First Published: The Call, Vol. 6, No. 5, February 7, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The election campaign of trade union liberal Ed Sadlowski for president of the United Steel Workers of America (USWA) has become a common meeting ground for all the opportunist forces within the workers’ movement. From the revisionist Communist Party USA to the petty-bourgeois centrists like the Guardian newspaper, the opportunists have flocked to support Sadlowski.
Another group of phony communists waving the red flag only to promote Sadlowski’s reformist campaign baloney is the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). This group has turned all its members into errand boys for the liberals.
At a time when rank-and-file militancy is growing and a large number of steel workers are looking for revolutionary answers, RCP is putting its energy into keeping the workers in the fold of reformism and reliance on the liberal misleaders. They have called those workers who refuse to take part in their dead-end reformism “apathetic” and have stepped up their appeals to counter what they call “cynicism” among the workers who back neither McBride nor Sadlowski.
‥For steel workers,” the RCP announces in the Feb. issue of their newspaper Revolution, “fighting to elect Sadlowski is a way to break up the Abel machine and build organization of the rank and file united around their real demands and interests.” They add that “the Sadlowski campaign is the only real opposition the Abel machine has faced in years.”
The RCP’s desire to capitalize on the anti-Abel sentiments of many workers leads them to tail Sadlowski and promote him as a focal point for some “new organization.” The facts of Sadlowski’s own record’ as head of District 31, however, show that he poses no real opposition at all. He certainly neither promotes nor even supports the real demands of rank-and-file steel workers.
As district chief, Sadlowski stood by while tens of thousands of workers were thrown onto the streets by the steel companies. He directed his fire at the left forces in the union even to the point of using goon squads to “protect” union members from communist literature. He has joined hands with the Abel machine in backing the racist Consent Decree, which strips minorities and women of their right to fight discrimination in the mills.
In addition to all this, Sadlowski and other liberal union leaders like him help the CPUSA promote the “detente” myth and spread the cry that the government should “reorder priorities” and unilaterally disarm itself. Sadlowski’s other idealist notions, which he laid out clearly in an interview with the magazine Penthouse, call for automating two-thirds of all steel workers out of their jobs.
What is it then that has gotten the RCP all worked up over Sadlowski’s election campaign? The answer lies in the fact that Sadlowski is one of a whole slew of liberal “opposition” candidates that a section of the capitalists are now promoting to leadership in the country’s major unions.
From Arnold Miller in the UMW to Doug Fraser in the auto workers’ union, this grouping of social-democratic types, generally allied with the left-wing of the Democratic Party, are being called on to do what the openly reactionary bureaucrats like Abel and Meany have been unable to do—quell the growing militant upsurge of the rank and file.
Sadlowski aims his appeals at the rank-and-file workers fed up with Abel’s kind of open class-collaborationist leadership in an effort to keep the rebellious workers chained to the system of capitalism. The RCP isn’t telling the workers anything they don’t already know when they limit their exposures to the Abel machine alone.
Behind RCP’s support of Sadlowski lies their opportunist view of the labor leadership in general. They portray the liberals as a significant alternative to the open reactionaries while launching their most vicious attacks against genuine communists like the October League who are showing the workers that reliance on Sadlowski is a dead-end street.
Ignoring the thousand strings which tie the liberal labor aristocrats to the bourgeoisie, the RCP pleads confusion, claiming that there is no way to tell if the bureaucrats will “wind up on the ruling class’ side.” They argue that “Sadlowski would not necessarily act in the same manner” as the other bureaucrats. In addition, the February issue of Revolution proclaims that the question of whether or not to struggle against the traitors in the union leadership is purely a tactical question.
In this way, RCP denies the bourgeois class character of the whole labor aristocracy. At the same time, they ignore the concrete conditions of today’s struggle in the labor movement, especially the emergence of this opportunist gang of liberals.
The labor aristocracy, as Lenin explained in “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,” consists of the uppermost stratum of mostly skilled workers and top labor bureaucrats, bribed by the imperialists with the crumbs from the superprofits they have plundered from the colonies. These bribes come in the form of money, position and privileges. They are used to separate the upper stratum of the workers from the rank and file. Certain leaders are promoted from the ranks of this stratum to lead the rest of the workers into the trap the bosses are setting for them.
In return for their promotion, the leaders of both the Abel-McBride type, as well as the Sadlowski type, do the bidding of the bosses. Until the rank and file organizes itself and begins to develop its own revolutionary leadership, its choice in these union elections is going to be limited to one between opportunists of different stripes.
It is the task of communists at the present time to expose the role of these social props of the bosses. It is especially important to expose the liberal, social-democratic and revisionist misleaders who pose as alternatives.
Does this mean that no tactical alliances are possible between communists and opportunist labor leaders? No, it doesn’t. Communists can use such alliances at times to draw themselves closer to the rank-and-file workers. This is particularly true when the opportunists head organizations that the workers themselves support as their own.
But in order to gain access to the rank and file and win them away from the opportunists, communists must never give up independence and the right to criticize. Secondly, they can never spread illusions about the reformists the way that RCP has done in the Sadlowski campaign.
Even today such tactical alliances are possible, although the communist movement is generally weak. But they necessitate the consistent struggle against reformism and bourgeois trade-union politics and exposure of these poisons.
Furthermore, these alliances are not called for when opportunists like Sadlowski admit to only the most minor differences with their opponent. On some questions, Sadlowski takes even a worse stand than McBride (i.e., foreign affairs) while on other significant ones, such as the racist Consent Decree, he stands shoulder to shoulder with Abel.
The RCP not only prettifies liberalism but also downplays the struggle against the revisionist CPUSA and is actually carrying out united action with them to get Sadlowski elected. The RCP has already gone through many struggles side-by-side with the revisionists in the unions without even a word of criticism.
The common ground that the RCP finds with the revisionists is worship of the spontaneous economic struggles of the masses. Everything they do in the labor movement is aimed at “increasing the activity of the masses” while they ignore the decisive factor of raising the workers’ political consciousness and developing revolutionary leadership of the workers’ movement.
The RCP characterized their labor work as the “single spark method,” which they describe as follows: “to seize on every spark of struggle, fan and spread it.” They view the workers’ movement as being in the stage of narrow economic struggle exclusively, so they define their tasks very narrowly, appealing primarily for more “activity” by the workers.
This economist viewpoint was summed up by RCP Chairman Avakian in a May Day speech last year when he said, ’The present struggles of the working class in this country are centered around wages and benefits, working conditions, against speed-up, lay-offs, compulsory overtime and other attempts by the capitalists to increase the exploitation of the workers.” These economic struggles, he added, “form at present the center of gravity of the working-class struggle and the work of the Party.”
As opposed to the communist method of fusing the political struggle for revolution and socialism with the spontaneous struggles of the masses, the RCP sees the economic struggle as the “center of gravity,” developing quantitatively into the struggle for socialism.
This is also the reason that RCP puts out two types of newspapers – one for the communists (Revolution) and the other for the workers (the various “Worker” papers) which confine themselves generally to the minimum demands of the workers’ movement and totally ignore its final aims of socialist revolution.
Along with the revisionists and the Sadlowski forces, the RCP has also downplayed the fight against discrimination as being “divisive” and diverting the struggle away from the “real economic demands.”
This merges with RCP’S infamous chauvinism on the question of school segregation and their open opposition to workers’ struggles for equality of languages and against the deportation of foreign-born workers.
The RCP’s tailing of liberal reformists like Sadlowski is just the flip side of their earlier “left”-sounding rhetoric of “jamming the unions.” Their earlier view of the backwardness of the workers’ movement led them to call the unions “useless arenas of struggle” and to set out to build pure “revolutionary” workers’ organizations. In this way, they tried to drag the most class-conscious workers away from the union struggles of their fellow workers.
Today, their basic petty-bourgeois view of the unions remains, but they have openly capitulated to the liberals as being the only hope for moving the workers into struggle. They still promote their separate intermediate organizations for the workers. But now their emphasis is on negating the role of a real communist party within the unions, while still preaching that leadership can only be exercised through some organization slightly above the unions. They still have no program for turning the unions themselves into centers of class struggle and revolution under communist leadership.
Without such a program, their alliance with Sadlowski has become even more treacherous. Their united action with the revisionists and the illusions they spread about the Sadlowski liberals are carried out under the banner of a “revolutionary communist party,” making it the worst kind of opportunism. While the influence of the RCP among the steel workers is relatively small, they still serve to blunt the edge of the struggle against reformism and especially hold back the advanced workers.
The RCP has even further revealed itself as an opportunist gang operating under the mantle of revolution.