On the Trade Unions: A Reply to Mhou

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mhou
Basis of the soviet-form and mass action dynamics

d-man: "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."

I think the larger question is whether or not the historic appearance of mass action dynamics, the mass strike and then the soviet-form at the turn of the 20th century definitively and irreversibly altered the nature of labor's class struggles from that moment forward outside of the acute moments when the question of power is on the immediate agenda.

 

 

d-man
You effectively have ruled

You effectively have ruled out the question of comparing/judging (unions and soviets) based on their effectiveness in "non-acute" struggles, since by definition soviets do not arise in non-acute struggles. Fine, let us not compare apples and oranges. The actual issue is that the already limited nature of unions has become further curtailed, their role in the non-acute moments changed. It's uncontroversial to say that they have become more conservative, less combative, more incorporated into the state, etc. The question is whether this means that they have become counter-revolutionary and what does that concretely mean for workers' relation to them. 

MH
d-man wrote: The actual issue

d-man wrote:

The actual issue is that the already limited nature of unions has become further curtailed, their role in the non-acute moments changed. It's uncontroversial to say that they have become more conservative, less combative, more incorporated into the state, etc. The question is whether this means that they have become counter-revolutionary and what does that concretely mean for workers' relation to them.

(my emphasis)

Agree!

The Hilferding quote was interesting, where he refers to the tendency during WW1 towards “the incorporation of the working class into the existing social and political order”, ie. the incorporation of social democracy and the unions into the state.

I still think mhou has to address more thoroughly the implications of decadence and the tendency towards state capitalism for his theory, which in my view fails to consider changes in the conditions for the class struggle (see my original response).

 

mhou
'Counter-Revolutionary'

"The actual issue is that the already limited nature of unions has become further curtailed, their role in the non-acute moments changed. It's uncontroversial to say that they have become more conservative, less combative, more incorporated into the state, etc. The question is whether this means that they have become counter-revolutionary and what does that concretely mean for workers' relation to them."

Two points come to mind:

I. A generation of sustained (and progressively more aggressive) attacks on the working and living conditions of the working-class as a whole.

A common theme in the left communist press is that an extension of the struggle, across shifts, trades, workplaces, industries, cities, regions, etc., or in other words a combination of instransigence and escalation, contains the conditions for situational victory in every episode of the class struggle.

This sounds far too much like the Wobbly slogan, "Direct Action Gets The Goods," implying that every class struggle is 'winnable' or a potential vector for exponentially greater and higher manifestations of the class struggle.

Episodes where things have unfolded along these lines, I think, dispel these notions: the Pullman Strike is the best example that comes to mind.

II. Whether or not there was a substantive change in the essence of trade unionism and the trade unions after the turn of the 20th century.

What if every phenomenon upheld as evidence of a change in the basic nature of the trade unions/trade unionism was not new at all, but were evident throughout the period described as that of ascendant capitalism (or the formal subsumption of labor, or... etc.)?

"Counter-revolutionary" is a very interesting choice of words. I'd like to come back to that.

I appreciate d-man's recognition that comparing workers' councils to trade unions in terms of organizational effectiveness in the class struggle is comparing apples to oranges. On the other side, what do we make of the characterizations of the soviets years after 1917-- that they became sclerotic, emptied of revolutionary content, "bureaucratized", etc.? 

The most interesting question on that front, to me, is why do all forms of working-class organization, including those which were capable of seizing power under communist leadership, exhibit the same tendencies when confronted with the same variable: Time?

I agree with MH that, specifically, the question of state capitalism hasn't been addressed thus far, I'll come back to that.

 

 

d-man
You had counterposed

You had counterposed non-acute moments of class struggle vs. acute moments (in the latter case you granted that soviets/mass actions are best), that's what I meant by apples and oranges.

So now you mention that soviets too existed in non-acute moments (eg, after they gradually again lost hold of state power), to which I merely have to remind, that the claim was that soviets are appropriate for acute moments. I did not make a claim on whether the soviets are the best for non-acute moments (like after winning state power, that's another issue). You say that the left-communist press claims that soviets/mass actions are best also for the non-acute moments. I don't think they are talking about soviets in non-acute moments. I believe that the ICC's argument is to analyse the unions (in non-acute moments) on their own standard. But on the other hand, if you were right in your presention of the leftcom's reasoning, then I would agree with your objection to it.

Alf
soviets and where they come from

We agree that there cannot be soviets in non-acute moments. They do have precursors in less acute phases, still in moments of struggle, but a struggle that is less generalised; in forms which already have certain key elements in common with the soviets, in particular decision making in open general meetings, and whose content is that proletarians begin to organise themselves more or less in conflict with the institutions that capitalist society now tells them they should adhere to and defend. But soviets in the full sense, as organs which regroup larges masses and which embody the transition from economic to political tasks - in short, which are organs of general mutiny and inusurrection - how else could they exist accept in acute moments when the 'normal' breaks down?

jk1921
Probably

baboon wrote:

Is it a concession to some sort of democratism that we continue to put up with him, his repetitive nonsense and his slanders?

Probably.

jk1921
Agree, but

Alf wrote:

We agree that there cannot be soviets in non-acute moments. They do have precursors in less acute phases, still in moments of struggle, but a struggle that is less generalised; in forms which already have certain key elements in common with the soviets, in particular decision making in open general meetings, and whose content is that proletarians begin to organise themselves more or less in conflict with the institutions that capitalist society now tells them they should adhere to and defend. But soviets in the full sense, as organs which regroup larges masses and which embody the transition from economic to political tasks - in short, which are organs of general mutiny and inusurrection - how else could they exist accept in acute moments when the 'normal' breaks down?

 

While I agree with Alf, I wonder how this avoids the "No True Scotsman" problem as there have indeed been organs/institutions that have been styled as "soviets" or "councils in so-called non-acute periods?

d-man
Quote:As for the ‘struggle of

Critique of Pannekoek’s Lenin as Philosopher by Internationalisme, 1948 wrote:
As for the ‘struggle of the workers themselves', with its ‘appropriate' means -- strikes, etc -- we have seen the results. It comes close to the ‘strike-cultivating' theories of the Trotskyists and anarchists, with their latter-day versions of the old ‘trade unionist' and ‘economist' traditions which Lenin attacked so violently in What Is To Be Done. This means that the anti-union position of the council communists, correct in a purely negative sense, is no less false ‘in itself', because the unions are replaced by their younger brothers, the soviets, and play the same role, as though the content could be changed by changing the name.

...

Thus: in the old world, Kautsky was a vulgar reformist, whereas, in the new world, Trotskyists, anarchists and council communists are ‘authentic revolutionaries'. In fact they are even more grossly reformist than the great theoretician of reformism, Kautsky.

http://en.internationalism.org/node/3118

mhou
Cross-Purposes

d-man: There is no obvious disagreement on "by definition soviets do not arise in non-acute struggles". Nor is there obvious disagreement that the workers' council was the organizational form, born from the increasingly acute class struggles between labor-capital, through which the organization of power by the proletariat is carried out; the practical form of the proletarian dictatorship.

The locus of disagreement is on the nature of labor's class struggles outside of the shifting balance of forces and rising trajectory which creates those acute moments that incubate organizational forms like the councils and dynamics like the mass strike.

My comments on the perspective of the 'decline of the soviets', for example those published by the ICC:

"In the previous article in this series, we showed that the soviets did not exist in a vacuum but were the figurehead of a great proletarian movement formed by countless soviet organisations, factory committees, neighbourhood councils, conferences and mass assemblies, etc. By mid 1918, these organisations began to decline and gradually disappeared. The factory committees (which we will speak of again) disappeared first, then the neighbourhood soviets in turn entered a death agony that lasted from the summer of 1918 until their total disappearance in late 1919. The two vital ingredients of the soviets’ existence were the massive network of grass roots soviet organisations and their constant renewal. The disappearance of the first was accompanied by the gradual elimination of the second. The appearance of the soviets didn’t change; they evolved little by little into a rigid bureaucracy"

https://en.internationalism.org/files/en/ir143_english_complete.pdf

was a tangential remark. I am arguing that the "evolution into a rigid bureaucracy" was a necessary and predictable moment for the Russian workers' councils, just as it has been for every other form of labor organization from the beginning, with the emergence of the proletariat as an independent social force under the capitalist social relation. In other words, that there should be nothing surprising in this development, on the basis of--first and foremost--the history of the trade unions.

jk--"While I agree with Alf, I wonder how this avoids the "No True Scotsman" problem as there have indeed been organs/institutions that have been styled as "soviets" or "councils in so-called non-acute periods?"

Are there particular episodes that you have in mind?

Lukasc wrote a line that I find extremely helpful on this and other points:

“For the armed peasants and workers as the embodiment of state power are simultaneously the products of the struggle of the soviets and the precondition for their existence.” (Georg Lukasc, Lenin: A Study in the Unity of his Thought, 1924)

Organs of workers' power: spontaneous arming of the workers, armed self-defense, organized defense guards, punitive or offensive action, in the process of generalizing, is to my mind the missing ingredient-- which is necessarily political.

I think 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. ' ('Labor's Republic') -- so the forms of organization which manifest in the class struggle are often fluid and can be difficult to explicitly categorize. The soviet-form wasn't a narrowly-defined phenomenon (as the ICC quote above makes clear)

Alf's reply has another helpful element: "whose content is that proletarians begin to organise themselves more or less in conflict with the institutions that capitalist society now tells them they should adhere to and defend"

 

 

mhou
Decadence v2

MH writes, "But capital is above all a social relationship, in which the bourgeoisie is forced to take into account the struggle of the proletariat in everything it does. With the “material basis for socialism” already negating its historically progressive character, and faced with the conscious revolutionary attempts of its gravedigger, above all in the October Revolution, capital must ensure its reproduction through the permanent and conscious suppression of the proletarian threat. We can see this most clearly in the way it was forced to unite across the battlefields of WW1 to crush the revolutionary wave, especially in Russia and Germany, but the lessons it learned from this experience were not lost; they were embedded in the development of state capitalism in the 20th century and especially in those organs charged with dealing with the proletarian threat; the left parties and the trade unions."

I realize my responses specifically on this topic are likely unsatisfying. First, that our fellow workers told us that socialism was a material possibility when the proletariat began to compete for power and briefly took it; second, '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'll work on a more substantive response, specifically on state capitalism.

d-man
mhou wrote:The locus of

mhou wrote:
The locus of disagreement is on the nature of labor's class struggles outside of the shifting balance of forces and rising trajectory which creates those acute moments

I got that. I don't think that the ICC's objection to unions today is, that they have a bureaucracy. I also feel that the ICC's positive alternative in non-acute moments (ie open-meetings, etc.) stands alone from their argument against unions. And I hold that Lenin's critique of economism/trade-unionism applies also to the ICC's non-union alternatives (as the quote from Internationalisme in 1948 put it: 'strike-cultivating' theories).

Re: soviets in decline, the comparison should not be to unions, but to parliament.

Lenin wrote:
Under Soviet rule these same problems, which the anti-parliamentarians are now so proudly, so haughtily, so lightly and so childishly brushing aside with a wave of the hand -- these selfsame problems are arising anew within the Soviets, [etc.].. we observe a constant revival of absolutely all the negative traits peculiar to bourgeois parliamentarism

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/appendix.htm

MH
"non-union alternatives" and the mass strike

d-man wrote:

mhou wrote:
The locus of disagreement is on the nature of labor's class struggles outside of the shifting balance of forces and rising trajectory which creates those acute moments

I got that. I don't think that the ICC's objection to unions today is, that they have a bureaucracy. I also feel that the ICC's positive alternative in non-acute moments (ie open-meetings, etc.) stands alone from their argument against unions. And I hold that Lenin's critique of economism/trade-unionism applies also to the ICC's non-union alternatives (as the quote from Internationalisme in 1948 put it: 'strike-cultivating' theories).

Re: soviets in decline, the comparison should not be to unions, but to parliament.

Lenin wrote:
Under Soviet rule these same problems, which the anti-parliamentarians are now so proudly, so haughtily, so lightly and so childishly brushing aside with a wave of the hand -- these selfsame problems are arising anew within the Soviets, [etc.].. we observe a constant revival of absolutely all the negative traits peculiar to bourgeois parliamentarism

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/appendix.htm

 

On bureaucracy, my original response to mhou goes into some of the issues from an ICC perspective (NB I'm a close sympathiser not a member). Yes, bureaucratisation of the unions today is a symptom of their nature as capitalist state organs.

Let's be clear that "the ICC's positive alternative in non-acute moments (ie open-meetings, etc.)" is an observation of definite tendencies within workers' struggles themselves, especially in the period after May 68 when we could see real tendencies for struggles to go beyond and against the control of the trade union bureaucracy; easy to forget today with the generally low level of struggle. The lessons of the 70s and 80s, up to the mass strikes in Poland, might be a useful way of clarifying some of the issues raised by mhou's text.

I'm slightly puzzled by d-man's characterisation of "the ICC's non-union alternatives", as 'economist'. Luxemburg's analysis of the mass strike is surely relevant here as a way of understanding the relationship between the political and economic elements of workers' struggles in decadence and this may be another useful way of clarifying differences. We haven't discussed this enough.

 

 

 

 

 

d-man
HM, the mass strike relates

HM, the mass strike relates to acute moments. We are speaking of non-acute moments, where Alf highlights non-union alternatives such as open general meetings, etc. Such struggles may go beyond or against the union. But they remain on an economic level, ie don't pose the question of state power. Hence they are subject to the criticism of Lenin (as the quote I gave from Internationalisme 1948 says). Lenin's criticism is not just against the specific organisation of trade-unions, but against trade-unionism (correct me if I'm wrong, but there were no unions in Russia to speak of at the time of WITBD). The point is that even the non-union alternative form of "economist" struggles (ie in non-acute moments) by themselves don't go over into political (socialist) struggles. If that were all that mhou was saying, it would be fine by me. But he is saying quite more than that.

Alf
We still agree with the quote

We still agree with the quote from Internationalisme. Economism remains as a permanent danger in the proletarian movement. The anarcho-syndicalist trend almost personifies it, but left communists can also fall into it. We agree essentially with d-man's defence of Lenin's critique of economism. This remains valid.  Although WITBD, following Kautsky, contains some important errors on the origins of consciousness, Lenin was quite right to insist that class consciousness, communist consciousness, is not only the product of the immediate, 'factory' struggle but comes from something beyond it, something wider and deeper. In reality, it comes from the movement of the class as a historic force. Trade unionism, for Lenin, was the embodiment of the limitation of the class struggle and class consciousness to the local, the immediate, in short, the 'economic'. 

d-man
Alf, you're repeating what

Alf, you're repeating what the Trotskyists say about WITBD.Trotsky himself wrote in 1940:

Quote:
In August, 1905, Stalin restated that chapter of Lenin’s book, “What Is To Be Done?”, which attempted to explain the correlation of the elemental labor movement and socialistic class-consciousness. According to Lenin’s representations, the labor movement, when left to its own devices, was inclined irrevocably toward opportunism; revolutionary class-consciousness was brought to the proletariat from the outside, by Marxist intellectuals. This is not the place for a criticism of that concept, which in its entirety belongs in a biography of Lenin rather than of Stalin. The author of “What Is To Be Done?” himself subsequently acknowledged the biased nature, and therewith the erroneousness, of his theory, which he had parenthetically interjected as a battery in the battle against “Economism” and its deference to the elemental nature of the labor movement.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/stalin/ch03.htm

(A complete edition of Trotsky's Stalin was published by Alan Woods last year.)

Where is the evidence for the claim that Lenin acknowledged the erroneousness of his theory? Here is what he wrote in 1907:

Lenin wrote:
The basic mistake made by those who now criticise What Is To Be Done? is to treat the pamphlet apart from its connection with the concrete historical situation of a definite, and now long past, period in the development of our Party. This mistake was strikingly demonstrated, for instance, by Parvus (not to mention numerous Mensheviks), who, many years after the pamphlet appeared, wrote about its incorrect or exaggerated ideas on the subject of an organisation of professional revolutionaries.

Today these statements look ridiculous, as if their authors want to dismiss a whole period in the development of our Party, to dismiss gains which, in their time, had to be fought for, but which have long ago been consolidated and have served their purpose.

To maintain today that Iskra exaggerated (in 1901 and 19021) the idea of an organisation of professional revolutionaries, is like reproaching the Japanese, after the Russo-Japanese War, for having exaggerated the strength of Russia’s armed forces, for having prior to the war exaggerated the need to prepare for fighting these forces. To win victory the Japanese had to marshal all their forces against the probable maximum of Russian forces. Unfortunately, many of those who judge our Party are outsiders, who do not know the subject, who do not realise that today the idea of an organisation of professional revolutionaries has already scored a complete victory. That victory would have been impossible if this idea had not been pushed to the forefront at the time, if we had not “exaggerated” so as to drive it home to people who were trying to prevent it from being realised.

What Is To Be Done? is a summary of Iskra tactics and Iskra organisational policy in 1901 an4 1902. Precisely a “summary”, no more and no less. That will be clear to anyone who takes the trouble to go through the file of Iskra for 1901 and 1902. But to pass judgement on that summary without knowing Iskra’s struggle against the then dominant trend of Economism, without understanding that struggle, is sheer idle talk. Iskra fought for an organisation of professional revolutionaries. It fought with especial vigour in 1901 and 1902, vanquished Economism, the then dominant trend, and finally created this organisation in 1903. It preserved it in face of the subsequent split in the Iskrist ranks and all the convulsions of the period of storm and stress; it preserved it throughout the Russian revolution; it preserved it intact from 1901-02 to 1907.

And now, when the fight for this organisation has long been won, when the seed has ripened, and the harvest gathered, people come along and tell us: “You exaggerated the idea of an organisation of professional revolutionaries!” Is this not ridiculous?

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1907/sep/pref1907.htm

Apparently people read this as Lenin acknowledging his mistakes. I don't see that. Lenin even is saying here, that, what looks ridiculous are the claims that WITBD is guilty of exaggeration. No, says Lenin; I just straightened the line (he didn't bend it).

It's amazing that already in WITBD itself Lenin responds to what it later was made infamous for:

Lenin wrote:
But the very fact that you select so hideous a phrase as “pushing on from outside” — a phrase which cannot but rouse in the workers (at least in the workers who are as unenlightened as you yourselves) a sense of distrust towards all who bring them political knowledge and revolutionary experience from outside, which cannot but rouse in them an instinctive desire to resist all such people — proves you to be demagogues, and demagogues are the worst enemies of the working class.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/iv.htm

And again, also see Lenin's 1907 article 'Intellectualist Warriors Against Domination by the Intelligentsia':

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1907/mar/30.htm

 

 

Alf
primary and secondary

Certainly there can be a debate on the extent to which Lenin went beyond - and later regressed to - substitutionist ideas about the relation between party and class. But the key thing here is the critique of economism in WITBD, which remains valid whether or not we agree with Lenin's views about the origins of class consciousness. 

mhou
Legality/Illegality

D-man opened an important segue.

“in his report on Russia, Zinoviev could still say that “The second form of worker’ organisation in Russia is the trade unions. They developed differently here than in Germany: they played an important revolutionary role in the years 1904-1905, and today are marching side by side with us in the struggle for socialism (…) A large majority of trade union members support our party’s positions, and all decisions of the unions are made in the spirit of those positions” (“Report on Russia”, ibid, p.64). Similarly, Bukharin, as writer and co-reporter on the platform which was to be voted, said “Comrades, it is my task to analyse the theses that we have proposed (…) If we were writing only for Russians, we would take up the role of the trade unions in the process of revolutionary reconstruction. However, judging by the experience of the German Communists, this is impossible, for the comrades there tell us that the position occupied by their trade unions is the complete opposite of the one taken by ours. In our country, the trade unions play a vital role in the organisation of useful work and are a pillar of Soviet power. In Germany, however, it is just the opposite” (ibid, p.121 and 128).”

http://en.internationalism.org/book/export/html/1494

In the opening post in the ‘Trade Union Question’ thread, I wrote that:

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

The role of the trade unions and trade unionism in the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 was one of these weak links.

d-man writes, “ Lenin's criticism is not just against the specific organisation of trade-unions, but against trade-unionism (correct me if I'm wrong, but there were no unions in Russia to speak of at the time of WITBD)”

‘There is an unspoken statement that hangs over this observation: that the trade unions were unnecessary for a real proletarian revolution.’ (Supplement IV, An Argument with a Dead Marxist-Humanist)

The absence of an official-legal-juridical labor movement does not mean there were no trade unions at all. If I remember correctly, there were metalworkers’ unions at the time of WITBD, possibly among other trades as well (oil, shoemakers, bakers, painters, etc.).

Another necessary point in reference to the quotes at the beginning of this reply from the ICC article is that, from the time of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of Labor to the Bolshevik faction of the RSDLP, the Russian revolutionaries engaged in a socialist practice which was unlike that which had existed in Germany for many years, and virtually all other nations. The closest parallel is to the practice of German revolutionaries at the time of Bismarck’s Anti-Socialist Law:

‘Foster observed that under the conditions of Bismarck’s anti-socialist law of 1878 in Germany most trade unions suffered a worse fate than the socialist party since a trade union cannot go underground, forcing several of the national organizations (tobacco workers, glass workers, carpenters, metal workers, shoe workers, miners, etc.) to dissolve due to having an organic connection, in programme and structure, with the socialist party. Despite this, “two marked improvements in the structure and ideology of the trade union movement took place during the course of this hard struggle—they became more centralized, disciplined and politicized, and they accepted more than ever the political leadership of the Social Democratic Party. The artificially cultivated Christian and bourgeois trade unions stagnated” [5]’ (Supplement II, The Hoax of Business Unionism)

The activity of the SPD in the German trade unions from 1878-1890, and that of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of Labor-Bolshevik faction-Bolshevik Party 1895-1917 (and beyond with the Communist Party), demonstrate a qualitatively different socialist practice to that engaged in by revolutionaries in conditions of legality and openness—again, with the exception of the Bolsheviks, who maintained the same basic orientation in conditions of legality and illegality (and in power!).

Absent this practice, I’ll ask again: should we be surprised that the trade unions and trade union leadership display counter-revolutionary tendencies? If the habits, prejudices and ideologies of capital are the dominant and default habits, prejudices and ideologies of capitalist society, how could it be otherwise without the persistent work of the socialist movement?

Russia had its share of labor leaders along the lines of Legien—even after the October Revolution (the factional fights within the bakers’, printers’, rail workers’, metalworkers’ unions for example). There was nothing unique or substantially different about the Russian working-class and its organizations, except the character and activities of its revolutionaries. The Russian trade unions were not qualitatively different from those in Germany, they did not, on their own accord, support the revolution, submit to the discipline of the Communist Party and become pillars of the proletarian dictatorship (which is the impression I get from reading the ICC’s article quoted above—that the Russian trade unions were an historic oddity). The Hungarian revolution is the better point of comparison and serves as a bridge for understanding the differences in revolutionary practice between the Russian and other proletarian revolutions specifically on these issues.

This brings us back to whether or not Lenin’s works on trade unionism merit the characterization of a ‘critique’.

It also raises questions about the ‘integration’ of the trade unions into the capitalist state in the epoch of capitalist decadence and state capitalism. I’m still unsure whether there is agreement on the issue of the manifestations of this ‘integration’ pre-existing the historic turning point from ascendant to decadent capitalism—MH: when examples can be drawn from the years designated as ascendant which mirror those used as evidence of the integration of the trade unions into the capitalist state (as part of a new phase of capitalism: state capitalism) in the epoch of capitalist decadence, what evidentiary value do these examples have one way or the other?

The end of reply #6:

‘Capital simultaneously tries to absorb and destroy labor organizations. This is occasionally 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.’

I think that during the post-war period it was possible to interpret the strength and size of the official-legal-juridical labor movement and left parties as a maneuver by the capitalist state. I can certainly understand how it could appear that way. Since then we’ve witnessed the balance of forces shift back in favor of capital. The radical movements, rank-and-filism and episodes of acute class struggle beginning in the late 1960’s, which marked the transitory moment of this shifting balance, marked just that: capital’s squirming under the twin weight of crisis and organized and organizing labor, to remove itself from the suffocating encroachments of the working-class—which ultimately began a 40 year counter-offensive via chiseling every material gain extracted by labor from the class struggle. 

MH
politicisation and mass strikes

d-man wrote:

HM, the mass strike relates to acute moments. We are speaking of non-acute moments, where Alf highlights non-union alternatives such as open general meetings, etc. Such struggles may go beyond or against the union. But they remain on an economic level, ie don't pose the question of state power.

The point about the mass strike highlighted by Luxemburg is that it combines both political and economic elements, shifting in focus from one moment to the next as it develops. It’s true she is focused on understanding the 1905 revolution in Russia, and we know the trade unions were historically very weak there, but its wider historical significance is that it represents the response of the working class internationally to the changing conditions for the class struggle with the onset of decadence.

The point I was making about "non-acute moments" (not very well) is that mass strikes don’t appear from nowhere and in this period the holding of mass meetings open to all workers (including the unemployed, families, etc) promotes the best conditions for struggles to take up political as well as economic issues and demands - even if they don’t yet pose the question of state power.

d-man
mhou wrote:my own difficulty

mhou wrote:
my own difficulty in finding a legitimate socialist practice

If the task of introducing consciousness "from the outside" (the ABC of socialism) is rejected (whether because it is foolishly condemned as substitutionist, or because the labour struggle is said to generate consciousness automatically), then there is no reason for the party to exist. To talk about self-organisation, or point out the organisational structure of non-union alternatives is not much of an actual socialist practice. Anyone, or any party, can participate in them. And to those who already participate in them, it is not necessary to stress the importance of participating in them.

 

mhou
Come again?

I'm assuming you're commenting on the ICC's position (?), ex.:

"The most effective way to wage a struggle is by establishing open General Assemblies, as workers have historically done and are re-learning to do. We have seen these first attempts at re-taking the destiny of the struggle in our own hands in Spain, during the Indignado movement, and here in the States, by the Occupy movement. What these movements point to is the need to create a space for open discussions where we can freely and creatively consider real solutions to our problems. We are the only “experts” and the accountability for our decisions should rest solely in the workers’ General Assemblies themselves, controlled by the workers themselves."

http://en.internationalism.org/files/en/striking_chicago_teachers.pdf

I'm largely in agreement with you on that particular subject.

d-man
Yes, that's an example. Now

Yes, that's an example.

Now to return to the phrase of Lenin, that you have mentioned earlier, about unions as 'schools of communism':

Quote:
...the Party must more than ever and in a new way, not only in the old, educate and guide the trade unions, at the same time bearing in mind that they are and will long remain an indispensable “school of communism” and a preparatory school that trains proletarians to exercise their dictatorship, an indispensable organisation of the workers for the gradual transfer of the management of the whole economic life of the country to the working class (and not to the separate trades), and later to all the working people.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch06.htm

He still speaks of the party having to be the guide of the trade unions "more than ever", although in a new way. The unions themselves train the proletarians for the practical management of the whole economic life, which requires consciousness, expertise, etc. to be sure, but I think (I'm not definitely sure) this a bit different from what is usually understood by class consciousness.

Anyway, regarding the idea of (preparatory) school, it resembles the infamous revolutionary gymnastics, exercising, learning from (painful) experiences, that the proletariat supposedly has to go through (in strikes etc.) to arrive at class consciousness. In Kantian terms, preparing the conditions of possibility. That's a fallacy which I know the ICC itself on occasion has opposed.

mhou
The conceptual framework of 'schools'

d-man wrote:

He still speaks of the party having to be the guide of the trade unions "more than ever", although in a new way. The unions themselves train the proletarians for the practical management of the whole economic life, which requires consciousness, expertise, etc. to be sure, but I think (I'm not definitely sure) this a bit different from what is usually understood by class consciousness.

Anyway, regarding the idea of (preparatory) school, it resembles the infamous revolutionary gymnastics, exercising, learning from (painful) experiences, that the proletariat supposedly has to go through (in strikes etc.) to arrive at class consciousness. In Kantian terms, preparing the conditions of possibility. That's a fallacy which I know the ICC itself on occasion has opposed.

The third supplement to CBATUF, Trade Unionism from the Formal Subsumption of Labor to Proletarian Dictatorship, is concerned exclusively with the conceptual framework of the trade unions as 'schools of. . .'; taking from an early leader of the AF of L, who, like Engels and Lenin, used the same framework to describe the trade unions (in that instance, as schools of democratic training; parliamentary procedure; trade union necessity):

https://octoberinappalachia.com/tufspd/

The conclusion looks at Lenin's characterization of 'schools of communism':

'V ‘School of Communism’ (Lenin)

Intervention by the workers’ political party in labor’s class struggles seeks to establish organic leadership in the class by receiving a mandate of legitimacy—evident in the historic experiences of the French socialists and the Paris Commune, the German socialists under Bismarck’s anti-socialist law and the Russian socialists in the 1905 revolution. Transubstantiation of the organs of workers’ control/power (self-defense guards, worker’s councils, occupation committees, etc.) by the workers’ party through its influence on a (greater or lesser) fraction of labor’s human architecture selected and distilled from among co-participants in labor’s class struggles who articulate and define, consolidate and defend state power as material gain is the act of construction of a workers’ state as proletarian dictatorship. Following its inauguration, the “revolutionary experiences and the needs of the masses showed that the unions not only are not superfluous after the social revolution but that they are the pillars of the dictatorship of the proletariat” [7], in which the trade unions as working schools of administration in control and power, perpetually constitute and reconstitute the structure of the workers’ state and imbue it with legitimacy for the duration of the proletarian dictatorship.'

and uses the quote on the subject from 'Role and Function of the Trade Unions Under the New Economic Policy':

“Being a school of communism in general, the trade unions must, in particular, be a school for training the whole mass of workers, and eventually all working people, in the art of managing socialist industry (and gradually also agriculture)”  (Lenin)

I think this framework, seen in both early American trade unionists and in the communists, carries the length and breadth of labor's lived experience of the class struggle, and at the end of this progression, validates Marx's characterization that "the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat"

Edit: the progressive transition from schools of democratic training, schools of parliamentary procedure, schools of trade union necessity and schools of war to schools of communism is the distinct function of the workers' party. Lenin's characterization of the trade unions as "resevoirs of state power" under the conditions of proletarian dictatorship is, I think, only possible to assimilate on the basis of these interpretations; the same can be said of his characterizations that, “The true measure of the strength of a Communist Party is the influence it has on the mass of trade unionists," or that "The tactics of the Communist International should be based on a systematic drive to win the majority of the working-class, first and foremost within the old trade unions” 

d-man
I'll let the ICC continue

I'll let the ICC continue this discussion if they want, and finish just by repeating that to me it looks pointless and strange, if not suspicious.

Alf
suspicious?

d-man - I don't think you should use terms like 'supicious' and then head off without clarifying what you mean. Suspicious of what? And why pointless? Surely the trade union question is absolutely central to the development of a revolutionary movement? 

d-man
So far I didn't get/find an

So far I didn't get/find an answer on what is the matter with this discussion. I can only speculate why it strikes me as off. Perhaps it has simply to do with your differing attitudes to Lenin's WITBD, although both mhou and you indicated to agree with it's critique of economism. I find it suspicious that mhou's text has no apparent clear theses/conclusions, perhaps because his unstated conclusions cannot see the light? I find it strange that the ICC devotes time and space to such apparently pointless text(s) by an individual.

mhou
Guilty

That is a very interesting choice of words d-man. The last line in the text is simultaneously both the single thesis and the conclusion; and I didn’t write it, it’s a quote:

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

CBATUF and its supplements are an affirmation of this line. That the content and character of labor’s class struggles, distilled as the trade union question, has not changed; and so the method of the socialist movement does not change—and why this is.

My impression is that the lack of a political recipe, prescription and blueprint is what you find “suspicious” (though it would be absurd for an individual to produce a political recipe, prescription and blueprint, so obliging this would indeed be “pointless”).

The most immediate and concrete political ramifications of this thesis/conclusion were recognized by both Alf (the conditions for the formation of the party) and MH (the character of revolutionary intervention): in other words, finding a legitimate socialist practice in the present.

As an aside, despite the multifaceted disagreements explored in this and the other thread (and those yet to be discussed), I think that the ICC’s political orientation circa mid-2000’s-early 2010’s (around the time I first came in contact with them) was/is basically-fundamentally sound for a revolutionary organization:

-Many of the tasks listed from their Congresses at that time (direct intervention, theoretical deepening, organizational expansion, etc.)

All in a clear affirmation:

“It is increasingly clear that the party of the future will not be the result of the ‘democratic’ addition of the different groups of the milieu, but that the ICC already constitutes the skeleton of the future party. But for the party to become flesh, the ICC must prove itself equal to the tasks imposed by the development of the class struggle and the emergence of the new generation of searching elements”

http://en.internationalism.org/icconline/2005_intsitres.html

I don’t think this orientation is necessarily linked to the specifics of the ICC, the communist left, or any particular organizational-historical-theoretical-political positions of either category. 

d-man
Just more drunken arguing (in

Just more drunken arguing (in analogy to the fighting style in martial arts), just confirming my suspicions I'm afraid. Finding a legitimate socialist practice, yet not offering political recipes... I further don't trust the way you give or cite sources (eg I had to google that it is Radek you quote); they seem pointless, out of context, etc. I don't like the way you repeatedly block-quote your own text(s). I don't like how you find my choice of words "interesting". That doesn't mean anything to me. And I don't want to have to wait for your ever-annunciated future responses to everything.

mhou
Taking up MH's suggestion in

Taking up MH's suggestion in greater depth, here's the response as a critique of the final chapter of the ICC's pamphlet, "Unions Against the Working-Class":

Content, Processes and Forms of Labor’s Class Struggles

https://anticapital0.wordpress.com/content-processes-and-forms-of-labors-class-struggles/