We translated a substantial article by comrades of the Wildcat collective about the situation in the US – please read it here. The comrade who edited the final version wrote down his thoughts, which we share below. For a summary of the lastest issue of Wildcat magazine and thoughts on collective work, please follow this link.
The immediate problems facing the proletariat in USA will differ in certain ways from their class comrades elsewhere on the globe. The same issue, of course, applies to sections of our class in every other part of the world. Fortunately, previous generations of revolutionaries have left us insights that on occasions help us to not “reinvent the wheel”. In the course of efforts to work towards a framework for developing international cooperation between conscious revolutionaries (a task which some 40 years later needs to be addressed with renewed vigour) Noel Ignatiev of the Sojourner Truth Organization wrote an “Introduction to the United States – An Autonomist Political History” The following paragraph is from that document. It gives a very useful perspective for discussion around the Wildcat article and the wide range of topics it covers.
The task of proletarian revolutionaries is to seek out and discover those aspects of proletarian activity which foreshadow the future society, which manifest the tendency of the proletarians to constitute themselves as a ruling class, to link these sporadic activities into a coherent social bloc that exists and struggles under capitalism without accepting the permanency of capitalism, and to transform the consciousness of the participants through the criticism of bourgeois ideas as they exist within the working class.
Bessemer and the Trade Unions
It is clear that the article was written before the outcome of the ballot for unionisation at the Amazon plant in Bessemer. We have already commented on that process here:
… It [the approach of “the Left”] also conflates ‘workers’ with ‘unions’ and ‘union strategy’, when they are normally quite separate things. This isn’t to say that workers themselves don’t involve themselves in union activity, but the Bessemer campaign was so obviously a top-down election exercise, with workers’ voices largely absent, that it should have been fine to voice critical thoughts on the union strategy without undermining workers’ efforts within it. It might have even opened up some space within the union for workers to question the union strategy, which, amongst all the hype around this union drive, would probably have been quite difficult.
This is easier to do if we’re all just speaking to each other as workers in struggle. But all too often, the left is seen as a separate political force, that finds itself tiptoeing around workers and unions as if they have the monopoly on economic struggles and ‘we left politicos’ can’t tread on their toes. We shouldn’t prop up this false division between the so-called left (who supposedly only engage in ‘political’ struggle) and the workers (who only supposedly engage in ‘economic’ struggle) because it leads to a skewed idea of who controls what, as well as a hierarchy about who should be engaging in what.
The conflict between the Left’s devotion to the Trade Unions and the needs of the working class to self-organise is coming to the fore not just in America but elsewhere. In Britain the comrades of HealthWorkersUnited have noted the following in response to the state’s determination to maintain austerity-level wages :-
We have to build our own structures on the hospital level, e.g. assemblies or committees in which all workers can participate on an equal level – disregarding profession or union membership. These assemblies should make the decision about how to lead the pay dispute, not some paid officials in some offices elsewhere. We have to form a wider coordination of these hospital-based structures beyond the trust level. If the unions support us, great – if not, we have to go it alone. This seems difficult, but workers have shown, even before the invention of the internet and mobile phones that it is possible to coordinate on a wider level.
The document covers many aspects of the history and current situation around the class struggle in USA. For those less familiar with some of the topics it might be worth reading the document in chunks before revisiting the whole text. For that purpose we have slightly rejigged some of the headings in the text. You might find it useful to treat the two sections on the Militias and the events on January 6th as a separate mini-article.
“The main enemy is at home” is always a useful understanding whenever the ruling class try to mystify us with illusions about cross-class national interests mystify. Although the document is focussed on USA we know that it has been produced by comrades who are committed proletarian internationalists.
That shared internationalist approach stands in stark contrast to the reactionaries who portray the USA as “the great Satan” or those for whom anti-imperialism involves allying with the bosses of one state against the bosses of another existing or would-be state. In that light, and perhaps particularly for those of us outside the USA , some care needs to be taken with a couple of the sentences early in the document.
The first sentence, “The USA, as the world’s leading capitalist nation, is economically, politically and morally bankrupt” makes for a dramatic opening but its rhetoric risks being misleading. Although there are certainly deep seated structural problems it might be useful to offer two slightly sobering qualifiers.
Firstly, the problems confronting the US ruling class differ quantitatively rather than qualitatively from those confronting national bourgeoisies elsewhere. The pressure of the multiple crises have forced some such as Brazil and Hungary to move away from “democratic norms” while others have extended brazen state thuggery, for example in Myanmar, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Even in the heartlands of the Western European former metropolitan centre for global capitalism the very cohesion of the states are threatened. Spain and the “United Kingdom” are confronted by actual or increasing threats of disintegration. Most recently, in France there has been the open threat of intervention by the army.
Secondly, revolutionaries need to avoid any suggestion that the working class only needs to give “one more push”. Such views were often at least implicit amongst our predecessors at the start of the 50 years of crisis that the Wildcat article describes. The fact that global capitalism has ridden half a century of waves of crisis at the expense of the working class is an underlying feature “right here, right now” of the conditions of the “mutually contending classes” .
Also in the introduction, the sentence “The defeats of the (global) working class emanated from the US and affected the US working class the most” begs a number of questions. The view that our defeats (spread unevenly over the last half century) “emanated from the US” may be true in the sense that at the start and end of the 50 years USA was and is one of two contending great powers while for a good portion in the middle it was the sole “hegemon”. But that is not the whole picture.
The USA’s demolition of the post-war settlement in the form of the Bretton Woods agreement was certainly one of the signals of the start of the phase of crisis but must not be thought of as its cause. The structural contradictions embedded in the capitalist mode of production affect its development in every part of the world.
Having observed that the phrase about “emanated from the US” might benefit from further consideration, the second half of the sentence that the defeats of our class have “affected the US working class the most” seems very questionable. The US working class have suffered severely as the comrades point out but we have to ask – Across the world is it the section of the working class that has suffered the most?
Even on the most basic economic level regarding income levels or levels of unemployment the comrades would be hard pressed to justify that argument. However, we share their understanding that the crisis has generated many attacks on the working class. In this text we included a thumbnail, and far from comprehensive, list of the way our class is suffering in this phase of the crisis –
- The collapse of significant areas (including Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine) into arenas for “wars without end”
- Forced migration due to a variety of causes including: State repressive action (e.g. Rohingya), ecological degradation to the point of starvation (Sahel and sub-Saharan African), unemployment and/or gangsterism (Central America)
- Destruction of ecology on which indigenous peoples depend (e.g. Brazil)
- Increasing state repression (including China, Philippines, Venezuela, Turkey, Russia, Syria)
- Last, but clearly not least, the appearance of epidemics and pandemics flowing from worldwide capitalism’s incurably rapacious drive for profit.
Measured against any of the five bullet points it seems obvious the working class in the USA have not suffered more than their sisters and brothers elsewhere. No consolation, but perhaps a useful corrective.
Class struggle and the left
The comrades finish their article with a quote from Gore Vidal, “There is only one party in the United States, the party of the haves. And this party has two right wings. The Republicans and the Democrats.”
This is certainly an eye catching quote but needs treating with some caution. The quote from Mr Vidal may well be appropriate to highlight the lack of fundamental difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. Both parties exist to help prop up the continuation of capitalism. The same applies to Conservatives and Labour in Britain and to any other parliamentary type democracy where there is a “right” and “left” party. Despite the quip in the quote that Republicans and Democrats are in fact one party it is important to recognise that the reality of the ongoing existence of left parties remains a real part of the bourgeois “box of tricks”.
In reality there continues to be significant support from the left wing for the Democrats particularly around those such as the Democratic Socialists of America and others who were involved in the campaign to have Bernie Sanders chosen as the Democrat Presidential candidate. Of course in recent years the left wing in Britain became loyal supporters of the Labour Party while Jeremy Corbyn was its leader. We are clear that our “world outlook” has nothing in common with such movements. Unless we make that point clear we risk confusing ourselves and those we talk with.
Towards the end of the article the comrades ask “What class struggle?”. In the paragraph where they give the answer there is a splendidly concise comment “The connection between the capitalist structure of exploitation and the force that collectively makes society and can make a social revolution must be worked out anew in the confrontation with the movements and strikes”.
However that precision is harmed by the use of the self-applied concept “left” at the start and end of the paragraph. The paragraph starts by describing with the authors describing themselves as “leftists” (a word which is also used a number of times earlier in the document without explanation) and ends by expressing a desire for “the left [to be] no longer ” ‘clueless and disorganized’ “. Such an approach will lead many workers to conclude that the authors are somehow on the same spectrum as supporters of Lula, Corbyn, Sanders, Varoufakis et al. The authors know that they’re not as does those around AWW. To pretend that somehow the left and right wing of the bosses’ spectrum no longer exists or that the Revolutionary Minority is the real left is unnecessary mystification.
The article is not alone in presenting the issue less than clearly. As new militants are attracted to revolutionary understandings the need for debate around that terminology becomes increasingly sharp. There are many tags that we can use which avoid the “leftist” confusion and immediately encourage our contacts to understand that they are not talking with people who want capitalism run in a left-wing manner. In different circumstances comrades may choose to call themselves most simply “working class revolutionaries” – who we are and what we’re about in three words. Of course, many other formulations are perfectly valid. Terms such as “Supporters of workers self-organisation” or perhaps “Supporters of workers autonomy” also seem to make it clear both who we are and who we aren’t. Organisations and individual militants can, and will, find many other equally valid and informative descriptions. Using them, of course, does not remove the need for patient dialogue. if contacts want to place us on the left-right spectrum then perhaps “outside that spectrum” or at a pinch “beyond the left” or “ultra left” might feel comfortable. Generally, definitively abandoning the “L” word prevents an avoidable and sometimes irreparable misunderstanding.
Irrespective of the comments in this introduction, without doubt the comrades are to be wholeheartedly congratulated for the article and its impressive scope. It deserves to be read thoroughly, shared and discussed.