Class, Bureaucracy and the Union-Form was written to establish a basis for finding a legitimate socialist practice in the present. This necessarily means that it is a declaration of opposition to existing theoretical frameworks which inhibit this task. Millenarianism and dilettantism in the socialist movement are major obstacles that are peculiar to contemporary capitalist society. They have become conjoined, each reinforcing the other. The working-class has been subjected to the tendency toward disorganization, disorientation and disintegration due to the exponential rise of social atomization, to perpetual defensive struggles over the last 40 years of capital’s crisis– to two generations of chiseling and blackjacking. As a reflection of these tendencies operating within the wider class, millenarianism and dilettantism have emerged concurrent with the decline of the organized labor movement, and in turn have been internalized and given a basis by the socialist movement. This text is a rejection of the theoretical alibis that prevent us from becoming the accomplices of our fellow workers and co-workers in the overthrow of capital and its society.
The original text, Class, Bureaucracy and the Union-Form, is very short, just 9,000 words– which was only possible by applying Chekhov’s gun to every constituent element, then distilling them down to the absolute minimum. Five supplemental texts were written after the publication of the core text in January 2016. Each supplement is nothing more than an elaboration and taken together, as a whole in sequential order, form a complete project:
Supplement I (August 2016)
Supplement II (August 2016)
Supplement III (October 2016)
Supplement IV (November 2016)
Supplement V (March 2017)
The results of various discussions and critiques concerning the core text and its supplements over the last year have been integrated in-part or in-full in this brief introduction.
The class struggle is unitary; of a single essence. Its content, for the working-class, is expressed in processes, from which all manifestations and forms of labor’s class struggles are derived. These processes are the practice, substance and structure of trade unionism:
Practice of trade unionism: workers’ spontaneous resistance to and contingent demands of capital; defensive resistance to the encroachments of capital and offensive attempts by labor to encroach upon capital
Substance of trade unionism: concerted action and mass action; all manifestations of labor’s class struggles (strikes, boycotts, protests, insurrections, etc.)
Structure of trade unionism: the human architecture selected from among co-participants in labor’s class struggles that articulate and define, consolidate and defend material gains; personifications of the interests and needs of the working-class, personifications of the workers’ experience of the class struggle
These are but distinguishable moments within a single continuous process– though this process may be aborted at any moment in its development, as it really presents itself.
Trade unionism is the content of labor’s class struggles under the capitalist social relation.
All manifestations of labor’s class struggles, both direct (in the workplace, in the process of production) and indirect (the cumulative result of a society constructed and based upon capitalist exploitation), and all forms of organization born or derived from labor’s class struggles, share these root processes.
The practical expressions of labor’s class struggles 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 action and mass action—every type of strike, occupation, boycott, insurrection, etc.
“His text hardly mentions soviets or workers’ councils and where it does he gives the impression that they are simply a form of trade unionism in a period of revolutionary struggles.”
This formulation is much clearer than what is presented in the core text or any of its supplements on this point, and is exactly right; specifically, that all forms of labor organization—union, council, state, etc.– share a common content and derive from the same processes. This is an affirmation that labor’s class struggles are of a single essence, that manifestations as diverse as the Silesian weavers’ insurrection in 1844, the formation of the International Workingmen’s Association in 1864, the seizure of power by the Parisian proletariat in 1871, the formation of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers in 1876, the formation of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in 1881, the Baku oil strike in 1904, the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in 1910, the seizure of state power by the 2nd All-Russia Congress of Soviets in 1917, the formation of the Communist International in 1919, the general strike against the Kapp putsch in 1920, the American strike wave in 1946, the French wildcat general strike and factory occupations in 1968, the demonstrations of armed workers in Lisbon in 1974, i.e. every individual manifestation of the class struggle from the most backward (formation of racist trade unions with whites-only membership requirements) to the most advanced (experiences of proletarian revolution) are all powered by the same motor force– the same processes, derived from the same content.
The processes which originally produced/generated and continue to reproduce/regenerate the union-form are not solely and exclusively capable of producing the union-form; they are the same processes that produce the organs of workers’ control (factory committees, workers’ councils) and workers’ power (armed workers, defense guards). Workers’ control is the basis for the forms engendered by the practice, substance and structure of trade unionism to reach the most acute phase of the class struggle and produce the raw materials necessary to construct the dictatorship of the proletariat; while workers’ power is nothing but organized force (class violence) made in relation or reference to worker’s (direct/indirect) control—of private property, the means of production and distribution, the fruits of labor. The spontaneous class struggle, in its most acute stages, can pose the question of workers’ control/power over society and produce the forms required to inaugurate the proletarian dictatorship (creating an objectively revolutionary situation), but cannot maintain control/power absent the intervention of the vanguard of the proletariat organized in and through the workers’ political party. The role of the socialist movement as workers’ party is to subordinate the acute spontaneous class struggle to communism in its articulation and definition of state power as material gain, and in its consolidation and defense of state power as material gain creates the only basis for the conditions to render capital extinct and facilitate the real movement toward communism. Examining the union-form reveals the fundamental processes which begin with the origin of the capitalist social relation and elaborate the terms of proletarian revolution and the taxonomy of proletarian dictatorship in light of the experience of the working-class up to this point in history.
At the genesis of the trade union bureaucracy, within the conditions of its production and reproduction, is the entire organic course of labor’s class struggles, from the origin of the permanent class of wage laborers to the moment of creation of the union-form to the raw materials for the construction of a workers’ state as proletarian dictatorship, the processes set into motion by capital remain totally unaltered by time expressed as history (for the working-class, its history can only be its accumulated lived experiences). Capturing and cataloguing this moment of genesis also reveals the physiognomy of class consciousness and the conditions of its production and reproduction, connecting the terms of labor’s class struggles to the means to conclude the class struggle. It’s what falls between
“. . . the ‘spontaneous element’, in essence, represents nothing more nor less than consciousness in an embryonic form” (Lenin)
“. . . the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat. . .” (Marx)
The trade union question is the burden of the socialist movement, and its solution is within the revolutionary movement that ends in communism.
Driving the production/reproduction—generation/regeneration of this content of labor’s class struggles is the contradictory potentials inherent to and characteristic of wage labor: reproduction of capital/negation of capital.
When Marx wrote that, “the working-class is revolutionary or it is nothing,” it is in the production of capital, “the immediate unity of the processes of labor and valorization,” that the question of proletarian class resistance to the exploitation peculiar to capitalism is perpetually posed. As nothing, the working-class is merely the personification of wage labor, a constituent element of capitalist society as the inevitable byproduct of the production of capital. But it is nothing nearly all of the time under the capitalist social relation, so the terms and conditions of its nothingness (from the original creation of a proletariat to the manifestations of labor’s class struggles) are equally the terms and conditions of its revolutionary agency.
Dangeville, Cervetto and others have written substantively similar things on one or more of these individual threads, either in passing or at length, starting with the work of Marx, Engels and Lenin, the lived experience of labor’s class struggles and the practical application of the legacy of the socialist movement. But none of them have taken those threads to their absolute conclusion. Even Trotsky of all people was able to make a similar formulation once (if only serendipitously) in his voluminous-bordering-on-endless literary output before he got into the axe painting business in 1940.
There are no blueprints or recipes for reversing capital’s defanging of the labor movement, and many of those socialists lost to millenarianism and dilettantism can’t be won back. But the class struggle is a selection: better fewer, but better indeed. Organization is the ultimate problem of the present for the socialist movement, and it’s the only problem that truly matters because it is the only one that is within our exclusive control: ‘on what basis are we going to do’ is the question, and the only question.