Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Susan Klonsky

Revisionist outlook on the trade unions

First Published: Guardian Special Fall 1974 labor issue.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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A Handbook for Rank and File Action,
by George Morris
New Outlook Publishers, 1971, 159 pages.

Who would be a likely suspect for authoring a labor organizer’s manual urging workers to vote for the Democratic party, reform the system from within, split the Black liberation struggle and avoid the new communist movement like the plague?

One of George Meany’s underlings? An employee of the Labor Department? Or simply some well-known liberal social-democrat working for Teddy Kennedy’s election to the White House? Actually, if it were any of these the rank-and-file workers’ movement would have it easier. Such efforts could be readily exposed and cast aside.

But this volume, which is in essential agreement with the views of the suspects listed above, is written by George Morris, a member of the Communist party, and for 40 years one of its main labor reporters.

It was Lenin who best described how opportunism merges with social-chauvinism in the imperialist era. “Rebellion in the Unions,” by negative example, shows how that process is still going on today as well as demonstrating how far the CPUSA has departed from its revolutionary history.


The book is basically a whitewash job for the U.S. labor aristocracy and is all the more insidious because of the “Communist” label tacked onto it.

Morris tries to do from within what the imperialists have found impossible to do from the outside: rob the working class movement of its revolutionary fiber and swamp it in bourgeois ideology, with chauvinism as its main anchor and class collaboration as its main method. Morris raises some mealy-mouthed criticisms of the leaders of the AFL-CIO–berating them for not working hard enough to win reforms but never suggesting they are agents for imperialism. His main call is for “new policies” and a change of faces at the top,, while striving to keep the system basically intact.

The principal program this book has to offer is one of parliamentary maneuvering on the part of labor to get a better deal under capitalism. The book presents the view that, for the working class today, “The immediate choice is not between socialism and capitalism. We are still considerably short of that stage.” According to Morris, the immediate task is to get more anti-monopoly officials elected–both within the unions and in the government, to get a better deal for labor..

When does the immediate choice become capitalism or socialism? If the CPUSA has its way, never. A book written by an AFL-CIO leader claims that the real choice for American labor is between “revolution” and “partnership with business.” Not so, says Morris: “As right-wingers usually do, Beirne (the AFL-CIO writer) takes refuge in red-baiting and puts the issue as ’revolution’ versus ’partnership’ with employers. This is absolutely false. The real issue is the growing pressure for a policy that would make the labor movement more effective in meeting the new conditions in the country and the world, to bring real democracy in union ranks, and revitalize and renovate much of the leadership.”


Revolution is not the choice for workers–reform is the only choice, says Morris. It is this view which makes him and the revisionist CP essentially the “loyal opposition” of the monopolies within the labor movement, rather than a party which fights for reforms in a revolutionary way by exposing the roots of exploitation and leading the working class to revolution.

This book should lay to rest any notion that, although CPUSA members are not real communists, they can in any way still be considered “good trade unionists” or “good reformers.” With their watery program of “legislative reform,” their fear of the rank and file and especially the minority workers, the CPUSA cannot even claim to act as an honest reform element in the unions.

They do not in theory or practice uphold the unity of the working class. This is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that George Morris reserves his sharpest and bitterest criticism in this book not for George Meany or I.W. Abel, but for the Black caucuses and tor the young communist forces within today’s labor movement.

Far from really criticizing Meany and his cohorts, the book serves to conceal their relationship to the U.S. imperialists. From where do these parasites derive their power? Lenin taught in his work on imperialism that “Imperialism has the tendency to create privileged sections also among the workers, and to detach them from the broad masses of the proletariat ...”

He went on to describe the formation of a labor aristocracy based on “the tendency of imperialism to divide the workers, to strengthen opportunism among them and to cause temporary decay in the working class movement.”

“A section of the proletariat,” Lenin showed, “permits itself to be led by men bought by, or at least paid by, the bourgeoisie.”

The job of communists is not to reform the “policies” of this stratum, but to expose, isolate and drive them out of the labor movement. This is diametrically opposed to what Morris proposes to do. In fact, Morris may go down in history for his praise of Teamster president Frank Fitzsimmons (page 103) as an advocate of “social-economic progress.”

In his analysis of the Alliance for Labor Action, a coalition of several major industrial unions including the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers, Morris’ liberal line is clearly laid out. Meekly critical of the ALA leaders for not acting rapidly enough, Morris agrees fully with ALA’s avowed program of building an electoral power-base for labor candidates–read “Democratic party”–Morris heartily agrees with the ALA leaders that “political action can be much more effective with greater vigor and more popular appeal even within the framework of the present two-party limits.” The flies in the electoral ointment are Black, Chicano, young white-collar workers and women– all of whom he describes as “newer entrants to the labor force ... not easily fitted into the mechanism of traditional labor politics.” In order to channel such alleged newcomers back toward the ballot box, Morris appeals for a more “creative approach” by the bureaucrats, to bring them into the fold of reformism.


The worst of his revisionist ideology lies in the “handbook’s” explanation of the rise of the Black liberation movement among the workers. In the tone of a racist bureaucrat apologizing to fellow bureaucrats, Morris hastens to explain:

”The typical Black caucus is not a separatist group, it is a group that usually seeks unity with others in support of its demands. It is usually progressively inclined because, of necessity, it combats racism and the reactionary influences that tolerate racism.

“There are many Black caucuses. Some Black caucuses may work in cooperation with other progressive groups. Others may be limited to ’Black issues’ or may even be hostile to whites. ...”

And in discussing the role of social-democrat Bayard Rustin, Morris says this: “Rustin . . . serves the AFL-CIO bureaucracy by lumping separatist and anti-white elements among the Black people with the majority of progressive militants who favor Black-white unity, a struggle against discrimination within the existing unions and mass struggles. . . .”

While Morris gets indignant about the overtly racist comments of AFL-CIO president George Meany, he really echoes Meany, only with a slick, liberal veneer on his opposition to the Black liberation movement. The statements quoted above really say. “Don’t worry, the Black movement isn’t all bad. There are some good Negroes who are willing to work with whites. They’re not all nationalists. It’s just a lunatic fringe of nationalists that are against unity . . .”

Morris is trying to minimize the significance of the emergence of the Black liberation struggle among the workers. This movement hits the stranglehold, both practical and ideological, of those chauvinists who hold sway over the trade unions. Therefore, the Black liberation movement on behalf of all workers places itself in direct opposition to monopoly capitalism, both objectively and in practice. It is development which must be welcomed whereas Morris tries to apologize for it and rob it of its real meaning for the entire working class.


It is not the Black workers in these caucuses who are “splitters” but the opportunist leaders who have kept the majority of Black workers out of the unions and out of the skilled trades. It is not the “separatists” that Morris should be doing his worrying about but the white chauvinists who have the real power in the unions.

In 1971, when this book was published, the United Farm Workers had already been on the march for nearly seven years. Chicano workers get a brief mention buried among statistics here and there. One or two sentences for a section of the working class which was in 1971 and is now among the most militant and furiously attacked struggles in the country. Puerto Rican and Asian workers are apparently totally invisible to Morris. Women fare little better. A scant two pages filled with subtly chauvinist comments from Morris, and with no serious program for women.

The treatment of the various nationalities and women in this book merely reflects the history of the revisionists in ignoring work among these nationalities and among women, and its attempts to liquidate these struggles and submerge them into the purely economic and electoral spheres.

His attacks on the national movements and on the young communist movement are not unconnected. Morris says, “Maoists show interest only in the extreme nationalist, separatist groups that have sprung up in some Black communities.”

He goes on to characterize the young communist movement by using the defunct Progressive Labor party as his example of that movement. He also sneers at every group and publication in the communist movement which stands in opposition to the CPUSA. Notable among these is his attack on the Guardian. “The Guardian.” he gloats, “has for some years been a New Left organ after it was taken over by a group of ultra-leftists and some of the original publishers were ousted.”

It is the developing ties of this young communist movement with the rank and file, especially the minority workers, that Morris is most afraid of. His attacks on the movement harmonize perfectly with the most anti-communist AFL-CIO bureaucrats.

Morris’ book provides further evidence for why the CPUSA no longer deserves the title of communist party.

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[Susan Klonsky is a member of the October League (Marxist-Leninist)].