Labor’s Republic

Labor’s Republic

Michael Hough

“Organization is the form of mediation between theory and practice. And, as in every dialectical relationship, the terms of the relation only acquire concreteness and reality in and by virtue of this mediation”– Lukasc

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the republic of labor, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the workers’ state– every name for the organization of power by the working-class has again become an abstraction. But the history of the working-class—its lived experience of the class struggle—has provided the concrete solution to the theoretical problem of labor’s self-emancipation, the real movement to abolish capitalism and construct socialism. Like alchemists turning lead into gold, those personifications of the theory of communism– the workers’ political party, the vanguard of the proletariat– sublimate, transmutate, transubstantiate labor’s class struggles through its historic memory and lived experience into the struggle for state power and the construction of the republic of labor, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the workers’ state. It has been done and will be done again.

Olympian and Chthonic

The essence of trade unionism as the content of labor’s class struggles under the capitalist social relation is expressed in two categories: form and process. One is apparent, the other subterranean. Trade unionism as the content of labor’s class struggles will generate and regenerate organizations which develop beyond the union-form, with expanded functionality:

Organs of workers’ control—shop committees, workers’ councils

Organs of workers’ power—armed workers, defense guards

Common to all organizations produced and reproduced by organized and organizing labor in the course of the real-existing class struggle are the processes found in the practice, substance and structure of trade unionism. The practical expressions of concerted and mass actions have no fidelity to particular forms of labor organization: mass meetings, general assemblies, organized force (class violence), delegation of tasks and mandates, etc. are consistently utilized by and may be found in every form of labor organization; in addition, they may be found in every manifestation of concerted and mass action—every type of strike, occupation, boycott, insurrection, etc. Labor’s class struggles secrete the organs of workers’ control/power which constitute the raw materials for the construction of a republic of labor, proletarian dictatorship, workers’ state. They only become such components during the organization of power by the working-class in the articulation and definition, consolidation and defense of state power as material gain; otherwise they are shot or jailed out of existence, merge with an existing labor organization or simply dissolve with the conclusion of the necessarily temporary-circumstantial situation which gave birth to them. Red trade unionism, red guardism and red workers’ councils are produced through the material unity of the conscious and spontaneous incarnations of organized and organizing labor’s proletarian class consciousness: the unity of the workers’ political party [consciousness preceding action] and the diverse organs of trade unionism, of workers’ control/power [action preceding consciousness]. This material unity signals the submission of the acute spontaneous class struggle—self-generalizing mass action, the class movement, the organs of workers’ control/power– to communism.

The Class Struggle

Labor’s class struggles contain a practice of spontaneous resistance to and contingent demands of capital, a substance of concerted and mass actions and a structure derived from co-participants selected and distilled from those episodes of concerted and mass actions, becoming a human architecture of labor organization through the act of articulation and definition of material gains and the consolidation and defense of these gains. Representation as the dominant element of labor’s class struggles is the inevitable consequence of the alienation of the proletariat. Alienation, estrangement, assures the impossibility of permanent mobilization of any (greater or lesser) fraction of the working-class. Bureaucracy and bureaucratization is the irresistible result of representation of labor’s class struggles, the functional administration of the social and physical fact of this representation in the workplace and in the class (the structural embodiment and accumulation of dead class struggles). Generation and regeneration of centers of resistance (centers of representation) of labor against capital is the concrete-tangible consequence of labor’s class struggles.

The Revolution

The forms and processes of trade unionism as the content of labor’s class struggles under the capitalist social relation herald an objectively revolutionary moment. Organs of workers’ control/power proliferate as the trajectory of labor’s class struggles signals greater, higher expressions of the combat between labor-capital when workers’ spontaneous resistance to and contingent demands of capital become uniform and unified across trades, workplaces, industries, sectors, towns, cities, regions and nations; self-generalizing mass action provides the substance required to transform the articulation and definition of state power as material gain by the proletarian vanguard, the workers’ political party, into an immediate tangible reality, to be followed by the process of the consolidation and defense of state power as material gain in the structure of the workers’ state.

The Proletarian Dictatorship

The republic of labor, proletarian dictatorship, workers’ state is not distinct in its process from labor’s daily class struggles, nor is it the finale of labor’s class struggles against capital but its escalation within the geographic boundaries of this organization of power by the working-class as a whole through its socialist minority– its vanguard, its class political party– into a higher stage of this same class struggle. Physical embodiments of the socialist programme, the vanguard of the proletariat, organized as the political party of the working-class, articulate and define state power as material gain when (greater or lesser) fractions of the proletarian vanguard win the same mandate of legitimacy from their co-participants in labor’s class struggles as that of the organic (formal/informal, rank-and-file/bureaucratic, contingent/permanent) leaders of organized and organizing labor—the articulation and definition, consolidation and defense of state power as material gain is the inauguration of the republic of labor, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the workers’ state and can only be affirmed by agents and subjects of the workers’ political party; the sublimation, transmutation, transubstantiation of the organs of workers’ control/power, in the context of the organic development of increasingly acute class struggles manifested as self-generalizing mass action, into the seizure and organization of power. It is the extension and exponential enlargement of the process of construction of a center of resistance but beyond individual trades, workplaces, industries, sectors, towns, cities and regions in which the working-class as a whole has constructed a permanent center of resistance to capital around its extraction of state power as material gain from the class struggle. The republic of labor, dictatorship of the proletariat, workers’ state is but another form of labor organization produced and reproduced from the unalterable process characteristic of the daily class struggles of organized and organizing labor under the capitalist social relation. Labor’s republic, its class dictatorship, its State, is “the continuation of the class struggle of the proletariat in new forms. . . the state is only a weapon of the proletariat” (Lenin).

Democracy and Anti-Democracy

Implicitly connected with the elaboration of the origin of the republic of labor, the proletarian dictatorship, the workers’ state, is the question of proletarian democracy or the myriad substitute qualifiers which aim to describe the same thing i.e. soviet democracy, union democracy, etc. Qualified (specialized) or unqualified (abstract) democracy is the patent medicine of human society. Democratic ideology is the burden of the labor movement, the source of its various maladies and simultaneously peddled as the fixed, immutable panacea for the daily class struggles and future emancipation of wage laborers, yet marks both the beginning and the end of human exploitation and alienation:

“Broadly speaking, one can define democracy as the behavior of humans, the organization of those who have lost their original organic unity with the community. Thus it exists during the whole period which separates primitive communism from scientific communism” (Camatte)

The question of democracy in and for the labor movement, the proletarian revolution, the republic of labor, proletarian dictatorship, workers’ state is definitively solved in the practical experience of the real movement that had, in the 20th century, expropriated the expropriators, gagged and guillotined the counter-revolution and began constructing socialism. No current or tendency attempted to theorize the liquidation of democracy as a function of proletarian agency and forerunner of communism as consistently as the Italian communist left. Yet the limitation of this sustained critique was in the creation of an anti-democratic principle; a rejection of the real-existing class struggle for paper principles and patent medicine. Bordiga found the theoretical kernel to what proletarian democracy is when, in outlining his objection to democratic centralism, he wrote, “While preserving as much of the incidental democratic mechanism that can be used,” — but he immediately disregards the significance of his own words when continuing with, “ we will eliminate the use of the term ‘democracy’, which is dear to the worst demagogues but tainted with irony for the exploited, oppressed and cheated, abandoning it to the exclusive usage of the bourgeoisie and the champions of liberalism in their diverse guises and sometimes extremist poses.” This error was formulated in 1922, and would be followed by almost five decades of peddling this error until his death in 1970. His former acolyte Camatte makes an identical error from the opposite end, even in his process of breaking with the Italian communist left. In the passage quoted from The Democratic Mystification, he distills the Marxist critique of democracy and correctly identifies communism as a possibility only by the exclusion of a democracy rendered extinct and permanently liquidated by the completion of the international revolutionary movement and total fulfillment of the socialist programme, and identifies democracy as characteristic of the epochs falling between primitive and scientific communism. But he too stumbles on the question of democracy in the labor movement, the workers’ political party, the proletarian revolution, the transition to socialism, writing, “. . . theorizing a particular democracy (proletarian democracy for example) still evades the quantitative leap. Indeed, either the democratic form in question really contradicts the general concept of democracy, and thus is really something else (why, then, call it democracy?), or it is compatible with this concept, and there can only be a contradiction of a quantitative nature (for example that it includes a greater number of men), and, because of this, it does not go beyond the limits of the concept, even if it tends to push them back.” Like Bordiga, Camatte ignores the implications of his own words. If democracy exists during “the whole period which separates primitive communism from scientific communism” then it continues to exist before, during and after the proletarian revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the transitional epoch from capitalism to socialism, after which this “quantitative leap” occurs, described by Lenin as “Decision by majority. Another condition for it = ‘conscientious’ subordination. First throw off the yoke of money, the power of capital, abolish private property, then the slow growth of ‘conscientiousness’ on this basis.” Taken together, this distillation of socialist theories of democracy of the Italian communist left representative of the time before (Bordiga) and after (Camatte) the proletarian revolution, when combined, reveal both the peak and trough of left communist understanding of democracy in the real-existing class struggle and its relation to the category of totality. They were only accidentally able to correctly formulate the content of proletarian democracy, since their emphasis remained on tangential thoughts about the use of the word democracy itself rather than the peculiarities of proletarian democracy. In rare still frames throughout its history the working-class articulates the meaning of democracy from its immediate perspective:

I “We are a democratic organization. . . but we are democratic in proportion to the results obtained” – Delegate John Bookjans, Local 237, Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union, 1927 Convention

II When the first American trade union delegation to the Soviet Union arrived in 1927, one of its members asked Mikhail Tomsky of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions if the method of voting by a show of hands could lead to intimidation and stifle trade union democracy—he replied that, Our workers are not meek and cringing. They know how to vote, not only with one hand, but with two fists if necessary

Proletarian democracy is always incidental and based solely on the practical usefulness of democratic forms and organization to suit specific objectives or immediate needs; it’s fluid and not subject to the constraints of a qualified (specialized) democracy: direct, participatory, etc. Even the touted mechanism of instantly recallable delegates does not specify a particular form of democracy but a willingness to suspend democracy if the concrete terms of the situation require it. Proletarian democracy is thus an incomplete democracy, impossible to qualify. This content of proletarian democracy has existed from the origin of the class of wage laborers as a permanent class under the capitalist social relation. This content remains in operation before, during and after the proletarian revolution, the inauguration of the proletarian dictatorship and the transition to socialism. Levelling the former exploiters and allying with all other oppressed strata is the proletarianization of humanity, a fundamental process of the proletarian revolution, proletarian dictatorship and transition to socialism. But it’s accomplished through both moral and coercive persuasion, the gloved hand and mailed fist. Democracy in a society still rooted in capital accumulation cannot be liquidated until the victory of the proletarian revolution internationally, the consolidation and defense of the proletarian dictatorship internationally, the fulfillment of the transition from capitalism to socialism internationally, the proletarianization of the human population internationally, in a world where the sole accumulator of capital is the workers’ state and a substantial fraction of the total human population is involved in its administration. Until then it remains a contingent, practical, utilitarian, precarious, limited, partial, incomplete democracy—whether formal or informal.

Phases of Proletarian Dictatorship

Red Bakufu: First appearing as a frontline government in the shops and in the streets in which there is no executive power but only the absolute, totalitarian rule of class struggle necessity, this initial phase begins with the articulation and definition of state power as material gain (ex. Hungarian and Bavarian soviet republics): the most advanced organs of workers’ control/power and the regional centers of these advanced organs drag along the rest (of organized and organizing labor, of the class) through a phase in which workers’ control/power is partial and incomplete (ex. dual power) and must grow in depth and extent or atrophy and die. It’s the moment that the workers’ political party fulfills its historic function and transforms self-generalizing mass action and the organs of workers’ control/power into the raw materials for the construction of a workers’ state: the organization of power by the working-class to suppress any resistance by the exploiters.

Red Sparta: A transitional moment begins with the consolidation and defense of state power as material gain as the republic of labor, proletarian dictatorship, workers’ state (ex. Russian soviet republic). The coercive-repressive apparatus of the new state is naked, despotic, punitive and undisguised class violence exercised through the socialist fraction of and in service to the working-class and its emancipation by suppressing the resistance of the exploiting class which grows ever more desperate and frenzied. Liberty is a privilege reserved for the exploited (within the boundaries of proletarian discipline, ethics and decision-making) while the expropriation and disenfranchisement of the deposed bourgeoisie revokes and deprives all liberties save that of useful labor:

“Article XII. In the USSR work is a duty and a matter of honor for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: ‘He who does not work, neither shall he eat’

The principle applied in the USSR is that of socialism: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his work’” Constitution of the Soviet Union

Labor’s center of resistance to capital is subject to a process of enlargement. Escalation of the class struggles between personified wage labor-capital through to its most acute manifestations begins with the union-form, the political party of the working-class, the organs of workers’ control/power and reaches its organizational conclusion in the republic of labor, proletarian dictatorship, workers’ state.

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