Tag Archives: trotskyism
On the Union Debate: The Internationalist Group’s Response to “The Problematic of the Union in the U.S” (1 & 2)
The Internationalist Group, a revolutionary Trotskyist organization, has written a serious response to Advance the Struggle’s two documents on the unions. Many readers will probably be a little put off by the hyper Trotskyist language of the piece, nevertheless the content of the argument is one of importance. It offers sympathy with the first union piece Unions – “How do We Intervene?” And believes the other document, “Revolutionaries, Unions and the emerging Class Struggle“, has some serious problems, and anarchist tendencies. We appreciate the Internationalist’s serious response to both documents, and agree that all revolutionary formations must start to put out a public positions on how to relate to the unions. As the public can see, Advance the Struggle is still figuring out this question. That is why we published two pieces.
If all American left groups can clearly explain what role revolutionaries should play regarding unions, we can heighten the political discussion of what revolutionary work means in this historical moment. The Kasama blog wrote a critique of Fire Next Time’s flyer regarding the bus strike in New York as it was not clearly explaining what communist work means in the present. What we found missing from the Kasama critique is a proposal for how to relate to the unions in a way that is communist. The ultra-left critique of Trotskyism is this issue on unions is ignoring value, the essence of capitalist social relations. Ultra-lefts charge trotskyist of reproducing and managing value, as appossed to moving towards its negation. This movement, that some call communization, is stuck in a similar position as Kasama, as it can’t translate macro concepts such as value, communism, and communization, within real day-to-day class struggle situations. They are stuck in the abstract and cannot, as of yet, concretely explain what communist work (Kasama), or what communization means in day to day practice regarding the immediate tasks of political work that relates the class struggle and unions.
Luxemburg and Lenin were the first to seriously do this after Marx, this being an untapped theoretical/practical potential point of convergence. Luxemburg and Lenin were the first to develop a revolutionary Marxist practice, concretizing Marxist theoretical categories. Yet historically, they have been violently separated by the crystallized ideologies of the Marxist left; uncritically committed to limited traditions that have now faded into retirement. Just as labor and production were separated forming alienation in Marx’s 1844 Philosophical manuscripts, and labor and land were separated in Marx’s concept of the so-called primitive accumulation, Lenin and Luxemburg have also been separated creating an anti-organizational ultra-left that fetishizes wildcat strikes, or linear party builders in the name of Leninism. Both Luxemburg’s “The Mass Strike“, challenging the bureaucratic method of union political work in Germany, and Lenin’s “What is to be Done?” of building professional revolutionaries that insert revolutionary politics beyond unionism and economic struggles, are the two foundational works that can shed light on the union question.
Advance the Struggle will continue to write on the relationship revolutionaries should have with unions in this unfolding public discussion. We encourage all revolutionary groups to also write out documents, or pinpoint existing documents that clearly lay out how revolutionaries should relate to unions. All serious comments from your part are studied and recognized with such seriousness on our part.
Trade Unions and Revolutionary Struggle in the United States
The two pieces posted on the web site of Advance the Struggle under the heading “The Problematic of the Union in the U.S. – What Is To Be Done?” are a definite improvement on other recent statements and articles from activists in and around the (greatly reduced) Occupy movement. Both AtS texts start with the affirmation of the need to defend the unions against attacks by capital and the state, in contrast to the arguments of supporters of the Black Orchid Collective in the Pacific Northwest who have vociferously opposed calls for defense of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Those arguments were raised in a dispute that broke out in a “port working group” in Portland last November when comrades of the Internationalist Group put out a leaflet calling for defense of the ILWU and raised this as one of the basic points for solidarity action. This was in the face of the employers’ offensive aimed at gutting basic union gains, such as the hiring hall, and preparing to bring in scabs to bust the ILWU, the bastion of West Coast labor. Our stance was ABC for any Marxist, but those who objected were anarchists and liberals. Basically the arguments against us cited betrayals by the ILWU bureaucrats as a reason not to defend, and possibly to oppose, the union, for example in the article by Pete Little, “One Year After the West Coast Port Shutdown,” in CounterPunch (21-23 December). We responded in an article titled, “Why We Defend the ILWU and All Workers … Including Against the Sellout Labor Bureaucracy”.
The AtS pieces are grappling with one of the key issues facing communist revolutionaries in the U.S., which has been fought over for decades. While making a number of valid points, both pieces are basically empirical where what’s key is the overall theoretical understanding and programmatic conclusions. Both locate the problems with unions in their structure, and in the elaborate web of legal restrictions woven by the bourgeoisie to contain workers’ struggles. Therefore, they focus on alternative organizational vehicles as the solution, whether “class-wide organizations” or “revolutionary cells” in the unions. This misses the key point, that the failures and betrayals of key labor struggles are due at bottom not to union structures or capitalist laws, but to the lack of revolutionary leadership capable of overcoming those obstacles.
On Monday Chicago teachers went on strike, notably under the influence of two US Trotskyist groups: the International Socialist Organization and Solidarity. This is an inspiring large-scale working-class action, and a modern test of many different things: the traditional Trotskyist approach of gaining the formal leadership of big unions, the viability of public sector strikes in the current climate, the question of whether workers will break the legal limits imposed by Taft-Hartley and other US Labor Law, as well as the relationship between the workers
withdrawing their labor and the people they serve.
Get it Chicago educators and supporters!
Check out Solida
If anyone gets new reportbacks / analysis, drop em in comments we’d love to see em.
We are some members of Advance the Struggle, a New York revolutionary collective, and Black Orchid Collective who have been travelling together and discussing during the lead up to the Everything for Everyone Conference in Seattle. Through these conversations, we have been brainstorming ideas for how we can build together over the long term. The following is the results of these brainstorms. To be clear, this is a discussion document, NOT a formal position representing our groups. It is also not something we aim to push as an immediate outcome of the Everything for Everyone conference. Instead, we hope it will prompt discussion about how to move forward during 2012 into 2013. We also acknowledge that not everyone involved in E4E will agree with or be interested in this project, but we hope that those who are contact us so we can discuss further.
- Tensions of building a national formation
- Character of Occupy
- Rupture versus base building? Towards a new Revolutionary Organization
- Towards a working class insurrection
2012-2013 can be a year of unifying revolutionary militants from around the US. In order for this to happen we need to take the necessary preparatory steps in 2013 to develop a common political analysis and perspective on revolutionary work. Our strength will come from unifying all of the militants that come out of left communism, anarcho-communism, Johnson-Forrest Tendency/Sojourner Truth, and like-minded revolutionary forces close to this constellation.
Many women of a feminist and marxist perspective are gathering this weekend to educate each other and build solidarity/community amongst each other. We give a shout out to them all and must say that we are inspired by this crucial work. Power to the Women and Therefore the Class!
Determining a program for women’s liberation that can actually be into practice is no easy task. AS has been trying to figure it out throughout our short history as a collective. One thing has injected a fair amount of insight, a concrete manifestation of many of the theoretical conclusions we had started to come to grips with. That is the internationalist socialist women’s organization, Pan y Rosas.
A comrade of ours visited Argentina a while ago and ever since her return has been agitating AS around the politics of Pan y Rosas (Bread and Roses). So far, we are very impressed, and even though their strategy leans more toward the electoral than we think is merited, we have profound respect for their application of theory to practice which focuses on the women sector of the working class without embracing a “sectoralist” perspective that divides this work from that of the male sector.
PyR is an all-women’s socialist group connected to a Trotskyist party, the Partido de Trabajadores Socialistas (Socialist Workers Party). In extremely patriarchal countries like Argentina and Mexico where reproductive rights are nearly non-existent and femicide is a huge and growing problem, PyR has implanted itself within factories and other workplaces to build women’s agency as workers and as women. They resist the boss and the state, in the process defying established gender norms and building women’s solidarity rooted in Third World reality.
Women are the majority of the paid proletariat, and most of the time, they are unpaid workers in the home (“the proletariat of the proletariat”). PyR sees women’s oppression in its totality, fighting patriarchy in all its manifestations without falling down that slippery slope of stage-ism wherein the primary task of feminism is perceived to be settling the score with men of their class, as a precondition to fighting the enemy shared by all genders: capital. Let’s hope that their male comrades are not abstaining from the struggle for women’s liberation under the false notion that according to the principle of “self-determination” only those directly effected by a particular form of oppression have a right or duty to fight against it.
PTS, the multi-gender trotskyist party, has its own video/news network called TV PTS set up and has covered much of Pan y Rosas’ activism. In this video, a media mogul, Ricardo Fort, meets the resistance of his mostly woman workforce. He is also the owner of a factory where most of the workers are women who face terrible conditions and sexual harrassment. This patriarchal capitalist going down!!
more PyR in action:
And finally, here is a response to the Pan y Rosas program by our comrade Sasha Yanga. Translation of program and this reflection to come in dedicated post, we just couldn’t wait to big up Pan y Rosas and put it out there that AS is engaging feminism from a proletarian perspective:
Capital and Today’s Crisis by Raya Dunayevskaya
Millions of workers have been laid off since the 2007 crisis, creating a new political world where turbulence is to be expected in the coming period. A new generation of activists has been reading Karl Marx’s Capital to understand our changing contemporary political reality. This new political reality demands a political theory to explain and help transform it. Who is building a revolutionary framework for this process? The contemporary revolutionary left is largely an extension of 1960s Trotskyist and Maoist groups, fighting for correct leadership over movements, or anarchist and insurrectionist currents, trying to set a spark to the dry wood of the people. Are these our only revolutionary political options? Raya Dunayevskaya, great but generally-ignored Marxist theorist, was at one point Trotsky’s secretary but later broke from and critiqued Trotskyism through the Marxist method. Well-known Trinidadian co-thinker CLR James (author of The Black Jacobins on the Haitian slave revolution) has overshadowed her, and she is often dismissed as a cult leader. One day, a member of Advance the Struggle found a Dunayevskaya pamphlet that AS militants informally labeled “The Magical Blue Pamphlet” (MBP).
It is often assumed that Marx’s Capital is a work that explains Capitalist economics. And it does, but to reduce it to that ignores the revolutionary fire built into the text. Raya recontextualizes Capital by demonstrating how it embodies the experience of revolutionary movements; this provides a direct challenge to theorists like famous Trotskyist Ernest Mandel, whose “vulgarization of Marx’s analysis of the dialectical relationship between production and its reflection in the market” Raya smashes on in “Today’s Epigones Who Try to Truncate Marx’s Capital.” One of Dunayevskaya’s central points is that capital is not a thing that oppresses us but a relationship we are subjected to. She explores how the American slave revolts and the Paris Commune formed and deepened Marx’s understanding of capital, summarizes the three volumes of Capital as a singular political unit of revolutionary logic, then finishes the pamphlet by exploring the Russian revolution.
As we get further from March 4th and various groups put out their analysis, we see emerging differences in political line. Some of the primary differences we’ve seen emerge [discussed in our Post-March 4th analysis] stem from our criticisms of the Trotskyist tradition. Recently, Unity & Struggle (U&S), a group we consider to be aligned with our general political orientation wrote a response to two of the Trotskyist responses to our piece put out by Labor’s Militant Voice – LMV and Socialist Organizer – SO. We think U&S’s response piece very clearly illustrates some of the emerging differences that distinguish us from the existing Trotskyist groups. These differences center on the following questions:
How should marxist militants understand the political character of unions? How should militants relate to unions, their leadership and their rank and file? Many Marxists agree that union bureaucrats have been bought off, but there are often disagreements as to why.
How should disciplined revolutionaries relate to, and work within coalitional spaces? How important are general assemblies as organizational forms for the working-class’ political self-activity?
Is there a need for revolutionaries to have independent spaces and organizations outside of both coalitions/united fronts and general assemblies? Or are general assemblies and united fronts the only true legitimate spaces for working-class self activity? If not, what should independent political organizations look like?
How should a marxist ‘cadre’ type organization relate to such a space or organization? Should we help build them to the exclusion of participating in united fronts? Are these forms of organization mutually exclusive?
Furthermore, can the problem facing the working class today be summed up by Leon Trotsky’s assertion in the opening line of his famous work, ‘The Transitional Program’, which states that: “the world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of leadership of the proletariat”? And, if so, does this mean that the problem facing revolutionaries today is primarily the task of substituting ‘bad leadership’ [read: union bureaucrats] for ‘good leadership’ [read: correct-line trotskyist revolutionaries], or do revolutionaries need to orient in radically different ways that consciously avoid reproducing the same hierarchical structures of authority present in capitalism?
These are all questions that we were thinking about when we wrote our Crisis and Consciousness piece, which analyzed March 4th and the movement that lead up to it.
Unfortunately all of us in AtS are not merely armchair intellectuals [we got jobs and other political work ya’ll!] and thus it has taken us a lil’ while to engage with all the responses that have been put out.
We are also taking time to respond to the Trotskyist responses in a way that moves beyond March 4th, and which moves us in the direction of a more fleshed out articulation of our position on many of the above issues, as political questions in general.
In the meantime, we think people should seriously engage with the piece written by our Seattle comrade from the group Unity and Struggle.
We were psyched to read U&S’s response to the responses to our piece, because we have been heavily influenced and inspired by the work they do. U&S is a great example of the class-struggle left we describe in Crisis and Consciousness, and we had them in mind when we wrote it. We believe their response to the two Trotskyist responses to our piece (one by Labor’s Militant Voice – LMV and the other by Socialist Organizer – SO), is a very straightforward and accurate, cursory overview of the debate thus far. As we’ve mentioned, U&S shares many of our critical disagreements with the Trotskyist tradition and its current incarnations.
We look forward to continuing these debates, as they help us develop our own understanding of ourselves and the existing left. We are a new formation and we are trying to develop a fresh analysis of the current conditions, while trying to avoid many of the political mistakes made by revolutionary militants in the past.
We plan to put out more in-depth and detailed analysis on the questions raised above, for which we are studying, reading and discussing with our political milieus. We welcome you to become part of this debate as it unfolds.
As an anti-budget cuts organizer in Seattle, I am excited by the important debates Advance the Struggle (AS) has raised with their piece Crisis and Contradictions: Reflections and Lessons from March 4th. I basically agree with the perspective that AS is putting forward; it confirms and advances a lot of the perspectives that my comrades in Unity and Struggle have been developing, especially with our anti-budget cuts work with Democracy Insurgent in Seattle, with ella pelea! in Austin, and our comrade’s work at Berkley. For those who don’t know, Unity and Struggle is a revolutionary organization animated by a belief in the self-emancipation of oppressed people; for more info, check out the “About US” section of the Gathering Forces blog.
I would consider Unity and Struggle and a lot of the milleiu around Gathering Forces to be part of the “class struggle Left” tendency that AS outlines and calls for; like AS we are attempting to chart a third path that is independent from both the centrists (the “we need to meet people where they are at” folks) and the adventurists (the “Occupy Everything Demand Nothing” folks). We appreciate the chance to dialogue with AS and other like-minded activists around the country and we also appreciate the chance to have principled debate with comrades from the other two tendencies.
The response pieces written by Socialist Organizer (SO) and Labors Militant Voice (LMV), raise some important challenges to this third tendency and highlight some key differences between us and the centrist tendency. It is important to note that LMV’s piece raises important critiques of SO’s piece and I engage with those here - I have no intention of lumping them together. I offer my notes on these responses in the hope of furthering the debate.
Buried in Oakland California, Vincent St John is one of the most important and unkown labor militants in American history. He always stayed committed to his semi anarcho revolutionary syndicalist politics and never joined or supported any political party including the early communist party.
James P Cannon, the carrier of American trotskyism was very much influenced and trained by Vincent St John during the turn of the century. Here is a memior about Vincent St John and how important and talented Vincent St John was as an organizer and a trainer to younger worker militants.
Cannon on Vincent St John