What is the role of Marxists in an Economic Crisis?

“The day after the UAW pushed through the contract—claiming it would prevent the company from declaring bankruptcy and save jobs—the number three US automaker filed for Chapter 11 protection and released plans to close eight plants and eliminate another 3,500 jobs.”

“Organizing a fightback using some of the militant tactics of the ‘30s like eviction blockades, mass protests, and strikes with fighting pickets is the only way we can effectively resist. ”

Here are two articles, each one illustrating a different approach to resisting massive capitalist crisis.

In the face of crisis in the 1930s, the Communist Party refused to surrender to circumstances, organizing creatively to stop evictions in the communities, to organize labor in untraditional ways (through a new union federation called the CIO) and to involve the whole working class in its work (e.g. organizing the unemployed despite the contracting economy, organizing sharecroppers, making conscious efforts to reach out to and organize black workers, etc). Nothing they did was perfect, but these strategies demonstrate the creative spirit the left so severely lacks today.

For example, the union movement has no far-left participation within it. The left has no roots in the working class, be they unionized or not. This creates a situation in which UAW can get away with telling its members to accept cuts in pay and benefits and claim that resistance would be futile because workers have no leverage. The defeatism is justified by conjuring up the danger of businesses going bankrupt or moving overseas. When the working class lacks “leverage” in the form of a high demand for their labor, political consciousness and militancy becomes their most valuable asset.

It’s the job of Marxist militants to bring that consciousness to the workers, whether they are blue-collar workers, like in the auto industry, welfare recipients, white-collar computer industry workers, soldiers or veterans, informal economy day-laborers like maids or nannies, or students. With class consciousness comes solidarity, and solidarity generates not only deep commitments to struggle, but also opens up many more paths to action, helping the proletariat redefine the terrain of battle and outflank the capitalist enemy (and supposed progressives in union bureaucracies, non-profit organizations, and of course the Democratic Party). Tthis is the reason why, objectively, internationalism, ant-sexism, anti-racism, pro-ecology, etc., are fused with true proletarian class consciousness. The internalization of these principles creates more unity and opens up options to exploit capitalism’s most vulnerable points at any given time. Some have confused these areas of struggle as alternatives to class struggle, but really they should be seen as extensions of class struggle.

Everything from sexism and racism and ecological destruction are products of class societies and capitalism, even it didn’t generate them in the first place, sure capitalizes on them to increase exploitation and derive profits. what left group is organizing (not just theorizing) along anti-capitalist, class based anti-racism or environmental protection? what organization is doing this with the goal of seizing the means of production, knowing that unless the way we produce, distribute, and consume is thoroughly democratized and socialized, the basis will never exist for any of the cultural and ideological revolutions we know are crucial components of a real communist revolution?

Here are the articles:

White House relies on UAW to ram through GM Job Cuts, Concessions By Jerry White 19 May 2009

Organize and Fight Back – 1930s Struggles of the Unemployed Hold Lessons for Today May 18, 2009 By Jesse Lessinger

“Organizing a fightback using some of the militant tactics of the ‘30s like eviction blockades, mass protests, and strikes with fighting pickets is the only way we can effectively resist. “

“The day after the UAW pushed through the contract—claiming it would prevent the company from declaring bankruptcy and save jobs—the number three US automaker filed for Chapter 11 protection and released plans to close eight plants and eliminate another 3,500 jobs.”


Here are two articles, each one illustrating a different approach to resisting massive capitalist crisis.

In the face of crisis in the 1930s, the Communist Party refused to surrender to circumstances, organizing creatively to stop evictions in the communities, to organize labor in untraditional ways (through a new union federation called the CIO) and to involve the whole working class in its work (eg organizing the unemployed despite the contracting economy, organizing sharecroppers, making conscious efforts to reach out to and organize black workers, etc). nothing they did was perfect, but it demonstrated the creative spirit the left so severely lacks.

for example, the union movement has no far-left participation within it. the left has no roots in the working class, be they unionized or not. this creates a situation in which UAW can get away with telling its members to accept cuts in pay and benefits and claim that resistance would be futile because workers have no leverage. the defeatism is justified by conjuring up the danger of businesses going bankrupt or moving overseas.

when the working class lacks “leverage” in the form of a high demand for their labor, political consciousness and militancy becomes their most valuable asset. its the job of marxist militants to bring that consciousness to them, whether they in a blue collar job like auto, welfare recipients, are white collar computer industry workers, soldiers or veterans, informal economy day laborers maids or nannies, or students. with class consciousness comes solidarity, and solidarity generates not only deep commitments to struggle, but also opens up many more paths to action, helping the proletariat redefine the terrain of battle and outflank the capitalist enemy (and supposed progressives in union bureaucracies, non-profit organizations, and of course the Democratic Party). this is the reason why, objectively, internationalism, ant-sexism, anti-racism, pro-ecology, etc are fused with true proletarian class consciousness. The internalization of these principles creates more unity and opens up options to exploit capitalism’s most vulnerable points at any given time.

some have confused these areas of struggle as alternatives to class struggle, but really they should be seen as extensions of class struggle. everything from sexism and racism and ecological destruction are products of class societies and capitalism, even it didnt generate them in the first place, sure capitalizes on them to increase exploitation and derive profits.

what left group is organizing (not just theorizing) along anti-capitalist, class based anti-racism or environmental protection? what organization is doing this with the goal of seizing the means of production, knowing that unless the way we produce, distribute, and consume is thoroughly democratized and socialized, the basis will never exist for any of the cultural and ideological revolutions we know are crucial components of a real communist revolution?

/////////

White House relies on UAW to ram through GM job cuts, concessions

By Jerry White
19 May 2009
Organize and Fight Back – 1930s Struggles of the Unemployed Hold Lessons for Today
May 18, 2009
By Jesse Lessinger
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One response to “What is the role of Marxists in an Economic Crisis?

  1. This is probably a good point to engage in a bit of Two Line struggle. I just want to take to task certain assumptions made by the author – is it true there are no revolutionary left groups doing work in Trade Unions, in other sections of the working class (worker centers, community orgs, etc.)? These stand for just rhetorical questions of what is essentially a ‘movementist’ line which ignore the basic facts – they’re in fact doing this but they’re not quite successful or have somewhat a limited success. Rhetorical flares don’t serve to help elucidate the burning questions for ourselves but cover them up, and here do so in a clearly unambiguously in an economist way. So why doesn’t the collective operating the site not simply just put up uncritically the arguments of the two Trotskyist mediums there (Socialist Appeal and World Social Website), but maybe it would serve better to understand how that analysis fits within a political line that has been ineffective altogether in organizing workers and only been the source of their mockery?

    There are revolutionary organizations that do work in Trade-Unions and their work hasn’t amounted to much beyond supporting maybe a more progressive leadership in command. The 1930s’ are not today, Trade-Unions are substantially different, and the rhetoric of old labor doesn’t resonate in any significant way with the conditions of people today – frankly they’re not the same at all.

    So when we talk about organizing auto workers alongside day laborers, or domestic workers alongside your computer tech service, you’re dooming yourself to be scattered completely and tossing away the need for valuable and strategic class analysis for the logic of resurrection of different forms of ‘workerism.’ There is a substantial reason why it is harder and nearly fruitless to organize, in a method which is revolutionary, in Trade Unions like UAW than it is the various alternative organizations of the working class. Trade Unions effective tool that has won workers’ their pension, their health care plan, etc. has been class collaboration and political alignment with imperialist parties like the democrats – you can try to make the argument that it has been the the rank and file against their leadership that has pushed it, but I don’t think that is a very convincing argument altogether.

    With the limited number of forces of revolutionaries and with the objective conditions changing within an economic crisis – however still not changing substantially in favor of revolutionaries to broadly organize – we should try to understand where are the most proletarian sections of the masses are. I believe they’re likely not to be found within established Trade-Unions like UAW, which is just now coming off their benefits from the Keynesian period, but will be found in the most thoroughly exploited and oppressed sections of society..amongst undocumented and underemployed workers, nationally oppressed people, students in public and state schools from elementary to college, and the LGBTQ community.

    There is also a necessary definite question we need to ask ourselves, what is class struggle and class consciousness, and what are their relations to each other? In this piece the author is assuming there is depth and meaning to these words that we all have consensus on, but I’ve found I had at least considerable disagreement with other revolutionaries on this question. Class consciousness is not just about workers’ being conscious of their self-interest, they’ve realized that themselves in the form of Trade-Union consciousness. Class consciousness is a form of political consciousness that is the actuality of the theory and practice of class struggle that understands the proletariat as a particular class, is able to transfigure and transform society because of its historic role as a class without ties to the means of production beyond the selling of their labor. The Proletariat is therefore both a particular historic class and universal political subject of liberation.

    Lukacs in his critique and celebration of Rosa Luxembourg pointed out that a revolutionary party or organization is not merely a form for revolutionary activity, but it is more importantly the living class consciousness of the proletariat – only with the revolutionary party or organization can there be any real class consciousness. Maybe the real task for revolutionaries today is not merely disperse themselves amongst the milieu of sporadic occurring struggles of the masses, but also to regroup, reconceive and refound a revolutionary movement with actual meaning.

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