[Marxism] Class Struggle In America

dave x dave.xx at gmail.com
Thu Feb 17 23:05:18 MST 2011


On Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 3:56 PM, Dan <d.koechlin at wanadoo.fr> wrote:

>
>
> Hey david x,
>
> I like your tone. I agree 100% with your statement that unions tried to
> become part of the system  in the 60s-70s and that they have since been
> pushed aside by, well not "neo-liberalism" (because it's not neo), but
> corporate interests beginning to more forcefully assert their
> priviledges after two decades of increasing working-class wages and
> buoyency.
> In the US, in France, in the UK, well all over the "developed world",
> the 80s was a period of reducing real wages and breaking traditional
> patterns of wage-earning.
>

Thanks. I often appreciate what you say as well. Interestingly that analysis
of union leaderships is one that Trotsky basically came to before he died. I
have to regard that as prescient as I doubt it is a conclusion that I would
have reached at that point or any time soon after:

'Trade Unions In the Epoch of Imperialist Decay':
http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/tu.htm
In retrospect the title 'Trade Unions In the Epoch of Imperialism's Zenith'
might have been better. I don't agree with his conclusions as they strike me
as ultra-left, but I do think he was pointing out a very real issue that
became even more significant in the post-war period.

I used to work in retail at a mid-sized US national chain. Towards the end
of the tech bust the company developed some restructuring plans that were
going to effect us pretty severely. Being the start of the recovery there
were some stirrings here and there on the labor scene. Some of us initiated
an organizing drive which then turned into this two year saga. We took a
very democratic, political, social movement oriented approach. We brought in
an outside union, one that represented many retail workers. I knew this
would be a problem but thought that we would need their resources and
thought it would be possible to counter-balance them by our own organizing
efforts and with the help of the extensive activist community I was plugged
into at the time. This was true but only partially so. I underestimated the
weight of the bureaucracy, the experience of having to simultaneously
organize against the bureaucracy and the bosses was eventually demoralizing
and the effect of the union's resources was less decisive than I had hoped.
In retrospect I don't think there is any way we could have truly won. The
climate for it simply didn't exist, although we did have some remarkable
successes along the way. However, if I had to do it again I think I would
have taken the Starbucks workers approach and kept the outside union out. It
would have been more empowering overall and our impact would have been about
the same. I am not however dogmatic about this and every situation is
different. In any case labor advances in the US are going to require a
social movement of a size equal to any that we have seen in the past. I have
immense respect for those who have spent their lives inside of the labor
movement but I think until then it is a bit like banging your head on a
wall.

 In regards to the term 'neo-liberalism', I admit the term is not
unproblematic but I believe it represents a very real set of complex
phenomena and that there is genuine 'neo' aspect to it. There are a wide
variety of accounts of just what neoliberalism is on the left, plenty of
confusion and no real agreement on the exact causes though everyone seems to
recognize most of the symptoms. A good discussion of this would be
interesting.


> However, I fear that without a conscious effort to reclaim the
> workplace, the masses will be lead into "symbolic" demonstrations of
> rage and will thus be forced to rely on an external, "charimatic"
> mediator. Only the control over the production apparatus can give the
> working class any real power over its destiny. Failing that, it is a
> "rudderless" mass prone to taking to the streets to angrily demand
> change and be either massacred or tricked into accepting a Bonapartist
> leader.
>
> I don't really see it this way. Leadership will inevitably emerge one way
or another. Hopefully it is the right sort of leadership and people can hold
them accountable. There are of course a number of past revolutionary
experiences we can point to for insight in this area. Personally, I still
think this means a mass working class revolutionary party, preferably a very
broad based one. How to get to that party? I don't have any magic recipes.
There may be many roads or none depending on the situation. I think large
scale contestations of the 'production apparatus' are more a natural
consequence of social upheaval rather than something we can with conscious
effort have in place beforehand to ensure things turn out okay. Instead, as
is happening in Egypt now it all sort of comes together in a crazy mix.
Revolutionary organization and workers organization whether pre-existing or
emergent may well be crucial but the wrong sort (think the French CP and
associated unions in '68) can also be a major impediment. It is also
important to note that even if one has a relatively healthy workers
revolution, the challenges it will face are going to be enormous. Choices
will become both momentous and restricted in ways difficult to foresee. I do
tend to think that there may be some merit in the old republican notion of
separation of powers, at least once a revolution has taken root and fought
off its first attacks. It would be utopian to try and specify the form of
future societies, that will be determined collectively by the people as they
are built, but it would also be naive to ignore a century's worth of  the
history of party-states and their often deleterious consequences. If those
difficulties can be at all mitigated through conscious action, it would be
good.
-dave



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