The fresh generation of Marxist revolutionaries of today can’t help but feel confronted with a two sided coin. On the one hand, we are inspired by the elders around us who came out of the period of huge class struggles world wide that is epitomized by the year 1968. The world proletariat produced so many of our local heroes who to this day carry so much of the load of activism and resistance campaigns. At least that’s the case for us in AS here in the Bay Area, where we have a few important elders that have passed the torch to us and still outdo us in many ways.
On the other side of the coin, is a sense that there is a wide gulf between 2011 and the peak years of class struggle that stretched into the mid-70s. None of the histories or biographies that we read seem to contain much evidence of revolutionary thought or action during the whole decades of the 1980s and 1990s. Organizational forms and theoretical content seems to have no continuity, and we feel like we are starting from scratch.
But if we got to know some of these elders a little better and listened to their stories, we would learn a lot. They have been dedicated for their whole lives, and the class struggle never ceases. People like recently retired Jack Heyman of the ILWU is one such figure.
Check out this video which is a succinct summary of one union’s intervention in the political sphere through the best and probably only real means at the disposal of the working class: organized labor action. Voting, petitioning, and the rest of it only have a chance at being relevant within the broader context of direct, organized, labor action. Just to be clear, AS refers to much more than unions or even waged workers when we say “labor”, so although this example we are using focuses on a classic sector of the working class, we do not limit the possibility of class struggle to forms like this.
What better example of the potential of the working class to consciously intervene in the political sphere through organized withdraw of their labor-power from production (aka, strike) than the history of the ILWU here in Oakland and San Francisco? Those Marxists who dismiss the unions, the bureaucracy, and the male-majority industries as reactionary bastions, might take pause and complicate their program with this counterpoint to alleged bankruptcy of Trotskyism, the transitional method, “caste” (race and gender) integrated struggle and other pillars of commonplace marxist praxis (not that Marxist praxis is commonplace at all!).
Much of what has been written on this blog suggests that the new frontier of communist praxis is to be found in the “margins”, in sectors of the working class that in some cases have not even been defined as working class at all (eg, reproductive workers such as mothers). We hold to that assertion, but can’t go so far as to write off the role that unions, productive workers, and men have to play in the revolutionary process. Advance the Struggle is in that category of Marxists who are skeptical of the old formulas, and we are certainly humbled by the historical evidence that at least in one local case, proves that classical formulas can work to a significant degree.
This video should dispel the claim that workers organized as workers are condemned eternally to “economistic” politics, since longshoremen are firmly in the category of “aristocracy of labor”. It is settled: all proletarians can become conscious of their broad, internationalist interests and act in solidarity in militant fashion. The question is how to reconcile the skepticism of union (structured into state apparatus) with counterpoints like the one featured in the video AND how to also strategically coordinate non-union and even non-waged workers struggles with those of militant wage-earners and unionists. When this is figured out in theory and in practice, we will be well on the way to forging a truly unified proletariat.