Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Collective

RCP on the Split in the Working Class


First Published: Workers’ Press, Vol. 3, No. 10, October 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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There is a real connection, then, between imperialism and the victory of opportunism in the US labor movement. As Lenin said, ’this is the fundamental question of modern socialism’ (“Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”, Collected Works, V 23, p l05) and it is to this question that this pamphlet is addressed. (from MLC’s Proletarian Revolution and the Split in the Working Class”, p3)

The position and practice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP) around the split in the US working class provides fertile ground for exposure of opportunism on the question. Although not an all-encompassing analysis of RCP on the split (partly due to limited experience with them), this article will look into RCP’s theoretical position (based on the Programme and Constitution of the RCP,USA) and try to review some of their practical application of line and what that practice leads to.

What does the RCP say about the split in the working class, particularly about the upper stratum of the labor aristocracy:

Within the working class there is a stratum of ’better off’ workers which the bourgeoisie tries to use as a social base for spreading reformism and accommodation to the system among the masses of workers. This group of ’better off workers’ is not easily defined, as they come from different industries and have different characteristics. Some have relatively high incomes, some work in highly individualized situations, some do all technical work and have relatively easier jobs. But generally they are those workers who as a group have the greatest possibility of getting out of the working class and becoming ’their own boss’ in one form or another (though they are frequently pushed back into the working class).

This stratum of ’better off’ workers must, however, be distinguished from the highly paid union officials, who act as labor lieutenants of the capitalist class. Especially with the development of the crisis the capitalists have launched sharp attacks on the working class as a whole and there has been militant response from all sections of the class. (PP 84-85)

Further, on the trade union bureaucrats:

Following World War II the capitalists and their agents sabotaged the unions and succeeded to some degree in holding back the overall workers’ movement. They built up hacks who had entrenched themselves at the top of the unions which millions of rank and file workers had built through heroic struggle and great sacrifice. (p 21)

In this same category are the bigshot bureaucrats in the trade unions who have taken the blood-soaked bribes of the ruling class as payment for betraying the working class and have, in many cases, invested large sums and become capitalists in their own right. (p 8l)

Right away there is one thing that is strikingly missing. The RCP fails to recognize the connection between the split in the working class and imperialism. This error is fundamental, and can be seen in a number of ways. First and most importantly the RCP does not mention anywhere in their program that imperialism is connected to the split nor do they explain that the material basis for the bribery of the labor aristocracy is the superprofits of imperialist plunder. After reading RCP, one is left with no explanation whatsoever of how this section of the class is bought off by the capitalists. Second, the term ’better off’ used by the RCP totally understates the concrete economic, political, and social benefits that this section of the class is afforded. It is a watered down term which glosses over the bribery of the upper stratum. Added to this is the inference made by the opportunists of RCP that while the bourgeoisie “tries to use (the ’better off’) as a social base for spreading reformism and accommodation to the system”, the capitalists may, in fact, not be successful in doing so. Without a definite statement that the upper stratum is used to spread reformism as the social base for opportunism and. as the principal vehicle for bourgeois ideology in the working class, the line is bankrupt and actually spreads illusions about the class stand and revolutionary potential of this section of the working class, and leads to class collaborationist tactics within the trade unions. Third, the RCP emphasizes the differences between the trade union bureaucrats and the ’better off’ workers, but ignores, or fails to recognize, the unity between them. Sure there are differences: the union bureaucrats are generally given a bigger bribe, more prestigious government positions, and in some cases have direct control of capital (making them capitalists themselves). In other words, they are more openly tied up with the capitalist system. But, are these differences primary? We think not. In fact, the primary aspect of the relation between the trade union officials and the rest of the upper stratum is one of unity, together acting as labor lieutenants of the capitalist class. The RCP does not understand, or wishes to obscure, that the higher-paid craft workers (mostly building and construction trades, craft workers of industrial unions such as UAW and URW), the better salaried clerical and technical workers serve as the solid base for the union bureaucrats, implement their plans and decisions, and in return get more of the ’goodies’ for themselves at the expense of the rest of the class. The differences that do exist are quantitative, not qualitative, meaning that while the trade union bureaucrats may get a little more and better for themselves, the class stand of the entire labor aristocracy is the same. While certain individuals within the craft unions and in the rest of the upper stratum may change their class stand and become revolutionary, the trend that the labor aristocracy represents is alien to the interests of the proletariat.

Other errors in the RCP’s position include: incorrect and opportunist stand on the effect of the crisis on the ’better off’ workers. The RCP implies that the ’better off’ workers are as hard hit as the masses of lower-paid workers (“...with the development of the crisis the capitalists have launched sharp attacks on the working class as a whole and there has been militant response from all sections of the class.” p 85) Two logical conclusions can be drawn: first, that, the bribery of this stratum is not a permanent thing, that it is transitory dependent on the economic condition of capitalism. This denies the planned efforts of the bourgeoisie to buy off this upper stratum, and denies the actual successful effects of the bribe on them. Second, that the upper stratum (excluding trade union bureaucrats) will fight militantly for the entire working class and become revolutionized as the crisis deepens. RCP gives no evidence, and there is very little around to give, that as the upper stratum begins to feel the effects of the crisis they will rejoin the ranks of the masses of workers. Evidence does show, however, that as the crisis effects the upper stratum, their militancy does rise, but for their narrow self-interests only (S.F; City Strike, Spring, 1976).

The theoretical position of the RCP reveals a very unscientific approach (failure to analyze the connection of imperialism with the split), a metaphysical outlook (not seeing things all-sidedly, and having a ’wishful’ attitude that all workers are revolutionary rather than seeing concretely that a section of workers are reactionary) and a stone opportunist stand in the trade unions and workers’ movement (tactics such as unprincipled alliances with the trade union bureaucrats: RCP’s uncritical support of Sadlowski of the USW, their failure to consistently struggle against and expose the mis-leadership provided by this section of the class, their line of ’pushing the trade unions to the left’, etc.)

We will deal more with the practical application of their line on the labor aristocracy in the second part of this article. The MLC thinks that to deepen our understanding of the split in the working class, analyzing and exposing various opportunist lines and forces on the question becomes a necessary and vital task. Since a solid grasp of the split in the working class is so important in order to uphold the interests of the masses of proletarians, then serious attention must be paid to the opportunists who spread illusions about the labor aristocrats, who add their bourgeois ideology to our ranks. This can only weaken the proletariat ideologically, politically and economically by leaving the class under the influence of the labor traitors.