Heroes of the Left - but not ours'

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Hawkeye
Heroes of the Left - but not ours'
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Heroes of the Left - but not ours'. The discussion was initiated by Hawkeye.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Hawkeye
Hero of the left

Alex and the ICC should ask whether the working class would be in a stronger position if the unions  were to suddenly disappear.  In present circumstances, what alternatives are actually present for workers ?  Are your favoured 'workers councils'  formed, ready and able to fight capitalism?  No. The railway workers respected Bob Crow and correctly so. In the lions' den of class struggle, you're off the pitch.

Fred
Hawkeye asks whether the

Hawkeye asks whether the position of the working class would be any better if the unions just disappeared.  A couple of years ago I once suggested on libcom that the class might be just as well off without them and was rebuked by a then member of the ICC, now left, who said the unions were all the class had that ever brought them together as workers in groups. Or something like that.  So I assumed that   "officially" I must be wrong, but unofficially still thought I was probably right. That is to say that the unions do more harm than good to the working class.  They may occasionally achieve a few dollars more for a group of workers deemed at that moment to be more deserving of an increased pittance than some other group.  But  it'll only be a pittance, won't last long, serves to keep workers divided up in trades, serves to perpetuate the idea that capitalism, wage labour and trivial wage increases are all the working class should expect from life and that the unions are genuinely working their butts off for the interests of the working masses and that their hard working leaders thus earn their salaries.  It's all shit! 

The unions have additional undesirable effects on the morality of many workers in that they perpetuate the idea that we all need leaders to decide things for us (a) because they can do it better and are trained for the job and (b) because we are incapable of deciding things for ourselves.  The latter conditioning is particularly pernicious and spews out anti-revolutionary vomit over everything. For if we are incapable of negotiating even our own wages with management, or are incapable of arranging our own industrial actions against continuing exploitation, how the heck are we ever going to come together and drive forward the revolution and start re-organizing society afterwards?  The answer is of course that we're not supposed to.  We're not even supposed to think about it.  It is the intention of the Unions, as a sort of cancer growing in the brain of the working class and choking consciousness, that we are not even to be allowed to consider alternatives to the horror of capitalism and should just lie down and accept our slavery without question. 

 

Given the endless Machiavellian plotting against us workers by the cunning bourgeoisie and it's especially left wing accoutrements like the Unions; and the constant brain -washing  of workers by the Unions to the effect that we can't do anything on our own, need constant bourgeois leadership and bourgeois guidance to help us through our difficulties (like not enough food for the kids, the threat of unemployment, the erosion of health care and schooling, and all the other accumulation of joys under austerity and capitalist collapse) then to wonder whether we might not be better off without them seems a bit of a joke.  Would we not be better off without the bourgeoisie?  The two questions are really one.  For until we learn to organize ourselves outside of the Unions, and render the Unions  impotent, we'll never get rid of the bourgeoisie at all and the Unions will bleed us dry to sustain our exploiters.  

 

So to say that the politics of Benn and Crowe "failed the working class" or that "the railway workers respected Bob Crowe" in any kind of approving way is to state something which is anti working class. For it was never the intention of Benn or Crowe to HELP the working class because they were too busy helping and reinforcing the rule of the bourgeoisie;  and pursuing too their own inestimable egotistical  progress as vital and important members of the ruling class.  Crowe may have increased the take-home pay of a few members of the working class, but he was well paid himself for doing it and probably treated himself to a set of new cloth  caps and overalls on the  basis of it. But his contribution for the ruling class was to ensure the ongoing imprisonment of his workers, the "respect" of his workers, the subservience of his workers for the time  being to the continuing  rule of capital.  As for Benn - what can we say.  He trapped a number of people for ever in the idea that socialism= nationalization and sent his son to one of the then new London Comprehensive schools. This alone for many people at the time proved his rabidly left socialist credentials.  But really he missed his true calling which was as a comedian in the Music Halls. For that he wouldn't have needed to give up his aristocratic title - such a commie thing to do, don't you know? - but could have continued his dramatic progress under the title Lord Big Benn of Holland Park. 

Hawkeye
Fred's insults

Fred's insults to the deceased Bob Crow are disgusting.  As for insults to workers' unions, the ICC and bourgeoisie don't like unions and we don't care. Toddle off and achieve all you can with leaderless workers' councils.  Some hopes !

Alf
unions won't disappear

Agree with Fred but one point needs to be added: the unions are not going to disappear overnight because they are absolutely essential for the disciplining of the working class. You might as well ask 'what would happen if the state, or the police, just vanished, it would be chaos. etc'.  These institutions exist because they serve a social and politcial need for capital. 

I don't know who that former member of the ICC who rebuked you was, Fred. Perhaps he/she was referring to the time when unions were genuine organisations of the class. Or perhaps he/she just lost it. Either way what was said was not the ICC's view. 

 

LBird
Is defence the best we can hope for?

Hawkeye wrote:

Fred's insults to the deceased Bob Crow are disgusting.  As for insults to workers' unions, the ICC and bourgeoisie don't like unions and we don't care. Toddle off and achieve all you can with leaderless workers' councils.  Some hopes !

Perhaps what's being said, Hawkeye, is that unions are structures that can play a defensive role for workers, within capitalism. Hence, the partial successes of Crow et al.

But those structures also play a role in preventing the alternative development of ideas and structures which will eventually play an offensive role for workers, against capitalism, and as such the unions are also beneficial for the ruling class.

So, while the proletariat is willing to continue accepting capitalism, money and the market, then you're probably right, from your perspective, to defend unions.

However, if we workers have any pretensions to overthrow capitalism, money and the market, we have to advance beyond mere defensive structures, and start to build for developing offensive ideas and structures.

That requires the development of class consciousness and Communist democratic organisations, and I don't think that these will develop within the parameters of defensive union organisation and its ideology.

As such, I too regard Bob Crow and Tony Benn (ie. the unions and Labour Party) as brakes on our independent development, not as mechanisms for developing it.

baboon
I don't think that what's

I don't think that what's being said is that the unions can play a defensive role for the workers within capitalism - I  think that this is a very dangerous idea as I believe that the role that the unions play is entirely for capital and there should be no ambiguity about that.

Hawkeye raises the fundamentally daft idea of what if the unions suddenly disappeared. Why should they suddenly disappear when they are doing such a good job for capital and they, as part of the state, have so many willing supporters on the left doing what they can in order to continually breathe life into them?

LBird
Unions only for capital?

baboon wrote:
I don't think that what's being said is that the unions can play a defensive role for the workers within capitalism - I think that this is a very dangerous idea as I believe that the role that the unions play is entirely for capital and there should be no ambiguity about that.

Well, I don't share your opinion on this, baboon.

I think that to argue that the 'union role' is 'entirely for capital' is far too unsophisticated, and goes against the experience of many workers, who've benefitted from union defensive activities.

But I think that we'd agree that Communism requires that the proletariat breaks with its defensive organisations, and builds those required for offensive action. Unions can't play that role, and don't even help it to develop.

This is probably where we'd both disagree with Hawkeye, I think.

Vogelgie
Unions and union figures.

I think that it is not in the benefit of the organisation or the working-class to make this is a discussion over individual contributions to the prolonging of capitalism. 

First of all because it contributes to the tendency within bourgeois ideology to make society a story about individuals. I see no reason, even if the discussed union leader was in his role defending capitalism and its interests, that this means he was an inherently bad person. Neither am I suggesting the opposite: that he was inherently a good person. But this personalisation of issues clouds elucidation on the part of the organisation, because it tends to lower the theoretical analysis to a mere moralisation of personalities where I think the role of a working-class organisation finds its role in explaining why capitalism is inherently immoral, but sometimes needs a friendy face to force its immoral practices down the workers' throats. In this, I find the 'alternative obituary' of our British comrades walking a dangerous line while staying on the correct side of things. I had similar feelings when an 'alternative obituary' was released for Nelson Mandela. Not bad, certainly a correct analysis, but it was not entirely clear what purpose the intervention had in our struggle. 

Unto the discussion of the role of the unions, which is far more important. 

I wish to stress that I find the idea of conscious, individual contribution to capitalist reproduction ridiculous and not helpful for claryifing the politics of the working classes. Capitalism is not a conspiracy, and the working class is not dumb. But I agree with baboon that the idea that the unions can play a defensive role is very dangerous, because it opens up the idea that the unions are not a conservative institution. Contemporary unions are a conservative institution, but this has to do with their specific role in the reproduction of (decadent) capitalism.

Fred has very correctly listed quite a few of those, but I am sure we can think of more:

"But  it'll only be a pittance, won't last long, serves to keep workers divided up in trades, serves to perpetuate the idea that capitalism, wage labour and trivial wage increases are all the working class should expect from life and that the unions are genuinely working their butts off for the interests of the working masses and that their hard working leaders thus earn their salaries.  It's all shit!

The unions have additional undesirable effects on the morality of many workers in that they perpetuate the idea that we all need leaders to decide things for us (a) because they can do it better and are trained for the job and (b) because we are incapable of deciding things for ourselves."

In these manners, it has a long-term stabilising function. But we shouldn't confuse a long-term stabilising function with being in the interests of the working class.

"But I think that we'd agree that Communism requires that the proletariat breaks with its defensive organisations, and builds those required for offensive action. Unions can't play that role, and don't even help it to develop."

I would object to calling the unions 'defensive' organisations. It is not because the unions administer by 'bargaining with' the working class that they are defensive. Because this 'bargaining' is a scam. Like a abusive partner that argues that you (i.e. the working class) really can't do without him/her, that you should remember 'the good moments' together and that he/she has only 'f'ed up' out of love (because he/she doesn't consider it abuse, naturally). And so the abuse continues.

You should definitely 'break' with the unions, but not because they are defending you, but because they are abusing you. The unions might take off the rough edges of the cliff for the good of capitalism, but they won't take the long fall down that is capitalist decay.

Please bear in mind that English is not my first language, so ambiguities unknown to me are a possiblity. 

Hawkeye
Growth of ideas

Surely it is daft to suggest that unions prevent alternative ideas.  Many workers are familiar with all manner of political ideas, as can be noted when seeing the wide range of papers and journals, such as, even occasionally, WR and Aurora, at demonstrations and so on, and see all sorts on the web.  Unusual ideas might lead to structures beyond present ones, if workers decide that they are any good for them.  The weight of bourgeois ideology boggles many minds, fed by its media, whereas all sorts of 'cranks'  keep tolling their bells.  Workers always need to know what does and doesn't actually make sense for them, for today, tomorrow and onwards.

LBird
Tomorrow belongs to me?

Hawkeye wrote:
Workers always need to know what does and doesn't actually make sense for them, for today, tomorrow and onwards.
[my bold]

Perhaps your formulation here, Hawkeye, captures quite well our problem.

I can see why comrades like you, who are concerned more, I think, with what makes sense for 'today', would differ with others, like us here, who are more concerned with what makes sense for 'tomorrow and onwards'.

The focus on 'today' leads to a focus on current, real world, problems like wages and conditions. This shouldn't be poo-poo-ed, of course, because they do make sense for workers, today.

But, to some extent, shifting our focus onto the Communist future, tomorrow and onwards, requires a 'jump' in imagination and a wholesale criticism of the conditions of 'today'. That, though, means that our longer terms solutions will never 'make sense for workers' who remain locked into today's immediate problems, like wages and conditions.

This, I think, is really an issue about the development of 'class consciousness' (and even its very definition, which, again, perhaps we'd differ on).

radicalchains
As the crow flies

Just out of interest does anyone know if Crow donated the bulk of his huge salary to a party or other organisation as per some Trotskyist outfits demand - average wage of a skilled worker?

Also, generally why are some union leaders on such big money?

radicalchains
unions

Excellent post Fred, it says essentially everything I would have said. To answer Hawkeye simply and directly. If the unions did magically disappear workers would have to find a way to struggle for themselves. As I quoted on another thread about the security services directly setting up unions in Korea, it was because workers had started to struggle outside official channels. The nature of unions and their role has changed since they were originally created by the working class.

Fred
sympathy for the devil

How the buggery can the Unions be thought to play a "defensive" role for workers when in fact they spend all their time, and are fully employed, playing a defensive role for capitalism completely against the interests of all workers everywhere and all over the planet? 

 

I am puzzled why some comrades, not just on this forum but on libcom too,  are so anxious to express some kind of sympathy for the unions.  Like: "Oh! They maybe against us but really they mean well." Or: "Yes we'll have to get rid of them tomorrow. But in the meantime they're doing their best for us in difficult circumstances."  Its rather like praising the lousy doctor who's actually poisoning you while pretending to ease the pain, on the grounds that he doesn't know any better, but'll improve tomorrow if you can survive that long. I can only suppose that this extremely misplaced sympathy for the Unions is a legacy of the past.  But my god they went over to the bourgeoisie a century ago!  When will we learn? When will we see through them?  

The weight of bourgeois ideology boggles many minds said Hawkeye, and he's right in this.   So is it possible to agree intellectually  that the Unions, including nice union leaders like Mr. Crow, are "against the class" as an ICC pamphlet says, but go on thinking that actually they're really all right and are doing their best?  

 

Even LBird writes that to argue that the union role is entirely for capital is unsophisticated because the unions  have brought  about some defensive gains for some workers!  How naive can you be?  This is nothing more than a covert apology for the extremely secretive and corrosive role the unions play in perpetuating the ideology that the  bartering process  between wage labour and capital is something eternal, not to be challenged and the way god intended  things to be. And anyway there's no alternative, they implicitly assert.   The Unions, by their very existence as bargainers and middle men, disseminate the notion that the working class is incapable of building any alternative to the system we've got because the working  class is feeble minded, uneducated and needs strong leadership. 

 

Everything the Unions do is entirely for and in the interests of the capitalist system. No workers benefit today from Union activities, even those who get a rise. Nothing that serves to prolong the life, or shall  I say slow death, of the appalling system of human misery and enslavement which the Unions so assiduously defend on a daily basis, should be given any support whatsoever. Not even critical support. 

 

 

 

baboon
unions

I agree with the unsophisticated post above clearly denouncing the unions as an integral  part of capital, that exist solely for the interests of capital. The unions were defensive organs of the working class over a hundred years ago but were completely integrated into capitalism with their support for nationalism and imperialist war - and this wasn't just paper support but real, on the ground, dragooning and millitarisation of he workers effected by the unions themselves over two world wars. There were some small anarcho-syndicalist union elements that maintained an internationalist position but these were few and far between as all the major unions across the globe signed up for the national interest. The unions went over to the bourgeoisie lock, stock and barrel along with the reformist parties of the working class.

The union question, and along with it the reformism that it's tied to, has a great weight on the working class which is why it's necessary to be clear on the issue particularly if you are trying to defend a communist perspective - and a communist perspective is wholly incomplete without a clear denunciation of the trade unions and the role that they play for capital. Revolutionary elements can be somewhat flummoxed by how to approach the union question with, for example, the way the CWO used to describe the unions as "negotiators" with the clear implication that these were neutral bodies outside the class struggle (this "third way" is also inherent in the idea that these structures are "defensive"). While the CWO/ICT has dropped this ambiguous description of the unions it is rife among the anarcho-libertarians on libcom who just cannot give up on the unions because, among other things, that's where the workers are. And this fixation on the present and  past is a betrayal of the future of class struggle.

The article "The bourgeoisie tells the working class that it doesn't exist" is just one good example of the role that the trade unions are playing today for capital.

radicalchains
Idev on Ian Bone's blog comments

As another leftist mourns the death of comrade Bob, Idev comments:

 AND HIS UNION SUPPORTED THE BANKERS,ARMS INDUSTRY, OIL INDUSTRY AND ENERGY COMPANIES AND TAX AVIODERS

The RMT holds shares currently worth £365,000 in HSBC; £131,000 in Barclays; £606,000 in Lloyds TSB Group; and £43,000 in RBS, the former employer of Fred ‘the shred’ Goodwin.
The union has invested in a range of City investment funds, including Blackrock (£105,000), Kames Capital (£202,000) and Threadneedle Investments (£79,000).
It also has large holdings in BP and Shell, the oil companies; Glaxosmithkline and Astrazeneca, the pharmaceutical giants; and £485,000 of shares in Vodafone, which has been dogged by allegations of tax avoidance.
The RMT also holds £425,000 of shares in British American Tobacco, the cigarette maker; £230,000 of shares in Diageo, the world’s biggest spirits manufacturer; and £166,000 in Rolls Royce, which builds engines used in military aircraft. Many groups do not invest in so-called ‘sin-stocks’ which include alcohol, tobacco and arms for ethical reasons.
Other shareholdings include a £151,000 investment Scottish & Southern, the energy firm which was this year fined £10.5m by Ofgem for “prolonged and extensive” mis-selling to customers.
It also holds shares valued at £281,000 in Centrica, the owner of British gas. It was accused of ‘gouging’ families by recording double-digit profit increases in 2012 to £2.74bn, after hiking bills by 6 per cent. Dividends to shareholders increased 6 per cent.
The RMT is not the only union to invest in the stock market. Unite, Britain’s biggest union and a major donor to the Labour party, holds £33.4m of shares, generating dividends last year of just over £1m. It does not declare which companies it invests in.

http://ianbone.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/bob-crow-dies-at-52/#comments

baboon
never a "golden age"

There was never a "golden age" for the unions and they've never been revolutionary. I don't think that anyone here is arguing that. But they were organisations set up by workers, often at considerable cost and sacrifice, and they fought not just for better wages and conditions for the whole of the class but they were also organs of real solidarity and political struggle. If their full integration into the interests of capital came suddenly in 1914, then there was a process underway already that was divorcing them away from the interests of the working class.

Hawkeye
Responding to #18 and some since #12

I agree with Baboon's opening two sentences on #18.  Any organisation can be subject to mismanagement from many points of view and unions are no exception, but to dismiss all of them on those grounds is dangerous to workers.  For example, in the 1990s, having read stuff against unions by a left organisation, when the non-unionised  firm for which I worked informed us that representatives from a union were coming to give us introductory info, at its meeting I argued against colleagues joining, to my shame. The firm became engaged in a take-over bid for another firm, which involved sacking about a hundred workers in it, but all were quiet when the bosses informed us of it. I sat down in protest outside the firm's building and told the firm why.  Nothing happened then, but later on I was made 'redundant', with ACAS and 'advice' provided. There is all the difference between hire-and-fire and 'one out all out'.  'All out' would be easier if (a  big if) a union supported workers on strike with strike pay from accumulated union funds. To expect unions to be fully in agreement with what the ICC proposes is as impossible as dismissing them all is unwise, as things stand.  Something brand new by way of workers' organisation might sound far better to some, but many members of unions have long perspectives just as good, if not better, than those of the ICC and CWO/ICT, and work towards them where and when they can.

I went on the large demo in London on 22/3/14 against fascism, at which there were umpteen stands and placards of the SWP.  Whilst of course its direct supporters were present, many other workers and those also against fascism were there. Having for many years known the ICC view of 'anti-fascism' as being a tool of the bourgeoisie for steering voters to vote for bourgeois democracy as an 'alternative' to fascism, I reject that overall limited description, because where, yes, that occurs, it can be, and often is opposed.  For instance, most of the marxist papers on sale are orientated towards revolutionary steps towards proletarian socialism, even though some still see Labour less damaging whilst still under capitalism than the current gang in power.  I saw no sign of 'World Revolution' nor 'Aurora' being on sale there.  Fascism is certainly a key part of capitalism. Attacking it can be co-ordinated with explaining just what it is, as a component of the overall struggle for socialism.  In the evening of 22/3/14 in London there were two loud claps of thunder. "Don't worry, it's not the Luftwaffe !"  Well, don't tell me I'm wrong on that!