The Trade Union Question

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mhou
The Trade Union Question
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First post after 2 years (give or take), though the reason for departure and return are linked. Specific political and historical issues, including some explored on this forum and others explored in the left communist press, had become a barrier to finding a satisfactory understanding of legitimate socialist practice. These exposed what appeared to be weak links in the fundamental-foundational positions of a (broadly or narrowly) defined left communism and seemed to be a point of departure for settling my own difficulty in finding a legitimate socialist practice; raising questions that could not be answered with adequate precision with the available theoretical arsenal of left communism.

The result is a 9000 word pamphlet, Class, Bureaucracy and the Union-Form, hosted online at octoberinappalachia.com, which starts from 3 premises:

I. [Proletarian] class consciousness is the preceded by the class struggle [s of wage laborers under the capitalist social relation]

II. The only crucible to develop, test and validate socialist theory and practice is the lived experience of [organized and organizing] labor’s class struggles

III. As a class definitively without property or the prospect of owning anything but its own labor power to sell, the proletariat can only accumulate its lived experiences and can only inherit its historic memory

An interesting thing happens when you go back to the genesis of the trade union bureaucracy: within the conditions of its production and reproduction is the entire organic course of labor’s class struggles, from the origin of the permanent class of wage laborers to the moment of creation of the union-form to the raw materials for the construction of a workers’ state as proletarian dictatorship, the processes set into motion by capital remain totally unaltered by time expressed as history (for the working-class, its history can only be its accumulated lived experiences). Capturing and cataloguing this moment of genesis also reveals the physiognomy of class consciousness and the conditions of its production and reproduction, connecting the terms of the class struggles of wage labor-capital to the means to conclude the class struggle. It’s what falls between

“. . . the ‘spontaneous element’, in essence, represents nothing more nor less than consciousness in an embryonic form” (Lenin)

and

“. . . the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat. . .” (Marx)

The trade union question is the central problem of the socialist movement. All derivative products of a theory on the trade union question define the relationship of its adherents to both the working-class and the class struggle. But the class struggle isn’t a blank canvas; the socialist movement is a constituent element of it, whether a positive or negative, present or absent force-- with accompanying consequences for any and all activity and inactivity. Repercussions from a false or mistaken theory can be and have been immense. The centrality of the trade union question for the socialist movement can be seen historically in the changing trajectory of the American labor movement in the 1880’s due solely to the Socialist Labor Party, in the German Communist Party split at the Heidelberg Congress and the content of the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party. These represent the entire panoply of moments in the class struggle in which the consequences of socialist theory on the trade union question have had decisive influence: the character of the labor movement of a major industrial nation, the success or failure of a revolution and the practical leadership of the proletarian dictatorship.

The pamphlet is directed against the core left communist theories of the class struggle and by extension the trade union question without naming any particular organization, tendency or programmatic document; attempting instead to put forward an alternative as a basis for drawing out particular disagreements.

I wanted to open discussion here as a starting point given the importance of the ICC in my personal political development, with either the pamphlet as a basis of discussion or using the content and method of the pamphlet to discuss and elaborate on disagreements with the specific programmatic documents and political positions on the trade union question of the ICC, for example the 1974 definitive-foundational “Unions Against the Working-Class" pamphlet, and/or the wider left communist tradition.

LBird
Contradictory premises?

mhou wrote:

First post after 2 years (give or take), though the reason for departure and return are linked. Specific political and historical issues, including some explored on this forum and others explored in the left communist press, had become a barrier to finding a satisfactory understanding of legitimate socialist practice. These exposed what appeared to be weak links in the fundamental-foundational positions of a (broadly or narrowly) defined left communism and seemed to be a point of departure for settling my own difficulty in finding a legitimate socialist practice; raising questions that could not be answered with adequate precision with the available theoretical arsenal of left communism.

The result is a 9000 word pamphlet, Class, Bureaucracy and the Union-Form, hosted online at octoberinappalachia.com, which starts from 3 premises:

I. [Proletarian] class consciousness is the preceded by the class struggle [s of wage laborers under the capitalist social relation]

II. The only crucible to develop, test and validate socialist theory and practice is the lived experience of [organized and organizing] labor’s class struggles
 

mhou, I think that premises I and II are contradictory.

Premise I claims that 'struggle' precedes 'consciousness' (or, the method of 'practice and theory').

Premise II claims that the socialist method is 'theory and practice' (although the premise perhaps then reverts to 'experience' being the 'preceder').

Unless this issue is clarified within the workers' movement, then no conscious workers' movement is possible.

FWIW, I regard 'theory and practice' as Marx's method, and I see 'practice and theory' as the erroneous method of Engels, the Second International, Lenin, etc.

That is, there still remains "a barrier to finding a satisfactory understanding of legitimate socialist practice", even within your laudable attempt to provide a basis.

Alf
This is a long pamphlet and

This is a long pamphlet and the trade union question - in particular, whether it is posible to build permament defensive organs of the class in this historical epoch - is itself a long standing debate in the revolutionary movement. I hope that comrades will take time to read mhou's text and write considered responses, either in the form of articles or posts on this forum. We will come back to this ourselves in due course

mhou
Contradiction

Thank you Alf, I appreciate that.

Lbird: I am not sure that I understand the contradiction.The class struggles of wage laborers against capital and its personifications under the capitalist social relation predate Marx's birth, and predate the modern socialist movement in all of its phases and expressions. I don't see a reference to the class struggle at all in your response, without which any discussion of anything relating to the "conscious workers' movement" is impossible.

 

LBird
Class struggle is conscious struggle

mhou wrote:

Lbird: I am not sure that I understand the contradiction... I don't see a reference to the class struggle at all in your response, without which any discussion of anything relating to the "conscious workers' movement" is impossible.

I thought that 'any discussion' about the subject which you're wishing to talk about was clearly about 'class struggle', mhou!

But if you wish it to be spelt out, then I'll do so.

The second premise refers to 'the theory and practice of class struggle', whereas the first premise refers to 'the practice and theory of class struggle'.

Marx's method is 'the theory and practice of class struggle', whereas Engels, the Second International, Lenin, etc. claimed to use the method of 'the practice and theory of class struggle'.

Since, according to Marx, 'social activity' is preceded by 'social theory', then any 'experience' is preceded by a 'theory'.

The claim that 'experience' leads to 'theory' is the erroneous method of 'induction', which hides just who is providing the 'theory' and just what the theory is.

Those who argue for 'practice and theory' are hiding their own 'theory' from the proletariat, so that the proletariat remain unaware of that minority 'theory', and so the proletariat have no class consciousness of their own needs, purposes, interests, which would determine, according to Marx, the proletariat's conscious activities.

So, Marx: 'class-conscious proletariat's theory and practice';

Lenin: 'party-conscious cadre's theory and practice' where the party pretends to the class that the class' mere 'experience' will make it 'class conscious', so that 'practice and theory' is the supposed method.

Does this help you to understand about the political difference between 'theory and practice' (Marx) and 'practice and theory' (Lenin), mhou?

As I've said, the workers need to be conscious of these debates prior to their 'experience', otherwise they'll remain unconscious, and an elite party will pretend to make the revolution for them.

These are the sorts of critical objections that class conscious workers will have to the text and its premises, so you need to address them, from the start.

MH
A few quick questions...

Mhou, I’m still reading and digesting your text, which is quite dense, and trying to grasp your position. It would certainly be helpful to me if you could clarify the following:

1. You say the pamphlet is directed against “core left communist theories of the class struggle”.  Does this include the position that capitalism entered into its epoch of decadence with WW1?                            

2. As most (albeit not all) of the examples you give are from the experience of the American working class, are your views on trade unionism applicable everywhere today?                                                                                                                                                 

3. Finally, just to be clear, do you believe that there will be any need for the working class to break – politically and organisationally - with the existing trade unions at some point in its struggle against capitalism? Or is this not a meaningful question?

Thanks.

 

 

mhou
Lbird: "I thought that 'any

Lbird: "I thought that 'any discussion' about the subject which you're wishing to talk about was clearly about 'class struggle', mhou!"

This gets to the core motivation for trying to approach discussion through different means. The discussions on class consciousness on this forum in the past are an example of a topic that attracts a very large number of participants, contributions and increasingly elaborate arguments but the content of the debate seems to shift out from under everyone involved as it develops. I think we take too much for granted, starting with the idea that there is a basic consensus that the terms used ('class struggle', 'class consciousness', 'bureaucracy', etc.) have precise meanings that are shared by all. 

When you write, "As I've said, the workers need to be conscious of these debates prior to their 'experience', otherwise they'll remain unconscious, and an elite party will pretend to make the revolution for them" you're still moving too far ahead. 

Will you stipulate that the class struggle characteristic of capitalism (wage labor-capital/proletariat-bourgeoisie) preceded the birth of Karl Marx? From there the next question will be: taken alone, without accounting for the dozens of his close co-workers and collaborators who developed with him what we know as Marxism, was Marx's starting point the class struggle as it is and capitalism as it is or 'his' theory? If the class struggles characteristic of the capitalist social relation and capitalist society preceded Marx, and he and his co-workers and all that they did were the product of this class struggle in capitalist society, Marxism could not have begun as a theory. The problem is that if you will accept or stipulate to any of this, your conception of history (Engels vs Marx) and theory (experience vs conscious practice) would be upended.

MH:

1. Yes. It is primarily against the political positions derived from the conception of decadence. I agree that the material basis for socialism and the placement of proletarian revolution on the agenda were signaled by events in the class struggle (exemplified by the Paris Commune and October Revolution, but in many other less dramatic episodes in the same historic window), but do not agree with the political positions derived from this by the contemporary or historic communist left.

2. Yes.  It’s an attempt to define the dialectic of the class struggle for the working-class as the dialectic of trade unionism, or the content of the class struggles of wage laborers under the capitalist social relation as trade unionism-- its practice of spontaneous resistance to and contingent demands of capital, its substance of concerted and mass actions and its structure of a human architecture made of immediate co-participants selected in the course of these struggles who articulate and define, consolidate and defend material gains—from the origins of a permanent class of wage laborers to the construction of a workers’ state as proletarian dictatorship through the intervention of the workers’ party (by winning a fraction of labor’s human architecture to the socialist programme who will articulate and define, consolidate and defend state power as material gain).

I think we mythologize events when they happen somewhere else, so I tried to use what was most temporally familiar/accessible. In addition, the American socialist movement completely amputated itself from the domestic working-class in a way that I don’t think happened anywhere else, adopting a ghoulish voyeurism for the European labor movements and contempt for its responsibilities at home shortly after its formative years. Due to that there’s a massive record of useable experience in the history of the working-class in America that is either ignored or misconstrued.

3. No; but not as a political choice. As in the reply to Lbird above, the class struggle exists regardless of the activity or inactivity of the socialist movement, and we can’t alter the fundamental processes of labor’s class struggles under the capitalist social relation but can only understand and then use them to abolish capitalism. The stalemate in Germany and bloodletting in Hungary bring out in maximum contrast a refusal of large sections of the socialist movement to proceed on the terms given rather than those desired. Another example would be the Lassallean movement and its anti-trade union practice through its theory of the direct relationship of workers’ wages to commodity prices. ‘We’ can influence labor’s class struggles through to the abolition of the class struggle, but can’t alter the basic content of the class struggle

mhou
MH Reply 2

The Class, Bureaucracy and the Union-Form pamphlet doesn't elaborate too much on the topic, but defines permanent trade unions as organs which originate in the course of labor's class struggles but continue to exist after the conditional circumstances of its birth have passed, organs which structurally embody dead class struggles, tangible accumulations or depositories of the historic memory and experience of labor’s class struggles as part of a new practice of permanent resistance which were generated at a particular historic moment.

It was a mock compliment to the way in which capitalists accumulate dead labor:

“Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks” (Marx)

“The capitalist has the advantage of past accumulations; the laborer, unassisted by combinations, has not” (The Carpenter, Vol. I number 1, May 1881)

LBird
'Experience' or 'planning'?

mhou wrote:
Will you stipulate that the class struggle characteristic of capitalism (wage labor-capital/proletariat-bourgeoisie) preceded the birth of Karl Marx? From there the next question will be: taken alone, without accounting for the dozens of his close co-workers and collaborators who developed with him what we know as Marxism, was Marx's starting point the class struggle as it is and capitalism as it is or 'his' theory? If the class struggles characteristic of the capitalist social relation and capitalist society preceded Marx, and he and his co-workers and all that they did were the product of this class struggle in capitalist society, Marxism could not have begun as a theory. The problem is that if you will accept or stipulate to any of this, your conception of history (Engels vs Marx) and theory (experience vs conscious practice) would be upended.
[my bold]

Your attempt to revert, from Marx, to bourgeois empiricism and naive realism is a serious methodological error, mhou.

The problem with this approach is that, like bourgeois science, it wishes to deal with 'The Real World', 'Reality Out There' in the form 'AS IT IS'.

The problem is, 'reality' does not talk to us.

We have to investigate what the world 'is', and this investigation always starts, as Marx argued, from 'social theory and practice'.

So, to answer your reasonable questions, from the perspective of Marx:

Yes, the class struggle preceded the birth of Karl Marx;

No, Marx's starting point wasn't class struggle and capitalism 'as it is', but was a theoretical investigation and an attempt to put these theories into practice in the First International, that was the starting point of Marx.

As you correctly say, these differing approaches 'upend' each other: 'Marx and conscious practice' versus 'Engels and experience'.

The method of 'experience' is a conservative method, because it accepts the status quo, rather than criticising 'what exists'. And criticism requires thought, theory and consciousness. 'Experience' can take place without these essential features of Marx's method, of social theory and practice.

And those supposedly employing 'experience' alone are actually unconsciously using someone else's 'theory'. For workers, this method prevents their own development, and leaves 'theory' in the hands of an elite.

 

MH
helpful response

Mhou, thanksvery much for your response I think it will be very helpful to comrades struggling to understand the implications of your views.

I'm not sure I can pursue this meaningfully in the confines of this forum but hopefully other comrades will respond. There is a further question for me about the phenomenon of 'social movements' such as the Indignados in Spain which, as the ICC has discussed, raise the prospect of massive struggles that do not begin or focus on wage labour struggles in factories but take to the streets and begin to take up broader, deeper political issues against capital as a social relation.

 

 

mhou
MH

MH: Do you think the social movements carry a greater significance, signaling a qualitatively higher mode of struggle for the working-class, a replacement (or surrogate) for the central role of the workplace, or something else? The relationship of the trade unions and traditional manifestations of labor's class struggles to these social movements seems to suggest that this anchor and compass for the working-class remains its elementary point of entry and reference to inter-class popular movements. This was especially apparent in the Occupy movement in the US, which gradually looked to the labor movement for direction, inspiration and guidance (the port shutdowns, the fight in Longview, Washington, the Occupy May Day/General Strike agitation, etc.). But this relation began almost immediately when local unions started participating and broadening Occupy Wall Street from the activists and students to organized labor and finally 'ordinary people'. The public sector general strikes, the 2012 Asturian miners' strike, trade union sponsored demonstrations, etc. in Europe seem to show the same content.

I think the significance of the social movements for left communism is based on the kernal mentioned by Alf: the prospect of permanent class organizations in the present and socialist perceptions of those that exist. If the accepted theory is that such formations are not possible, therefore those which exist are by default not proletarian organizations. In that case the social movements rising after 2008 at least carry a potential proletarian content, similar to the extra-union and contingent organizations of the 1960's-70's. But if this theory is false etc. The reply to Lbird below will get into that a bit more.

mhou
Lbird

Lbird: Conceiving and validating theory within and through the class struggle is the essence of the Marxist method. This is exemplified in the origin of the International Workingmen’s Association, which was not the invention of Karl Marx or his co-workers, but an organic product of the class struggle that in turn influenced Marxist theory. When you write, “the problem is, ‘reality’ does not talk to us,” it demonstrates your stated opposition to this method.

I started putting together notes concerning the ICC’s 1974 Unions Against the Working-Class pamphlet as a means to contrast CBATUF to left communist theories on the trade union question, and they will work to elaborate on this point you’ve raised:

Theory: In the epoch of capitalist decadence trade unions are no longer organs of labor but of capital-- “. . . in decadent capitalism the development of trade unions is always a response to the needs of the bourgeoisie and never to those of the proletariat” (1976 Introduction, Unions Against the Working-Class)

Evidence: “In America, while workers’ real wages have declined steadily since 1965 (apart from a brief period in 1972-73), the unions have negotiated contracts which have ensured that this decline in real wages is matched by constantly rising productivity (speed-ups etc). More recently construction workers’ unions have agreed to actual wage cuts of up to 25 per cent. And so concerned are the unions for the smooth running of American industry that their contracts usually include a clause banning all strikes for the duration of the agreement. This means that all disputes have to go through official procedures, which may take months or even years; and since the contract is ‘binding’, pay disputes are forbidden altogether. American unions thus act as ‘policemen’ for industry: enforcing labour discipline, preventing wildcats, and ensuring that strike action is confined to ‘official’ disputes - which are usually crippled by lack of union solidarity and company stockpiling (since companies often know about these official disputes months in advance)” (1976 Introduction, Unions Against the Working-Class)

Critique: In the US, the construction industry is unique: its rate of unionization was far higher than any other single industry or sector, between 70% and 85% nationwide and approaching virtually 100% in metropolitan areas in the 1960’s. This particular outlier was followed by another: the pace of declines in union density occurred on a rapidly accelerated basis compared to all other industries and sectors. Of course, this information would not have been available in 1974-76 when the pamphlet and its first introduction were published. However, it is indicative that the mid-‘70’s were a time of extreme confrontations in the class struggles of American building trades workers. Information that was available at the time concerns the real wages of union vs non-union workers over time. Despite falling and stagnating at a rate parallel to the average real wages of non-union construction workers, members of the building trades unions have enjoyed substantially higher real wages, the rate of difference largely remaining steady for decades in spite of the rapid declines in union density. Negotiated wage increases in the 15 years preceding the start of the reversals suffered by the building trades unions reinforce this by showing the response of the unions to the capitalist crisis beginning in the late 1960’s:

“Median first-year wage increases in construction labor agreements, which had ranged from 4.1 percent to 5.2 percent between 1961 and 1966, had jumped to an annual rate of 7.8 percent in 1967 and 1968, and in 1969 recorded first-year increase of 13.7 percent. . .

More than one out of three construction negotiations in 1970 resulted in strikes, over 500 stoppages (many of them lengthy), and the first-year wage increases negotiated averaged 17 percent

Union Resilience in Troubled Times: The Story of the Operating Engineers, AFL-CIO, 1960-1993 (Mangum & Walsh)

This brief account of wage negotiations in the construction industry over a 10 year period before and during the crisis dispels, by default, many of the accusations leveled in the ICC pamphlet’s introduction. Instead of a structural conspiracy to enforce the demands of capital upon the working-class sector by sector, industry by industry, there was a concerted, collective effort by the building trades unions to defend the wage gains made by their members over the preceding 20 years (1940’s-1960’s) through their demands on their members’ employers. Without these struggles, the spiraling inflation of the crisis would have altered the relation between the money price and the value of the members’ labor-power, greatly diminishing the latter in relation to the former. It was the trade unions who articulated these demands and initiated and led these strikes to protect the integrity of their members’ wages.

“Management officials were effective in convincing the White House of the ineffectiveness of its approach [to wage stabilization in the construction industry-mhou], resulting in the establishment of a Construction Industry Stabilization Committee (CISC) by a March 29, 1971 executive order. . . The executive order establishing the committee gave it authority to review and approve or disapprove negotiated settlements. . . CISC had no authority to revoke agreements reached and put into effect before its March 29, 1971 initiation, but it could, and did, revoke some 2,000 previously negotiated increases scheduled to take effect after that date. . .

After first-year average increases of 17 percent in 1970 and 15.7 percent for the first quarter of 1971, second and third quarter increases were 12.0 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively. The average rate for 1972 was approximately 6.5 percent, followed by 5.5 percent for 1973. . . After only 272 construction strikes in 1973, there were 437 in 1974. First-year wage increases in major construction settlements bounced back up to an average 10.8 percent, while manufacturing increases were only averaging 8.8 percent. Some construction settlements were reaching 15 to 20 percent

(Mangum & Walsh)

Here the story gets more interesting. Nixon suspended the Davis-Bacon Act prevailing wage laws at the end of February 1971, which lasted one month until CISC’s mandate began. Construction employers induced the Federal government to intervene overtly in the collective bargaining and general labor relations regimes in the balkanized-decentralized construction industry. The power to dissolve negotiated wage agreements was heavily used and briefly forced the building trades workers into a defensive position by accepting wage increases far below the rising rate of inflation and decreasing the number, size and intensity of strikes, but this was only for a brief period, since less than 3 years later, the workers and the trade unions began disregarding this state intervention into their workplaces and resumed their efforts at demanding, struggling and striking for inflation-adjusted wage increases (and winning). This brings us to 1974-75, the period when the ICC pamphlet was written and published, and the moment that the employer counter-offensive began in earnest, the results of which are still present in the US construction industry today:

Perceptions of productivity trends vary widely within engineering academia, industry, and economic academia. One seminal industry document has influenced the belief that construction labor productivity has been decreasing for decades (Business Roundtable, 1988). Current perceptions of those in industry have not been well quantified, however two industry leaders have stated that productivity has increased in the last 20 years (T. Kennedy, Chairman of BE&K Inc.; and D. McCarron, President of United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, Oct. 30, 1998, Austin, TX.). Economists are split, with many questioning the existence of any construction productivity decline (Eisner, 1994; Griliches, 1988), while others speculate as to the causes. Clearly there is a lack of agreement and understanding concerning this critical issue. Construction labor productivity remains one of the least understood factors in the American economy. As a reflection of this, The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) maintains productivity indices for all significant sectors of the economy except for the construction sector. The BLS states this is due to a lack of "suitable data" (Jablonski, 1998)”

Center for Construction Industry Studies, ‘U.S. Construction Labor Productivity Trends 1970-1998’

The entire debate about labor productivity in the US construction industry has been a living subject of the class struggle since the late 1960’s: employers contend that there has been a decline in productivity while the trade unions assert that productivity has been increasing. Note the primary contenders cited in that particular study—the ‘Business Roundtable’ and the carpenters’ union (United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners).

By the latter half of the 1960’s the ever more serious inflation of an ever more blatant capitalist crisis had become the central issue of the class struggles between workers and employers in the construction industry. The response of the workers and the building trades unions has been covered, but the non-construction capitalists were equal participants in these struggles and were pressing their own demands. In 1969 a group called the ‘Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable’ was formed, bringing together large private sector enterprises who utilize construction services year-round to build new factories, retail stores, warehouses, refineries, office buildings, etc. in an effort for the capitalists of every major industry and sector of the economy to coordinate efforts to hold down building costs in the midst of the newly opened crisis. The Federal government’s intervention into construction industry collective bargaining at the behest of building trades employers had proven inadequate to compel the submission of unionized construction workers and their organizations to labor peace and de facto wage cuts, so the major purchasers of construction services (i.e. all the other capitalists in every other industry) organized to break them. Regarding the ‘Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable’, Mangum & Walsh note, “that organization, in turn, merged with others in 1972 as the Business Roundtable, an association of the chief executive officers of some 200 major business firms”.

Between 1969-1972, the capitalists outside of the construction industry organized themselves to find a way to break the unionized building trades workers and their organizations to ultimately reduce the cost of construction services—a task made urgent by the onset of the economic crisis. Between 1971 and 1974, the building contractors and construction companies, through the Federal government, attempted to ‘stabilize’ (normalize the effects of inflation on) union wages and failed, as seen in the rising trajectory of strikes and inflation-pacing negotiated wage increases in ’74. At that time the Business Roundtable formulated its strategy to hold down costs: prop up the miniscule non-union construction sector by favoring these contractors when awarding new building contracts, support trade schools and other alternatives to union apprenticeships to shift control of the labor pool from the trade unions to the employers, launch a coordinated nationwide propaganda war against the union shop and in favor of the ‘merit shop’ (open shop, American Plan). The means to accomplish these ends was the formation of a competing employer’s association for the construction industry, from the unionized contractors of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) to the entirely non-union contractors of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), which in turn encouraged unionized contractors to ‘doublebreast’—form subsidiary contracting companies with non-union workforces. This counter-offensive completely altered the terms of the class struggles between construction workers and employers in the United States, leading to the extraordinarily rapid de-unionization of the largest manufacturing industry in the country and changing nearly everything about the industry in less than a generation: including the extraordinarily rapid declines in real wages among construction workers, rapid rises in productivity and draining the capacity of a formerly combative sector of the working-class to resist further degradations in their living and working conditions through to the present day. Take a look at the Business Roundtable’s website to see that they’re still at it 44 years later.

In the case of the US construction industry unions in the 1960s-70s, if the real wages of unionized construction workers, in boom or bust economic conditions, remain consistently higher than those of non-union construction workers, if many different unions with many different kinds of leaders across the country articulated demands for wage increases in line with inflation, they are struggling to protect the value of their members’ commodified labor-power—if they strike to enforce these demands and win, they have succeeded in their stated purpose. However, if the trade unions negotiated and the membership ratified wage increases well below inflation when the forces arrayed against them were too great to prevail (and in the case of this industry at that time these forces were considerable and intense), in an effort to maintain their organization, they are portrayed as transmission belts from the [state capitalist] state to implement and enforce the dictates of the bourgeoisie on the working-class; if they demand wage increases proportional to inflation to maintain the relation of price-value of their members’ wages and organize strike action to enforce these demands on their employer(s), it is portrayed as the doing of the workers on their own in spite of their union and leaders or is a token effort to maintain credibility for the time being—always a Machiavellian maneuver of one variety or another. In either case a political conclusion has been drawn from experiences that have not happened yet and the substitution of a theory for experience in spite of the course of the real-existing class struggle. 

LBird
Method and unions

mhou wrote:

Lbird: Conceiving and validating theory within and through the class struggle is the essence of the Marxist method. This is exemplified in the origin of the International Workingmen’s Association, which was not the invention of Karl Marx or his co-workers, but an organic product of the class struggle that in turn influenced Marxist theory. When you write, “the problem is, ‘reality’ does not talk to us,” it demonstrates your stated opposition to this method.

No, 'it demonstrates my opposition to' the bourgeois myth that their 'science' has an access to 'reality' that the rest of humanity doesn't. Engels fell for this myth.

Marx argued that we create our reality, through social theory and practice, and so we can change our reality.

The bourgeoisie wish to deny this, because if we follow Marx on this point, we soon realise that the bourgeoisie created the 'reality' which we 'find', and so we must first of all criticise it, so as to act upon it and change it. 

mhou wrote:

I started putting together notes concerning the ICC’s 1974 Unions Against the Working-Class pamphlet as a means to contrast CBATUF to left communist theories on the trade union question, and they will work to elaborate on this point you’ve raised:

Theory: In the epoch of capitalist decadence trade unions are no longer organs of labor but of capital-- “. . . in decadent capitalism the development of trade unions is always a response to the needs of the bourgeoisie and never to those of the proletariat” (1976 Introduction, Unions Against the Working-Class)

But, in theory, the trades unions have never pretended to be building communism, but only to be offering protection to workers within capitalism, so workers have to develop their own criticism of unions, and begin to build their own revolutionary organisations, which have as an aim the building of communism.

That is, workers don't start from 'as it is', but from a theoretical criticism of 'what exists', and then develop a plan to replace 'what exists for the bourgeoisie' with 'what exists for the proletariat'.

I'm not sure if you agree with Marx on this point, or agree with Engels.

I'm not an Engelsian 'materialist'.

As you correctly say about "conceiving and validating theory", you seem to follow Marx, and not Engels. But this is not 'materialism', which places 'matter' as prior to 'theory'.

mhou
Lbird

“VIII. All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.” Theses on Feuerbach

Your rejection of Marx’s method and his own views on his particular contributions (letter to Joseph Weydemeyer March 5, 1852 and 2nd postface to Capital vol.I) would neuter the socialist movement if it were the dominant conception.

For example, when you write, “But, in theory, the trades unions have never pretended to be building communism within capitalism as an aim the building of communism” it ignores first the content of the class struggles of personified wage labor and capital, the course of development and manifestations of this struggle over time. It also ignores the origin of the First International as a product of trade unionists, trade unions, and trade unionism. It also ignores the demand of classical trade unionism for the emancipation of labor, what some call ‘labor republicanism’—but what is labor’s emancipation if not socialism, or the Republic of Labor but the proletarian dictatorship? The complimentary conceptions of the founders and pioneering leaders of trade unions and leading communists after the consolidation of soviet power are unmistakable. Again, you have stolen a fraction of the Marxist dialectic and held it up as a method in itself. Yes, the workers’ party is the only organ where consciousness precedes action; but you’ve excised the most critical part of its existence: its relation to the organs where action precedes consciousness and this relation’s role and function in the proletariat as a whole and its class struggles and the revolutionary movement.

I’m arguing that the trade unions host the contradiction of organizing a permanent conspiracy against private property and property rights while meeting capital’s needs to sustain the social and physical fact of their existence, and that proletarian dictatorship hosts a higher contradiction: maintaining the power of the working-class, which is inherently unable to become a new exploiting class, while organizing a permanent conspiracy against international capitalism.

Quantitative to qualitative, this transubstantiation is only possible through the intervention of the workers’ party (unity of consciousness-->action and action-->consciousness in the real-existing class struggle).

Your method and conception disenfranchise the overwhelming majority of the class and turns its back on the class struggle. This also leaves aside what you mean by 'building communism within capitalism'-- I'm assuming you mean that communism was not the stated aim and reason for existence of trade unions.

LBird
Disenfranchisement

mhou wrote:

 Yes, the workers’ party is the only organ where consciousness precedes action;...

No, you've accepted the myth of bourgeois science, that there is ever 'conscious-less action'.

According to Marx ('theory and practice'), all action is preceded by 'consciousness'; in the case of workers who are not class conscious, then they act on the basis of bourgeois consciousness (ie. ruling class ideas).

That is, their 'social theory and practice' is that of the bourgeoisie.

mhou wrote:
...but you’ve excised the most critical part of its existence: its relation to the organs where action precedes consciousness and this relation’s role and function in the proletariat as a whole and its class struggles and the revolutionary movement.
[my bold]

No, these 'organs' are 'organs of bourgeois theory and practice', and will produce actions that are based upon bourgeois interests, purposes and intentions.

mhou wrote:
I’m arguing that the trade unions host the contradiction of organizing a permanent conspiracy against private property and property rights...

No, this is to believe that the bourgeois ruling ideas are somehow schizophrenic, and can be used to fight the bourgeoisie. Unions do not conspire against private property. This is simply idealism (or wishful thinking). Or, 'dialectical thinking', god save us.

mhou wrote:
Your method and conception disenfranchise the overwhelming majority of the class and turns its back on the class struggle. This also leaves aside what you mean by 'building communism within capitalism'-- I'm assuming you mean that communism was not the stated aim and reason for existence of trade unions.

I'm afraid your method 'disenfranchises' the proletariat, mhou, by assuming that other workers can't develop the understanding that we communists have. I disagree with you.

mhou
"I'm afraid your method

"I'm afraid your method 'disenfranchises' the proletariat, mhou, by assuming that other workers can't develop the understanding that we communists have" It isn't a question of whether 'other workers' (who? the entire class, members of trade unions, participants in concerted and mass actions, all of the above?) can develop [proletarian] class consciousness but how they do. Apparently your disdain for Engels only goes so far ('false consciousness').

"this is to believe that the bourgeois ruling ideas are somehow schizophrenic, and can be used to fight the bourgeoisie" Again, I'd direct you to Marx's letter to Weydemeyer and the 2nd postface to Capital vol.I because this is exactly what he says (political economy, Hegelian dialectics, etc. as originating with the bourgeoisie but repurposed for the abolition of capitalism by the proletariat). This is only necessary because of the extraordinarily high value you place on Karl Marx as an individual. 

However, these statements are the most important:

"No, these 'organs' are 'organs of bourgeois theory and practice', and will produce actions that are based upon bourgeois interests, purposes and intentions.

...

Unions do not conspire against private property. This is simply idealism (or wishful thinking). Or, 'dialectical thinking', god save us."

I look forward to returning to this

LBird
'Great capacity for theory'

Marx, 2nd Postface to Capital, p.95, wrote:
...the great capacity for theory...had almost completely disappeared amongst the so-called educated classes...but that amongst the working class...was enjoying a revival...

This is what we can count upon, if the proletariat is to build socialism, that they will exercise their 'great capacity for theory' once again, and develop their own 'theory and practice', based upon a criticism of 'what exists'.

I think that 'theory has almost completely disappeared amongst the so-called educated classes', as we can see from our discussions here about physics, time and science generally.

The bourgeoisie are in a theoretical dead-end, and we should be pressing our advantage in all areas.

mhou
Trade Unionism as Conspiracy

Wage labor hosts two competing potentialities: reproduction of capital/negation of capital. That is, its existing and potential relation to capital. Proletarian agency begins from its capabilities in the immediate process of production to subvert, disrupt, dissolve the process of capital accumulation, the production of value. The coercive and increasingly oppressive encroachments of capital compel labor’s participation (defensive/offensive) in the class struggle characteristic of the capitalist social relation and capitalist society. These competing potentialities which comprise the content of wage labor manifest in labor’s class struggles, the organic forms of its struggles and the tortured real movement to ‘ameliorate present conditions and secure future emancipation’.

Capital has always viewed organized and organizing labor as a conspiracy against private property and property rights—and rightly so. The Combination Act (1799) is an excellent example of this, as is the zealous persecution of organized labor following the French Revolution, going back to the formative years of the modern labor movement. Today what we know as ‘managerial prerogatives’ was, at the beginning of monopoly capitalism in the United States, an ideology that God had placed the centralized-concentrated leviathan of productive forces in the hands of uniquely qualified white Christian men as caretakers in a kind of capitalist Divine Right. Every aspect and element of control concerning wages, hours, the organization, terms and conditions of employment are claimed by the capitalists under the inviolable right to private property. Labor relations regimes in which collective bargaining is legalized, codified and standardized was itself a massive and bitterly won concession:

“Great industries. . . are confronted with demands to sign contracts with groups which. . . demonstrate that they have. . . no conception of the validity or sanctity of a contract, no respect for property rights or for rights of any sort except their own.” Business Week (1937)

After being read the latest words from the manufacturers’ pet priest Henry Ward Beecher, that workers facing wage cuts should simply accept poverty and that a man who cannot live by bread and water alone isn’t fit to live, a worker at the meeting of the Amalgamated Trades and Labor Unions of New York in 1877 yelled out, “Put him in a coal mine!”. As the Great Upheaval reached St Louis in the summer of 1877, 10,000 workers assembled and listened to speeches extolling the virtues of the guillotine as the only proven recourse for the working classes the night before shutting down all economic life in the city the following day. A New York City freight handlers’ union parade in 1882 featured a banner displaying the words, “We Are Looking For Our Rights And Will Have Them.” Deputy sheriffs escorting scabs to the Homestead steel works during the strike of 1882 pulled their revolvers and fired into a crowd of strikers, at which point the workers began shouting, “kill the damned cop!” and beat them into unconsciousness. Immigrant compositors working for the German-language Tageblatt newspaper in 1886 refused to set type for an editorial that attacked their union—and when fired for this shop floor censorship, a boycott against the paper was launched by other unions in support of the fired workers. Months after the general strike of 1919, Seattle longshoremen refused to load military supplies onto ships bound for the armies of Denikin and Wrangel to be used against revolutionary workers and peasants in Russia. 1,000 striking coal miners and a group of company guards with machine guns shot it out over a scab operated mine during the national coal strike of 1922; the scabs and guards surrendered, at which point the strikers immediately executed the mine superintendent, marched the 50 scabs and company guards to nearby Herrin, Illinois and killed 19 of them the next day—all union men brought to trial were acquitted by juries who knew better.

The history of organized and organizing labor, including all of the images of workers’ control and workers’ power which viscerally punctuate this history and foreshadow the content and forms of proletarian dictatorship, demonstrate a permanent conspiracy against private property, a sustained refusal to be encroached upon, and the means to assert the negation of capital implicit to wage labor itself:

“The proletariat carries out the sentence which private property passes upon itself by its creation of a proletariat” (Marx) 

LBird
Destruction and creation intertwined

mhou, we can all only admire the guts of those workers, who you've listed, fighting back against the bosses who exploited and oppressed them. They were certainly interfering with the 'rights' of their bosses.

But... does this have anything to do with the building of communism?

If destruction of capitalist relations was the defining charateristic, then Stalin was a communist.

No, it's not enough to aim to destroy 'what exists', but we also have to have a conscious plan about what we are going to replace exploitation with.

That is, most workers have to be consciously aiming to build communism; otherwise, a minority alone will be claiming to be building communism, according to their minority wishes, designs, interests, purposes, plans...

If the destruction of capitalist exploitation is replaced by another form of exploitation, then this is not communism.

Only the proletariat can decide democratically what 'communism' and 'exploitation' actually are, and unless workers are fighting for that right to decide for themselves, by democratic means, then they will not be building communism - just fighting the bosses, no matter how bravely.

mhou
Lbird: Though your example

Lbird: Though your example will work for the same reason, p.102-103:

“My dialectical method is, in its foundations, not only different from Hegelian thinking, but exactly opposite to it. For Hegel, the process of thinking, which even he transforms into an independent subject, under the name of ‘the Idea’, is the creator of the real world, and the real world is only the external appearance of the idea. With me the reverse is true: the ideal is nothing but the material world reflected in the mind of man, and translated into forms of thought.

The mystification which the dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general forms of motion in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be inverted, in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.”

And this from his letter to Weydemeyer:

“And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society

So your comment that “this is to believe that the bourgeois ruling ideas are somehow schizophrenic, and can be used to fight the bourgeoisie” is opposed to Marx’s own understanding of his individual contributions and where they originated. In the section you quoted from the postface, those comments were a description of the content of a pamphlet by a Viennese capitalist—which Marx praises. It’s another example of the utilization of repurposed ‘bourgeois ruling ideas’.

“mhou, we can all only admire the guts of those workers, who you've listed, fighting back against the bosses who exploited and oppressed them. They were certainly interfering with the 'rights' of their bosses.

But... does this have anything to do with the building of communism?”

Each example listed in the preceding post is significant because they all demonstrate, in the lived experience of the working-class, how the class, within and through the organic course of the class struggle, is predisposed toward workers’ control and workers’ power: that is, when Marx writes, “the class struggle inevitably leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat. . . this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to classless society” we can identify the taxonomy of the proletarian dictatorship, the raw materials for its construction, and the social processes that allow for its formation [by the workers’ party]-- the only path to communism.

The comment that a class enemy should be thrown in a coal mine implies the generalization of the condition of wage labor—something made explicit in the first workers’ state: “He who does not work shall not eat,” as a socialist principle under the workers’ class dictatorship. All who exploit are forcibly levelled, proletarianized.

1877’s Great Upheaval reached its highest peak in St Louis, where the workers’ political party (Workingmen’s Party of the United States) played an exemplary role in winning a mandate of legitimacy from their fellow workers, organizing and developing the struggle beyond the spontaneous resistance that had characterized that particular summer (Pittsburgh’s ‘Roundhouse Riot’). This is how the unity of (consciousness—action / action—consciousness) in the real movement, self-generalizing mass action, is accomplished through the intervention of the workers’ party: the root process of initiating the proletarian dictatorship.

New York’s freight handlers, through disciplined organization, asserted their demands against private property publicly, beyond the workplace: ‘we are looking for our rights and will have them’. Self-organization at the point of production inevitably becomes politicized and subject to politicization.

Over a 12 year period (1880-92), Homestead’s steelworkers generated all of the raw materials necessary for the construction of a workers’ state; in 1882, one such component was to take on the police in a contest of force against force as a practical necessity in their struggle with the owners of the steel works. This was followed by the seizure of public safety functions in the town of Homestead by the workers’ delegates and defanging the police.

When the German immigrant newspaper workers refused to set type for an editorial that attacked their union, it was class censorship. It was a fight over control and the owners’ right to private property. This tactic would be a valuable tool of the young Soviet republic in the practical disenfranchisement of the capitalists, landlords and their allies among the intelligentsia and clergy: the vigilance of the organized workers in the printing and publishing industry silenced the counter-revolution.

This combination of politicization and workers’ control would also be evident in the refusal by unionized longshoremen to load military supplies bound for the counter-revolutionary armies in Russia in 1919.

Like the steelworkers of Homestead, the organized coal miners engaged in armed self-defense as a component of their struggle with the coal operators. Workers’ power is nothing but organized force—class violence—made in reference or relation to workers’ control. In this case, a scab-operated coal mine was turned into a heavily armed fortress during the national coal strike. The only way to cease all mining at the scab mine in Illinois was through an offensive military operation. Examples were made of the scabs, guards and mine superintendent. After the strike was over, juries were too frightened to convict the strikers regardless of the evidence. That is workers’ power, which is always illegal in capitalist society, and is only legalized by the proletarian dictatorship.

Only the most progressive, participatory and egalitarian frames of the visions of proletarian revolution are captured, framed, packaged and sold—leaving out the guttural birth cries of an uneven, prejudiced, mystified, exploited class that has to carve its own Caesarean section out from the inside of capital’s uterus. Naked, despotic, punitive violence, practical anti-democracy, zealous discipline, radical excesses and every shade of coercion are the signs and the toll of the emancipation of labor as the real movement to liberate humanity from alienation and exploitation, to abolish capitalism and build socialism. Recovering the dialectic of trade unionism from the wreckage of the First, Second and Third Internationals requires a new theoretical framework, exploring only the concrete terms and conditions of labor’s class struggles to reveal the taxonomy of proletarian dictatorship; to describe, identify and catalogue the elementary impulses and processes to seize political power and the raw materials from which to construct a workers’ state from the daily class struggles of organized and organizing labor.

The Third International said the Communist Party must be a working school of revolutionary Marxism. When you write “No, it's not enough to aim to destroy 'what exists', but we also have to have a conscious plan about what we are going to replace exploitation with” I can’t help thinking that this is all that we do.

For example, your statement that, “most workers have to be consciously aiming to build communism; otherwise, a minority alone will be claiming to be building communism, according to their minority wishes, designs, interests, purposes, plans” raises several questions about the practical effect of alienation on the working-class. In particular, the origin and function of bureaucracy and representation in labor’s class struggles and by extension its revolutionary agency, proletarian dictatorship and the concrete means to destroy capitalism and build socialism.

Then you say, “If the destruction of capitalist exploitation is replaced by another form of exploitation, then this is not communism” which sounds like an assumption that communism is not the result of an active, conscious historic process but a direct consequence of proletarian revolution. It skips over the crucial details of transition, what transpires (and why, how, etc.) between capitalism and communism. 

LBird
Leave the field clear

mhou, there are a number of things that you write which lead me to believe you look to 'Lenin' and 'the workers' party' for ideas about communism and revolution.

I don't look to the same ideas as you: on the contrary, I look to 'Marx' and 'the working class' for ideas about communism and revolution.

The ICC have (unlike some sites I could mention) given me free rein to explain why I think as I do, with my many arguments, quotes and links to relevant texts, etc. I don't wish to revisit all these issues, because there are many threads which are available to those who wish to deepen their knowledge of these debates. Unless you wish me to expand (once again!) on our differences, then I won't.

Suffice to say, for the purposes of this debate and for the education of any comrades reading, there are deep philosophical differences between those communists who look to 'Lenin and The Party', as compared to those who look to 'Marx and The Class'.

Unless there is a demand for more of this often acrimonious debate from you or others, I'll leave you in peace to explain further your own views on workers and unions, as long as other comrades are aware that there is a certain philosophical basis to your views, which not all 'Marxists' would agree with, and which have political implications.

mhou
Lbird: Our discussion has

Lbird: Our discussion has remained solely on the terrain of Marx the individual, which was your starting point and stated basis for a critique of the premises and method of the CBATUF project. I’ve remained on this terrain to the exclusion of Marx’s coworkers (Engels, Weydemeyer, Sorge, the Marxist faction the IWMA, etc.) and their contributions and all those of later Marxists, including Lenin. I’ve been outlining how looking to ‘Marx and the working-class’, the stated basis of your views, to the exclusion of all others and everything else supports the premises and method of CBATUF. Although it seems you are beginning to come around, as an earlier criticism you made was that looking to the working-class was not a legitimate element of the Marxist method (‘bourgeois empiricism and naïve realism’).

Absolutely there are political implications. MH elaborated on this, particularly as it relates to present conditions and especially the recent social movements. From the method of CBATUF, the difference between a social movement and a class movement is the difference between the participation of the working-class on an individual or organized basis; from the theory, that social movementism beginning with the rank and filist revolts of the 1960’s is the disruption and tendency toward disintegration of organized and organizing labor into a mass of atomized individuals who can only resist capital as constituents of an undifferentiated mass of the People and only on the terms of abstract democracy (a triumph of the ‘End of History’ ideology); and political implications: in the US, examples like Occupy Century Aluminum in West Virginia, the port shutdowns on the West Coast and eventual reciprocal orientation of segments of the Occupy movement to the working-class and organized labor (ex. Longview, May Day 2012) demonstrate that the basic processes of the class struggle, despite the post-1991 total war offensive of the capitalists, remain in operation regardless of the subjective views of its participants—that a vague social (peoples’) movement can unintentionally germinate traditional class content as if it is compelled to do so. The practical implications would then be that the socialist movement has an obligation to return as an active force in cultivating, nurturing, propagating and decisively influencing on the ultimate issue of the present moment: organization.

I’m not sure I understand the accusation that this has been an acrimonious discussion. 

LBird
Not 'acrimonious' in the least!

mhou wrote:

I’m not sure I understand the accusation that this has been an acrimonious discussion. 

No, you've misunderstood what I meant, mhou.

This present discussion has been a model discussion between comrades who have differing views, and I thank you for it.

Perhaps you are unaware of many of the earlier discussions which descended into personal abuse, rather than political and philosophical debates. I was assuming wrongly that you had followed these earlier threads, and that you were aware of the difficulties that they produced.

On a wider note, it seems to me, from discussions that I've had both here and on other 'communist' sites, that any attempt to separate out the thinking of Engels from Marx, and to tease out the different political, epistemological, scientific and methodological views of the two thinkers, soon deteriorates into personal rancour.

To me, this is clearly much more than personal style or dislike, but goes to the heart of what 'Marx meant' by his works, which has contemporary political significance: that is, it is a question of 'power' and 'who holds it', within any workers' movement to build communism.

Once again, I simply wanted to avoid a repeat of those results, and to let you get on with outlining your own views on class and unions, with the caveat for other comrades that some would disagree with you.

Thanks again.

Fred
LBird distinguishes between

LBird distinguishes between (a) Lenin and the Party and (b) Marx and the Class. But this is a false dichotomy. There is no difference between the two.  They are both part of the development of working class resistance to capitalist exploitation. 

LBird
A dichotomy: true or false?

Fred wrote:

LBird distinguishes between (a) Lenin and the Party and (b) Marx and the Class. But this is a false dichotomy. There is no difference between the two.  They are both part of the development of working class resistance to capitalist exploitation. 

Your statement is precisely what is under dispute, Fred.

There are some communists who claim that there was no difference between Marx and Lenin, and there are some communists who claim that there was a difference between Marx and Lenin.

All I ever do is point this out, which is how it should be.

The position that one will choose will be determined by wider issues, I think, like, for example, how one thinks that either position deals with the issues about "workers' democracy", "epistemology and science", and "elite power" generally. And, of course, mhou's views about "unions and workers".

mhou
I think Fred’s comment

I think Fred’s comment articulates the perspective of the existence, experience and thought of the working-class as an integral whole very well.

The trajectory of Lenin’s work after 1917 up to the point when he was too ill to participate in politics is particularly valuable. Proletarian dictatorship as tangible reality compelled a focus on the question of material gains and the immediate problems of workers’ control/power over society.

His letter to the Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919 is an example:

“We would immediately like you to inform us more often and more concretely about the measures you have taken in your struggle against the bourgeois executioners, Scheidemann and Co; if you have created soviets of workers and house­hold servants in the districts of the town; if you have armed the workers and disarmed the bourgeoisie; if you have made use of the warehouses of clothes and other articles as widely and as immediately as possible, to help the workers and above all the day-labourers and small peasants; if you have expropriated the factories and goods of the Munich capitalists as well as the capitalist agricultural enter­prises in the surrounding area; if you have abolished the mortgages and rent of small peasants; if you have tripled the wages of day-labourers and workmen; if you have confiscated all the paper and printworks in order to publish leaflets and newspapers for the masses; if you have instituted the six-hour day with two or three hours dedicated to the study of the art of state administration; if you have crowded the bourgeoisie together in order to immediately install workers in the rich apartments; if you have taken over all the banks; if you have chosen hostages from among the bourgeoisie; if you have established a food ration which gives more to workers than to members of the bourgeoisie; if you have mobilized all the workers at once for defence and for ideological propaganda in the surrounding villages. The most rapid and widespread application of these measures as well as other similar measures, carried out on the initiative of the soviets of workers and day-labourers and, sepa­rately, of small peasants, must reinforce your position. It is vital to hit the bourgeoisie with an extortionary tax and to amelio­rate practically, immediately, and at all costs the situation of the workers, day-labourers and small peasants

(Quoted from an ICC article http://en.internationalism.org/node/2509 )

This shows a need for the socialist movement to return to the real-existing class struggle from the ivory tower and diversions of peaceful organizational development. America’s socialist movement severed itself from the proletariat and class struggle very early despite significant advantages. In a letter to the AFL’s journal The American Federationist in 1894, nearing the peak of influence of the conman, demagogue and career union wrecker ‘De Leon’, an ex-Socialist Labor Party member and leading trade unionist would write, “These socialists. . . have almost knocked all so-called radical ideas from my cranium. . . Why, for the sake of their agitation, they would destroy labor’s greatest weapon—the trade union—and in all their work I can’t for the life of me see where they have bettered the condition of one solitary man, woman or child.” I can’t prove it yet but I’m fairly sure this letter is from Jack Elliott, a former leader of the Philadelphia section of the International Workingmen’s Association and founder of the Brotherhood of Painters and Decorators who was among the last of the Gompers group to quit the SLP.

Another former leader of an American section of the First International (NYC section 5), Adolph Strasser, who was a founding member of the Socialist Labor Party and president of the Cigar Makers’ International Union, turned his attention to the practical effect of parliamentary socialist action in Germany in the 1890’s:

“In Germany, where the political agitation has been carried on by the socialists for thirty-three consecutive years, the representatives elected failed to pass any legislation in the interest of labor. They boast of 47 members in the Reichstag, who make beautiful promises before every election, but fail to enact any laws having a tendency to better the condition of the wageworkers.

This continuous political agitation for thirty-three years has diverted the attention of the working classes from their real interests, from the organization of efficient trade unions, and from the struggle for higher wages and shorter hours.”

Lenin’s kinetic notes for a planned pamphlet in 1919 on the dictatorship of the proletariat (https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/sep/x02.htm), contributions to the theory of the proletarian dictatorship and socialist revolution (‘Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, ‘Role and Functions of the Trade Unions Under the NEP’) and his theoretical and programmatic combat against the destructive ideas of other responsible members of the Communist Party (‘The Trade Unions, the Present Situation and Trotsky’s Mistakes’, ‘Once Again on the Trade Unions, the Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin’) reconnects the work of the advanced trade unionists with the socialist movement as a direct consequence of the organic development of the class struggle and proletarian revolution. I think this element of Lenin’s contribution is vastly, scandalously underappreciated compared to more scholastic/academic interpretations of his theoretical work.

baboon
I'm sure that there will be a

I'm sure that there will be a response defending the ICC's position on decadence but in the meantime some answers on the equation of the class struggle with the trade unions and on the question of Mhou's position that the union's represent the defence of the material gains of the working class.

The trade unions, in all the major countries of the world, have been fully integrated into capitalism as part of the bourgeoisie's armoury in the class struggle. In Britain and elsewhere, the unions are funded directly and indirectly (including by the notorious "check-off" system), by the state. Trade union officials from all levels, not just from the bureaucracy, sit on various state bodies and are active in bourgeois political parties, expressing the fact that the unions are fully a part of the development of state capitalism and integral to it. The "architecture" of the trade unions is constructed within capitalism and by the state, consciously constructed by the bourgeoisie as an essential weapon against the working class.

Mhou's conclusion (point 15), that state powere is "the highest material gain that can be extracted from the class struggle" directly leads to a position that is against the interests of the working class and the needs of its struggle. At the very least this position is not helpful when, despite the weaknesses and disorientation of the working class, there is the development of a distrust against the trade unions, particularly among younger elements of the class.

The only "permanent resistance" that the trade unions now offer is against the interests of the working class based on the former's defence of the states' national interest.  The idea of the "defence of material gains" and "permanent resistance" jars against the reality of the conditions of the working class over the last quarter-century that have been facilitated and policed by the unions: direct wage cuts; extended working day and flexible hours; multi-tiered wage systems; increased working life along with reduced pensions; short-term contracts and general uncertaintly of work. And massive cuts in the social wage.

Mhou raises the issue of "new unions" (point 14) which will, in some way, be better than the old unions. The Solidarnosc trade union is a really good example of how new trade union structures straightaway emerge from and are totally integrated into the state. Against the thrust of the mass strike in Poland 1980, with the connivance and support of the trade unions in Britain and the USA, Solidarnosc subverted the anti-union movement and entered into secret negotiations with the state, dispersing and dividing the strikes, giving up the workers to a violent defeat.

For the role of the trade unions, look no further than the miners' strike in Britain in 1984 where the unions undermined the class struggle putting forward corporatist and nationalist "alternatives" eventually leading to a crushing defeat that had echoes and profound ramifications on the class struggle internationally. And it wasn't just the rotten federalist miners' union, the NUM, but all of the major British unions that used all the weapons at their disposal to keep the workers apart and isolated while entering into secret negotiations with the Thatcher government.

The attacks on the working class of the whole of Europe, Asia and the America's over the last two decades have been facilitated by the trade unions of both the stalinist and democratic types. The swingeing five-year attack on the working class of Germany after 2005 was opposed only piecemeal by the German unions, having the effect of further dividing and disorientating the class and leaving it open to the most widescale attacks on the conditions of the whole working class there since the war.

In France throughout the early 2000's, class combativity never went away but each element of struggle, particularly towards self-organisation, has been subverted by the unions with their corporatism and divisions in 2003, 2007, 2010 and just recently. And the result of this has been, not the "defence of material gains" but the dramatic further erosion of the conditions of the working class.

The decline in living standards and further attacks on the class can only be effectively confronted by the self-organised action of the working class involving the greater mass and participation of the workers. The unions will attempt to crush any such movement.
 

mhou
baboon

Thank you for the comment baboon. I would characterize the emphasis of the text (including the entire 20 point theses on trade unionism at the beginning) on the argument that labor’s class struggles are of a single essence; that manifestations as diverse as the spontaneous rail strikes in 1877, the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times building, the formation of the National Association of Machinists with its racist whites-only membership standard, the 2015 oil workers’ strike over a new pattern bargaining agreement, the assumption of power by workers’ councils in 1917, the general strike against the Kapp putsch, demonstrations of armed workers in Lisbon in 1974 i.e. every conceivable manifestation of the class struggle from the most backward up to the experiences of proletarian revolution all are powered by the same motor force—the dialectic of the class struggle. The text is an attempt to dissect this motor force, the conclusion of which is that the dialectic of the class struggle for the working-class is the dialectic of trade unionism. Defense of material gains is a moment in this fundamental process but I don’t see it as a moment distinct from the process.

Your characterization of the trade unions as “constructed within capitalism and by the state, consciously constructed by the bourgeoisie as an essential weapon against the working class” is something I can’t find any basis for aside from the obvious that trade unionism, like the working-class, is a product of capitalism. As early as the mid-19th century Marx and Engels were calling British trade union leaders ‘rascals’, leaders of ‘privileged, protected workers’ and a ‘bourgeois proletariat’ who were ‘paid by or at least sold to the bourgeoisie’—a time that the ICC views as ascendant capitalism when trade unions were still organs of labor. All of the tendencies used as evidence of the crossing-over of trade unions (and trade unionism) to capital in the epoch of capitalist decadence were already present in various degrees well before this epochal shift. The political position on the trade unions in the epoch of capitalist decadence can also be found in the epoch of ascendant capitalism:

“Should the trade unions succeed in winning a strike and securing better conditions the result is decried and the argument set forth that this is deplorable, since, in their own vernacular ‘it makes the working people contended with the present order of society and government’, hence is a hindrance to the full comprehension and introduction of their pet theory. On the other hand, should the men lose a strike, it is immediately harped upon in a frantic effort to prove that the trade union is ‘old, effete and impotent’” (The American Federationist, vol. III-IV, p.39, 1894)

In the post-war period this has become a deployment theory: that the bourgeoisie deploys the trade unions and trade unionism to scuttle class struggles which would otherwise, under the logic of their own internal characteristics, result inevitably in the overthrow of capitalism. I think this is a rejection of what is for a desire of what should be: an ideological narrative.

“The only "permanent resistance" that the trade unions now offer is against the interests of the working class based on the former's defence of the states' national interest.  The idea of the "defence of material gains" and "permanent resistance" jars against the reality of the conditions of the working class over the last quarter-century that have been facilitated and policed by the unions: direct wage cuts; extended working day and flexible hours; multi-tiered wage systems; increased working life along with reduced pensions; short-term contracts and general uncertaintly of work. And massive cuts in the social wage.”—baboon

Post #12 on the struggles of US building trades workers in the 1960’s-70’s is my position on all of this. Absent from your description is the encroachment of capital, the force which is responsible for the attacks on living and working conditions, demanding lower wages, longer hours and other degradations. This presumption that “Direct Action Always Gets The Goods”, that the working-class can at all times defend its existing conditions and make advances if only it extends the struggle, takes on more radical and democratic forms, stops listening to ‘the leaders’ etc. is idealistic and dangerous. The Pullman strike is an excellent example of the failure of this model. To imply that retreat when under attack is not an option (that it’s reactionary, bourgeois, etc.) is to tell the working-class “There is no land behind the Volga!” This is the IWW position from 100 years ago echoing Bernstein: “the goal is nothing, the movement is everything”. To put every reversal suffered by the working-class on the shoulders of the trade unions as though they are responsible for capital’s attacks is absurd. Though you do walk this back a bit later in the post, saying that the trade unions simply “facilitate” capital’s attacks. But even this relies on the same presumption that retreat against overwhelming opposing forces, attempts to salvage as much of existing conditions (past gains) as possible in whatever particular circumstance, is essentially bourgeois in content.

“Mhou's conclusion (point 15), that state power is "the highest material gain that can be extracted from the class struggle" directly leads to a position that is against the interests of the working class and the needs of its struggle” –baboon

Can you elaborate on this?

“Mhou raises the issue of "new unions" (point 14) which will, in some way, be better than the old unions. The Solidarnosc trade union is a really good example of how new trade union structures straightaway emerge from and are totally integrated into the state. Against the thrust of the mass strike in Poland 1980, with the connivance and support of the trade unions in Britain and the USA, Solidarnosc subverted the anti-union movement and entered into secret negotiations with the state, dispersing and dividing the strikes, giving up the workers to a violent defeat”--baboon

This is completely inaccurate. 14 elaborates on the conditions for the creation of new labor organizations (everything from trade unions, shop committees, workers’ councils up to and including the dictatorship of the proletariat) in capitalist society. There is no periodization, only what is characteristic of capitalism as a whole—so there is absolutely no stated or implied perspective that “new unions which will, in some way, be better than the old unions.” 14 and 15 categorizes proletarian dictatorship as simply another form of labor organization derived from the same practice, substance and structure which comprise labor’s class struggles under the capitalist social relation.