Barricades

M. Hough

A particular juxtaposition was repeated throughout Class, Bureaucracy and the Union-Form

“Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks” (Marx, Capital, V. I)

–that the capitalists accumulate dead labor;

“The capitalist has the advantage of past accumulations; the laborer, unassisted by combinations, has not” (The Carpenter, Vol. I number 1, May 1881)

and in mock complement to this accumulation of dead labor by the capitalists, the proletariat accumulates its dead class struggles.

Organization as a result of class struggle is the depository of the memory and lived experience of the struggle, and continues to survive until the next struggle.

Here we see the confirmation of the real movement of the proletariat in the vessel of the first issue of a paper used to organize the carpenters of North America.

This evidence of the real movement of the proletariat in the wild–

in the concrete action taken to organize workers–

is only natural: it is a direct expression of the real movement of the proletariat!

Those mere 15 words written by a journeyman joiner and disseminated among the citizen and immigrant carpenters of North America in 1881 articulate the muscle memory of every step taken on a picket line and every vocal cord moved in protest by the collective working-class.

The capitalists accumulate dead labor as capital; the proletariat accumulates dead class struggles as labor organization; the socialists must accumulate every thought–

in any form–

which affirmed (and affirms) the method of the real movement of the proletariat.

Most often these affirmations are contingent and transitory when they aren’t inadvertent or serendipitous. No, that’s being generous: quite often they come from the pen or voice of someone whose life work is the construction of ideology, the development of ideological narratives and political practice which actively obstructs the proletariat’s present amelioration and future emancipation.

There is no merit in identifying the method of the real movement of the proletariat with individuals who may create ephemeral and temporary vessels for it in their political-theoretical practice.

Intersections are those textual points at which the real movement of the proletariat and ideology meet; when the theorization of the real movement of the proletariat becomes ideologized.

Within the moment of articulating the real movement is its contradiction;

radiating from such intersections, the nature of the affirmation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat becomes clear: be it unintended, incidental, incongruent, etc.

Most often this affirmation is then not characteristic of the individual who is possessed by it for a passing moment. Least of all is it indicative of the validity of their peculiar politics. The working school of revolutionary Marxism houses an unhappy family that includes demagogues, wreckers, bloviating bullshitters and the like;

yet even they can, for a moment, find a way to articulate it. It’s for that reason that the method of juxtaposition put to work in Intersections will be applied here as well; if only to relax the political reflex that finding it in Althusser makes one an Althusserian; in Bordiga, a Bordigist; etc. and on down the rest of the alphabet of notables; that peculiarly socialist taxonomy of the political species, genus, family, order…

For Marx, “all arms with which to fight must be drawn from society as it is,” (Political Indifferentism, 1873).

Marx was armed by being the first to articulate and define the real movement of the proletariat as a method (communism). The functional usefulness of his critique continues to win its war with time because no one else has been able to consistently maintain this method across all terrains of activity: economic, political, social, theoretical, practical, strategic, tactical (as we will see).

. . . /

“Capitalist society has its laws of development: economists have invented them, governments have imposed them, and workers have suffered them. But who will uncover the laws of development of the working class? Capital has its history, and its historians write it — but who is going to write the history of the working class? Capitalist exploitation can impose its political domination through a hundred and one different forms — but how are we going to sort out the form that will be taken by the future dictatorship of the workers organized as the ruling class? This is explosive material; it is intensely social; we must live it, work from within it, and work patiently.

We too have worked with a concept that puts capitalist development first, and workers second. This is a mistake. And now we have to turn the problem on its head, reverse the polarity, and start again from the beginning: and the beginning is the class struggle of the working class” (Tronti, Lenin in England, 1964)

For a moment, Tronti was possessed by the recognition that the class struggle for the proletariat operates according to definable laws of development and as such, socialists must “live it, work from within it and work patiently”. What did he do with this recognition? We can see the answer explicitly later in the same text:

“Our new approach starts from the proposition that, at both national and international level, it is the specific, present, political situation of the working class that both necessitates and directs the given forms of capital’s development. From this beginning we must now move forward to a new understanding of the entire world network of social relations”

Rather than investigate, articulate and define the laws according to which the proletariat and its class struggles develop, he returns to give an iconoclastic, but no less objectivist, explanation for… the development of capital, the rejection of which was his stated starting point.

“Q: And the myth of the working class? The “rude pagan race” as you have termed it.

A: It was not what we thought. The workers wanted a wage rise, not the revolution. This was one of the reasons that led me to discover the virtues of political realism” (Tronti, I Am Defeated, 2015)

The man who would start at the beginning, and defined this beginning as the class struggles of the proletariat, to “uncover” the laws of development of the proletariat and its class struggles, found the kernel of the beginning of it all: the wage demand. That compulsion to reappropriate that which has been expropriated by capital in its most basic and consistent form is the wage demand; it heralds the promise of socialism, compelling the proletariat to be the reluctant assassin of capitalism. How humorous it is to see Tronti’s rejection of the proletariat and its class struggles, as they are, because they weren’t (and aren’t, and never were) what he thought they should be. 50 years after posing the right question, he found the answer– and it repulsed him, serving as the reason he left the socialist movement.

Nevertheless, in a brief moment, he found the method of the real movement of the proletariat even if he was incapable of sustaining it beyond 2 quarantined thoughts.

. . . /

Althusser has the unique talent of being able to combine both the method of the real movement of the proletariat and a moment of aporia– that is, ideologizing this method, turning this method into an ideology– within 2 sentences and, in many cases, within a single sentence.

He’s capable of recognizing the method in Marx:

“[Marx] always did his thinking and his ‘investigating’ in and through the struggle” (Reply to John Lewis, 1972)

He’s capable of recognizing the application of the method:

“If it is class struggle in the field of theory, it has effects on the union of theory and practice: on the way in which that union is conceived and realized” (Reply to John Lewis, 1972)

He’s also capable of recognizing the method in Marx and the application of the method while ideologizing:

“Marx’s scientific theory did not lead to a new philosophy (called dialectical materialism), but to a new practice of philosophy, to be precise to the practice of philosophy based on a proletarian class position in philosophy” (Lenin Before Hegel, 1969)

The first half of the sentence is a legitimate articulation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat– Marx’s method did not indeed lead to a new philosophy, even if it was born from the womb of left Hegelianism. Althusser knew this too. His career at Paris’ prestigious academic institutions was staked on proving a specious ‘epistemological break’.

In the examples found in Intersections, it was demonstrated that the form of the articulation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat is irrelevant. Trade unionists, Lassalleans, Leninists, anarchists, post-Bordigists all found their moment, in different literary forms, and they all found their own way to craft a contingent-temporary vessel for the method of the real movement of the proletariat through the diversity of their specific language and experience;

so far here and now, we have seen an autonomist and a philosopher too find their own moment.

That so few of Marx’s texts are missing Hegelian forms, language and structure was an idiosyncratic obsession of Althusser’s, but is irrelevant to the consistency of Marx’s affirmation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat.

Philosophy is a practice of political intervention carried out in a theoretical form” (Lenin Before Hegel, 1969)

Philosophy is, in the last instance, class struggle in the field of theory” (Reply to John Lewis, 1972)

“It is not scholasticism but philosophy, and since philosophy is politics in theory, it is therefore politics.” (Lenin Before Hegel, 1969)

Philosophy is Althusser’s one-armed man; the pink elephants that haunt his drunken delirium. He’s compelled to recognize what’s unique about Marxism while being equally compelled to smother it with obfuscation.

Philosophy was born at the same time as god; there is no god without philosophy, there is no philosophy without god– and before philosophy and before god, there was (primitive) communist man.

Marx’s definitive break with philosophy occurred with his first articulation of the real movement of the proletariat as a method, and so created the bridge between primitive and scientific communism: both inherently based solely on unmediated-unrepresent(ed/ative) human activity.

The real existence of a proletariat made philosophy obsolete;

the real movement of the proletariat produced a method;

with the application of the method we can theorize the end of philosophy through the real existence of the proletariat and its class struggles.

The proletariat is a living Union of the Godless, no matter what it believes–

and we see it in the backward sectarians and the pious believers who intentionally kept religion out of the trade unions (presumably because god doesn’t pay his union dues).

As, “capitalism writhes in the agony of its struggles, a mad beast rending itself and the world,” (Fraina, 1918) even its philosophers are forced to pantomime the method of the real movement of the proletariat at times.

. . . /

William Z. Foster displays many of the same characteristics found in most socialist writing. His original elaborations are contorted to fit preexisting ideological conclusions. This tendency became more pronounced as he aged, but his early works on the domestic proletariat in America remain excellent elaborations– vessels– of the method of the real movement of the proletariat. For example, his narration and analysis of the real development of the four main railroad brotherhoods* in Chapter III of The Railroaders’ Next Step (1921).

*Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (f. 1863), Order of Railway Conductors (f. 1868), Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen (f. 1873), Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen (f. 1883)

The conclusions drawn from the specific way of observing and interpreting labor’s class struggles in that section of that text demonstrates the affirmation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat:

“Sooner or later, the unions in all industries and in every country find themselves at the point where they are based upon industrial rather than craft lines. In arriving at this stage of development they ordinarily pass through a more or less lengthy evolutionary process, marked by three distinct phases, which I shall call: (1) isolation, (2) federation, (3) amalgamation.

In the first, or isolation phase, the several craft groups in a given industry act independently of each other, recognizing few or no interests in common. Eventually, however, grace to their own unfolding intelligence, to the growing power of the employers, to the elimination of skill by machinery, and to various other factors, they awaken to the ineffectiveness of this individualistic method, and begin to set up offensive and defensive alliances with each other. This brings them into the second, or federation phase. And, finally, when by the working of the same factors, they perceive their loose federated form, although a big improvement over the previous system, does not develop their maximum power, they gradually fuse themselves together into a unified body along the lines of their industry. Thus they reach the third, or amalgamation phase” (Ibid)

Based on his observations and experience of the class struggle, Foster outlines the facts of the history of that class struggle as it really happened in the rail industry and from this outline elaborates what it means. In this case, he extrapolates from the development of the trade unions among rail workers in America the organic development of trade unions in general.

But this wasn’t an academic exercise. This article was published as the first pamphlet of the reinvigorated Trade Union Educational League and served as a volley against the prevailing theory and practice of American socialism– that of dual unionism. Waging theoretical combat against dual unionism was the political purpose of this pamphlet, which required him to elaborate the history of the class struggle and the history of organization among the rail workers.

“At present there are five dual industrial unions on the railroads: The IWW, WIIU, AFRW, OBU, and UARE. All of them advocate the solidarity of labor, and at the same time all are waging war upon each other, as well as upon the craft unions. Their combined membership is only a fraction of the total number of railroaders organized.

Such are the results of the dual industrial union program after more than thirty years of effort on the part of thousands of active and earnest militants. Could a showing be more disappointing? It amounts to a failure complete in both theory and practice. Not only have the dualists failed to rally the masses to their program, but they have also failed to grasp the principles of solidarity. The spectacle of five dual industrial unions in one industry, all conceived in the name of solidarity, is tragically ridiculous. But that is the logical result of deserting the old unions and setting up utopian organizations. Other industries where similar tactics have been used show identical results.

In view of these facts should it not be evident that the long-hoped-for industrial union of railroad workers will not come through dual unionism? And is it not clear that this disruptive program should be finally and definitely abandoned? In the next chapter we will see how the industrial union is really being brought about through the evolution of the old trade unions” (Ibid)

This is what doing your thinking and investigating in and through the struggle looks like.

The best of Foster’s work begins in 1910 when he broke with the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World, and ends in 1925 when his political maneuvering in the Communist Party was made at the expense of the workers, the trade unions and rank and file communists. Gradually he would become consumed by the ideology of October in place of the method that had made October a reality.

“The pure and simple type of trade unionism, or as Lenin called it, ‘economism’, which, in its classical form, is now virtually extinct, was characterized by a tacit or open acceptance of capitalism; it was marked by a low degree of class consciousness and a weak spirit of internationalism” (History of the Three Internationals, 1955)

This is an interesting use of ideology. After a lifetime spent counterposing the real-existing class struggles of the proletariat to the ideologies prevalent in the American socialist movement, Foster tries to adopt a functionally similar position as his earlier opponents– but now under Leninist auspices.

In no way could the British or American trade unionists be labeled ‘Economists’;

Economism was a tendency born from within revolutionary Marxism.

It was a tendency combatted by Lenin in the early days of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party within that party.

The core descriptor there being ‘within’:

“There was a fairly large group of people within the Party who had their own press—the Rabochaya Mysl (Workers’ Thought) in Russia and Rabocheye Delo (Workers’ Cause) abroad— and who were trying to justify on theoretical grounds the lack of organizational cohesion and the ideological confusion within the Party, frequently even lauding such a state of affairs, and holding that the plan for creating a united and centralized political party of the working class was unnecessary and artificial.

These were the “Economists” and their followers.

Before a united political party of the proletariat could be created, the “Economists” had to be defeated” (History of the all-Union Communist Party (bolshevik): Short Course, 1938)

The British trade unions and many of the American trade unions predated the formation of revolutionary Marxist political parties in those countries. In the case of the United States, it is absolutely true that the founders of what became the American Federation of Labor were veterans of the International Workingmen’s Association and most were also erstwhile founders and leading members of socialist parties. However, their activities in the socialist movement– while they were still in it—were never oriented around or characteristic of economism. By the 1890’s, due to the anti-worker policies and scabbing, snitching and wrecking actions of the Socialist Labor Party (detailed at length in The Hoax of Business Unionism), the last of the IWMA veterans who were founders and leaders of American trade unionism remaining had left the socialist movement. Jack Elliott, the founder of what is today the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, was among the last IWMA veterans and AFL leaders to leave the SLP.

This was a retreat to the policy of political non-partisanship that is characteristic of trade unionism on the parliamentary terrain. In other words, outside of the socialist movement.

Foster confuses the superficial similarity between trade unionists who are w(a/ea)ry of politics and ostensible Marxists carrying out a theoretical war against the formation of a revolutionary workers’ party.

He was adept at such a four flushing style. It was as though he wrote to find a vessel for his Leninist catechisms rather than articulating and validating theory in the lived experience of the proletariat and its class struggles the way he used to!

. . . /

Dauve presents an interesting work to autopsy: the same work was written in both 1974 and 2014, or, worked in 1974 and re-worked in 2014.

“What I would like to stress is that our main objective cannot be to act upon people’s consciousness so as to change it. There is an illusion in propaganda, whether it is made by texts or by deeds. We do not ‘convince’ anyone. We can only express what is going on. We cannot create a movement in society. We can only act within a movement to which we ourselves belong” (Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, Appendix III, Letter on the Use of Violence, 1973)

“More than a century later, radicals like us would take up this quote [from The Holy Family, IV, 4, critical comment 2—MH] and similar ones as ammunition against Leninist party-building, and against activism: trying to give history a push. We wished to stress that the proletarians do more than resist exploitation and oppression: they have an inner ability to self-organize and eventually revolutionize the wage-labor and statist world into communism, because their condition itself carries this possibility” (Postlude, Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, 2014)

The ability to merge both an affirmation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat and a moment of aporia appears to develop when socialists become metaphysicians rather than communists. Dauve’s affirmation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat is simply in the observations

I Proselytizing socialism is not our ‘main objective’

II ‘We can only express what is going on’ in our words and actions

III ‘We can only act within a movement to which we ourselves belong’

However, the category ‘self-organize’ (‘self-organization’) is raised solely to exclude socialists from the real-existing class struggle.

As in, “[proletarians] have an inner ability to self-organize and eventually revolutionize the wage-labor and statist world into communism, because their condition itself carries this possibility” – counterposed to “Leninist party-building” and “activism”.

What Dauve is saying is that the proletariat is revolutionary while the socialist movement is counter-revolutionary, a brake, an obstacle, etc.

But the point of that line changes when we digest what Dauve has already written:

He defines the socialist role in the class struggles of the proletariat: “we can only express what is going on” (the critique of political economy and merciless criticism applied to real situations);

He defines the relationship of socialists to the class struggles of the proletariat: “we can only act within a movement to which we ourselves belong” (communism is the method of the real movement of the proletariat);

when you apply these definitions to the sentence, “[proletarians] have an inner ability to self-organize and eventually revolutionize the wage-labor and statist world into communism, because their condition itself carries this possibility,” you have

I an affirmation of the contradictions inherent to wage-labor (reproduction/negation of capital)

II an affirmation of the role of socialists in the class struggles of the proletariat– if we belong to the real movement of the proletariat, we are the agent of this self-organization against wage-labor

III an affirmation of the dictatorship of the proletariat (per I & II)

Of course this is not what Dauve intends to say. At the end of the Postlude to The Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, he quotes from Marx’s March 5, 1852 letter to Weydemeyer where Marx outlines his 3 unique contributions to the workers’ movement; but Dauve only quotes from the remarks (in bold) before Marx makes his outline:

“And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. 

What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.

Ignorant louts like Heinzen, who deny not merely the class struggle but even the existence of classes, only prove that, despite all their blood-curdling yelps and the humanitarian airs they give themselves, they regard the social conditions under which the bourgeoisie rules as the final product, the non plus ultra of history, and that they are only the servants of the bourgeoisie. And the less these louts realize the greatness and transient necessity of the bourgeois regime itself the more disgusting is their servitude” (Letter, Karl Marx to Joseph Weydemeyer, March 5, 1852)

Ignoring the rest of this letter (including its most important contents) explains the conclusion to the Postlude. Dauve frames this conclusion as follows:

“Our ‘problem’ is how class struggle will be able to produce something else than its own continuation. . .

Up to now, most of the time, even in a combative way, proletarians have fought to improve their lot within this society: labor tries to get the most out of capital, not to abolish the labor/capital couple. Acknowledging this is a primary condition to understand what the communist movement has to face. . .

Resisting oppression and exploitation is not the same as doing away with oppression and exploitation altogether. We are not dismissive about what is called cash-and-hours agenda: we just say such demands fail to bring the proletarians together. Convergence will only take place against wage-labor and the society based upon it” (Postlude)

How similar this conclusion is to Tronti’s rejection of the proletariat. Not just similar, but identical. Both Tronti and Dauve deride and with ever increasing sophistication reject the permanent-definitive element of labor’s class struggles: the wage demand.

The wage demand is what midwifed the People’s Charter; the wage demand is what led to the International Workingmen’s Association; the wage demand is what inseminated the Paris Commune with the Canut revolts and the IWMA-led bronze workers’ union; the wage demand is what found its highest creative expression in the Petrograd Soviet and the October Revolution, the November and Hungarian Revolutions, the Soviet Republics;

the wage demand is what led Marx to articulate the proletarian dictatorship, that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat and that this dictatorship constitutes the revolutionary transition to the abolition of wage-labor.

. . . /

Monsieur Dupont’s 2003 book Nihilist Communism retains a certain influence as a literarily pleasing critique of revolutionary political practice as experienced in anarchism.

Even before the book begins, its preamble demonstrates a specific confusion about the nature of the proletariat and its class struggles.

“The structure of the world was built by the dead, they were paid in wages, and when the wages were spent and they were dead in the ground, what they had made continued to exist, these cities, roads and factories are their calcified bones.

They had nothing but their wages to show for what they had done and after their deaths what they did and who they were has been cancelled out. But what they made has continued into our present, their burial and decay is our present.

This is the definition of class hatred. We are no closer now to rest, to freedom, to communism than they were, their sacrifice has bought us nothing, what they did counted for nothing, we have inherited nothing, we work as they worked, we make as they made, we are paid as they were paid. . .

As our parents die, we can say truly that their lives were for nothing, that the black earth that is thrown down onto them blacks out our sky” (Nihilist Communism, Preamble, 2003)

Two things are accumulated as representative of the activity of the proletariat: capital and dead class struggles. Monsieur Dupont is (are) knowingly wrong in their account of the inheritance of the proletariat from one generation to the next; they’ve identified one half of this inheritance, the half that is expropriated by the bourgeoisie and representative of the reproduction of capital inherent to wage labor. The lived experience and historic memory of the class struggle, made tangible in all forms of labor organization, is the other half, representative of the negation of capital inherent to wage labor. The absence of this half forms a hole in Nihilist Communism, giving the impression that the proletariat is merely a passive horde laboring under the lash– and nothing else.

It gives the dangerous impression that communism is not born from facts now in evidence in capitalist society, that its material potential is some kind of millenarian lottery draw, or akin to predicting the fucking weather: it just happens when the right conditions are met, like a hurricane.

Of course, it’s immediately obvious that they know this deliberate impression is false: the very subjects, language and positions of their book are only possible through the collective, inherited, experience of the proletariat and its socialist minority.

Later, Monsieur Dupont adds– “Note, aside, interjection: We do not pretend articulacy in any specialized language, our position is developed through our personal experience”!

What they deny the proletariat, they have taken for themselves.

There is no affirmation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat to be found in Nihilist Communism beyond its rejection of proselytism as the primary activity of the socialist movement.

. . . /

Arne Swabeck, the lone (and lonely) Trotskyist worth attention, demonstrated at one time that he could swim without allowing his ideological millstones to drown him.

Next Steps of the American Workers (1930) is an emphatic affirmation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat. A collection of 6 sections comprised of 2 paragraphs each, there are few superfluous words and few mistakes. Those imperfections in politics found in the article are irrelevant to its methodology.

The 6 sections of Next Steps of the American Workers can be categorized as follows:

I A general outline of the trends and trajectory of contemporary society in America in 1930; the emerging depression and its effects on the proletariat (permanent mass unemployment, a ‘new normal’ growing from the womb of the emerging depression).

“Today the United States has reached the stage of large scale structural unemployment, which, in other words, means a standing army of unemployed. This is not merely of those cast out from some industries to be quickly absorbed into other or new, developing ones, but “superfluous” workers eliminated by the rapid development of machinery and immensely increased labor productivity in practically every sphere. This is sufficiently borne out by all available reliable statistics”

II A general outline of the political question in broad terms; will the suddenness of the depression and the surge of mass unemployment spur class action, and will this class action evolve in the direction predicted by the Communist Party—that is, toward a rapid radicalization of the proletariat. The central political thesis of the article, its purpose, is articulated in the critique of this prediction and in the affirmation of an alternative.

“The spectre of the standing army of unemployed will hence be haunting the exploiters and become a mighty spur moving the workers toward class action. The direction and the speed this will take in its first stage depends, however, a great deal on the present level of development. Unfortunately, it cannot be expected, or even hoped, that the workers will as a mass more with one leap to the Communist party or the “revolutionary unions”. Any orientation based upon such hopes will surely come to grief. On the contrary, it is the duty of Communists to be with the masses set in motion and to show the proper direction through such steps that the workers are now ready to take.

With the lines of those seeking work growing longer in front of factory gates, it cannot be expected that the working class will engage in widespread offensive battles. But we know, from what is inherent in the capitalist system, that precisely in this situation the capitalists seek to get out of economic difficulties by increased pressure upon the workers through further reduction of their standard of living and conditions of work. This added pressure leaves no way open for the workers but one of resistance. The logic of this deduction leads to the conclusion of a coming period of defensive battles. The history of the American workers throughout the various crises of capitalist production is replete with defensive battles, before the offensive could again be assumed during the period of recovery. It is also one filled with many attempts to seek a solution in political reform activities, as the most immediate outgrowth of the crisis. This suggests another conclusion that this is the trend of development we face at this moment”

III A general outline, framing the (then) contemporary analysis of the class response of the proletariat to the existing social conditions of the emerging depression to be one of an increasing extent of defensive struggles throughout the class, based on the history of labor’s class struggles in relation to the boom-bust cycles of capitalist development; the use of the most advanced and current statistics to frame the analysis as one based on facts rather than ideology (see the opening of Engels’ 1895 introduction to The Class Struggles in France on this).

“A cursory glance at labor’s history from the beginning of trades unionism in the thirties [1830’s – MH], through the various periods of cyclic crises, shows with almost unfailing regularity the same phenomenon. During times of “prosperity”, with its labor shortage and the cost of living invariably outleaping raises in wages, aggressive strike offensives and expansion of trade unions were on the order of the day. These just as surely changed when a new crisis set in. While these were often accompanied with desperate and violent revolts, the character and often repeated defeats of the defensive strikes turned the workers’ attention toward struggle for political reforms which were often expressed through various forms of labor or middle-class parties. This may be said to have been particularly marked up until the “great upheaval” in ‘85 and ‘86; but a similar recurrence of developments of more recent date can be noticed. As an example a few facts from the last industrial depression at the end of 1921 and beginning of 1922 will prove very instructive.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gives the following figures on the character and cause of disputes during the depression. We quote from the years 1919 to 1923, which, although incomplete, are very suggestive. Disputes for wage increases (offensive character) reached in the year 1919 a total of 1,074; for the year 1920 a total of 1,328; 1921 a total of 120; 1922 a total of 133; 1923 (first six months) a total of 310. Disputes in resistance of wage decreases (defensive character) were as follows: Year 1919 a total of 86; year 1920 a total of 147; year 1921 a total of 895; 1922 a total of 256; 1923 (first six months) a total of 20. This is sufficient to show clearly the large extent of disputes of a defensive character, to ward off wage decreases during the depression, to be immediately reversed and become offensive struggles, for wage increases, during the period of recovery. Similarly, the disputes around demands tor union recognition reached their highest during these years with a total of 350 in 1919 and its lowest with only 53 in 1921. The employers’ offensive netted them the highest number of direct victories in these disputes in 1921 with a total of 701”

IV A specific outline of the relationship of the proletariat in America to the political terrain over the preceding 10 years, implicitly tying the development of proletarian class action on the political terrain to struggles on the economic terrain (notice the dates: a flurry of formations of new political organizations following the same trajectory as that of workers’ defensive struggles, and a corresponding decline in these political formations with a decline of defensive and corresponding rise in offensive struggles on the economic terrain).

“How does the matter stand, then, with labor political action? One can, of course, speak only of labor political reformist action since the American workers as a mass have not yet learned the necessity of revolutionary action. The more recent labor and farmer-labor party developments arose in 1919 with the formation of the National Farmer-Labor Party at Chicago. In 1920 there was the first appearance of the Farmer-Labor Party of the state of Washington, in some other states there were labor activities within non-partisan political leagues. But in 1922 this movement received a pronounced impetus. During the summer the American Labor Party of New York City was organized; the Minnesota non-partisan political league became re-organized to the Farmer-Labor Party, while a similar reorganization took place in South Dakota. The same year saw the organization of the Progressive Party (farmer-labor) in Idaho and one year later the Farmer-Labor Party of West Virginia. At the “Conference for Progressive Political Action” conference in Cleveland in 1922, at which a number of international unions and central bodies were represented, a motion made by the Chicago Federation of Labor group to “declare for independent political action by the agricultural and industrial workers through a party of their own” was defeated with a vote of only 64 to 52.

It is significant that these were the developments following right upon the heels of the last industrial depression. The culmination and beginning of the decline of this movement were reached at the July, 1923 convention in Chicago at which the Federated Farmer-Labor Party was formed, but alas – on paper. From the last gasp at the Farmer-Labor Party convention at St. Paul the following year, there have been but little actual signs since in this direction”

V A specific outline of the balance of forces among the primary contending classes—the bourgeoisie and proletariat—in the United States in 1930; an explicit link is made between the emerging defensive struggles of the proletariat on the economic terrain and a predicted rise of political reformism within the proletariat and a new wave of workers’ resistance in the form of both a rising trajectory of struggle and increasing self-organization in the existing trade unions.

The present depression finds the vast gulf of class distinctions greater than ever in the United States. According to government reports the total net profits of all corporations in 1929 after all deductions were made have almost doubled since 1922, rising to an estimated amount of $9,900,000,000. While profits thus soared, wages paid to workers in manufacturing industries during the same period advanced but 19 per cent, not to speak of the level of the cost of living from December, 1928 to September, 1929 the Labor Bureau, Inc. estimates that the average wage in the country decreased 2 percent.

It is a foregone conclusion that American imperialism will make efforts, abroad to get out of its economic difficulties, through war and otherwise, while simultaneously strengthening its world hegemony. The first steps are already being put into operation. Leaving aside here the matter of the effects of these efforts abroad, American capitalism of course likewise tries to make the workers at home bear the increased burden. The results will almost surely lead to a repetition of past history. But this will take place now, however, under conditions of a higher development of capitalism and also on a higher plane for the working class. The crushing capitalist offensive during the present heavy unemployment, with the aim to reduce wages, increase speed-up and to cripple the unions, will bring forth resistance through workers’ defensive struggles. It will certainly involve workers organized in the existing trades unions. The necessarily accompanying despotic use of the capitalist machinery of the state, to carry the offensive through more effectively, points to the workers’ resistance in this field taking a direction towards political reformist activities, most likely to be expressed in a labor political party”

VI The immediate practical-political implications are developed out of the general and specific outlines; the original thesis of the article is posed as a concrete question with answers derived from the preceding analysis.

“Under such conditions would a labor party spring forth as a full fledged instrument of imperialism? Reactionary labor “leaders” would surely become part of its composition and strive for “leadership” there the same as they do in all other broad non-revolutionary workers’ organizations. They will, of course, continue in their role as tools of imperialism. Very consciously American imperialism will learn to utilize them as “saviors” of their system and privileges fully as well as in the case of the McDonald government in England today. The American McDonalds in turn will exert all energies to subject the labor party as a whole to further this aim. But their success in this endeavor depends precisely upon their ability to keep Communist influence isolated on the outside. Nevertheless, as a means of helping to separate the working masses from their political bondage to the historical capitalist parties, the labor party would serve as well today as in the past and would occupy the same place in history as previously assigned to it. In that sense it will be one step toward the logical revolutionary position that the American working class must finally assume.

So far, this working class, as its history shows, has only reached the point of more or less localized and sporadic attempts in reformist politics. It is still completely bound within the capitalist political party system which thereby serves as a mighty brake upon the essential character of any economic struggles of the workers. That is today decisive, and the problem is to break through this barrier. Increased pressure upon the workers will lead to finding the forms for breaking through. What road will the first steps take? The road of the revolution with the Communist Party? That is quite inconceivable, even with a rapid tempo of development. Can we in America avoid the stage of a national scale of labor political reformist activities? That is the way to put the question, and to also add, that even though it can hardly be avoided, it will of necessity be of short duration in the present epoch of rapid development. It then becomes pertinent to ask how can the working class best and most speedily draw the correct conclusion from such political reformist experiences, and how can it best be helped on the further road to a revolutionary position?

Upon the Communist movement devolves the duty of giving a correct answer to this question as well as to employ the tactics which will really be a help in the right direction”

Swabeck’s affirmation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat successfully predicted the course of the proletariat in America over the next 10 years. His predictions were validated by, in and through both the history and future of the proletariat. His chosen political ideology acted as a fetter on his ability to serve as the vessel for the method of the real movement of the proletariat; consumed by Trotsky’s formulation that the ultimate problem for the international proletariat could be reduced to a ‘crisis of leadership’, Swabeck often substituted what should be according to his predetermined ideological conclusions for what is.

His nadir can be found in his consuming, hysterical antipathy for the United Mine Workers of America and John L. Lewis. Rather than recognizing the emerging tendency toward scissionism—fracturing the once united UMWA into an archipelago of local and craft dual unions—as a retrograde tendency, only one step removed from the complete collapse of a bulwark of the proletariat in North America, Swabeck would embrace this disorientation through disorganization and throw in his lot with a collection of the most reactionary layers of the workers’ movement.

“Your future tasks are enormous and there are great difficulties in your way. But given a class foundation, a rank and file membership imbued with the will to win, the spirit to fight to the last and the readiness to sacrifice for the cause; given a courageous leadership, conscious of its class position, you will be able to overcome the greatest obstacles.

The constitutional convention of the Progressive Miners of America has a great duty to perform to the Illinois miners, to the miners of the United States and to the American working class. It is coming about as a serious revolt against the murderous employers’ wage cutting offensive. It has the opportunity of taking the first steps toward leading the working class forward to a serious resistance against this offensive and to support the forces charting the road toward working class freedom from capitalist oppression” (One Road For Miners!, 1932)

Expelled embezzlers of union funds, stool pigeons for the coal operators, Ku Klux Klan members, company men and piecard opportunists coalesced in the formation of the dual unionist outfit, the Progressive Miners of America, in 1932.

The method of Swabeck in 1930 did not survive; for if it were applied to the situation without inflamed ideological passions, his analysis of the Progressive Miners of America would have been unrecognizable compared to what was in fact written.

He saw what he wanted to see in 1932, rather than what was there. There is no other explanation for mistaking a nest of reactionaries for the most advanced fractions of the proletariat.

. . . /

Marc Chirik found a way to reformulate and dilate upon Lenin’s well-known and well-worn formulation: ‘without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement’.

“The communist programme and the principles of militant activity are the foundation stones of any revolutionary organization worth its name. Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary function, i.e. no organizing for the realization of this programme. Because of this, Marxism has always rejected all immediatist and economist deviations, which serve to deform and deny the historic role of the communist organization” (Report on the Function of the Revolutionary Organization, 1982)

He begins with the basis of revolutionary theory: the communist programme, i.e. the abolition of wage-labor.

‘The principles of militant activity’, that is, the framework of common work among socialists, is put on equal footing with the communist programme.

Chirik doesn’t modify Lenin’s formulation, but raises its precision: in place of a vaguely defined and ephemeral ‘revolutionary movement’, Chirik defines the revolutionary movement as the revolutionary function—as organization for the ‘realization’ of the communist programme: the abolition of wage-labor.

Organization is implied to mean the same thing as the ‘the principles of militant activity’—that is, common work among socialists, that concrete manifestation of the communist programme.

This elaboration was made in the midst of a political struggle against spontaneism as councilism, a lineage in common with Lenin’s, which was formulated in the political struggle against spontaneism as economism.

Rather than a side effect of translation, this reformulation evident in the English version of the article maintains strict fidelity to the original French*

*“Le programme communiste dont découle le principe d’action militante est le fondement de toute organisation révolutionnaire digne de ce nom. Sans théorie révolutionnaire, il ne saurait y avoir de fonction révolutionnaire, c’est à dire organisation pour la réalisation de ce programme. De ce fait, le marxisme a toujours rejeté toute déviation immédiatiste et économiste, visant à dénaturer et à nier le rôle historique de l’organisation communiste” (Rapport sur la fonction de l’organisation revolutionnaire, 1982)

Among other things, Chirik displays a routine misunderstanding of the content of the class struggle for the proletariat. He tries to historicize the permanent inevitability of representation (bureaucracy) in labor’s class struggles into something characteristic of “ascendant capitalism”.

“As with any army, it could not exist without ‘chiefs’ to whom was delegated the accomplishment of its goals (substitutionism) and even of its methods of struggle (trade unionism). The party was the party of the ‘whole people’, which it aimed to win over to ‘socialist democracy’. The class function of the party disappeared in the swamp of democratism. . .

“The fact that the [Communist International] took over some of the conceptions of the old bankrupt International (mass parties, frontism, substitutionism) is a reality which should not be seen to have the virtues of an example for today’s revolutionaries. The break with these deformations about the function of the organization is a vital necessity imposed by the historical epoch of decadence.

The revolutionary period which followed the war meant a profound, irreversible change in the function of revolutionaries:

the organization, whether still reduced in size or a developed party, no longer had the task of preparing or organizing the class and thus the revolution, which was the act of the whole class;

it is neither an educator nor a general staff preparing and leading the militants of the class. The class educates itself in the revolutionary struggle and the “educators” themselves that have to be “educated” by it as well;

it no longer recognizes particular groups (youth, women, co-operators, etc.)” (Report on the Function of the Revolutionary Organization, 1982)

As long as the proletariat remains expropriated and alienated–

that is, as long as the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie remains intact;

and as long as the dictatorship of the proletariat, which liquidates it, remains intact–

representation of its class struggles will remain a primary element therein for the proletariat.

Chirik seeks administrative solutions to forever banish the existence of representation as such. Representation is scapegoated on particular forms of organization, i.e. the union-form and, with just one (obtuse and esoteric) exception, the party-form as well.

By the date his article was written, over 60 years had passed since the tendency toward representation (and its concrete manifestation–bureaucracy) was shown to afflict the new forms of organization indicative of this ‘new’ class struggle lauded by Chirik– the workers’ councils, factory committees– in the same way as the old forms under conditions of the ‘old’ class struggle.

Despite raising the precision of Lenin’s formulation in his own political combat against spontaneism, Chirik pivots to provide a new, opposing, theoretical framework for the exact same end as the councilists: in defense of spontaneism (economism) against spontaneism (councilism), and in seeking to permanently affix the socialist movement to the tail of the proletariat.

Like the Russian party members who published Rabochaya Mysl and Rabocheye Delo,  Chirik is as deserving of Lenin’s exasperated admonition:

“Catholic and monarchist trade unions in Europe are also an inevitable result of the interaction of environment and elements, but it was the consciousness of priests and Zubatovs and not that of socialists that participated in this interaction” (A Talk With Defenders of Economism, 1901)

By rejecting the proletariat as it is, the class struggle as it is and the laws of development of each, Chirik has made this question, that is raised explicitly in Lenin’s observation, moot: if there has been an epochal shift in capitalism that has resulted in the crossing of a substantive social precipice by the proletariat, if this epochal shift has made all permanent forms of labor organization (trade union, political party) organs of capital rather than organs of labor by default, if this all means that the function of the revolutionary organization (the communist party) has undergone a complete transformation–

that would mean that the entire social basis of the class struggle has changed. If that were the case,

why have the terms and conditions of labor’s class struggles continued to develop as they always have, starting with the birth cry of the proletariat as a new and distinct social class through to the present moment of the present day;

why have the terms and conditions of the wage demand and all that goes with it (trade unionism, strikes, lock-outs, chiseling, lay-offs, rising organic composition of capital, etc.) continued despite a century of this new epoch in which everything is supposed to have changed;

why has nothing fundamentally changed for the proletariat?

Like Dangeville and Cervetto, the capacity of Chirik’s elaborations to serve as a vessel for and affirmation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat is directly proportional to his ability to deconstruct and consume that affirmation with, through and in its metamorphosis into, ideology.

. . . /

Affirmation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat can be found in the most unlikely places, among those written off as constituents of a history that can’t be forgotten fast enough. Togliatti’s lectures on fascism at the Lenin School in 1934-35 are an excellent example.

“The terrain of the fascist unions is the most mobile terrain in the structure of the fascist dictatorship and of fascism; the most mobile because here class relations are reflected directly and immediately.

This is proof of the exactness of the Leninist affirmation that any mass organization of workers, even the most reactionary one, inevitably becomes a theater of class struggle, a springboard for the class struggle” (Lectures on Fascism, 1935)

Togliatti raises the experience of the Russian Revolution of 1905 in which the Bolsheviks sent their members into workers’ organizations formed by the okhrana / black-hundredists in order to facilitate labor’s class struggles and neutralize the reactionaries.

He elaborates what this looks like in practice under the Mussolini regime:

“Union meetings, for example, should we attend them or not? Before, the Party gave orders to boycott them. In some cities, the fascist unions had to force the workers to stay for meetings. Today, we say we must go to them. . . In Naples, for instance, union meetings are called to which propagandists, members of the fascist university groups, come to make speeches. These meetings are not called in order to discuss questions of work. What must we do? We must turn these meetings into meetings where union problems are discussed. . . We must say to the fascist union official: tell us a little about how you have defended our interests! . . .

Here we are acting on the grounds of fascist law, but we are starting out from these grounds in order to sharpen the conflicts inside the fascist organizations and mobilize the masses. . .

There are clauses in labor contracts which it is interesting to know. The FIAT contract, for example, permits workers’ committees for checking on the application of piece-work rates. Our comrades have never noticed it, and yet this is a very important problem.

On this terrain, we must start out, when necessary, even from the most backward forms, pressuring, when it is the case, for the naming of a union dues collector. Then, through the dues collector, by enlarging his functions, we must try to create a shop steward” (Ibid)

The potential within labor’s class struggles is exposed here and displayed in the form of concrete tasks which express its revolutionary content. A unification of lived experience, theory and immediate practical questions synchronizes in these passages, becoming an affirmation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat.

That he could do this once says nothing of his general political trajectory. Togliatti thrived on the most virulent opportunism, from popular frontism to political alliances with reactionaries to the innumerable betrayals of workers in Italy over many decades;

his last mark on the workers’ movement, the result of decades of noxious gestation, contributed greatly to the final dislocating bankruptcy of the official communist movement and released the social democratic spores which are turning up in all aspects of the proletariat’s political life today.

“The present organisational structure of the Communist movement is, then, the result of a long process which, starting from the Seventh Congress and the dissolution of the Communist International, has led to the autonomy of all parties -whether this be in order to take account of the particular problems in each country, as Lenin prescribed; or in order to emphasise the possibility of various paths to socialism; or, finally, in order not to confuse the separate tasks of party and government in Communist-ruled countries. It is a form of organisation which certainly calls for the debates necessary to make progress in doctrine and practice. It is a form of organisation which also demands the working out of a common position on the movement’s fundamental problems, its general objectives, in order thereby to attain unity. If this unity did not exist, or ceased to exist, the struggle against imperialism, for peaceful coexistence and socialism, would come to nothing, petering out in sterile particularism. Each party must make its contribution to maintain and strengthen that unity” (Diversity and Unity in the International-Proletarian Movement, 1961)

Togliatti took popular frontism to its ultimate conclusion, which became evident in the trajectory of the party he led for decades, after he died and after the dissolution of the USSR. The Italian Communist Party became an openly centrist democratic party, to the right of social democracy.

. . . /

In each of the preceding autopsies we see affirmations of the method of the real movement of the proletariat in addition to moments of aporia; sometimes within the same sentence, the same work or even in other works by the same individual. While Intersections was focused on the moment that the affirmation / expression of the method of the real movement of the proletariat is deconstructed and consumed by ideologizing, here the focus has been on locating and collecting those moments of affirmation / expression by any individual, regardless of their political pedigree and trajectory—but tempered by examples of aporia and ideology from the same individuals to disarm the reflex to associate the method of the real movement of the proletariat with a particular person, political tendency or milieu.

The particulars of their failures can be viewed as characteristic of 2 categories:

I Rejection, opposition, ideologization or ignorance of the wage demand

II Becoming beholden and bewitched by politics and politicking

We must make the working school of revolutionary Marxism a depository of those moments of affirmation of the method of the real movement of the proletariat. We must accumulate these moments, born from specific situations in the class struggle, into a functional defense against ideology and ideologization so that we may fulfill our obligations and carry out our unique role within the proletariat and the class struggle.

 

Advertisements