Category Archives: International Labor History

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.

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The Problematic of the Union in the U.S. – What is to be Done? (Part 2)

Many people reading the blog have only the read the first position paper on unions and not the second. We are releasing the second to make clear there are two position papers being discussed in Advance the Struggle. We wanted to share both so people can see the discussion going on. Please feel free to comment, and or critique both pieces.

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Revolutionaries, Unions and emerging Class Struggle.

“Trade Unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachment of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system.”  -Marx

Thesis:

So few revolutionaries are implanted in the landscape of over 14 million US union members,  making a key task the formation of revolutionary cells amongst the rank and file of unions, which would  engage in three types of political work; 1) day to day organizing and base building amongst the rank and file of that union, 2) form new working class organizations outside of the unions (like solidarity unionism or independent committees) and, 3) in rupturing  moments of capitalist attack, like the “Wisconsin moment,” to lead classwide offensives against capital.

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The Problematic of the Union in the U.S. – What is to Be Done?

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(Editor’s Note:  The 2nd piece in this post has been updated on a separate blog post.  The original piece was a late draft.)

The Advance the Struggle Collective is currently engaged in high level discussion around the central political question of the unions and how revolutionaries interpret its history, its present, and how communist intervention can help develop a much-needed revitalized labor movement. The experience of the Chicago teacher’s strike, the battle in the Northwest over the fate of the ILWU, and the mass uprising of public sector workers in Wisconsin stresses both the need to defend unions from bourgeois offensives and the limitations of rank-and-file activity within actually-existing unions; on the other hand, the struggles of Wal-mart, Mi Pueblo, Hot & Crusty, and fast food workers reveals a strong rank-and-file desire for the unionization that might provide some dignity, security, and a greater platform from which to organize and increase rank-and-file confidence against the bosses. What’s the analysis and what’s the program?

In light of this, we are providing two separate pieces on unions written by AS comrades. We don’t pretend to have a uniform line on this important question yet, but we believe that by public, transparent debates we can create a healthy culture of revolutionary debate and dialogue, embracing differences while striving for higher levels of principled unity through our practice in the school of class struggle. 

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“That’s Why I’m a Communist” – Trade Unions, Social Struggle and the State in South Africa


My mother was a kitchen girl//My father was a garden boy//That’s why I’m a communist//I’m a communist//I’m a communist! – Popular apartheid-era song still sung today

The recent armed conflicts between miners and police in South Africa are part of a long legacy of class struggle against the capitalist state.  Recently we in AS along with our comrades in La Pena 2nd Gen organized a forum to tap some of our comrades’ knowledge on the incredible history of South African working-class resistance, both against apartheid and against the neoliberal African National Congress.

The first presentation “The Birth of the Modern Trade Union Movement in South Africa”, by former Black Panther Gerald Smith, is a very useful initial overview of South African history from a class struggle perspective; it’s also a more specific history and analysis of Black labor militancy in the 1980s under apartheid.  Learn something from his dynamic speaking style!

The second presentation, “Social Struggles and the Capitalist State in South Africa since 1994”, by UC Berkeley PHD student Zachary Levenson, focuses on post-apartheid history.  Levenson recently returned from 6 months in South Africa and describes the terrain of struggle and nature of the capitalist state after apartheid.

Check it out and tell us what you think!