On the Trade Unions: A Reply to Mhou

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On the Trade Unions: A Reply to Mhou
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: On the Trade Unions: A Reply to Mhou. The discussion was initiated by mhou.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

mhou
Response to 'On The Trade Unions'

Just wanted to get a thread started on MH's reply. I found the reply both substantive and fair, and look forward to continuing the discussion.

 

mhou
Preliminary Remarks

Preliminary Remarks

At present there are 4 supplementary texts to Class, Bureaucracy and the Union-Form (CBATUF) which attempt to elaborate on specific areas of the core text. Despite that, a criticism I’ve received is that the critical distinction between ‘the trade unions’ and ‘trade unionism’ isn’t presented as explicitly as it could or should be in the CBATUF pamphlet or any of its supplements. So for this first response, I'd like to try and clarify a bit while answering a couple of the points from MH's critique--specifically on other forms of labor organization (primarily workers' councils and shop committees) and the difference in conception of the class struggle as it pertains to decadence.

I’m arguing that the processes which originally produced and continue to reproduce the union-form are not solely and exclusively capable of producing the union-form: specifically, that the practice, substance and structure of trade unionism--organized and organizing labor itself-- also produce and reproduce organizations beyond the union-form: the organs of workers’ control (shop committees, workers’ councils, workplace occupations) and workers’ power (armed workers, defense guards). That workers’ control is the basis for the forms engendered by the practice, substance and structure of trade unionism, manifestations of organized and organizing labor, to reach the most acute phase of the class struggle and produce the raw materials necessary to construct the dictatorship of the proletariat, and that workers’ power is nothing but organized force (class violence) made in relation or reference to worker’s (direct/indirect) control—of private property, the means of production and distribution, the fruits of labor. That the spontaneous class struggle can pose the question of workers’ control/power over society and produce the forms required to inaugurate the proletarian dictatorship (an ‘objectively revolutionary situation’), but cannot maintain control/power absent the intervention of the workers’ party. The role of the socialist movement as workers’ party is to subordinate the acute spontaneous class struggle to communism in its articulation and definition of state power as material gain, and in its consolidation and defense of state power as material gain creates the only basis for the conditions to render capital extinct and create the movement to build communism. That examining the union-form reveals the fundamental processes which begin with the origin of the capitalist social relation and elaborate the terms of proletarian revolution and the taxonomy of proletarian dictatorship in light of the experience of the working-class up to this point in history.

CBATUF, alone and in its supplements, elaborates on labor organization beyond the union-form:

“Historically defined forms of the class movement becoming the struggle for state power as well as opening the potential for the socialist movement—the commune and council forms—provide the basis for organized force, as the instrument to consolidate and defend state power as material gain, to become the workers state [10]. Trade unionist and revolutionary applications of organized force by the working-class originate with the inherent tendency toward the practice, substance and structure of trade unionism as the content of labor’s class struggles; it becomes the means by which the socialist movement grows as the prospect and perspective of communism [11]. Practical control of the means of production, of social and state power by the working-class is also the subversion and abolition of this power as the workers lack the capability to perform the historic function of a new exploiting class

The scale of workers’ resistance/demands and concerted/mass actions may topple the political bodies and ruling parties of existing society as workers’ combinations take on the forms of control/power subject to overt politicization. American labor defense guards (1938), French factory occupations (1968) and Portuguese demonstrations of armed workers and peasants (1974)– each episode remained only a homunculus of the forms of the workers state, a puppet of limbs and organs absent the potential for the socialist transformation of society inherent to the proletarian dictatorship [22]. Trade unionism as the content of labor’s class struggles under the capitalist social relation may pose the question of force but cannot maintain control (of geographic territory or private property) or wield state power without the mediation of the worker’s political party. Without political leadership, the Amalgamated men at Homestead, the organized trades of Seattle and the armed miners of West Virginia can only prostrate themselves (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) before the forces of the state militia or regular army sent to repress them. This leadership is accomplished by winning a fraction of the class, the minority selected from among participants of workers’ practice of spontaneous resistance/contingent demands—concerted/mass actions—to the socialist programme, who will, in process, transubstantiate the forms of concerted/mass actions and workers’ combinations into the articulation and definition, consolidation and defense of state power as material gain.” (CBATUF)

Further elaborated in the third supplement, Labor’s Republic:

“Trade unionism as the content of labor’s class struggles will generate and regenerate organizations which develop beyond the union-form, with expanded functionality:

Organs of workers’ control—shop committees, workers’ councils

Organs of workers’ power—armed workers, defense guards

Common to all organizations produced and reproduced by organized and organizing labor in the course of the real-existing class struggle are the processes found in the practice, substance and structure of trade unionism. The practical expressions of concerted and mass actions have no fidelity to particular forms of labor organization: mass meetings, general assemblies, organized force (class violence), delegation of tasks and mandates, etc. are consistently utilized by and may be found in every form of labor organization; in addition, they may be found in every manifestation of concerted and mass action—every type of strike, occupation, boycott, insurrection, etc. Labor’s class struggles secrete the organs of workers’ control/power which constitute the raw materials for the construction of a republic of labor, proletarian dictatorship, workers’ state. They only become such components during the organization of power by the working-class in the articulation and definition, consolidation and defense of state power as material gain; otherwise they are shot or jailed out of existence, merge with an existing labor organization or simply dissolve with the conclusion of the necessarily temporary-circumstantial situation which gave birth to them. Red trade unionism, red guardism and red workers’ councils are produced through the material unity of the conscious and spontaneous incarnations of organized and organizing labor’s proletarian class consciousness: the unity of the workers’ political party [consciousness preceding action] and the diverse organs of trade unionism, of workers’ control/power [action preceding consciousness]. This material unity signals the submission of the acute spontaneous class struggle—self-generalizing mass action, the class movement, the organs of workers’ control/power– to communism.”

Continued in the fourth supplement, An Argument with a Dead Marxist-Humanist:

“Lozovsky’s pamphlet, which was translated and published in the United States in 1920 as The Role of the Labor Unions in the Russian Revolution ,explicitly defined the role of trade unionism in the proletarian revolution, and provides an outline of the forms of labor organization characteristic of proletarian revolution: the organs of workers’ control and workers’ power; armed defense guards, shop committees, workers’ councils. The councils were all-class organs based upon and commanding the legitimacy of the organs of workers’ power (armed workers, defense guards, fractions in the army), whereas the shop committees were specific to enterprises and served as organs of workers’ control (of private property, the means of production, the fruits of labor) at the immediate point of production. Only the councils could and did serve as the form for the organization of power by the working-class as a whole, while the trade unions and trade unionism served as the bridge between the proletarian vanguard and the rest of the class—every particular organ had a particular role and purpose. The articulation and definition of state power as material gain was the task of the workers’ party and in its consolidation and defense the proletarian vanguard was granted the same mandate of legitimacy as the class bestows upon its human architecture generated and regenerated in its class struggles with capital in the trade union structure. The republic of labor, dictatorship of the proletariat, workers’ state—all names for the organization of power by the working-class—is merely another form of labor organization, and it demonstrates the same tendencies and originates in the same processes as other forms of labor organization.”

The argument begun in CBATUF and expanded in its supplements on the councils, committees, defense guards and other forms of labor organization from the trade unions up to and including the proletarian dictatorship is that all of these forms derive from the same processes, that the real movement of and the class struggle for the working-class is unitary. This is opposed to conceptions which imply that labor’s class struggles can be evenly divided between a ‘daily’ and a ‘revolutionary’, as though they are two different things.

For example when MH writes, “not only is it necessary for revolutionaries today to warn the working class that the trade unions are enemies of their struggles, but, if workers are to take these struggles forward across all boundaries of trade, sector, race, gender and above all nationality, it will be necessary to break from the straightjacket of union control and take the struggle into their own hands”

Decadence theory creates parallel class struggles for the working-class: one which serves the bourgeoisie (daily) and one which serves the proletariat (revolutionary), and this distinction is centered on the forms of labor organization which present in the course of labor’s class struggles: contingent, extra-union, inter-trade, geographic, spontaneous being characteristics which are deemed revolutionary, or at least potentially revolutionary. In practice this is a capitulation to social movementism and the abdication of the socialist movement from its role (and responsibilities-obligations) in the class struggle.

A theme begun in CBATUF and included in all of its supplements:

“The working-class accumulates its lived experience of the class struggle; it accumulates its dead class struggles in mock complement to the accumulation of dead labor by the capitalists, which becomes a social and physical fact weighing on future, living class struggles” (Supplement IV, An Argument with A Dead Marxist-Humanist)

The creation of a ‘daily’ class struggle and a ‘revolutionary’ class struggle, each with a separate essence derived from the primary warring classes and each representing an opposing class interest, in effect splits the real-existing class struggle: the ‘daily’ class struggle, of bourgeois essence and serving the capitalists, presents in quantitative changes in the working-class, versus the ‘revolutionary’ class struggle, which is of proletarian essence and serves the workers, presents in qualitative changes in the working-class. That’s just another way of saying decadence theory has identified spontaneity with ‘revolutionary’-‘proletarian’, and accumulated experience manifested in permanent organization with ‘daily’-‘bourgeois’, and issues a priori denials that each could (and do) represent moments of the same 'thing'. Post #12 of the earlier 'Trade Union Question' thread is an example of what I see as the concrete political consequences of this temporal creation of two 'different' class struggles: the creation and perpetuation of ideological narratives.

Like I said, just preliminary remarks to get started. I'll return with a more comprehensive and engaged response to MH's text that answers the specific critiques

MH
and a few brief answers...

mhou wrote:

For example when MH writes, “not only is it necessary for revolutionaries today to warn the working class that the trade unions are enemies of their struggles, but, if workers are to take these struggles forward across all boundaries of trade, sector, race, gender and above all nationality, it will be necessary to break from the straightjacket of union control and take the struggle into their own hands”

Decadence theory creates parallel class struggles for the working-class: one which serves the bourgeoisie (daily) and one which serves the proletariat (revolutionary), and this distinction is centered on the forms of labor organization which present in the course of labor’s class struggles: contingent, extra-union, inter-trade, geographic, spontaneous being characteristics which are deemed revolutionary, or at least potentially revolutionary. In practice this is a capitulation to social movementism and the abdication of the socialist movement from its role (and responsibilities-obligations) in the class struggle.

(...)

The creation of a ‘daily’ class struggle and a ‘revolutionary’ class struggle, each with a separate essence derived from the primary warring classes and each representing an opposing class interest, in effect splits the real-existing class struggle: the ‘daily’ class struggle, of bourgeois essence and serving the capitalists, presents in quantitative changes in the working-class, versus the ‘revolutionary’ class struggle, which is of proletarian essence and serves the workers, presents in qualitative changes in the working-class. That’s just another way of saying decadence theory has identified spontaneity with ‘revolutionary’-‘proletarian’, and accumulated experience manifested in permanent organization with ‘daily’-‘bourgeois’, and issues a priori denials that each could (and do) represent moments of the same 'thing'. 

We should give you some time to formulate your response but in the mean time in the interests of clarification some brief remarks on this idea of a ‘daily’ class struggle and a ‘revolutionary’ class struggle ...

1. In reality, the entry of capitalism into its era of social revolution, characterised in Marx's words by "contradictions, crises, spasms, the destruction of capital",  means precisely that the spectre of revolution lurks behind every daily struggle in a way that was simply not the case in the era of capitalism's progressive expansion when permanent, lasting reforms were possible.

2. In order to struggle for even immediate demands, improvements in wages and conditions, etc., the working class today confronts the reality of globalisation with the threat of simply moving jobs abroad. This objectively demands the response of an international mass strike, across national borders, etc, if the working class is to have any chance of success even in the short term. It is the enormous leap in consciousness required for the workers to take this step that creates the appearance of a division between the 'daily' struggle and a 'revolutionary' struggle - not 'decadence theory' or particular forms of organisation.

 

MH
double post

 

 

mhou
Decadence, Bordigism, Bureaucracy

In view of my first response, I think MH’s 3 point summary of the positions I’m arguing at the beginning of his text is accurate, with the exception of #3 for the reasons outlined in the previous response regarding other forms of labor organization (councils, committees, state, etc.)—which again is solely my fault for not being clearer.

Opening on Decadence

MH: “So communism has been on the agenda since at least the October Revolution but the comrade sees no political implications for the class struggle or the trade unions in this momentous change of conditions for the two historic classes; or at least none important enough to mention in his theory”

Here is a conceptual disagreement as it pertains specifically to decadence theory. Rather than look to the terms and conditions of communism in labor’s class struggles, decadence theory looks instead looks to capital (capitalist production, capitalist society, imperialism, development of the capitalist state). That the Parisian proletariat took power in its hands in 1871 is seen as a kind of historical outlier; something which was an aberration, insofar that, in the epoch of ascendant capitalism, communism was not a material possibility and the struggle was doomed to failure on that basis. I think this perspective misses the most important lesson of the Commune: that the working-class itself defined the terms and conditions of its emancipation. The working-class, and not capital, is the determining element in the development of the distinct possibility and perspective of communism. Because the proletariat has demonstrated in its lived experience that it is predisposed to escalate its class struggles to the point of insurrection (with or without politicization or radicalization), that it hosts the instinct to subvert and replace the capitalist state with the organization of power by the class as a whole and carries within itself (on the basis of the fundamental content of wage labor) the programme of a classless human community.

MH: “The basic Marxist position on decadence is quite clear: at a certain stage of their development the productive forces of society come into contradiction with the existing relations of production; from being forms of development, these relations turn into fetters on the forces of production. Then a period of social revolution is opened up, leading either to the transformation of society or to the mutual ruin of the contending classes”

If communism is on the historic agenda, I think the evidence for it is solely found in the class struggle, in which the proletariat has posed the question of state power—and that this alone is responsible for the possibility for communism, in the same way that machine-breaking marked the birth cry of the proletariat as an independent social force. Due to the “mutual presupposition” of wage-labor and capital, for the working-class to have been in a position to pose the question of state power, its level of development and by extension, those of the productive forces necessarily had to reach a particular threshold: but that threshold is demonstrated by the class, not by the relative position of capitalist development. On the other side, when looking at the development of the productive forces (and specifically on the idea of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production), it suggests that once this developmental threshold has been reached by capital, the working-class is then de facto capable of overthrowing capitalism and building communism—regardless of the political maturity and level of experience of the working-class.

Bordigism

Decadence was one theory opposed in CBATUF. Others include the Bordigist concept of ‘regime unions’, formal/real subsumption periodization and theories which are held by tendencies and ideologies outside of left communism (anarchism, syndicalism, Trotskyism, etc.).

Despite theoretical differences between these different currents specifically within left communism, the resulting conclusion is identical as it pertains to the trade union question (among other things) in that, at a transformational moment, permanent labor organizations ceased being organs of labor and became organs of capital. The political positions drawn from these theoretical conclusions are also identical: outside and against the trade unions, revolutionary struggle is anti-trade union struggle, the proletarian revolution will be made over the corpses of the trade unions.

MH is indeed correct that the core CBATUF pamphlet drew to a certain degree from Bordigism, which reflects my attempt to elaborate areas of disagreement while remaining on the terrain of left communism. There are only two elements of Bordigism that I found valuable at the time:

I the critical distinction between ‘trade unionism’ and ‘the trade unions’

II its perspective of bureaucracy

But, what is valuable in Bordigism is not unique to Bordigism, and what’s valuable specifically in Bordiga’s works is not unique to Bordiga. Without any caveats or reservations, I agree with the characterization by MH and the ICC that the Bordigist position is an example of centrism. That tendency essentially upholds the same political position drawn from the same conclusion as, for example, the ICC, but does so on a flimsy theoretical justification compared to decadence. In reference to the 1979 quote from a Bordigist newspaper included in CBATUF, it reads:

“.  . . we couldn’t rule out the possibility that one day, during a new wave of workers’ struggles, it might be possible to roll back the [Italian General Confederation of Labor’s] policy, alter its structure and win it back (all or in part) to a class political line. Thus we used to talk about … – beating it back into shape.” Il Partito Comunista #64, Outside and Against the Existing Trade Unions, 1979

This is an instance where I think this particular organization in that particular newspaper and in this particular article was able to correctly formulate several important issues. The first is how the working-class relates to its permanent organizations. Large sections of CBATUF explore how trade unions were (and are) formed, their characteristics after formation including their organizational life cycle and how they relate to the class over time/how the class relates to them over time. This quote captures first and foremost a concept that I think is central and re-hashed in the previous response:

That the working-class accumulates lived experience of the class struggle, that it accumulates its dead class struggles in mock complement to the accumulation of dead labor by the capitalists, which becomes a social and physical fact weighing on future, living class struggles.

Experiences like ostensible rank and file rebellions in the trade unions (1930’s, 1970’s) are an element of labor’s class struggles and part of the process by which living class struggles relate to dead class struggles. The example used in CBATUF is that of the steelworkers and the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers in the US in the 1930’s.

I think the concept “beating them into shape” is valuable and universally valid beyond the trade unions. It affirms the necessary element of conscious struggle and articulates how the socialist movement relates to the working-class, its organizations (of all forms) and the real-existing class struggle as it presents itself. In addition, it’s a valid observation of how the class develops in its class struggles, in its internal relations by and among its various segments. Advanced minorities drag along the more backward, with or without socialist intervention.

In the US, I think the most obvious confirmation of this tendency was in the movements within many trade unions in the 19th century to abolish racial, gender, skill and other membership barriers—whether in the iron & steel workers’ union opening membership to black ironworkers in 1881 (without socialist intervention) or the cigarmakers’ union opening membership to black cigarmakers in 1873 and women, the unskilled and immigrants in 1875 (with socialist intervention), etc. It was always a struggle--which developed unevenly--and was never a matter of simple decrees, enlightened leaders or the result of forming ideal-on-paper organizations.

These are the reasons why the quote was included, and I’ll stress that there is no intention there or here to defend a Bordigist position, perspective, etc. I think it was a valuable and useful contribution so I treated it as such. I'd like to add that the theorization of the subterranean maturation of consciousness, uniquely articulated and defended by the ICC, was a much bigger influence on CBATUF than these relatively minor Bordigist influences.

Bureaucracy

An examination of bureaucracy, specifically in the development of bureaucracy in the working-class, was necessary for a variety of reasons, primarily though to emphasize that bureaucracy is a process rather than a form. This was primarily an opposition to the conceptions of the anarchists, syndicalists and the various pseudo-Marxist tendencies. These tendencies, groups and ideologies share an essentially moral position on bureaucracy: whether in the IWW and its refusal to hire permanent staff or sign dues check-off agreements or Trotskyist sects who classify the trade union bureaucracy as a ‘caste’. In the historic communist left, this hollow moralism can be seen in Gorter’s “Open Letter to Comrade Lenin” and taken to the extreme by Ruehle’s laughable contributions on ‘masses vs leaders’ for example—as though bureaucracy is a form that can be avoided through administrative measures or communist ethics. CBATUF attempts (and I would argue succeeds) in defining, with precision, what the trade union bureaucracy is, how it is produced/reproduced, from where its tendencies derive and how this is applicable to other forms of labor organization as well, from workers’ councils to workers’ state. The other element of this is locating who the labor bureaucracy is and how they become as such.

Under the capitalist social relation, the trade union bureaucracy is a process by which a minority of wage laborers engaged in the class struggle become personifications of the interests and needs of their co-workers; those co-participants in labor’s class struggles who articulate and define material gains from the organization, terms and conditions of work unique to their workplace who are bestowed a mandate of legitimacy from their co-workers and co-participants (a legitimacy born from the act of articulation and definition of material gains). The tendency to consolidate and defend these extracted gains is born from the practical, concrete need to police and enforce concessions wrung from personified capital and its agents and subjects, a tendency to produce and reproduce a human architecture from these organic worker-leaders as trade union structure (bureaucracy). The trade union thus becomes a center of resistance to capital and a center of representation of labor’s class struggles, a tangible product of past (dead) class struggles and a social and physical fact around which future (living) struggles will inevitably be compelled to orient themselves. This process remains in operation within permanent trade unions over time; it’s a process of perpetual renewal. However, the trade union bureaucracy, the trade union structure, is a social relationship and a collection of people. William Levi ‘Big Bill’ Hutcheson is an archetypal leader of an American trade union, remembered best for being the man John L. Lewis punched at the 1935 Atlantic City convention of the American Federation of Labor at the inception of the CIO as a dissident movement and his tenure as the International president of the carpenters’ union from 1915-1952. The official history of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners captures the making of the trade union bureaucracy in its brief biographical sketch of Hutcheson:

“By 1904, Big Bill landed in Midland, Michigan, working as a carpenter at the Dow Chemical plant. What he saw there he did not much like—wages at 17.5 cents an hour for semi-skilled workers, 20 cents for artisans and 12.5 cents an hour for common laborers, including boys and girls. There were plenty of grievances, and when Hutcheson raised some with management on behalf of his fellow workers, he was fired, along with two of his close associates; he was also blacklisted. So he left Midland for Saginaw, where he soon had a job as business agent for Carpenter’s Local Union 334 at $16.80 a week. Covering his territory on a bicycle, he must have cut an awkward figure pedaling the union message. His wife kept the books for him, since he also served as local treasurer. In a year, however, he was doing well enough at recruiting new members for the Local to allow enough expense money for the use of a horse and buggy. And, a year later, the Local had grown from a weak union with barely one hundred members to become a model for Southern Michigan, with a loyal membership of 300.

Impressed by his dedication, his fellow carpenters elected him a delegate to the [UBCJ’s] 1910 convention. Saginaw’s carpenters were now working eight hours at $3.20 a day with the right to four legal holidays a year with pay” (Brooks, The Road to Dignity, p.93-94)

Structure is synonymous with bureaucracy, which is synonymous with representation. Considering ‘what’ the trade union bureaucracy is, is at the same time considering ‘who’ it is.

MH: “In the 19th century it was absolutely necessary for the working class to fight for reforms like the shorter working day and the right to organise. This inevitably demanded an ever-increasing level of co-ordination in order to combat the organisation of employers and concentration of capital, but it was the very nature of the trade unions as permanent mass organisations within bourgeois society that created bureaucratic tendencies right from the beginning. This went hand in hand with a tendency for union leaderships to become wedded to peaceful, reformist methods of struggle; a tendency the bourgeoisie of course actively encouraged in order to prevent more dangerous class struggles”

From CBATUF: “Bureaucracy is the oxygen of the trade unions, their structure and the basis of their functionality”

The origin of bureaucracy, and bureaucratization itself, is an inevitable consequence of alienation. For that reason representation is an inevitable facet of labor’s class struggles and self-organization: permanent mobilization by any greater or lesser segment of the class being an historic impossibility. I think that describing ‘bureaucratic tendencies’ in labor organizations is a backdoor for the kinds of moralism described above (and a symptom of splitting the class struggle re: the end of my first response) as though it is possible to chase, capture, isolate and elevate only the acute-spontaneous class struggle and quarantine it. This splitting is not unique to decadence theory, but is nonetheless a component of it. The conception of bureaucracy as simply a potential tendency hosted within all forms of labor organization leads to identifying bureaucracy as something of a litmus test for determining whether a particular form, organization or movement is proletarian or not and the means for classifying how something which 'was' proletarian no longer 'is'.

In the ‘Trade Union Question’ thread I elaborated on the point that 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.

Capital simultaneously tries to absorb and destroy labor organizations. This is occassionally articulated by trade union leaders:

“I’ve said consistently that no employer ever really accepts a union. They tolerate the unions. The very minute they can get a pool of unemployment they’ll challenge the unions and try to get back what they call managements prerogatives, meaning hire, fire, pay what you want” (Jimmy Hoffa)

The capitalists forever and always are opposed to the existence of trade unions and only appear to think otherwise when they are compelled to do so. 

Due to length I’ll return to the issues related to revolution, workers’ state, socialist intervention and state capitalism.

LBird
Contradictory arguments

mhou wrote:

...the most important lesson of the Commune: that the working-class itself defined the terms and conditions of its emancipation. The working-class, and not capital, is the determining element in the development of the distinct possibility and perspective of communism.... the organization of power by the class as a whole ...

mhou wrote:

On the other side, when looking at the development of the productive forces (and specifically on the idea of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production), it suggests that once this developmental threshold has been reached by capital, the working-class is then de facto capable of overthrowing capitalism and building communism—regardless of the political maturity and level of experience of the working-class.

[my bold]

mhou, I find these two opposing positions to be contradictory.

Either, the 'class as a whole' 'itself define[s]' and 'is the determining element'...

...or, 'the development of the productive forces' is the defining and determining force, 'regardless of the political maturity...of the working class'.

The former stresses self-emancipation, the class conscious determination by the majority of the proletariat, of the class' power.

The latter stresses 'productive forces' - which clearly do not include 'class self-determination'.

As a Democratic Communist, I only accept the former, which is based upon the class. The other perspective will require an elite minority which has a special consciousness, who can, alone, interpret the 'productive forces'. This is Leninism and 'elite party consciousness', not Marx's self-determination by the class for itself.

mhou
Cont.

Cont.

“Trade unionism in its practice, substance and structure are differently and identically contained moments of the same process: the content of labor’s class struggles under the capitalist social relation from which no manifestation of organized and organizing labor can develop independently” (CBATUF)

Trade unionism begins with the origin of the capitalist social relation and continues to exist after the inauguration of proletarian dictatorship. On the basis of the definition of trade unionism as comprised of a practice, substance and structure, all forms of labor organization including both trade unions and other forms of organization which develop beyond the union-form (factory committees, defense guards, workers’ councils, workers’ state) share common processes. Beginning in CBATUF and carried into its supplements is the term ‘organized and organizing labor’, which denotes the combined living (spontaneous) and dead (organizations; structuralized and accumulated past spontaneous struggles) class struggles and their unity.

So the conception in the core text and all of its supplements is far broader than just ‘the trade unions’ and ‘workers organized in trade unions’ as the revolutionary subject:

“The forms and processes of trade unionism as the content of labor’s class struggles under the capitalist social relation herald an objectively revolutionary moment. Organs of workers’ control/power proliferate as the trajectory of labor’s class struggles signals greater, higher expressions of the combat between labor-capital when workers’ spontaneous resistance to and contingent demands of capital become uniform and unified across trades, workplaces, industries, sectors, towns, cities, regions and nations; self-generalizing mass action provides the substance required to transform the articulation and definition of state power as material gain by the proletarian vanguard, the workers’ political party, into an immediate tangible reality, to be followed by the process of the consolidation and defense of state power as material gain in the structure of the workers’ state.

. . .

The republic of labor, dictatorship of the proletariat, workers’ state is but another form of labor organization produced and reproduced from the unalterable process characteristic of the daily class struggles of organized and organizing labor under the capitalist social relation. Labor’s republic, its class dictatorship, its State, is “the continuation of the class struggle of the proletariat in new forms. . . the state is only a weapon of the proletariat” (Lenin)

. . .

Labor’s center of resistance to capital is subject to a process of enlargement. Escalation of the class struggles between personified wage labor-capital through to its most acute manifestations begins with the union-form, the political party of the working-class, the organs of workers’ control/power and reaches its organizational conclusion in the republic of labor, proletarian dictatorship, workers’ state.” (Supplement III, Labor’s Republic)

So when MH writes that, “His text hardly mentions soviets or workers’ councils and where it does he gives the impression that they are simply a form of trade unionism in a period of revolutionary struggles” that is a completely accurate description of my position. The Bolsheviks adopted the slogan of ‘All Power to the Soviets’ because they recognized that only the soviets were the all-class organ capable of implementing as a social and physical fact the organization of power by the working-class as a whole (which is how the 1920 quote from the Communist International reads to me) and made agitation in the councils to win them to socialism the highest priority; but, they also elaborated that other forms of class organization (factory/shop committees, trade unions, etc.) all had specific roles based on their organic presentation and the concrete needs of the class struggle—both before and after the successful proletarian revolution which seized state power.

MH: “The problem for the comrade’s theory is that any attempt to seriously address the role of the soviets in history would not only highlight these differences but also the change in the historic conditions for the class struggle at the start of the 20th century which gave rise to these political organs in the first place”

Mass action is given significant treatment in the text—of which the mass strike is a more developed/mature manifestation. Based on the conceptual disagreements highlighted in my second reply in this thread regarding the nature of communism on the historic agenda, I think the conditions which gave rise to workers’ councils were adequately covered in CBATUF—particularly in the supplement which was quoted in this response: that the councils, like the factory/shop committees, are organs of workers’ control with an identifiable basis in labor’s class struggles and can only appear in an increasingly acute-rising trajectory of struggle between the two primary-contending classes, or put another way, that their appearance is the signal of a revolutionary situation. To see the potential for workers’ councils and the mass strike in every struggle due to the level and trajectory of capitalist development on the basis of decadence is a serious mistake in my view, which has tangible consequences in the contemporary class struggle and socialist practice.

Specifically on state capitalism, I don’t think the tendencies displayed by the development of the capitalist state in the 20th century (particularly in view of the last 40 years) represent an epochal shift but merely reflect the responses to the prevailing contingent needs of capital in the midst of its crises: business as usual for an inherently unstable mode of production. I don’t think these developments represented something so new and different that it required the socialist movement to completely alter its methods and theoretical arsenal as it pertains to its conceptions of the class struggle and labor organization.

MH: “The trade unions themselves - including those set up to defend unskilled workers - were strong supporters of state intervention on the basis that a healthy economy was the precondition for negotiating higher wages.  In an epoch of intensifying imperialist rivalries the logic of this position increasingly led the trade union bureaucracy to become the best defender of the national interest - and an implacable enemy of ‘disruptive’ workers’ struggles”

There are several aspects of this. The first involves workers who are members of trade unions and those that become the human architecture of labor organizations and specifically those who become the trade union structure (bureaucracy): a quote from an early secretary of the American Federation of Labor in the 1890’s sums up my view on this—“no criticism of the trade union can be made that does not apply to the whole working-class” (August McCraith). In the last post I used the biography of William Hutcheson to elaborate how the trade union bureaucracy is born, where it comes from and who it is. Hutcheson was a lifelong member of the Republican Party and served in high positions within it for many years at the same time he led the carpenters’ union. Virtually all labor leaders can be singled out that they were actively involved in the capitalist parties and took positions in the capitalist state. Could it be otherwise without the intervention of the workers’ party? Do we expect individuals like Hutcheson, John L. Lewis, Jimmy Hoffa and co. to become or act like socialists simply because of the nature of their leadership position in the class? If not, do their reactionary ideologies detract from their legitimacy before the class, does holding such ideas erase or invalidate their own contributions to the working and living conditions of not just the members of their individual organizations but the domestic working-class as a whole?

CBATUF characterizes the reactionary habits, prejudices and ideologies of capital as the default, permanent and dominant habits, prejudices and ideologies of capitalist society, which can only be challenged and overturned in the working-class (and its organizations of all forms) by the socialist movement and on the basis of permanent vigilance. There are examples of socialists joining the trade union structure (bureaucracy) on the basis of their co-participation in the class struggle and winning a mandate of legitimacy (Adolph Strasser, Peter McGuire, Samuel Gompers), and members of the trade union structure (bureaucracy) being won to the socialist movement on the basis of organized intervention (Eugene Debs, William Z. Foster, Farrell Dobbs). However, on the basis of false theories this resulted in such socialists who became organic and formal leaders to abandon the socialist movement, and organic and formal leaders who became socialists to abandon the trade unions. This history elaborates the very real, tangible consequences of socialist theory for the class struggle.

MH: “Any attempt to devise ‘new’ theories without clear reference to all these links in the chain risks throwing throwing the baby out with the bath water and we can see signs of this in the comrade’s text”

I think that everything in CBATUF and its supplements was reasonably documented, in the sense that ideas and interpretations were drawn from exactly the links that MH mentions and were referenced in the texts. This was done to demonstrate continuity and allow for anyone who does read it to impugn particular interpretations if they view them as defective—but it was also done to demonstrate that it wasn’t simply a product of my pen or in the same vein as the various ‘modernizers’ and their latter day sympathizers (those unknowns that work in the likeness of Castoriadis, Marcuse, Debord, etc.).

I’ll return to the points raised by MH and Lbird.

mhou
Lbird

Lbird: “mhou, I find these two opposing positions to be contradictory”

Indeed, I agree. I’m arguing for the former as well, though I think it supports the opposite conclusion from yours: the latter conception (primacy of the development of capital, capitalist society, productive apparatus, etc. for communism) is the one which tends toward your opposition to a ‘party consciousness’. That perspective links the development of capital with the capacity and capability of the working-class.

It’s what Pannekoek went to the grave arguing for:

“For us the glorious tradition of the Russian Revolution consists in the fact that in its first explosions, in 1905 and 1917, it was the first to develop and show to the workers of the whole world the organizational form of their autonomous revolutionary action: the soviets. From that experience, confirmed later on, on a smaller scale in Germany, we drew our ideas on the forms of mass action that are proper to the working class, and that it should apply in order to obtain its own liberation. . .

Nevertheless, the Bolshevik Party, little by little, later succeeded in appropriating power (the laboring class being a small minority among the peasant population). Thus the bourgeois character (in the largest sense of the term) of the Russian Revolution became dominant and took the form of state capitalism” (Letter from Pannekoek to SoB, 1953)

Pannekoek identifies the backwardness of capital development across old Imperial Russia as the explanation for what he calls “the Bolshevik virus,” (what you call ‘party consciousness’) and insinuates what the antidote is when noting that, “after having recognized in Russia a nascent capitalism, our attention was principally on the western world of big capital where the workers will have to transform the most highly developed capitalism into real communism (in the literal sense of the word)” – in other words that communism comes from capital’s development, not that of labor’s class struggles, and he and his co-workers immediately turned their back on the first (and only) successful proletarian revolution, a fact which rose directly from the real-existing class struggle.

The lineage of this conception can be traced from the Dutch-German communist left and its attack on the party-form, to councilism and its attack on communist organization, to communisation and its attack on the entire perspective of not just proletarian revolution, but labor’s class struggles against capital in the present (declaring the ‘illegitimacy of the wage demand’, etc.).

Alf
on 'decadence theory'

Mhou’s response to MH raises a lot of questions but for the moment I just want to make two points in reply.

The first relates to terminology, although it is not ‘mere’ terminology. When Mhou defines the trade unions as a kind of permanent expression of workers’ self-organisation, which in certain conditions can expand into workers’ self-defence guards, mass assemblies, strike committees, workers’ councils and even the ‘workers’ state’ (a term we also reject, although that’s another discussion) he seems to be stretching the meaning of a particular organisational form beyond breaking point, where it almost becomes the very content of the struggle. In our view, it would be much more fruitful to talk about the tendency towards workers’ association as the fundamental expression of the real movement towards communism, a tendency which can indeed take different forms at different historical moments of the class struggle.  The trade unions were one such form, but for the reasons that MH has outlined, they had to be surpassed. Their persistence indeed expresses the domination of dead labour over living labour, or, put in another way, the domination of once proletarian forms, now capitalist, over the living struggle.

Secondly, I don’t see how this debate can advance unless Mhou goes beyond a certain caricature of ‘decadence theory’ which he has put forward in recent posts. There is nothing in ‘decadence theory’ which mechanically leads to the idea that there are two kinds of struggle, the daily and the revolutionary, with the first serving only the bourgeoisie. This idea can be more accurately attributed to the communisers/modernists, nearly all of whom are quite hostile to decadence theory. On the contrary, our view of the dynamic of the class struggle is largely inspired by Rosa Luxemburg’s vision of the organic and ever-shifting dialectic between economic and political struggles, between defensive and offensive struggles – in short, between the daily and the revolutionary - as developed in her pamphlet on the mass strike. Furthermore, hers was an approach grounded in the idea that the mass strike corresponded to the dawn of a new epoch in the life of capitalist society.

Neither is it possible to saddle us with the following conception of ‘decadence theory’:  “when looking at the development of the productive forces (and specifically on the idea of the contradiction between the forces and relations of production), it suggests that once this developmental threshold has been reached by capital, the working-class is then de facto capable of overthrowing capitalism and building communism—regardless of the political maturity and level of experience of the working-class” (post 6)

We have never adhered to this mechanistic conception. In explaining the failure of the 1917-23 revolutionary wave, or the inability of the class in the 1930s to respond on a revolutionary basis to what was at that point the biggest crisis in capitalism’s history, we have looked again and again at the subjective side of the equation, at the “political maturity and level of experience of the working class” which prevented it from greeting the onset of capital’s historic crisis by completing its revolutionary overthrow. And here it was precisely the proletariat’s subjective attachment to obsolete forms of struggle – to parliamentarism, to the social democratic parties and their reformist methods, and not least to trade unionism – which acted as a key obstacle to the struggle for revolution.

Mechanistic and deterministic conceptions of the class struggle are, at root, an expression of the process of reification: capital ceases to be understood as a social relation and is seen purely and simply as a machine. There have been revolutionaries who counted on the breakdown of the machine to automatically trigger a revolutionary struggle, and some of them did indeed put forward a notion of capitalist decline. An example would be the concept of the ‘death crisis’ defended by certain parts of the German communist left in the 1920s. Interestingly, this concept could lead to different conclusions as regards intervention and political organisation: for the councilists, a tendency to reject the necessity for political organisation since the revolution would be a wholly ‘spontaneous’ phenomenon; but among other parts of the German left, a desperate voluntarism which held that the militant or violent action of a small politicised minority could tip the balance in favour of revolution.  

For us, there is absolutely nothing automatic or mechanical about the emergence of revolutionary consciousness in the class. It can only come about as the result of a long process of struggle, involving moments of massive and open resistance as well as phases of subterranean maturation; and throughout this process, the activity of the revolutionary organisation is crucial in accelerating the ‘subjective’ comprehension of the need for revolution. And incidentally, the form taken by the revolutionary political organisation also goes through different historical phases, linked to the maturation of the class struggle, with the formation of the ‘workers’ party’ itself being closer to the end than the beginning of the whole process. In Mhou’s vision, the party appears rather as an ahistorical abstraction (as in the conception of the Bordigists, who never understood the notion of the communist fraction as elaborated by their political predecessors in the Italian left).

At the same time, as Marx always insisted, the recognition of capitalism as a historically transient system, a system facing profound and insuperable contradictions in the very process of its development – in sum, an understanding of the ‘objective’ limits of the mode of production – is itself a key element in the possibility of the class posing the question of communism, not as a ‘nice idea’, but as a material necessity, a precondition for its very survival. 

mhou
Alf— “When Mhou defines the

Alf—

“When Mhou defines the trade unions as a kind of permanent expression of workers’ self-organisation, which in certain conditions can expand into workers’ self-defence guards, mass assemblies, strike committees, workers’ councils and even the ‘workers’ state’ (a term we also reject, although that’s another discussion) he seems to be stretching the meaning of a particular organisational form beyond breaking point, where it almost becomes the very content of the struggle”

The trade union—an organizational form—is less significant than the definition as trade unionism: the process begun with the origin of the capital/wage labor relation, carrying on through the developmental trajectory of capitalism, continuing to operate after the revolutionary seizure of state power (post-October 1917), and never ceasing to the present day.

When you write, “In our view, it would be much more fruitful to talk about the tendency towards workers’ association as the fundamental expression of the real movement towards communism, a tendency which can indeed take different forms at different historical moments of the class struggle,” I think it leaves too large an opening. The union-form has remained, consistently, the primary organizational form taken by what I call the process (practice, substance and structure) of trade unionism, or what you call the tendency towards workers’ association. It began to develop in its rudimentary form at the origin of capitalism and has never ceased to be produced-reproduced/generated-regenerated, even in moments and episodes of the class struggle which, due either to the acute situation (spontaneous arming of the workers/insurrections) or new developments in the composition of capital/proletariat (like the emergence of mass action and later workers’ councils) expanded the organizational capacity and functionality of working-class self-organization beyond the union-form. Calling this basic process characteristic of labor’s class struggles anything else leaves the trade union question to be resolved through alternative means, and suggests that certain forms of working-class organization could have an independent basis beyond this process of trade unionism—or as you put it, tendency towards workers’ association.

In early drafts I used the term combinations or workers’ combinations to fulfill that purpose (the final draft of CBATUF is still lightly peppered with that term) but changed it for the same reason that I don’t agree with the term workers’ association—even though the term combinations or workers’ combinations is historically linked much closer to trade unionism in its definition.

“Secondly, I don’t see how this debate can advance unless Mhou goes beyond a certain caricature of ‘decadence theory’ which he has put forward in recent posts”

It’s a fair point, and I’m not opposed to shifting specifically to a discussion on decadence.

“For us, there is absolutely nothing automatic or mechanical about the emergence of revolutionary consciousness in the class. It can only come about as the result of a long process of struggle, involving moments of massive and open resistance as well as phases of subterranean maturation; and throughout this process, the activity of the revolutionary organisation is crucial in accelerating the ‘subjective’ comprehension of the need for revolution”

I agree completely. The fundamental divergence is the relationship of theory to practice in the development of the revolutionary organization and its ability to carry out its role in the class struggle.

MH’s response in this thread (#4) prompted my remarks on the apparent division between a ‘daily’ and a ‘revolutionary’ struggle as though they are two different things, specifically this:

“2. In order to struggle for even immediate demands, improvements in wages and conditions, etc., the working class today confronts the reality of globalisation with the threat of simply moving jobs abroad. This objectively demands the response of an international mass strike, across national borders, etc, if the working class is to have any chance of success even in the short term. It is the enormous leap in consciousness required for the workers to take this step that creates the appearance of a division between the 'daily' struggle and a 'revolutionary' struggle - not 'decadence theory' or particular forms of organization”

The first point of disagreement is with the idea of an international mass strike; there does not appear to be any evidence that such a form of struggle is objectively possible. The class struggle, past and present, has not presented in such a manner and while it would certainly be an incalculably fortuitous development for the movement toward communism, again I don’t see any evidence that an international mass strike is objectively possible.

I don’t think it can reasonably be stated that the working-class has no chance of success in the short term (immediate improvements to wages, hours, working and living conditions), not when examples of such success can be assembled that did not involve such a drastic escalation and unprecedented spike in combativity and class consciousness.

It leaves open the question of what the essence/nature of struggles which take place without such higher or advanced forms of struggle really is. It appears to set the bar extremely high for what constitutes class struggle on the workers’ class terrain.

The other reason for claiming there is an apparent made between a ‘daily’ class struggle which serves the bourgeoisie and a ‘revolutionary’ class struggle which serves the proletariat:

As capitalism entered its decadent phase, it was no longer able to accord reforms and improvements to the working class. Having lost all possibility of fulfilling their initial function of defending working class interests, and confronted with an historic situation in which only the abolition of wage labour and with it the disappearance of trade unions was on the agenda, the trade unions became the true defenders of capitalism, agencies of the bourgeois state within the working class” (ICC, Unions Against the Working-Class pamphlet)

The only way I can understand and interpret this political position drawn from the framework of decadence theory is that labor’s class struggles which result in immediate improvements (either through winning demands or successfully resisting capital’s encroachments), without developing higher, greater, more advanced forms of struggle and particularly those that occur within-through-in the orbit of the trade unions (i.e. the overwhelming majority of episodes), are not serving the workers’ but instead the capitalists’ class interests.

On the question of the workers’ class political party and activity of revolutionary organization (and conveniently on Luxemburg), I substantively agree with this from Lukasc:

“Action, praxis – which Marx demanded before all else in his Theses on Feuerbach – is in essence the penetration and transformation of reality. . .

The form taken by the class consciousness of the proletariat is the Party.”  (Lukasc, History and Class Consciousness, The Marxism of Rosa Luxemburg)

The role of the revolutionary organization and the tasks that it sets on the basis of its political positions derived from its theory is central. For me the point of emphasis on this for example:

“In explaining the failure of the 1917-23 revolutionary wave, or the inability of the class in the 1930s to respond on a revolutionary basis to what was at that point the biggest crisis in capitalism’s history, we have looked again and again at the subjective side of the equation, at the “political maturity and level of experience of the working class” which prevented it from greeting the onset of capital’s historic crisis by completing its revolutionary overthrow. And here it was precisely the proletariat’s subjective attachment to obsolete forms of struggle – to parliamentarism, to the social democratic parties and their reformist methods, and not least to trade unionism – which acted as a key obstacle to the struggle for revolution”

Is that the working-class was unable to geographically extend the proletarian revolution into the successful organization of (state) power beyond Russia because of the weaknesses of the revolutionary movement embodied in the Communist parties and in particular (or at least most-profoundly-apparent) the German communist left.

Your characterization of the, “formation of the ‘workers’ party’ itself being closer to the end than the beginning of the whole process,” is to me an inheritance of the same theoretical (and in turn political and practical) weaknesses which were dominant in the Communist parties in Central and Western Europe during the revolutionary wave.

In the contemporary sense, I think there is a definite underestimation of the level of concrete engagement the revolutionary organization must have to both prepare itself (!) and the class for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and transition to communism:

“But while revolutionary minorities appear as both an expression of the proletariat’s inability to struggle constantly with a clear consciousness of its aims, and as an indispensable instrument for overcoming this situation, they don’t because of this have the prerogatives of a function, or a task exclusive to them” (ICC, Communist Organizations and Class Consciousness pamphlet)

While I agree that the most emphatic manifestation of what I wrote in post #6 and elaborated in post #9 on the question of a contradiction between the forces and relations of production and the exact place or significance of the maturity (or senility) of capitalist development for the revolutionary movement and communism can be attributed to the communisation cliques and the like (particularly when they use words like ‘recidivist’ to describe any class struggle which does not immediately assume a communist content and trajectory), this was characteristic of the Dutch-German communist left and has survived in left communism to less apparent degrees.

On that point, is there agreement, at least, that the point of emphasis for decadence is the historic trajectory of capital’s development?

jk1921
Subjective/Objective

Alf wrote:

We have never adhered to this mechanistic conception. In explaining the failure of the 1917-23 revolutionary wave, or the inability of the class in the 1930s to respond on a revolutionary basis to what was at that point the biggest crisis in capitalism’s history, we have looked again and again at the subjective side of the equation, at the “political maturity and level of experience of the working class” which prevented it from greeting the onset of capital’s historic crisis by completing its revolutionary overthrow. And here it was precisely the proletariat’s subjective attachment to obsolete forms of struggle – to parliamentarism, to the social democratic parties and their reformist methods, and not least to trade unionism – which acted as a key obstacle to the struggle for revolution.

I wonder the extent to which this political immaturity was in some ways inevitable given that at the onset of decadence the proletariat's main concrete, practical experience of class struggle was under the conditions imposed by ascendance? Looking at it this way though, the "subjective" failure of the proletariat to complete the revolutionary wave starts to look not quite so subjective. Even if new forms of struggle began to emerge in this period (mass strike, worker's councils) to "match" the new objective conditions of decadence, they were still relatively novel forms at the time that often continued to express a social democratic consciousness appropriate to the prior epoch. A similar situation ocurred among revolutionaries, where the conception of the mass social democratic party did not die easily (even in Russia).

Alf
trade unionism

Mhou is right to correct me on the issue being trade unionism rather than the trade unions as such. But from our point of view, this merely deepens the difficulty facing the working class, because trade unionism, once a conscious expression of class solidarity, has become what Pannekoek sometimes called a 'spiritual' obstacle to raising the struggle to the level of revolution (ie, its a problem at  the level of consciousness and not just of forms). Lenin's critique of 'trade union consciousness' was also not altogether wrong; in fact it was based on what Marx and Engels sensed were already inherent limitations to the trade union, either as ism or form. 

Glad that jk has joined us. 

mhou
JK-- "Even if new forms of

JK-- "Even if new forms of struggle began to emerge in this period (mass strike, worker's councils) to "match" the new objective conditions of decadence, they were still relatively novel forms at the time that often continued to express a social democratic consciousness appropriate to the prior epoch. A similar situation ocurred among revolutionaries, where the conception of the mass social democratic party did not die easily (even in Russia)."

The sophistication demonstrated by the class in its politicization and by the Communist parties in their orientation (both primarily in Russia) suggests that the new situation--particularly that of proletarian revolution and the immediate question of power--was intuitively understood by the workers and consciously understood by at least segments of the socialist movement; or, put another way, the refusal of a majority of the socialist movement to fully appreciate the new situation (within the orbit of the Communist parties) led to the failure to transform the workers' intuitive understanding and concrete actions into the successful organization of power by the class beyond the geographic boundaries of old Imperial Russia.

Alf-- "Lenin's critique of 'trade union consciousness' was also not altogether wrong; in fact it was based on what Marx and Engels sensed were already inherent limitations to the trade union, either as ism or form."

This is another specific point of disagreement, first in whether Lenin's description is best understood as a critique and whether Marx's analysis of trade unionism is veto'd or overwritten by his (and especially Engels') analysis of the British trade unions.

To keep this post brief and on topic, I think a literal reading/interpretation of Marx on trade unionism and Lenin on 'trade union consciousness' is necessary.

 

 

jk1921
Chicken and Egg

mhou wrote:

JK-- "Even if new forms of struggle began to emerge in this period (mass strike, worker's councils) to "match" the new objective conditions of decadence, they were still relatively novel forms at the time that often continued to express a social democratic consciousness appropriate to the prior epoch. A similar situation ocurred among revolutionaries, where the conception of the mass social democratic party did not die easily (even in Russia)."

The sophistication demonstrated by the class in its politicization and by the Communist parties in their orientation (both primarily in Russia) suggests that the new situation--particularly that of proletarian revolution and the immediate question of power--was intuitively understood by the workers and consciously understood by at least segments of the socialist movement; or, put another way, the refusal of a majority of the socialist movement to fully appreciate the new situation (within the orbit of the Communist parties) led to the failure to transform the workers' intuitive understanding and concrete actions into the successful organization of power by the class beyond the geographic boundaries of old Imperial Russia.

Did they refuse to appreciate it or were they acting in accordance with a frame of reference that no longer fit objective material reality? Or, had objective reality changed in such way that the material interests of most of what used to be the "socialist movement" changed, i.e. the SPD became the governing party of a bourgeois state in crisis and its central institutions acted accordingly?

Moreover, I think the proletariat can "intuitively" understand things, but that is still a far cry from a politicized movement advancing its own interests and developing its consciousness. Much of the proletariat today probably intuitively appreciates (finally) that the existing system and institutions do not act in their interets--but the result is Trump and Brexit. What is missing? Is it really just an effective political organization? But where does that come from if it isn't a broader developing struggle. There is a chicken and egg problem here it seems....

mhou
"Did they refuse to

"Did they refuse to appreciate it or were they acting in accordance with a frame of reference that no longer fit objective material reality? Or, had objective reality changed in such way that the material interests of most of what used to be the "socialist movement" changed, i.e. the SPD became the governing party of a bourgeois state in crisis and its central institutions acted accordingly?"

If that were the case, the Marxist method would not be a constant relevant to the capitalist social relation, and instead would be reduced to a determined subjectivism. Either there is validity in saying the same method can give you multiple legitimate outcomes, or that there is indeed a 'right' and 'wrong' way to apply that method to existing conditions.

Concretely, a socialist in that historic moment could not be for a democratic republic without being against a soviet republic (and vice versa). One has to be the legitimate application of the Marxist method. If not, communism is simply a nice idea and not a material necessity.

"Moreover, I think the proletariat can "intuitively" understand things, but that is still a far cry from a politicized movement advancing its own interests and developing its consciousness. Much of the proletariat today probably intuitively appreciates (finally) that the existing system and institutions do not act in their interets--but the result is Trump and Brexit. What is missing? Is it really just an effective political organization? But where does that come from if it isn't a broader developing struggle. There is a chicken and egg problem here it seems...."

"Broader developing struggle," is the kernel. If that means acute class struggles, episodes which develop mass action dynamics, etc. I don't think there is any explanation there for those who are drawn to the socialist movement (in any capacity) who came to be as such without the direct or immediate influence of such forces.

Everyone's direct and personally peculiar relation to the class struggle seems a better explanation for the emergence of the socialist fraction of the class: which certainly includes acute and higher manifestations of labor's class struggles, but also the low simmer of daily and historically insignificant manifestations of the class struggle. 

Growing influence (shown by increasing interest from a larger and diverse sampling of the class) in periods of economic-political-social volatility and insecurity can make it appear that there is a causal relationship there, but how many people reading and posting on this forum for example became socialists solely through a connection to an acute-large scale-higher manifestation of the class struggle?

 

 

 

Alf
Marx and Lenin

I'm not able at present to come back to much in Mhou's recent posts, but I do agree with him that we need to look more deeply into what Marx, Engels and Lenin considered to be the limitations of trade unionism. Could Mhou perhaps start by summarising their views (with references, of course)?

mhou
2 passages

 

Alf--

Sure. The 2 brief passages quoted below (and similar passages from Marx, Lenin and their co-workers) strongly influenced CBATUF. I'll return in another reply to give a brief summary of why I think these passages (and those like them) are significant for interpreting past works and experiences (re: literal reading/interpretation):

"Trades' Unions originally sprang up from the spontaneous attempts of workmen at removing or at least checking that competition, in order to conquer such terms of contract as might raise them at least above the condition of mere slaves. The immediate object of Trades' Unions was therefore confined to everyday necessities, to expediences for the obstruction of the incessant encroachments of capital, in one word, to questions of wages and time of labour. This activity of the Trades' Unions is not only legitimate, it is necessary. It cannot be dispensed with so long as the present system of production lasts. On the contrary, it must be generalised by the formation and the combination of Trades' Unions throughout all countries. On the other hand, unconsciously to themselves, the Trades' Unions were forming centres of organisation of the working class, as the mediaeval municipalities and communes did for the middle class. If the Trades' Unions are required for the guerilla fights between capital and labour, they are still more important as organised agencies for superseding the very system of wages labour and capital rule."

(Marx, "Trades' Unions: Their Past, Present and Future," from the 'Instructions for the Delegates to the Provisional General Council of the IWMA', 1866)

https://www.marxists.org/history/international/iwma/documents/1866/instructions.htm#06

"1. The chief reason why the “socialists” do not understand the dictatorship of the proletariat is that they do not carry the idea of the class struggle to its logical conclusion (C f. Marx, 1852) .[2]

The dictatorship of the proletariat is the continuation of the class struggle of the proletariat in new forms. That is the crux of the matter, and that is what they do not understand.

The proletariat, as a special class, alone continues to wage its class struggle.

2. The state is only a weapon of the proletariat in its class struggle. A special kind of cudgel, rien de plus!Nothing more.—Editor.]

Old prejudices regarding the state (cf. The State and Revolution).New forms of the state the subject of section B; here only the approach to it.

3. The forms of the class struggle ofthe proletariat, under its dictatorship, cannot be what they were before. Five new (principal) tasks and correspondingly five new forms:
4. (1) Suppression of the resistance of the exploiters.k This, as the task (and content) of theepoch, is entirely forgotten by the opportunists and the “socialists”.

Hence:

(αα) the special (higher) severity of the class struggle
(ββ) new forms of resistance corresponding to capitalism and its highest stage (plots + sabotage + influence on the petty bourgeoisie, etc., etc.) and, in particular." 

(Lenin, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat [notes for a pamphlet], 1919)

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/sep/x02.htm

 

jk1921
Politics

mhou wrote:

"Did they refuse to appreciate it or were they acting in accordance with a frame of reference that no longer fit objective material reality? Or, had objective reality changed in such way that the material interests of most of what used to be the "socialist movement" changed, i.e. the SPD became the governing party of a bourgeois state in crisis and its central institutions acted accordingly?"

If that were the case, the Marxist method would not be a constant relevant to the capitalist social relation, and instead would be reduced to a determined subjectivism. Either there is validity in saying the same method can give you multiple legitimate outcomes, or that there is indeed a 'right' and 'wrong' way to apply that method to existing conditions.

Concretely, a socialist in that historic moment could not be for a democratic republic without being against a soviet republic (and vice versa). One has to be the legitimate application of the Marxist method. If not, communism is simply a nice idea and not a material necessity.

It is probably true that there are historical moments wherein individual actors have the freedom to make existential choices and can choose rightly or wrongly given their stated objectives--it is these moments of freedom, I think, that one can speak of "politics." But if Marxism is right there has to be some conditioning relationship of objective conditions to subjective expressions of consciousness, such that if the subjective factor is repeatedly missing it is difficult to chock it up to an aggregation of bad choices, stupidity, etc. In the last instance, the objective conditions must be missing. While it is true that the proletariat can be let down in this or that particular instance by a particular leader, or group of leaders, repeated failures of leadership should raise questions about the objective possibilties. In the end, Marxism would seem to suggest the proletariat will tend to get the leadership it deserves over time.

mhou
The 2 Quoted Passages

The first significant aspect of the quote from Marx is a definition of the terms of the class struggle under the capitalist social relation.

It goes back to the formative constitution of the proletariat as a class-in-itself following its birth cry (machine breaking), the moment of the first act of solidarity: ceasing inner-class competition and instead engaging in resistance/demands against capital.

The second significant aspect is the explicit statement that “[trade unionism] cannot be dispensed with so long as the present system of production lasts,” denoting trade unionism as indicative of labor’s class struggles for the duration of the capitalist social relation.

Refraining from periodizing statements like this (which are not isolated to one document or even one general period in his life)—in other words, by categorizing them as valid for only a specific epoch like ascendant capitalism, the formal subsumption of labor, etc.--demonstrates that Lenin was in total continuity with the letter and spirit of Marx’s position on the definition of labor’s class struggles under the capitalist social relation.

He continues with an implicit suggestion that the ever increasing organization of the working-class, particularly on the international terrain, is a political task of the socialist movement.

And most importantly, the final line—which explicitly categorizes the trade unions as, “organized agencies for superseding the very system of wage labor and capital rule.”

Lenin’s work prior to 1917 carried on and in many instances elaborated this perspective of labor’s class struggles. There is an unmistakable continuity on this point in his works from the 1890’s up to the revolutions of 1917.

After the October Revolution and up to his death, his well-known thesis of the trade unions as ‘Schools of Communism’ under the dictatorship of the proletariat carries Marx’s characterizations to their conclusion.

Point by point comments (I only quoted the first 4 points in my last reply):

I. Diverse organizational forms derived from the same class struggles that produce and reproduce the trade unions but which have expanded functionality beyond the union-form--the organs of workers’ control/power— in addition to labor’s class struggles which are capable, without revolutionary intervention, of producing insurrections and which may, in particular conditions, grow from and alter the character of acute crises to challenge the power of the capitalist state directly.

While this opening section of Lenin’s planned pamphlet on the proletarian dictatorship in 1919 are just notes, they convey, without polish or framing, the core theoretical lessons of the practical experience of the proletariat seizing (and holding) state power for the first time guided by a Communist Party.

The soviet-form (first in 1905 and then their proliferation throughout 1917), red guards, cheka, red army, factory/shop committees: all of these organizational forms have the same basis as older forms of class organization—the union-form and the party-form—all of which derive from the same fundamental content of the class struggles of wage laborers against capital under the conditions of the capitalist social relation. Lenin references a letter from Marx (March 5, 1852 letter to Joseph Weydemeyer) that contains the line:

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

And in this way, the birth cry of the proletariat as an independent social force signaled with manifestations of machine breaking, the constitution and consolidation of the class-in-itself in the end of inner-class competition and resistance/demands against capital over wages, hours and the terms and conditions of work, inevitably lead to the formation of soviets, political strikes, insurrection, the Communist Party and the dictatorship of the proletariat. A single, unitary phenomenon, labor’s class struggles retain their fundamental content from the origin of the capitalist social relation and continue to retain this fundamental content until capital and the conditions which allow for the reemergence of capital have been abolished and permanently exterminated.

II. State power does not change this content, but dramatically and exponentially escalates it.

The proletariat is the sole class which continues to wage its class struggles. State power is the ultimate weapon for the continuation and escalation of labor’s class struggles.

III. Lenin applies the experience of the emergence and proliferation of the soviets to definitively erase any conception of a democratic republic as the organizational form of the proletarian dictatorship (which lingered after the Commune). This new fact in the class struggle had solved the organizational question.

In addition, the new forms characteristic of labor’s class struggles under the conditions of proletarian revolution differ from the forms characteristic of labor’s class struggles under non-revolutionary conditions as it relates to function.

IV. The epoch of proletarian revolution and proletarian dictatorship is the continuation of the increasingly acute class struggle under the capitalist social relation, in which the movement toward communism is combined with the state power in service to a final tangible- physical victory of the proletariat (using its command of organization) in the class struggle—first against the capitalists and other exploiting strata, then against capital.

Taking Marx’s explicit statements as characteristic of the entire capitalist social relation, and not as the product of and only relevant to a particular period or epoch alters first how we view and interpret Marx and second how we view and interpret later Marxists.

From this starting point of a literal reading of Marx on a definition of the class struggle (and by extension the trade union question), Lenin’s contributions up to 1917 are largely not original formulations or perspectives, but in the letter and spirit of Marx on these subjects (What Is To Be Done? etc.). After 1917, there is a definite continuity in the method employed, beginning with the unitary conception of the class struggle characteristic of the capitalist social relation through to the perspective of labor’s self-organization in diverse forms (up to and including proletarian dictatorship viz a viz a workers’ state derived from the organs of workers’ control/power and in particular workers’ councils).

The last line of CBATUF is a quote from the debate on the trade union question at the Second Congress of the Communist International:

“There is no ‘new method’ in this struggle”

At its most distilled/stripped bare essence, I think that is the biggest point to take away from such a reading of Marx, Lenin and their contemporaries-coworkers-accomplices-‘heirs’ (for lack of a better word).

Alf
limitations

thanks Mhou for your two posts summarising why you think that your position on trade unionism is in direct continuity with those of Marx and Lenin. I think that there is a lot of work to be done to demonstrate the limitations of these positions, particularly the idea of the unions as "organised agencies for superseding the very system of wage labour". We think that the history of the class struggle in the 20th century has proved Marx wrong on this point. But in making this critique of Marx, we would argue that we can also refer to what Marx (and Engels and Lenin) also obserrved about the limitations of trade unions or trade unionism, and this was the content my original question to you, which I will rephrase. So far you have quoted Marx and Lenin on unions as potential 'levers' of the revolutionary transformation, but do you also see any indications of an explicit or implict awareness of the limitations of the trade unions in their writings?

mhou
Re: Limitations

Alf--

Is there a specific area that you feel expresses their views on these limitations? My first thought when reading your reply is on the developmental trajectory of the theory of the 'aristocracy of labor'-- first in Marx's and especially Engels' works (largely from their interactions with and observations of the English trade unions) and solidified by Lenin's theory of imperialism; but I don't think that is what you had in mind.

As a brief addition to the last post, on Marx's line-- of the trade unions as “organized agencies for superseding the very system of wage labor and capital rule,”  -- can be taken literally as having the same meaning as Lenin's formulation of the trade unions as 'school of communism' under the conditions of proletarian dictatorship, or in other words that it applies directly to the union-form

but I think the experience of the 20th century (emergence of the soviet-form) gives it additional meaning as well. MH's article in reply to CBATUF accurately distilled my views on workers' councils when writing, "that they are simply a form of trade unionism in a period of revolutionary struggles," (which is a much clearer formulation than what I wrote)

so to me, Marx's line, based on a definition of the unitary class struggle characteristic of the capitalist social relation from its emergence to its eventual overthrow, anticipated first the concrete experience of the Paris Commune by many years and again anticipated the revolutions of 1917 by many decades, anticipating the concrete emergence of proletarian dictatorship arising from the terms and conditions of the class struggle and the emergence of workers' councils as the form of the organization of power by the working-class led by a Communist Party.

JK--

I was giving this line from your response some thought:

"But if Marxism is right there has to be some conditioning relationship of objective conditions to subjective expressions of consciousness, such that if the subjective factor is repeatedly missing it is difficult to chock it up to an aggregation of bad choices, stupidity, etc. "

At first I was only going to disagree with the characterizations of the shortcomings (bad choices, stupidity, etc.)-- because as a collective effort, those characteristics are more likely to manifest in individuals and not the common work of a revolutionary organization or a broadly defined socialist movement.

Even nominally revolutionary organizations with reasonably obvious political defects (thinking of Trotskyist groups) are often host to extremely capable members. Interpretation of theory and history seem to be the foundation of every organized expression of that class consciousness indicative of revolutionaries. 'False' (for lack of a better word) theory and conception of history = coming up short, no matter how capable the constituents of the socialist movement/members of the revolutionary organization or the objective conditions of the class struggle.

Workers and revolutionaries stubbornly held on to Lassallean notions into the 20th century in certain countries, even enveloping them in Marxist language. The effect of this lingering backwash was pretty significant for labor's class struggles in tangible terms. It took time and effort to finally exorcise Lassalle from the socialist movement, and by extension the working-class. 

LBird
'False theory' is a good class concept

mhou wrote:
 'False' (for lack of a better word) theory and conception of history = coming up short, no matter how capable the constituents of the socialist movement/members of the revolutionary organization or the objective conditions of the class struggle.

This is very close to what I've been arguing for years - 'false theory', to use mhou's tentative term.

Only the class itself can determine what constitutes 'false theory' for its own interests, purposes and practice.

That's why I've offered many thoughts about what I consider to be 'false theories' that have handicapped the development of the class self-consciousness of the proletariat. In this list I'd include 'material = matter', which I think was Engels' misunderstanding of Marx's category of 'material = humanity' (or, 'material = social'). Marx was contrasting 'ideal = divine' with 'material = human', and not referring to 'matter' ('hard stuff', which individuals can touch).

In my opinion, mhou's phrase of 'false theory' is a good way of capturing the view that, no matter how 'good' the 'objective conditions', if workers start from erroneous ideas, they will continually fail to make a revolution.

The simplistic notion that 'material conditions' (ie. 'hard reality') will compel workers to make a revolution, without them having first got the 'theory' right for themselves, has always proved to be a 'false theory', and it will continue to be so.

mhou
Expressions of theory

One brief thought occurred to me Lbird after reading your reply: I'm not exactly sure how you perceive/what your conception of the transmission (for lack of a better word) of theory by, to and among the working-class is.

I know we don't agree on this, only based on your earlier posts concerning the workers' class political party. 

The means might be the same ('false theory') in this instance but the ends are divergent.

LBird
Just what and whose are 'the ends'?

mhou wrote:

One brief thought occurred to me Lbird after reading your reply: I'm not exactly sure how you perceive/what your conception of the transmission (for lack of a better word) of theory by, to and among the working-class is.

'Transmission' between workers, by workers and for workers. That is, not 'transmission by an active party to passive workers'. 

mhou wrote:
I know we don't agree on this, only based on your earlier posts concerning the workers' class political party.

No, I don't think that we agree on this, either. But we can still have comradely discussions about it, to allow any interested but undecided workers to examine the various political positions that confront them, as theories offered by Communist workers. 

mhou wrote:
The means might be the same ('false theory') in this instance but the ends are divergent.

Yes, our 'ends are divergent'. I think that your 'end' is 'power to a party', whereas my 'end' is 'democratic power to the class'. From what I can tell, you still look to Lenin as an inspiration (in both theory and practice), whereas I regard the whole Second International, Kautsky, Plekhanov, Lenin and Trotsky, etc., as a dead-end for workers' power. None of those had any intention whatsoever of 'allowing' workers themselves to democratically decide what their own interests, purposes, means and ends should be.

Perhaps I'm wrong about your politics, and I'd be glad to be put right by you, in that case.

d-man
drunken fighting

What is up with this exchange between mhou and alf (/ICC)? It seems you're arguing drunken style. In WITBD Lenin quotes Kautsky's article "The Revision of the Austrian Social Democratic Programme". The English translation of this article is found in the appendix of "Lenin and the Logic of Hegemony" (Alan Shandro, 2014). Shouldn't you guys first read that original article (for example in order to understand what Kautsky was criticising)?

Alf
shorry?

hello d-man. Which exchange are you referring to - the one between me and mhou or between Mhou and LBird?

d-man
Between you and mhou. You

Between you and mhou. You can't properly respond to mhou's defense of trade-unionism because he is just making more explicit the ICC's own economism (underground maturation of consciousness etc.), which goes back to your (and many Trotskyists') rejection of Lenin's WITBD (it seems mhou is quite conscious about this, and so I wonder if he is trying to actually just force you to take your own position to its logical conclusion). Given that the latter work cites from an article by Kautsky (that wasn't translated in full until 2014), it makes sense to first consult it, before you imagine to have advanced any step beyond the old controversy. 

mhou
power--party/class

Lbird--"Yes, our 'ends are divergent'. I think that your 'end' is 'power to a party', whereas my 'end' is 'democratic power to the class'"

I think those are two ways of saying the same thing.

"'Transmission' between workers, by workers and for workers. That is, not 'transmission by an active party to passive workers'"

That sounds too much like the 'order-givers'/'order-takers' schema. 

It also ignores the complicated social links (organization) inherent to the class struggle and the (potential) relationship of the political party to all of them; which includes the direct/indirect means by which non-party workers influence the party. The analogy given in the Communist International was to a series of interlocking gears.

d-man-- Do you think Kautsky's article fundamentally changes the existing terms of the discussion on WITBD/or specifically the articulation of 'trade union consciousness'?

 

 

 

Alf
economism

I would agree that we have not yet made a sufficient critique of economism, and have therefore been vulnerable to it (although the conception of subterranean maturation was developed in response to a more explicit economist/councilist trend in our ranks). However, while we reject certain of Lenin's conceptions in WITBD, we also share the fundamentals of his critique of economism contained in it; as here for example:

http://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/200401/317/1903-4-birth-bolshevism

LBird
Lenin's party versus Marx's class

mhou wrote:

Lbird--"Yes, our 'ends are divergent'. I think that your 'end' is 'power to a party', whereas my 'end' is 'democratic power to the class'"

I think those are two ways of saying the same thing.

And that's the political difference between us, mhou.

You think 'party=class' (which is Leninism), whereas I think 'class=class' (which is Marxism). I'm a Marxist, not a Leninist.

mhou wrote:

"'Transmission' between workers, by workers and for workers. That is, not 'transmission by an active party to passive workers'"

That sounds too much like the 'order-givers'/'order-takers' schema.

Yes, the 'order-givers'/'order-takers' schema is that of the Leninists. They see the 'party' as the 'order-givers' and the 'class' as the 'order/takers'. In contrast, Marxists see the class as the 'order-givers', and their parties as the 'order-takers'.

mhou wrote:

It also ignores the complicated social links (organization) inherent to the class struggle and the (potential) relationship of the political party to all of them; which includes the direct/indirect means by which non-party workers influence the party.

No, it stresses the relationship, as one where the class consciously directs its own parties. That is, 'non-party workers' have authority over their 'party workers' (unless, of course, the majority of the workers are actually members of the party). Whilst any 'workers' party' is a minority of the class, that party remains subject to the authority, orders and power of the conscious class.

mhou wrote:
The analogy given in the Communist International was to a series of interlocking gears.

The Communist International was a Leninist organisation, whose aim was to give orders to workers. It supposed that it was the 'driving gear', and that the class was the 'driven gear'.

In reality, in any class conscious workers' movement, it wll be the class which 'drives the gears', and the parties which will be 'driven'. It's a question of workers' power, which must be democratic.

d-man
I merely mentioned Kautsky's

I merely mentioned Kautsky's article as background for WITBD. The relevant passage is quoted by Lenin almost in its entirety, but still, it does no harm to look up Kautsky's article.

It seems you follow Arrigo Cervetto (Lotta Communista), who you referenced in your text, in claiming that Lenin's comments in WITBD on trade-unionism should not be read as a critique, or what have you (which looks like an original, but also quite dubious claim). The ICC on the other hand holds to the claim that Lenin "was bending the stick" and afterwards himself ditched his standpoint expressed in WITBD. I disagree also with that position (the textual evidence is unconvincing, and I trace this claim back mostly to Trotsky).

 

Alf
Cervetto

That's the first time we've been labelled as followers of Cervetto...In fact we wrote a three part article rejecting his interpretation of Lenin, among other things.http://en.internationalism.org/taxonomy/term/862

But you have raised some important points which I can't respond to at the moment. This thread poses a wider question about the strengths and limits of trade unionism in the 19th century, and early 20th century, and the attitude of revolutionaries towards the unions in that period, but to approach the question seriously requires research and reflection, which will take time. 

d-man
I was addressing mhou, whose

I was addressing mhou, whose text refers to Cervetto. I assume mhou follows (or was influenced by) Cervetto's interpretation of WITBD, but mhou can correct me if I'm wrong.

mhou
Re: Cervetto

d-man: Cervetto was used as a foil. His text Class Struggles and Revolutionary Party is interesting-- but inadvertently. He starts to elaborate an interpretation and then abruptly turns it off, pasting in ready-made formulations:

“Lenin does not remain a prisoner of the formula. Rather, he penetrates to the substance, analyzes it, connects it to the strategy's general movement. He considers the Soviets and the trade unions. In the former he sees both the factors that can be developed into the pillars of the dictatorship of the proletariat as well as the factors that can be used by petty-bourgeois democracy's counter-revolution. In the latter he sees both the class momentum that can make trade unions a "school of war" for the social war that has begun, as well as the traits that make them a social organization for labor aristocracy and opportunist bureaucracy”

The quoted line in CBATUF reads (which is contradicted by Cervetto himself within the same text, for example in the quote above):

“If Marxism and Lenin, in What Is To Be Done?, say that the proletariat’s spontaneity is trade unionist, this is because the proletariat is subjected to the political influence of the other classes (bourgeois and petit-bourgeois) and not because the proletariat is in and of itself trade unionist”

The argument against Cervetto included in CBATUF:

‘Our starting point is the opposite of Cervetto’s conclusion drawn from the experiences of the labor movement: the working-class is in and of itself trade unionist, beginning with the dual content of wage labor (reproduction/negation of capital) and by this contradictory content carries the agency to transform capitalism into communism by its capacity to engender and abolish its own class dictatorship through the class struggle. Trade unionism as the content of labor’s class struggles is by default permanently subject to the political influence of other classes; only the workers’ party can overcome this influence and even then only with permanent vigilance. Yet all of labor’s class struggles are conspiracies against private property—the class for itself no more than the class in itself is but trade unionist’

--which I think takes his line of thought to its conclusion. His interpretation-as-exposition of Lenin’s work is at war with the political conclusions which were made in advance. Instead of justifying his pre-existing conclusions, his interpretations seem to argue against them. Looking at it that way, it’s like Class Struggles and Revolutionary Party was written backwards.

I’d also parse the bit about ‘schools of war’ further, since the implication in that first quote is that the trade unions as ‘schools of war’ was a formulation for the proletarian revolution—when it was first articulated by Engels 70 years earlier to describe the tendency toward organized force/class violence as a companion to and manifestation of trade unionism in The Condition of the Working-Class in England under the ‘normal’ conditions of capitalism; something that Lenin picked up by building on the ‘school of war’ by adding the ‘school of communism’ formulation under the conditions of proletarian dictatorship.

So I think to say this is ‘following Cervetto’ is too generous; there’s an influence there, but it’s largely fleshed out in relief rather than in the affirmative. 

d-man
Well I said that because

Well I said that because Cervetto's book seems too lenient on trade-unionism for me (I admit just skimming it), so you can sort of claim or read him against himself, whereas at the opposite end, the ICC attacks him for being too Leninist. By the way, it's typical that even you, who are so much putting up a defense for trade-unionism, still will get branded a "Leninist" (by Lbird).

Lenin's 1907 article 'Intellectualist Warriors Against Domination by the Intelligentsia' is useful to consult.

LBird
An elite by any other name would be as undemocratic

d-man wrote:

By the way, it's typical that even you [ie. mhou], who are so much putting up a defense for trade-unionism, still will get branded a "Leninist" (by Lbird).

As a Marxist, who thus argues for the revolutionary and democratic proletariat, my starting point is the self-development of a workers' class consciousness that is revolutionary and democratic.

The trades unions are neither revolutionary nor democratic, so they can't be the organisational basis for the development of workers' self-determination.

The Leninist parties are neither revolutionary nor democratic, so they can't be the organisational basis for the development of workers' self-determination.

For Marxists, the real issue is what form of organisation do workers require, to build their own self-confidence?

Parties, unions, councils...?

I don't have an answer (and I'd argue that, at present, no-one does), but until workers start to develop their own ideas about their own self-development, then they'll always be in thrall to elites who claim to speak for workers and to have the workers' best interests at heart - elites like parties and unions, led by elites like union bureaucrats and central committees.

I'd argue that only revolutionary democracy can form the basis of any workers' organisation which has the aim of workers' self-development.

d-man
The phrase about the

The phrase about the development of workers' own consciousness about their own self-development, reminds me about the phrase “Think for Yourself”, about which Hegel said the following in The Shorther Logic (1830):

The real nature of the object is brought to light in reflection; but it is no less true that this exertion of thought is my act. If this be so, the real nature is a product of my mind, in its character of thinking subject — generated by me my simple universality, self-collected and removed from extraneous influences — in one word, in my Freedom.

‘Think for yourself’ is a phrase which people often use as if it had some special significance. The fact is, no man can think for another, any more than he can eat or drink for him and the expression is a pleonasm. To think is in fact ipso facto to be free, for thought as the action of the universal is an abstract relating of self to self, where, being at home with ourselves, and as regards our subjectivity utterly blank, our consciousness is, in the matter of its contents, only in the fact and its characteristics. If this be admitted, and if we apply the term humility or modesty to an attitude where our subjectivity is not allowed to interfere by act or quality, it is easy to appreciate the question touching the humility or modesty and pride of philosophy. For in point of contents, thought is only true in proportion as it sinks itself in the facts; and in point of form it is no private or particular state or act of the subject, but rather that attitude of consciousness where the abstract self, freed from all the special limitations to which its ordinary states or qualities are liable, restricts itself to that universal action in which it is identical with all individuals. In these circumstances philosophy may be acquitted of the charge of pride. And when Aristotle summons the mind to rise to the dignity of that attitude, the dignity he seeks is won by letting slip all our individual opinions and prejudices, and submitting to the sway of the fact.

LBird
Are we 'individuals', or a 'class'?

d-man wrote:

The phrase about the development of workers' own consciousness about their own self-development, reminds me about the phrase “Think for Yourself”, about which Hegel said the following in The Shorther Logic (1830):

The real nature of the object is brought to light in reflection; but it is no less true that this exertion of thought is my act. If this be so, the real nature is a product of my mind, in its character of thinking subject — generated by me my simple universality, self-collected and removed from extraneous influences — in one word, in my Freedom.

The problem with this quote from Hegel is that, as for all bourgeois academics (ie. ideologists), it focuses upon the individual - it only refers to 'my' and 'me', to the exclusion of any social subject, which is a product of history.

d-man wrote:

‘Think for yourself’ is a phrase which people often use as if it had some special significance. The fact is, no man can think for another, any more than he can eat or drink for him and the expression is a pleonasm. To think is in fact ipso facto to be free...

No, you're wrong, d-man.

'The fact is', all 'individuals' are, according to Marx, social individuals, and so we do 'think for [one] another'. You incorrectly compare 'thinking' (a social act, which is thus historically, and changes) to 'eating and drinking', which are mere biological acts. Social thinking must be democratic thinking.

And your argument that 'to think is to be free' is merely a reworking of bourgeois ideology. For Communists, it's more apposite to argue that 'to produce is to be free'.

So, thinking and producing are socio-historic activities, and because they are social, they must be under our democratic control. There are no 'special geniuses' who have a non-social, non-historical access to 'thinking' or 'production'. These are merely the 'Great Men' of infamy.

Your post throws great light, I think, upon the wider discussion about whether any workers' organisations require democracy (because they are social in character), or whether an elite of special individuals, who are already 'free' (because any organisation is merely a collection of isolated, yet 'free', individuals) should determine the interests, purposes, needs, means and ends of the revolutionary proletariat.

Marx was arguing for the democratic control of social production, not the realisation of the bourgeois myth of 'free individuals'. Any 'freedom' that is to come for us, must be a social freedom for all, and that 'freedom' can only be collectively determined by all, not by isolated 'free' individuals.

d-man
LBird, I mean just imagine

LBird, I mean just imagine the proletariat as one subject ("individual" in the Hegel quote) and then your claim, that, "we do 'think for [one] another'", translates into "a special bourgeois elite does think for the proletariat". You are arguing that such an elite should not think for the proletariat, that is, you do believe in present-day reality the proletariat's thinking is not done "by itself", but by some elites, and that this is wrong/undemocratic etc. Instead the proletariat should "think for itself". (And furthmore you set out on the pathway of speculation on what the conditions of possibility are, for this to be realised. A classic Kantian error.)

Hegel is saying that to "think for yourself" is a meaningless phrase (just as Lenin, in the article I linked, says about the phrase "self-organisation"). He is not endorsing it, far less triumphalist. Rather "to think" is very modest. It means to "submit to the sway of facts" (as I highlighted in the Hegel-quote), and "letting slip all our individual opinions and prejudices".

You could say that if the proletarian collective is "to think" (correctly), it means to submit itself to the sway of facts. Maybe it is not a stretch to connect this with Lenin's point in WITBD against the phrase about the right/freedom to criticise in the party.

LBird
Lenin differs from Marx regarding the 'active side'

d-man wrote:

LBird, I mean just imagine the proletariat as one subject ("individual" in the Hegel quote)...

Well, I do 'imagine the proletariat as one subject'. A 'class' is a 'social subject'.

d-man wrote:
...and then your claim, that, "we do 'think for [one] another'", translates into "a special bourgeois elite does think for the proletariat".

I'm not sure how you translate "democratic workers' control" into "elite control", but clearly I don't agree with your 'translation'.

d-man wrote:
You are arguing that such an elite should not think for the proletariat, that is, you do believe in present-day reality the proletariat's thinking is not done "by itself", but by some elites, and that this is wrong/undemocratic etc. Instead the proletariat should "think for itself".

Yes, I think that the proletariat at present does not 'think for itself' (or it would then be a 'class for itself', as Marx argued it needs to develop itself into). The world we presently live in has been built by a social class whose interests and purposes are alien to ours.

d-man wrote:
(And furthmore you set out on the pathway of speculation on what the conditions of possibility are, for this to be realised. A classic Kantian error.)

Well, since Marx emerged from the German Idealist viewpoint, and openly paid tribute to Idealism's ability to have produced the needed notion of 'activity' (which Marx labelled 'social labour'), he was clearly influenced by Kant, amongst others like Fichte and Hegel.

So, if Marx's argument was about social theory and practice ('theory' clearly being 'speculative about possibilities'), then you're arguing that the error was Marx's too, not just Kant's.

d-man wrote:
Hegel is saying that to "think for yourself" is a meaningless phrase (just as Lenin, in the article I linked, says about the phrase "self-organisation"). He is not endorsing it, far less triumphalist. Rather "to think" is very modest. It means to "submit to the sway of facts" (as I highlighted in the Hegel-quote), and "letting slip all our individual opinions and prejudices".

This bourgeois notion of 'submitting to facts' is clearly a conservative and anti-revolutionary ideology. 'Facts' are social products, which is why Marx talks about social production. I think that you're a Leninist 'materialist', and follow Engels' misunderstanding of Marx, on this issue. Engels thought 'material' meant 'matter' (ie. 'facts' out there, waiting to be passively discovered). Engels clearly didn't appreciate the political significance of 'matter', whereas Marx did, when he warned against the 'materialists' in his Theses on Feuerbach. Marx recognised that 'materialism' lead to 'elite rule'.

Whilst workers 'submit to the sway of facts' they will remain passive in the face of someone else's 'reality'. 'Capitalism' is a 'fact', but we didn't build it.

d-man wrote:
You could say that if the proletarian collective is "to think" (correctly), it means to submit itself to the sway of facts. Maybe it is not a stretch to connect this with Lenin's point in WITBD against the phrase about the right/freedom to criticise in the party.

This is counterrevolutionary talk, d-man. I don't mean that you are one, but the social ideas that you've picked up are opposed to any notion of workers' self-development, and their own building of their own 'facts'.

Lastly, I'm not a Leninist, so I think that this is the ideological difference between us. I regard Lenin's ideas as completely deleterious to workers' self-development, and that they merely provide the ideological camouflage for a new elite, who will presume to tell workers just what the 'facts' are, and will require workers to remain passive in the face of this new 'party elite'.

Since I'm a Marxist, I also argue for workers' democratic power. Lenin, in contrast to Marx, argued for an elite party, which has a 'special consciousness' which is not available to all workers.

Class consciousness is the product of an active class, not of a small active elite in a non-democratic party, which believes workers to be essentially passive.

d-man
I agree with Plekhanov, that

I agree with Plekhanov, that "Marx was wrong when he reproached Feuerbach for not comprehending ‘practical-critical’ activity’. Feuerbach did understand it."

I'm familiar with you're position (generally shared by the SWP, of which you're a former member iirc). Here is how one of their theorists, John Molyneux (in 1983) put it:

"I have attempted elsewhere [namely in Marxism and the Party, 1978] to refute this [Leninist] position, to show its harmful consequences, and to demonstrate that it was characteristic of Lenin's thought only up to his experience of the revolutionary working class in 1905. Suffice it to say there that the Kautsky-Lenin theory is an example of the contemplative materialism criticised by Marx in the Theses on Feuerbach, and that, in the Communist Manifesto, Marx offers his own explanation of the role of the socialist intelligentsia."

By the way, I do wonder where the ICC's anti-Leninist position derives from. My guess is that it's under the influence of councilism or just the wider Trotskyist milieu (ie petty-bourgeois radicalisms of the 1960s), rather than from Bilan or Chirik's generation. Although, sadly even the CWO (ICT) too rejects Lenin's WITBD.

 

 

 

LBird
Councils or parties?

d-man wrote:

I agree with Plekhanov, that "Marx was wrong when he reproached Feuerbach for not comprehending ‘practical-critical’ activity’. Feuerbach did understand it."

I disagree with Plekhanov in what I've read about his work - not that I'm greatly familiar with it. He was bog-standard 2nd International, didn't understand Marx, and followed Engels' 'materialism'.

Seems we have yet another disagreement between us, about Marx, who I agree with about Feuerbach.

d-man wrote:

I'm familiar with you're position (generally shared by the SWP, of which you're a former member iirc). Here is how one of their theorists, John Molyneux (in 1983) put it:

My position is nothing like the SWP's, which is bog-standard Leninism: 'Party knows best'. I left it over the issue of 'democracy', as do most workers, when they find out that the apparatus, and not the membership, control the party.

d-man wrote:

By the way, I do wonder where the ICC's anti-Leninist position derives from. My guess is that it's under the influence of councilism or just the wider Trotskyist milieu (ie petty-bourgeois radicalisms of the 1960s), rather than from Bilan or Chirik's generation. Although, sadly even the CWO (ICT) too rejects Lenin's WITBD.

 I wouldn't characterise the ICC as 'anti-Leninist' - to me, it seems to share the same ideological beliefs as you do: once again, 'party knows best'. This is a constant feature of 'materialist' parties: that an elite minority 'know matter', so there's no need for workers to vote on the issue.

I think that any 'anti-Leninism' in the proletariat comes from their personal experience of it! Every worker that I've known who joined a cadre party has left it, and had much the same criticisms of them as me. Put simply: the party never does as it's told by the workers that it recruits. The party always seems to think that it is the basis of power, rather than workers as a class.

When a party does as it's told by the workers that it recruits, we'll all know that it's a workers' party.

The role of the party is to learn, not teach.

On the whole, I think councilism provides more useful lessons for workers than does partyism or trades unionism. I thought that the ICC was 'councilist' when I first started posting, but from the members who post here, the ICC seems to be much the same as any Leninist group that I've come across.

d-man
For the record, I'm not a

For the record, I'm not a member of the ICC. I've read about the lack of internal party democracy in the SWP. I've also pointed out that its theorists say the same thing as you do about Lenin's WITBD, passive materialism etc. (ie rejecting it). So here we have indeed a real example of lack of internal party democracy, coupled with a rejection of Lenin's WITBD by the leading party theorists. So at a minimum, all that shows is that the lack of democracy in SWP cannot be traced back to any adherence on their part to "Leninism". But I argue more strongly, that, on the contrary, their lack of democracy (and a whole bunch of other problems) should be traced back to their rejection of Leninism.

mhou
Old RM Article

The ICC's section in Mexico (I think?) published this polemic in 1989 which conveniently outlines the ICT/IBRP vs ICC position on WITBD and echoes some of what Lbird wrote earlier in this thread, for example:

"Thus for example, perhaps we would be able to agree that the function of the party is ‘to lead' the proletariat. But this agreement would only be more apparent than real: since at pre­sent others (like the IBRP) consider ‘idealistic' the notion that the proletarian masses develop revolutionary consciousness as a condition for the taking of power, it's evident that because of this they have to see their relationship as es­sentially identical to that which, for example, exists between officers and soldiers in modern armies, or between the boss and the workers in the factory: that is to say, a relationship in which only the leader knows the real aims to follow, whereas for the led, these aims appear behind ideological clouds and, therefore, they have to be pushed along an imposed direction (in a patriarchal and authoritarian way), a rela­tionship of the dominating to the dominated"

https://en.internationalism.org/node/3065

d-man:

In brief: I'm not denying the 'Leninist' label, and would disagree with Lbird that Trotskyists are ever representative of 'Leninism'; also not denying the content of WITBD.

LBird
What determines whether a party is 'Leninist'?

Thanks for that quote, mhou. It touches upon the key issue of what characterises 'Leninism' - the 'faith' in 'matter' (ie. 'materialism'). Believers in 'matter' argue that 'matter' (like an 'officer') determines what 'workers' (like 'soldiers') should regard as 'Truth'. That is, the source of power is not the soldiers, but the officer. The soldiers cannot be allowed to vote upon their beliefs and authorities.

The scientific question for workers is "who (or what) determines 'truth'?".

Elitist materialists argue that 'matter' determines 'truth', and so workers must obey 'matter' (or, 'reality', 'objective conditions', 'nature', 'existence', 'being', etc., etc.).

Marxists, on the contrary, being believers in workers' power, which is democratic, argue that only the workers (producers) can determine their product. Since we humans produce 'our truth', only we humans who do the producing of 'truth' can determine what is, or isn't, 'true'. Thus, 'truth' is subject to a democratic vote. Social theory and practice produces our object. We create our 'reality'.

This political belief (democracy or elitism) underlies philosophy (Marxist 'social productionism' or Leninist 'materialism') which underlies one's political view of the potential of the proletariat. Either the class determines democratically, or the party determines as an elite. The former is Marxism, the latter is Leninism.

Leninism goes hand-in-hand with a belief in 'matter'. That's why the SWP and all the Trotskyist parties are Leninist. They won't have workers voting on the creation of their own reality, in their own interests, for their own needs and purposes.

Much the same argument can be made about trades unions, which is why neither party nor union organisations will ever develop workers' self-consciousness of their own power.

The purpose of any workers' organisation must be to put workers in the driving seat of that organisation, not a central committee or union bureaucracy.

LBird
Both IBRP and ICC are Leninist, it seems

Article referred to by mhou - https://en.internationalism.org/node/3065

ICC wrote:
For us, on the contrary, the direction given by the communist party is nothing other than the comprehension, the profound conviction that develops in the whole of the working class, of the correctness of the party's programmatic po­sitions and of its slogans, which are the expres­sion of the class' own movement. A conviction at which the masses will arrive through learning the historical lessons that they extract from their struggle, in which the party participates taking a vanguard role. Between the party and the proletariat there is a relationship of a new type, the sole property of the working class.

So then, for some, the constitution of the proletariat into a class means that the party, unique bearer of the proletarian/revolutionary consciousness, comes to the head of the masses, who - despite all their experience of struggle ­are permanently dominated by bourgeois ideol­ogy. For others, on the contrary, the constitu­tion of the proletariat as a class means that the masses, through their experience, and the inter­vention of the party, advance towards revolu­tionary proletarian consciousness. The IBRP hold the first position, we the second;...

[my bold]

Here we can see that both positions, rather than being contrary, are actually the same Leninism.

This is the political and ideological assumption that the party knows 'class consciousness' prior to its formation by the class.

For Marxists, only the class can produce its own class consciousness.

The party cannot determine 'the correctness of its programme' - only the workers can determine that, by a vote. That is, the party programme is measured against the class programme. The class produces its own programme.

Of course, parts of the party programme may, or may not, agree with what workers determine. All well and good if parts of the party programme are determined by workers themselves to be correct. The incorrect programme is discarded, and the party corrected, by the workers. The origin of 'correctness' is the class itself.

But the party's 'vanguard role' is not one of leadership. It's more like the 'vanguard' of the 'point man' of a section of soldiers on patrol. That is, being 'at the front' is all risk and no control of the section itself.

The key characteristic of Leninism is the belief that 'class consciousness' can be built by someone other than the class itself (the 'other' being party, union, 'matter', 'science', central committee, etc.).

The key characteristic of Marxism is the belief that only the workers themselves can build their own class consciousness.

d-man
In the Bolshevik party there

In the Bolshevik party there was a philosophical current around the idealist philosophy of Bogdanov, which LBird no doubt has heard of (for a critique see here). I do not mean "idealist" as an insult. It's well-known also that this philosophy was developed by the bourgeoisie (LBird correctly mentioned Kant, famous for his 'Copernican turn'). This philosophy is absolutely dominant in the university social sciences, as far as I know, under various names ("social constructionism", "post-positivism" etc.). That ever again attempts are made to claim Marx for this idealism is also a given (eg today's Zizek even has the gall to resurrect Schelling under the garb of a supposedly new, improved dialectical materialism).

LBird
Materialists always call critics 'Idealists' and ignore Marx

d-man wrote:

In the Bolshevik party there was a philosophical current around the idealist philosophy of Bogdanov, which LBird no doubt has heard of (for a critique see here). I do not mean "idealist" as an insult. It's well-known also that this philosophy was developed by the bourgeoisie (LBird correctly mentioned Kant, famous for his 'Copernican turn'). This philosophy is absolutely dominant in the university social sciences, as far as I know, under various names ("social constructionism", "post-positivism" etc.). That ever again attempts are made to claim Marx for this idealism is also a given (eg today's Zizek even has the gall to resurrect Schelling under the garb of a supposedly new, improved dialectical materialism).

No insult taken, d-man!

I have read some Bogdanov (The Philosophy of Living Experience), and I think that his work is far closer to Marx's views, than Lenin's was. It's not without problems, but his linking of 'activity and resistance' is much closer to Marx's 'social labour', than Lenin's (and Engels') views about 'matter' outside of human activity.

FWIW, your characterisation of all works that stress Marx's 'social labour' as 'Idealist' is a standard Leninist view of non-materialist insistence upon 'social labour'.

Of course, Marx's views about the democratic creation by the producers of their own reality is not 'absolutely dominant in the university social sciences' in any sense at all. In fact, the faith in 'matter' of the materialists is reflected today within the dominant 'physicalist' branch of bourgeois academia.

Your materialist ideological notion of 'idealist' as the only opposition to 'materialist', has its roots in Engels, but I've detailed all this many times, so I won't repeat myself, again. Any comrade wishing to know more can find threads on this site which discuss this.

Workers have to question the framework given to them by the Leninist materialists, because it prevents the active proletariat from determining their own reality. Marx argued that we create our own object. It's not simply sitting out there, awaiting its 'discovery' by disinterested scientists, as the bourgeoisie (and the Leninist materialists) allege.

d-man
It's not necessary to have

It's not necessary to have "faith in matter". Perhaps the only real criticism of Lenin's philosophical work that can be made is that it was unnecessary to belabor his point. Matter exists independently of our thought, so even if you don't believe in it, it still exists.

LBird
Does 'matter' speak to all 'materialists'? It didn't to Marx

d-man wrote:

It's not necessary to have "faith in matter". Perhaps the only real criticism of Lenin's philosophical work that can be made is that it was unnecessary to belabor his point. Matter exists independently of our thought, so even if you don't believe in it, it still exists.

[my bold]

Well, this is not Marx's view, d-man.

Engels argued that 'matter exists independently of our thought', and Lenin followed that ideological claim. Someone who agrees with Engels/Lenin will assert that 'matter exists' even if there is no humanity to 'believe in it', as you are doing, here.

Marx argued that humans, by social theory and practice, produce their 'organic nature' from their social labour upon 'inorganic nature'.

Marx was too canny to call this 'inorganic nature' matter, because he'd already criticised a 'materialism' focussed on 'matter', in his Theses on Feuerbach, as leading to a separation of society into an elite of 'educators' and a mass of passive 'educated'.

So, for Marx, 'matter' is a social product, which we can change.

But, for 'materialists', 'matter' is just 'out there' and we can only contemplate it. If 'matter exists independently of our thought', we cannot change it.

In fact, since the 19th century, humans have changed 'matter', into 'energy'. No doubt, we'll change that concept, too, in the future.

Marx's concept of 'inorganic nature' is still employable in 21st century physics, but 'matter' isn't.

As I said earlier, Bogdanov saw 'inorganic nature' as 'resistance' - and went on to say that 'resistance' implied 'activity'. There can be no 'resistance' without 'activity', and no 'activity' without 'resistance'. Thus, Bogdanov is following Marx here, in that social activity is an irreduceable part of any 'reality' that we live in.

Your ideological belief, that 'resistance' exists where there is no 'activity', is neither in agreement with Marx, nor of any use to the revolutionary proletariat, which requires a philosophy of 'social activity', within which humans build their socio-natural world.

Materialists, like you, deny the essential need for humans in any scientific activity, and claim that 'matter exists' outside of human action. Of course, the reason for this is that the Leninist materialists then claim that they, and they alone, are the 'active side', and they go on to build a world according to their interests, purposes, means and ends.

And the workers, the dumb, unconscious workers, remain passive, whilst their 'betters' in the cadre party plan their elite revolution, with their 'special consciousness'.

Frankly, 'materialism', with its 'faith in matter', is a religion in disguise, and its priests alone can read the 'bible of matter'.

The sooner workers read Marx, and reject this 19th century religion of the elite, a bourgeois ideology, the better for the self-development of workers' own consciousness, of their own power to create their world, to their own plan.

d-man
Quote from David-Hillel

Quote from David-Hillel Ruben's (1977) Marxism and Materialism: A Study in Marxist Theory of Knowledge.

"Sometimes, to be sure, one feels that behind Lukacs' idealist verbiage, his real intentions are not idealist. If 'overcoming the rigid duality of thought and existence' means merely 'that they are aspects of one and the same real historical process', and if that simply means that, in the course of history, natural objects, all objects, can in principle become mediated by man, then perhaps what Lukacs is saying is beyond objection, although even here we would have to explain carefully 'in principle', for there are certainly distant parts of the universe which, on one sense of 'in principle', can never be mediated by man. But still, if this were all Lukacs is saying, we could withdraw our objections to it."

http://www.autodidactproject.org/other/ruben-dh-1.html

However, the problem is that this (let us be frank) banal point that, yes there is human agency, is touted as something revolutionary. So any time there appears a movement, any thing the workers do (including eating a sandwich), is already called revolutionary.

 

LBird
The usual academic guff, I'm afraid

d-man wrote:

Quote from David-Hillel Ruben's (1977) Marxism and Materialism: A Study in Marxist Theory of Knowledge.

"Sometimes, to be sure, one feels that behind Lukacs' idealist verbiage, his real intentions are not idealist. If 'overcoming the rigid duality of thought and existence' means merely 'that they are aspects of one and the same real historical process', and if that simply means that, in the course of history, natural objects, all objects, can in principle become mediated by man, then perhaps what Lukacs is saying is beyond objection, although even here we would have to explain carefully 'in principle', for there are certainly distant parts of the universe which, on one sense of 'in principle', can never be mediated by man. But still, if this were all Lukacs is saying, we could withdraw our objections to it."

http://www.autodidactproject.org/other/ruben-dh-1.html

Let's face it, DHR is a 'materialist' so he would say that, wouldn't he (as MRD would say).

He doesn't understand Marx's point, that we create our universe.

His materialist ideological concept of 'distant universe' confirms his lack of knowledge of Marx's social productionism. Any 'distance' can only be 'distant to' a creative, active subject. So, it's not very 'distant', is it? Bourgeois academics, eh? I've shit 'em!

d-man wrote:
However, the problem is that this (let us be frank) banal point that, yes there is human agency, is touted as something revolutionary. So any time there appears a movement, any thing the workers do (including eating a sandwich), is already called revolutionary.
[my bold]

So, now, it's 'frankly banal' that there is 'human agency', is it?

But that's not what you claimed in your previous post, d-man. You claimed 'matter exists' whether 'human agency' is involved or not.

I think that your (apparently unconscious) adherence to 'materialism' is leading you astray.

The main point stands, however. 'Materialists' will flip-flop between 'humanity' and 'no humanity', because they, like all academics, have to keep 'something' out of the grubby hands of the democratic proletariat, and they call this 'something' matter. So, when it suits, they claim access to the 'non-human' world of 'distant universe', which is far too 'distant' for the thick workers to contemplate... or, indeed, change.

There is no 'unmediated universe', d-man. DHR is a clown, and doesn't want workers to vote him out of academia, which they clearly would, given the nonsense he spouts.

'Materialists' abhor democracy. 'Matter' makes them important and safe. It's a bit like 'property'...

... another concept unmediated by democracy, eh?wink

d-man
To hand this back to mhou:

To hand this back to mhou: trade-union activity (or as LBird and the ICC instead would call it – the workers' spontaneous class struggle) is also something that simply is there. Samuel Gompers is there. The AFL is there. Movements, acts of resistance are always there. They exist independently of what an elite may think about them. If we call everything "revolutionary-socialist" then the word loses its (differentiating, "elitist" if you want) meaning.

mhou
Submission to the class struggle

Lbird writes that ‘submitting to facts’ is a bourgeois notion (post #41).

The fact upon which communists base themselves; the human practice that exorcizes mystification; is conspicuously absent from Lbird’s posts: the class struggle.

Edit: you beat me to it d-man

LBird
Baseless accusations about absence of class struggle

mhou wrote:

Lbird writes that ‘submitting to facts’ is a bourgeois notion (post #41).

Yes, it is, mhou.

Marx argues that we create our facts (or, 'facts-for-us'), and so to 'submit to (existing) facts' is for workers to submit to 'facts' created by someone else. That is, to a world built to the interests, needs, purposes and plans of the bourgeoisie. Their 'factual' world.

That's why Marx's ideas are revolutionary, and those of materialists, like you, are not revolutionary. You want workers to 'submit', and not to create for themselves. That's why your ideology is an elitist one, suited to a 'elite party' and its 'special consciousness'.

mhou wrote:

The fact upon which communists base themselves; the human practice that exorcizes mystification; is conspicuously absent from Lbird’s posts: the class struggle.

[my bold]

No, mhou, Marx argues for human theory and practice.

My posts always stress the class struggle, especially in science, maths, logic and physics. On the contrary, materialists argue that workers must submit to existing science, maths, logic and physics, which are supposed to be based upon 'matter' and 'objective facts'. According to Marx, humans, employing social theory and practice create their science, etc., and so, being a social activity, the class struggle is everywhere in science, etc. 

I presume that the materialists will stop arguing with me, since I seem to have a better grasp of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Bogdanov, etc., and will simply turn to baseless accusations.

You materialists will deny class struggle in the creation of 'matter', not me.

You materialists will deny class struggle in the creation of 'facts', not me.

You materialists will stress 'submission' by the workers, not me.

You materialists will stress 'mindless' practice, not me.

You should all really read Marx's works. Only the class can struggle to build its own socio-natural world. It's not simply waiting for us on a 'factual' plate.

mhou
Impasse

In the 'Trade Union Question' thread, I deployed a line from Marx, from the Theses on Feuerbach:

“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

to emphasize Marx's stated perspective on the relation of theory to practice (which is opposed by your conception);

while in this thread you state:

"Seems we have yet another disagreement between us [d-man], about Marx, who I agree with about Feuerbach"

The beginning of an impasse.

Your claim in the last post, "You materialists will deny class struggle in the creation of 'facts', not me," is exactly what is at issue at the moment in this discussion, and precisely, your rejection of the facts created by and through labor's class struggles.

Distilling this argument to one example:

The revolutionary workers rejected Bogdanov; before and after the October revolution (by many years on either end)

Yet you will not submit to the authority of the workers engaged in the only successful proletarian revolution, and instead choose to divorce Bogdanov's works from both his political practice and the practical implications of his words.

LBird
Workers! Beware the elite method!

Well, mhou, I think that you've encapsulated quite well the difference between two approaches to Marx.

One is 'theory and practice', and the other is 'practice and theory'.

The former is Marx's revolutionary and social view; the latter is bourgeois pragmatism's conservative and individualist view.

'Theory and practice' requires democratic participation prior to social activity; 'practice and theory' does not require democratic participation, but is suitable for elite individuals to pretend to 'do their stuff' and to theorise after the fact.

Of course, materialists, with their ideological belief in 'matter out there', pretend to not have social ideas and theory, and be simply 'dealing with reality'. They claim that 'ideas' emerge after the elite individuals have done their practice, so they assure workers that the workers themselves do not have to participate in the production of workers' ideas and theories, because the materialists, with their elite method of 'practice and theory', have already produced the ideas and theories that the workers require.

So, there we have it: either Marx's revolutionary, conscious activity by the masses (democratic theory and practice), or materialism's practical, unconscious, passivity by the masses (informed by elite pretended practice and theory).

However, Marx is correct: human conscious activity is social theory and practice, and the elite lie to workers when that elite claims to just 'do practice' and 'submit to facts', from where 'ideas' emerge to be given to the workers by that elite.

LBird
Marx on 'theory and practice'

Marx, Capital, chapter 7, wrote:
Labour is, in the first place, a process in which both man and Nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material re-actions between himself and Nature. He opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature’s productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. He develops his slumbering powers and compels them to act in obedience to his sway. We are not now dealing with those primitive instinctive forms of labour that remind us of the mere animal. An immeasurable interval of time separates the state of things in which a man brings his labour-power to market for sale as a commodity, from that state in which human labour was still in its first instinctive stage. We pre-suppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement.
[my bold]

pages 283-4, Penguin edition

This is social theory and practice, not the materialists' elite method of individual practice and theory.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch07.htm

LBird
More Marx

Marx, chapter 7, wrote:
In the labour-process, therefore, man’s activity, with the help of the instruments of labour, effects an alteration, designed from the commencement, in the material worked upon.
[my bold]

page 287, Penguin edition

Again, social theory precedes practice.

Design, intention, consciousness of purpose, precede the productive activity.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch07.htm

Alf
a discussion about the trade unions

I'm afraid that this thread has been derailed. There are other threads where comrades can discuss LBird's concept of matter, theory and practice, but it doesn't need to be repeated here. This was one of the more fruitful ones. 

http://en.internationalism.org/forum/1056/baboon/13851/book-and-if-time-didn-t-exist-carlo-rovelli-thought-movement?page=1#forum-topic-top

 

This one here should be a discussion about the nature of the trade unions and trade unionism. 

mhou
Apples to Oranges to Tomatos

Lbird: False comparisons; productive labor requires conscious effort to be productive labor, while the proletariat doesn't need to know it's a proletariat to be a proletariat-- or, to quote Natural Born Killers:

"The wolf don't know why he's a wolf. The deer don't know why he's a deer."

Is the class struggle in all of its diverse manifestations, its processes and forms, a conscious choice made by every direct and indirect participant? 

The social and physical fact of the class struggle pierces the ideological obfuscations of theory untethered to the tangible consequences of the capitalist social relation, capitalist society, capitalist mode of production.

The class struggle preceded Marxism. It proceeds with or without 'us'.

You're peddling mysticism.

"Why has it become impossible to have A. Bogdanov as a contributor to workers’ newspapers and journals that adhere to a stand of consistent Marxism? Because A. Bogdanov is not a Marxist

. . . 

The Marxists are convinced that the sum of A. Bogdanov's literary activities amounts to attempts to instil into the consciousness of the proletariat the touched-up idealistic conceptions of the bourgeois philosophers" (Lenin, 'Concerning A. Bogdanov', 1914)

So it was, so it is-- the philosophers against the proletariat.

Edit: Apologies Alf, I missed your last reply.

LBird
Certainly, discussion about democratic controls is derailed

Alf wrote:

I'm afraid that this thread has been derailed. There are other threads where comrades can discuss LBird's concept of matter, theory and practice, but it doesn't need to be repeated here. This was one of the more fruitful ones. 

http://en.internationalism.org/forum/1056/baboon/13851/book-and-if-time-didn-t-exist-carlo-rovelli-thought-movement?page=1#forum-topic-top

This one here should be a discussion about the nature of the trade unions and trade unionism. 

If the thread has been derailed, Alf, it's because a simple, clear point has been made, as a contribution to the issue about whether Leninist party or trades union organisation is suitable for the self-development of workers' class consciousness, but some posters disagree about that point.

That point is: any workers' organisation must be democratically organised, and controlled by the workers themselves (and not by an elite, either a 'central committee' or a 'central bureaucracy').

Regarding both forms, neither intend to help develop workers, but instead substitute an elite for the class.

One of the reasons for this, regarding the Leninist party, is that the supporters of that form of elite organisation are 'materialists', who look to 'matter' as an authority. This ideology argues that workers can't control their production of their world, because the 'facts' already 'exist', and can't be changed. Marx disagreed with this position, and argued that we workers can change our world.

I'll leave that point to stand, for the consideration of any workers who are interested in the debate and why these forms won't work to build communism, unless another poster wishes to argue that 'facts must be submitted to by workers', in which case I'm bound to reply.

If any comrades wish to argue that "workers' democracy" should not be that basis of revolutionary organisation, why not just openly say so? Why keep blaming 'matter' and 'facts' for their political choice?

LBird
The wrong sort of 'class struggle'? Grades of consciousness?

mhou wrote:

The class struggle preceded Marxism. It proceeds with or without 'us'.

Yes, if 'us' is a Leninist party. Clearly, workers can conduct the theory and practice of class struggle without a Leninist party. That's precisely my point.

But if by 'us', you mean 'workers', then you're talking nonsense.

There is no theory and practice of class struggle without workers.

However, because I know that you're a Leninist and a materialist, and wish to argue that 'practice' preceeds 'theory' (contrary to Marx's views), and that workers 'unconsciously' struggle, you want to argue that only an elite of Leninists can provide 'theory' or 'consciousness' of the 'proper sort' of class struggle.

Workers reading this debate need to be clear about the elitist ideology of materialism and its supposed method of 'practice and theory'. It's simply a way of ensuring that an elite politically control any 'class struggle'. The Leninists grade the consciousness of workers to be the wrong sort of consciousness.

jk1921
Derailement

Alf wrote:

I'm afraid that this thread has been derailed. 

Not only has it been derailed, but I fear yet another promising thread has been killed off.

LBird
Does 'criticism' of Leninist org. constitute 'derailment'?

jk1921 wrote:

Alf wrote:

I'm afraid that this thread has been derailed. 

Not only has it been derailed, but I fear yet another promising thread has been killed off.

The reality, jk, is a Marxist who argues that only an organisation that produces a self-conscious, self-confident proletariat, which includes the knowledge that workers create (and thus can change) their socio-natural world, is being criticised by those who oppose Marx, and wish to accuse me of 'derailing'.

If you personally oppose workers' democracy, and you personally agree with d-man that the 'facts' determine our 'reality', why not just say so?

Why not let any workers reading, who are unsure about these political issues about forms of workers' organisation, know that you oppose workers making the decisions that affect them, and agree with d-man that the 'facts' produced by bourgeois science must be 'submitted to' by workers?

You're a Leninist materialist, jk, so why not just say so, openly?

I openly say that I'm a Marxist and a democrat, and outline my political beliefs regarding our production of our world, and my desire for Democratic Communism.

Whilst Leninist materialists continue try to hoodwink the developing proletariat that only a Leninist materialist elite have a 'special consciousness', and that only that elite can create a revolutionary class consciousness, and in the meantime workers must 'submit to bourgeois facts', then I'll continue to 'derail' those political lies.

Workers must be made aware of just what the Leninist materialists are up to - and it's not to realise the ideas of Marx, but to 'kill them off'.

LBird
On d-man's wish for workers to 'submit to The Facts'...

Quote:
Despite its professed commitment to self-correction, science is a discipline that relies mainly on a culture of mutual trust and good faith to stay clean. Talking about its faults can feel like a kind of heresy. In 1981, when a young Al Gore led a congressional inquiry into a spate of recent cases of scientific fraud in biomedicine, the historian Daniel Kevles observed that “for Gore and for many others, fraud in the biomedical sciences was akin to pederasty among priests”.

The comparison is apt. The exposure of fraud directly threatens the special claim science has on truth, which relies on the belief that its methods are purely rational and objective.

[my bold]

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/feb/01/high-tech-war-on-science

'Mutual', 'trust', 'good' and 'faith' are social products, d-man, not a 'reflection' of 'The Facts', as the materialists allege.

Workers should beware of the Leninist materialists who allege that an elite party has a 'special consciousness' which allows them alone to have access to 'The Facts', and the workers must 'submit to The Facts' (these 'facts' are socially produced by class theory and practice).

If we workers "submit to the 'Leninist Facts' ", we are forced to contemplate those 'facts', and not to change them, as Marx argued that we workers should do, into 'our facts', into 'facts-for-us'.

'Facts' are a class social product.

baboon
I think that L. Bird's

I think that L. Bird's destructive, one-track drivel has gone on for long enough - much too long in fact. Many threads have been deliberately derailed and destroyed by him at the same time as we have to submit to his complete rejection of revolutionary organisation. Is it a concession to some sort of democratism that we continue to put up with him, his repetitive nonsense and his slanders?

mhou
Orphaned

Jk-- I think it could end up being orphaned, but only if everyone pulls up stakes and moves on.

Switching gears for the moment, in an article on 1905, the ICC approvingly quotes Luxemburg:

"The rigid, mechanical-bureaucratic conception cannot conceive of the struggle save as the product of organisation at a certain stage of its strength. On the contrary the living, dialectical explanation makes the organisation arise as a product of the struggle. We have already seen a grandiose example of this phenomenon in Russia, where a proletariat almost wholly unorganised created a comprehensive network of organisational appendages in a year and a half of stormy revolutionary struggle" (ibid., part VI).

http://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/199711/5365/1905-mass-strike-opens-door-proletarian-revolution

This is likely Luxemburg's greatest contribution to the socialist movement: the combat with the revisionists when the working-class was making large developmental strides in the class struggle, re-affirming the class struggle as the basis of the Marxist method.

But the weakness here is in amputating the other half of the real-existing class struggle. From this quote for example the ICC concludes:

"As we shall see, Luxemburg in no way denied the necessity for the proletarian political party to intervene in the mass strike. But what this view of organisation does lucidly express is the end of a whole era in which the unitary organisations of the class could exist on a permanent basis outside phases of open combat against capital."

CBATUF and all of its supplements use the term living class struggles to designate the spontaneous class struggle, and dead class struggles to designate what Luxemburg calls the ‘product of the struggle’; that living class struggles become dead class struggles when these products of the spontaneous class struggle (forms of organization) outlive the immediate circumstances of their origin, becoming the structural embodiment of living-become-dead class struggles which, from that time forward, confront/are confronted by (future) living class struggles, a social and physical fact around which the workers are compelled to orient themselves in relation to. That the working-class accumulates dead class struggles (its lived experience of the class struggle) is a fundamental feature of the class struggles between labor-capital under the capitalist social relation.

Luxemburg demonstrated that the class struggle itself had answered the revisionists of the Second International, who had abdicated from the class struggle by placing all emphasis on this moment of the accumulation of dead class struggles, with a corresponding vision of socialism as an incremental, linear march of accumulated gains and widening organization of the class. The revisionists quarantined a moment in the process of labor’s class struggles: the accumulation of dead class struggles; the structural embodiments of labor's class struggles.

On the other end, by proclaiming the ‘end of a whole era’ in which permanent organization by the working-class was a possibility, the ICC also quarantines a moment in the process of labor’s class struggles, but on the other end: the generation of the spontaneous class struggle; the birth of living class struggles.

I think the whole process, rather than a moment of it, is essential to the method needed for the communist fraction of the class--the socialist movement, the workers' party-- to perform its historic function.

LBird
'Concession to democracy' is a bad thing for Communists?

baboon wrote:

I think that L. Bird's destructive, one-track drivel has gone on for long enough - much too long in fact. Many threads have been deliberately derailed and destroyed by him at the same time as we have to submit to his complete rejection of revolutionary organisation. Is it a concession to some sort of democratism that we continue to put up with him, his repetitive nonsense and his slanders?

You could always try explaining why you are opposed to workers' democracy, baboon.

The only drivel being expressed is that of the materialists, who are completely incapable of taking on the arguments of those who agree with Marx, that communism is a creation of the self-conscious proletariat, and not of an elite. That's what is meant by 'revolutionary organisation', not your drivel.

You and your ideological elite are the ones 'deliberately derailing and destroying' any attempt by workers to develop themselves. I've no doubt whatsoever that, if you had the political power, you'd have me physically prevented from arguing with your religious views.

d-man
Kautsky and Hilferding back up ICC

mhou wrote:

Luxemburg demonstrated that the class struggle itself had answered the revisionists of the Second International, who had abdicated from the class struggle by placing all emphasis on this moment of the accumulation of dead class struggles, with a corresponding vision of socialism as an incremental, linear march of accumulated gains and widening organization of the class. The revisionists quarantined a moment in the process of labor’s class struggles: the accumulation of dead class struggles; the structural embodiments of labor's class struggles.

On the other end, by proclaiming the ‘end of a whole era’ in which permanent organization by the working-class was a possibility, the ICC also quarantines a moment in the process of labor’s class struggles, but on the other end: the generation of the spontaneous class struggle; the birth of living class struggles.

The ICC's point about 'end of a whole era' is not just some special communist invention, but was even posited by such Second International figures as Kautsky and Hilferding. 

Hilferding wrote:
[...]the labor movement today [1915] everywhere stands under the dictatorship of the Right within the party. And it is only natural that the favorable opportunity is utilized by these politicians who already before the war were anxious to change the party tactics and advocated a policy which in its implications would convert a fundamentally revolutionary movement, whose aim was the complete reorganization of society, in a reformist one, whose task would be the adjustment of the labor movement to capitalist society, the fundamental recognition of the existing authorities, in particular the current state power, in short the incorporation also of the working class into the existing social and political order. Whoever denies this antagonism and pretends that the policy during the war is only a passing episode, which with the war will be overcome, so that a return to the old tactic stands nothing in the way, deceives himself or wants to deceive others about the size and significance of the antagonism. For the position toward the war, since herein lies a decision of world historical importance and effect, is precisely the touchstone of the intellectual toughness of the social democratic conviction against the dominant ideology and the measure of the intellectual independence of the working class, which forms the precondition for their political and social emancipation.

http://libcom.org/library/class-collaboration-rudolf-hilferding

And the councils were recognised as the appropriate method of struggle in this new era:

Kautsky wrote:

Already the Soviet organisation can look back on a great and glorious history. A more important period lies before it, and not in Russia alone. Everywhere it is apparent that the usual methods of the political and economic struggle of the proletariat are not sufficient to cope with the enormous strength at the disposal of finance capital in the economic and political spheres.

These methods need not be abandoned, as they are essential for ordinary conditions, but at times they are confronted with tasks to which they are not equal, and success is only likely with a combination of all the economic and political power of the proletariat.

The Russian Revolution of 1905 brought the idea of the mass strike to a head in the German Social Democracy. This fact was recognised by the 1905 Congress. That of 1906 endeavoured to allay the sensibilities and fears of the Trade Union officials. On the question of the mass strike, it resolved that when the executive should consider the necessity for the political mass strike to exist it should get into touch with the General Commission of the Trade Unions, and concert all measures necessary to secure successful action.

After all our experience with the mass strike, we know to-day that this resolution was fundamentally wrong. For one reason because a mass strike is likely to be all the more successful by breaking out unexpectedly in a particular situation, with spontaneous suddenness. Its organisation by party and Trade Union machinery would make necessary such preparations as would lead to its frustration.

We, therefore, understand why the Trade Union bureaucracy tends to oppose all spontaneous action on a large scale. Trade Unions are absolutely necessary. The proletariat is the stronger the greater the number of its members, and the larger the financial resources of its Trade Unions. Widespread and permanent organisations, with many ramifications, are not possible without a machinery for permanent administration, that is a bureaucracy. The Trade Union bureaucracy is as essential as the Trade Union itself. It has its faults like Parliamentarism and Democracy, but is as indispensable as these for the emancipation of the proletariat.

This is not, however, to say that all its pretentions must be recognised. It should be restricted to its first function, in performing which it cannot be replaced; that is the administration of Trade Union funds, the extension of organisation. and the giving advice to the workers in their struggles. But it is unsuitable for leading that powerful mass strike which tends to become the characteristic of the times.

By virtue of their experience and knowledge, Trade Union officials and Parliamentarians may here successfully assist, but the initiative tends to fall into the hands of Workshop Committees. In various countries outside Russia, such as in England, these institutions (shop stewards) have played a big part in mass struggles, side by side with ordinary Trade Unionism.

The Soviet organisation is, therefore, one of the most important phenomena of our time. It promises to acquire an outstanding significance in the great decisive struggles between Capital and Labour which are before us.

www.marxists.org/archive/kautsky/1918/dictprole/ch07.htm

Kautsky's analysis of unorganised (spontanous) mass action was developed in a 1911 article (see translation here, and also the translation of his reply to Pannekoek's critique), apropos the mass protests that occurred in England, France, etc.. at the time.