Why is it so difficult to struggle, and how can we overcome these difficulties?

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Fred
Why is it so difficult to struggle, and how can we overcome these difficulties?
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Why is it so difficult to struggle, and how can we overcome these difficulties?. The discussion was initiated by Fred.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Fred
Quote: The picture we have

Quote:
The picture we have painted might sound a bit desperate: faced with a bourgeoisie which knows how to use its ideological weapons, with a system which threatens most of the population with poverty, when it’s not already deep inside it, is there still room to think positively, to find some hope? Is there really a social force that can undertake a radical transformation of society, no less? We can answer this question without hesitation: yes! A hundred times yes!

It’s not a question of having blind confidence in the working class, a semi-religious faith in the writings of Karl Marx, or of gambling desperately on a revolution. It’s a matter of taking a certain distance, serenely analysing the situation and going beyond the immediate, trying to understand the real meaning of the present struggles of the class and studying in depth the historic role of the proletariat.

Can we be positive; is there hope; is there a social force that WILL transform society, not just "can"; is confidence a kind of blindness now; is a longing for revolution yet another gamble; and was Marx just kidding us all? This lovely and timely article has certainly hit a lot of nails on the head, if not definitively then certainly with a good bash. So thanks for that!

jk1921
"We saw people coming

"We saw people coming together in spontaneous assemblies, adopting forms of expression that favour reflection and the confrontation of ideas, and which put limits on those who come to disturb or sabotage debate."

I think the article goes a little too far here. Certainly, in the Occupy Movement there was a pervasive fear of debate and "the confrontation of ideas." In fact, the prevailing ethic was often the exact opposite of this--a reflection of post-modern eclectism, of the idea that all positions are equal and a democratist attempt to marry mutally exclusive demands all in the amorphous context of putting forward no demands at all. We need to react to what actually happened, not read into events what we think should have happened.

I understand an argument could be made that the forms themselves (general assemblies, etc.) should enable the things we want to see and all the false steps that characterized these movements are just so much "content" that will eventually be overcome, but we are still far from clarifying how that will happen and how all the difficulties facing the working class movement (many of which appear to come from the objective sociological transformations underway) can be overcome. We seem stuck in a kind of tautology. Bourgeois ideology might be laid bear by the crisis, but sociology seems like a far more onerous and tangible barrier to overcome.

Fred
to the editor

Dear ICC,

I don't understand what's meant by SOCIOLOGY in comrade jk's post above. I thought "sociology" was a school subject and an academicism dreamed up by the bourgeoisie as a kind of answer to Marxism. Not that that necessarily means it's all a waste of time. I'm sure some of it's insights - especially in it's early years - are very helpful to some people, but aren't they all sort of Marxist derivatives and nowhere near as good as the real thing? So when jk says that sociology seems like a far more onerous and tangible barrier to overcome than BOURGEOIS IDEOLOGY I really don't get it! And what does it mean to say that many difficulties facing the working class stem from "objective sociological transformations" - what the heck are they? Can anyone please help?

Yours, A Confused Comrade.

zimmerwald1915
Parsing

jk1921 wrote:
I think the article goes a little too far here. Certainly, in the Occupy Movement there was a pervasive fear of debate and "the confrontation of ideas." In fact, the prevailing ethic was often the exact opposite of this--a reflection of post-modern eclectism, of the idea that all positions are equal and a democratist attempt to marry mutally exclusive demands all in the amorphous context of putting forward no demands at all. We need to react to what actually happened, not read into events what we think should have happened.

I don't mean to parse the article into meaninglessness, but I think it's fairly clear that it draws its position more from observation and analysis of the Spanish Indignados than the North American Occupiers.  The last half of that paragraph is constructed such: "what did we see in the Indignados movement?  We saw X. We saw Y.  We saw Z."  Occupy is mentioned once, a little ways before this sequence of observations begins.  My experience is solely with Occupy, but it would be interesting and helpful to see a comparison between the two protest movements, and it would also be helpful to see more of a clear distinction drawn between them should a significant difference in their respective receptiveness to the confrontation of ideas, or other aspects, be drawn out.

jk1921
Agree

zimmerwald1915 wrote:

jk1921 wrote:
I think the article goes a little too far here. Certainly, in the Occupy Movement there was a pervasive fear of debate and "the confrontation of ideas." In fact, the prevailing ethic was often the exact opposite of this--a reflection of post-modern eclectism, of the idea that all positions are equal and a democratist attempt to marry mutally exclusive demands all in the amorphous context of putting forward no demands at all. We need to react to what actually happened, not read into events what we think should have happened.

I don't mean to parse the article into meaninglessness, but I think it's fairly clear that it draws its position more from observation and analysis of the Spanish Indignados than the North American Occupiers.  The last half of that paragraph is constructed such: "what did we see in the Indignados movement?  We saw X. We saw Y.  We saw Z."  Occupy is mentioned once, a little ways before this sequence of observations begins.  My experience is solely with Occupy, but it would be interesting and helpful to see a comparison between the two protest movements, and it would also be helpful to see more of a clear distinction drawn between them should a significant difference in their respective receptiveness to the confrontation of ideas, or other aspects, be drawn out.

OK, I would agree with this. Do you find the article's characterization of the Spanish movement reflective of your experience with Occupy?

zimmerwald1915
Reflective?

jk1921 wrote:

zimmerwald1915 wrote:

jk1921 wrote:
I think the article goes a little too far here. Certainly, in the Occupy Movement there was a pervasive fear of debate and "the confrontation of ideas." In fact, the prevailing ethic was often the exact opposite of this--a reflection of post-modern eclectism, of the idea that all positions are equal and a democratist attempt to marry mutally exclusive demands all in the amorphous context of putting forward no demands at all. We need to react to what actually happened, not read into events what we think should have happened.

I don't mean to parse the article into meaninglessness, but I think it's fairly clear that it draws its position more from observation and analysis of the Spanish Indignados than the North American Occupiers.  The last half of that paragraph is constructed such: "what did we see in the Indignados movement?  We saw X. We saw Y.  We saw Z."  Occupy is mentioned once, a little ways before this sequence of observations begins.  My experience is solely with Occupy, but it would be interesting and helpful to see a comparison between the two protest movements, and it would also be helpful to see more of a clear distinction drawn between them should a significant difference in their respective receptiveness to the confrontation of ideas, or other aspects, be drawn out.

OK, I would agree with this. Do you find the article's characterization of the Spanish movement reflective of your experience with Occupy?

Not really, but my Occupy experience isn't all that similar to yours either.  Occupy Baltimore had no problem with demands, so long as they were the demands of the unions and a wing of the Democratic Party.  It sent representatives to municipal planning meetings like any other interest/pressure group.  Nationalist slogans about saving the post office - the institution, not postal workers' jobs or living standards - in the name of the founding fathers were weirdly common.  There was no challenge to the largely self-selected working groups at all.  This particular Occupy was unable to reach the stage where the obfuscations of radical democracy became necessary.  I wouldn't be surprised if the Spanish movement <i>in its degeneration</i> looked quite a lot like that (or even looks quite a lot like that now, what with being partially co-opted alternately into Spanish and Catalan nationalism).

That at some point it is reported that the Spanish movement once did not look like that is heartening.  If that is indeed the case, then I think it needs to be pointed out more, I don't know, forcefully?, that the Indignados went further than did Occupy.

red flag
Doubts

A good article which recognises the difficulties facing the working class globally fighting back against the austerity attacks.  I particulary like the idea of a decline in class identification which the bourgeoise and it's ideological servants has happily promoted during the last thirty years.  It's this decline which is proving difficult to overcome as can be seen with the rise and dissapearence of the Occupy movement.  Seems to me that Occupy arose because people felt and experinced that someting was wrong but could only respond as individuals, concerned maybe but not as part of a collective with it;s own perspective.

In the UK during the eightees and ninetees this displacement of a class identity was achieved by brutal methods and a great deal of state coercion as seen through the defeat of not only the miners but of many other struggles which led many towns and cities decimated.  In it's place came a debt induced individual response to capitalist restructuring.  Now this has run up against it's own boundaries the question is is it to late for the working class to regain a sense of it's own class identity, which no matter how confused did exist up until the ninetees.

I know GD beleives that there is time to renew working class struggle free from the influence of all the shades of reformism but I'm not so sure.

jk1921
http://newyork.platypus1917.o

http://newyork.platypus1917.org/11-14-2012-radical-interpretations-of-the-present-crisis/

Check the motto of this conference to be held in New York later this week: "What does it mean to interpret the world, without being able to change it?" That seems apropro.......

mikail firtinaci
jk are you going to be there?

Hey JK,

if you or anybody from the ICC is going to be there I would like to meet up with them. I will be in NY tomorrow for that.

jk1921
Mikail, I won't be there

Mikail, I won't be there myself, but I will pass it along and see if anyone else is going.

kollwitz
indeed, zimmerwald 1915 is

indeed, zimmerwald 1915 is accurate.  the issue of the origin and evolution of the Occupy mov't, why it did not really have a tremendous echo among the US working class, why it took it so long to search for and establish ties with it (i am thinking about the longshore shut down of the oakland port with the mov't support and solidarity), why it did not radicalize itself ... it is not possible to answer these questions by simply saying their idology since the beginning was petty bourgeois/postmodernist/a confused hodge-podge of different tendencies and current.  i think another significant difficulty of this movement, and not only in the US, but elsewhere too, is the fear of (revolutionary) organizations b/c of their assimilation with stalinism--thanks to the great work by leftist organizations-, which itself is a reflection of at least two factors:  1. a kind of 'break' with the traditions of the past.  2.  the disunity of the various groups that belong to the tradition of left communism.  this lack of historical and theoretical familiarity with the history of the working class contributes significantly to the diffculty and the refusal not only to search for working class demands, but also to seek links with existing revolutionary organizations.  so, in this context, while the refusal to pose clear demands b/c of a fear to polarize and ending up with the usual organizers and leftists etc imposing their will --which indeed is how these organizations operate-- was itself a healthy 'guts reaction precisely against such organizations, ultimately left the movement completely vulnerable to them.

as to the question of whether the class has missed the boat to the revolution or not....i do not want to simplfy this very, very difficult question.  but, i do want to say, it has NEVER been easy for the working class to find its revolutionary consciousness and identity.  it certainly must not have been easy at the time of WWI, and yet, precisely at that time, the class carried out the revolution.  what exactly makes for the specific difficulties of today, and what conditions best favor the development of the struggles, the class' consciousness, i think that's the real question, rather than coming to the conclusion that 'the class has missed the boat'.  what do you guys think?

finally, i am going to tomorrow's thing with goldner, mattick jr, kliman....in nyc.  i know mike asked about this and i would definetely like to meet up and go there together.  how to get in touch with each other???

kollwitz
platypus meeting

hello mikail.  i also am going to the event tomorrow eve.  what is a good way to make sure we meet up?  would you like to meet like 1/2 hour before th event?  i mean, i don;t know you an dyou don;t know me....shouldn't we exchange some words before getting in? 

jk1921
If nobody else is going to

If nobody else is going to respond to Fred, I'll give it a try:

The sociology to which I refer is already there implicit in the article: the idea that objective social transformations over the last 30 years have severely impacted the ability of the working class to engage in massive struggle. What are these changes? Some of them are deindustrialization, suburbanization/exurbanization, globalization, mass immigration to the central countries, etc.

The idea is that the working class is no longer present in sufficient concentrations in order to develop the perspective for massive struggle. Marxism is based on the sociological assumption that capitalist development will always lead to a growing concentration of the working class--it is this that gives it the privileged social position to form workers' councils, develop a sense of its own power and eventually see through bourgeois ideology and carry the revolution through to its conclusion

One can reasonably question if this narrative still holds water after thirty years of what some have called the "deconstruction" of the Fordist working class. There could be an "objective sociological" barrier to revolution that is something more than "ideology." Perhaps the real problem isn't so much this or that ideological campaign a (although they certainly don't help), but is more structural? One might even ask if there was a conscious strategy of the bourgeoisie to break-up the big concentrations of the working-class and shift towards a more financial/service oriented economy int he wake of the movements of '68?

BTW, this isn't the same as the theories of "embourgeoisement" we heard in the 60s and 70s. Its sort of the opposite. Its not that the working-class doesn't exist anymore because it has been integrated into capital--its that it is thouroughly atomized, "precariatized" and has become unmoored from its own self-interests and class identity in a way that prevents it from acting as a class for itself and  even causes it to engae in some of the most retrograde politics. In other words, the bourgeoisie has solved the problem of revolutionary subjectivity, turing the working class into a permanent class in itself.

I am not endorsing this narrative, just trying to explicate it. Regardless though, we need an answer for it. There are a number of ways to do this. The author of the article in question says heshe will return to these questions in the next installment. I wish the himher the best of luck--the entire thing makes my head hurt.

Fred
Thank you so much for taking

Thank you so much for taking the trouble to reply to my questions jk, I very much appreciate that, and I hope I understand a little better now. You are right that we need an answer, and it would be good if the answer could be convincingly positive, if just a bit. kollwitz's question about "has the class missed the boat?" scares the shit out of me. My head hurts too, and other parts.

kollwitz
fred, i posed the question

fred, i posed the question because it seems it is a question that does scare a lot of people and it is implicit in the propaganda by the bourg:  what else can it mean that the fall of the eastern bloc signaled 'the end of history'?  but to that question, i myself strongly answer, No.  so, ok, the class has suffered a significant blow to its identity as a result of the campaigns around the collapse of the easter bloc.  but i think we need to be more specific with clarifying how this loss of identity is defferent, if it is, from the one experienced at the tim eof wwi.  what about wwii?  isn't it the case that at each moment in this trajectory,development of the balance of forces, the class always confronts new difficulties and different conditions which make the learned experience have to stand the test of these new conditions?  if, for instance, the conditions in russia before wwi were such that favored the revolutionary fervor and spirit of the class --an inexperienced bourg, the lack of the apparatus of democracy that existed in the west, for ex-- and they do not exist today anymore, what new factors can favor the development of the struggle and consciousness?  which hinder it?  i think these are rather the questions to pose, because they take a broader, more historical view of how the class develops its cosnciousness. 

i also have a sense that under the present conditions of  1.  the continued existence of relations of exploitation   and 2.  the increasing precarization of the class we should not expect the class' outburst and significant struggles to start solely at the point of production.  such was certainly not the case with the uprisings in the maghreb or the indignado mov't, or the occupy mov't.  were they working class' movements?  were they mov'ts by other classes?  which ones?  should we not rather criticize the sociological method of identigying social classes by income, and the wrong idea of describin gthe working class asjust blu-collar or white collar?  what are unemployed?  are they not the reserve army of the proletariat?  and if they wiil remain at that state, that is, almost always unemployed, is this what excludes them from belongin gto the working class?  what about the thread of proletarian culture that the movements of social protest brought with them:  solidarity, the respect of individuals, the willingness to discuss of all that is under the sun?  what about their tendency to form general assemblies?  it seems that to understand 'working class' we must widen our vision to include these aspects, which, by the way, marxism has never denied. 

so, the difficulties are surely there, and we do not have a crystal ball to predict when exactly the conditions will best favor the victory of the class.  but that the class will attempt, yes, you bet.  and that the class is not defeated, too, you bet.  what to make, otherwise, of the struggles that indeed have happened?  what to make of their genral questioning--yes, i know, with all weaknesses, but also, quite unprecedented: not at the point of production...the movements of social protest can be said to herald a period in which the questioning is much more profound and important.  we cannot stop at the weaknesses alone, but need to see a dynamic....what do you think?

jk1921
On the difference between the

On the difference between the period after WWI and today:

According to the analysis developed by the Dutch/German communist left, the main barrier to revolution in the West was ideological--the working class' spiritual attachment to bourgeois democracy. It was not primarily sociological. The working class was present in huge concentrations and reacted to the conditions by developing a massive struggle that eventually produced workers' councils. The problem was that the working class couldn't get over the ideological hump of democracy and each time it stood on the brink of overthrowing the bourgeois state, it handed political power back over to the Social Democrats. The working class was able of producing profoundly revolutionary forms, but could never quite find the right content.

The problem as some see it today, is that these sociological conditions are simply no longer present. There may be a great deal of class anger and rage, but the sociological conditions are such that the revolutionary forms are not immediately forthcoming. I think Kollowiz makes an interesting point that perhaps under today's conditions, the forms (or at least the initial forms) will be somewhat different than what they were a century ago--struggles that start from the unemployed and marginalized and not necessarily at the point of production. I don't know if this is right--but it is an interesting point that needs to be explored further. There is a geo-spatial aspect to all this that deserves some attention as well.

mikail firtinaci
sorry kollwitz

sorry kollwitz; I did not have internet access so I could not see your post. I hope ICC will organize more events in US so we dispersed LC's can meet up more. The platypus event was terrible by the way. It was too short for such a topic and badly organized.

Fred
It had never struck me

It had never struck me kollwitz that losing belief in the proletariat and it's historic calling - and being scared we've already messed up or missed out on the revolution - could be seen as bourgeois propaganda. So thanks for that. Also, I'm beginning to realize that I have an old-fashioned understanding about who exactly the working class is today in 2012. I still see the class as basically factory workers all trooping out of factories as the new shift arrives to clock on. And even though I know this is old-hat, it's not easy for an oldie like me to accept that the working class now may all be in "civvies", and thus indistinguishable from everyone else. Also the power of the concept of "decomposition" contributes a lot to the bourgeois propaganda that a revolution is not on the agenda, and that the working class, such as it is, is a class of failures. So you might say that my "sociological method" - for identifying tbe class, and for noticing positive developments that don't conform to traditional expectations - is faulty. I would like to believe that and want to think that you are right in your optimism. Yet even jk, whose sociological method is I'm sure in mint condition, has doubts about whether the "occupiers" and "indignados" are actually achieving anything worthwhile of a working class nature, though he has conceded, in his latest post above, that may be things are different now than they were a century ago, that different conditions could spawn different modes of struggle, and that kollwitz could be onto something after all. Is the jury still out on this? And I would like to hear more elaboration of kollwitz's ideas, specially " it seems that to understand 'working class' we musy widen our vision to include these aspects, which, by the way, Marxism has never denied." By "these aspects" he means "the thread of proletarian culture" that the social protest movements "brought with them".

I am not given to urging the ICC to write articles about this, that or the other, but think kollwitz has put his/her finger of some very significant points that might benefit from more elaboration; especially in the present "lull" in class struggle in the Western democracies, especially with regard to new forms of class interaction, and how these really do contribute to the development of class consciousness; about the fact that K says we are in a period when "questioning is much more profound" - how does K know this? - and that we need to see "a dynamic". Yes indeed we do; but we don't need to be reduced to making one up, do we? Not that I'm saying we are, or even that comrade kollwitz is.

Fred
If the idea that the working

If the idea that the working class has missed the revolutionary boat, plus the concept of "the end of history" can be understood as bourgeois propaganda, what about the idea embedded in the Theses on Decomposition that the proletarian revolution is unlikely or even borders on the impossible as a result of the decomposition of capitalist society? Could this not be seen as an intrusion of bourgeois propaganda into a proletarian analysis? Does not this idea, which saps proletarian energy, work to benefit the bourgeoisie and it's insistence that any alternative to capitalism is not on, has never been possible, that the Russian revolution never happened, or wasn't working class, and that 1989 famously marked the end of what...of history, of Marxism, of the proletariat as a class for itself, or even in itself?

The Theses were written in 1990 at a time of immense desolation and misery for the class, and presumably its revolutionary minorities as well. Is it possible the Theses went over the top in their implicit but very strong message that the possibilities remaining for the revolution were now under extreme threat, if not becoming out of the question. It's interesting that neither kollwitz nor GD in his article refer to Decomposition and the threat it poses to the development of class consciousness, but instead appear full of a new found, or a refurbished passion for the future of proletarian activity. Has something changed?

red flag
I thought that decomposition

I thought that decomposition was one possible future which may come into being as the working class failed as a class to bring about the revolutionary change required to ensure that humanity survives as a species.  Given the scale and depth of the present crisis I think that decomposition is a real possibility frightening as it may be.  Look across the world and we can see struggles occuring but not one struggle has manged to go beyond a pro capitalist perspective  be it Egypt, Greece and now Spain.

One other factor regarding decomposition is the dog eat dog menatlity of the bourgeoise which again appears to be increasingly the case as each faction of the bourgeoise is unable t tackle the ongoing crisis. 

Fred
I don't think decomposition

I don't think decomposition is a possible future, I think we're right in it now. The capitalist system is breaking down and tbe bourgeoisie is in deep despair and "decomposing"; notice wars and austerity everywhere. The question is: how far is the working class inhibited by this and how far are the possibilities for revolution made unlikely? The Theses take a pessimistic view. But they were written at a very pessimistic time. The ICC appear now to have a slightly more optimistic view of the current situation - look at what kollwitz and DG say. "Missing the bus" is denied, and indeed denounced as bourgeois propaganda, and DG is almost euphoric in his belief in revolutionary possibilities. Has something changed?

jk1921
I don't think anything has

I don't think anything has changed Fred. It is true that the ICC beleives that the international working class returned to the class struggle around 2003 or so, but decompostion remains a serious threat to the prospects for a communist future. The 2008 financial meltdown, which led to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, has acted as a kind of break on the process of the working class recovering the will to struggle (although this hasn't prevented the outbreak of numerous "social movements"). The question is how much longer will the working class be way laid by the threat of losing their jobs. etc? Its been four years now since the most recent crisis broke out.

I don't think you are going to hear the ICC say "game over" anytime soon. This would kind of destroy their raison d'etre. What the heck are revolutionaries supposed to do in a world without hope for a communist future? Its up to each one of us to judge for ourselves whether or not this hope remains. On what criteria one uses to make this judgement is not clear. 

Fred
Losing your raison d'être is

Losing your raison d'être is one of the worst things that can happen. And, if I may say so, you sound very pissed off jk. To my way of thinking, the Theses on Decomposition do more or less say "game over" that's why I queried the more cheerful tone of voice of recent articles. But I don't truly expect any response to this probing.

You say jk that the financial crisis 2008 - still continuing isn't it? - has acted as a brake on the will to struggle. But if indications of capital's crisis are a "brake" then what would be an accelerator? If the threat of job loss is also a brake, then do we have to rely on the unemployed to lead the way? Something about this argument doesn't make sense though. Something's missing. Is it the slow maturation of consciousness? Is it the actual weight of decomposition?

That which acts as a brake and an inhibitor now, could rapidly turn into a spur and an energizer if only something would tip the whole social situation over and into a new state of affairs. But what this would be I don't know! Let's leave it for now.

mhou
The delayed response to the

The delayed response to the crisis (first shock, then struggle) has led to an uptick in class struggle globally. I'm a young man, but in my lifetime I've never seen the mainstream (liberal) media cover so many strikes so close together. Ever since the 45,000 worker strike at Verizon, in the US we've seen the East Coast port wildcat, the link up between Occupy and the (kinda sorta) 'Oakland General Strike(s)', the Wisconsin 2011 uprising, the Chicago teachers, Walmart workers walking out on strike (as well as Walmart subsidiaries), and as we speak fast food workers in NYC. Things are developing far faster in Europe and Asia. I've been writing an article about the formation of the party the last couple days (mostly trying to lash out against a Stalinist series of articles about Lenin's "left-wing communism: an infantile disorder" pamphlet), but contemplating the environment since the defeats of the 1980's. The struggle today seems far more materially driven vs. the 'anti-work', wildcat over anything heavily union controlled, heavily leftist obfuscated struggles of the late '60s/early 70's. The 'real existing socialism' card is dead, the exoticism of far away third world revolutions and 'revolutionary cultures/leadership/theories' (Stalinist and Maoist) are cliche bordering on farce (such as the extreme attention to Nepal by the remaining and much reduced Maoist milieu). Trade unions are considered anachronistic and only exist in sectors which either have a history of high density or require a very complacent working-class (public sector, military sector, transit, etc.). With the rise in struggle the question of the party should become much more pronounced in the coming years. Decomposition, I think, should be understood as an impasse the bourgeoisie faces: the cracks in the administration of the national economy, the factional struggles among sectors of the ruling class, the end of imperialist blocs, etc. provides a base for accelerated and more pronounced class struggle. If you want to get into crisis theory (and all of its varients; catastrophism/breakdown theory for example) decomposition provides a coherent backdrop to understand how and why visions of crisis theory have a root or base in 'material reality' (such as the failure of Keynesianism to spur economic growth via underconsumptionist assumptions, capitalism requires a massive destruction of capital to create conditions for a new boom- but because of the long period of growth and then stagnation and inflation since the late '60s/early '70s, and the corresponding fall in the rate of profit, factions of the bourgeoisie spill their fight into the public realm by trying to enroll workers via ideology, like the Tea Party, for one faction over the other, etc.).

kollwitz
ideology or sociology?

the post continues to be interesting! thanks to everybody who continues to take the pain! i certainly don't have the arrogance of having clear-cut answers to the important questions posed.  i just think that it is important to deepen this discussion.  IMHO the sociological deconstruction of the working class is not something that alone can explain the dynamic of low class combativeness and the retreat in consciousness suffered by the class with the collapse of the estaren bloc.  i am better convinced by the idea of decomposition and the analyses of how the subsequent historical events --gulf wars, financial crisis- have impacted the class.  not that the 'weaker' degree of proletarian concentrations in the heratlands of capitalism is not important, but i think this point of view leaves very little room for an understanding of how the class develops its consciousness.  actually, even worse than that:  implicit in this analysis, it seems to me, there is the suggestion that short of the existence of sociological conditions that no longer exist --in the heartlands of capitalism, that is, since this is not true for places like india, south africa, china, egypt...-- the class has accepted its condition of exploitation, is incapable of questioning its own existence as a class that has no possibility of liberation from oppression, of expressing its human potential, and is in acquiesence with its own conditions of life and work, even when they imply, and ever more clearly so, its own destruction under the continued domination of capital.  in short, it is truly, then, the end of history!  but this is quite an assessment, isn't it?

the last post by mhoe ponits out some important differences between the struggles of the 70's and 80's---spectacular and massive as they were, they were very heavily influenced by corporatism and a trust in the unions, and also quite vulnerable to leftist ideologies.  by contrast, and very importantly especially in the belly of the beast, where individualism and atomization are more preponderant than in other cultures, the struggles since the early 2000's have been characterized by an attempt to show intergenerational solidarity (MTA workers's strike of 2005 in nyc) and attempts at going beyond the corporate boundaries.  the fact that they do not succeed (for ex, as of late, the lockheed workers suffered a tremendous defeat in that a new tier was indeed created) does not mean that the class is defeated.  these characteristics are important especially in the context of how difficult it is to struggle, b/c of the uncertainty about the future.

which brings me to the question of the proletarian culture that could be glimpsed in the Occupy mov't and which, again, IMHO, expressed the visceral need to make first and foremost human contact, to break the alienation and isolation imposed by capitalist life etc etc.  this is a significant counterweight to decomposition (which, as fred pointed ot, is not a possibilty for the future, but already a reality, engendered by the inability of either class to impose its historic alternative:  world war or world revolution, and which leaves humanity with facing the possibility of destruction even without a world war).  how the class got here, in the context of the tremendous difficulties--sociological, ideological, historical--is a matter of wonder, if you are not a marxist.  but in fact, it makes sense, and, in my view, this fact gives the lie to the sociological theory.  but it cannot be grasped, the attempts at human solidarity, and bonding, the questioning of capitalism and its future, albeit immature and confused, the indeed massive demonstrations in the streets, and the echo all this has had in the states, all this cannot be assessed adequately if we only have a sort of 'photographic' view of reality, of a process that goes like watching a series of slides.  i am not saying the road is open to the mass strike, or that decomposition has stopped weighin gon the class (although th epost above makes an important point of, the ruling class itself being affected by it, it also finds it more and more difficult to be coherent in its policies and in its ideology, which can benefit the class). 

the struggles at the time of WWI were massive in germany.  there, the proletariat almost made a revolution.  in russia, it actually took power.  yet, regardless of the sociologically 'right' conditions, the class did not prevail.  as jk points out, the problem was the 'spiritual' readiness of the class.   i think the issue of the predominant role of ideology and the pre-eminent importance for the working class to demistify and break it continues to be the fundamental problem.  that the class is no longer as concentrated conceals other issues:  the repercussions on consciousness of struggles that happen elsewhere; the creation of an ever bigger reserve of unemployed people; the establishment of precariousness, which can potentially lead to a deep and significant questioning of capitalism; the potential for the young generation to link up with their parents/identify themsleves as working class starting from this relationship; the potential to develop class identity and confidence not only at th epoint of production, certainly not for the unemployed, but IN THE STREETS

these are not reasons for cheerfulness.  the situation is indeed very grave.  but to me, it is reason to say, no, the class has not missed the boat.

jk1921
Subjective or Objective Barriers?

kollwitz wrote:

the post continues to be interesting! thanks to everybody who continues to take the pain! i certainly don't have the arrogance of having clear-cut answers to the important questions posed.  i just think that it is important to deepen this discussion.  IMHO the sociological deconstruction of the working class is not something that alone can explain the dynamic of low class combativeness and the retreat in consciousness suffered by the class with the collapse of the estaren bloc.  i am better convinced by the idea of decomposition and the analyses of how the subsequent historical events --gulf wars, financial crisis- have impacted the class.  not that the 'weaker' degree of proletarian concentrations in the heratlands of capitalism is not important, but i think this point of view leaves very little room for an understanding of how the class develops its consciousness.  actually, even worse than that:  implicit in this analysis, it seems to me, there is the suggestion that short of the existence of sociological conditions that no longer exist --in the heartlands of capitalism, that is, since this is not true for places like india, south africa, china, egypt...-- the class has accepted its condition of exploitation, is incapable of questioning its own existence as a class that has no possibility of liberation from oppression, of expressing its human potential, and is in acquiesence with its own conditions of life and work, even when they imply, and ever more clearly so, its own destruction under the continued domination of capital.  in short, it is truly, then, the end of history!  but this is quite an assessment, isn't it?

the last post by mhoe ponits out some important differences between the struggles of the 70's and 80's---spectacular and massive as they were, they were very heavily influenced by corporatism and a trust in the unions, and also quite vulnerable to leftist ideologies.  by contrast, and very importantly especially in the belly of the beast, where individualism and atomization are more preponderant than in other cultures, the struggles since the early 2000's have been characterized by an attempt to show intergenerational solidarity (MTA workers's strike of 2005 in nyc) and attempts at going beyond the corporate boundaries.  the fact that they do not succeed (for ex, as of late, the lockheed workers suffered a tremendous defeat in that a new tier was indeed created) does not mean that the class is defeated.  these characteristics are important especially in the context of how difficult it is to struggle, b/c of the uncertainty about the future.

which brings me to the question of the proletarian culture that could be glimpsed in the Occupy mov't and which, again, IMHO, expressed the visceral need to make first and foremost human contact, to break the alienation and isolation imposed by capitalist life etc etc.  this is a significant counterweight to decomposition (which, as fred pointed ot, is not a possibilty for the future, but already a reality, engendered by the inability of either class to impose its historic alternative:  world war or world revolution, and which leaves humanity with facing the possibility of destruction even without a world war).  how the class got here, in the context of the tremendous difficulties--sociological, ideological, historical--is a matter of wonder, if you are not a marxist.  but in fact, it makes sense, and, in my view, this fact gives the lie to the sociological theory.  but it cannot be grasped, the attempts at human solidarity, and bonding, the questioning of capitalism and its future, albeit immature and confused, the indeed massive demonstrations in the streets, and the echo all this has had in the states, all this cannot be assessed adequately if we only have a sort of 'photographic' view of reality, of a process that goes like watching a series of slides.  i am not saying the road is open to the mass strike, or that decomposition has stopped weighin gon the class (although th epost above makes an important point of, the ruling class itself being affected by it, it also finds it more and more difficult to be coherent in its policies and in its ideology, which can benefit the class). 

the struggles at the time of WWI were massive in germany.  there, the proletariat almost made a revolution.  in russia, it actually took power.  yet, regardless of the sociologically 'right' conditions, the class did not prevail.  as jk points out, the problem was the 'spiritual' readiness of the class.   i think the issue of the predominant role of ideology and the pre-eminent importance for the working class to demistify and break it continues to be the fundamental problem.  that the class is no longer as concentrated conceals other issues:  the repercussions on consciousness of struggles that happen elsewhere; the creation of an ever bigger reserve of unemployed people; the establishment of precariousness, which can potentially lead to a deep and significant questioning of capitalism; the potential for the young generation to link up with their parents/identify themsleves as working class starting from this relationship; the potential to develop class identity and confidence not only at th epoint of production, certainly not for the unemployed, but IN THE STREETS

these are not reasons for cheerfulness.  the situation is indeed very grave.  but to me, it is reason to say, no, the class has not missed the boat.

I think that we have to remember that decomposition, in its original forumlation by the ICC, was conceived of as "social decomposition." Implicit here is precisely the idea that the continued existence of capitalism really does pose the risk that the working class itself will suffer such a decomposition (or deconstruction if you like) that it will no longer be able to objectively challenge capitalism, because the sociological conditions for the formation of workers' councils, etc. will be gone. We have to distinguish between "objective" factors and "subjective ones." In fact, it is possible to argue that today--quite unlike the period after WW1--the subjective conditions are in advance of the objective ones. There is a growing questioning of the system, there are all kinds of radical critiques out there and yet objectively the best we have seen are "social revolts." Movements somewhere between the class terrain and bourgeois social movements. Its true that there are a lot of ideological (subjective) illusions in democracy in these movements, but are these simply mistaken ideas or are there deeper sociological reasons, such as in the inability for the class to engage in massive struggle (because it no longer really exists is massive forms) that prevent it from going futher?

So I don't think that the question here is rejecting the sociologcial thesis. To do so would ultimately be to reject the theory of decomposition. The issue is how to find some kind of empirical measure of where we are right now in the process of decomposition. The inability to find this metric, to specify it, I think is what leads to some of the concern expressed earlier in this thread that there is just a blind faith in the working class. It becomes a kind of religion. The working class is always revolutionary, because it has to be. To admit otherwise would mean game over and who wants that?

It seems that the ICC has always seen the problems facing the working class as "subjective," various forms of ideological disorientation, the "death of communism," etc. There seems to have been very little attention given to possible objective sociological problems. This is probably because these ideas were mostly associated with various forms of "modernism," and embourgeoisment theories, etc. Now that some attention is being given to these problems, it doesn't seem to have very good answerd to them other than to stretch out the time scale, argue for adopting a "long view" of history and falling back on an insistence on the inherently revolutionary nature of the working class, because what else can we do? But this stretching out of the time scale seems to fit poorly with decomposition, in which time is simply not on our side.

In terms of taking a "snap shot" of the working class at any given time and making generalizations from that. Well, I think the ICC (and much of the milieu) can be accused of doing just this. Reifing the working class as it existed in 1968, just as it emerged from the long counter revolution, but also right before it was subjected to thirty plus years of neo-liberal deconstruction of the Fordist working class. Have their been any sociological changes at all in this time that are worthy of any attention? Or do we just continue to talk about the working class (or euphemistally just "the class') as if it were already a class for itself and just needed to break through the remaining ideological barriers?

It seems to me that there should be ways of answering the sociological thesis, without completely denying it. But to do so may mean scuttling some of the conceptions about the working class we have carried around since '68 and simply haven't updated since. I don't have any good answers for this myself, so I am still looking forward to the second installment of this article....

mhou
Quote:i am not saying the

Quote:
i am not saying the road is open to the mass strike, or that decomposition has stopped weighin gon the class (although th epost above makes an important point of, the ruling class itself being affected by it, it also finds it more and more difficult to be coherent in its policies and in its ideology, which can benefit the class

As it relates to trade-unionism, which in the 'modern era' (early 20th century-the present), specifically after 1945, the unions had always been a facet of the 'left in opposition', working in conjunction with the left-wing bourgeois parties. Personally, I think decomposition goes a long way in explaining why belief in a resurgence in rank & file trade unionism (put forward by staunch Trotskyists, reform minded trade unionists and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party) has been unfounded. Not only is there a growing divide between trade unionists and labor piecards on one side and the Democratic Party on the other (plus splits in the 'house of labor' itself- Carpenters disaffiliation, Change To Win/AFL-CIO, UE raiding and decertifying other unions, failure of the mergers between the UTU-BLET and AFT-NEA), but the corporatism practiced since the success of the CIO drives in the 1930s-1940s has been on a rapid decline; especially since the capitalist crisis of 2007-2008. Longstanding strongholds of trade union-company cooperation (companies that have been heavily if not entirely union since the 30's-60's) are on the decline (such as the abominable situation at Hostess- 10 different unions gnawing on a company that is/or was friendly to corporatism)- to keep things business as usual, oldtime union partnerships like UPS-IBT, Giant/Safeway/Kroger's/etc.-UFCW, GM/Chrysler/Ford-UAW, etc. have become poverty level shops to keep the union in control (much lamented in Labor Notes, which describes how UAW can't really offer workers in the foreign car factories anything in the way of better wages, benefits or pensions, same with UFCW and Walmart and any number of other high profile union campaigns).

It seems that due to the extremely partisan faction fighting in the bourgeoisie (especially since the 1980's) it has abandoned this kind of strategy- even in companies that are partly unionized, you're seeing intransigent opposition to corporatism even if today in the US that means heavily watered down if not poverty level contracts (such as the Steelworkers being unable to organize just 30 workers in a Siemens steel plant in Maryland a few months ago, in a high union density state in a company that is unionized globally including the US by the same union and thoroughly controlled generationally by the Democratic Party).

Then you see the opposite from other bourgeois factions that rally around the Republican Party; in situations when it would be wise to be complacent with a weak union in vital or essential industries (such as Georgia-Pacific, run by the Koch Brothers) and/or the public sector, they push for extreme neo-liberal fiscal policy, venomous anti-union campaigns and legislation (such as putting support for a national right-to-work law in the party platform, or what Scott Walker and co. did in Wisconsin).

They are breaking apart worse than ever before, to the point where they can't effectively manage the national economy (the impending January 1 deadline for Congress is a good example; a deadline with automatic unwanted cuts proscribed by the very same Congress if it couldn't come to an agreement, which they couldn't). It doesn't seem likely going forward that the trade-unions, in the US, will be able to gain the kind of traction they could during surges in militancy in the era of the 30s-80s. They'll be a factor, but the parts of militant action that they can't contain or control or direct will always give industrial action a means to expand and extend itself in ways it couldn't before.

Anyway, I just find the theory of decomposition useful as a means to understand whats going on in the present.

The shift from production to service for a large part of the working-class doesn't seem to be dampening its militancy; we continue to see more and more examples of service workers, with no experience working in factories or mills or plants, taking militant action outside of complete union control- even instances where a union is pulling some of the strings.

Sure, the change from heavy concentrations of workers in huge factories in large working-class neighborhoods, having thousands of workers employed at the same facility or complex of factories/warehouses/mills, the culture of the 'single-income blue collar family', and similar displacement/dislocation of the working-class definitely are real phenomenon. So far I'm not sure it is as much of a death-blow or severe handicap as it has been portrayed as.

jk1921
Mhou, what do you think about

Mhou, what do you think about the "union busting" that has been going on as of late in the US? Is this some kind of rational policy confroming to the need to cheapen labor as much as possible in certain industries or do you think it is more an irrational expression of the Republican Party's ideological decay (as Internationalism has been arguing for a while now)?

Also, did you read Inter's article on the election? What did you think of the analysis?

mhou
I definitely think it is the

I definitely think it is the latter. Mainly because the evidence is apparant that the trade unions (craft or industrial) in the US are almost always willing to negotiate backwards the sale of worker's labor. The rallying cry of the public sector unions in Wisconsin was a clear and unequivocal "We'll give back every benefit, raise and security you want; just don't take away the right to collective bargaining!" A couple trade unions have been acting in what was a traditional, militant trade union bread & butter style (for example the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union and the United Electrical Workers) but the largest and most influential unions (mainly those who split to form the Change To Win federation; IBT, UFCW, SEIU, as well as the powerhouses of the AFL-CIO like the Machinists) have consistently sided with employers to remove previous gains by the workers. Lately a good example of that is the new contract with Verizon by the CWA and IBEW.

For both myself and even some on the left, it seems that a reliance on the unions to stop militant action by non-union workers would be the 'best choice' for American capital. A lot of Trotskyists and union reformers think the ground is set for a resurgence in 'organizing the unorganized', but in practice the unions act more like organizational flying pickets; SWAT teams that descend on any and all instances of class struggle (like the UFCW forcing itself on the striking pizza factory workers in Wisconsin, who wanted their own independent union; or the entire union apparatus descending on Madison in 2011) instead of pursuing comprehensive organization of large open-shop companies. So it looks like neither business nor unions are really interested in such a resurgence- and the politicians who should know better are going in exteme directions as well (Democrats giving Big Labor the cold shoulder more than ever, Republicans ideologically intent on destroying all vestiges of labor-management corporatism).

I think the election coverage was spot on in Internationalism. It's funny; since becoming more interested in pro-revolutionary politics, from the time I first found out about the ICC I was consistently trying to 'prove them wrong' to myself. Coming from syndicalism I was at first irritated by their analysis, but over time could not find suitable counter-arguments and was won over. I feel the same way about the election coverage- the analysis offered by other groups and political lineages is far less persuasive in comparison.

 

jk1921
If I am reading you correctly

If I am reading you correctly Mhou, you seem to suggest that the sociological changes actually seem to make "uncontrolled class struggle" more likely in that the ruling class is less able to control the working class with a trusted union apparatus.

Is this right? If so, I think it fits with what Inter has been arguing for a while and explains why some elements in the US ruling class, against prevailing trends, have actually tried to strengthen the union apparatus: radicalize the image of the unions, EFCA, etc. But again, if I am reading you correctly, these measures won't really get the job done, because of a change in the nature of unions themselves from the bourgeoisie's close partners in managing the New Deal order (through corporatism) to full participants in the everyman for himself processes of decomposition (constant union infighting, jursidictional raiding, etc.).

Inter had an article about the nature of the recent union busting around the time of the Wisconsin mobilizations, in which they argued against a tendency to see some kind of functionalism in the union busting. Mhou, were you able to read that one? Here is a link:

http://en.internationalism.org/inter/158/editorial

Fred
jk wrote:"We have to

jk wrote:"We have to distinguish between "objective" factors and "subjective ones." In fact, it is possible to argue that today--quite unlike the period after WW1--the subjective conditions are in advance of the objective ones." I fail to understand what this means. Does the bourgeois dichotomy "subjective/objective" actually exist, and even if it did would it automatically be applicable to the working class and it's consciouness? Surely everything is subjective, even the most " objective" science. The bourgeoisie think they are being "objective" when they try to deal with their economy. Capitalism is certainly an "object" quite beyond their control, but this doesn't mean that their futile attempts to control it are "objective" does it? Anything we humans do is subjective. In the hands of the bourgeoisie "subjectivity" is an enormous mess and a confusion hence their commitment in art to what they call ROMANTICISM: a huge outpouring of dreams and idealism, which their economy prevents them from realizing in real life, and which they transmute into poetry, music and so on. Proletarian subjectivity, on the other hand, is an advance on that of the bourgeoisie; because it is able to escape the limitations of bourgeois individualism through solidarity and the development of a class consciouness capable of punching holes in bourgeois ideology, including the division of human thought into phony and divisive categories eg. subjective/objective.

And regarding what kollwitz said about the failure of the revolutionary wave after WW1, and the "spiritual" readiness of the class - which apparently we lacked, and which accounts for our not prevailing - I don't buy this at all. There are many reason why that revolutionary attempt failed eg (1) the Bolsheviks substituted themselves for the class in Russia and (2) there was no communist party up and running in Germany. Also this was the first attempt by the class at struggling internationally. The Commune was limited more or less to one city. We were inexperienced at the end of WW1 and, let's admit it, immature in our grasp of what we were doing. I don't think this was a failure of "spirituality"but a failure of class consciousness. And in fact it wasn't a "failure" at all, but a great triumph which has taught us many invaluable lessons for next time, when our subjectivity will be more advanced on a class-wide basis. The process of learning for the working class is quite a different thing from the process of learning for the bourgeoisie. For we are not just trying to acquire "objective knowledge" as the bourgeoisie might call it, but rather to invent and bring to light a whole new understanding of what it is to be alive, and human and living for each other and the betterment of the social and natural world we live in and share. This has never been done before and we have a lot to learn and many mistakes to make. But at least it's worthwhile doing, which is more than can be said for this hell hole of existence we currently have, in which "life" is a mere mockery.

One of the reasons it's so hard to struggle is because what we are ultimately struggling for is almost beyond comprehension. Almost but not altogether. Thinking outside the restrictions of the nasty little bourgeois box isn't easy, it's all so cramping. That's why it's a joy to read mhou's account of multiple worker movements in the USA - a place that had appeared just a write off at times - as the proletarian giant moves it's limbs at last, and as the bourgeoisie get more and more desperate in their attempts to ward this off, and totally absurd in their efforts at salvaging their system. Even sandbags can't prevent this deluge.

More "uncontrolled class struggle" sounds like great news to me. Bring it on!

jk1921
Yes, it matters

Fred wrote:
jk wrote:"We have to distinguish between "objective" factors and "subjective ones." In fact, it is possible to argue that today--quite unlike the period after WW1--the subjective conditions are in advance of the objective ones." I fail to understand what this means. Does the bourgeois dichotomy "subjective/objective" actually exist, and even if it did would it automatically be applicable to the working class and it's consciouness? Surely everything is subjective, even the most " objective" science. The bourgeoisie think they are being "objective" when they try to deal with their economy. Capitalism is certainly an "object" quite beyond their control, but this doesn't mean that their futile attempts to control it are "objective" does it? Anything we humans do is subjective. In the hands of the bourgeoisie "subjectivity" is an enormous mess and a confusion hence their commitment in art to what they call ROMANTICISM: a huge outpouring of dreams and idealism, which their economy prevents them from realizing in real life, and which they transmute into poetry, music and so on. Proletarian subjectivity, on the other hand, is an advance on that of the bourgeoisie; because it is able to escape the limitations of bourgeois individualism through solidarity and the development of a class consciouness capable of punching holes in bourgeois ideology, including the division of human thought into phony and divisive categories eg. subjective/objective.

Of course, the distinction exists Fred. Its a basic premise of Marxism in fact. The proletarian revolution is not possible at just any moment in history--the objective conditions have to exist first. Most importantly, the working class has to exist in significant numbers and significant concentrations. There is a line of thought, discussed in this thread, that says the latter criteria simply doesn't exist anymore (and probably won't again) at least not in the "central countries."

Of course, the objective conditions may be necessary for the proletarian revolution to take place, but they are not sufficient--the working class must develop a revolutionary consciousness. It was the entire thrust of the work of the Dutch/German Communist left that the Post-WW1 revolutionary wave, failed because these subjective conditions failed to materialize (at least in Western Europe). The working class certainly existed in massive concentrations there, it was certainly agitated and angry, but everytime it took power in the form of the workers' councils, it ended up handing it right back over the bloody Social Democrats, because the working class remained "spiritually" attached to bourgeois democracy (Pannekoek and Gorter's phrase, not mine). The deformations of the Russian Revolution could only have been cured by a successful reviolution in the West, but sadly this failed to happen for "subjective reasons."

The ICC seems to operate much in the same vein today, believeing that the problems facing the working class are largely a question of subjective consciousness not objective sociological barriers. The working class is constantly being "tricked" by this or that ideological manipulation or campaign. There has been very little attention paid to the entire question of the deconstruction of the working class. In fact, these ideas seem to have mostly been avoided as expressions of bourgeois ideology themselves (maybe they are?)

I understand your desire to be radical Fred and in the main I agree with you about seeing the social world as ultimately all a product of human action. Objectivity may ultimately really be reified human subjectivity, but captialism--unfortunately--makes that reification very real and tangible.

Its late and I am high on cough syrup so hopefully I made a little bit of sense and didn't sound too much like a roaring idiot.

 

mhou
I think the sociological

I think the sociological arguments are weaker than is portrayed; the Insurgent Notes group wrote a bit about this. There's a tendency to identify the working-class as simply the stereotypical, blue-collar single income family (that likely has a patriarch that belongs to a union). It appears that the latest crisis, in the US at least, is making the political and economic landscape much more black and white than it was to the average worker during the boom years following WWII:

Quote:

Fewer college graduates say they belong to the middle classby Andrew Dugan

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans are most likely to identify themselves as middle class, a trend that has remained essentially unchanged throughout the past decade. Another 31% identify as "working class" and 13% see themselves as "upper-middle class." Ten percent say they are "lower class," a slight decrease from 14% in April. Two percent identify themselves as upper class.

Another recent survey said that among those who identify as 'middle class', there has been a large increase among them that say they are specifically 'lower middle class'. I think this is important due to the changes since the crisis- more and more working people in America are identifying with their class. At the moment it's largely based on a perception of their income level and consumer spending habits/abilities, but the reality of 'who they are' in society at large is becoming closer to reality than the old widespread belief in American exceptionalism, American cultural hegemony where most workers see themselves as being able to 'move up' the social ladder. Social mobility confidence is at a very low point right now. All of this is becoming evident in the increase in strikes (especially large strikes of 1,000+ workers). Same with the struggles for higher wages, better benefits, dignity on the job, etc. without necessarily demanding union recognition (like Walmart and the fast food workers in the last 2 weeks). Rather than trying to have a CIO style 'union fever' it's straight economic and social demands. The union line is obviously not a high priority in the latest big strikes- as can be seen with the arrest of 3 Walmart workers at one California store last week for trying to physically block the entrance to the store (against the demands of the paid staffers and community Alinskyite activists present). I think it demonstrates that the stereotypical image of the working-class as manufacturing/production and construction oriented and the culture that goes with that is a false image; service workers are just as alienated, just as exploited- they just don't have a romantic proletarian image or a history of organizing.

jk- I had not read the article before now, one thing that struck me early on was about the general strike. A few IWW members in Madison were dual-carders in the AFL-CIO unions (I think one was an apprentice in a building trades union). The story goes that this lone IWW attended a Central Labor Council meeting and put forward a motion to issue a declaration supporting a general strike (which was passed), as well as a motion to have literature about a general strike printed and distributed. That's where the South Central Labor Federation came up with the general strike call- a lone pro-revolutionary worker (possible more than 1 dual carder depending on whos version of events you read) was behind the call to extend the struggle past the occupation and protests. Even though the SCLF is a business union body (made up of 97 local unions sending delegates/reps), it's doesn't have the 'teeth' on its own to call or support a general strike. The unions reacted negatively to the declaration and tried to stamp out any talk of strikes. So I do disagree with the assessment that the general strike idea was supported by or originated with the AFL-CIO/CtW.

I agree with you that the EFCA debacle was a prime example of parts of the ruling-class trying to maintain a 'responsible' governance policy or at least traditional control of the working-class, with support from the left of capital. I do agree with Internationalism's line of argument, especially as it pertains to the public sector. As we see in Greece, which has a large public sector workforce, when in crisis worker's recognize that their struggle for their strandard of living is with the capitalist state itself; when the bourgeoisie is unable to put forward measures which would satisfy militant or striking public workers, even calling new elections where none of the candidates or parties signify significant change for the workers, it makes the struggle clear as one against the state due to its role as employer. This is where I think the Internationalism argument is completely correct; as it relates to the public sector, this is a part of the working-class that would benefit the bourgeoisie the most in terms of calming militancy, feeding illusions in the democratic republic- yet we see the fight to bar the public sector unions from collective bargaining, the stopping of dues payments from automatic deduction off of paychecks, even attempts to bar spending public sector union money on local or national elections (the biggest public sector unions are among the top 10 political donors in the country). All of these things they are trying to strip away are solid reinforcements of the status quo and the state itself. It definitely is severe decomposition when factions of the bourgeoisie are so hell bent on acting against their own self-interest to punish another faction of the ruling-class. Int. put it better than that:

Quote:
In our view, the first aspect of enacting austerity is a clear necessity for the bourgeoisie faced with an economic and fiscal crisis of historic proportions; however the second aspect of “union-busting” and the pursuit of other right-wing tropes are ideologically driven, short-sighted policies that risk going too far and negatively impacting the ability of the ruling class ability to manage the class struggle. For us, the vigorous attempts to enact these types of laws by certain sectors of the U.S. bourgeoisie reflect a growing tendency towards the decomposition of the U.S. political apparatus, complicating its ability to act in a strategic manner to address the economic crisis and manage the class struggle in the interests of the national capital as a whole. This decomposition is reflected in the increasing difficulty the U.S. bourgeoisie faces in controlling its electoral process; evident in the outcome of the 2010 mid-term elections, which brought Governor Walker and fellow-travelers to office.

SEIU, as the article indicates, are a potent force in bourgeois politics. Whether its being the biggest financial backer of Democratic candidates, standing with Wal-Mart executives in support of the 'Obamacare' bill, or bullying Democratic administrations to grant collective bargaining rights for large groups of workers who previously had none (home-healthcare workers; generally relatives of infirm elderly who receive a state check once a month) then force themselves on them as 'their' union (something like 150,000 such home healthcare workers; of which 75% did not join SEIU but pay it an 'agency fee' for their 'representation'). But recent legislation limiting even this, the largest and most influential union in the country, ability to 'meddle' in state affairs- such the SCOTUS ruling barring 'special dues assessments' which would be mandatory on all workers and used on political campaigns, they are now optional. Lack of dues checkoff as well as attempts to bar, at the state level, public unions from contributing anything to political campaigns (such a bill failed in California in November, but probably won't be the last).

It seems to me that the position by Internationalism has been pretty clear and accurate. Why the ICT position seems short of the mark is due to the tendency toward state capitalism. Unlike Andrew Kliman, who thinks the 2007-2008 crisis brought a 'new phase' of state capitalism, I think the tendency has been progressing according to the same logic as it always has: the state manuevering to 'fix' the crisis (which manifests as stagnation, inflation, etc.). The public sector workforce will most likely continue to grow, remain essential, and to keep things flowing smoothely will require a mediocre standard of living for its workers above that suffered by precarious part-time workers in the private sector. I can relate to this being a public sector worker myself; the cuts they are proposing are minor, most of the benefits have remained unchanged even though healthcare costs go up every year by a relatively small amount. If the public sector were slashed in a manner like that in Southern Europe, there would be a national crisis (like those in Southern Europe). Even though it would probably be recuperated by the unions (who are strong in the public sector), it would be a manufactured crisis that would interrupt the operations of the state and badly damage the national economy. The bourgeoisie has brought their fight into the public domain via proxys and politicians, 'grassroots groups', and when they argue with eachother on air or in print, it is clearly factional and ideological. Plus the labor costs compared to state, county, municipal or national government debt is miniscule. Carving up the public sector in Wisconsin barely dented the states debt. The idea that it is an attempt to lower labor cost doesn't fit.

Fred
[jk=quote] Objectivity may

[jk=quote] Objectivity may ultimately really be reified human subjectivity, but captialism--unfortunately--makes that reification very real and tangible. [/quote]

If the dichotomy subjective/objective is a basic premise of Marxism, but if it were true that "objectivity is a reified subjectivity" as jk so beautifully expresses it, and surely he's got that right? - and a vital part of bourgeois ideology in that case - then wouldn't that invalidate the basic Marxist premise? And what would that mean for the "objective conditions" thought to be necessary for the revolution to take place?

But this is getting nonsensical. There has to be a difference between the merely objective - as in objects themselves like the planet, a potato, or the conditions thought by some to be necessary for a proletarian revolution - and the human supposedly psychological state of "being objective", which as jk has correctly pointed out is MERELY a reified subjectivity and thus a part of bourgeois ideology. The bourgeoisie make great use of their remarkable intellectual talent for being objective and can conveniently use it to assert their more dubious projects. Example. The bourgeoisie in the West are only being objective when they support Israel against whoever it is that nation is fighting now; or when they present their case for exploiting and destroying the Arctic for fossil fuels and profits. That's objectivity....

I hope your cough gets better soon jk.

Fred
And the bourgeoisie are only

And the bourgeoisie are only being objective when they insist on the need for imposition of a general austerity in the defense of a moribund capitalism. Nothing personal or subjective at all about this. It's all objective. But capitalism is a social relationship: at heart it's all very subjective despite it's cold dispassionate outward appearance. And there are different ways of viewing the "failure" of the first revolutionary wave. That the class was successfully "tricked" by the bourgeoisie in Germany, and handed power over to the social democrats doesn't have anything to do with sociological issues and objective factors operating powerfully against the class, but is all down to a failure of class consciousness and an immaturity of class subjectivity. It was a mistake. The class lives and learns through mistakes, doesn't it? As Marx pointed out, the class struggles against the system and appears to down Goliath, only to have him rise up again even stronger than before. This isn't a matter of some mystical yet objective sociological force acting unknown against tbe class, but a lack of sufficient subjective class consciousness (the class for itself) and organized solidarity. Self-organization is a matter we have to learn about.

As mho points out, more people now in America, more workers, are beginning once again to identify with their class. The widespread and ideological "belief' in Americal exceptionalism is being overcome. The sway of sociological labeling and compartmentalization is starting to crack in the face of emerging class consciousness. Something about all this has got my goat.

kollwitz
except that 'class identity'

except that 'class identity' is not merely the lack of class identification with the sociological constructs of the bourgeosie:  middle class, poor, top 2%.  that many individuals don't identify with the 'middle class' is not negative, but does it mean they ar eready to identify the class enemy?  themselves as the subjects of the revolution?  themslves as part of a collective body that is collectively exploited?  not there yet.  also, except that part of the result of all this union-busting noise is a strengthening, at least temporarily, of the image of the union, even though in a seemingly contradictory way, the workers don't really trust the unions.  which is a sign of the fact that their identification as a class for themsleves is not yet there.  i really think these issues wheigh much more significantly than the sociological lack of industrial concentrations on the development of class consciousness and identity.  it is an interesting point to deepen i think, and important too, because it does deal with the question of assessing the weaknesses of the working class, its perspectives, and how revolutionaries can intervene.  it is also a matter of probing marxism under different social condition sthan existed at th etime of marx, and the icc's own analyses, such as the theory of decomposition.  so, yes, a hefty task indeed.

i will pose questions, so that the comrades here can help me understand better, and maybe i can help pose questions too, for reflection.  it is one of the law of capitalism, that as it develops th eproductivity of labot, it does it do the detriment of living labot and to the advantage of 'dead' labor: machinery, effectively resulting in the ejection of greater and greater sectors of the population from th eproductive process.  in his day, marx did not see this as some sort of 'death sentence' on the possibility for the working class to make the revolution.  on the contrary, he pointed out how this was to show in the eyes of society the historic impasse of this mode of production.  how are things different today?  or are they?  i mean, from a strictly sociological point of view.  and, that society witnesses this and perceives it as an impasse in the mode of life, of society's organization, isn't this part of the necessary development of consciousness?

at the time of capitalist ascendance, when the industrial masses of the proletariat were densely concentrated, the onjective conditions were such that even thought the struggles were massive, the subjective condition swere not developed.  this was the whole meaning of the strikes that could be prepared well ahead of time, with almost-perfect  timing and predictability, resulting in the class developing a profound trust in the unions and in the parties, which in turn to a large extent also created the tragedy of the failed revolution in germany.  so, the 'ideal' sociological conditions of ascendance were not conducive to the development of class consciousness.  we must re-affirm that these condition swere very different in russia:  democracy, nationalism, and the union did not have the hold on the working class' ideology which they had in the west.  ideology, once again, does seem to play a pre-eminent role, or am i taking the tree for the forest?

to go back to the process of ejection from the productive process, one result of this under decadence is the 'shipping of jobs abroad'.  and look at what has been happening in asia.  china is just the latest of the countries in whcih social convulsions are a matter of everyday life.  but is this not a very important process of a greater global proletarianization of the masses?  does this not have an impact on the development of class consciousness?  isn't the class an international class?  isn;t this what we saw in the echo of the social protest movements in tunisia and egypt?  again, is this not an element that shows the importance ofthe subjective?  but also that the 'objective' conditions are not less favorable today WORLD-WIDE?  shouldn't the real question be, how much longer can this law of capitalism go on before the class revolts against the conditions of danger to its survival?  how much longer can decomposition develop before the ruling class itself explodes in its own contradictions, including imperialist ones, while the class in the bastions of capitlaism is really not mobilized ideologically for war?

there's much more that can be said...but i have to go to work tomorrow and need to go to sleep...more later

 

mhou
You're definitely right that

You're definitely right that we shouldn't view changes in the average worker's perception of their social status and mobility as something which signifies a kind of drastic move in the 'subterranean consciousness'. However, the strikes over the last few years seem to be showing a reluctance, even in the cases where unions are strongest and have a history of getting results, of accepting 'thats the best we can do' (maritime unions, Verizon, Hostess). We're no where near the point where, during strikes or community struggles, workers will eject union piecards and paid staffers the way they did in Italy in the '60s or China and South Korea pretty recently, but the trend shown in the polls is indicative of movement in a positive direction. The mood seems much different, especially among younger workers of not being open to the unions (the 16-34 age bracket is the least likeliest to be a member of a union if memory serves), a much more serious and less ideological approach to the economic crisis. Yahoo! News had an article a few weeks ago about the November 14 'European general strike' which said the same thing about young people and the unions, but also the seeming complete lack of penetration and density of the left and far left groups in the young working generation (much to the lament of the petty bourgeois professionals quoted who look back to May '68 as 'youthful socialist rebellion' and claim young people are 'not political' today). I think ideology plays a preeminent role in counter-revolution instead of the other way around; if struggle is engaged in without union aspirations or penetration of leftism, it seems like a blow against ideologies and a good sign for the future.

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society witnesses this and perceives it as an impasse in the mode of life, of society's organization, isn't this part of the necessary development of consciousness?

I'd definitely agree with that. An article in Internationalism recently described the 'natural unemployment rate' phenomenon following crisis and how it has consistently gone up since the 1970's. We'll probably see greater size and frequency of struggles as 8% (or 7.5%) unemployment along with inflation become 'the new normal' and quality of life becomes eroded further. Even the bourgeoisie isn't handling their 'new normal' very well.

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but also that the 'objective' conditions are not less favorable today WORLD-WIDE?

I wholeheartedly agree. Movement in China and South Korea have been particularly interesting; workers striking against the unions, electing delegates from amongst themselves, forming soviergn strike committee's, demanding paid time from the employer to hold assemblies, establishing inter-employer solidarity committee's, etc. Similar against the union and parties sentiment as in Italy during the 'Hot Autumn', but in new 'worker fortresses' like the 'old country' and in modern conditions of global capital. Since there is no more 'weak link' to be exploited, maybe this time it will be China that leads the way for the proletariat and echoes around the world. The just in time logistics system, global finance and global trade/transit could not suffer a major player going offline for any amount of time; trillions of dollars are at stake, debt obligations hang in the balance.

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how much longer can decomposition develop before the ruling class itself explodes in its own contradictions, including imperialist ones, while the class in the bastions of capitlaism is really not mobilized ideologically for war?

That's probably the biggest danger and is a time-bomb. I hope the war-weariness in the West (particulary the US) is enough to stop the ruling-class from just sabre-rattling to engaging in inter-imperialist warfare (so far sabre-rattling has been met with condemnation all around aside from a tiny faction since the end of the Bush era).

Do you think that ideology can have a positive role in the formation of class consciousness and 'upping the ante' during struggles to start creating dual power situations and supersession of the state? I'm interested in exploring this topic at present (waiting on a print copy of 'Nihilist Communism' to arrive; what I've read of it seems to be a coherent critique of the notion of class consciousness, or at least the relation of pro-revolutionaries to class consciousness). I think it's a big issue, and one that is (I agree with the Dupont duo here) largely kinda glossed over- especially in more 'activist' oriented parts of the revolutionary milieu (syndicalists for instance). At the moment I agree more or less with the thrust of the Situationist argument that the proletarian revolution is anti-ideology. Still trying to wrap my head around the issue and see it from all sides, not particularly easy.

 

jk1921
Turning into a rich

Turning into a rich discussion. A couple of points (not necessarily all connected):

Thanks Mhou for reading the article on union busting and providing some feedback. I was surprised that that one did not generate more of a discussion when it was published, especially considering that there appears to be some difference of opinion on the meaning of the events between the ICC and the ICT. It would be important if perhaps we could develop this discussion further somehow, but I am not sure how to go about it. It involves important questions regarding the nature of the unions, the strategy of the bourgeoisie (or lack of one) and decomposition that should be taken further. It seems to me like an opportunity was missed at the time of the Wisconsin events for some kind of fruitful exchange (or confrontation of ideas) on these questions within the milieu.

In response to some of Kollowitz's points. I don't think anyone would deny that subjective (ideological) factors continue to play a major role in sidetracking the class struggle. This is of course true. The question that the "sociological thesis" raises, however, is--is it just subjective ideological factors holding back the development of a massive response to the economic crisis or is there something more "objective," "structural," "sociological" involved? I think the issue that frustrates many--and was raised early in the thread (by Fred, I think) is that we seem to lack an "empirical measure" of any of this. We just continue to assert the revolutionary abilities of the class without a whole lot of empirical evidence that anything is really happening.

This of course raises the entire issue of "subterrean maturation of consciousness." The entire concept probably sounds very murky to people, almost ethereal, mystical even. I think the point is well taken that if we are going to claim to have some kind of scientific approach to these questions then we need to start paying attention to these objections. How do we measure the subterrean maturation of consciousness? if we can't measure it, how do we know it exists? These are very basic questions of the philosophy of science. From the Popperian perspective (if one accepts it, and I am not saying one should) it all starts to look rather "unfalsifiable." The working class is revolutionary, because it has to be, because the alternative in unacceptable--kind of like how religious people say God has to exist because a world without divine meaning is unthinkable.

Of course, it is possible for reasonable people to disagree about the meaning of the same piecie of evidence. The Occupy Movement, the Indignadoes? What are these movements really evidence of? A growing combativity in the working class? A struggle to find the class terrain? Or is it possible to look at these movements and conclude that this is what you get in the context of Post-Fordist neoliberalism? If you think the problem is mostly subjective or ideological you might conclude the fomer, while if you think the problem is objective and sociological you might decide in favor of the latter. It seems one's intitial assumptions will inevtiably color how one evaluates the available evidence. I am not sure any of ths gets us any closer to something like the "truth," however. This dilemna seems to beg multiple deeper questions, about the nature of scientific inquiry itself, how individuals form values and perspectives. It also seems to raise the issue of Freud and the pre-cognitive determinants of our beliefs.

There has been a ton of literature about the sociological changes since the 1970s interpreting it in different ways--a change from Fordist regulation to neoliberalism, the end of industrial hegemony and the rise of financial captialism, the decline of the nation state as the locus of politics and the rise of disorienting global forces, etc. etc. Lately, there has been an uptick in interest in the decade of the 1970s precisely among U.S. labor historians. Jefferson Cowie and Judith Stein are both out with books in the last year or two about the critical importance of the 1970s as a kind of moment of transition from one form of captialism to another--with dramatic consequences for the working class. We don't have to accept all their pro-union reformist baggage to consider if maybe they have a certain point, do we? If they do, then what do we do with it? How do we integrate it with our project? The younger generations seem to be asking these very questions. Do we have an answer for them?

It seems to me that the ICC has given way too short of shrift to these issues and only now seems to be coming around to the fact that an answer is needed. I remember one article from the early 1990s about whether or not the working class had disappeared as a result of the development of information technology. The article concluded that anyone who believed that was an idiot who didn't recognize that the word processor he/she was writing those words on had to be made by a worker. That seemed a powerful argument, but I wonder whether or not it was aimed a straw man? The argument is not so much that working-class has disappeared, but that it has been "deconstructed" (consciously or not). It seems the ICT, historically, has paid much more attention to these issues (i.e. the entire "recomposition" of the working class thing), which would seem to beg the question as to why there hasn't been more exchange on these questions, i.e. the meaning of the Wisconsin events, etc.

I think the ICC was formed as a result of the mass movements of 1968-1973. Its image of what the working class is was formed as a result of this experience. A period that in the U.S. was marked by the wildcat strike at the U.S. Post Office (which saw the national guard brought in to deliver the mail). But could there be any better illustration of what is happening today than the pending deconstruction of the U.S. Post Office? Once the largest employer in the country (now surpassed by Wal Mart). Perhaps, the most radical proposals from the Republican wingnuts to completely privatize the Post Office will never come to pass, but it seems some kind of managed state captialist deconstruction is inevitable. What is the meaning of all of this?

On the issue of decomposition: I think the ICC has always argued that the working class does not respond to decomposition. In fact, it is one of the most potent barriers against the working class developing its consciousness (is this for ideological or sociological reasons?). The working class responds to the crisis, not decomposition. (hence the idea that the crisis is the working class' greatest ally). Implicit in this is the idea that there is only so much decomposition that the working class can take. We still seem left without any real empirical way to evaluate where we are in this process.

Regarding what is happening in East Asia: That seems another discussion altogether, but I think Mhou anticipates part of the response to the sociological thesis when he suggests the possibility that the locus of the international class struggle may now lie outside the "central countries." Of course, this cuts against the grain of much of what the ICC has always said about the the working class in the central countries being the most important. Is the concept of "central countries" even useful anymore? If does seem the ICC is in the process of revising its approach to these issues (I am not sure how conscious it is of this however).

Fred
thanks jk

Is it best to say that jk's post above is good, or just that I like it? Specially this bit.

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This of course raises the entire issue of "subterrean maturation of consciousness." The entire concept probably sounds very murky to people, almost ethereal, mystical even. I think the point is well taken that if we are going to claim to have some kind of scientific approach to these questions then we need to start paying attention to these objections. How do we measure the subterrean maturation of consciousness? if we can't measure it, how do we know it exists? These are very basic questions of the philosophy of science. From the Popperian perspective (if one accepts it, and I am not saying one should) it all starts to look rather "unfalsifiable." The working class is revolutionary, because it has to be, because the alternative in unacceptable--kind of like how religious people say God has to exist because a world without divine meaning is unthinkable.

Of course, it is possible for reasonable people to disagree about the meaning of the same piecie of evidence. The Occupy Movement, the Indignadoes? What are these movements really evidence of? A growing combativity in the working class? A struggle to find the class terrain? Or is it possible to look at these movements and conclude that this is what you get in the context of Post-Fordist neoliberalism? If you think the problem is mostly subjective or ideological you might conclude the fomer, while if you think the problem is objective and sociological you might decide in favor of the latter. It seems one's intitial assumptions will inevtiably color how one evaluates the available evidence. I am not sure any of ths gets us any closer to something like the "truth," however. This dilemna seems to beg multiple deeper questions, about the nature of scientific inquiry itself, how individuals form values and perspectives. It also seems to raise the issue of Freud and the pre-cognitive determinants of our beliefs.

mhou
A very interesting and

A very interesting and in-depth response; I think a lot of the questions and subjects you've brought up are indeed worthy of new attention now that things have begun to 'move' over the last few years. I'll start with the unions and 'union-busting'. It is interesting that the ICT and ICC have different opinions about the 'union busting' lately (also called 'the year of the lock-out')- however, isn't it true that the ICT do not recognize Decomposition? (I remember reading something to that effect, my apologies if that isn't correct). If that is the case, honestly I think the point of view that requires backing-up is the one that claims it is necessary for the state to lower labor costs by breaking the public sector union strongholds. For example, here is Governor Walker himself admitting that taking away the right to collective bargaining does not save the state any money: http://www.alan.com/2011/04/14/wisconsin-governor-scott-walker-admits-busting-unions-doesnt-save-money/ If we talk about the specific cuts that were forced onto these groups of workers in Wisconsin, the numbers do not favor the 'saving labor costs' explanation: "NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Three weeks after igniting a firestorm of protest from unions, Gov. Scott Walker introduced a budget Tuesday that would slash more than $1.25 billion from aid to schools and local governments.

Walker stressed that the aid won't be missed if the legislature votes to severely curtail public employees' collective bargaining power. That's because school districts and local governments will be able to raise workers' contributions to their health care and pensions, saving a total of $1.5 billion. The governor, who took office in January, is contending with a $3.6 billion deficit in the state's 2011-13 biennium budget. He has pledged to plug the hole without raising taxes, which means cutting spending and leaning on state workers." http://money.cnn.com/2011/03/01/news/economy/wisconsin_budget_walker/index.htm Concerning the immediate savings, I remember reading that cuts to unionized public workers only accounted for $30-40 million dollars out of a budget shortfall for the fiscal year of $137 million. Even if you grant that over time, the cuts and non-hiring of vacant public sector positions (some 21,000 jobs) will provide an estimated $1.5 billion (these numbers came from Walker, and are disputed by the unions and Democrats I believe), the estimated state budget deficit is nearly $4 billion. As was demonstrated during the protests when a phone prank ended up skewering the Governor with a radio dj pretending be one of the Koch brothers, as well as statements by the people around Walker and his collegues that broke parliamentary procedure to pass a middle of the night 'emergency bill', it is a case of ideologues in power acting out their personal factional politics. I don't have the data concerning Indiana and Ohio and the attempts at right-to-work and anti-public sector union legislation, but it doesn't seem to fit that all of it is to save on labor costs. The damage to the state infratructure by leaving vacancies, creating an unhappy workforce that will take militant action, taking away resources to make the state competitive (such as education cuts even more drastic than those on the workers). I'd really like to see more from that side of the argument in terms of persuasive data and arguments. Did the ICT publish anything that went in-depth to your knowledge? Plus, even though the statistics from the Dept. of Labor and BLS show that an average worker has better pay and benefits if they happen to belong to a union, the largest unions that do not represent skilled or semi-skilled workers have been consistently negotiating away the gains of the 1920's-1970's (the pay and benefits of highly skilled craft workers seem to skew these statistics). The UFCW California grocery strikes, the latest few contracts by the UAW with the Big 3 (for the first time since the 1920's auto workers are not the top paid manufacturing workers in the US and do not set the standard for other manufacturing contracts), SEIU's handling of the United Healthcare-West (which used to set the standard for healthcare workers contracts nationally), the Teamsters negotiating away all of the gains of the 1997 nationwide 250,000 worker UPS strike, Verizon workers will have to pay for their healthcare benefits for the first time ever (something they struck and won over 20 years ago), the Machinists are locked into a 10 year contract at Boeing, all of the evidence is there, in virtually every union, of being concilliatory to poverty level contracts or giving up major historical gains. It makes no sense to me that in essential facets of the state and the economy, to get rid of collective bargaining and make severe cuts (ingredients for open conflict) rather than work with the union to get those savings anyway. So on both sides (the state and the unions), I don't get the argument that it is part of a strategy to reduce labor costs- it seems to be an out and out example of decomposition. Regarding the unions, I couldn't agree more than it may be time to pay attention to what is brewing in the 2 big union federations. A contributor on Libcom posted this about the latest developments: "What is most applicable from the Joe Burns book to the strategy being deployed by SEIU and UFCW is reference to a 2005 proposal made by the AFT, suggesting that
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when organizing in new industries, unions establish independent organizations that would not be subject to lawsuits by employers. This type of organizing would "require creating new unions from scratch and even adopting unconventional tactics unencumbered by the restraints of current labor law." Understanding that unions have much to "risk and lose through the purposeful violation of Taft-Hartley," the proposal stated that these so-called "start-up unions," possessing no financial assets, "might enjoy greater strategic and tactical flexibility and would have substantially less to lose through the smart and strategic use of unconventional approaches where appropriate." (Burns, Reviving the Strike, p 179. (I cannot find a PDF of the relevant AFT document, titled "Inclusive Strategies for Labor’s Renewal" but I found a fuller reference to it here: http://www.nathannewman.org/laborblog/archive/001978.shtml.)I find it interesting that it happens to be two of the worst, most class-collaborationist unions in the US today, both under the banner of Change to Win, that are pursuing this strategy. I trust UFCW and SEIU about as far as I can throw them, so I am very skeptical that they are deploying this strategy in a way meant to invigorate the labor movement in any authentic way. " The unions seem to have better logistics and the ability to act nationally in ways they didn't years ago; over the last 15 years or so a deluge of mergers have happened into the largest industrial unions (such as BLET joining the IBT, the TCIU and NHWU joining the IAM, PACE joining USWA, etc.)- aside from being 90+% of the Democratic Party's 'ground game' of getting out the vote, knocking on doors, making phone calls, etc., the unions seem to jump from hot shop to hot shop, struggle to struggle, to be there ASAP whenever workers try to act in a militant fashion without already having union representation or when the unions lose control (Occupy, Wisconsin, the pizza factory workers, Walmart, fast food chains, Hostess, etc). Organizing efforts are stalling or getting mediocre results nationally (after announcing they were going all-in to organize foreign car manufacturers, UAW has 1 victory in a single Mitsubishi factory after 2-4 years of public campaigning). Even with the crisis it doesn't seem that workers are as receptive as most activists and reformists thought they would be, and the largest unions seem to be organizing new front groups and popping up anywhere there is struggle.

 

Alf
this discussion should continue

I have only just begun to catch up with this discussion and it is really excellent. It raises many issues which are posed by the present situation: the level reached by decomposition, the historic course, the relationship between class identity and class consciousness - it's hard to know where to start. But two brief points for the moment:

 - I think that the whole wave of revolts which began in the Arab world and acheived their highest level in Spain (but also included the Occupy movements) remains a very significant attempt of a new proletarian generation to respond to the crisis. This wave has now obviously gone into retreat and the bourgeoisie has launched a counter-offensive, especially around the issue of nationalism. But we have always said that the class movement is uneven, not linear, and that lows always follow highs....we shouldn't take the more recent difficulties as evidence that the potential for massive movements and for important developments of class consciousness has been exhausted;

 - on the 'sociological' problem: I think the ICC has been late in dealing with this question. As it happens the footnote mentioning it (and foolishly promising more, although this is indeed a task we have to carry out) was added by WR when we translated the article written by the French section. It seemed to us that it failed to take this aspect into account at all, and that we do need to integrate it into our overall vision.

In the UK, for example, the defeats of a number of traditionally militant sectors were followed up by the dismantling of the industries (and often the 'communities') which had been their base: mines, shipyards, auto, docks... It's not possible to ignore the impact this has had on the proletariat's sense of itself as a class. Of course the bourgeoisie is only too happy to equate this with the disappearance of the working class itself, with the end of the class struggle (an ideology which was hugely reinforced by the campaigns over the collapse of the eastern bloc). Now, as a number of posts have pointed out, the 'newer' sectors of the class, employed, precarious, or unemployed, have also shown that they are able to struggle. But they also have to link up with traditions of associated labour and common struggle which have in some sense been driven underground. This is one of the reasons why the Occupy and Indignant movements were so vulnerable to the ideology of 'citizenship' and democracy, even when they were actually rediscovering proletarian traditions of organising and debating.   

Oh, yes, on ideology, I agree with Mhou and we have written articles (and an entire pamphlet) to that effect. The pamphlet, Communist Organisations and Class Consciousness, is not online but the article from the International Review 7 which was its precursor is : 

Class consciousness, far from coinciding with ideology, is above all its principal negation, its fundamental antithesis. Today it is above all a question of drawing human­ity from the lethargy in which it is sub­merged, of making the world conscious of it­self and its actions - which no ideology can possibly achieve. Because ideology, the product of economic factors and an alienated social reality, attributes an autonomous existence to objects, and to consciousness a power of abstraction divorced from all material contingencies, it is impossible for it to undertake the critical or practical transformation of society. Revolutionary class consciousness, far from preceding action so as to direct it towards a precise aim, is above all the process of transforming society; a living process which, as a product of the development and exacerbation of the contradictions of the decadent capitalist mode of production, forces a social class to realize the essence of its existence through a practical and theoretical (and thus cons­cious) negation of its conditions of life. The history of this process includes the his­tory of proletarian struggle, and that of the revolutionary minorities which have ari­sen as an integral part of this struggle.

http://en.internationalism.org/node/2559

 

Fred
[quote/ICC]The recognition by

[quote/ICC]The recognition by communists that they are a product of the subterranean maturation of cons ciousness in no way implies a passive attitude to their tasks, an underestimation of their indispensable role. On the contrary, to recognize that only the communists, in the ‘normal' course of capitalist society, are explicitly aware of the underlying processes going on inside the class, can only increase the urgency of applying all the necessary organization and determination to the work of transforming this minority into a majority. As we have already stressed, there is no automatic link between the historic being of the class and its consciousness of that being. If this transformation from minority to majority does not take place, if the consciousness of the class does not become class consciousness in the fullest sense of the term, the proletariat will be unable to carry out its historical mission, and all humanity will suffer the consequences.

On the other hand, a rejection of the notion of subterranean maturation leads in practice to an inability to be "in advance of the logic of events", to provide the working class with a perspective for its struggles. [\quote]

from "Reply to CWO about Subterraneam Maturation of Consciousness"

jk1921
Agency?

[quote=Alf]

 Now, as a number of posts have pointed out, the 'newer' sectors of the class, employed, precarious, or unemployed, have also shown that they are able to struggle. But they also have to link up with traditions of associated labour and common struggle which have in some sense been driven underground. This is one of the reasons why the Occupy and Indignant movements were so vulnerable to the ideology of 'citizenship' and democracy, even when they were actually rediscovering proletarian traditions of organising and debating.   

 

Of course they can struggle. Many different social groups can struggle. Slaves struggled valiantly for their freedom, but it wasn't their struggles that ended slavery. Similary, peasant revolts are a constant refrain of history, but they always eventually lose. The questions about the precarious, unemployed, etc. is do their struggles reflect a potential for communist agency or is this only a function of the massive concentrations of workers at the point of production? I think alf implicitly poses the question of why did the Indignadoes and Occupy protesters fail to link up with the traditions of associated labour? Was it becuase they were ideologically fooled by democratic ideas or was there a more structural sociological reason? Doesn't ideology need a structural or material base before it can work? You can't fool the working class by telling them the world is flat. The ideology has to "make sense" on some level or it won't work.

mhou
I've been reading Nihilist

I've been reading Nihilist Communism lately (in addition to Althusser's essays in 'Reading Capital'), I think they are both excellent tools to reflect on or analyze long held or 'important' ideas.

In it, the M.Dupont duo contrast the 'essential' or 'core' proletariat, to the rest of the working-class. In their estimation, only those workers employed in productive environments (factory workers, agri-business, assembly plants, public sector and private sector jobs in rail/transportation and communications, etc.) have the agency to shut down capitalism in the event of a deep crisis or events spiralling toward these workers taking hold of the productive apparatus (to be followed by the process of widescale expropriation and creating socialism). I understand their argument, but do not agree with it entirely. The mass (and constantly expanding) service sector employed proletariat are the last stop in the productive-distributive chain: they oversee the transfer of commodities into currency which then becomes new capital. In the 30 years of neo-liberalism and centralized globalization (free trade agreements, multinationals, etc) and the introduction of the 'just-in-time' capital process, a lot of emphasis has shifted from production workers in the West to distribution workers in the West (another growing, mass concentration of workers in the central countries). A number of people on Libcom are proponents of the distribution workers (port truckers, longshoremen, warehouse workers) being a kind of new 'core' proletariat; that's an overgeneralization of what they are actually proposing, but it gets to the idea that the Dupont's wrote about: there are parts ofthe working-class that can damage international capital more than others. However, I think we shouldn't discount the workers who are engaged the service sector from having agency. Similarly, I'd argue that workers involved in the substinence and reproduction of wage labor (education, healthcare, public sector workers) are still vital- the means for either group of workers to 'take hold of the machinery of capital' is different from that of production oriented factory workers, but at this point it seems that a big enough wrench in the production, distribution, transfer of commodities into currency/new capital, and the reproduction of labor can start or ignite a chain of events which leads to other sectors (such as distribution and production workers) to do the same. The unemployed fall under a similar category it would seem- they are not at the levers of production directly, but in historical instances, an organized and agitated 'reserve army of labor' can and has joined with struggling employed workers en masse (such as Muste's groups during the Minneapolis and Toledo 1934 strikes). I don't think the agency of the working-class has changed due to changes in the central countries (and export of the massified, centralized hubs of the proletariat to the periphery).

It seems that the 'subterranean maturation of consciousness' theory is challanged in Nihilist Communism- I think this is what they trying to critique anyway:

"There is an idea in the pro-revolutionary milieu that as well as the reality of experienced capitalism there is a reality in idea form and expressed in anti-capitalist actions (mostly unconsciously) as a movement for communism and made up of various political movements that exist inthe present and have existed in the past. Many pro-revolutionaries think that all of these add up to a generality that is taking shape in the shadows and will carry on growing until it is so powerful it will be able to overthrow capitalism and establish itself as communism. There is an immediate problem, of course, with this, most of the movements participating in the movement towards communism don't know they're participating, it is not an explicit project of theirs but has been interpreted by pro-revolutionaries who insist that communism is implied within capitalism itself (these movements being the objective expression of that). We think this is too complicated, too theological and too dishonest to be a realistic description of reality. Communism exists nowhere in the world at present and nor will it until after the collapse of capitalism and the reorganization of the material base of existence."

-p.159

Sounds like some of these points were brought up with the IP and CWO.

Alf
nihilists...one more effort

So, for the nihilists, what you see is what you get? If that's the case, shouldn't they be called empiricists? Not that I can claim to understand what their point is. 

Alf
going underground?

 

A while back jk wrote:

"This of course raises the entire issue of "subterrean maturation of consciousness." The entire concept probably sounds very murky to people, almost ethereal, mystical even. I think the point is well taken that if we are going to claim to have some kind of scientific approach to these questions then we need to start paying attention to these objections. How do we measure the subterrean maturation of consciousness? if we can't measure it, how do we know it exists? These are very basic questions of the philosophy of science. From the Popperian perspective (if one accepts it, and I am not saying one should) it all starts to look rather "unfalsifiable." The working class is revolutionary, because it has to be, because the alternative in unacceptable--kind of like how religious people say God has to exist because a world without divine meaning is unthinkable".

I think someone mentioned Freud earlier on, but I couldn't track down the post. However, as we argued in the article on the subterranean maturation of consciousness which we publsihed in 1985, in International Review 43: not only in the emergence of proletarian consciousness, but in all humanity's mental life, there is a dialectic between the unconscious and the conscious, an inevitable process of  'subterranean maturation' . Freud provided all kinds of evidence for unconscious mental processes, but partly because they cannot be measured very easily, his conceptions have also been rejected as etherical and mystical by the dominant mechanical psychology. 

 

The article in IR 43, was a polemic with the CWO, who we felt had during that period regressed back to the 'Leninist'  (or rather Kautskyist) view of consciousness needing to be brought in from 'outside' the proletariat. The debate inside the ICC that gave rise to the developent of this notion of subterranean maturation had initially been directed against a councilist tendency in our own organisation, a tendency to reduce class consciousness to its immediate and visible manifestations in the open struggles of the class. But for us it was also significant that our notion of subterranean maturation was also criticised from the 'Leninist' standpoint (which I actually think the CWO has to a large extent gone beyond since that time). For us both the councilist view and the substitutionist one saw class consciousness as an immediate and mechanical product of workers' struggles, rather than as a historic process which includes, among many other things, the activity of revolutionary minorities. The differenece was that the substitutionists see the limits of these immediate struggles and this immediate consciousness and want to 'inject' the movement with the objective scientific world view elaborated in the University of Elsewhere. Anyway, this passage is perhaps the most relevant:

 

From the unconscious to the conscious

In RP 21, the CWO cites, as evidence of Rosa Luxemburg's ‘tailism', her statement inOrganizational Question of Russian Social Democracy that "The unconscious comes before the conscious. The logic of the historical process comes before the subjective logic of the human beings who participate in the historical process." And they then proceed to wag their finger at poor Rosa: "But for the party this cannot be so. It must be in advance of the logic of events ..."

But the CWO is ‘unconscious' of what Luxemburg is getting at here. The above passage is simply a restatement of the basic marxist postulate that being determines consciousness, and thus of the fact that, in the prehistory of our species, when man is dominated by natural and social forces outside of his control, conscious activity tends to be subordinated to unconscious motives and processes. But this reality does not invalidate the equally basic marxist postulate that what distinguishes mankind from the rest of the animal kingdom is precisely its capacity to see ahead, to be consciously in advance of its concrete action. And one of the consequences of this seeming paradox is that hitherto all thought, not excluding the most rigorously scientific mental labor, has been compelled to pass through phases of unconscious and then semi-conscious maturation, to sink underground prior to rising up towards the bright sun of the future.

We cannot elaborate on this further here. But suffice it to say that in the proletariat this paradox is pushed to its extreme limit: on the one hand, it is the most suppressed, dominated, and alienated of all exploited classes, taking onto its shoulders the burdens and sufferings of all humanity; on the other hand, it is the ‘class of consciousness', the class whose historical mission is to liberate human consciousness from subordination to the unconscious, and thus truly realize the human capacity to foresee and shape its own destiny. Even more than for previous historical classes, the movement whereby this most enslaved of classes becomes the vanguard of humanity's consciousness must, to a considerable extent, be an underground or "semi-concealed" movement.

http://en.internationalism.org/node/3149

 

mhou
A lot of the points brought

A lot of the points brought up in 'Nihilist Communism' are, to me anyway, a critique of contemporary anarchism and the communist milieu and a critique of 'consciousness building' (the biggest thrust of the book is a critique of activism of any sort by pro-revolutionary minorities; they mention the points that are similar to the quoted IR article Alf posted above this post-  ideology and activism are detrimental to the revolutionary agency of the proletariat in non-revolutionary periods, the time for pro-revolutionaries to intervene is during a pre-revolutionary crisis, the working-classes prejudices and religious beliefs etc do not change their subjective agency, capitalism is an all encompassing system, class consciousness is not 'injected into the proletariat' by the 'outside' revolutionary minority  etc.). It's almost like a cauldron with bits of left communism, class struggle anarchism, Situationist and Structuralist Marxism in it.

Class consciousness would suggest the 'anti' or 'non' ideological subjective actions of the working-class that was discussed earlier. I think the writings on the relationship of party to fraction, and the activity of the fraction before the formation of a new class party, are instructive. Keep alive the traditions and lessons of the revolutionary communist minority, nurture discussion and debate in both theory and analysis of changes in conditions and maintain (while continuing to organically grow and develop as times and events chang) continuity until the time of the next revolutionary crisis and the formation of the next party (without becoming solely inward looking and dogmatic a la PCI). The text does criticize harshly the portions of the revolutionary milieu that engage in 'consciousness building'- everything from recruitment strategies ('the bigger the group the more class conscious the workers must be'- or just 'build the party' for the sake of 'building the party'- a practice criticized in the "Direct Unionism" discussion paper in the IWW) to popular front esque activity (joining anti-war demonstrations with Islamists and the SWP in the UK for example).

Personally I think the subterranean maturation of conscious is demonstrated to be a 'real' phenomenon, leading to breaks with the traditional opposition mechanisms within capitalism and open class conflict (not just Poland in the early 80's but more recently China).

The main question I have regarding the issue is how the revolutionary minority fits into different definitions of class consciousness- be it interventions during open struggles or simple propaganda efforts. I'd think the view is to create space for revolutionary ideas (discussion and debate) for a wider audience and possibly gain new militants to the communist minority. Is there a view in any branch of the contemporary left communist 'orbit' that sees pro-revolutionary propaganda or intervention or 'agitation' as means to 'build class consciousness' of the variety that can evolve into whats needed for or during a crisis of capitalism?

The quote Fred posted from the Reply To The CWO makes me wonder a bit- if the working class, created by and necessary to capitalism, in its place at the levers of the economy, is moved to take over the means of production (such as through a deep, systemic crisis) through a chain of events that has happened in the past, is it because the communist minority has organized, propagandized, etc. the majority to the point where the communist minority grows to become a communist majority for this to happen, or is it once the 'unconscious' or 'subterranean consciousness' compels workers to do things they wouldn't normally do (such as hospital workers continuing to work and organize themselves even though the economy is utterly disrupted; or agribusiness workers continuing to harvest even though the boss is gone) that the communist minority is in a position to act to make it a communist majority and carry out socialist revolution?

Haven't double checked this post or the last one; I'm a bit rushed, I do apologize if some things don't make a lot of sense.

Fred
[quote=Internationalism]Even

[quote=Internationalism]Even more than for previous historical classes, the movement whereby this most enslaved of classes becomes the vanguard of humanity's consciousness must, to a considerable extent, be an underground or "semi-concealed" movement.[\quote]

It is, presumably, an underground and semi-concealed movement for mostly political reasons. But can we argue from this that the maturation of working class consciousness must also be underground and semi-concealed and thus beyond any sort of scientific proof? We just know "intuitively" that it's going on, and that's enough? Or can we take the change from mere ideology (false consciousness) to a fully human consciousness as just a natural process of human evolution with no need at all for revolutionary intervention?

Jtflint
The Wage as Slavery

I would add a fifth major difficulty and that is the working class does not see the wage as slavery.  It seems decades away before the light goes on in the conscious of the proletariat that the wage IS the problem.

jk1921
Descartes

Jtflint wrote:

I would add a fifth major difficulty and that is the working class does not see the wage as slavery.  It seems decades away before the light goes on in the conscious of the proletariat that the wage IS the problem.

 

This is the power of capital--its ability to obscure the exploitation that occurs in the wage relationship, to make it seem like there is a "fair and equal" exchange taking place (kinda' like how Fox News is supposed to be "fair and balanced"). But, I think the second part of your post is really important. How can we tell that it will be decades before the light goes on for the proletariat? What is our metric for that?

I think in one of Alf's posts above, he suggests that the mere existence of revolutionary minorities (i.e. the fact that we are discussing this stuff on this forum) is itself a type of evidence that some subterreanean processes are at work. So, is this what it boils down to? A kind of Cartesian exercise, "WE exist, therefore the proletariat must be capable of revolutionary consciousness."?

 

KT
Going Underground

 

The subterranean maturation of consciousness – Marx’s “old mole. Without it explain the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war (1914-1917). Explain May ’68, the ‘hot autumn of ’69, etc, etc, without this concept of the class struggle “now hidden, now out in the open” (Communist Manifesto). There was little “on the surface” to suggest such stunning developments. Who knew? Who predicted? Only a tiny minority did.

 

But it’s all different now? “Restructuring” (ICT); sociological ch ch ch changes’ (D Bowie) must be taken into account? Most certainly. They are a material reality. My personal favourite is the Davignon plan – the mid-late 1970s Euro-wide, consciously coordinated attempt to deal with world overproduction of steel and an ‘enabler’ of the shift of ‘dirty’ production to “cheaper” areas (ie India and China). It is, as JK says, one aspect of the ‘geo-spatial’ change which must be integrated into our analyses. They don’t do ‘big steel’ in the cradle of the industrial revolution anymore. Just look at the current Mittal row in France.

 

But when we ‘historical materialists’ or ‘scientific socialists’ examine reality, when we search for a ‘measure’ of what’s going on, we’ll do it on a global, historical level, right? There may (or may not) be shifts in the historical weight given to this or that geographical area; to this or that industry, but we look at the working class in its historical and geographical totality, no? So if ‘negative’ stuff happens in the US or UK, we also know that there’s a corresponding development of value production in Vietnam, Indonesia, India and China, etc. Surplus value is surplus value...

 

In the UK, junior partner to the US, where the proletariat was ‘broken-up’ and ‘privatised’ from the mid-70s onwards, as much for political as for economic reasons (interesting, in itself), it’s still the case that ‘some class’ drives the trains, builds the roads, mans the airports, delivers the goods, as Mhou says earlier. The biggest employer in Europe is the British National Health Service, and the majority of its employees are proletarians. London Heathrow Airport employs, directly or indirectly, 170,000 (mainly) proletarians, however they may conceive of themselves. Class identity and consciousness, as much as ‘sociological reality’, is still the issue here. It’s the same in N America, no?

 

So, just as in the final analysis, we don’t split the historic, world proletariat into geographic regions (even if we acknowledge the historicity of ‘old Europe’ and the centrality of ‘new’ Asia) should we really ask if the struggles of the unemployed “reflect a potential for communist agency or is this only a function of the massive concentrations of workers at the point of production?” (JK). True, on their own, seen in themselves, the struggles of any one faction of the proletariat don’t amount to much. But is that our method?

 

The search to ‘scientifically’ measure ‘where the class is at’, to determine whether the rot of decomposition has irretrievably altered what the ICC used to call the historic course towards class confrontations, will no doubt continue. I don’t pretend to know whether we’ve reached this particular ‘tipping point’ though I see no definitive evidence that we have: basic classes and class relations remain. But in this search for ‘scientific’ certainty, ‘Give us a sign Oh Lord’ won’t do any more than ‘blind faith’ in the proletariat’s mission. We’re dealing with a social laboratory here, not a scientific experiment.

 

Which does not mean that the anti-proletarian Karl Popper’s approach (as opposed to his conclusions) is totally unreasonable. If the world were made up of something other than matter in motion — if that could be shown—then Marxism in its fundamentals, would be falsified, proven wrong. Or, if it could be shown that, yes, all reality consists of matter, but that some forms of matter do not change, do not have internal contradiction and motion and development — that too would be a fundamental refutation of dialectical materialism. But none of that has been shown.

 

Another “core element” of Marxism concerns the foundation of social life in the struggle of people to produce and reproduce the material requirements of life, and the fact that in carrying out this most fundamental activity people enter into definite production relations, which are independent of their will. That is falsifiable, as is the Marxist analysis of the underlying dynamics of change in society, rooted in the contradictory relation between the productive forces and the production relations, and the economic base and the superstructure. That is also falsifiable—but it has not been falsified. It is true—the examination of human society in a scientific way bears out the truth that Marx honed in that analysis.

 

There is the Marxist analysis of the basic contradictions and the driving forces and dynamics of the capitalist system in particular, including the pivotal element of the production of surplus value through the exploitation of wage-labor by capital. All that is falsifiable—but it hasn’t been falsified—it is true, it corresponds to reality. As is the Marxist position on the state, etc, etc.

 

Even if the ‘secondary question’ of “subterranean maturation” is labelled as “unfalsifiable”, it would not for me undermine marxism’s basically scientific approach.

 

jk1921
I think part of the

I think part of the difficulty people have with the subterrean maturation of consciousness idea is summed up in Luxemburg's famous dictum (paraphrase) that the workers movement advances not through a serious of victories, but through defeats. Another dictum says that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. How do we measure progress if anything short of the revolution always ends in defeat? At the very least, we need to be able to specify some of the conditions under which our assertions might be wrong. What evidence would show that the historic course is no longer open towards greater class confrontation? If things develop subterreaneanly, i.e. we can't really measure it through any accepted social scientific method, then how do we know what is really going on?

 

mikail firtinaci
great debate

I could just find time to follow this interesting debate. On nihilistic communism: I think the questions are very interesting and complex.In one sense the seperation of subjective from the objective is meaningless. The subjective will for radical action is a very strong material force that brought down the Russian autocracy in 1917.

If we take the case of LCs of 1920s and especially Pannekoek: he thought that the masses were not yet ready for a revolution in the west (subjectively) and a long time of preparation of working class' spirit was necessary. Of course this meant that while objectively the conditions are there subjectivity was missing. We know that trotsky was also similar but different all the same. I think ICC also has a similar outlook. And maybe that is why they are focusing a lot on the subjective elements and things like decomposition in their analysis.

So what will you do if the conditions are ripe but the subjective will or spirit is lacking? Pannekoek and like minded revolutionaries at the time argued that the tactics were needed to be changed in such a way that the organised intervention of the communists would force further antagonism between workers and the state. Kautsky in 1910s on wanted a defensive posturing according to which, the workers were supposed to reactively respond the capitalists' increasing attacks as the crisis would deepen.

So while Pannekoek argued for an aggressive strategy from 1910s on Kautsky and the most of the Second International held a defensive posture. That is why in the unique historical moment of 1915-16 Bolshevik idea of forcing a civil war and Pannekoekian tactical radicalism fused and created the zimmerwald left.

Anyway today the LCs are defensive in practice but radical in strategy. The very idea of fraction as the italian left developed it, rested on the idea that it was not the time for radical action but to wait. In 1930s conditions this may have been correct when the counter revolution was raging. However, today why investing huge energies on organizing a strict narrow and small cadre and waiting for open revolutionary conflicts?

The complete negation of this is the Trotskist alternative which is aggressive in practice but not critical at all in theory and strategy. But can there be a third way; that is what I am constantly asking myself.

The realization that the society is in a very critical historical juncture and if a radical break from the existing order of things would not come the fate of humanity is very grim is not clearer in any segment of the left then the left communists. Still ironically the rest of the left -even if it is bogged down in a futile activism- is more practically oriented than all the groups of the LCs combined. If the bourgeouise is weak and in disarray why not employ radical militant tactics in practice? Why not try to organize ourselves in such actions on class ground that would radicalize the workers? If we phrase the situation in military terms, if your enemy is in retreat it is pointless trying to hold your line. You need to attack. But I think this is a general problem among the working class. The WC itself is unable to attack and is trying to hold on to its defense line while it is absolutely unnecessary since the enemy lost all its ammunition and in a position of frenzied retreat. I think role of communists in this specific historical juncture is something like this:

The revolution demands that the great questions of social construction be taken in hand, that difficult decisions shall be made, that the entire proletariat be roused to one creative impulse; and this is only possible if first the advance guard, and then an ever greater mass takes things in hand – a mass that is conscious of its responsibilities, that searches, propagates, fights, strives, reflects, considers, dares, and carries out. All this is, however, hard work: so as long as the proletariat thinks there is an easier way, letting others act for it by carrying out agitation from a high platform, by taking decisions, by giving signals for action, by making laws, it will hesitate, and the old ways of thinking and the old weaknesses will keep them pacified.

We only get at the workers through our meetings, brochures and newspapers. We, however (I often speak in the name of the KAPD), get at them especially through action (in the time of the revolution of which we speak) In all bigger towns and villages they see us act. They see our strikes, our street fights our councils. They hear our watchwords. They see our lead. This is the best propaganda, the most convincing.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/gorter/1920/open-letter/ch03.htm

 

lem_
why is it that anarchists

why is it that anarchists seem to find it so much easier to struggle?

 

 

NRT :-) !!

soyonstout
Different 'sociological' problem

Wow--this thread is really, really good!  Thanks to all the comrades for raising a lot of the questions that have been in my mind since the end of the Arab Spring / Indignados / Occupy waves of struggle by sectors of the working class that don't have access to the experience of the wildcat waves of 1968-1973, or the subsequent strikes of the 70s and 80s!  If I can maybe add some thoughts, I'd like to say that moreso than the dispersion of the working class geographically, I think the a maybe equally important factor is the extent to which the working class has, throughout the history of capitalism, lost its independent institutions and its independent traditions. 

The ICC's analysis of decadence points out the inability of the working class in the era of state capitalism to maintain large organizations that it controls independently of the state outside of a period of mass-strike or a dual power situation.  But even without these organizations, there is the problem of the direct experience of each worker, most of whom today have never been involved in a succesful (in the defensive sense of the word) strike or direct action movement, many of whom don't have immediate relatives with this experience either.  We could make the argument that this situation is the same for workers in China and Bangladesh, but with this difference--those workers have relatives who were born in the countryside living without a direct engagement with wage labor, without legalized trade unions, social security, health and safety laws, etc. 

The question of dependency is a big one, as many (council communists in particular) locate the ideological power of leftism and reformism in the massive state-intervention in both the economy and the labor movement before and after the second world war as one of the reasons for the "death" of what they call the "old workers movement."  Without accepting that rather drastic thesis of discontinuity between social democracy and revolution, I think a case can be made that the state, the media, the courts, the unions, and the leftists all encourage a kind of dependency in the working class where its struggles are taken away from the exploited/exploiter terrain and onto the patron/client terrian of negotiating their means of subsistence either through the phone-trees of social services bureaucracies or credit card companies. 

Reading through EP Thompson's "The Making of the English Working Class" right now, I'm struck by the extent to which the historical self-determined working class made a great many demands that weren't really quantifiable in terms of price (let alone demands to be more stably reproduced as proletarians within a declining global capitalist economy).  Common demands were focused on free time, access to definite ammounts of bread, small plots of land in which to garden, the maintenance of pre-capitalist family economies, bread, etc.  A common complaint against the new factory system was that it reduced the worker to a status of dependency, and I think the working class was "onto something" with this.  It seems to me that in some senses (with some exceptions), the fewer independent traditions and lifeways the working class has that aren't formulated by capitalism, the greater the leap of imagination will be to formulate and insist on demands that don't get repackaged in the logic of decadent capitalism and turned against the workers, who, through years of living under state capitalism and its ideology may, in periods of high unemployment anyway, may stick to the legal methods of strike action pretty closely until they are so exhausted they are ready to accept the distorted version of their demands which is often actually a net loss for them.

The instance that goes against this narrative of more-time-in-more-specifically-capitalist-institutions = less-ability-to-independently-struggle, is of course the strike wave of 1968-1973 (or later), which did have the advantage of a much lower (but growing) rate of unemployment than existed in the depression or since the end of the 1970s.  I realize that none of this is very prescriptive and is maybe just engaging in vague generalizations, but it seems to me that for right now, to many workers that have grown up without a tradition of successful struggle, being exploited still has enough advantages over unemployment that obedience to capitalist discipline is the norm.  Workers are willing to protest and demonstrate but largely not ready to strike without the support and direction of some larger institution which has reconciled itself with the capitalist order.  As the crisis deepens, the states that are having the most trouble paying interest on their debts may take measures to further equalize the condition of the employed and the unemployed and "permanent" and "precarious" workers, which I think the ICC rightly recognizes will force some kind of creative action on the part of the working class to deal with this reality.  I do, however, also think that the gap in widespread struggle, at least in the US and to some extent in the major industries in the industrialized "central countries" of capitalism, will make the recovery of these traditions of struggle more difficult as many workers will may begin trying to deal with the crisis by leaning on institutions their grandparents had formerly learned to go beyond. 

Sorry this is so long and matter-of-fact.  I hope something can be made of this question of independent working class traditions and historical experience of successful struggle and I appreciate very much the conversation thus far!

In Solidarity,

Soyons Tout

mhou
We're likely to see

We're likely to see longshoremen on both coasts walking picket lines in the next 72 hours- in the past 2 years we've seen intense action on the West Coast (such as the Occupy solidarity actions and the 3 port shutdowns) and the battle at Longview agaisnt EGT; on the East Coast, there was the 2 day wildcat in NY, NJ, PA and MD- in both Longview and New Jersey, it was a fight between workers, the companies and competing unions. On the West coast, a contractor hired unionized IUOE members to work at the Longview port, in the East Coast 2 locals, one Teamster one Machinist, created the 'Independent Dockworker's Union Local 1' to compete against the ILA monopoly. In this latest round of struggle that we're on the eve of seeing break out, the grain monopolies are likely to lock-out the ILWU to force a concessionary contract on them, while on the East Coast the USMX (amalgamation of shipping, trucking, container, manufacturing companies) is refusing the ILA offer to extend the current contract to February 2013; setting up the longshoremen for a strike- to do the same thing as on the West Coast, force a concessionary contract.

The unions are openly pitting themselves against the workers, while these same workers are under attack by the employers. The wildcat actions on both coasts and the 'outside' solidarity actions/unconventional tactics show that the unions do not have a complete stranglehold on their members- neither do any of the numerous leftist groups that try to penetrate the union administrations. It's difficult to imagine squaring that circle of telling your members to support and offer solidarity to fellow AFL-CIO members (Machinists) at Lockheed when a year and a half prior those same Machinists members were 'scabs' for organizing in ILA territory. Same with the IUOE and ILWU out West- state AFL-CIO branches are much smaller and tightly knit on the local level. Agitating against the unions from the left should be easier in the raid heavy, jurisdictional feuding environment of the present.

These struggles seem qualitatively different from the defensive actions in the 70's and 80's. There's also the fatalism that shows itself- willing to struggle even if they may lose their jobs (such as the Hostess workers, the Wal-Mart and fast food workers) or at least face intense intimidation and retaliation. A lot of people seem convinced they're going to end up unemployed (again) sooner or later, so they may as well strike now. Verizon workers are showing a similar reluctance to continue stomaching concessions- the left-liberal press shows that many locals are having trouble containing the anger about the newest contract (which took 2 years after the expiration of the last contract, and a union sponsored failed strike to reach)- a lot of CWA locals want to strike again.

Against this backdrop, the 'handicap' of being generationally removed from the mass struggles and uprisings of the 1960's and 70's doesn't appear to be weighing as heavily. This includes industries which never had a very strike/confrontation ridden history (like food service and retail).

Since it's likely that the dockworkers and port workers will be out soon, does anyone have plans to go to the picket lines?

Fred
Quote:These struggles seem

Quote:
These struggles seem qualitatively different from the defensive actions in the 70's and 80's. There's also the fatalism that shows itself- willing to struggle even if they may lose their jobs (such as the Hostess workers, the Wal-Mart and fast food workers) or at least face intense intimidation and retaliation. A lot of people seem convinced they're going to end up unemployed (again) sooner or later, so they may as well strike now. Verizon workers are showing a similar reluctance to continue stomaching concessions- the left-liberal press shows that many locals are having trouble containing the anger about the newest contract (which took 2 years after the expiration of the last contract, and a union sponsored failed strike to reach)- a lot of CWA locals want to strike again.

Thanks for this mhou. Maybe it's not so much "FATALISM" that we see here, as a REACTION to "intimidation and retaliation", a REFUSAL to "stomach concessions", a PROBLEM "containing anger" and a REALIZATION - albeit not explicitly expressed - that the crisis is here to stay with unpleasant consequences for everyone ie any of us could end up unemployed. None of these justifiable responses have the aura and passivity of fatalism about them, but suggest a maturing consciousness do they not?

Perhaps this goes someway to answer Soyons Tout's post?

petey
pickets

mhou wrote:

Since it's likely that the dockworkers and port workers will be out soon, does anyone have plans to go to the picket lines?

the ILA site says they'd be walking sunday. perhaps they'll list the sites of pickets if they do go out.

soyonstout
Lots of great comments here

The dockers' strike could be quite interesting, especially considering the 2-day wildcat we wrote about a couple years ago that spread up from Philly to NYC and got a state court injunction all in a single day (if I remember correctly).  I also recall that here in the US there was talk of a railroad strike around the same year that Obama enacted national security powers to quash.  To the extent that these sectors of the working class (who are significantly smaller in number than they used to be) are contemplating confrontation, I think the experience of the Occupy Oakland attempts to bring the rest of the class TO the dockers were perhaps some of the most constructive actions taken by the US working class in a while.  In my previous post I may have sounded a little pessimistic for the immediate future, but I hope I spoke too soon.  If the rest of the US working class is able to see a successful defensive struggle in a sector as crucial shipping, which will necessarily be at least partly illegal if it happens at all, it would be a great boost morally.  In many ways I think the absence of something like that in recent memory for many of the Occupy milieu at least partly explains their hesitence to seek out the working class last year, with only a few exceptions in cities with rather strong revolutionary and working class traditions (as far as I know Oakland had two general strikes in the 20th Century, which is quite a lot for a US city).  Another complicating factor for them is that Occupy had a rather large preponderance of first-generation self-described proletarians drawn from the middle classes, which accounted for its mixed ideology in some respects, but still, in terms of revolutionary prospects, the disillusionment of sectors who formerly ssaw themselves as 'privileged' with regard to the rest of the class can only be a good thing.

Saying all that though, when it comes to the "subterranean maturation of consciousness," what Fred said does seem in some ways to be true, that workers are increasingly dissatisfied, etc., but it's not clear to me that conscious reflection occurs very much over the long gaps between struggles (especially in an election year) but rather that previous examples are remembered and drawn from when new struggles arise but for the majority this is not a preoccupation except during and immediately before and after struggle.  Which is, I think, and important proviso to mikhail's idea about action.  To my mind, the ICC's orientation seems to be mostly geared toward finding people to discuss the problems of revolution with, getting them in contact, thinking, debating, etc., and "intervening" in important struggles both for the purpose of furthering this contact and discussion AND for preparing themselves to be able intervene in more struggles, more resolutely, if and when the struggles magnify.  The KAPD's activity in 1920 was all taking place against a backdrop of a mutiny-ended-world-war, failed uprising, massive mining strikes, fascist coups stopped by armed workers, trade unions looking the other way as the state imprisoned their members all while a relatively healthy organization for international revolution was holding annual conferences.  Due to the lack of events like these occuring with much frequency, it makes sense to me for the ICC to be oriented as it is--not to risk its members' imprisonment or unemployability at every strike with the hopes that it spreads internationally until it really seems like strikes are tending to do that. 

It's been a while since I read the "communist organizations and class consciousness" pamphlet so I don't remember the nuances of the difference between the "nihilist communist" and the ICC pamphlet (a year ago I remember arguing pretty strongly that the former was a semi-apocalyptic waiting-game and defending the ICC approach against charges that their activity resembled what is pejoratively called "activism" in the ultra-left/left-communist milieu), but it may be a mistake to think that communists are able, through propaganda about the futility of legal action through the unions, to convince the working class to take the first steps beyond them.  It may be, rather, that the working class must get to a point where it is ready to struggle with or without the union and at that point the role of the communists is to argue against relinquishing control to the unions, to discuss the strengths gained by taking action through mass meetings and spreading the strike with delegations to other workplaces.  Is it possible that a good deal of the frustration and doubt communists can experience is from an overestimation of their own ability to convince people to fight the ruling class (rather than convince those already fighting the ruling class how best to do it)?  This is I think similar to what Internationalism was discussing around the time of the Verizon strike (and I hope not to seem perpetually preoccupied with this), and I think I remember the debate concluding that it was highly unlikely that Internationalism would be able to transform a union-led strike over something as vague as "bargaining in bad faith" into an ever-spreading wildcat for class demands run by revocable action committees, but what we could do was point out the nature of the fight (related to insolvent global capitalism, not individual greed or union-busting), and who was really on which side.  I know my points about that were understood differently by other comrades but that's sort of the way I saw it, and I think it's related somewhat.

-Soyons Tout

jk1921
The last I heard, the dockers

The last I heard, the dockers strike has been averted by a one-month contract extension, although that news is already a few days old, so there may have been further developments.

I think there are several different, but related questions in this thread. First, there is a questioning of the sociological basis of the working class today, the relationship of sociology to consciousness and ideology and the role played in all this by decomposition.

Second, there is a more specific question of what communists/revolutionaries are themselves capable of today. There are both very basic questions that is necessary to discuss and develop. I think the second question has gotten much more play in the milieu over the last five years or so, but it may be that it only begs the deeper question of the changing sociological nature of the working class, i.e. the relationship between the proletariat as object of captial and the self-conscious class for-itself. How does one transform into the other, etc. If the proletariat can be sociological (as opposed to ideologically) manipulated buy the ruling class, what does that mean for the possibility of a communist transcendence of captialism?

mhou
You're right about the ILA;

You're right about the ILA; this presents a problem for the workers. USMX is showing their hand; they're not sufficiently prepared for a strike at the moment, or they don't want to disrupt commerce leading to federal binding arbitration forcing them to keep the container royalty fund in operation for another 2, 4 or 5 year contract. They'll likely bargain in 'bad faith' like Verizon, forcing the ILA into a strike between now and the new deadline, after sufficient wearing down they'll present an offer that guts the container royalty fund but contains some medicore gains in health care or pensions and presented as a victory.

The argument in Nihcom about class consciousness is summed up in one sentence in the book:

"All political consciousness is bourgeois"

The model they present is one of evangelism, noted in the class-struggle anarchist milieu in the UK, that anarchist-communists proselytize and make 'new believers' until there's a majority. But this model isn't the one advocated by communists- Bordiga's writings in the early '20s describe the 'party of a new type', that even in a pre-revolutionary situation, only a minority of the working-class will have socialist consciousness. Communists are a minority and will be a minority even leading up to a revolutionary crisis- at which time we carry out the historic role assigned to communists in fighting against recuperation, against the false prophets, for a communist society with the Party as the vehicle for communists to carry out these tasks.

The problem, it seems, is that a lot of tasks are delegated to the future party, we are not supposed to act in certain ways without the party. The question of the party and its formation seems pertinent to  any discussion about intervention these days.

 

mikail firtinaci
KAPD and thinking practically

mhou wrote:

The problem, it seems, is that a lot of tasks are delegated to the future party, we are not supposed to act in certain ways without the party. The question of the party and its formation seems pertinent to  any discussion about intervention these days.

I agree with that. Even though KAPD considered itself to be in a revolutionary period, Pannekoek for instance thought that a long process of preparation was necessary for the revolution in the west.

And I think this preparation required a fast and determined work of widespread propaganda plus a solid and practical thinking on the tools and ways to acquire power, a kind of theoretical strategic road map. Hence, his first criticism towards the Comintern in 1920 was that its tactics were not suitable for the success of revolution in the west. So his was not mainly an abstract theoretical objection to Lenin but a practical immediate concern about the actual power question.

Even though we are not in an openly revolutionary period the situation is similar to German context in one respect: we are marginalized but still revolution is on the general historical agenda. And I think one aspect of practical work is theoretically thinking about how to succeed in a revolution or any mass struggle or even a single strike. Thinking practically about steps leading to revolution. And then implying and testing this in every struggle the immediate practical possible gains but also obviously keeping the seizure of power (of the workers' councils) in mind.

However, in the wider Left Communist milleu we don't see such a practical approach to class struggle. The approach is more like waiting for working class to become mature rather than actively involving in this process with a militant attitude. So in extreme cases some left communists like Gilles Dauve or Theorie Communiste in france left altogether the idea of a proletarian dictatorship and becam somehow occupied with this communization theory - as if communization of society is possible w/o a total revolution and political acquisiton of the power by the workers. On the other end of the spectrum there are insurrectionary types, still do not consider the question of power as the working class power but blindly target anything in a fictional querilla struggle mentality. A patient BUT practical and focused perspective is lacking. And unfortunately there may not be enought time even, to develop this perspective and attitude.

Fred
proletarian political power

mikail wrote:
And I think one aspect of practical work is theoretically thinking about how to succeed in a revolution or any mass struggle or even a single strike. Thinking practically about steps leading to revolution.

How to succeed in a revolution is a good question. I'm reading Trotsky's autobiography and am being noticeably struck and perturbed by the emphasis in it on leaders - notably Lenin and Trotsky - and the absence of the class itself except for individual workers who get the author's approval. Now I realize that there are myriads of reasons for the failure of the Russian revolution - and also that Trotsky's History of that could be an improvement on his autobiography, written at a difficult time for him - but the whole underlying assumption of this book seems to be that none of the Bolshevik leaders ever questioned their correctness in taking over the leadership and direction of the revolution, or in relegating the class itself to a subsidiary position. Yes, there was "all power to the soviets" and this was secured for the leadership by getting Bosheviks into a majority wherever possible. But the whole tone of Trotsky's presentation appears to be that the revolution would be okay as long as he and Lenin were in charge. That their proletarian credentials, so to speak, and their commitment to the revolution, were all that were required in the circumstances. In other words that substitutionism was okay. And the trouble here is that they are unaware of what "substitutionism" is. It's really a bourgeois concept is it not, and they accepted it uncritically? They did not in fact respect the power and autonomy of the wider working class, but undermined it by imposing LEADERSHIP and thought it the right thing to do. We shouldn't blame them of course, and we learn from their mistake. But revolutionaries now must never underestimate, disrespect or ignore what the class thinks; or think that they as militants know best - which they may!- but constantly debate and discuss with the class as to what to do next in the furtherance of proletarian consciousness and the dismantling of capitalism. As mikail says, it's all a question of political power. What is it; who has it; and how do we exercise it. Proletarian political power has nothing in common with bourgeois political power. It's a completely new thing and unpracticed fully as yet. It's something we have to make and develop together. That the Bolsheviks made a cock-up of it is not so surprising, and it wasn't really their fault. But times are different now.

jk1921
Pannekoek vs. Gramsci?

mikail firtinaci wrote:

I agree with that. Even though KAPD considered itself to be in a revolutionary period, Pannekoek for instance thought that a long process of preparation was necessary for the revolution in the west.

And I think this preparation required a fast and determined work of widespread propaganda plus a solid and practical thinking on the tools and ways to acquire power, a kind of theoretical strategic road map. Hence, his first criticism towards the Comintern in 1920 was that its tactics were not suitable for the success of revolution in the west. So his was not mainly an abstract theoretical objection to Lenin but a practical immediate concern about the actual power question.

How did Pannekoek's approach differ from Gramsci's then? Is the left communist approach to the problems of the Western European revolution even coherent?

mikail firtinaci wrote:

However, in the wider Left Communist milleu we don't see such a practical approach to class struggle. The approach is more like waiting for working class to become mature rather than actively involving in this process with a militant attitude.

What would this "practical approach" entail, and once again how would this differ from Gramscism, i.e. the need to fight some kind of "counter-hegemonic" "war of position" to prepare the working class for the revolution? It seems on some levels that the left communists and Gramsci were confronting the same problem, but their solutions were radically different--the counter-hegemonic struggle which looks very much like a Leninist developmental theory of class consciousness, consciousness brought to the broader class from the enlightended intellectuals vs. the idea of the subterreanean maturation of consciousness (which you seem to suggest lacks practical engagement). I wonder now if the idea of the subterreanean maturation of consiousness is even compatible with the idea of a revolutionary vaguard or if perhaps councilism is simply the logical conclusion of this approach? Is the insistence on the need for a revolutionary party consistent with the subterreanean maturation of consciousness? If so, what exactly is the organization's role other than that of theoretical development?

 

 

mhou
I've been thinking a lot

I've been thinking a lot about the issues you bring up jk. I find writing helps clarify things. Anyway, I'd agree with Bordiga's conception of the Party; what it is supposed to do. Gramsci's idea was little different from the evangelism of some elements of anarchism and communism- that we have to convert x number of other workers, who in turn convert x number of workers, until there's a critical mass or majority who then 'makes the revolution'- something the old socialists thought was possible in the 19th and early 20th century. Whether from the standpoint of 'hegemony' or 'consciousness raising', it's a matter of making people want the revolution, rather than the structure of capitalism and its inherent contradictions and crises that drive people to do and think things they normally wouldn't- and in those situations, it's necessary for the communist minority to be there to put forward the communist alternative, and fight against recuperation. In the meantime, we have the task of developing 'organic unity' amongst eachother (through debate, discussion, polemic), offer practical assistance through solidarity work, spread propaganda, organize ourselves. That's how I read it anyway.

For varying reasons, groups that are not the party are not capable or willing to carry out tasks they assign to the future party. In Italy, right after the wave of factory occupations/factory councils movement of 1919-1920, the CP of Italy was formed in 1921- even then, Bordiga recognized that the peak of the revolutionary crisis had passed. Even in 1925, Gramsci was polemicizing against 'maximalists' in the CP. For its time, the 3rd Int'l was formed too late. A lot of people bring up post-war Germany as a case of why the party should be formed and developed before such a revolutionary crisis, rather than developed during such a crisis (when it'd be too late). Some texts on this site mention the party as being necessary during a specific moment in the revolutionary crisis- but does that mean that the party can't or shouldn't be formed before that moment? It seems the experience of the Third International is that the kind of organic unity necessary for the party to function properly, become the resevoir of theory and experience, a 'center of gravity' for the militants and pro-revolutionary minority, takes time to develop, even if there dispersed groups that are working on it at the moment of a revolutionary crisis (e.g. Germany, where the Bremen left and Spartakus existed compared to the party in Russia already formed for years as the RSDLP(b)).

If the subterranean maturation of consciousness leads to examples like that of Russia- where the mass and general strikes of the late 19th century, the political struggles against the Tsar, culminated in the 1905 revolution and the first soviets followed in 1917 by immediately re-applying the lessons of the general strikes and first soviets- the party is necessary to push the revolutionary crisis into a transition rather than recuperation by capitalism as happened in Germany. Not as 'outside intellectuals injecting class consciousness' but the minority of pro-revolutionaries within the working-class acting as communists when it counts.

Jtflint
Class confidence

It would seem that if the class conscience  has reached that critical level then yes it would be incredibly difficult/impossible for any leader to impose their will.  From the experiences we've had in labor contract negotiations, even on a miniature scale, it seemes as though a large number of workers can tune out the words of the union hierarchy when specific demands are not met.  It is a powerful experience.  When there is a low level of confidence amongst the workers though, it is easier for the hierarchy to control the demands of the workers.  Even in my own personal experience I questioned whether it was better to take a pay cut or start looking for another job.  I suspect though that a critical point will be reached where eventually the workers will feel they can no longer make these sacrifices and the boiling point will be reached.  In the United States, even though we haven't yet reached that point it feels like we are close.  I'm not sure if from a Marxian point of view if having a "feeling" constitutes reality but we have to be getting close.  I have to tell you though that even with my low level of understanding with Socialist revolution, and this isn't saying much, I am still far more advanced in working class thinking than All the workers I know.  It seems that when I bring up any sort of working class revolution it goes right over Everyone's head.  I do understand though that the class as a whole can learn very fast through struggle.  I suspect instead of me trying to get my peers to understand, that through struggle, they will be helping me to understand at the same time.

 

mikail firtinaci
question of tactics

I don't have much to add to what mhou says. But about the point raised by JK whether if it is some kind of gramscism what I suggest; especially concerning developing and trying in practice tactics for a revolutionary strategy... I don't know much about gramsci. But I can say that war of positions is only one of the tactical approaches we can talk about I don't agree with it if it means taking power gradually conquiring capitalist institutions. This sounds very close to what Kautsky defended in Road to Power -as far as I remember.

As ICC is pointing -and I think correctly- repeatedly, today generally speaking there is the material basis for a succesful revolution. Crisis, lack of a capitalist program for a way out and increasing degeneration of state and bourgeoisie society. However, the subjective factor, a hope for another world is lacking. And it is directly the task of communists to propagate a program for communism as an attainable and practical way out of the existing misery.

And in order to do that succesfully we not only have to be realistic and practical but should be inside every struggle. That way we can develop crucial experience that would develop our class instinct and connect us to the spirit of class. And then we can develop the sense of tactical perception.

And when it comes to the question of theory; I think that it is a very practical one. Because no theory develops in a void and every theoretical activity is a practice itself. You can practice theory in academy. You can practice theory in a strike. A militant aggressive theory is produced by the needs of situation in which attack is necessary and possible - like it is today. A defensive contemplative theory is produced by isolation and defeat - like it was in 1930s for instance the theoretical efforts of Bilan. Neither of them is more important than the other. They are just the products of different periods. Bilan's effort was to understand the defeat and to defend at least some lessons of experience. Today all the theoretical lessons of Bilan are meaningless if they don't help us in immediate class terrain.

Take the question of unions. If they help us giving a sense of alertness on the potential attitudes of unions that is very good. However, it would be pointless to wait to join any struggle till workers accept our position on unions. 1920s german left did not develop its position on unions as a new doctrine to baptise workers with. It was a lesson for the actual fight.

So unlike Bilan which did not have an immediate problem of considering the question of power or agitation etc., we, in this period, have. 

Fred, I generally agree with you, but when it comes to "mistakes of the bolsheviks" I feel the need to emphasise the significance objective hindrances. In a country where the workers were only a small fraction of the population and where most of the other socialist parties were antagonised with the Bolsheviks through a bloody civil war, the integration of the party to the state have been a tragic but all the same forced outcome. Whatever the case, the tactics as Pannekoek argued should have been different in the west and of course today too. But all the point of tactics is that they are flexible, dependent on the strategic goal. So, for instance I don't reject parliments in principle but because they don't serve the purpose of revolution. I believe we need tactics that wild enchance the spirit of the working class whatever they are.

jk1921
The Crisis as the Key

Jtflint wrote:

.  I suspect though that a critical point will be reached where eventually the workers will feel they can no longer make these sacrifices and the boiling point will be reached.  In the United States, even though we haven't yet reached that point it feels like we are close.  I'm not sure if from a Marxian point of view if having a "feeling" constitutes reality but we have to be getting close. 

 

This is pretty much the only thing that makes the subterrean maturation of consciousness theory work. We have to resort to some kind of objective economic crisis that pushes the working class to some kind of point of no return where it will have to respond, where it will have to see through all the illusions of bourgeois ideology because they no longer "work"--i.e. no longer provide a convincing explanation for why workers should continue to endure the capitalist attacks on their standard of living. But if that is the case, then it seems like the fact that the revolution has not yet occurred serves as its own proof that the conditions were not yet ripe. The distinction between objective/subjective breaks down and we seem to be stuck in a kind of meaningless tautology. How do we get out of this morass "scientifically"? Do we even have a scientific theory of class consciousness anymore?

jk1921
Communist Practice

mikail firtinaci wrote:

I don't have much to add to what mhou says. But about the point raised by JK whether if it is some kind of gramscism what I suggest; especially concerning developing and trying in practice tactics for a revolutionary strategy... I don't know much about gramsci. But I can say that war of positions is only one of the tactical approaches we can talk about I don't agree with it if it means taking power gradually conquiring capitalist institutions. This sounds very close to what Kautsky defended in Road to Power -as far as I remember.

I think it is more about gradually breaking down the dominance of capitalist institutions, making the working class less and less reliant on bourgeois cultural norms. This can't be done by running around screaming revolution all the time, but by a careful, disciplined policy of the communist party to make the working class develop its own alternative frame of reference distinct from bourgeois ideology. Its very different from the left communist view that Mhou sketched above re: Bordiga (but also Pannekoek/Gorter, etc.)

mikail firtinaci wrote:

Take the question of unions. If they help us giving a sense of alertness on the potential attitudes of unions that is very good. However, it would be pointless to wait to join any struggle till workers accept our position on unions. 1920s german left did not develop its position on unions as a new doctrine to baptise workers with. It was a lesson for the actual fight.

Herein lies the dilemna. What does it mean for an extreme minortiarian movement to "join a struggle"? What does this entail exactly? It seems to me the most that left communists can hope for today is to reach those workers already most suceptible and open to questioning--to plant a seed of communist consciousness. This is what "communist practice" amoutns to today. This seems the only way to me to deaft both the Scylla of councilist academicism/communisation, etc. on the one side and the Charybdis of substiutionism/activism/immediatism on the other.

mikail firtinaci
question of attitude

jk1921 wrote:

 It seems to me the most that left communists can hope for today is to reach those workers already most suceptible and open to questioning--to plant a seed of communist consciousness. This is what "communist practice" amoutns to today.

I fear this would not lead us much further. LC should not be the prize for individual workers that they will get at the end of an ideological labyrinth. LC should help the workers, it should be a tool in the struggle not something reached at the end it as a result of defeat. What should be done then? I don't know. But I doubt there is a purely theoretical answer for that...

Second, a more clear programatic perspective would be very helpful. Dare I may say a program for transition to communism. Something like Goldner's "first 100 days program" for instance. Something to give the sense (both for LCs themselves and also workers) that our claims are real and practical.