First Published:The Forge Vol 5, No 35, October 17, 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The leaders of the revisionist In Struggle group announced in early September that from now on they would be concentrating their efforts among workers in “... the public sector... and among women, young people and oppressed minorities” (this and all quotes from IS in In Struggle, No. 216, p. 10). According to IS this is where you find “... the strata of workers and oppressed people which are the most exploited, most militant and most open to Marxist-Leninist ideas.”
In the last few years struggles by public sector workers, women, young workers and the oppressed nationalities have greatly increased. Communists consider it an essential task to work among these strata and win them over to the revolutionary cause.
IS claims to support this position. But at the same time it has eliminated the industrial proletariat from its list of priorities. Yet Marxists know very well it is essential to win over the industrial proletariat to the fight for socialism.
IS maintains the influence of the labour aristocracy over the industrial proletariat can’t be beaten. As a result it is supposedly more worthwhile to concentrate on other sectors, leaving industrial workers under the influence of the labour aristocracy.
This orientation won’t make a lot of difference to IS’s practice, since it has never managed to get anywhere in the big plants anyway. But it is a way for IS to attempt to disguise its vulgar revisionism as Marxism.
Communists consider the political education of the industrial proletariat to be a priority. Industrial workers are the most determined and best organized workers in the proletariat. This is an objective fact, determined by their place in social production. Industrial workers run the mines, the foundries, the mechanical engineering industry, transportation, manufacturing, and so on.
They are the ones who produce society’s wealth; they are most directly confronted with capitalist exploitation; they run the wheels of modern industry.
This is why Lenin wrote, “The main strength of the movement lies in the organization of the workers at the large factories... the large factories (and mills) contain not only the predominant part of the working class as regards numbers, but even more as regards influence, development, and fighting capacity. Every factory must be our fortress.” (Collected Works, Vol. 6, p. 241).
In all the developed countries the industrial proletariat is the decisive force in major social movements. Recent events in Poland have only confirmed this.
In Canada the industrial proletariat itself counts for 30 per cent of the population, making it the most numerous single sector of the Canadian people. (The proletariat as a whole, which includes commercial, agricultural, hospital, and bank workers, etc., makes up about 65 per cent of the population. See the Program of the WCP, pp. 37-39.)
Historically the industrial proletariat has always marched at the head of the great struggles against the capitalist class: during the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, during the struggles to build unions in the ’30s, during the 1976 general strike against wage controls.
This militancy continues today. Industrial workers continue to wage hard struggles. The strikes at Reynold’s and in the Quebec pulp and paper industry, at Hawker-Siddeley in Nova Scotia and at Saint John Shipbuilding in New Brunswick are just a few examples. Industrial workers occupied their factories at Bendix, Tung-Sol and Houdaille in Ontario. They turned out in massive numbers at the October 18 march for jobs in Toronto.
In Struggle justifies its desertion of the industrial proletariat by saying that the influence of the labour aristocracy is much too strong. To support its line of reasoning it has invented an anti-Marxist and economist definition of the labour aristocracy. It defines it as “... that stratum of workers who have been corrupted with the superprofits garnered by the monopolies. They are drawn from among the strata of skilled workers working for the monopolies and are generally concentrated in the big plants.”
This comes down to saying that all workers who are better paid or who have a trade or just some kind of skill are sold out to the capitalists. All IS is doing is repeating the ruling class’s lies about the working class being turned into bourgeois.
Compare IS’s definition to Lenin’s: “This stratum of workers-turned-bourgeois,... who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their entire outlook,” and also “... they are the real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working class movement... real vehicles of reformism and chauvinism” (Collected Works, Vol. 22, p. 194).
There are two elements to this Marxist definition. Firstly the economic basis of the labour aristocracy: privileges, very high wages, and a petty-bourgeois lifestyle, all made possible by the imperialist pillage of the world. Secondly, and most importantly, its ideological and political role in actively spreading reformism and class collaboration. The labour aristocracy is bought off by the capitalist class in order to disorganize the labour movement, prevent all resistance and attach labour to capital’s coattails.
In Canada the labour aristocracy is made up of a very small number of highly privileged workers and some union leaders, like Canadian Labour Congress President Dennis McDermott (“strikes are old-fashioned”) and Steelworkers District Five head Jean Gerin-Lajoie (“in a certain sense a union can be useful to an intelligent employer”).
These corrupt labour leaders demoralize union members, spreading passivity and blind confidence in bourgeois legality and parliament while strike-breaking laws and injunctions rain down upon striking workers. Some of them have accepted prestigious positions in return for services rendered. Teamster boss Ed Lawson and ex-Confederation of National Trade Unions president Jean Marchand are examples: both are now senators. Others hold union office at the same time as a government-appointed post. Ontario Federation of Labour President Cliff Pilkey, for example, sits on the Ontario Economic Council.
Although the labour aristocracy is only made up of a handful of privileged workers and corrupt union leaders, IS includes in it every machinist, every welder. every electrician – in other words, hundreds of thousands of skilled workers. Faced with such a force it’s no wonder IS feels powerless.
It is true that many workers are influenced by the labour aristocracy; under capitalist dictatorship this is hardly surprising. But this doesn’t mean these workers are corrupted. On the contrary, it underlines the need to fight the labour aristocracy.
Workers can only embrace revolutionary ideas if they reject the reformism of their corrupt leaders.
Lenin remarked, “We are waging a struggle against the ’labour aristocracy’ in the name of the masses of the workers and in order to win than 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.” (Collected Works, Vol. 31, p. 52)
But In Struggle has not come up with its “analysis” of the labour aristocracy in order to fight it, but rather to run away from it! It is shamelessly giving in to bourgeois ideology, and trying to justify its cowardice on tactical grounds: “We will be able to make the greatest inroads into the working-class movement as present”... “in those areas where the domination of the labour aristocracy is weakest...” In fact IS is only spreading its scorn and contempt towards the working class.
This latest turn-about in IS’s orientation is but another facet of its political bankruptcy. As previously explained in The Forge, (see No. 33, p.10 – “Socialism is a real alternative”), IS pretends others are responsible for its present difficulties. Incapable of making any inroads among the industrial proletariat, IS has ritually decided to drop it, treating it with scorn.
The attitude taken towards industrial workers and the labour aristocracy is one way of distinguishing between revolutionaries and revisionists. In Struggle’s denial of the decisive role of the industrial proletariat in the fight for socialism and its cowardly retreat in the face of the labour aristocracy shows which camp it has chosen.