Note from the Editors: Classconscious.org is publishing a series of articles and documents relating to the break of Shuvu Batta and Peter Ross from the SEP. The crux of this break was over the issue of revolutionary work within trade unions.
Based on the writings of Trotsky and Lenin we disagree with the ICFI’s position that workers must break with trade unions and form a network of new “rank and file committees”. (Read our position on Trade Union work here). It is only through and open and robust discussion that scientific socialism, ie Marxism has developed in the past. We invite anyone who disagrees with this position or has something to add to this debate to consider submitting an article to classconscious.org
These documents were first published on Permanent Revolution and have been republished here with permission of the authors.
In the wake of the union defeat at Bessemer an expelled SEP member speaks out – by Shuvu Batta and Peter Ross
Ancillary documents for article ‘In the wake of the union defeat at Bessemer expelled SEP members speak out
Once Again on the Question of Trade Unions and the Tasks of the Party – by Comrade C
The following is a critique of the Socialist Equality Party’s position on Trade Unions written by a US based provisional member, Comrade C., who has subsequently resigned. It was obtained and distributed by Shuvu Batta in January 2021 and this action resulted in his expulsion from the SEP. These events are responded to by Shuvu in the “In the wake of the union defeat at Bessemer an expelled SEP member speaks out“.
Once Again on the Question of Trade Unions and the Tasks of the Party
by Comrade C.
The contemporary tendency that rejects systematic political work by party cadre within degenerate trade unions argues thus:
- The “growing together” with the capitalist state that characterizes contemporary trade unions, identified by Trotsky in 1940, has reached the point today in which these organizations no longer perform their historic function of defending the elementary interests of the working class and, in fact, act openly as instruments of imperialism against the workers;
- The process of globalization (international concentration and centralization carried out by the basic unit of advanced capitalist organization) brings to light how the national foundations upon which contemporary trade unions were organized, and are still based, renders them incapable of mounting any genuine opposition to the attacks on jobs carried out by major capitalist firms. Under current conditions, trade union bureaucracies, which form part of the capitalist state apparatus, have objective interests which compel them to negotiate the surrender of previous working class gains in surviving economic sectors under the constant threat of capital export by employers;
- From the former, the conclusion is drawn that engaging in socialist agitation within contemporary trade unions is at best a futile endeavor owing to the omnipotence of the bureaucratic regimes that dominate them, and at worst, contributes to the sowing of reformist illusions among unionized workers.
These are the principal arguments that are used to proclaim that trade unions today can no longer be considered “workers’ organizations” and that the tasks of revolutionary Marxists consist exclusively in building new organizations outside of these degenerate structures.
Let us examine more closely what Trotsky said in 1940 and assess its relevance for today.
In his essay entitled, Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, Trotsky makes the point that, “By transforming the trade unions into organs of the state, fascism invents nothing new; it merely draws to their ultimate conclusion the tendencies inherent in imperialism.” (My emphasis.)
Indeed, the ultimate conclusion to which Trotsky is referring can only be understood as the most advanced expression of what, under conditions of “normal” capitalist democracy, manifested itself only as a tendency. (Marxism has long recognized the coexistence of embryonic and fully developed or “mature” forms of a given phenomenon in development.)
As such, the tendency of trade unions, particularly the bureaucracies that lead them, to grow together with the capitalist state had already reached the stage of qualitative change (degeneration) even during the life of Trotsky, albeit in a reduced number of cases, which enabled him to articulate a tactical orientation towards these organizations at various stages in the degenerative process. As Trotsky pointed out, fascism merely brought the process already underway under “normal” conditions of capitalist decay to its logical outcome.
Clearly, what interests us today is the most advanced expression of this process of degeneration, at which point the “growing together” between trade unions and the capitalist State reaches the stage of integration and those formerly latent reactionary tendencies opposed to the historically progressive functions which initially served as the raison d’être of trade unions now dominate.
It is worth quoting at length what Trotsky had to say in this regard:
“From the foregoing it seems, at first sight, easy to draw the conclusion that the trade unions cease to be trade unions in the imperialist epoch. They leave almost no room at all for workers’ democracy which, in the good old days, when free trade ruled on the economic arena, constituted the content of the inner life of labor organizations. In the absence of workers’ democracy there cannot be any free struggle for the influence over the trade union membership. And because of this, the chief arena of work for revolutionists within the trade unions disappears. Such a position, however, would be false to the core. We cannot select the arena and the conditions for our activity to suit our own likes and dislikes. It is infinitely more difficult to fight in a totalitarian or a semi-totalitarian state for influence over the working masses than in a democracy. The very same thing likewise applies to trade unions whose fate reflects the change in the destiny of capitalist states. We cannot renounce the struggle for influence over workers in Germany merely because the totalitarian regime makes such work extremely difficult there. We cannot, in precisely the same way, renounce the struggle within the compulsory labor organizations created by Fascism . . . It is necessary to conduct a struggle under all those concrete conditions which have been created by the preceding developments, including therein the mistakes of the working class and the crimes of its leaders. In the fascist and semi-fascist countries, it is impossible to carry on revolutionary work that is not underground, illegal, conspiratorial . . . It is necessary to adapt ourselves to the concrete conditions existing in the trade unions of every given country in order to mobilize the masses not only against the bourgeoisie but also against the totalitarian regime within the trade unions themselves and against the leaders enforcing this regime. . .
“From what has been said it follows quite clearly that, in spite of the progressive degeneration of trade unions and their growing together with the imperialist state, the work within the trade unions not only does not lose any of its importance but remains as before and becomes in a certain sense even more important work than ever for every revolutionary party. The matter at issue is essentially the struggle for influence over the working class. Every organization, every party, every faction which permits itself an ultimatistic position in relation to the trade union, i.e., in essence turns its back upon the working class, merely because of displeasure with its organizations, every such organization is destined to perish. And it must be said it deserves to perish.”
These words were written in 1940. That was 18 years after Mussolini came to power and began imposing on Italian trade unionists the reactionary philosophy of Sorel, seven years after Hitler’s ascension, and just one year after Franco was able to consolidate power in the wake of the betrayal of the Spanish working class by its leaders. Trotsky had written extensively on all of these processes and possessed a deep understanding of the character of the reactionary regimes in these countries as well as the conditions under which any revolutionary organization operating within them would be forced to carry out its work in general, and in the trade unions in particular.
One can safely assume that a revolutionary of the caliber and experience of Trotsky did not hold any illusions about some kind of institutional reform in the case of trade unions, particularly those created by fascism. As the above extract expresses quite clearly, for Trotsky the central question was one of influence over the working class, even under the most difficult conditions. Indeed, he makes the point that under advanced conditions of degeneration, the work of revolutionary Marxists within trade unions assumes an even greater importance.
For precisely this reason, Trotsky vehemently opposed any suggestion that revolutionaries abandon systematic political work within trade unions. (It is for obvious reasons that official historiography has in large part ignored the heroic, collective struggles of industrial workers under fascist regimes such as in Italy, Spain, Chile, etc.)
I have stressed the “historical” question of revolutionary activity within fascist trade unions to illustrate what should be an obvious point with respect to countries such as the contemporary United States, where the reactionary bureaucracies that dominate undoubtedly degenerate trade unions still adhere somewhat to formal, democratic norms. Under these formally democratic conditions, which every Marxist revolutionary understands to be increasingly narrow, Trotsky advocated courageous and systematic political work in trade unions.
As such, even if one were to argue that the degree of “growing together” between trade unions and the capitalist state that currently exists in countries such as the United States equals that which existed under the aforementioned fascist regimes, the question must be raised as to how it is possible to reject the idea of carrying out revolutionary work under conditions of relatively more freedom today while simultaneously seeking refuge in Trotsky, who demanded that revolutionaries not abandon struggles in trade unions even under conditions of extreme repression and integration with the capitalist state?
It can be argued that whereas this process previously reached its most advanced expression within a small number of countries during the time in which Trotsky was writing, today it is universal and as such demands a qualitative change in orientation. This may be true with respect to specific tactics. However, it is precisely the universal character of this process, which signifies that the overwhelming majority of formally organized workers are now even more directly subjected to the deleterious influence of the capitalist state, that obligates revolutionary Marxists to take up this struggle, lest they render a significant section of the working class ideologically (and physically!) defenseless against the efforts of the capitalists to extend and deepen its subjugation.
It should be noted that the question of influence over unionized workers cannot be understood exclusively in the quantitative sense. There is a qualitative aspect to the question that must be borne in mind because it is often the case that unionized workers, though rarely comprising a majority of the working class under capitalism (in the US, the current estimate is that roughly 12% of salaried workers are unionized), tend to be concentrated in strategically important industries and possess critical skills not easily acquired on a mass scale. Indeed, it is precisely the strategic role these workers play within the productive apparatus as a whole that serves as the rationale for propping up reactionary union bureaucracies by the capitalist state. As such, both the universal character of the integration of trade unions into the capitalist state as well as the strategic role commonly played by this section of the working class demand on the part of Marxist revolutionaries an active tactical orientation towards these workers.
One could ask, if the integration of trade unions into the capitalist state and the reactionary character of the bureaucracies that lead them serve to justify an abstentionist orientation on the part of the Party towards these organizations, why does the same not apply to bourgeois parliamentarianism? Surely, bourgeois parliaments are every bit as much cesspools of reaction as the official trade unions. Yet, even while recognizing the extremely limited field for maneuvering within this arena, which forms an integral part of the capitalist state and is wholly dominated by the bourgeoisie, Marxists do not elevate the boycott of parliamentarianism to the level of general tactical principle. Rather, within this arena, fraught with dangers on all sides, Marxists very often organize and carry out very specific methods of political work, aimed primarily at educating the broadest layers of workers and youth. It was precisely this tactical perspective that the Bolsheviks adopted during successive Dumas, despite the utterly undemocratic and reactionary character of these institutions.
The fact that trade unions are social forms associated with the historic class struggles waged by the working class and bourgeois parliamentarianism has its origins in a different social class does not alter in any way the applicability of this analogy. The often forceful entry of the working class onto the political stage around issues like universal suffrage was immediately met throughout history by systematic efforts by the bourgeoisie to severely curtail democratic rights, leading to incessant battles between these contending classes that continue to the present. Marxists do not remain on the sidelines during these battles even while we expose the decrepit character of bourgeois parliamentarianism. Rather, we very often enter enemy territory with tactics specifically adapted to this hostile environment. This begs the question: Why then would anyone propose that we simply concede terrain within trade unions to which we have a historic claim?
The Labor Party and the Trade Unions
The question of orientation towards trade unions and the fight for a Labor Party forms an important, if not decisive, part of the evolution of our Party, particularly in the United States. As is known, the different formulations of this question constitute critical junctures in the development of our Party.
For example, during the late 1960s, the Workers League concluded that the rise in trade union militancy during this period served as a basis for the revival of calls for the formation of a Labor Party. At this critical juncture, the Workers’ League maintained the position that whether or not the impetus for the formation of a Labor Party started from inside or outside of the existing trade unions, the social base for such a party would have to be developed among unionized workers. In this regard, the Labor Party demand was understood as a means to attack the union bureaucracy at a critical point: its alliance with the Democratic Party.
The formulation of this question reached a greater level of precision by the second half of the 70s, when it was recognized that any demand for a Labor Party addressed to the union bureaucracy carried the very real potential of subordinating any future party, as well as the Workers’ League itself, to those very same bureaucrats that served as agents of the capitalist state.
A critical turning point was reached during the widespread assault on the working class that coincided with the ascension of Reagan. It was at this point that the Workers’ League concluded that its central task with respect to the trade unions lay in fomenting an internal “civil war” within these organizations, along with a more concentrated focus on the building of the revolutionary Party itself. This new orientation invariably resulted in a progressively waning focus on the question of building a broad based Labor Party.
However, it was the dissolution of the Soviet Union which provoked a radical shift in orientation, based on what has been described as a qualitative change. In the wake of the combined impact of a series of defeats suffered by the working class in the United States, which reflected the general ebb of revolutionary struggles worldwide, and the Stalinist dissolution of the Soviet Union, which imbued the capitalist class with a growing air of triumphalism, the Workers’ League now concluded that trade unions could only serve as instruments of imperialism and that, as such, the revolutionary Party had nothing to gain from engaging in any systematic work within these organizations.
This general outline summarizes the evolution of the Party’s understanding of the Labor Party question. What remains, however, is to assess whether or not this understanding was correct in terms of the relationship between the Labor Party and the tasks of the Party within trade unions.
The fight for the formation of a Labor Party constitutes a particular tactical orientation, the correctness of which, like all tactical questions, depends on the prevailing conditions within a given historical period. Yet, the building of a Labor Party, while potentially linked to systematic work within trade unions, does not organically flow from the latter. This point was made by Trotsky when discussing the issue with Cannon, Dunne and Schachtman in 1938. During these discussions, Trotsky highlighted that within Europe, the form and order of the development of trade unions and political organizations of the working class (social democratic labor parties) exhibited a wide range of differences owing to the particular conditions within each country; not only did the latter not necessarily derive from the former, but the particular forms of political organization varied. (For example, Trotsky pointed out that in the British experience there was a long interval before trade unions fought for a labor party, while in Germany, the Social Democrats organized the major unions soon after the consolidation of their party. Even when countries followed similar patterns, the pace of development was different.) In other words, the two must be understood as conceptually distinct categories or social forms, which require a corresponding tactical orientation suited to each.
The problem, as such, lay in the way in which the Labor Party question was grafted onto the trade union problem. While the Labor Party question was correctly formulated by the Workers’ League with respect to the trade union leadership at the end of the 80s, it was incorrectly conflated with the issue of the Party’s tasks within trade unions by the early 90s. It is one thing to argue that, from the perspective of a revolutionary Party, a genuine Labor Party cannot be built on the basis of appeals to a reactionary union leadership. However, it is entirely different to draw from this very correct assertion the conclusion that the revolutionary Party must abstain from political work within trade unions, no matter the degree to which they have become integrated into the capitalist state. (This abstentionist orientation towards trade unions or bourgeois parliamentarianism, elevated to the category of general principle, has on more than one occasion itself degenerated into sectarian adventurism.)
Two Tactics of Trade Union Work in the Epoch of Degenerated Trade Unions
The “Pole of Attraction” Theory
The current tactical perspective of our Party towards trade unions is based on a particular, somewhat simplified and distorted, theory of “pole of attraction.” This perspective starts from the following premise:
The present period in the United States, and much of the rest of the world, is characterized as the initial stage of a renewed period of intense class struggles following nearly four decades of a counterrevolutionary offensive carried out by the capitalist class. During the preceding period, much, if not all, of the historic conquests of workers in countries such as the United States over a half century of bitter struggles have been severely eroded and the working class as a whole has been left betrayed and defenseless by trade union bureaucrats objectively incapable of mounting any significant defense of even the most elementary interests of rank-and-file members.
From this correct premise, the assertion is made that the working class, compelled by the deepening, objective crisis, will increasingly respond to the capitalist counterrevolutionary offensive with renewed energy and seek out a new, revolutionary perspective. The tasks of the Party, as such, consist in establishing a new “pole of attraction,” outside of the existing structures, i.e. trade unions, that will draw in a significant section of the working class disaffected from decades of betrayals by union bureaucrats and pseudo-left reformists, as well as increasingly hostile to the austerity and militarist policies of the Democratic Party.
Put simply, the theory posits that the deepening crisis will provoke a mass exodus of workers from trade unions (as well as segments of previously unorganized workers), who will have no real alternative but to fill the ranks of newly built organs in which our Party retains significant influence.
This interpretation of the theory, however, does not conform to historical experience. The example of the Bolshevik Party during an upsurge in working class militancy provides an instructive analogy in this regard.
As is known, within the soviets that (re)emerged in the immediate aftermath of February, the Bolsheviks pursued a disciplined, yet patient policy of explaining to this advanced grouping of workers’ deputies, which was still very much under the ideological sway of the capitalists and susceptible to reformist illusions, during a period of eight months. The Party of Lenin started as a minority within the soviets. It had to carry out a complex coordination of tactics more broadly, along with those suited specifically to the contradictory and often rapidly changing ideological climate within the soviets, which included denunciations of majority faction leaders, warnings of betrayals, etc. As events corroborated the perspective of the Party, the process of learning through successive approximations accelerated among leading workers within the soviets, who eventually came to a correct understanding of their tasks, and the influence of the Bolsheviks among ever broader layers of workers in general increased.
In other words, the theory of “pole of attraction” implies disciplined and sustained political work within those very structures in which is found the critical mass of workers upon which a revolutionary organization is attempting to exert its influence.
The specific tactics will vary. However, the notion that a pole of attraction can be established external to the structure in which the mass to be influenced exists is erroneous.
There is absolutely no guarantee that a significant number of disaffected workers currently trapped in degenerate trade unions, capable of pulling along with them ever broader sections of the working class in general, will migrate to the Party or its newly built organs as a consequence of a deepening objective crisis. Indeed, it is entirely plausible that under conditions of acute crisis, the capitalist class itself takes the initiative to replace the discredited bureaucrats now heading trade unions with fresh faces, either from an existing, internal reform group or a newly created external one, or even promote the creation of entirely new “workers’ organizations” without the historical baggage of those now in existence under the banner of some kind of “radical renaissance of trade unionism,” orchestrated furtively from above, all the better to ensnare those ranks of disaffected workers.
To the premise articulated above, the Marxist approach to trade unions in countries such as the United States adds the following: The degeneration of trade unions, coupled with the significant erosion of the traditional industrial base in the United States, has resulted today in a new labor regime increasingly characterized by the precarization and atomization of work. The prolonged period of working class retreat that preceded the present one also produced an important demographic shift in which the vast majority of advanced workers whose political education was acquired in the crucible of militant labor, civil rights and antiwar struggles during the 60s and 70s are no longer active within the labor force and the new generation of workers that has come of age under present conditions has only experienced reformist illusions, concessions and outright betrayals. This discontinuity has invariably made more complex the process through which a new layer of advanced workers is consolidated and consequently that by which broader layers of workers acquire historical and political consciousness.
Nevertheless, the working class, compelled by the deepening objective crisis on the one hand, yet simultaneously held back by the conservative character of its collective consciousness on the other, has recently begun to respond: first, by adhering, even if only marginally, to the only organizational means it currently has available, existing trade unions; and second, with calls to build or join traditional union structures for those that remain at present without any form of collective organization. This response has taken the current form of actions among organized workers independent of the initiative or will of the official trade union leadership, yet still within these existing structures that can be characterized by a certain degree of deference to union bureaucrats (e.g. teachers, autoworkers), along with popular campaigns for unionization from currently unorganized workers (e.g. Amazon workers, fast food workers).
This process also takes place under conditions in which the revolutionary Party at present exerts a relatively small influence over the working class, primarily through its literary activity, and the capitalist class is accelerating the build-up of its repressive apparatus at all levels of the state.
Given the current conditions, in which the internal balance of forces and the increasingly repressive environment within trade unions place us at a considerable disadvantage, Marxist revolutionaries initially employ an array of conspiratorial or semi-conspiratorial methods, in which Party cadre seek to infiltrate these organizations directly or indirectly in order to coopt the most militant from among the disaffected rank-and-file workers. (It is important to recognize that this is not an ideal situation and one must never romanticize such methods since, in the final analysis, these questions are reduced to a matter of immediate political expediency.)
The immediate objective of Party cadre within trade unions is to introduce a variety of slogans adapted to particular conditions, some seemingly of a limited “institutional” character meant to focus the ire of the rank-and-file towards the “tops,” and others of a transitional character with which we aim to dispel reformist illusions and orient workers towards socialism.
As such, Party cadre engaged in the arena of reactionary trade unions assess in logical order:
- those workers with which it is possible to form clandestine cells;
- how to guide these embryos towards the development of broader organs (factions, committees, etc.) within trade unions;
- if and when it might be necessary to form temporary united fronts with radical reformists factions within existing trade unions;
- who among rank-and-file workers is best suited for recruitment into the Party itself, which should be done without breaking formal ranks with the broader membership of their corresponding unions.
Even in cases in which our Party work coincides with calls for the overthrow of the current reactionary union bureaucrats, which some will erroneously interpret as a narrow and futile focus on “institutional” reform of irredeemably degenerate trade unions, we must not oppose this. Rather, if the rank-and-file themselves feel compelled to carry out a “political revolution” within these degenerate trade unions, we must take a leading role among the insurrectionists, not as institutional reformers but as Marxist revolutionaries, i.e. to extend these processes to their most far-reaching revolutionary consequences. Whatever the outcome of these internal upheavals, we will seek to use these experiences to accelerate the political education and raise the revolutionary consciousness of the workers.
However, our Party’s primary strategic objective remains focused on bringing all of the most militant rank-and-file workers already organized in these organizations under our influence and with this human element continue building and strengthening the coordinated network of rank-and-file committees and all other similar bodies necessary to form organs of dual power based on the working class.
How does such a tactical orientation manifest itself in practice?
To illustrate the practical application of the tactics outlined above, let us take the example of school teachers, who are currently playing a central role in the class struggle in general and with whom we have acquired some preliminary experience with the “pole of attraction” theory through the formation of rank-and-file committees.
To make the example more concrete, I will use the case of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in New York City, within which our Party currently has very little influence and a petty bourgeois reformist tendency that functions as an agent of the Democratic Party, MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators), has established a minority faction with the support of approximately 12% of the teachers.
In a scenario in which our Party cadre infiltrate the UFT, they would immediately seek to identify all of those disaffected elements and assess with which it was possible to form a nucleus. Given the existence of a reform faction within the union, MORE, our cadre and its supporters among the rank-and-file would develop and propagate slogans to the left of these reformists.
For example, when a leader of MORE says, “We must vote out Mulgrew!”, our cadre and their rank-and-file supporters respond publicly by saying, “Yes! We will support you in getting rid of Mulgrew, but only if you agree to fight to get rid of Weingarten and all of the rest of the scoundrels in the AFT as well.”
When the MORE leader says, “We demand changes to the organizational by-laws in order to make our union more democratic and end the betrayals of the leadership!”, our cadre and their rank-and-file supporters will respond publicly by saying, “We propose that all union leaders receive the average pay of teachers, be subject to immediate recall by the rank-and-file, and that all contract negotiations be carried out publicly and all agreements be subject to full-membership vote for ratification after a two week period of review and debate!”
However, whereas these demands remain within the narrow confines of the reformist consciousness possessed by a sincere trade unionist, they represent only the starting point for the revolutionary Marxist that carries out political work within a trade union. To the above demands, acceptable to the most radical and sincere elements within trade union reform factions, we add the following demands of a more transitional character:
- the election of all school-based and central district supervisors (e.g. principals, superintendents) by rank-and-file vote;
- the extension of the principle of immediate revocability by electors to all supervisory posts;
- the establishment of commissions composed of rank-and-file education workers to develop and authorize curricula and budget;
- direct election of education workers’ representatives with full voting rights to the City Council (municipal council) by means of rank-and-file vote.
These demands, of course, would be subject to radical modifications under conditions in which other instruments of the working class, e.g. soviet type bodies, were further developed.
At a certain stage in this dialectical process, our forces within this still utterly reactionary enterprise claiming to defend the interests of teaches will have gained sufficient interest, following and strength from the rank-and-file to emerge as an established faction. This development would invariably signify a sharpening of the class struggle more broadly. It could also require a shift, at least initially, to formal united front tactics. In any case, the political education of the rank-and-file can only accelerate from the increasingly sharp contrast between our proposals, made public, and those of both the current trade union bureaucrats as well as the reformists.
The position of our Party towards the trade unions in general, and reformists in particular, is not one of accommodation and much less organizational fusion. We retain always and everywhere an independent program and organization. In situations in which we enter into an alliance, we do so without political obligations or refraining from criticizing our temporary allies. On these questions, we will not give one inch.
Nor are we interested in taking up official leadership posts within the unions; although if one were to fall into our hands, we would certainly learn to make revolutionary use of it. Our objective is to win over the broadest layers of the working class and educate them in the spirit of revolutionary Marxism.
However, to imbue workers with Marxism, we must adapt (Oh, that horrible word!) to how the working class learns: which is by means of experience nourished by theoretical insight.
For our Party and its cadre engaged in practical work, “adaptation” only signifies this: identifying the most progressive point to which the political consciousness of workers has developed organically, even though they remain under the ideological influence of the ruling class through its petty bourgeois agents, as the starting point for our politics.
We say publicly to all of the petty bourgeois reformists of the MORE variety with any significant following among the rank-and-file: “You say that you fight for this or that reform. Very well. We will march side by side with you, holding your feet to the fire with each step to ensure that you fight for what you say vigorously. But when you vacillate, we will expose you for the cowards and frauds we know you are!”
It is only at the point when the mass of workers have learned from their own experiences, when they have witnessed one by one all of the false prophets fall into disgrace, when they have drawn the conclusion through a series of successive approximations that the perspective and program of our Party highlighted the correct path and course of action all along, that we will be viewed by the workers as a “pole of attraction.” For such a process to take place, however, we must establish and sustain close contact with the workers.
I have not attempted to predict the precise organizational form that a rise in rank-and-file militancy within trade unions would take. The latter can only be decided in the course of the struggle by the workers themselves. From our standpoint, whether such a radical turn takes the initial form of a series of “political revolutions” that topple successive union bureaucrats within existing structures, the formation of new, more militant trade unions, the organization of entirely new instruments such as massive networks of rank-and-file committees, or a Workers’ Party, we will always and everywhere strive to ensure that as many workers as possible within these bodies adopt our program.
It is necessary to highlight, in this connection, that it is only to the degree that our Party exerts its influence over all organizations of the working class, including trade unions, that the narrow, nationalist perspective upon which these bodies have been hitherto organized, and with which the current union bureaucracies in particular continue to disorient the rank-and-file, will be transcended. This can only be achieved by directly introducing to the rank-and-file slogans to counter the nationalist orientation of traditional trade unionism, particularly within those industries in which the internationalization of production reaches its most advanced organization. (When the UAW bureaucrats attempt to impose wage freezes under the pretext of averting auto factory shutdowns in the United States, we advance among all of the rank-and-file the slogan “sliding scale of internationally indexed wages” to not only undermine the effort to maintain US and Mexican workers in competition against each other, but also build the basis for new organizational forms through common struggle.)
As to the question of non-unionized workers, which constitute the vast majority of the working class and through repeated surveys express a strong desire for some type of trade union-like organization, it should be obvious that our Party must actively fight to ensure that all such organizing campaigns are influenced by a revolutionary Marxist perspective. We say to the organizers and followers of these campaigns, “You want a union to be able to fight the abuses of the bosses. Very well! But we urge you to learn from experience and fight to build not just any kind of union but a particular kind, with a particular orientation.”
A Comment on Military Science
The great military strategists throughout history – and the organizer of the Red Army certainly earned his place among them – understood how to manage a complex and dynamic set of strategic categories (e.g. terrain, time, morale) to coordinate offensive and defensive maneuvers as well as to employ a variety of tactics as part of a general strategic plan.
A skilled military commander at the head of a still small and isolated army, surrounded by a multitude of more powerful adversaries, must know to avoid entanglement in simultaneous battles on multiple fronts. Rather, under such conditions, a commander worthy of his or her post must know how to assess the strength of all hostile forces and correctly identify not only which of these to be the primary enemy at any given moment but also how to position his or her forces relative to future enemies in the short term in order to carry out simultaneous offensive actions against a common enemy. Under conditions of relative weakness, the inability of a revolutionary army to take advantage of the conflicts between its enemies poses not merely the risk of further isolation but absolute annihilation as the dominant force, cognizant of the steadfastness of the revolutionaries, will most certainly propose to the half-hearted and inconsistent reformist elements an alliance with which to crush the revolutionaries in exchange for petty reforms or administrative posts.
The cadre of a revolutionary Party constitute the field generals of the proletarian army and no Marxist education would be complete without a thorough assimilation of military science.
Some Concluding Remarks on the Dialectics of mass workers’ organizations
While the law of transformation of quantity into quality (and vice versa) is adequate for understanding the changes of a given phenomenon, in order to understanding more complex, interconnected phenomena, such as the interaction of multiple bodies in motion or development, it is necessary to more fully integrate dialectical thinking into one’s analysis.
Workers’ unions are a particular social form which arose from the class struggle. (They are not the only social form to develop from the class struggle and thus do not constitute the only arena in which Marxists engage in struggles to elevate the class consciousness of the workers. Indeed, they may not at all times even constitute the primary arena of class struggle. I have dealt with other social forms and their relation to trade unions elsewhere.)
Precisely because workers’ unions emerged as mass organizations from within capitalist society, they contained from their very origins contradictory internal tendencies whose interaction propels their development (progressive, regressive) over time. However, the contradictory movement of workers’ unions does not take place in a vacuum. Rather, the particular development (motion) of workers’ unions is in large part conditioned by the development of the general class struggle, on the one hand, which exerts influence over all of the social forms that arise from it, and upon which these individual, emergent social forms in turn exert reciprocal though secondary influence, as well as, on the other, the growth of productive forces. From the standpoint of Marxist dialectics, causalitycan only be understood as the reciprocal determination of bodies in motion upon one another.
As such, workers’ unions have a complex history in which, as mass organizations, they too undergo important modifications in form. For example, the old craft unions that emerged out of the early age of capitalist production contained a progressive element insofar as the organization of skilled laborers constituted the recognition of common class interests as well as the need for a common defense. Yet, their conservative side lay in the closed character of this type of organization, which was built on the narrow basis of preserving the specific bargaining power of craftsmen on the labor market as well as resisting the erosive effect on their commodity labor power exerted by the increasing introduction of machines in manufacture. This, by the main, defined the conservative politics of these organizations.
The further development of capitalist industry undermined the material basis for this narrow type of worker organization. Thus, after a complex and contradictory process of interaction between the economic development and the internal, contradictory social and political forces within this specific organizational type (craft unionism), industrial unionism (broad-based trade unions) supplanted craft unions as the primary type of mass worker organization; one in which skilled (although in many sectors increasingly experiencing a relative de-skilling as a consequence of technological development) and unskilled labor came to be jointly organized. This “new” unionism, wherever it prevailed, represented the “political” victory of the mass of unskilled laborers integrated into capitalist industry as a consequence of the wide-scale introduction of modern machinery.
For Marxists, however, “supplanting” (negation) does not mean the complete elimination of the old form. On the one hand, wherever the material conditions for this old form persisted, there was not only an attempt to organize along the old basis but also a political struggle between the old guard of craft unionism and those that promoted the generalization of the new type of worker organization. (The combined and uneven development of capitalism also applies to industries or economic sectors within a given capitalist state.) At the same time, the new form that emerges, retains in essence those progressive components of the old one compatible with the new material conditions, however, not in the same way.
To make this concrete, the long evolution of the AFL in the United States can only be understood as the transitory link between the pinnacle of craft unionism through successive intermediate stages up to the broader vision articulated by the most farsighted trade-union activists within the CIO. In other words, it was but a link between the old, dispersed craft unions and the new type of mass workers’ organization representing the broadest layers of the working class represented by the most advanced militants in the early CIO.
The new trade unions, in their turn, also harbored inherent contradictions. The progressive step forward in terms of “massification” under conditions of expanded industrialization – combined with the conscious intervention of socialist politics in many countries – invariably produced the need for a stable leadership suited for such large social organisms embracing workers nationally. Wherever there was a waning in the revolutionary current more broadly, this new union leadership, which erected itself above the mass of rank-and-file workers, fossilized into a bureaucratic caste with interests increasingly divorced from, and eventually in direct opposition to, its membership.
The more contemporary political struggles within industrial trade unions, which are specific forms of class struggle, must be understood in the context of the expanded accumulation of constant capital (which increasingly replaces living labor while producing a surplus of capital requiring export for valorization), the direct pressure exerted by imperialist capital endowed with ever greater mobility and capacity to “offshore” production, the conscious policy of the ruling class to politically coopt critical layers of organized workers in strategic industries that remain within national borders, etc. These forces magnify all of the conservative social and political elements inherent within industrial unions organized on the basis of the nation state to the point of rendering their politics reactionary.
However, those that see this as “proof” that workers’ unions in general are no longer arenas of revolutionary struggle, that they can offer nothing progressive to workers, etc., and thus elevate the assertion that revolutionary tactics are defined by whether or not they are conducted within or outside a given structure (trade union) to that of a “principle,” not only fail to see that the real process underway is one in which the material basis for this old form of the workers’ mass organizations has been eroded by economic development itself, but also, and this is the critical point, that this process itself contains within it the very solution to the problem.
Just as capitalist production can no longer be conceived within the narrow bounds of the nation state, the mass organizations of the working class, contemporary trade unions, must also transcend these limits both in terms of organizational structure and the slogans revolutionaries raise within them to politically educate the rank-and-file. (There is a secondary point related to the merging of the bureaucratic union apparatus with the capitalist State and the reorientation of many contemporary unions along “social justice” lines. While the subordination of union bureaucrats to bourgeois politicians severely limits the scope of potential reforms resulting from the increased political activity of unionized labor and mobilization of rank-and-file workers for bourgeois electoral purposes, the phenomenon itself marks a significant transcending of the narrow bounds of economic struggle that defined trade unionism for several generations. “Social justice” unionism is nothing more than the spontaneous form of politicization that takes places among unionized workers denied the revolutionary education and perspective of Marxist cadre.)
As such, the nationalist orientation and structure of contemporary workers’ organizations forms the outer limit of their politics. The progressive transcending of these limits requires the conscious political intervention of revolutionaries directing the rank-and-file towards overcoming the narrow confines of nationalism. It is worth noting, in this connection, that the strategists of imperialism, who have on more than one occasion proven themselves more “dialectical” than revolutionaries, have already attempted to benefit from this tendency by dispatching their subalterns from within the union bureaucracies throughout the new centers of industrialization in developing economies. Indeed, state-sponsored diplomatic missions from imperialist countries abroad now regularly include reactionary union leaders.
It should be clear, as such, that the new “trade unions” (I am forced to use this term as language, so far as I am aware, has not caught up with the material forces propelling this phenomenon) will (re)develop or organize on an international basis. This is why transitional slogans like “sliding scale of wages” must be modified to include the international indexation of wages as a means of highlighting the common class interests of workers in imperialist and low wage peripheral countries pitted against each other.
It must be added, this complex and contradictory process is taking place at the same time that the increased casualization of work within imperialist countries forces upon hitherto unorganized workers, who still constitute the vast majority of the proletariat even in advanced capitalist countries, the need for and desire to organize for self preservation. One official estimate puts the total workforce within the so-called “gig economy” in the United States at 55 million. These workers not only constitute a significant mass of laborers without even the most basic form of organization forced to directly toil under conditions of extreme atomization and precarization, but also exert negative increased pressure on organized labor. This is precisely why the calls for old-form trade unions persist where the conditions for them to re-emerge exist at the same time that the germs of new types of mass organizations develop. Under current conditions, i.e. without the systematic intervention of Marxist revolutionaries, it is likely, at least in the short term, that the efforts to develop new basic organizations by these workers be characterized by an initial impulse to simply replicate the old bureaucratic forms of existing trade union organizations.
Precisely for these reasons, in those economic sectors in which hitherto unorganized workers are increasingly compelled to seek out forms of organization in the vein of the old trade unions, there must be a systematic effort to educate workers so as to not merely replicate the old forms, but assimilate all of the lessons acquired through bitter experience as well as the progressive content of the embryonic forms of unionism. This is true both with the imperialist centers as well as in those areas where imperialist capital has more recently relocated. The assertion, based on relative declines in membership in countries like the US, France, etc., that trade unions are like dinosaurs en route to distinction, fails to understand that in every country to which the leading sectors of capital have relocated, expanded proletarianization was followed by struggles for unionization along with the intensification of class struggles.
This can be verified empirically across key industries (e.g. auto production). For example, massive US investment in European automobile production, along with the modernization and consolidation of European firms, during the 1950s resulted in intense class struggles within this sphere by the late 1960s and early 1970s. The subsequent investment of corresponding capital in places like Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, Mexico, and now India, produced a similar effect, albeit in altered forms and at rhythms corresponding to local conditions.
I have not gone into any details regarding the internal class struggle that takes place within these mass organizations of the working class for obvious reasons. Suffice it to say that these struggles constitute the internal engine propelling their particular development at the same time that said development is itself conditioned by more general objective forces. Yet, this “internal” process, the political struggle within unions, to the extent that these are guided by a scientific understanding of all forces at play, are the critical factor in either accelerating progressive transformations or retarding development.
The leading role of communists within the old trade unions in the US during the 30’s evidences this in a two-fold manner. Their fight to accelerate the victory of broader “industrial” unionism over the old forms represented a step forward. Yet, their circumscription of the struggle within national bounds, itself a consequence of broader forces, did not enable them to anticipate in an organizational sense how the subsequent (really ongoing) international expansion of capital, along with the transformations in the labor process itself, would quickly undermine the material basis for newly formed industrial unions.
In the same way, one must analyze to what extent the previous appraisals made by political organizations during the 70s (e.g. Workers League) in places like the US correctly understood their tasks related to trade unions.
The analysis that I have offered is by no means complete; it is but a sketch. Serious discussion among comrades in arms should seek to consistently improve the analysis through dialectical logic. Yet, even in its incomplete form, it illustrates both the demands of dialectics and the method of analysis (cognition) required of revolutionaries.
Marxists do not make a fetish of trade unions. Nor do we ascribe to them an inherently revolutionary character, particularly under non revolutionary conditions. Trade unions are not eternal. Rather, they are historically transitory phenomena that, as a consequence of their internal contradictions and complex relation to other social phenomena as well as the material basis of society, must pass through successive phases of dialectical development, i.e. the overcoming of negative internal elements, leading to higher forms. Did Marx not submit to a devastating critique the metaphysical view of Proudhon for his attempt to eliminate the negative (bad) side of a given phenomenon?
As long as masses of workers are compelled to organize, or remain within, these particular social forms – and they will be compelled to do so as long as capitalist exploitation exists – trade unions or similar organizations will constitute an important arena of class struggle within which Marxists must engage; and all the more so under conditions of general capitalist decay and the ascent of political reaction.
The superseding of the narrow limits of contemporary trade unions, as well as the emancipation from the deleterious effects on the consciousness of workers exerted by the capitalist class through its agents within these organizations, will only be accomplished as a result of the enlightening influence of socialist class consciousness, of Marxism, taking root among significant sections of the working class, including those currently organized within trade unions. The means through which this is achieved is the Party.
Trade union membership in various countries:
Russia 1920 – 4 million + (Lenin, Left-wing Communism) out of approximate population of 100 – 120 million.
“In its work, the Party relies directly on the trade unions, which, according to the data of the last congress (April 1920), now have a membership of over four million and are formally non–Party. Actually, all the directing bodies of the vast majority of the unions, and primarily, of course, of the all-Russia general trade union centre or bureau (the All-Russia Central Council of Trade Unions), are made up of Communists and carry out all the directives of the Party. Thus, on the whole, we have a formally non-communist, flexible and relatively wide and very powerful proletarian apparatus, by means of which the Party is closely linked up with the class and the masses, and by means of which, under the leadership of the Party, the class dictatorship is exercised. Without close contacts with the trade unions, and without their energetic support and devoted efforts, not only in economic, but also in military affairs, it would of course have been impossible for us to govern the country and to maintain the dictatorship for two and a half months, let alone two and a half years. In practice, these very close contacts naturally call for highly complex and diversified work in the form of propaganda, agitation, timely and frequent conferences, not only with the leading trade union workers, but with influential trade union workers generally; they call for a determined struggle against the Mensheviks, who still have a certain though very small following to whom they teach all kinds of counter-revolutionary machinations, ranging from an ideological defence of (bourgeois) democracy and the preaching that the trade unions should be “independent” (independent of proletarian state power!) to sabotage of proletarian discipline, etc., etc. . .
We can (and must) begin to build socialism, not with abstract human material, or with human material specially prepared by us, but with the human material bequeathed to us by capitalism . . .
We are waging a struggle against the “labour aristocracy” in the name of the masses of the workers and in order to win them over to our side; we are waging the struggle against the opportunist and social-chauvinist leaders in order to win the working class over to our side. It would be absurd to forget this most elementary and most self-evident truth. Yet it is this very absurdity that the German “Left” Communists perpetrate when, because of the reactionary and counter-revolutionary character of the trade union top leadership, they jump to the conclusion that . . . we must withdraw from the trade unions, refuse to work in them, and create new and artificial forms of labour organisation! This is so unpardonable a blunder that it is tantamount to the greatest service Communists could render the bourgeoisie . . .
These men, the “leaders” of opportunism, will no doubt resort to every device of bourgeois diplomacy and to the aid of bourgeois governments, the clergy, the police and the courts, to keep Communists out of the trade unions, oust them by every means, make their work in the trade unions as unpleasant as possible, and insult, bait and persecute them. We must be able to stand up to all this, agree to make any sacrifice, and even—if need be—to resort to various stratagems, artifices and illegal methods, to evasions and subterfuges, as long as we get into the trade unions, remain in them, and carry on communist work within them at all costs. Under tsarism we had no “legal opportunities” whatsoever until 1905. However, when Zubatov, agent of the secret police, organised Black-Hundred workers’ assemblies and workingmen’s societies for the purpose of trapping revolutionaries and combating them, we sent members of our Party to these assemblies and into these societies (I personally remember one of them, Comrade Babushkin, a leading St. Petersburg factory worker, shot by order of the tsar’s generals in 1906). They established contacts with the masses, were able to carry on their agitation, and succeeded in wresting workers from the influence of Zubatov’s agents.”
Germany – Deutscher Gewerkschaffsbund) 6 million (2.2 M IG Metall, 2 M Ver.di)
84M current population – native pop growth stalled, low birth rate combined with aging population; majority pop. growth due to immigrants (Turkey, Syria, Poland, Russia) bigger families and younger.
France – Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (875K); Confédération Générale du Travail (700K); Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens (150K); Force Ouvriére (300K) 1970s 20% à 2020s 10% union membership
1980 55M à 2020 67M (immigrant population)
Native born vs. Immigrant (North African)
High skilled vs. Blue collar
United States – AFL-CIO + 14.6M unionized (10.3%)
AFT – 1.7M; SEIU – 2M; UAW – 400K; IL/ILWU – 100K; CWU – 190K; Teamsters – 1.4M
1917-11% 1938-23.9% 1960-30.7% 1980-23.6%
1921-17.6% 1941-25.4% 1965-28.6% 1985-19%
1923-11.7% 1945-33.4% 1968-28.6% 1990-16.7%
1929-10.1% 1949-29.6% 1970-27.9% 1995-15.3%
1933-9.5% 1955-32.9% 1975-25.7% 2000-13.5%
2019 – Public sector 33.6%; Private 6.2% / Health, education, etc. 33% / Blacks most likely to be unionized viz. whites/Latinos (rising but questions of legal status)
20%+workers in so-called “gig” economy
35% of workforce in US are millennials ages 23 – 38 yrs. old. Born in 1980s/1990s.
Additional notes on the trade union question
I. The 1980s does not represent a qualitative change in the degeneration of trade unions from the standpoint of general historical experience.
- The 1970s/80s was a turning point in the development of US capitalism as the long period of seemingly uninterrupted expansion after WWII came to an end and other capitalist powers began to compete for international markets.
- Marxists had already pointed out the reactionary tendencies within the trade union movement, the objective basis of the labor aristocracy that controls them, as well as the integration of union bureaucracies into the capitalist state as these agents of capital within the labor movement increasingly worked openly to suppress class struggle and repress worker opposition e.g. Lenin (1920), Trotsky (1929, 1933), Gramsci (1921). One need only change names and dates contained in these writings and it would not be an exaggeration to point out that the descriptions provided would accurately detail what is seen today among union bureaucrats.
II. It is incorrect to ascribe to trade unions the role of “organs of revolution” as is done implicitly by those that justify abstentionism on the grounds of the betrayal of bureaucrats/labor aristocracy.
- The inherent function of trade unions is circumscribed within the framework of buying and selling labor power AS WELL AS the acceptance of capitalist control over labor. The writings of Gramsci on the factory takeover movement of 1920, the quid pro quo of legal recognition of unions, etc. make this point.
- Both Trotsky and Gramsci speak of leadership “rising above a class” and the latter specifically emphasizes legal recognition/obeying of contracts in exchange for policing workers done by union bureaucrats.
III. Posing of trade union question exclusively in terms of:
- Examples of betrayals by bureaucracy;
- Trade Unions “not worker organizations” owing to political conduct are all one-sided!
- Betrayal of union bureaucrats has objective logic/follows objective interests of labor aristocracy aligned to capitalist class in antagonism with objective interests of rank-and-file – therefore requires struggle;
- Trade unions are contradictory: they are “workers’ organizations” in terms of social base, i.e. millions of workers that adhere to them, and “bourgeois” in terms of political conduct, i.e. alliance forged between trade union leaders and capitalist class – therefore requires struggle.
IV. It is often the case that a wrong Party policy is used to justify abstention from trade union work.
- Propaganda appeals to trade union leaders to form workers’ party/break from bourgeois political party is wrong;
- Propaganda appeals “from outside of unions” for workers to break from union bosses without live cadre within, leading struggle against bureaucrats and recruiting best members of the working class within unions to the Party is wrong. (See what Lenin says in Left-wing communism . . . regarding Bolshevik policy towards reactionary trade union/worker assemblies organized by czarists: “ . . . we sent members of our Party to these assemblies and into these societies . . . They established contacts with the masses, were able to carry on their agitation, and succeeded in wresting workers from the influence of Zubatov’s agents.”
- Propaganda is important but must be complemented by live cadre because it typically only reaches and convinces certain sections of the working class (and radicalized students, petty-bourgeois elements).
V. The position that rank-and-file committees, workers’ councils, etc. are the solution to trade union degeneration ignores the fact that all working-class organizations are susceptible to the same degenerative pressures e.g. German worker councils, anarcho-syndicalist tendencies in Italy, Spain, cooperatives in Spain, Argentina, etc.
VI. The position that rejects on principle “united front” tactics ignores the fact that every trade union, mass worker organization, is a form of “united front,” i.e. an alliance between revolutionary and reformist elements, among others, within the working class and that every revolutionary Party must learn how to carry out its work within these spaces and develop tactics that pull workers increasingly towards its positions and program.
- One cannot confuse the Party – as an organization that combines “concentration” of ideologically advanced elements closed off from and in opposition to reformists with widespread physical “dissemination” of cadre working to advance revolutionary positions within mass organizations/spheres that include reformists – and the mass organizations of the working class, which are open to all tendencies.
- Even when a Party decides to “open up” to develop a mass base, it must organize to retain ideological cohesion and work incessantly against watering down of program.
- Trotsky clear that it is a grave error to counterpose “real” trade unions to “abstract” workers’ councils (which does not mean that we do not introduce the slogan) especially when we do not have real influence in trade unions/among masses (see below)
- Not a question of either/or;
- Real historical experience shows that workers’ councils grow out of trade union/mass worker struggles – from the contradictions within them (e.g. Russia – strike committees – Germany, Italy, Spain); in other words, when workers increasingly and in more radical ways oppose the union bureaucracies, when they grow intolerant of betrayals, when they are ready to attack their own “leaders” with pitch forks. This is a reflection of mass consciousness moving beyond narrow trade unionism – dialectics: new determination (Hegel’s language) developing out of previous determination, their coexistence and mutual conditioning. See Science of Logic
- The “negation” of trade unions, or any similar, mass type of organization, whatever their particular form, by workers’ councils (shop committees are elementary, local form of workers’ councils) does NOT mean that unions are annihilated or destroyed. “Negation” for a Marxist does not mean the same as thing as how it is understood in common language. For a Marxist, that which is “negated” isn’t destroyed, but rather it is overcome, it is “preserved” in an altered (higher) form. This is what Hegel calls “sublation” (aufheben in German). In fact, Hegel stresses “self-sublation” where a new determination emerges out of the contradictions within a previous one.
- Engels once referred to above as the “kernel of the whole thing,” the negation of the negation, or, to use Hegel’s language, “aufhebung” (sublation = at one in the same time negating and preserving). SEP “dialectics” cut off further development of the old determination, then introduces a new one from without as the product of sheer revolutionary will, i.e. rank-and-file committees under the aegis of the Party through its ardent appeals. Engels goes further when he says, “I should not only negate, but also in turn sublate the negation” which is only possible when the characteristic of the specific thing, its nature, is correctly understood. Example of the grain in Anti-Duhring.
- Hegel, continues – New and old determinations coexist and mutually condition each other. Also, new determinations (e.g. social form such as a workers’ councils) preserves parts of previous determination (e.g. trade union). This unity of negation and preservation is what gives the new form its superior and more comprehensive character.
- There is a reason why during decisive moments of struggle Lenin (and Trotsky) stressed the study of dialectics. Not a coincidence!!!!
- To define a contemporary trade union in a one-sided way (i.e. not a workers’ organization), leads to a particular practical orientation: there is nothing here for a Marxist. But, to define a trade union in a dialectical or contradictory way (i.e. social base composed of workers/political conduct entirely “bourgeois”) leads to an entirely different understanding of practical tasks.
VIII. What the so-called Trotskyists must learn from Trotsky:
- Party = proletariat as it should be. Trade Unions = proletariat as it actually exists. The correct policy is to win influence over the working class (majority) through mass organizations (e.g. trade unions). The question is NOT posed as institutional reform of unions under capitalism or the transformation of unions into organs of revolution.
- Trotsky makes explicit point (warning!) against attempt during non-revolutionary crisis/period (i.e. when the question of taking power is on the immediate order of the day) to convert mass organizations e.g. unions into auxiliaries of the Party, as this limits their sphere of influence.
- The decay of British trade unions was linked to the decline of British capitalism: “Capitalism can only maintain itself by lowering the standard of living . . .” The trade union bureaucracy historically addresses the problem in its own interests against those of the rank-and-file. The ideological liberation of rank-and-file from the bureaucracy is the “most important” task of the Party.
- Trotsky makes severe critique of the Comintern policy of setting up parallel (only for revolutionary workers) trade unions: “No bigger favor” for the ruling class. This separates advanced minority from backward majority. He also describes as “folly” attempt to “skip over” or replace trade unions with ready-made shop committees, councils, soviets, etc., i.e. “organizational experiments.” “It is insufficient to show the masses a new address. It is necessary to find them where they are” and lead them.
- The argument that it is impossible to work in trade unions due to the bureaucratic repression = we cannot struggle at all because of State repression. The union bureaucracy is part of the State! We have to learn how to work: systematic, conspiratorial, common language, etc.
- Rejects “playing at” slogan of workers’ councils by/while neglecting real influence in trade unions: “Counter posing real, existing trade unions without influence in them to the abstraction of councils because it denies the possibility of preparing ground for workers’ councils.”
- The party program is developed on the basis of the real, objective situation (outlines objective tasks). The program is an instrument to overcome the subjective backwardness of workers. However, how to present the Program (how to use it as a pedagogical tool?) is a question of mass psychology and pedagogy. The masses learn “gradually, on basis of experiences through several stages of struggle” the need for a new leadership. The masses need cadre in place to learn from experiences!!!!
- Party = Program + Organization + Tactics
IX. The SEP position on trade unions is not only based on a one-sided definition (this is actually enough to merit a serious reconsideration but Marxists in the US have never seriously studied dialectics so this must be explained in a different way), it is also muddled. Here is a passage from the Statement of Principles (POINT 31): “The Socialist Equality Party calls for a rebellion against and break with these corrupt organizations, which do not represent the working class. This does not mean that the SEP abstains from working inside such organizations, to the extent that such activity is required to gain access to and assist the workers jointly oppressed by their employers and the union functionaries. But the SEP conducts such work in the basis of a revolutionary perspective, encouraging at every point the formation of new independent organizations – such as factory and workplace committees – that truly represent the interests of the rank-and-file workers and are subject to democratic control.”
Translation- First part: Break with these organizations; Second part: we (SEP) only (“But” is used to insert a conditional clause that negates the previous one formulated in negative language “This does not mean that the SEP abstains from working inside such organizations”) work within them (to an admittedly limited extent) for the purpose of encouraging workers to form new organizations outside of them. What does this mean? It is either muddled or is a disguised call to abstain from real work while recognizing the utterly infantile character of this position.
In practice, however, this is of secondary importance because there is overwhelming evidence from the WSWS that the SEP constantly equates (conflates) the union bureaucracy with the whole union.
 Indeed, the SEP’s electoral campaigns for state and federal offices are not carried out in an effort to “reform” bourgeois parliamentarianism, but rather, to politically educate the working classes. In any event, an electoral victory by revolutionary socialists, however implausible such a scenario may appear at first glance, would require a strategic orientation grounded in the recognition of the need to use such minor or limited conquests as a platform for further political gains.
 “The first thing that strikes us in considering matter in motion is the interconnection of the individual motions of separate bodies, their being determined by one another.” See F. Engels Dialectics of Nature
 Uber and Lyft drivers, InstaCart workers, Amazon contract workers, etc., that are all currently struggling to conquer the most basic form of union organization in the US, have testified to the ability of corporations within this “new” economy to not only mobilize the State apparatus and consumers against them, e.g. Proposition 22 in California, but also to brazenly “flood the labor market” to both depress wages and impose increasingly brutal working conditions on them.
 “From the moment the process of the dialectic movement is reduced to the simple process of opposing good to bad, and of administering one category as an antidote to another, the categories are deprived of all spontaneity . . . There is no longer any dialectics but only, at the most, absolutely pure morality . . . It is the bad side that produces the movement which makes history, by providing a struggle.” See K. Marx, Poverty of Philosophy.