First Published: Forward to the Party! Struggle for the Party!, No. 4, [n.d.].
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of several issues of the special journal on the programme (and other documents) of the party. The purpose of this journal is to provide an important forum for discussion and struggle around the programme (and other documents) among all future party members.
None of these articles represents the line of the RU; none has been approved (or disapproved) by leadership bodies of the RU on any level. Instead these articles represent the opinions, criticisms and suggestions of particular comrades based on their study of these specific points of the draft programme (and other documents) and their own summation around them.
For this issue of the journal, as with the last one, a tremendous number of articles were submitted. This reflects the fact that the central importance of forming the party now is being more thoroughly grasped by all comrades. It further reflects the fact that the process of forming the party from the bottom up, and linking theory with practice in discussion and struggle, is developing and deepening. All this is laying the firmest foundation for carrying the process through and forming the party, united to carry out the correct line as the advanced detachment of the working class.
In this issue of the journal we have limited the number of articles and printed those which most focus the discussion and struggle around the main points and will enable the journal to further this process the most at this time. For this reason many articles, which were submitted but did not concentrate on these main focuses, were not printed. But, whether or not they appear in the journal the articles submitted will make an important contribution to the process of forming the party and will be used in one form or another as part of the process.
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One of the most basic principles of this revolutionary science is that the masses are the makers of history and that correct ideas arise from and in turn serve the struggle of the masses of people. The masses, in their millions, in their daily experiences in class struggle, in production and in scientific experimentation of all kinds, amass great but scattered and unsystematic “knowledge. Understanding this, the party of the working class, in leading the class, applies the mass line. It takes these scattered and partial experiences and ideas, and by applying the science of revolution, sums them up, concentrates what is correct, what corresponds to the development of society and will move the class struggle ahead. The party returns these concentrated ideas to the masses and they become a tremendous material force as the masses take them up as their own and use them to transform the world through class struggle. (DP, pp.16-17)
In summing up our work in an unorganized industry, and in light of a particular discussion on the orientation of the party, we feel some basic errors in applying the mass line have been holding back our work. “But lying at the foundation of all these deviations, and the continuing struggle against them, has been the basic question of class stand and orientation–the question of grasping that the working class is the only truly revolutionary class...” (latest document, p.5)
Our error came out particularly sharp when cadre kept raising the question of “What are we going to tell the workers to do?” An example is when we were contacted by workers in a plant we had leaflet-ed where we had no cadre, or any contacts working. We had written a good agitational leaflet condemning an explosion which had happened there. Our first (and only) response when the workers contacted us was to run to leadership asking what we should tell the workers to do! Here we had done no investigation, had never met with these workers, and our only concern was to “concoct some fashionable means to help the workers.”
This uncovered how idealist our thinking was. We had the answers and could figure out a plan without concrete investigation. In the course of our discussion around party orientation we tried to justify running to leadership with the question “what do we tell the workers to do?” We said it was right to seek help from leadership’s experience, that they should know what’s going on, and that we should have collective discussion on what we should do. But the real question came down to on what basis do we seek help and collective decisions? On the material basis of what the workers are already doing, and what they want to do, and on that basis only will we know what we can do to further the struggle, bring light into it, and fan the flames. We must start from reality, not what we want reality to be. In essence we were saying that we, the communists, are the heroes, the true makers of history, and without us nothing moves, including mass struggle. And even further, we were saying that the only activity of any significance is what we initiate and lead. We hadn’t grasped that the workers are already struggling and that our work must be based on this struggle.
Another example of this error came up at another plant where workers were struggling around the company’s attempts to screw them out of unemployment benefits during a shutdown. Spontaneous struggles were erupting against foremen, the workers were ready to fight the layoffs. What was our idea? We wanted to hold a demonstration at the plant gates– until we realized that it would only be a handful of us with picket signs with the workers inside the plant wondering what was going on!
What were the concrete conditions? The workers had begun to struggle in the plant against the company’s attacks. We at first wanted to take them out of the plant where they were struggling face to face with the bosses. Because the workers would have to take off work, and would be immediately identified if a few of them did join our picket line, they would probably be fired. Most fundamentally, the demonstration wouldn’t have come out of the struggle of the plant because our work wasn’t very developed at all, very few workers knew who we were or what we were about. What it came down to was we hoped to show them we were fighting for their interests– to build our committee, not the workers’ struggle.
There were massive layoffs in our industry. When we went down to the unemployment office we found ourselves laying our “rap” on workers about the system. We seldom really listened to the workers. We felt we had everything to tell them and they had nothing to tell us. We became discouraged when the masses didn’t flock to us (although we did have a lot of contacts who we lost because of reasons stated above), and some of us even said the workers didn’t want to do anything. What we should have said was the workers didn’t want to be removed from the day to day struggle and come to our meetings where what we mostly did was tell them about ourselves and struggle with them to agree with our ideology.
It happened again recently when we went to talk to a worker who called off our leaflet. This older worker had many rich experiences with unions and a real hatred of the bosses. Instead of uniting with him on the basis of his strengths and using them to overcome his weakness, using his own experience to draw the lessons, we got into a rap of “I know what you’re saying but we don’t agree.” We tried to change 60 years of thinking in half an hour–not grasping that workers learn through their day to day struggle. And while he is just the kind of person we want to unite with, his parting, remark was “I’m sorry to disappoint you.” He felt he had nothing in common with our fight and he wasn’t who we were looking for!
We are beginning to grasp that we must learn from the masses and “investigate-broadly,” that ML is the science of the masses and their struggle, that the masses are the true makers of history and are struggling daily “even if it is only angry outbursts or writing on the wall.” As the latest document says on p.18, “If we fail to recognize that in the daily struggles of the workers lies the potential for the revolutionary movement of the working class, then we will fail to develop this potential into a reality. If we do not actively and militantly lead these battles then there is no way we can lead the class to win the whole war.”
Where we have correctly applied the mass line, we have brought workers forward and developed the struggle. We had a cafeteria boycott against rising prices which mobilized an entire plant, work slowdowns during layoffs. We had a demonstration for “jobs or income–no layoffs” that workers came to, risking their jobs, off a leaflet alone because it summed up concrete conditions and real struggles the workers were already waging. We joined up with a couple of workers’ struggles around wages and harassment at one plant and developed it into an entire department walking out and demanding a meeting with a big-wig.
Our basic guideline must be the principle set down by Lenin: ’The party’s activity must consist in promoting the working class struggle. The party’s task 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 already begun to wage.’ (latest document, p. 17)
We know we have a ways to go and are still in the process of summing up our work, especially in regard to bringing light into the workers’ struggle. But we have grasped that making errors around the fundamental principle of assisting the workers in their day to day struggle will make it impossible to bring light to these struggles and develop them in a revolutionary direction.
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The DP correctly lays out that the greatest part of working class struggles are in the shop around day to day demands, that it is sectarian and “left” if we underestimated the importance of these struggles in the process of raising the understanding of the class.
The bourgeoisie surrounds the working class with its propaganda of defeatism and individualism, with its philosophy of “you can’t beat city hall.” It divides the workers along national, cultural and sex lines. It uses the union bureaucracy and the tricks they have become adept at to divide the workers.
IT IS NOT ENOUGH FOR COMMUNISTS TO BE BOLD IN TAKING UP THE STRUGGLE; WE MUST LEAD THE WORKERS IN WINNING.
A strike vote comes up...Is there any question that communists should favor the strike? Isn’t it only the company boot lickers and scabs that would oppose such militant action?
Such reasoning is not the way a Marxist looks on any workers struggle. We must weigh the possibility of winning against the risks and consequences of losing. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the company and the strengths and weaknesses of the workers? When we decide to take up an issue, for example a strike, we must pay attention to every detail. What is the main thrust...how to organize it. Can we use the companies’ competition to weaken the company, who are our allies, how do we rally other union and working class support?
Every striker must be mobilized and given specific tasks. Committees to aid strikers to get food stamps, to fight for unemployment insurance. Publicity committees to reach the rest of the class and the public and to tie up the company products. Attention must be paid to strikers with large families and with debts– to aid them in getting over the hard times. The families of the strikers must be reached; auxiliaries organized. Legal assistance in event of arrests. We must pay attention to EVERY worker. Solidify the leadership around a militant course of action; isolate the company hangers on, guard against the maneuvers of the hacks... No detail is too small. Our party must show leadership in all phases of the struggle.
The importance of WINNING is that it is the living example of the strength of the working class, the power of unity and organization; it cuts through the defeatism of capitalist propaganda and builds the independent organization of the class and exposes the role of the hacks. There are, of course, lessons from defeats as well as victories and these must be summed up....but the purpose of summing them up is to insure against then in the future.
It is in exercising leadership and winning in “small” day to day struggles that will attract the best leaders of the working class and educate the whole class in the tactics of struggle and convince the workers of the possibility of winning not only the day to day struggle but the broad political struggles as well, and train our cadre and the class for the final revolutionary struggle ahead.
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The DP and latest document are correct in focusing on the key areas the party must take up. But in the parts on unions–the struggle to put them back into the hands of the workers and to organize the unorganized–one thing is left out: the struggle to keep unions.
For example, in the construction industry contractors have increasingly been signing with non-union labor and even threatened to break a major carpenters strike with non-union labor. Other strikes or contract negotiations have put the union’s existence on the line–in the newspaper industry threats to shut down the plant and move only 50 miles away to a nonunion area.
The party should take up this struggle not to simply maintain the democratic right to have unions, but because the working class needs unions as a defense against the bosses, and losing them strips away gains workers have made. The attack on the unions is an attack on the growing struggle of the working class.
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The section of the DP on trade unions inadequately characterizes the role of lower level union leadership. Add the following to the programme, p.31, top right-hand column before the first full paragraph. That is, following the sentence that ends with “this is the policy of the proletariat and its party in the unions.”
The union ’hacks’ at the local level, local presidents and business agents, are members of the petty bourgeoisie. As such they will vacillate between uniting with the working class and compromising with the bourgeoisie or even siding with it against the proletariat. Today many of the union officials even at the local level are sellouts. Because of their close relationship to the workers they must to some degree be responsive to their needs and demands or else be out of office. This is the basis for winning them over. But because of their class position and because of pressure from labor traitors at the top, it will not be a simple one shot struggle to win them to stand with the working class. For the immediate time ahead, this will be a process of jamming them again and again to represent the true interests of the proletariat. Because of the vacillating nature of the petty bourgeoisie, some will side with the bourgeoisie. These traitors like those at the top must be exposed, rolled over, and kicked out of office!
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What is the basis of unity between employed and unemployed workers? To say, as the article “Focusing Struggle in UWOC Work” does in Journal No. 2, that our unity is in raising the same demand is to fail to bring light into the struggles the working class is waging against layoffs, plant shutdowns, short work weeks, etc., and for jobs, and income for those out of work, etc. It says we can’t be united as a class against the same imperialist enemy, that we can’t “develop the workers’ movement into a struggle on all fronts against the ruling class, developing fighters on one front into fighters on all fronts.” (latest document)
In summing up our work uniting employed and unemployed and building an Employed/Unemployed Committee (EUC) at our plant, we’ve come to see the importance of taking a correct line on this. We, too, saw that the basis for uniting workers in the shop with unemployed workers in UWOC was that we had the same demand. Only the demand was for unemployment checks on time. UWOC in our area had been focusing struggle around getting the checks out on time, and out shop was having periodic plant shutdowns, not to mention layoffs, to cut down on their inventory. When workers didn’t get their unemployment checks after the shutdowns, there was considerable spontaneous struggle around this–going to the union, personnel, and the compensation offices to demand the checks.
We correctly linked up with this struggle and tried to lead it forward and build organization in the course of this, but our errors caused many setbacks. One of those errors was in saying to the workers that our unity with unemployed workers was just that they too were fighting for their checks. We didn’t unfold around the struggle the real unity between employed and unemployed, that we’re members of the same class being oppressed and exploited by the same enemy.
At one joint meeting of workers from UWOC and the EUC, the workers themselves in informal discussion before the meeting began, spoke of this unity, the ways the capitalists try to divide us, the speedup coming right along with the layoffs, and the need to unite to fight all of these attacks. But as soon as the “official” meeting began that conversation was dropped and all we talked about was wanting our checks and how to build the picket line we were calling for. We substituted our own backward ideas for the correct ideas the workers were putting forward. Instead of “Employed/Unemployed – Same Crisis, Same Fight,” we were saying ̶-;Employed/Unemployed–Same Demand, Same Fight.”
In the course of this struggle an active fighter in the caucus and in the struggle for the checks was fired. When workers from UWOC came out to the picket line at the plant as part of the fight to get him reinstated, we weren’t able to (didn’t) bring out to the workers in the plant why they were there, since our only unity was in fighting for unemployment checks. In fact, the workers in UWOC understood better than we did that the unity of employed and unemployed workers is that we’re one class fighting the same enemy, no matter how he attacks us.
We also narrowed the fight to one for money, never mind the layoffs and plant shutdowns. We did put out the slogan “Jobs or Income–40 hours work or 40 hours pay,” but what the hell does that mean? We never built struggle around concrete demands like “Stop the Layoffs,” “(Defend Every Job,” “No Short Work Weeks,” or “No Plant Shutdowns.” In fact, what we came down to saying is you can’t really fight these things, so we might as well settle for some money while we’re laid off.
One petition we circulated at work said, “We, the overworked, underpaid, and mistreated workers at [Plant A] are FIGHTING MAD! At Christmas we were forced on lay-off by the company and still many of us have not got our unemployment checks for it! Now, the bloodsuckers at [Plant A] have laid us off again. Brothers and sisters, at [Plant A], will we let this go on? Hell no! We demand: 40 hours work or 40 hours pay; Cut the red tape, we want our checks and we want them on time; and hire adequate staff, more unemployment compensation clerks.” We never really questioned they right to lay us off any time they need to.
Or how about this from one of our leaflets: “[Rant A] is speeding up the work, doubling rates, working us overtime and getting ready for another big layoff–and we’ll just be waiting months again for those compensation checks, just like millions of unemployed workers are now.” We better fight for our checks since we can’t avoid being laid off. Also,
“We’re not interested in fighting each other for jobs. We’re interesting in uniting employed and unemployed workers to fight together for our checks on time!” Not only are we not interested in fighting each other for jobs, but we’re not interested in fighting the capitalists for jobs, either.
As Article Two, under “Other Aspects” in Journal No. 3 puts it, “In focusing totally on benefits we missed opportunities to expose the system. In particular, by not fighting the layoffs we missed opportunities to point the struggle directly at the companies. We didn’t clearly raise the point that the capitalists have no right to lay us off. We have a right to jobs, there is plenty that needs doing and what we workers want is a job! Not a handout. There’s something wrong with a system that can’t provide jobs.”
Finally, the latest document is correct when it says, “Organization must serve the purpose of developing struggle,” and “...these committees are not important as an end in themselves, but as part of building the fight against layoffs and the unity of employed and unemployed workers. It is with this understanding that we must take up the building of these committees. And even where it is not immediately possible to force the union heads to make them officially part of the union, while keeping control in the hands of the rank and file, we should unite rank and file workers into committees and other forms of organization to carry forward the fight for jobs, in unity with the unemployed and with UWOC in particular.”
We didn’t grasp this initially. We took around petitions calling for the formation of an EUC “in our union to fight against layoffs and for a living income, paid on time, for all periods of unemployment.” The response was favorable, so we raised the demand in our next union meeting. Of course, the hacks first claimed “no quorum,” and then adjourned the meeting, but the workers responded enthusiastically to the proposal, so we called a meeting to form the committee. Only one worker came, so we called another meeting, and nobody came to that one. Well, clearly, calling meetings wasn’t the way to go. We had to build the struggle going on first, and in the course of that unfold the need for organization and the need to force the union to take this up. Part of “bringing light” into the struggle is bringing in the need for organization. So we began building the fight for unemployment checks.
A few workers showed some interest in the EUC, but we still didn’t grasp that we had to involve the masses of workers in struggle, and build the EUC in the course of this.” We wrote an article in our caucus newsletter that ended like this, “The Employed/Unemployed Committee is collecting names and social security numbers-of [Plant A] workers, whether they’re working or on layoff, who are still missing their checks. We’ll be in the X before work for people to sign up and talk with us. Bring your social security number and let’s fight for our money! We will go to the main unemployment office downtown and demand that the checks be sent now!” The point is, the EUC, like UWOC, “cannot be a ’social service’ organization, bogged down in endless legal battles over grievances. Neither can it be a small propaganda sect ’enlightening the unemployed.’”
It is crucial that the EUCs mobilize the broadest masses of workers in struggle against layoffs, shutdowns, etc. and for jobs, and income when there are no jobs, for those on layoff. Jobs or Income is the demand of the class arising from the conditions of the unemployed, and that’s why the EUCs raise it and fight for it, not because it’s the correct demand to raise against layoffs. The EUCs must build the unity of employed and unemployed, and force the unions to support this struggle. Recently our union officials have begun to spread their poison of “Bring Our Jobs Back” from overseas, pointing to “foreign” workers as the enemy.
Plant-wide and industry-wide workers organizations, where they exist, must play a leading role in these EUCs, linking up the fight against layoffs with the other struggles the class is waging, and pointing these struggles against the real enemy. And, as the latest document states, “The development of area-wide workers organizations will also help to strengthen the unity of employed and unemployed workers.”
The EUC should not be a section of the areawide IWO, because it doesn’t take up all the struggles of the class, but instead focuses on the fight against layoffs in a particular plant or industry at the level of the trade unions. However, especially when there is no plant or industry-wide workers organization, active fighters who come forward in the EUC should be encouraged to join the areawide IWO, and, together with communists in the EUC, work to link the EUC with other struggles of the class, and especially with UWOC.
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In the course of struggling for the new party, our collective, which is concentrated in basic industry in a major center of production, has taken up how we have brought the local police repression campaign to the working class. We are convinced that much of our work in this campaign was marked by serious right errors which came out chiefly in the form of Bundism. These errors came from an incorrect class orientation. And we feel that similar errors were made in Article “Two” of the last journal on merging the national and class struggles.
What do these comrades who wrote “Two” say exactly? The main point is summarized: “And more importantly, it was by building our campaign as part of the fight against national oppression that we were able to make our most important breakthroughs in building the revolutionary movement. This should be reflected more fully in the programme.”
This is a fundamentally incorrect and Bundist line. Yes, one way that national oppression comes down is through police repression and terror in the communities of the oppressed nationalities. And if our point of view is that of the oppressed nationalities our line would be that the struggle against police repression should be taken up as part of the struggle against national oppression, as the writers of “Two” are saying.
But if our point of view is that of the working class, our line would be that of the DP: “They [the bourgeoisie] maintain a state of police terror in the ghettos of the, oppressed nationalities and carry out repression in all working class communities....This repressive apparatus [the state] is mainly directed against the proletariat and its party, but also enforces the rule of the bourgeoisie over all the classes and groups in society.”
To the extent that national oppression is a factor (and it is NOT in almost every case, as “Two” says), we of course take it up from two sides, uniting both the oppressed nationalities and the multinational working class to fight this oppression. But first and foremost, the way we take the police repression campaigns to the working class is to show how these attacks are part of an overall campaign of repression and terror on the working class in order to maintain and intensify our exploitation and keep us from fighting back against it. And in the future we will see increasing examples of divide and rule tactics by the bourgeoisie, to try and separate the working class from its class conscious leadership.
Then “Two” falls into incredible depths of narrow-mindedness: “Since the youth killed was not a worker, the campaign provided the opportunity [our emphasis] to show how as a class we must oppose attacks on Black people as a whole.” What if we took up a campaign around a white youth who was a worker?
Heavens forbid! Just think of all the lessons we couldn’t show from this example! We couldn’t show how police repression hits other classes and strata besides the working class. We couldn’t show how police repression comes down on “Black people as a whole,” let alone the other oppressed national minorities. All we’d be left with is that most ̶narrow” of lesions that police repression comes down on the working class “as a whole” and it takes up the fight against it in its own interests. These are the conclusions that the line and outlook of “Two” would lead us to.
Well we disagree. First, we don’t think we have to make a campaign out of a wife-beating to “show” the working class that we must stand for the equality of women. Second, we don’t think that the main emphasis of these campaigns against police repression should be “to show how as a class we must oppose attacks on Black people as a whole.” This is a Bundist line, as pointed out above, and completely misunderstands the role of the proletariat in the united front. The working class doesn’t run around like missionaries taking up the struggles of other classes and strata. It fights for itself as a class, and takes up struggles only insofar as they move the struggle of the working class forward.
“Two” might argue that taking up the struggle of “Black people as a whole” isn’t taking up the struggle of other classes and strata because the overwhelming majority of Black people are workers. We would argue that in the course of taking up police repression as an attack on the class, we unfold from there the multinational character of the class, the nature of national oppression, and then seek to unite the broad masses of people in the struggle against this attack because it doesn’t only come down on the working class, but the masses of people generally.
Another criticism we have of “Two” was their statement in the fourth paragraph: “...our line on the need for multinational unity and that the working class must and will take up and eventually lead [our emphasis] the fight against police repression, made real headway among the Black people we work with when they saw concretely...that the working class is taking up the fight.” And a little later: “The ultimate aim of our work in fighting police repression is to build the revolutionary movement...”
Once again the comrades’ incorrect orientation and Bundist line have turned things on their heads. What is the task of communists anyway? It is certainly not to base ourselves among any particular nationality, or any other class or strata, in order to make headway with them by showing how the working class is taking up their struggle (“they’re such good people, those workers’”). Our task is to base ourselves among the working class, take up the struggle from that point of view, and in the course of that win allies among the oppressed nationalities, national minorities, and masses of people generally. This “eventually lead” stuff doesn’t make it. With a correct line and orientation the working class will be leading the struggle. With an incorrect line and orientation the working class will never lead.
Second, the “ultimate aim” of our work is to overthrow the bourgeoisie, build socialism, and move on to communism. The immediate aim of our work is to build the police repression campaign as part of building the struggle, class consciousness, and revolutionary unity of the working class and its leadership in the united front. This isn’t being picky. Not to understand this leads to rightism in our work, as it has with these comrades.
We feel that in our local police repression campaign problems of orientation and political line led to important setbacks in our overall work. The problem of orientation–not grasping that the working class is the-only truly revolutionary class and that we must base ourselves at the point of production–led to pulling ourselves out of the plants and into the communities. Many comrades spent dozens of hours a week canvassing these communities, ringing doorbells, going into small shops and bars, leafleting, postering, etc. During this period of time we were much less able to stay on top of the day to day struggles going on in the shops, and therefore much less able to build the campaign at the point of production as part of the overall struggle.
What communities did we go out to? Our city is a very segregated one-there are very few communities that you could call multinational. In the name of going out to the working class, we found ourselves concentrating almost exclusively in Black and Latino communities. So the “communities line,” which flowed from a basic problem of orientation, served to cover a Bundist line that the struggle against police repression should be taken up as part of the struggle against national oppression.
Why didn’t we go out to white working class communities? In incorrectly thinking that the main tendency in our work was liquidating the national question, we were unable to recognize and root out some of the reactionary ideas we had, like the line in “Two” which says “that almost all cases of police repression... have objectively also been examples of national oppression.” In other words, white workers don’t face police repression. We found out that this line doesn’t cut much ice with white workers.
In spite of our line, we’ve found out recently that white workers do face police repression and have been fighting back against it. In one incident recently a group of 50-75 white youths mercilessly beat down a pair of cops that were harassing them. In another incident 500 people threw rocks and bottles and chased a cop from the scene of a police murder–and if he hadn’t been shooting as he ran away, he might have been a casualty of white workers struggling against police repression. We also learned about a woman who recently set up a committee to stop police brutality-in an all white working class community.
Taking the struggle out of the plants and into the communities of the oppressed nationalities was the clearest example of a Bundist line in our work. But there are others. In taking the campaign up in the shops we would encourage Black and Latino workers who were interested to go back into their communities (with us) and build unity nights (neighborhood meetings to build support for the campaign). They were also encouraged to join the workers committee against police repression.
For white workers who were interested, though, the only thing they could do would be to join the committee. This was our version of taking up the struggle against national oppression from two sides. What we hardly did at all was to rely on these workers to build this struggle in the shops by linking it up with and unfolding it around the day to day struggles workers were engaging in.
What this reflected in part was a problem we’ve had of not thinking in terms of the majority, of how to move the overall struggle of the working class forward. We’d be thinking of how to move this particular campaign forward by building for unity nights, demonstrations, dinners, meetings, etc., and didn’t understand that it had to be based on and unfolded around all the struggles the working class is waging, in order to move all these struggles forward.
Or we’d be thinking of how to move a particular worker forward in the campaign by having long, intense ideological discussions separate from the actual struggle, not understanding that only in the course of the actual struggle against the ruling class can the masses really take up and grasp these ideas. Or we’d be thinking of how to move the struggle of the oppressed nationalities and national minorities forward, not understanding that that could be done only by basing ourselves in the working class and moving its struggle forward. In general we found that the error of Bundism and incorrect orientation are closely linked together.
Certain victories have been won in the course of this campaign. A young Black worker shot in the back by cops in the course of a spontaneous struggle in his community against police harassment, and who was then framed on trumped up charges, was acquitted because of mass demonstrations, picket lines, and turnouts at the trial.
A few workers and others have moved forward as a result of their work in the campaign. Some gains have been made against capital and its state in restricting its ability to carry out this repression and terror against the masses of people in this city. And we have begun to learn some important lessons around this area of work in particular, and how it relates to other campaigns and struggles. But overall we feel our errors have meant a setback for our work in the working class, precisely because we were pulled away from the multinational proletariat and what must be the center of gravity of the party’s work-the day to day struggles of workers around wages, speedup, jobs, etc.
We fully unite with the line of the DP and latest document on the question of police repression. And we unite with the latest document when it says, “We communists in the recent past have waged considerable struggle against this tendency [tailing after bourgeois nationalism] –and at the same time have continued to struggle against white chauvinism–this struggle has only begun to get to the roots of this deviation.”
We hope that this contribution to the journal will help in the struggle against this deviation in order to form the party on the firmest foundation possible in the working class.
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Page 34 of the DP states: “...The party wages the most consistent and thorough struggle, among the masses and in its own ranks, against the bourgeoisie’s ideological props of white chauvinism (in particular the poisonous idea that white Americans are superior to other nationalities who are ’the cause of the problems,’ and that white workers should unite with the imperialists to suppress them) and narrow nationalism (in particular the poisonous idea that oppressed nationalities should be concerned only with the advancement of their own nationality and should fight people of other nationalities, especially white workers, for a bigger ’piece of the pie.’)” On p.33 of the DP, it states: ”There is nothing the bourgeoisie won’t stoop to, no lie too low or vicious, in its desperate attempt to maintain its exploiting rule. ’Blacks have all the jobs, and the Jews have all the money’...”
Practice in the class struggle has shown that these ruling class “divide and conquer” schemes do not merely take place in the realm of ideas, such as their propaganda and culture, but in fact often take form of a vicious carrot and stick (the carrot for looking, the stick for feeling) routine: now granting some concessions to whites while tightening repress ion against Blacks; now building up some Black bourgeois forces while blaming them and the Black workers for what it rips off from white workers, etc. This rearranging of the crumbs represents the ruling class’ main efforts (especially as the principal contradiction between the ruling class and the whole working class becomes ever sharper) to divide the class while they attack, and they rely on this more than on ideas of “superiority,” etc.
Sharp examples are the games played with the poverty programs following the Black rebellions starting in the late ’60s: token benefits granted to Black communities while adjacent communities with similar conditions of oppression received nothing; elaborate “quota” and “affirmative action” programs that did almost nothing to improve the position of the workers of oppressed nationalities, while providing employers with the excuse to offer white workers they didn’t hire: “we have to hire Blacks (or Puerto Ricans, or women) this week–so sorry,” when the fact is no jobs exist. And, of course, the recent examples of busing make the schemes of the ruling class clearer than ever: rob the class and tell the workers of each nationality that the hand in their pocket (or closing the school door) belongs to the workers and petty bourgeoisie of the other nationalities.
An example of this type of maneuver by the ruling class was the government-ordered seniority changes in the steel industry culminating in the infamous “consent decree.” In the struggle against discrimination in the industry and our plant, against these rulings, and against the Bundist tendencies within the ranks of the communists that came out around this struggle, we were able to learn some important lessons on how to build the struggle against national oppression “from two sides” and unite the workers in building the struggle against the ruling class.
One of the few big mills that had employed large numbers of Black workers prior even to World War 2, our plant has a history of blatant national oppression. The worst departments (in both conditions and pay) were all or almost all Black. Skilled and high paying units were generally all white. (In earlier days, immigrants of certain nationalities also suffered discrimination). Locker rooms and bathrooms were separate (in some cases up to 5-6 years ago!) and many departments found Black and white workers working side by side but in separate “units” with wide pay discrepancies. All of this was reinforced by the unit seniority system (you lose seniority if you transfer to a better unit) and the active cooperation of the union officials.
Of course there was a fierce struggle against this. “Steel and Shipyard Workers for Equality” (SWFE) was formed in the heat of the growing civil rights movement. While many court suits were filed, and appeals made to politicians, this movement was based in the masses of Black workers and was characterized by struggle: demonstrations, mass militant rallies and meetings, some walkouts, etc. The leadership of this group, however, emerged as thorough careerists, deserting the mass struggle and accepting various bureaucratic positions with the government, union and groups like CORE. They have linked up with local Black politicians and a few union hacks, and form the main social base for bourgeois nationalism and reformism in this struggle.
Overall, this movement represented great advances for all the workers. While the basic structure of national oppression still remains, concessions were won and consciousness was raised, about who the enemy is, who to rely on, that it is possible for the workers to fight back and win without the hacks taking it up, and about the need for Black and white workers to unite. While at first there were serious contradictions among the workers, like walkouts of mechanics when Blacks first joined the department, and walkouts over integration of the locker rooms, the growing trend has been unity. This is based in the fact that 1) the white and Black workers are working more closely, and therefore engaging directly in joint struggle, and 2) the militant struggles of the Black workers have inspired all the workers in seeing the potential strength the workers have in taking on the company.
In the face of all this, and the deteriorating position of the industry, the ruling class unleashed a couple of test “orders,” on rearranging the seniority system. It was no coincidence that it was issued around the same time as the ENA (just as the “consent decree” came out at the same time as the 1974 contract). The order basically gave Black workers in predominantly Black departments special privileges to transfer to predominantly white departments, and use their company seniority (rather than the unit) to compete for jobs within that department/unit. Black workers who had already transferred from Black departments were also issued special numbers and supposedly given the right to advance on the basis of plantwide seniority.
Initially, we summed this up as an attack on the struggle against discrimination, saying it didn’t go far enough. The restrictions were so heavy that very few Black workers had much to gain by transferring, and even those who had already transferred were very limited. And all other forms of discrimination in the plant were untouched. We demanded full plant seniority, back money and other basic demands against discrimination. This was correct as far as it went, because the order did leave the basic structure untouched. No organization existed in the rank and file at the time, but we pushed this line in newspaper articles and in the departments. Many of the Black workers united with this line. Several hundred attended meetings of a hastily revived SWFE to find some way to go beyond the ruling and fight for real equality.
Where we came up shakey was in taking up the struggle among the white workers. The great majority of them took the line that company seniority was bad and threatened their jobs. Fist fights broke out in some mills. In struggling with them, we put forward the line that the fight against national oppression was in their class interests, and showed how *he unit seniority system had actually divided workers, and kept down everyone in the plant. While some of the more backward said ”Bullshit, there was no discrimination,” most said, “O.K., I can agree these guys deserve a chance at a better job, and compensation for what the company has deprived them of. But it was the company that discriminated, not me–why should I have to pay, why should I give up my job?”
The Bundism we tended into around this was covered with a prettified veil of idealism–we knew better than to run a white-skin privilege line that the white workers should have to pay for “racism,” but because we were unwilling to deal with the realities of an attack coming down on all the workers (it didn’t fit in too well with “Black workers take the lead”) we stuck our heads in the sand and said, “Don’t worry, you won’t get bumped, the order says so (the bourgeoisie’s order!) Don’t hassle fighting for your job, what we must fight for is simply stronger measures against discrimination.”
Well, reality slapped the workers in the face, and jolted the communists awake. Cutbacks hit, and workers bumped and losing up to a hundred dollars a week behind the order. What really made us sit up and peer beyond our haze was that a good number of Black workers were also being bumped, sometimes by white workers.
On the basis of what was actually happening, we were able to sum up that a very serious aspect of the fight against the order must be the fight against all cases of the company using bumping-to rip people off. We began to see that the main thrust of what the company was trying to pull was not concessions to the fight against discrimination, the problem with which was that they didn’t go far enough. In fact, the concessions were practically non-existent, while the main thing happening was the company jockeying jobs around pretty much at will in order to create turmoil in the ranks of the workers–all at basically no extra cost, since almost no Black workers picked up on the “gift” of being able to transfer to a lower job in a white unit with no pay reduction.
Seniority is something the workers have fought long and hard for, basically to smash company favoritism and discrimination, and deprive brown nosers of promotions for services rendered. While we must fight for the most fair and non-discriminatory system (in this case, plantwide seniority) company attempts to undermine the seniority setup completely are an attack on the basic fighting strength of the workers. Faced with a no-strike deal, stagflation, and deteriorating conditions, as well as continuing discrimination, the workers needed this strength more than ever.
Criticizing our earlier line for the petty bourgeois moralism that it was, we took up the fight against the way people were getting screwed by bumping. The program we began to push in literature, in union meetings and on the shop floor called for full plant seniority, with no pay losses due to bumping (differences to be paid by the company), back pay for those discriminated against equivalent to what they would have made in the better white units, and an end to all discrimination in job placement, testing, foreman harassment, etc. In doing this, and uniting with workers to fight for these demands, we came into conflict with a variety of opportunist forces, all of whom opposed merging the struggle against national oppression with the struggle of the working class.
On the one hand, some local union officials took up the fight against bumping in a loud but harassed way. They not only wanted this struggle entirely within their control and acceptable bounds, they also wanted nothing about fighting discrimination hooked up with it. They attacked every effort of the rank and file to get a voice in the order (and later the consent decree). Along with them there were some more isolated Triple O’s who attacked the order in a more openly racist way, hiring a lawyer connected with the States Rights Party to sue against company seniority.
On the other side of the coin were the Black petty bourgeois forces and those allied with them in the union. They were able to rally up to 800 Black workers for meetings, where they put forward their plans for fighting the order through the courts. They cut out any possibility of rank and file action to fight for these demands. As for bumping, they came up with the line that we should fight against Black workers being bumped, but as for white workers, we should pass out jars of vaseline to them (to ease the_______ they would get). This line drew laughter not only from people like OL, but also from some of the Black workers. While the Black bureaucrats were the main ones pushing reactionary nationalism, our practice has born out that this deviation can become a serious problem among the Black workers as well.
Rather than predetermining which reactionary ideas are more dangerous and which not so, we must analyze the particular contradictions in each situation and struggle against all bourgeois ideology. For example, after the coke ovens walkout brought pay increases to the ovens, placing them above many other departments, it was as much of a struggle with the majority of the coke ovens workers (who are 90% Black) to win them to seeing the need to fight for company seniority (along with the demand to make the company, not the workers, pay), as it was to win over white workers who were afraid of Blacks taking their jobs.
When some local officials took some steps toward mobilizing workers against bumping (at this point things in the mill were close to the boiling point with spontaneous walkouts threatened), we were able to make some gains in linking this with the struggle against discrimination. At the largest union meeting in recent years in one local, where the only thing talked about was fighting bumping, we put forward that no workers should be paying for the company’s discrimination, including both those being bumped, and those still stuck in the rotten jobs. A rap which said we must unite these struggles in order to advance either, and pointing to the recent coke ovens walkout as an example of the way forward, drew enthusiastic applause from a large section of the overwhelmingly white crowd. The line we held to before would have painted these workers “racist” and prevented uniting with them.
To the extent that we took up this line, practice proved it to be correct. After the consent decree was signed we were able to unite a good number of Black and white workers in opposing it and demanding that a mass local meeting be held to unite the workers in fighting it. The paper of the organization in the plant received almost unanimous support for this program among the workers, even though confusions and divisions around the issue were still high.
When we took around a petition that demanded an end to the no-strike deal, the right to vote on contract, and opposed the consent decree, calling both for full plant seniority and an end to all discrimination, and no pay loss due to bumping, most workers were willing to sign. At first some of us were hesitant. A lot of white workers wouldn’t go for the plant seniority, and this might prevent uniting with them against the ENA. In fact, although some people still said, “This could mean someone taking my job, I can’t sign this,” overall Black and white workers alike were more than willing to sign the petition.
The main limitations on success in advancing the class struggle around this line were our vacillations in mobilizing the masses around it. While we were able by some persistent struggle, and agitating widely in the mill, to force the bureaucrats to agree to call a special meeting on the consent decree (something they dreaded since it was certain to be huge, angry and directed at how to smash the decree rather than accommodate to it), we pulled the rug out from under the upsurge by sitting back and waiting for them to call it–which they never did. Also, while we worked some within SWFE (which was hard, since it doesn’t do much), we never put forth boldly and clearly to the workers who came to their meetings what our plan of action should be. A lot of people agreed with the suggestions of the shop newsletter for mass demonstrations around our full list of demands, and agreed with the criticism of SWFE as tailing behind the courts, and dividing the workers, but at all the mass meetings the reformists held sway and no effective challenge was mounted. Main Lessons: First, that we must firmly grasp that “It is the basic contradiction of capitalism and the class struggle that arises from it, between the working Class and the capitalist class, that stands even more prominently at the center of the stage in the United States today,” if we want to understand any of the particular struggles that are now unfolding around this principal contradiction. To do otherwise, and fail to look at things from the standpoint of the proletariat as a class, can lead among other things to doing the bourgeoisie’s work of dividing the class under the guise of “fighting racism”
In line with this, it is correct that the Programme aims its fire at both while chauvinism and narrow nationalism as props of the ruling class, without setting up one or the other as less dangerous among the masses or communists. We also can see that “building the fight against national oppression as part of the overall class struggle” and of “working at it from two sides” is the only way forward for both the national liberation struggles in this country and the overall class struggle. If we fail to build the struggle among the oppressed nationalities, or fail to mobilize the whole class around this struggle, or tail behind bourgeois nationalism, or separate it from the overall class struggle; in any of these cases we will be sabotaging the struggle rather than leading it forward.
We can also see that as the principal contradiction comes more any more sharply into focus, and the crisis deepens, the bourgeoisie will rely more and more on “crumb-shuffling” divide and conquer schemes to pit the workers of the oppressed nationalities against each other. While the freedom of the pigs to offer selected handouts is rapidly decreasing, schemes like the consent decree and our local school plan (which involved transfers but no state-financed busing) which have the same effect and essentially cost nothing, will be used more and more. The party must have a clear stand or, dealing with these attacks, and the programme should speak briefly to them.