sense of that framework. It is not a question of making a marathon of courses or seminars. There is no degree of “militant” to “earn” nor any certification to obtain. It’s about getting hold of the Marxist method through knowing its historical use of Marx to today, confronting again the old debates to gain a historical view. And it is not an individual work. They are shared and discussed readings, it is learning to see the world in its material historical perspective and to undo the traps of the dominant ideology.
  3. All of the above is not social entertainment, an intellectual exercise. It has one objective: to be able to incorporate that depth into political intervention with clarity and simplicity in a way that is useful to the class movement. When the Spanish Communist Left insisted that “the consciousness of revolutionaries is the one that first has to situate itself at the height of the possibilities offered spontaneously by history,” it referred to this. All this work has a purpose and it is to that purpose that it is subordinated. It is not about playing at being political commentators or pursuing the pleasure of mere knowledge, it is not about proselytizing or living under the vain evangelical hope of “convincing” masses of workers, it is about being useful in the precise way so that daily reflection, resistance to exploitation and especially open struggles when they occur, serve the development of consciousness in the whole class and can achieve broader objectives.

IN THE ANTIPODES OF LEFTISM

It is this ever-present purpose and not a sterile academicism or idiotic elitism that makes us study and discuss every day, nor, on the basis of these discussions, have others that are more formal and documented. While the organizations of the left are happy with a militancy of little or no formation, of aesthetic adhesion and caudillist subordination, the communist militancy is a demanding militancy. Leftism does not seek to form militants, but to frame workers in the cattle-raising logic demanded to be recognized by state capitalism (“both frames, both vouchers”), the very logic of any aspirant to lead a monopoly for, in or from the state. But class consciousness is something else.

  1. Nothing could be further from the false erudition of academic Marxism or from the quotation always at the hand of the biblical preacher. The texts produced by Marx’s class party to this day were tools for the development of consciousness and remain the best tools available. Nothing is more foreign to Marxism than the attitude of the guardian of the sacred texts: Marx, Lenin or Rosa Luxemburg were not oracles that picked up the truth from the mouths of the gods. They made mistakes, deferred important questions, corrected most of the times in the debate, other times reality corrected them, some with dramatic consequences. It is, as a whole and in its parts, a precious legacy, but like any historical legacy it implies a responsibility: to preserve its integrity, but also to develop it. We have inherited a revolutionary method of analysis, but it is in our hands to develop it in the present context.
  2. The development of consciousness needs militants, not dilettantes. Once again the reality of leftism must serve as a model of what is not a class political organization. To integrate is not to go to meetings where the work has already been written and you just have to nod, put up some posters from time to time, go to some conferences and events to show strength. That can serve as a model for the organization of a hobby, it is not a collective doing that serves for the deepening and extension of consciousness.
  3. “Group patriotism,” songs of “loyalty to organization,” exaltation of leaders… have nothing to do with fidelity to method and program. The organization is the body and the tool of the historical class program, but if it abandons it, it does not need to dissolve to have ceased to exist as a tool of the development of consciousness in the class. The separation between body -organization- and soul -program- is a characteristic idea of the exploiting classes that is in the essence of what alienation means. One of the most common manifestations lately is the figure of the “Marxist professor” who elaborates the program at the Academy -that is, from the state-for the nuclei of workers who can thus specialize in growing, numerically, the organization. It is a true concentrate of ideology already in the approach and therefore a whole demonstration of what is not a class organization: The fantasy of the social automaton to which a soul comes from outside, the exaltation of the division of labor to the extreme, the reduction of the workers to the number, the consecration of a ridiculous “individual authorship” of the program… The theoretical and programmatic advances are and can only be, result of a collective work, “of party”, not a “pret a porter” uniform that can be adopted from among the generous offer made by the universities and other ideological apparatuses of the state. Still less an “author’s creation” that makes us a made-to-measure misunderstood genius. And no, not even in the early stages of the communist movement did such figures exist rather than as a reactionary hindrance to the development of consciousness, like the pathetic Dühring, that petty bourgeois socialism fabricated a thousand times. Marx was all his life a militant, not a prophet, and no matter how hard they try, they will not succeed in reducing their trajectory to that of an intellectual pope that the ruling class likes, let alone inject new “Dühring” with that excuse.
  4. Forms matter. The debate flooded with threats and violence that ends in the “witch-hunt” is an attitude that reflects the brutal forms of Stalinist counterrevolution. The seemingly opposite, the relativism of “anything goes” – because nothing is taken into account and positions are taken beforehand – is the reflection of cynicism under democratic discourse. Neither is even similar to the frank debate that takes place in the clear and explicit framework of a method and a programme. The discipline of a serious commitment to the development of consciousness includes overcoming the temptation to “look good” as well as inhibiting uncomfortable discussion.

CONSCIOUSNESS IS EXPRESSED AND DEVELOPED AS MORAL

As Engels commented in the Anti-Dühring, proletarian morality “presents the future in the transformation of the present”. That is why it is more important than ever in the decadence of capitalism. With pauperization and precarization installed as permanent tendencies, with the commodification of every last detail of human relations – even the supposedly most “intimate” ones – today’s capitalism propagates the atomization and decomposition of the most basic bonds of solidarity.

The system not only has under permanent attack the communist dimension of our class, trying to derail any awareness, it also confronts, more and more brutally, the expressions of its community dimension: the fraternal, personal, affective, family ties are inflated in the media and public discourse as much as they are degraded and destroyed in practice, when they are not commodified without modesty – “sharing economy”- or they are attacked with all the force of the media and the state trying to incite the divisions that the system itself creates to confront workers with each other.

The communist militant is not alone in his political action. To live consciousness, to live consciously means that in all his activity the tension of the future is present… so that to some extent it becomes present: The capacity to find the history of Humanity and its progress in what surrounds us, to discover the secular struggle of our species to reach abundance in everyday things, opens up to us the capacity to enjoy the most basic things, a different form of pleasure that is contagious and helps our own to resist, making present the possibility and the necessity of communism. It is that struggle for the abundance of the species, which today is concentrated and decided in the universal class, that is the distinctive element of communist morality. Living consciously also means that our relationship with the communal is based on the assertion that abundance is possible today, and that it is only constrained by the ballast of capitalism.

The class consciousness that is knowledge if not yet completely liberated, in liberation, makes us, gives us form and turns us into a contribution inside and outside the organization. If in militant life consciousness is expressed and developed as morality, the militant in community life projects consciousness as a de-mercantilizing morality of human relations in which individuals can project themselves as ends and not as means of the future society.

THE ROOTS OF MILITANCY

The relationship between consciousness, morality and militancy is clear and intimate. It is the individual acceptance of a need of the species which, by making it our own, unites us to the necessary future and already integrates us in its realization by dis-reifying us.

From Babeuf and Marx to us, revolutionary consciousness is the ray of light created by the clash between exploitation and the exploited, it is human subjectivity in rebellion against an objectivity that perverts and denies that same subjectivity, without which man is not man but a thing. Either our subjectivity accommodates the outside world to its requirements -there can be no others- or it submits itself, in slavery, to the nauseating existing objectivity.” – Grandizo Munis, Revolutionary Consciousness and Class for Itself, 1976

Nuevo Curso

original version: https://nuevocurso.org/que-es-la-militancia-comunista/

Benjamin Peret on the History of Unions

Introduction

When we published our ‘These on the Union Question’, our close associates from Nuevo Curso pointed out that there was something missing in our theses: a historical explication of how the union-form went from a defensive organ of the working class to an instrument fully integrated into capital. Nuevo Curso rightfully explain that it is difficult to understand the role of unions in the statification and monopolization characteristic of the declining phase of capitalism without understanding their birth in the rising phase of capitalism and subsequent adaptation to existing society. Here, we present a translation of Benjamin Peret’s essay on the history of unions, provided to us by Nuevo Curso. Along with Grandizo Munis and Natalia Sedova Trotsky, Peret was part of the Spanish Left that broke with the Fourth International in 1948. This essay by Peret is the first part of ‘Unions Against Revolution’, which is more widely known in the English-speaking sphere for the second part that includes the entry from Grandizo Munis. We’re pleased to introduce this first English translation of Benjamin Peret’s writings on the union-form to a wider audience.

Gulf Coast Communist Fraction

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Prelude

Societies that have survived to the present day have known internal struggles promoted by the disinherited classes against the classes or castes that kept them under their domination. The struggles could not reach a certain extent until the moment when the oppressed, recognizing their common interest, were able to associate, with the aim of improving their living conditions. Or with a view to the total subversion of society. In the course of the previous centuries, the workers, in the face of the corporations that included bosses or workers of the same trade (where the former did and did at will under the direct protection of the public authorities), the brotherhood associations (“compagnonage”) that grouped together only the workers represented, among other things, the first permanent bodies of the class struggle.

Even before that, around the 10th century, there were fraternities. They were groups that had to enter into the struggle against the upper layers of society, since their dissolution was several times considered. But we do not know of any document that could clarify its constitution or the purpose for which it was proposed.

The aim of the fellowship associations was not, as numerous court rulings systematically condemn them from the 16th to the 19th century, to bring about a transformation of society, which was inconceivable at the time, but to improve the wages of their members, the conditions of learning and thus the standard of living of the entire working class.

Their vitality in spite of all the persecutions they were constantly subjected to, their insurrection, following numerous court rulings, indicate that they corresponded to a pressing need of the workers of those times. At the same time, the fact that its structure seems to have remained unchanged for several centuries indicates that the form and methods of struggle corresponded well to the possibilities of the time. Incidentally, the first strikes that history mentions in the 16th century were at its expense. Then they would also resort to boycotting.

Throughout this period, from the sixteenth century, during which fellowship societies were well established in history (indicating that they must have existed long ago), to the mid-nineteenth century (when large infant industry gave rise to trade unions), such associations made a strong contribution to maintaining the cohesion of workers vis-à-vis their exploiters. We are indebted to them for the formation of a class consciousness that is still rudimentary, but called to acquire full development in the next stage; with the class struggle organisms that will succeed them. The latter – the trade unions – inherited their claiming role from the former, thus reducing fellowship societies to a secondary role that has continued to diminish ever since. It is useless to imagine that they could have existed before. In the following period (that of ascendant capitalism, when the workers still need to be grouped into trades), the trade unions were the extension of the brotherhood organizations, stripped of the secrecy that surrounded them and oriented only to the economic demands. To the defense of the workers, passing other objectives to second place and ending up disappearing.

On the other hand, because of the feudal system that did not grant them the right of existence, the fellowship associations had the character of secret societies, with all the rigging of para-religious rites that such societies entailed, while the later epoch, especially after 1830, when the workers’ societies saw themselves accorded a minimum right of existence, allowed the appearance in full light of the fellowship groups and soon showed their incapacity to practice, against the patronage, the energetic and indispensable struggle. Their restrictive nature (only qualified workers can be part of it) does not allow them to bring together all the workers, or even the majority, an objective that the trade unions have pursued since their creation.

Yet the working class does not pass directly from the fellowship societies to the otherwise forbidden unions, in whatever form, during the first decades of modern capitalism. The working class is intuitively looking for a way forward. The mutual insurance companies, founded shortly before the 1789 Revolution, marked the first step of the congregation of all the workers of the same trade. They wanted to help their sick or unemployed members, but by imposing strikes as the best method of fighting against the bosses, the workers’ mutuals sometimes gave assistance to the strikers, cancelling out any difference between the imposed and the strike.

Such “mutuals”, which were few in number, were almost entirely made up of selected workers. They were, therefore, inadequate to the conditions of the large infant industry that dragged large masses of unskilled workers from the countryside into the factory. This proletariat in formation was in a tragic situation at the time, which required a significant improvement, even if capitalism was to continue to develop.

The “resistance” companies, whose name clearly indicates the objective they were aiming for, then take over from the “mutuals”. They are already combat groups, but conceived in the defensive aspect. They aim to maintain the standard of living of workers by opposing wage cuts that employers might try to impose, and it is usually such cuts that give rise to them. From defense they soon moved on to attack, of course, and the workers’ demand appears. However, even though, after 1840, the first political demands of the working class were made for the spread of socialist ideas, the “Resistances” and the “Workers’ Associations” continued to have the character of a struggle in the economic sphere. Only incidentally, and under the impulse of political elements, do they point to the subversion of the existing order. In fact, its essential objective is purely economic. Then the proletariat becomes aware of its strength, it does not intend to use it except for the satisfaction of immediate demands.

Trade Unions and the Class Struggle

The first Syndicate appeared only in 1864. Any idea of class struggle was alien to it, since it presented itself as proposing, on the contrary, to reconcile the interests of the workers and the bosses. Tolain itself did not assign it another objective. It should also be noted that the trade union movement is not at all initiated by the most exploited means of the working class – the nascent industrial proletariat – but rather by workers in the craft professions. It thus directly reflects the specific needs and ideological tendencies of these working classes.

While the shoemakers and typographers, craftsmen par excellence, set up their trade unions in 1864 and 1867 respectively, the miners, who constitute the most heavily exploited proletariat, did not set up their first trade union until 1876 in the Loire (in 1882 in the North and in Pas-de-Calais), and in textiles, where the working conditions were particularly appalling, did not feel the need for a trade union for the first time but in 1877.

Where did the fermentation of the spirits come from at that time, when socialist ideas (and the anarchist ideas that will only be differentiated later on) were propagated throughout the working class in the big cities, when the most exploited workers were so clearly repulsed by the trade union organization, while those with a better standard of living were looking for it?

First of all, we have to remember is that the first trade unions created by workers in the craft professions are only organizing themselves for conciliation and not for class struggle.

It won’t be until later. On the other hand, they represent the most suitable form of organization for professions which, between multiple workshops, bring together a rather small number of workers of the same trade. It was the best way to bring together the workers of the same trade scattered in the workshops of the same city, to give them a cohesion that the working conditions tended to prevent.

It should also be remembered that the craft nature of a trade often means that employers and workers often work side by side and lead the same kind of life. Even if the economic situation of the employer is far superior to that of the worker, the human contact he often has with the latter prevents the emergence of the pit that separates workers and employers from large industries.

Among employers and craftsmen, there is also a minimum degree of familiarity with the trade, which is completely absent and inconceivable in large industry. All of these reasons were usually more conducive to conciliation than to struggle….

The situation of workers in the textile and mining industries (taking them as an example) was completely different. Among the miners as well as among the textile workers, large masses of workers of various professions were clustered in factories and wells, subjected to inhumane working conditions.

If the workers of the artisanal enterprises are the first to organize themselves to discuss their interests with the bosses, those of the big industries, subjected to the most implacable pressure of capital, are the first to perceive what is irreducibly opposed to the bosses, to rebel against the situation imposed on them, to practice direct action, to claim their right to life, weapons in hand; the first, in short, to orient themselves to the social revolution. The rebellion of the “canuts” of Lyon in 1831, like the strike of the miners in 1844, clearly indicates this. Whereas, between 1830 and 1845, for example, typographers were not once on a list of the occupations that had been the subject of the highest number of convictions, miners were identified three times (the mining industry was then in full development) and textile workers almost every year.

The conclusion that is imposed is that the workers of the big industries did not agree with any interest to a form of organization that proposed the conciliation (perceived as impossible by them) between adverse classes. They do not come to it until later and, so to speak, reluctantly, because of their very situation they are pushed into forms of open struggle with the bosses that the union did not take into consideration, at least at first. In fact, the workers of the big industries do not go to the trade union organization until the moment when it inscribes in the head of its statutes, principles of class struggle. It was they who promoted the most violent struggles between 1880 and 1914. Through this concession to their aspirations, they resigned themselves to joining the union, but for several other reasons. First, because no other form of organization was conceivable at the time. In addition, the perspective of a broad progressive development of capitalism, from which the need to tighten the cohesion of the working class, in order to extract from the bosses more satisfactory conditions of existence, which would allow better preparation of the workers to give the final assault on property, was then ahead of them.

From the very beginning, the union has appeared to the workers of the big industries as a simple matter of getting by. It was, however, acceptable at the time due to the survival of the craft industry. It was a positive solution in that era of continuous development of the capitalist economy accompanied by a steady growth of freedom and culture. Its recognition by the State and, through it, the right of association and the right to the press constituted a considerable acquisition.

However, even when trade unionism adopted the principle of class struggle, it never proposed, in its daily struggle, the overthrow of society; on the contrary, it limited itself to grouping the workers together with a view to defending their economic interests within capitalist society. Sometimes, defense takes on the aspect of a fierce struggle, but it never has the purpose, implicit or explicit, of transforming the working class condition through revolution. None of the struggles of the time, even the most violent, were aimed at such a goal. At most, the union sees, for an indeterminate future, that it acquires since then the significance of the donkey’s thistle, the suppression of the bosses and the salary, and consequently of the capitalist society that generates them. But it will never take any action in that regard.

The trade union, which is the spawn of a reformist tendency within the working class, is the purest expression of the working class. It is impossible to speak of the reformist degeneration of the union; he is a born reformer. It does not at any time oppose capitalist society and the State in order to destroy them, but with the sole aim of conquering a place in their midst and settling there. Its entire history from 1864 to 1914 is that of the definitive rise and victory of the tendency towards integration in the capitalist Left Bank, so much so that at the outbreak of the First World War, the vast majority of the trade union leaders are placed in the most natural way in the world alongside the capitalists, who are joined by new interests arising from the role that the trade unions have assumed, after all, in capitalist society. They are then against the trade unions who wanted to overthrow the system and prevent war, and they will continue to be against it from now on.

In the period before the First World War, the trade union leaders were not the legitimate representatives of the working class, but only to the extent that they had to assume this role in order to increase their credit in the capitalist state. At the decisive moment, when it was necessary to choose between the risk of compromising an acquired situation by calling on the masses to reject war and the regime that generated it, they reinforced their position, chose the second term of the alternative by choosing the regime and put themselves at the service of capitalism. This was not the case only in France, as the trade union leaders of the countries involved in the war adopted the same attitude everywhere. If the union leaders betrayed, was it not because the union’s own structure and its place in society made such betrayal possible from the beginning and inevitable in 1914?

Benjamin Peret

 

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 cells 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