How to intervene in the Class Struggle?

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Fred
How to intervene in the Class Struggle?
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: How to intervene in the Class Struggle?. The discussion was initiated by Fred.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Fred
This down-to-earth discussion

This down-to-earth discussion between comrades, about how to relate ideas from the left communist milieu to workers discontented with the situation at Verizon, is fresh and honest, and very revealing to someone like me who has no experience at all of this sort of thing, but is longing to know. Now I can sympathize with the difficulties comrades face. They are perhaps summed up in this comment.

" our intervention can often appear quite negative, i.e.: “We don’t know exactly what the answer is, but the unions sure don’t have it, why don’t you guys go and discuss what to do while the union isn’t looking.”

I don't see this as all negative, more a realistic acknowledgement of the facts. And if the speaker had ended with "why don't WE DISCUSS this while the union isn't looking" rather than "why don't YOU GUYS go and discuss...." it wouldn't have been negative at all. But it's easy, sitting in an armchair, to pontificate about what should have been done. As the class struggle heats up - after what seems a long break- maybe we're all going to need a refurbishing of our communicative-communist skills, which only practice will provide.

It would have been helpful too, in appreciating what the comrades are talking about, if a copy of the leaflet they criticize was provided.

zimmerwald1915
Leaflet

It wasn't linked to in the article, but the leaflet was named and that name is searchable.  Also there is a hyperlink available to a category grouping together stuff about the Verizon strike reproduced on the site.  Maybe the addition of a direct hyperlink would be helpful.

 

In any case, the article's here: https://en.internationalism.org/icconline/2011/08/verizon-strike

mikail firtinaci
 This is a very interesting

 This is a very interesting and honest discussion and I think I can really understand the feelings of  comrades who intervened there. First of all I should say that I am impressed by the comrades intervention and the depth and effort put into the leaflet -both in theory but also in the courage to distribute it! In fact this reminded me of the debate in a similar strike in turkish telekom strike when I was in the ICC.

At the time there was just a very similar scenario was played out in turkey. Turk Telekom was a telecomunication company which waas previously privatized and thus accomplished a division among the workers through forcing some of them out of the union thanks to union's passivity and actual support of the privatization! When the negotiations broke down in a collective bargaining process the union declared a strike in early 2000s. At the time we went a couple of times to discuss with the workers but we were not prepared as the comrades in case. We just did not know how to discuss the role of the union but we were troubled by the fact that the union was in total control of the strike. 

At the end the union with the intervention of the government got a 10% wage increase. In our paper at the time our majority declared this as a victory which made me frustrated. I felt that this was a defeat because the union showed its full control of workers and could use workers as a threat to the company to show that it is still a vital organ for the government. At the time this caused a crisis in our group - which was not an ICC section yet.I still think that I could not make my point very clearly then, in the heat of debate. You can find the debate here:

https://en.internationalism.org/icconline/2008/06/turk_telekom

 

Anyway my point is, I think comrades should not feel that their intervention was a waste just because they could not receive an immediate positive responce from the workers. As I tried to say, I think the ability to produce a leaflet as clear as the comrades produced, to be able to employ it as a tool for discussion and to be able to organize for this is a great issue itself. I think the comrades should be congragulated for this. 

About the union issue: I understand clearly that in the Verizon strike to put forward the union issue was a very difficult thing to do. However, this may probably be the case because the union also had an interest in the strikes victory too. In telekom case for instance, I think the union was afraid that, it was losing its position because the company ceo thought that it was an archaic and useless apparatus and wanted to get rid of them. So the strike for the union was not perhaps about the workers demands but a show off or intimidation to the state and the company that it was still a vital organ if the workers would be kept in place. So if the situation is complex like this, maybe we should just show this as it is in our interventions rather than stepping back from a criticism of the union. 

Finally, I think more open struggles are emerging even in US. This whole "occupy" issue is a signal of this. In one sense it is as if the american workers are carefully weighting their strength on the streets right now. In my perception that may indicate a clue for the more open and strong future class confrontations. If the future struggles would really be stronger than any clear criticism of the unions will be much more vital and in fact more practical. So even if my whole argument is not adressing the problem above, I would at least humbly want to say that comrades should not be discouraged by this effort. In my experience Telekom strike in turkey was only a single instance of a whole chain of struggles with increasing and open tensions which came to a point in TEKEL struggle where the unions real role became clearly visible in the eyes of a small but significiant segment of the turkish and kurdish workers. Considering the increasing level of combatitiveness of the world working class and the deepening severity of the crisis it may be only a matter of time before the american workers can come to a similar conclusion.

I hope this makes sense,

in solidarity

radicalchains
 I think I'm doing it wrong

 I think I'm doing it wrong as they say, where can one read the leaflet?

baboon
Don't say what you know, know

Don't say what you know, know what to say is the very good synthesis that comes out of the discussion above. Whatever the specifics, the difficulties posed by the unions faced by the working class and its revolutionary minorities are considerable in every major capital. It's important to remember that the unions, in one form or another will, in all probability, still figure at very high levels of class struggle. I think that it's clumsy - and we've learnt that in Europe I think, to steam in with a blanket denunciation of the unions. Of course, while it's extremely important to try to demonstrate the crisis of capitalism and all its effects, not denouncing the unions doesn't mean not putting forward a perspective of self-organisation or defending forms with such content in order to bring more workers together.

The present social movement across the globe is an unprecedented phenomenom - South Africa joining the club with the proletariat and the masses coming up against the "liberating" ANC. As nationalist ideology rots along with the system, the unions here are the strongest force for the bourgeoisie in keeping the working class divided.

 

It's a good discussion and I agree that there's plenty to say to the working class without clumsy formulations and I alsothink that this is a question of international concern and by no means a US problem. It's also in the discussion above that we should have confidence in the working class to take up the - longer term - challenge.

 

 

 

Fred
Don't say what you know but

Don't say what you know but know what to say, is excellent advice put forward by Baboon. Rather than condemning the unions outright, it might be easier to discuss with workers what happened, for example , in Wisconsin, and what the unions did there. If workers can draw their own, correct, conclusions, then we don't have to present the ICC answer in advance as it were. But on the various threads on this site, comrades are asking similar questions: how do we relate to Assemblies, occupations, workers groups, or striking workers. Some comrades wonder whether it's helpful to come up with an actual demand. But surely this is to fall in a bourgeois trap. An actual demand may ( will) lead to the cull-de-sac of a compartmentalised struggle. I agree with what I believe Internasionalysta is saying on a different thread, that more general approaches may be helpful, that can open up more fundamental ideas. Like, for instance, the idea that our rulers fear the contagion of revolt. For why else did they arrest 700 people on Brooklyn Bridge? It might be much better to talk about this, and have a short leaflet about it, than to scramble round for some "demand" to put forward. After all, we want workers, and people in general, to start questioning the nature and validity of the bourgeoisie and the capitalist system. And in the present economic climate, there are plenty of things the bourgeoisie are doing that are open to questioning. Like: attacks on welfare, education, employment and their insatiable desire for war - while spouting about peace. But all power to all the comrades who are intervening. In solidarity.

Fred
disappearing post

Following up on Baboon's idea of "Dont say what you know, know what to say" I posted something yesterday morning. When I pressed "save" it disappeared completely and a message came up at the top saying it had gone for adjudication. I sent a message to Alf, via the new system, but no reply from him, and no sign of the post anywhere? Has it been " adjudicated" out of existence?

Alf
apologies

 Sorry about this Fred - I think it must be a technical error. Not my forte, but I will look into it. 

Beltov
Fred - we don't moderate

Fred - we don't moderate forum posts manually. Don't have the time. We do have a spam filter, which blocks posts that are 'spammy'. I'll take a look at the spam queue and get your post published. :) B.

EDIT -- sorted ^^

Fred
With regard to the question

With regard to the question of how the forum is organized, may I make a suggestion? If the article that a particular thread is talking about actually appeared above the comments that people are making about it, wouldn't that be helpful? For instance, I would like to refer to what comrade H said in the original article. If I could just flick back to the article which would be above the first comment about it, that would make life easier. For me at any rate. But then I'm using an iPad and perhaps that makes things different.

All I really wanted to say to the comrades writing about their original intervention, is that an article and a leaflet are not the same thing at all. And the Verizon article is definitely an article, and definitely not a leaflet. Leaflets should be short and easy to read. Articles generally require a much more intense reading (specially ICC articles) followed by thoughtful consideration, and then discussion. We must judge what our audiences are ready for in advance.

Let's make it easy for workers to realize that what we are fighting against is capital itself, not some particular boss, manager, or political party. We are all employed by capital: and it's falling apart all over the world. That's the message. In solidarity.

Peter Pan
Article - Forum

And may I make a small suggestion? When a discussion considering an article develops on the forum, a link to the forum-thread under the article may be usefull (in the same way as the link to the article in the forum is usefull). In that way article readers at least know a discussion is going on about the article.

Fred
In the article comrade H says

In the article comrade H says there's a danger that if you denounce the unions you come across sounding like a bourgeois right- winger. But would such a right-winger denounce the unions as being the traitorous presence of capitalism in the heart of the working class? I doubt it! Perhaps it's time the class got to hear the genuine left-com denunciation for what it is. Why treat the class as babies who can stomach little reality? Is this not to leave it languishing in the hands of the class enemy?

Comrade H also says: "Workers still fail to see the difference between the unions and themselves. When they hear the unions attacked, they think they are being attacked. Maybe there isn’t an immediate perspective in the U.S. for workers to take control of their own struggles? In this sense, maybe Wisconsin was a true exception and we saw how quickly the unions got control of the situation there. Maybe the more important
thing is that workers are actually trying to struggle; maybe we should
focus on building the will to struggle, rather than denouncing the unions."

How likely is it that workers will exercise real worker autonomy if their belief in "their" unions hasn't been challenged? The lack of this challenge is why there's no perspective for workers to take control of their own struggles. H. says maybe we should focus on building tbe will to struggle. But struggle for what? More money? Less austerity? Surely it is now the case that unless workers everywhere start to have the perspective of an alternative society put before them - a society run by and for the benefit of the working class - then any struggle is increasingly rendered futile, having no real or lasting goal.

Sometime ago now, baboon said,above: "...not denouncing the unions doesn't mean not putting forward a perspective of self-organisation or defending forms with such content in order to bring more workers together." But isn't this a contradiction? How are we to initiate self-organization outside the unions, if we still believe theyre okay and want to stay inside. Also, given the massive increase of austerity and media attention focussed on capitalism's "problems" since a year ago when this thread was launched, I think there is a case now for revolutionaries to be up front about what they know, and not to be shy in sharing this information with their class, or somehow holding back, or hiding it, on the grounds that maybe the class isn't, or may not be, ready for it.

Large sections of the class are now in very serious economic trouble and are looking for, or waiting for, indications of any solution to their woes. There is only one solution of course. Revolutionaries and their sympathizers know what it is; to withhold this information ie we need an international proletarian revolution as soon as possible, is absurd. We need factory groups as advocated by Birov and tbe ICT (I don't know about the ICC or others on this) to spread word of the communist alternative. I'm sure the more militant members of our class will be glad to hear the news - it may confirm their own unexpressed feelings - unless of course decomposition is now so deeply rooted that we have become insensible to any possibilities of change for the better.

jk1921
Fred, I don't think it is a

Fred, I don't think it is a question of "hiding" what we know because the class might not be ready for it. We aren't Trotskyists. I think the discussion here relates to the very specific moment in the U.S., where the unions themselves are under assault from the right-wing of the bourgeoisie in such a way that it is very difficult to differentiate our critique of the unions from the right-wing to those who are not used to making nuanced political analyses. Its about how to get our broader message across about workers' taking control of their own struggles without provoking a knee-jerk reaction to defend the unions that shuts down discussions and almost makes sure our message will not get through. This isn't the 1970s anymore, when our analyses of the unions might have been more easily understood. Many workers today might easily mistake "taking control of our struggles" for defending the unions.  I think the discussion above is about how to develop a tactical approach to the conditions presented by the moment, not about treating the working class like "babies." Perhaps the first thing out of our mouths shouldn't be an immediate denunciation of the unions in these conditions? Maybe it should be more about the importance of struggling and concrete problems faced in the struggle--which eventually poses the question of the role of the unions? I think it is a legitimate tactical question given the difficutlies we face today.

Fred
Thanks for your reply jk and

Thanks for your reply jk and the many points you make. I agree we aren't Trotskyists. The only thing they have to hide is their support for the bourgeoisie. I think it's time to share what we know and to respect the growing (subterranean?) maturity of the class and it's consciousness. It's true that comrade H's thoughts related particularly to the situation in the US. But we have to think internationally. As you say: "Its about how to get our broader message across about workers' taking control of their own struggles without provoking a knee-jerk reaction to defend the unions that shuts down discussions and almost makes sure our message will not get through." Surely it's time to start dealing with "knee jerk reactions" to statements about who the unions really serve, or the nature of communism and why we need it, and why capitalism is dying and so on, head on. Workers are not to be treated as if understanding the current world mess and it's obvious solution is beyond them at the moment - who decides when the RIGHT moment is here?- the fuller understanding of the "broader message" being at the present time limited to those with advanced consciousness, but kept under wraps for everybody else.I agree that too that the "first thing out of our mouths" shouldn't be an up-front attack on the unions - if the guys aren't ready for it - but there is such a thing as talk, discussion, debate, development of ideas, culture of debate, factory meetings and so on. Ideas are there to be shared, there's nothing to be gained from hiding them. We can do this now or are we just waiting for some signal telling us when it's okay to start. The longer we delay explaining to the class what it it's own historically established solution to the crisis is. and about its previous attempts at doing this, if they want to know (and why wouldn't they?) the more likely it is that decomposition spreads, and the job just becomes more unlikely and more difficult. The advance of decomposition and the decay of the system render it a legitimate tactical necessity to inform the wider class of all we know. Though of course it will hardly be "legitimate" not to begin with anyway.

Marin Jensen
Class struggle. Abstract or concrete?

Fred wrote:

We need factory groups as advocated by Birov and tbe ICT (I don't know about the ICC or others on this) to spread word of the communist alternative. I'm sure the more militant members of our class will be glad to hear the news - it may confirm their own unexpressed feelings - unless of course decomposition is now so deeply rooted that we have become insensible to any possibilities of change for the better.

There is a problem here. The CWO thought they had discovered a "recipe" for intervention in the working class (their expression not mine) when they heard about Battaglia's factory groups. So for years (all through the 1980s at least) they ended every article about the class struggle with a call to create "factory groups". And how many factory groups did they ever manage to create? Precisely zero. The problem with the idea is that it is purely abstract - ironically enough, it is in the final analysis idealistic because it takes no account of the real concrete conditions of the class struggle.

With all due respect, I think that this notion of "dealing with things head-on" is also abstract. In order to convince, in a concrete situation, we need to start from the concrete situation and raise the discussion to the more general political level. How to do that? I think what this article is trying to say, is that we have to engage with the concrete situation that the workers find themselves in. The great weakness of the working class today is precisely that workers have enormous difficulty in making the link between their immediate situation and the basic almost "instinctive" idea that they need to unite to be strong, and a broader historical understanding of how to make this unity effective (if I can put it like that). It's even more difficult to make the link between the concrete immediate situation - the need to defend ourselves against the attacks of capitalism - and the general, world-historical reality which is that the only way to prevent these attacks in the long term is to put an end to capitalism.

soyonstout
Hi Fred.  I understand your

Hi Fred.  I understand your point, but I think one major problem is that as of the writing of this leaflet, many workers in the US didn't really (and many don't still) even see themselves predominantly as workers, or at least don't think about themselves as being part of a collectivity of workers beyond theri individual workplaces.  not to mention they assume the state is friendly, or are just generally unaware of a class struggle in which they largely haven't really taken part since the 80s if ever.  Because of this, not just the union question, but really any generalization about class perspectives will matter WAY less than something practical about winning the strike or what would be effective to win the strike, whether or not the current tactics increase the pressure on the company or are making the workers stonger or weaker, how long the current tactics can be kept up, etc.  Once that is established, one can look around and say, 'well, why aren't we doing the thing that seems like it would work?'  and from this the workers can see that the state and the unions are not going to give them any kind of edge or advantage, and are in fact mobilizing them for defeat. 

I think this is something about general vs. specific that is not always easy to translate but I think it is one of the basic functions of communists to "They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. ...they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole. ...theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement."

There were plenty of places in the leaflet where the general interests of the class and the contextualization of the Verizon strike within the larger class struggle were discussed, and I think this is a huge part of the point of communist intervention, but the other thing we wanted was for workers to read the leaflet.  When the union has created a narrative in which the entire fight is about saving the union from the greedy bosses who want to destroy it, beginning with something against the union might be sort of heroically honest and heroically unopportunist, but if we didn't have time or attention enough to explain the difference between what we were saying and what the right wing says about the unions we would have no impact on anything other than our consciences.  I think what this discussion attempted to do was draw out the importance of beginning with the needs of the struggle and making sure that the whole leaflet gets read and makes sense to workers who aren't starting from a generalized class perspective, bringing them into that perspective based on their interests as individual workers in struggle.

Fred
abstract idealism!

The article "Solidarity with striking Verizon Workers" must actually be 'the leaflet' referred to by a number of posters, and very long it is for a leaflet. I wonder how many workers made it to the end - it isn't easy going? So It turns out Im an idealist for wanting to tell workers - not just in tbe US where they don't even see themselves as workers yet (certainly not in the sense of being an organized proletariat) as soyonstout has explained above - for wanting to explain how nasty tbe Unions are. But even this 'leaflet' says that "the unions are the bosses foils" and adds: "The unions play the role of a broker in negotiations that always favor the bosses, and it traps our struggles by keeping us to the strict guidelines laid down in the trade union rulebook: no mass meetings, no secondary pickets or attempts to spread the strike. In fact, the present strike vote was called by the CWA not because of any specific part of the proposed attacks, but only because the company wasn’t “bargaining in good faith.".

In fact this is exactly the stuff I would have liked to say to the workers, as an idealist, but here it is in the leaflet, so that's alright. In fact I agree with much that soyonstout says above though really he/she seems to be having an argument with himself. But that's alright too. Maybe Internationalism stands to learn more from the leaflet than do all those workers who aren't really ready for it, and may not have read it anyway.

Thinking about what LL says. I appreciate your information about factory groups ie there ain't none! This is sad; and I didn't know this because nobody's said it before. As to the matter that "dealing with things head on" is abstract...I don't agree at all. How can dealing with " knee jerk reactions" such as the view that "the unions are on our side" be abstract? Not dealing with it all would be the abstract thing to do. But of course the leaflet does deal with it: "the unions are the bosses foils" etc.

And how about this for something that could be accused of both idealism and a tendency towards the abstract? "The great weakness of the working class today is precisely that workers have enormous difficulty in making the link between their immediate situation and the basic almost "instinctive" idea that they need to unite to be strong, and a broader historical understanding of how to make this unity effective (if I can put it like that). It's even more difficult to make the link between the concrete immediate situation - the need to defend ourselves against the attacks of capitalism - and the general, world-historical reality which is that the only way to prevent these attacks in the long term is to put an end to capitalism."

In the end of course, and given the present status of the class war, and the extent of decomposition, the whole of the communist left could be accused of idealism, of being "abstract" (not sure what that word means anymore) or even of being a sort of "faith" - critics have so stated! We know it isn't true. I know it isn't true. But I don't think what I regard as LL's ham fisted post helps. I'm all for criticism, but it has to be carefully thought out and justifiable.

soyonstout
not trying to call you an idealist

Fred, the discussion about intervention in the class struggle and the debate around it, is one comrades had AFTER writing the leaflet and making some criticisms of it.  And as for learning from workers who weren't ready for it, if I remember correctly, one of the picketers had told their coworkers not to speak to the leafletters before they left, saying that we were against the strike--this was a good opportunity for discussion and clearing things up, but in other situations, depending on the emotions and the authority of the person denouncing us (in terms of being a trusted coworkers, not necessarily their place in the union hierarchy), that could have been the end of anyone reading the leaflet.  Regardless of how much we stuck to our guns in terms of clearly stating our least popular ideas, having been thrown out by the rank and file would not have been a good thing.  When reflecting on it, one criticism that came up was that attempting to convince strikers of conclusions communists have made by looking at the whole history of the whole workers' movement (which is where the "class lines" come from--generalizations about the historical experience of the international working class based on their international historical class interests) through denunciation and talking about what class the unions really work for--may not have much meaning to people who do not yet see themselves as part of the very movement from which we've learned all these lessons.

If I was a non-communist worker on strike for the first time and my union had pretty much given me a narrative that they were under attack along with me and my pension, and some people came to our demonstration talking about how no union under any circumstances actually fights for its members and signed something saying they were communists--I would not really have any experience or information to go on, other than the fact that i'd heard the union say that the bosses and republicans want to destroy the unions, which is what these communists want too.  I don't think I'm babying the working class in saying this because I think the working class in struggle needs specific ideas just as much as they need general ones.  I don't think anyone is suggesting tricking the workers into deserting the union or self organizing, or hiding our views of the unions, but rather that what is relevant about our views on the unions to workers on strike is precisely what they mean for how to go forward and fight better in the future.

The reason marxism has delineated itself from idealism and from utopian socialism is because it claims that the real concrete material interests of the working class go against of the logic of capitalism and compel the working class to struggle against capitalism in order to protect their real concrete material interests--if we can't present our ideas in a way that is relevant to their struggle and their concrete material interests, if we cannot make the general specific, then we fail in our tasks as a vanguard for the workers' struggle.  What I mean to say is--if what we say about the unions is simple denunciation it doesn't speak to the struggle except abstractly and it doesn't connect to the specific ways in which the union's plan hinders solidarity and give specific examples of what would build solidarity and spread the struggle if the union's plan was abandoned.  My personal opinion is that the leaflet did do this, but occasionally got into some abstract denunciation that may not have had much connection to workers' experience in the last 20 years (which is a long time), and that denunciations of false friends are better done after determining and enumerating the goals and perspectives for the struggle, what is at stake, and the extent to which what is being done can force the bosses to back off.

I agree with LL's comments and also agree that they are a generalization--communists must generalize, it is one of the main ways they've understood themselves (from marx to lenin and onward) that they are trying to keep the long-term goals of the whole class in sight while intervening in the specific--providing the link between the specific and the general--the current immediate struggle and the historical perspectives for workers struggle.  I hope this makes sense--I'm not trying to call anyone an idealist but rather to say that I think we have to think about the ways we try to present our ideas to people who might be unfamiliar with them--do we begin by stressing our absolute enmity to any and everything their official representatives are, or do we first ask what the struggle needs and what would make it strong, keep it going and help it grow and then compare that to what the workers' official representatives have decided to mobilize them for and show how it actually holds them back?

I think the question would be entirely different in a struggle in which the workers had begun self-organizing or attempted to break out of the union but were being drawn back in or losing steam and the union was taking it over again--at that point I think we could be much more forceful, but since this strike seems to have been rather top down in its beginnings and the prospects for self-organization and extension were small, we wondered what the most positive things that could be gained from the experience would be.  If we were leafletting a demo, or a wildcat, assembly, etc. it would have been different I think than leafletting a fenced-in picket.  I think we did good but I think our reflection was productive too and we can maybe do even better in the future.

Jock
Factory Groups

Fred

 

I don't want to derail an interesting discussion on how we relate to the existing struggle but I just want to correct a number of things said by Lone Londoner. When he says there are no "factory groups" he means in the UK.  We have factory groups in Turin and Bologna.  In the UK they remain in  our perspective. The other inaccuracy in his comment is that it is about 30 years out of date.  We no longer refer to factory groups but since about 1983 have referred to workplace and  territorial (or community) groups to reflect the changing composition of the working class.  The nearest we got to establishing one of these in the UK was with the NO War but the Class war Group which literally arose from the street protest against both the war adn the leftist all-class campaign against it alongside reactionary islamists. This no longer exists but did widen our base in Sheffield, an influence which still continues.

Whilst he was busy making his (rather snide) comment Lone Londoner might have noted the organisational failings of the ICC over the same period and this is largely a consequence of the the retreat of the working class in the same period. The real idealism is not to admit this and how difficult it has been to maintain a revolutionary voice of any kind.

What we need now whne the situation is changing is a strategy for keeping workers together after this or that local strike declines.  The workplace group (which includes members and non-members) tries to fulfil this.  It is not easy having an anti-union group in workplace like Fiat Mirafiori (union and management have colluded in the past to isolate our comrades by putting them at the far end of production lines for example) but we see no alternative other than propaganda from outside (how many workers have joined the communist left after getting leaflet at a factory gate?).  How else can the communist left extend itself into the wider working class? 

We need to solidarise with workers in struggle on the immediate issue and give what practical help we can (not a lot!) such as joining picket lines.  From this we can build up a relationship of trust which can win over workers (as our comrades did at Pomigliano a couple of years back).  We don't hide our emphasis on the ultimate goal throughout all this.

jk1921
How do the factory groups--or

How do the factory groups--or workplace groups--if they continue to exist after the immediate struggle has died down, avoid degenerating into a kind of "base union?" What is different about them? I understand the dilemna being presented here--how to maintain some kind of life once the immediate struggle has died down, but isn't this the left communist dilemna? Left communist ideas are only really articulated by a minority outside of moments of intense struggle--so are the factory groups, etc. essentially minoritarian?

Android
respective approaches

jk1921 wrote:
How do the factory groups--or workplace groups--if they continue to exist after the immediate struggle has died down, avoid degenerating into a kind of "base union?" What is different about them? I understand the dilemna being presented here--how to maintain some kind of life once the immediate struggle has died down, but isn't this the left communist dilemna? Left communist ideas are only really articulated by a minority outside of moments of intense struggle--so are the factory groups, etc. essentially minoritarian

I think you are conflating two forms of organisation: (1) internationalist territorial and workplace groups; (2) struggle bodies.  

The former are obviously composed of a minority - a pretty small one at that, look around! - being based on a political basis. Whilst the latter are broader bodies to conduct struggles with.  These two forms are distinct, whilst there is a relaiton between them.  That being said I don't see where the danger of degenerating into "base unions" arises?

As Jock noted we would tend to view territorial groups as assuming a greater importance, a necessity in fact due to the effects of the defeats of the working class and economic restructuring, i.e. breaking up of the large concentrations of the working-class in Britain. Although this will differ with the specificities of the localitiy.    

Correct me if I am wrong but I think the historical difference, in practical terms between the ICC and ICT approach on this - is that the ICC pursue autonomous struggle groups, assemblies and discussion circles, whilst the ICT agree with the first two parts of the above and pursue an approach based on internationalist territorial and workplace groups. The main difference being that the former is independent of the ICC and the latter is not independent of the ICT.  Although the latter can take on the function of a discussion circle as well.

The obvious point, to make is that both ICC and ICT are in the main, particularily in the UK, essentially left communist propaganda groups. A political question arises then do you recognise that status as a limitation, which is related to the strategic approaches adopted.

Whilst the schemas laid out above, of the respective groups approaches as I understand them. Brushes over the reality that class struggle is a often a more messy business, which we will be forced to react to which might not conform to either one or the other approaches.  

(disclosure - I am a member of the CWO if anyone somehow ddn't twig that by now!)

Marin Jensen
Not snide

I'm sorry if my remarks on factory groups came across as snide - they were not meant that way: critical if you like, but not snide.

Anyway, I'm glad that Jock and Android have come back on this because it does actually allow us to clarify what are the differences, if any, between the approaches of the ICC and ICT.

First of all, let me clarify how I understand the CWO view of things, and Jock or Android can correct me if I have made any mistakes, or indeed if the CWO view has changed over time (I've not read their pamphlet on class consciousness yet, so I may well have missed things on this front).

I don't really see any fundamental difference between factory groups and workplace groups (even in the 1970s a lot of workers were not in factories: transport and health spring to mind). The main point is that these groups are (or were?) supposed to be groups that "belonged" to the CWO (or IBRP). Indeed back in the 80s we had a great deal of debate with the IBRP about the idea that they should be a "transmission belt" between the party (or presumably the organisation, since the party doesn't exist) and the working class.

As I recall we had three main objections to this view (not necessarily in this order):

  1. The first was that the were completely abstract, because none of our organisations were remotely big enough for this to be a realistic prospect. As Android says, we are essentially very small propaganda groups and the idea that workers would respond to a call to set up "transmission belts" between any communist organisation and the working class seemed - with all due respect - fanciful to say the least. It's very good that comrades should try to develop a presence in their workplace (we have no problem with that it goes without saying, and try to do the same thing), but given our present size this can hardly be dignified with the name of strategy for intervention.
  2. Such an idea presupposes (or at least seemed to us to presuppose) that the IBRP is the only organisation around. If the workplace group, or territorial group, is supposed to be a "transmission belt", then what do you do if there are members of other organisations (the ICC, SolFed, or whatever) in the same workplace? Obviously you can't expect people from other organisations to join something which is simply "your own" transmission belt. So what attitude do you have in this case?
  3. Finally (and this is probably the most important objection), we just don't see class consciousness developing in that way: the first and foremost question communists have to answer is how to help and encourage the development of a real existing movement, and at the time that was basically struggle groups and struggle committees coming directly out of workplace struggles, or political discussion groups emerging from a more historical level of reflection. On occasion we set up (or helped to set up) such groups ourselves (I took part in a "South London Workers' Group" in the 80s/90s, which leafleted factories and demos at the time of the Gulf War for example), but the fact is that there were, and are, a mass of groups appearing which are completely independent of us, and this is the real movement of the class to which we need to relate.

It is interesting that Android (if I understand correctly) makes a distinction between discussion groups and struggle groups. We would also make this distinction. The latter spring directly from the experience of the struggle and exist to intervene directly in coming struggles. The former are the product of the general historical situation, and exist to push forward the overall political reflection of the class. Obviously this is only a guideline - in real life the separation is not as rigid as that.

It's also interesting that Jock's only example in the UK (and you're right I was referring to the CWO and the UK) actually came out of NWBTCW, in other words an explicitly political grouping which was independent of the CWO (assuming that it was the same as NWBTCW in London).

But I think the fundamental difference in approach is that we don't believe in recipes. We have a general historical goal: encourage the political reflection and the self-organisation of the working class. I think we share this goal with the ICT (goes without saying really). But in order to do this, you have to start from the real situation as you find it on the ground, because otherwise your intervention is simply abstract. In Spain today, we are not setting up territorial groups or discussion circles ourselves, we are participating as actively as we can in those that have arisen spontaneously from the struggle of the Indignados, and trying to encourage them to come together in wider groupings, to develop links between different active groups. This is by no means easy, but it seems to us the most effective activity we can have.

To conclude with a famous expression from the Communist Manifesto: "The theoretical conclusions of the Communists (...) merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes"

Android
Where is my recipe?

Firstly, I was not around for the debates in the 1970s/80s, having only being born at the very  end of the 1980s! I am expressing my own view, although there is overlap with the view of the CWO, otherwise I wouldn't be a member.

I think Sheffield NWBCW was a bit different then the London group. But I will let Jock reply on the experience of the Sheffield groiup, since I was not involved in that and he was.  

As far as the main difference being between prononets and opponents of recipes. Does not seem to be the case to me. Both groups have approaches in the abstract, i.e. recipes if you want to be crude about it.  That does not mean that when class movements emerge they boneheadedly refuse to participate because it doesn't conform to some predetermined schema of how things should play out.  I could outline a few examples but to save space I will assume you accept the point. Otherwise I will come back to it in a further post.

The issue raised (no. 2 ) is an important one that due to the small and scattered nature of the communist movement today, do the CWO/ICT view itself as the "only organisation" that matters, and how do we relate to other groups.  As I said at the outset of this post I am writing for myself here, but I would not anticipate substantial disagreement on what I am about to say.  

I was one of the inititators of the Manchester Class Struggle Forum, which members of WR/ICC participated in as well. MCSF started off as a discussion group, that included members of the Commune, AF, originally but not for long members of SolFed and non-aligned comrades, and before its dissolution it also produced and distributed leaflets.  Although at this point the initiative had pretty much fizzled out, with all the anarchists pretty much having pulled out.  The reasons I mention it is because I had discussed with the CWO the notion of arguing for class struggle forums to form that could unite people based in a locality on shared internationalist, communist basis, irrespective of whether they saw themselves in the anarchist or marxist tradition.  It was hoped that maybe CSFs could have formed in Scotland, Midlands, North East and London, ambitious I know.  But it never really got off the ground since the Manchester group quickly died a death.  

I think this shows that the presupposition is incorrect that the CWO views itself as the "only organisation" that counts.

The other issue raised (no. 3 IIRC) against the general strategic orientation of the CWO is that it puts us at variance with real movements that develop in response to attacks on living and working conditions. I think this is incorrect too as I pointed out above, in practice we participate in such movements as all communists should do, and I don't think there is a theoretical contradiction here either in that fact.  

I am speculating now, into the future but there is no reason why territorial and workplace groups will not emerge. In fact there was a short-lived territorially based workplace initiatve in recent memory, the London Education Workers Group.  You seem to interpret this approach in a formalistic way that it has be bound up in a single organisation. There is no reason to my mind why informal co-operation starting on a practical basis could not, and need not necessarily, proceed to formal unification. That opens up a whole new area, a minefield in fact, which is probably best saved for another discussion!

I like the Marx quote by the way, it is one of my favourites! 

jk1921
There's a lot of nuance in

There's a lot of nuance in this exchange that I don't want to give short shrift to, but I think the problem is that something like the factory groups described above are porbably only ever going to emerge on a significant scale in times of open struggle. Certain groups might not pass into the night when a wave of struggle subsides, but it would seem there are only two possible trajectories for such groups: reintegration into the state (as base unions or whatever) or transformation into minoritarian political groups. This seems like another quest for the holy grail form that "grounds" the organization in the class--something that seems like it would only possible in periods of open struggle or in the build up to a revolutionary situation.

Android
moderation queue?

I posted last night, and when I edited my post to include a subject title I got a message saying that it was put in a moderation queue.  I also posted in the site performance and maintainence thread asking if this was normal procedure.  

Did my post get swallowed up or is it in some queue.  

Marin Jensen
Schematic, but quick, reply...

Thanks to Android for his remarks, and here's to clarify mine. It's late so this will be very quick - and may therefore be rather schematic.

First of all, his description of the Manchester group corresponds to what we would also call a discussion group, set up not so much as something designed to intervene specifically in a particular struggle as to address general political issues (though of course this didn't stop it issuing leaflets as well). It's not dissimilar to other groups which we have participated in in the past (and which of course exist elsewhere in the world, and have existed before, and will undoubtedly exist again).

This kind of thing is eminently positive - but it is not the same as what the IBRP/ICT have referred to in the past as a "factory group" or "workplace group". These - and the ICT has always been perfectly clear about this - are supposed to "belong" to the ICT and to serve as "transmission belts" (ICT expression not mine) from the ICT to the workers, importing communist ideas into the working class. It is this kind of thing that I described as both mistaken (inadequate view of how consciousness develops) and fanciful (unrealistic in the present situation). Now it is quite possible that the ICT has evolved on this, in which case I hope that Jock or Android can make it clear what the ICT position now is (and so help us to avoid sterile polemics).

On the question of "abstract", it seems to me that Android is mixing up "general, theoretical" and "abstract". IMHO, to have a theoretical, analytical approach which determines your practical activity is not abstract - unless the theory does not correspond to reality.

In other words, I would say that the ICC's theoretical view of the development of class consciousness and is not abstract because it offers a general perspective in accord with the real situation. It offers a guide for our activity, which is therefore the concretisation of our general theory. The idea of "transmission belts" was (or is?) abstract, because it does not correspond to a real situation.

I'm sorry this is - as I said - rather schematic, but I hope it is clear.

I would also like to register my general agreement with jk1921's previous post on this.