Tag Archives: trotskyism

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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

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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.

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Notes Towards a Critique of Maoism by Loren Goldner

The below piece was originally posted in the hot-off-the-presses latest edition of Insurgent Notes, an excellent Communist journal published by some of our comrades.

In this moment the US revolutionary left is attempting to rebuild from being murdered, exiled and corrupted into practical nonexistence.  As part of this process, we have to take a hard and utterly nondogmatic look at the history of various revolutionary traditions…..unfortunately this is not very common.  What is more common, and infinitely more boring and useless, is a gutter-level political culture that includes one-sentence name-calling summaries of traditions and idealized versions of ones’ own, leading to brain-dead strategic thought often based in knee-jerk rejection.

BUT

We are also not going to win by implementing broad left unity, or by rejecting theory and strategic thought as “academic” or “overintellectualized“.  This could only work if our ideas for approaching the world, and the strategies we make with them, don’t matter for whether our struggles win (if only for a few years) or are drowned in blood.  I’ve yet to hear someone directly defend this thesis, but by all means the comment thread is open for you if you’re interested!

What nondogmatic means in this case is MORE intellectual, in the sense of a deeper look into the reality of complex historical events, figures, strategies and tactics.  It also means “No Cheap Shots“, i.e. we’re trying to learn about the applicability of certain ideas to reality, and the consequences of their use, rather than GET someone in some kind of boxing-like debate.

The following piece is an example of the kind of sharp debate that we need, and the readable historical summations of different tendencies we’ll need to develop and debate in order to understand our history and its impact on today.

The Fish

Introduction by an Advance the Struggle Comrade:

A Marxist critique of Maoism

Were living in a historical moment where anarchism, Trotskyism and Maoism have not proved to be powerful revolutionary systems nor totally obsolete. They hang on to the left. Become reproduced in a variety of ways. Maoism in particularly is an important movement. It claims to be the most serious Marxist movement that is grounded in a non European setting. Such a dynamic makes Maoism an attractive force for young militants of color who align themselves with third world struggles. The Black Panthers were highly influenced by Maoism and Fanon. Movies often depict Panthers selling the Mao’s little red book. The key inspiration for the Panthers, Malcolm X, also was influenced by Maoism. In his Message to the Grassroots, 10th Nov, 1963: Malcolm states: 
“…The Chinese Revolution — they wanted land. They threw
the British out, along with the Uncle Tom Chinese. Yeah,
they did. They set a good example. When I was in prison, I
read an article — don’t be shocked when I say I was in
prison. You’re still in prison. That’s what America means:
prison. When I was in prison, I read an article in Life
magazine showing a little Chinese girl, nine years old; her
father was on his hands and knees and she was pulling the
trigger ’cause he was an Uncle Tom Chinaman, When they had
the revolution over there, they took a whole generation of
Uncle Toms — just wiped them out. And within ten years
that little girl become [sic] a full-grown woman. No more
Toms in China. And today it’s one of the toughest,
roughest, most feared countries on this earth — by the
white man. ‘Cause there are no Uncle Toms over there.”…

As 1500 strikes take place in China everyday, and China being a center of global capitalist accumulation within the world system, many in the Chinese left will try to redevelop Maoism. We need a clear analysis of the political character of Maoism from a marxist perspective. One that can trace its historical development from 1911 to the present. With that said, we welcome Loren Goldner’s essay, a Marxist critique of Maoism.

***

Note to the Reader: The following was written at the request of a west coast comrade after he attended the August 2012 “Everything for Everyone” conference in Seattle, at which many members of the “soft Maoist” Kasama current were present. It is a bare-bones history of Maoism which does not bring to bear a full “left communist” viewpoint, leaving out for the example the sharp debates on possible alliances with the “nationalist bourgeoisie” in the colonial and semi-colonial world at the first three congresses of the Communist International. It was written primarily to provide a critical-historical background on Maoism for a young generation of militants who might be just discovering it. —LG.

Maoism was part of a broader movement in the twentieth century of what might be called “bourgeois revolutions with red flags,” as in Vietnam or North Korea.

To understand this, it is important to see that Maoism was one important result of the defeat of the world revolutionary wave in 30 countries (including China itself) which occurred in the years after World War I. The major defeat was in Germany (1918–1921), followed by the defeat of the Russian Revolution (1921 and thereafter), culminating in Stalinism.

Maoism is a variant of Stalinism.[1] Continue reading

Windy City Fights Back: Chicago Teachers on Strike

Chicago Teachers On the Street, photo credit Debra Lane

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

rity’s live blog coverage of the strike.

 

If anyone gets new reportbacks / analysis, drop em in comments we’d love to see em.

Unifying Revolutionary Forces in the Coming Year

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.

  1. Tensions of building a national formation
  2. Character of Occupy
  3. Rupture versus base building? Towards a new Revolutionary Organization
  4. 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.

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Power to the Women and Therefore the Class: Bread and Roses / Pan y Rosas

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!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aqw5wNxmSrM

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:

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Introducing “The Magical Blue Pamphlet”

Capital and Today’s Crisis by Raya Dunayevskaya

Magical Blue Pamphlet

Click Here to touch 5MB of the magic! (Blueness not shown.)

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.

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