First Published: Workers’ Press, Vol. 3, No. 11, November 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The first part of this article dealt with the Revolutionary Communist Party’s (RCP) theoretical stand on the labor aristocracy in the US. We summarized their primary error as not seeing the connection between imperialism and the bribery of an entire section of the working class, and the significance of that bribery to the proletariat as a whole. What does this fundamental and critical error on this question lead to in practice?
Although the MLC has had limited experience with the RCP, it is important for us to analyze the experiences and the positions taken on this question. In the S.F. city strike of 1976, the MLC took a position that the demands and interests of the masses of city workers were sold down the drain by the union ’leaders’ to maintain the privileges of the higher paid city workers. We saw that the strike reflected the split in the working class, and under the circumstances of the strike there could be ’no support for the strike until the militant demands of poorer city workers are placed on the table for renegotiation alongside the craft’s demands (see MLC’s Proletarian Revolution and the Split in the Working Class, Appendix A). The RCP, in giving unconditional support to the striking craft workers, failed to see the differences between the higher-paid crafts and the mass of city workers and did not expose the outright treachery of the labor bureaucrats. They talked about how the city government was trying to “promote divisions within the class” (Revolution, May, 1976), as if no divisions already existed. They called all city workers to “honor all picket lines” ignoring the total sell-out contract shoved down the throats of the mass of lower-paid city workers, and forgetting that many of the craft workers had crossed the picket lines of the lower-paid workers only a year before. Overall, the RCP gave no communist analysis of the situation and did no exposure of the labor aristocracy as agents of bourgeois influence and ideology.
A recent experience with the RCP, the National Workers Organization in this case, during the shipyard contract struggle, revealed their “push the trade unions to the left” line. Instead of supporting a rank and file movement for a yardwide meeting of different crafts, the RCP opposed the plan, saying that “we have to push our union officials to do their job”, and “nobody is interested in that meeting”. They did nothing but spread illusions about the bribed trade union officials, and actually opposed genuine rank and file organizing. Lenin described the RCP perfectly: “Opportunism and social chauvinism have the same political content, namely class collaboration... confidence in the bourgeoisie, and lack of confidence in the proletariat.” (Lenin, Opportunism and the Collapse of the Second International, our emphasis).
The RCP’s position and practice around the steel workers elections in February, 1977 3 is a classic example of militant trade unionism and a blatant ignorance of the split in the working class. RCP not only urged steel workers to vote for Sadlowski, but also to work for Sadlowski in his campaign against the Abel machine. In the last issue of the Workers’ Press, we incorrectly criticized RCP’s position on Sadlowski as one of uncritical support. While RCP’s “criticism” of Sadlowski did exist, it was obscured by repeated praise of his campaign; objectively, coupled with the failure to inject socialist ideology into the struggle, this secured the grip of bourgeois ideology into the working class. Such “criticism” comes from advanced representatives of the petty bourgeoisie and is not communist criticism. To urge steel workers to vote is one thing, to urge them to organize for a reformer is another. RCP constantly talked about using the campaign to break the Abel machine and build the organization of the rank and file. Translated into the opportunism of the RCP, this meant channeling the activity of the advanced and active workers back into reformism, even after many had already seen through Sadlowski’s ’militance’ . (Even the RCP recognized that many advanced workers saw Sadlowski for what he was). This meant mobilizing forces to elect Sadlowski and to build up the RCP’s “Steel worker” ties. In doing such they failed to analyse the program of McBride or Sadlowski, the class stand of both, and how neither reflected the revolutionary demands of the proletariat in steel. They failed to formulate their own independent program of the steel workers by which to judge McBride, Sadlowski or any one running for office. RCP’s line on Sadlowski was not one of “support like a rope supports a hanged man” as Lenin taught us. Any temporary alliance which the masses of workers make with the labor aristocracy must be done from a position of strength. This means a strong rank and file movement with revolutionary leadership must exist. In such circumstances, the influence of the labor aristocracy can be successfully broken ar.d their role as social props understood by the masses of workers. At each turn in the struggle, the lower stratum must maintain its independence and initiative; whenever labor bureaucrats like Sadlowski oppose the interests of the broad masses, the movement must respond with all-sided exposures of these labor traitors. These conditions did not exist during the Sadlowski campaign.
The RCP, in its failure to analyze the labor aristocracy and the role it plays in US society, inevitably tails the spontaneous movement in situations like the Sadlowski campaign, and the S.F. city strike, reenforcing illusions of bourgeois democracy and reformism. The RCP sacrifices the independence of the masses of workers whom they claim to serve and represent, in exchange for another opportunity to worship the tail-ends of the masses in motion. In failing to recognize the objective function of the labor aristocracy as the fifth column of the bourgeoisie in the labor movement, in refusing to admit that the maintenance of the split in the working class is a conscious and necessary tactic of the monopoly capitalists, in shouting “unity of the whole working class” without exposing that the base of the sell-out union “leadership” is precisely within the privileged upper stratum of the proletariat, the RCP evades the concrete tasks of communist agitation and propaganda to the advanced workers in order to train them to recognize and fight for the interests of the masses of proletarians, the lower stratum.
Further, concerning the question of the labor aristocracy, Lenin urged communists to study the teachings of Marx and Engels on the question, “for they are the pivot of the tactics in the labor movement that are dictated by the objective conditions of the imperialist era.” (Lenin, Imperialism and the Split in Socialism, Collected Works, Vol. 23, pp’112-llM. The influence of the labor aristocracy in our movement must be exposed and the labor aristocrats expelled. The entire communist movement must deepen its understanding of the role and effect of this upper stratum, and how to combat its influence. Without explaining the split in the working class, and developing correct tactics in regards to that-split, communists cannot fulfill the task of “giving the spontaneous movement a planned and conscious character”, but surrenders instead the proletariat to the leadership of reformists and bourgeois ideology. The labor aristocracy is not just the trade union bureaucrats, but is an entire stratum of bureaucrats, highly paid craft, office, and technical workers, whose direct interests lie in the preservation of capitalism.
The MLC is trying to deepen its understanding of this Leninist teaching through practical application and through struggle against opportunist lines on the question. We urge other communist organizations and individuals, and advanced workers, to do the same and to put forward criticisms and comments of our position on the question.