Monthly Archives: February 2013

Upcoming Film Screening on Post-apartheid Struggles in South Africa

After the Marikana massacre last August, South African miners rose up, forming self-organized workers’ committees across the platinum belt. This wave of militancy spread into other sectors, first gold and coal, and then eventually transport, dockworkers, and most recently, agricultural workers in the Western Cape. Not since the late 1980s have we seen militant wildcat waves like those that have transpired since August 2012, and for this reason Advance the Struggle engaged in solidarity work with the strikers. From a 150-person rally in downtown Oakland to our work with the South African Miners’ Solidarity Committee, we have consistently pushed this kind of work.Poster La Pena Final fixed

Our comrades Zach and Gerald gave a talk last fall on the history of labor militancy and resistance during and since the end of apartheid, and we continue our educational initiative by promoting the following documentary by two young radical filmmakers from Berkeley, Shweta Kumar and Gabrielle Forte. Their independently produced film Empty Promises explores community mobilization in South Africa’s informal settlements against eviction and failure of service delivery by the local government. The documentary addresses the following questions: Why do community members mobilize? Which factors lead individuals to protest? How do individuals define their aims/objectives? And where do members place themselves in relation to the police and local government?

Kumar and Forte interview activists, leaders, and community members from six informal settlements in Johannesburg and Durban in an attempt to portray the political landscape of post-apartheid South Africa. The film was independently funded and made in collaboration with the Socioeconomic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI).

On Thursday, March 7 at 7 pm, come see the premier of their documentary Empty Promises with both filmmakers in attendance! Admission is only $5, and it all goes down at La Peña Cultural Center at 3105 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley. Join AS, Kumar, and Forte for another evening of post-apartheid militancy!

Advertisements

Remembering Malcolm…

Quote

Union Debates: John Reimann Responds With Words of Wisdom


John Reimann, a veteran Trotskyist, wrote a solid response to the union question. This being posted in the spirit of trying to get every left group, in the US, Trotskyist, Left-Communist, Ultra-lefts, Anarchists, to write out, and define how they see revolutionaries relationship with unions. John Reimann, a leader of a 1999 wildcat strike of East Bay carpenters, is also very active in the Bay Area regarding social movements, and union struggles.

John Reimann

February 21, 2013 at 11:17 am

I think this sort of discussion/debate is a huge part of what has been lacking on the left, especially holding this out in the open.

As far as the unions: I think we have to start by looking at the objective developments and what mood and consciousness that created.

The 1930s and then again the strike wave of 1946 taught the US capitalist class a lesson: They could not simply steamroll over the working class as they had been accustomed to doing. So they retreated to trying to stabilize class relations. This was made possible by the post war economic boom and the dominant position of the US capitalist class globally. They were easily able to afford concessions.portpicket

There was also the role of Stalinism, which gave “socialism” a foul odor in the nostrils of the great majority of workers.This enabled a sector of the union bureaucracy that was most closely linked with the employers to strengthen their base in the unions and strengthen their grip on the union structures. Any worker who seriously wanted a more militant union was suspected (at the very least) of being a “Commie”, and there were consequences, the least of which was being shunned by one’s fellow workers.

Ironically, the end of the boom and the collapse of Stalinism actually strengthened this state of affairs. The collapse of Stalinism strengthened a huge propaganda wave in favor of the “free” market. We had reached the end of history, you see. Any thought otherwise was simply living in a dream world at best. And the end of the boom accelerated the attacks on the working class, including accelerating the wave of plant closures and runaway plants (to Mexico and then to China and elsewhere). Workers in general, and the union workers in particular, were told that if you fight for higher pay, or even if you fight against cuts in pay, you will end up losing your job altogether. Continue reading

On the Union Debate: Will Critically Responds to the Union Debates

Will offers a serious response challenging the political framework of the debate regarding unions. Will’s piece argues that earlier discussions ignore how we are still trapped by the legacy of 1968 and do not explain the relationship that unions have with the state, coupled with ignoring larger philosophical issues concerning communism. These points have validity. Earlier arguments do not deal with such issues. That has to be done. What we have argued is that unions should be defended against capitalist attacks, and a classwide offensive should be pushed for.     

are we trapped in 1917 or 1968?  if so, what do we do about it?

are we trapped in 1917 or 1968? if so, what do we do about This basic position, one of general principle does not deal with specificities of situations, nor larger questions of how to create a marxism for the present. Such union documents did not answer the difficult challenges revolutionaries face in total terms, or engage in the question of communist philosophy, the question of 1968 and the role of the state. This is necessary to form a fully developed revolutionary model.  But simply arguing that this has not been done does not help us get there. 

Will argues that, “[the] lesson learned from Marx was that not only was he not transfixed on one moment or time but was able to see the developments of capitalism into the future. Lenin was able to do this as well and was able to strategically act on those developments in a way Marx could not.” Yes, this is true. It represents the revolutionary historical agency of marxism. To develop revolutionary marxism today includes theoretical engagement that challenges the limits of marxist theory, as well as taking political positions in the public sphere as an essential practical principle in order to give working class organizing a political direction against the state and capital. 

The union question challenges the merits of both the “on the ground practice,” as well as the theoretical and philosophical system grounding for the marxism that created such a position. Or in the other words the question of unions is controversial as it begins to challenge the larger system of politics used to employ its analysis. 

Communist philosophy matures when it engages political events; where class and political conflicts take place. These events make public positions necessary by self-identified revolutionaries. To be a revolutionary, one needs to be able to put forward clear public political positions in order to form revolutionary poles of attraction. Once a set of positions and principles have been established, then an organizational form, shaped around the agreement of its political content can attract and form militants that continue to organize deeper into the working class. Many of the philosophers mentioned, have only engaged in interpretation without defining a mode of struggle against the historically specific mode of control, and or character of its structure.

Our revolutionary marxism will be able to change the world by being clear of what political principles are unconditional to generate real political agreement amongst a broad body of left-wing militants, which will form the material force behind a serious mode of struggle. The process of advancing this project develops marxist theory, through the application of an analysis that can help guide a path of struggle. This hopefully partially answers Will’s final question, “What is the communist basis for these discussions?”

We’d like to hear other’s positions on Will’s serious questions, so please feel free to join in the discussion.

We need a moving theory that projects into the future.
                                                                          -Will

As I have been reflecting on the debates over the trade union question, broader questions/ problems also seem to be connected. Below are some brief notes on what those other questions are.

1. The class faces a profound crisis and so does marxism. That warrants deeper investigations. The mainstream currents of 20th century communism have been a bloodbath (against peasants and workers), filled with playing not the vanguard role in fighting for communism, but actually developing capitalism.  We are not immune to either of these problems.  These stand as shocking counterpoints to probably all the expectations communists had in the beginning of the 20th century.

2. The Hegelian rupture: Hegel and Marxism were tied together for much of the 19th and 20th century. But 1968 stands as a potentially game changing event where Hegel is challenged on multiple fronts: Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, Le Febevre, and potentially many others created a new paradigm which has to be taken into account. I used to take fairly uncritically works by David Harvey, Perry Anderson, Aijaz Ahmed, and Alex Callinicos which attacked the development of post-modernism and post-structuralism. I believe I could have been widely off the mark.  Very unclear, but I believe to be crucial.

More importantly a return to philosophy is paramount. No discussion of that sort has occurred on AS. Philosophy is intricately tied to methodology. No discussion of method can occur without philosophy.

3. A new generation of militants ranging from the Johnson-Forest Tendency, to Walter Rodney-Frantz Fanon, to the Situationists tried to tackle the problems of 1968.  That was the last highpoint achieved.  Their strengths and weakness have to be rooted back into the cycles of struggle and the development of capital.

Forging a synthetic analysis of the 20th century cannot be trapped in Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg or any single moment or thinker. That will be the death of communism. We need a moving theory that projects into the future.

What are the antagonistic and complementary threads which connects Marx to Negri today and everyone in between.

Revolutionary Organization Study Group Reader

“The building of a fighting organization and the conduct of political agitation are essential under any “drab peaceful” circumstances, in any period, no matter how marked by a “declining revolutionary spirit”; moreover, it is precisely in such periods and under such circumsstances that work of this kind is precisely in such periods and under such circumstances that work of this kind is particularly necessary, since it is too late to form the organization in times of explosion and outbursts; the party must be in a state of readiness to launch activity in moment’s notice.”

-Lenin (Where to begin, 1901)

Lenin’s quote is particularly meaningful in this historic moment. In 2007, global capitalism entered a structural crisis, while in 2009, students developed insurgent movements within the US. In 2011, the Occupy movement formed in hundreds of cities across the US. In 2013, the political landscape is changing what resistance means and how it is done. The hyper-individualistic and social-democratic political positions that dominated the US left in the 1990-2006 era are gone. A new era of revolt, and radicalization is beginning. The historical experiences of 2007 to the present, coupled with the structural crisis of capital that formed in 2007, has established the most favorable conditions for the building of a new revolutionary organization within the US since the 1960s.

The revolutionary left of the US, is deeply divided, ideologically hyper, detached from both the American working class, and militants in other countries (especially non-European ones). This disallows a clear proposal to emerge of how to build a revolutionary project in the US. The generation of revolutionary cadre of the 1960s have devolved in isolation, and adapting to retirement. This older generation is far more detached to the new generation of militants, compared to the multi-generational lineage of militants in other countries that are politically and organizationally linked.

At the same time, in the US, every city is developing small, loose, informal radical circles. Many are composed of politicized working class youth, alienated from American capitalism, and cynical about a prosperous future. Such radical working class youth are taught and treated to feel like the bottom, “scum”-like material of society. Such people are anything but the “scum” of society, but more the promising movement for a new society, one beyond capitalism.

Capitalism is in a phase of devalorization: where the necessary price of wage-labor is lowered, partly from the attacks by capitalist austerity, partly by an increase of technological efficiency, and partly by state sponsored oppression and incarceration. This process has steadily unfolded since 1973. The political program of unions has been a buffer of this process, representing a left-wing force of the devalorization process. Going to an important college, or getting a prestigious job, is becoming a reality for a much smaller and smaller group of people. In 1970, 20% of the workforce was involved in strikes and labor conflicts of some sort, now that number is reduced to 0.5%. No revolutionary group has been able to define the path to rupture this problem of capitalist control. But the historical moment is forcing the revolutionary left to debate the reality of their situation, due to a demand for a new unfolding revolutionary force to emerge. Capitalisms is decaying. Revolutionaries must ascend.

Instead of finding ways to adapt to this system, functioning through a perspective of opportunism, or divorcing yourself from society, being counter-cultural and isolated, the alternative is forming the beginnings of a revolutionary organization. This begins by one, or a few dedicated revolutionaries, who make the building of revolutionary organizations their top priority in life. Part-timers will not suffice in the genesis of the project, sorry. With that commitment, come skills. The practical and political skills one needs to develop to form a revolutionary organization are many. There are practical skills you need, like be able to write out agitational flyers and distribute them in working class places, in order to advance unfolding social movements or class struggles. There are political skills one must have, such as knowledge of Marxism, a theoretical system to analyze the contradictions of capitalism, the character of the state, and the possibilities of the historical moment. One must have social and organizational skills, such as collecting 20 people’s contacts from a meeting and do follow up emails and phone calls about the objective political tasks from that meeting. One must be able to speak publicly during key junctures, when the possibilities of the left and the advanced sections of the working class can merge into more radical unified acts against capital.

One must strive to organically combine all these skills in order to build a small revolutionary group from scratch. Such a revolutionary cell formed from scratch would be composed of militants, or political organizers dedicated to such a revolutionary project, trained in doing such political work, that can act as a unit. The study of key militants of the past, like Farrol Dobbs, Domitila, Elizabeth Gurly Flynn, Malcolm X, give a concrete understanding of the qualities such people were composed of. The possibility of small groups of militants who can act as unit, represent an ingredient needed for the formation of a much larger, more serious, national revolutionary organization. The American revolutionary left is far from building a national revolutionary organization, but it now confronts a landscape that has offered us some of the most favorable conditions to do so in 40 years. This shift in political conditions requires an intervention by revolutionaries to lay the groundwork for what could become in the next ten years.

Considering such conditions, Advance the Struggle proposes that small groupings around the country read this reader on revolutionary organization. Our comrades in Unity and Struggle put the first edition of this reader together, and members of Advance the Struggle edited it down. This reader is the basic theoretical and political interventions made by the most important Marxist of the twentieth century. Lenin, Luxemburg, Gramsci, Trotsky, and Bordiga stand as giants regarding the development of revolutionary Marxism. What we have today is a splintered revolutionary left that has latched on to crystallized traditions such as Trotskyism, Luxemburgism, Gramscianism, causing harmful splits within this dynamic, unable to unify this larger revolutionary body of thought. Such a body is tied together like ecology spread out through history. Each Marxist figure has challenged the existing totality of Marxism in that period, advancing the understanding of central marxist concepts: the revolutionary organization, the permanent character of accumulation, permanent revolution, revolutionary military strategy, historical materialism, and class struggle within the “advanced capitalist” countries.

The new generations of revolutionaries have a giant task ahead. Considering the famous position in Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, that “each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it,” we can point to a revolutionary beginning. This beginning is tasked with mastering the original categories of Marx’s Marxism, coupled with re-assembling the latter Marxist after Marx, into a unified logic boiled down to a defined method for working class application.  Being able to reassemble such a body of Marxist thought for our historical moment, will give us the framework to apply the Marxist method to advance struggle into revolutionary motion. This political activity and perspective is what is needed to rebuild massive revolutionary organizations that we once witnessed from 1864 to the 1930s. In that spirit, we offer a basic reader on some of the most important work that tried to accomplish such a goal. We would also appreciate any thoughts people have on the reader and what affects it had on them and their promising group.

Click on the image below to read!

ASRevOrgReaderCover

On the Union Debate: A Reply to John Garvey

John Garvey has made several important and critical comments on the unions. He was the first to point out that only 14 million workers are in unions, highly located in the public sector, and including police and jails. Under the surface it appears we have differences dealing with the existing unions, and apsire to continue to have a public dialogue and public debate on the matter.  In order to come to a better understanding of this particular juncture and the work that should be done, we must dig deep into the politics of the matter, and see who proposes what, in the concrete, concerning unions, and the class conflict unions members have with capital.  We present John Garvey’s comments first and a response by a member of AS who works in both unionized workplaces and non-unionized workplaces. We encourage John Garvey to put forth any central documents that further outline his position on the unions to gain clarity on the matter.

 

John Garvey

Sorry for the interruption! Grandchildren interfered. Let me turn now to the unionized protective service workers. Their unionization rates all but completely are a reflection of their status as public employees and, in that regard, they are no different from other public sector employees–dependent, for the most part, for the quality of their contracts on negotiated deals with city or state elected officials dependent on union support. But, other than firefiighters because of their role as protectors of the existing state of affairs. unlike other public sector officials, they should be deducted from the numbers of unionized workers–making the overall rates of unionization even lower–for our purposes.

So, what does all this mean? I think it means that we should stop obsessing about unions–a reality that means almost nothing in the life or potential of the American working class that’s available for revolutionary politics. Why? First, only a tiny number of workers are in unions. Second, many of the members are older and not easily able to break with the circumstances that make their lives tolerable. Third, more than half of union members are in the public sector where, in spite of the battles of Wisconsin and Michigan, the members’ well-being is more dependent on support of politicians than anything else. And, furthermore, a whole lot of those public sector workers are cops and prison guards.What to do instead? Mostly, let’s learn a lot about what workers are faced with and what they’re doing. And let’s keep in mind that the end is the abolition of wage labor and the self-emancipation of the working class–a very distant dream in these dark times.

Response by Farabundo

Response: John Garvey begins and end his proposal with “let’s learn a lot about what workers are faced with and what they’re doing.” We are workers. No one in Advance the Struggle can live without working. By definition, we all have to sell our labor-time for wages to make a living. This implication that we are divorced from the working class is a faulty beginning. Considering only a small section of people we interact with, mainly retired people, don’t have to work, every person we engage with are workers. Everytime we talk with someone we know, we usually ask, “What have you been up to?” So we can get idea of they are doing. Our workplaces, which includes schools, hospitals, transportation, restaurants are both unionized and non-unionized. Some of us work as substitute teachers, both at non-union charters and unionized schools, making the issue of unions are real one. The biggest issue we face, is our comrades who agitate in non union workplaces who can be fired at will. We know this first hand because they have been fired for organizing. There was nothing we could do besides call a labor lawyer. Our organization is too small to be able to organize a wildcat when our comrades get fired. So the real world experience is our comrades do get fired at non union workplaces. Our comrades that do have union jobs, have much more real room for agitation and organizing. We can bring up concepts of class struggle in a much more real way. This also doesn’t mean we don’t talk about other non-union political issues with our co-workers. Every chance I get, I talk to my co-workers, who are school workers, and Oakland teachers, about social movements, class struggle in other countries, the role of violent and racist state, the real gendered violence that penetrates the streets, and how the class as a whole needs to move against capital. I also have similar conversation in non-union workplaces I work at. But when I do, I have to think, will this person tell the manager what I am talking about? If they do, I could get fired simply for that reason. As a result, I am more reserved, because I would like to pay rent, and eat food. Continue reading

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.

LeninRosa

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.

Continue reading