First Published: Forward to the Party! Struggle for the Party!, No. 1, [n.d.].
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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To take the stand of the working class–this is something that as communists we constantly strive for in everything we do. But how to do that, how to uphold the outlook of the proletariat is no sure thing, especially since there has been, for so long, no vanguard party of the working class, and because of that, many of us have come to Marxism-Leninism from the “movement,” bringing with us enough petty-bourgeois baggage to fill a small luxury liner.
But we have made advances, and these advances have come as a result of us going to the workers, learning from them and deepening our understanding of what Marxism-Leninism applied to the concrete conditions of this country at this time means.
The main work our collective is doing, the work in basic steel, has reflected this advancement. But this hasn’t come without a lot of struggle and a lot of getting rid of wrong ideas. And what we’ve found is that when our ideas didn’t correspond with reality, the masses will let us know about it, they’ll be telling us about it all the time, if we’re willing to listen and learn from them.
As May Day of last year approached, those of us in the RU, the active and advanced workers that were working closely with us and other revolutionary-minded people were going out all over the city building for May Day. Those of us working in the mills had begun to do agitation around May Day, stressing how the working class has to lead the struggle against all oppression, how May Day was a time when the working class puts out its demands for the coming year as well as their long range demands.
And last year our work in the steel industry was an important thrust of May Day, with the event being held in the neighborhood right by the mills and the fight against the no-strike deal, the ENA, being an important part of the march and rally.
While this was going on, we were in the process of trying to get a better understanding of what our experience in the mills had been, the strengths and weaknesses of our work there and how to best move it forward. We had been active in some of the struggles going on, had won some amount of respect from some of the advanced and intermediate workers. But we really weren’t linking these struggles to others that the working class was taking up, helping to raise the consciousness of the workers and developing and training communists from among the most advanced workers.
In talking about these errors that we were making we talked about making sure we didn’t get “bogged down” in the struggles that were going on in the mills. And there was a lot of struggle going on.
At that time the capitalists were in the midst of a big productivity drive. Guys were getting sent home for looking the wrong way, were getting fired for the least little thing, accidents and serious injuries were increasing rapidly and the union leadership was spending most of their time telling us what we were doing wrong and that we all better watch our step.
In the face of all that the workers were fighting back in various ways. In the locker rooms after a shift, spontaneous meetings took place, petitions were drawn up, taken out and signed by broad numbers of workers, and in several cases a number of workers tried to change things themselves by punching out some of the foremen.
In one of the mills we tried to take up the struggle there, but didn’t put forward anything other than calling for more and more meetings. We didn’t really understand that the working class learns through struggle. We made both right and left errors around this. On the one hand, saying that the workers weren’t ready to struggle, that all we could do is call more meetings until some huge number of workers were ready to do something. On the other hand, figuring that if we could just get a whole bunch of workers in a room together, we could lay out a line and move the workers close to revolution.
As we were trying to build for May Day, the workers in one shop wrote up a petition and took it out and got about a hundred people to sign it around “Muzzling Malkowski,” the assistant general foreman, and some of the other harassment going on in the shop. At that time we thought that we didn’t have time to get involved in that, that we should go to the more active workers there and get them to see the importance of May Day.
When we talked to them, they wanted us to get involved in the struggle at the shop, and help provide some leadership for it. They wanted to fight the productivity drive, discrimination, the ENA and the rotten union leadership. What we told them is that we wanted to fight this too, and if they would only get involved with May Day and help build the overall struggle, it would move forward the struggle in the shop.
Actually, in essence it came down to saying, “later for your struggle. Get involved with May Day and maybe later we could do something about these day to day struggles.” In reality, if we’d have gone into that struggle, help provide leadership for it, link it up with the other struggles that the class was waging and May Day, we could have really made a breakthrough in the work in the mill and in building a powerful May Day.
But we hadn’t yet understood the importance of the exploitation and oppression that the working class suffers daily, and the importance of what the working class learns through their struggle against this. We still tended to look at things through the eyes of the “movement.”
These couple of examples generally characterized our work around May Day, and consequently, while it was an advance overall and a spirited and militant event, only a small number of workers came out from the mills. But out of this, and out of struggling with and learning from other members of the RU, we really began to see more clearly the importance and the relationship between the battles that the working class is fighting every day and the war against the bourgeoisie.
We were able to do this because, from the beginning, even though our work contained many errors, we tried to base ourselves on the working class. While some forces in the movement were busy chasing after trade union leaders, begging these “reformers” to help them “move these backward workers to the left,” and while others were issuing “proclamations” at the gates while making sure not to get their hands too dirty, we understood that it was the proletariat that was key, that was the only thoroughly revolutionary class, the only class that as a class could grasp and apply Marxism-Leninism.
Since that time we have been making a lot of advances around our work in the mills. Through studying and through learning from the working class we have been better able to apply Marxism-Leninism, build and lead struggle and build greater multinational unity.
Through the course of uniting with various struggles that have broken out in the different mills and shops in the plant, we’ve been able to pull together a plant-wide organization that bases itself on the struggles that steelworkers are presently fighting and links them up with other important struggles of the working class. At the same time we’ve been much bolder at taking up the question of developing communists from among the workers and have made advances in this.
We have still much to learn and much incorrect thinking to rid ourselves of. But if we stand with the working class, if we unite with them and help give leadership to the struggles that they are already waging day in and day out, we will strengthen our class, weaken the enemy and move closer to revolution. In looking at the importance of these struggles, the Draft Programme correctly points out:
In these struggles, the workers begin to throw off the foot of the employer from their necks, to raise their heads. And in raising their heads they are able to see farther and more clearly. The face of the enemy and the forces fighting him begin to come into sharper focus. This gives rise to vigorous discussion among the workers not only about every question of the immediate struggle but also about events throughout society and the world. Through all this the workers begin to see themselves as more than mere individuals, but as members of a class, locked in warfare with me opposing class of employers.
At the present time, in looking at our struggle, two things are clear. One, that the “radical” movement of the 60s, the movement of the old period; is fading into the twilight. But secondly, and most importantly, the working class today is coming forward–as a social force toward the building of a revolutionary communist party; in the struggle to lead the fight against the oppression it along with other classes and strata in society suffer at the hands of the capitalist system, and as a class to lead its allies in overthrowing the capitalist system and build a new society.