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Revolutionary Union

Red Papers 6: Build the Leadership of the Proletariat and its Party

Revolutionary Union

Milwaukee Worker: Building Toward A Revolutionary Workers Movement

This article was written by members of the Milwaukee RU who work on the Milwaukee Worker.

“The Milwaukee Worker didn’t start this strike. The strike started when the boss wouldn’t agree with the first half-decent contract we ever had . . . the Worker joined with us and taught us how to fight.”–an Everbrite striker in a radio interview.

Lenin wrote that the method of communists is “not to concoct some fashionable means of helping the workers, but to join up with the workers’ movement, to bring light into it, to assist the workers in the struggle they themselves have begun to wage.”

It was with this method in mind that the RU united with others and started the Milwaukee Worker about a year and a half ago. And where this method has been followed, the struggle of the workers has been advanced and their class consciousness raised, at the same time as RU members, and others working on the paper, have grasped more firmly the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and how to apply them to the concrete conditions and concrete struggles of . the masses of working people in this country.

The RU initiated the Milwaukee Worker, but not as an organ of the RU, not as a communist paper. Like the other anti-imperialist workers’ papers, its basic role is not to train advanced workers and other revolutionary-minded people as Marxist-Leninists and specifically to arm them with the RU’s line on the major questions and tasks confronting the communist movement. The RU carries out this work partly-through its independent role in the Worker and other similar papers, but mainly through the RU national newspaper, Revolution, other RU literature, study groups, forums and other means.

But the anti-imperialist papers are aimed at broader numbers of workers, not just those who are already convinced of the need for revolution. In fact, the overall purpose of this paper is to help develop a revolutionary workers’ movement involving the masses of workers, and to help move the masses along the road leading to socialist revolution.

When the’ RU first initiated the Milwaukee Worker, comrades working on it were confused about these1 questions of for whom it was written and for what purpose, and this led to some “left” phrasemongering in the name of reaching the advanced workers. But through struggle to sum up our work in developing the paper, it was more firmly grasped how the paper fits into the overall strategy of building a united front against imperialism under proletarian leadership.

At the time the paper was started, and until the most recent period, the RU formulated the central task of communists in applying this united front strategy as “building the struggle, consciousness and revolutionary unity of the working class and developing its leadership in the anti-imperialist united front.” Putting primary emphasis on that task was then the correct way to advance work around the other main tasks as well–building toward the new Communist Party and building the united front as broadly as possible. The Milwaukee Worker and other similar anti-imperialist workers’ papers around the country have been important tools in the work of beginning to build a mass, revolutionary workers’ movement that will be the main force in the struggle against imperialist rule.

Working to build this movement was not only the central task in the past, and has not only laid the ground work for forming the new genuine Communist Party, but it will be the central task of the Party once it is formed, a Party which will be able to carry out this task in a more concentrated way and on a higher level than before. Summing up the experience to date of papers like the Milwaukee Worker is an important part of developing the programme for the Party, its basis of political unity and its “battle plan” for leading the working class in class warfare.

Getting Paper Together

In initiating the Milwaukee Worker, the RU called together a staff of advanced workers we knew and ex-students who were looking to the working class. The staff united around the need to show imperialism as the common enemy of the various peoples’ struggles. While emphasizing the importance of linking up with the fight of the working class to defend its standard of living, we saw the key importance of putting this in the context of an all-around struggle against the imperialist system and uniting it with the other main spearheads of anti-imperialist struggle: the fight against national oppression, the struggle against imperialist aggression in other countries, against fascism, and against the oppression and exploitation of women.

The struggle to grasp and apply the central task of building a revolutionary workers’ movement determined the papers’ course and development. RU members led the staff to join up with the practical working class movement on the one hand, and to learn proletarian ideology on the other. Joining with the working class struggle was the main way to prevent the “left” error of imposing abstract propaganda on the people. Ideological struggle was the main way to steer clear of the right ’errors of becoming immersed in the day to day struggle for reforms and losing sight of the long range goals of the workers’ movement.

In the first several months of the paper’s existence, the major struggle was to join with the working class and lead people politically and practically in the spontaneous struggles against imperialism. We realized that the paper would only be an abstract “observer” if we did not actually take part in the struggles, and through close connection with them point out the political lessons of those struggles and the links between them and other anti-imperialist movements.

On the whole, the struggle to really take the paper to the masses has been successful. Staff members, RU members, and other workers and activists sell two to three thousand papers each month, where they work as well as at plant gates, union meetings, and shopping centers. In one shop of 600 workers where there is an active caucus, over 100 copies are sold from the inside every month. This broad use of the paper among the people has helped to generate a lot of feedback.

There is systematic summation of the political line of each issue among all those who sell the paper and use it to build the workers’ movement. Careful attention is paid to criticism from the masses.

The broad analysis of the paper and its popularization of important national and international struggles helped comrades, staff members, and other activists to raise political ideas at the same time as they were linking up with day to day struggles. In one case, when a spontaneous struggle around a job transfer broke out, some workers in the department turned to an RU comrade mainly because of the use she had made of the Worker, even though her work in building day to day struggle was not yet very, developed. The fight escalated into a sitdown and a victory.

Some workers immediately suggested that the incident be written up for the paper. When the next issue came out with a short article, 77 copies were sold in the department alone (200 workers). One woman told the comrade, picking up on the slogan around Nixon, “I always knew what ’Throw the Bum Out’ meant. Now I know what ’Organize to Fight’ means!”

In taking the paper to the masses, and increasingly playing a significant role in the struggles of the class, we gained experience which helped us see our tasks more clearly. Through study and criticism-self-criticism on the staff, in the sellers’ network, and in the RU, we identified incorrect lines and struggled against them. From the beginning, the paper was seen as a way to help defeat the tendency to relate, solely to the economic struggles of the working class. The paper was to be a mass tool for developing the political consciousness of the class. But, as we did sink some roots in the practical struggles of the workers, right errors arose and became the main danger we had to combat.

The right errors most often took the form of tailing behind trade union consciousness. For instance, the thrust of an article on the farmworkers might imply that the union leaders are the motive force of the struggle, rather than emphasizing the initiative of the rank and file workers. Other times, we “mirrored” the consciousness of the workers in an economic struggle rather than using the sparks generated in the economic struggle to develop all-round class consciousness.

We often used the argument that the company’s profits went up by such and such a percent, so the workers’ wages should go up that much, too. With a better understanding of our right errors, comrades now struggle against this line of trudging along as trade unionists, bargaining for the workers’ “fair share” of the capitalists’ pie-in other words, the crumbs. We try to show how it boils down to a question of one class against another, with no common interests between them.

It was through ideological study and struggle, especially by reading the writings of Lenin on economism and right errors as part of a struggle against right errors initiated throughout the RU, that we were able to write in a sum-up that, “spontaneous trade union consciousness is in essence bourgeois consciousness because it accepts as its starting point the right of the bourgeoisie to exploit the labor of the proletariat and only seeks to win a larger share of the surplus value stolen by the capitalists in a particular shop or industry.”

Everbrite Strike

In the Everbrite strike, involving about 200 workers, mostly women, in a battle to force the boss to live up to the first contract the workers had gotten after bringing in a new union, the Milwaukee Worker played an active role for six months (May-November, 1973). The strike was a turning point in our struggle against right errors. At every stage in the long and bitter struggle, political sparks were generated. The Worker helped to build the struggle, and in the process summed up the political lessons, developing broader (class) consciousness, and spreading these ideas among strikers, supporters, and the working class generally.

The Worker built on the understanding that the strikers needed to unite with others. We constantly emphasized relying on the masses, raised slogans like “Workers’ Unity is the Road to Victory,” and popularized and played an active role in tactics such as mass picketings, gate collections at other plants, unity marches and rallies, and mass leafleting about the strike. We also brought speakers from other struggles, like the farmworkers’ strike, and organized exchange picketing with another group of women on strike against a local department store. And we took five strikers to speak to a group of students on a college campus.

By building the struggle, we were able to do exposures of the role of the state, especially by organizing against police attacks on the strike and packing the courts for strike related trials. On one occasion, following a union meeting, the Worker staff played a key part in winning 85% of those attending to picket the police department and demand that the cops stop protecting the boss and scabs while harassing the strikers. On another occasion, we mobilized 40 women to attend court cases for those arrested on the picket line. In situations such as these, the strikers could see clearly in whose benefit the state was operating in this strike. The Milwaukee Worker clearly brought out this point in articles, though we tended to limit this to the role of the police and courts in relation to this strike, and we should have done more to show the links between the role of the police and courts in this strike and the general role of the state in suppressing people’s struggles.

Also the strikers learned their power to have “influence over affairs of state” (Lenin) when they took organized action. In the court cases, the DA asked for dismissal of most charges because he was getting an “anti-labor reputation around town.”

The main force in the strike was the overwhelming majority of women workers. One of the strike demands was for equal insurance benefits for women. We emphasized the struggle against the special oppression of women and raised the slogan, “Women Can Be Fighters.”

We also combatted the company’s attempt to divert the strike by hiring a Black detective agency for plant security in the white working class suburb. All the active strikers were white. Here we tended to fall into the PL line of “fighting racism” as an abstract idea, rather than relying on the concrete struggle and experience of the workers, such as their knowledge of divisions and discrimination fostered by the boss in hiring and in the shop.

And we took on the red-baiting of the company, cops, and city government. We brought out the role of our organization through wide use of Revolution and other literature, like the pamphlet on George Wallace, and speeches by RU members at rallies. We were viewed differently by different strikers. A few backward workers were hostile and easily turned against us at certain times. Most of the strikers liked us and respected our ideas, but remained unconvinced. Some developed a clear understanding of what the Revolutionary Union is all about. In all our work, the Marxist-Leninist training of the most advanced workers who came forward in the struggle was done mainly with Revolution, other RU literature, study groups, and forums, not with the Worker.

The newspaper as such was not organizationally or politically geared to the task of organizing the day to day strike support activities. An organization with a different level of unity was needed to involve strikers and other workers from the area, as well as Worker staff and RU members in consistent strike support. To fill this purpose the Worker joined in forming the Everbrite Strike Support Committee (ESSC), which initiated much of the strike support activity and served as a good way to unite with the most active strikers.

Just as the Worker was the tool to reach out to the strike in the first place, since the strike ended it has been the means of maintaining contact with the bulk of the active strikers who still buy the paper regularly. In the struggle against right errors, “left” errors cropped up in the course of the fight. At one point we were so intent on drawing the political lessons of the strike and injecting consciousness that we forgot the present context for the workers grasping these lessons–not our own minds or subjective wishes, but the strike itself. The Worker brought a lot of picket signs to the weekly mass picketings. One striker finally told us that the picket line, judging from the signs there, looked like a demonstration against wage controls, discrimination, anti-communism–almost anything but a demonstration in support of the strike. Our error here wasn’t that we tried to link up struggles, but that in doing so, we tended to lose sight of the immediate struggle itself.

Another time an RU member proposed a slide show on China as an activity for the strikers as a whole. Certainly some strikers were interested, but others saw it as “sucker-baiting”. They were under the influence of the bourgeois propaganda that “Communists don’t really care about workers, they just pretend to for a while so they can run their line on you and sucker you into their thing.” After some criticism by workers and some struggle and self-criticism among the comrades and the staff and sellers of the Worker, this error was corrected.

On the whole the Everbrite strike marked a big step forward in the development of the paper as a tool in the class struggle. The Milwaukee Worker was key in putting forward a correct political line and building mass support, which helped create the conditions for the strikers to win. The paper initiated, analyzed, and mobilized for the fight.

The strikers and supporters developed a broader understanding of the workers’ movement and the class struggle. A few individuals from the strike came forward as advanced fighters for the working class–joining in intermediate workers’ organizations such as the Workers Committee To Throw The Bum Out (WCTTBO) and also beginning to systematically study Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought.

Relation Between Class And National Question

At the same time that we were recognizing right errors in relation to the economic struggles, we began to understand a similar tendency–trailing behind the spontaneous consciousness in the national liberation struggles, particularly the Black liberation struggle. Ideological discussion and struggle in the communist movement and in our organization, as well as our own increased practice in the multi-national working class, sharpened our understanding of the relationship of the class and national struggles.

The RU initiated a struggle on the staff to correct right errors in dealing with the national question. These errors had developed as a counter-current to the generally correct effort we had made to uphold the Black liberation struggle, and use it to spur the whole class forward. Upon reviewing our work, we summed up two different ways in which we were making right errors on the paper–the “left” in form, right in essence line of “Black Workers Take the Lead,” and the out and out right line of tailing after bourgeois and petty bourgeois forces within the Black people’s movement.

In one strike where Black workers were active, we exaggerated their role and consciousness, downplayed the role of the white workers, and disregarded the idea of multi-national unity which both Black and white workers were pushing.

In one caucus in which comrades play a leading role, a Black worker was running for the bargaining committee as a representative of the caucus. Comrades pushed the line that the workers had to have a “Black representative on the bargaining committee,” and this was emphasized in the Worker article about the campaign and in the newsletter at the shop. Some advanced workers of all nationalities, including the candidate, fought this line long and hard, saying it would “artificially divide the races,” and that what was needed was a “fighter against discrimination and for all the workers,” not just a Black representative as such. In this situation it was the advanced workers, and not the Worker or the comrades in the shop, who truly took the proletarian class stand, saw beyond narrow nationalism, and grasped the key importance of building the unity of the multi-national proletariat.

In another issue of the paper, when we reported on a convention led by Black politicians and businessmen concerning education, we “mirrored” the politics of the event. The real situation was that the masses of Black people saw the convention as irrelevant and that a handful of opportunists were trying to use it as a launching pad for school board elections.

The incorrect line of re-enforcing the divisions in the working class and tailing nationalist consciousness restricted the initiative of the paper in building struggles against national oppression. During this period the Black community ’was experiencing an intense amount of police harassment and brutality. The Worker reported the situation as an observer, but did not do any deep investigation or initiate any call for action.

The bulk of the staff was white, and building struggle around oppression in the Black community was seen as something where only Blacks could “take the lead.” We did not grasp the fact that the multi-national working class must be roused to take up its historic task as vanguard fighter against all oppression.

Just as the Everbrite strike was an important step for the paper in correcting right errors around the economic struggle, the wildcat strike of Black workers (in April, 1974) at the National foodstores (a supermarket chain) marked a turning point in the paper’s work in building the struggle against national oppression, and correcting right errors in our previous work in the national movements. In this struggle for an end to discrimination in upgrading and pricing, the newspaper built strong ties’ with the strikers by joining in the struggle, building mass picketing and a small march through the Black community.

As at Everbrite, the Milwaukee Worker, brought out and popularized the lessons of self-reliance and workers’ solidarity. We won Black and white workers and other anti-imperialists to join in supporting the strike. The idea that “The Fight Against Discrimination is a Fight of the Whole Working Class” was understood by many strikers and supporters. “Black, Brown, Red and White, Working People Must Unite” was one of the most popular chants. The Milwaukee Worker used this struggle to point to the growing strength of the class and national movements as they merge, becoming deeper and more powerful.

The local Black bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements (the owner of a Black radio station, the owner of a Black newspaper, and politicians) supported the strike, but wavered and could not be relied upon. They wanted to build themselves and keep the struggle under reformist leadership.

The Milwaukee African Liberation Day Committee (organized by the RU with a core of Black workers) also lent support by joining the mass picket line. The ALD committee also did some education about the African liberation movements. After the strike was won, a speaker from National brought a solidarity speech both to the ALD rally and to the local May Day event.

The strike showed in concrete experience that white communists as well as Black communists must take an active role in building the struggle against national oppression. In this case it was white comrades and staff members who did the main part of the support work, instead of holding back looking for “Black workers to take the lead.” And it underlined the importance of struggling against bourgeois nationalism and the influence of the Black bourgeoisie among the Black masses, uniting-with those bourgeois forces as far as possible but fighting for proletarian leadership and a proletarian line. The advances we made and our ability to help the National strikers win were due to the fact that we were beginning to grasp and apply the line of our organization, as clearly expressed in National Bulletin 13.

In the work by RU comrades on the paper to thoroughly root out the right errors around the national question and right errors generally, we went a little overboard at one point. At one street corner rally for the National strikers, two speeches somewhat artificially raised the issue of communism, and the question of party-building in particular. To some of the strikers these speeches came off like we were using their struggle to push “our” thing, especially since this whole fight took only two weeks, and we didn’t have the opportunity to develop the same in depth ties that we did during the six month strike at Everbrite. Community residents at the rally who knew very little about the strike and nothing about our organization were confused as to what the rally was all about.

The experience deepened our understanding of the nature of “left” errors. Dropping our maximum program out of the blue onto a particular struggle is not the correct method of developing the class consciousness of the masses. In RU articles for the Worker we have noted that “tacking on” communism to an article about a particular struggle does not help people to understand the nature of the system. Only through the promotion of the workers’ struggle and the development of the political ideas linked with this struggle–and showing the links between different struggles against the same system–can we develop a mass revolutionary workers’ movement.

Role of Communists

While the central task of the Worker is to build the anti-imperialist workers’ movement, we have also developed the independent role of our organization in the Worker. The leading role of communists on the paper has always been open and we put forward our own analysis and maximum program in our signed articles. We do this because of the importance of bringing Marxism-Leninism to advanced workers and because of the importance of people seeing the Revolutionary Union as an example of a communist organization which they can look toward to build the struggle.

Although the signed articles are not focused on by most readers of the paper, they are a source of good struggles and point the way forward for the most advanced. One advanced worker who joined the Everbrite strike support work made initial contact with us by writing a letter to the RU after reading an article on “Trade unions and the working class revolution,” by the RU.

On the other hand, the level of unity of the paper is not Marxism-Leninism and the fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The RU has its own newspaper, Revolution, as well as speakers, leaflets, and other literature on particular questions facing the workers’ movement, the need for a new Communist Party, the final goal of socialism and communism, etc. The Worker seeks to unite all who can be united in the workers’ movement in the struggle against imperialism at the present time, not just those who can be united around the final goal of socialism. In the process of building a mass movement against imperialism, linking the struggles against the enemy, other workers do and have advanced to Marxism-Leninism. The masses learn through the ability of communists to sum up the immediate and historical experience of the working class, not simply by hearing abstract calls for socialism.

The staff itself has included people who are against the imperialist system, but are not yet won to the need for armed overthrow of that system and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Also there are people who may generally agree with these things but don’t agree with the line of the RU on certain questions. There is and should be struggle on the staff over the line on articles, based on the needs of the mass movement and the strategy for leading that movement. While the RU leads the paper, all the articles in the paper might not reflect the line of the RU.

The birth and development of the Milwaukee Worker has been a very important step forward for the workers’ movement in Milwaukee. As a key force for developing the anti-imperialist workers’ movement, it reaches thousands of workers every month with its news and analysis. It spreads internationalism through its support of the struggles of workers and oppressed people all over the world. It analyzes and popularizes the key struggles of the workers in other parts of the country, such as the miners or Farah strikers. It has aided the development of struggle in shops all over the city, especially where it could be used by advanced workers or communists in those shops.

The paper has aided the development of other intermediate workers’ organizations such as WCTTBO and the Farah Strike Support Committee (FSSC) by taking the line, program, and lessons of those struggles to the working class generally. It has consistently built and supported national liberation struggles in the United States as a part of the overall class struggle. It has joined in with struggles as a force of its own, as in the Everbrite and National strikes. Although it has definitely concentrated its main efforts on the proletariat, it has also reached out to and supported struggles against the system by other strata, such as the truckers, teachers, welfare recipients, and students, putting forward the working class stand on these struggles and explaining their relationship to the workers’ movement.

The experience of the Milwaukee Worker has shown that the basic political line of the RU in initiating and leading the Worker has been correct–though we have made both right and “left” errors–and has aided in the development of a revolutionary workers’ movement. The greatest advances have been made where we went boldly into mass struggle, putting the paper at the service of the workers’ cause and unfolding political lessons in close connection with the practical struggle, broadening people’s understanding of the nature of the imperialist system, and helping to develop fighters for one spearhead into fighters for all.

And, at the same time, the greatest advances have been made where the RU comrades working with the paper have maintained a clear, independent communist stance, brought forward Marxist-Leninist ideology and undertaken the task of training as communists the advanced who come to the fore in struggles.

On the other hand, and secondarily, we have suffered setbacks where advanced political ideas were put forward in a mechanical way, with no relation to the mass movement (“left” errors) or when RU comrades and the Worker as a whole tailed behind people’s consciousness, failing to draw lessons about the system, the state and the relationship of classes and class struggle (right errors, which, overall, have been the main error).

In the present period, when for a short time the establishment of the new Party has become the central task, the Milwaukee Worker will continue to play an important part in helping to build the revolutionary workers’ movement, by building on past advances and learning from past errors. This is so because, while party-building is now the central task for a brief period, it is not the sole task.

Party-building cannot be carried out by retreating from mass work, but by carrying out the task of building the mass movement in a more concentrated arid systematic way, and with a firmer grasp of the correct line on developing the workers’ movement into an all-around political struggle against the imperialist system, and as the main force in the anti-imperialist struggle. And, as we said at the beginning of this report, summing up the role of anti-imperialist workers’ papers like the Milwaukee Worker is an important part of developing the programme that can unite all who can be united to form a genuine vanguard Party.