Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Letter to the Editor: Where should communists concentrate?

First Published: Unity, Vol. 5, No. 6, April 9-22, 1982.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Dear UNITY and the CALL,

I have been following the Marxist-Leninist debate on “period and tasks” including responses printed in UNITY and the CALL. I think it’s good that different views are being brought out and debated. Such exchange and debate should help contribute towards more clarity and unity in our movement.

One question that has come out in this debate is on where communists should concentrate their work in the working class. I want to raise some differences and criticisms of the view being put forth by RWH on this question.

RWH has stated, both in written articles (such as the article by RWH member Wes Harding in the March/April issue of the CALL) and speeches (as in a recent workshop on the debates held in Boston), the position that the highly unionized, higher paid workers in basic-industry are the most important sector to organize.

RWH regards these workers as the most “strategic,” as having the “greatest potential consciousness” and as having a “disproportionate influence on the character and state of the labor and other social movements.”

Of the workers in the lower stratum of the working class, RWH considers them to be less strategic and as having less revolutionary potential: “The greater amount of oppression and weak union representation also means greater intimidation and hesitation to stand up for basic rights as well as more instability in terms of workforce turnover.” (all quotes are from Wes Harding’s article in the CALL)

In my opinion, there are a number of serious errors in this view. The main one being that it lacks an overall perspective based on the concrete realities of the U.S. The RWH doesn’t seem to take into account we are trying to make a revolution in a superpower, and how that superpower status has affected workers.

RWH fails to see that an upper section of workers in basic industry – the higher paid, skilled workers – are among the more privileged in the U.S. and have been more influenced by the labor misleaders and imperialism. On the other side, RWH belittles the potential consciousness of the masses of workers, including oppressed nationality and women workers. Harding’s statement that workers in the lower stratum are “intimidated” and “unstable” is a chauvinistic slap at minority and women workers.

Harding is also wrong in belittling the influence of lower stratum workers on the overall character of the labor movement. Historically, socialists and communists have recognized the importance of the lower stratum in terms of winning the advanced and building a more militant and revolutionary labor movement. Some examples include the garment and textile workers in the early 20th century and the unskilled industrial workers of the 20’s and 30’s. In the contemporary movement, lower stratum workers have had a tremendous impact on the working class and other social movements – such as the United Farm Workers, the Farah strikers, Black auto workers, the JP Stevens drive, the Vogue Coach struggle, the Sanderson Farms strike, etc.

RWH’s view reminds me of the chauvinist and economist view of the old RU which regarded workers in large-scale industry as having “largeness of mind” while slandering lower stratum minority workers as being militant only in an immediate sense, but “unstable” and therefore not as proletarian. RU attacked these workers as “adventurist,” “undisciplined” and even “lumpen.”

RWH’s view also reveals a narrow and economist view of “strategy.” Does RWH think that the strategy for the U.S. revolution is to get the workers in the Midwest to “pull the switch?”

This is an extremely narrow and simplistic view which ignores the concrete conditions of the U.S. RWH negates the tremendous role that the oppressed nationality movements will play in the revolution, and therefore the need to organize the working class of the oppressed nationalities. Furthermore, RWH does not recognize the need to forge the multinational unity of the working class in areas like the South or Southwest. Whether or not the working class in these areas is unified will have a big impact on the course of the struggles of the oppressed Black and Chicano nations.

There are other geopolitical and regional considerations which RWH tails to address, such as the current heavy flow of capital to the so-called Sunbelt.

I think that the League of Revolutionary Struggle has put forth a more balanced approach which is based on a concrete analysis of the conditions of the U.S. and the working class, and the requirements of the U.S. revolution. In advocating that communists base themselves among the lower stratum of the working class, the League upholds a correct general ideological orientation.

The lower stratum focus is especially important at this stage of the revolution because their political consciousness is higher and there are more workers open to communism. Communists must develop their work in this area if they are to make a maximum contribution to the workers movement at this stage of our struggle.

Furthermore, LRS has tried to specifically identify what it means by the lower stratum: the unskilled production workers in basic industry; workers in the lower stratum of industry and manufacturing, particularly in the South and Southwest; and workers in some of the most oppressive situations who make up large concentrations of the working class of the oppressed nationalities (farm, garment, culinary, foundry and other workers).

RWH’s view is dogmatic and narrow. Perhaps this comes from RWH’s own experience, which seems to be almost exclusively among the higher paid, relatively more skilled, white and male workers in basic industry. Unfortunately, RWH seems to have adopted the chauvinism and narrowness of some in this stratum.

Don’t get me wrong; I think communists must organize among these workers, too. But it would be a grave mistake to see them as the only or main sector, or as the “vanguard.”

One last point. RWH consistently mischaracterizes and distorts the LRS’ view as advocating “leaving” or “de-emphasizing” basic industry. Anyone who can read or who knows anything about the LRS’ practice would know-that the LRS upholds the importance of organizing in basic industry. These distortions only serve to evade the real issue, which is RWH’s outlook that singles out only workers in the upper sector and pits them against the rest of the class.

In struggle,
Boston, Mass.