The Role of the Unions Part 10: Will Barnes to IDN


You are quite right, Will, that I see what appear to me to be contradictions in your practice, an inability to clearly draw the class line in intervention in the class struggle, specifically around the struggles in Wisconsin. You have said, and said very clearly, that the unions "were leading public sector workers down the road to disaster" that "especially in situations where a confrontation with capital looms ... unions do not possess strong institutional defenses against capital." and that "this is not a flaw that can be remedied by a change in leadership, but is rooted in the fundamental nature of unions themeselves as institutions that seeks to obtain the best deal for labor on the terrain of capital ...." My view is that such political positions do not clearly draw the class line, are woefully insufficient in this epoch, and will not provide a basis for either resistance to the looming austerity to which capital must subject the working class, or for the generalization of the class struggle. Why? Because in all of the above statements, throughout your posts, what is missing is a forthright political statement that today unions are against the working class, that they are organs of the class enemy, that they have become capital's political agents in the management of the working class and the containment and defeat of class struggle.

WB: Well, at least you have answered my question concerning whether in carrying a union card sully I myself. My position “alarmingly” sets me to the side of “the class enemy.” (Below this will slide over toward “counterrevolutionary”).

I am curious. On what basis does your view of unions rest? Is it evidenced, grounded, say, on some instances that you have generalized? Is it a requirement of your theory? Some other basis?

In that sense, unions today are no different than the Stalinist parties in France or Italy in '68 or '69: counter-revolutionary. That is why, for me, your statement that: "We start from the defense of those institutions nonetheless ...." is so alarming. Moreover, not just that conclusion, but some of your other statements seem to me to fail to grasp how the nature and role of unions has been transformed over the past 70-80 years (or longer). for example, I don't believe that "unions are institutions that seeks to obtain the best deal for labor on the terrain of capital." That may once have been the case, but in the present epoch unions seek to limit, contain, and when that fails, to crush the class struggle, to lead the workers to defeat. That and the increase of their own political power within the hegemonic bloc of capital is what unions seek. It is not that unions lack "institutional defenses against capital," it is that they are an integral part of capital. If, indeed, that is the case, then your political practice warrants a thoroughgoing critique.

Can the political positions that I have advanced be easily introduced into a defensive struggle, at a time when illusions in the unions, particularly the public sector unions, may still be strong? Not easily, not without many workers, as you say, having difficulty getting a "handle on" or agreeing with. But certainly the agreement of workers is not something that comes before revolutionaries draw the class line, but as a result. That agreement is not a prerequisite for drawing the class line. Had it been the rejection of national defense by revolutionaries during World War One, to take a single example, would not have occurred, for surely workers had a hard time getting a handle on that, or rallying to it. Yet it was precisely the ability to draw the class line under those conditions that was a necessity for revolutionaries and that contributed to the mounting of the revolutionary wave. A different class line today as draconian austerity is being imposed, but the same necessity for clearly drawing it.

WB: For every union you can cite that conforms to your view, I can cite another that pursues the best deal for workers, not just wages but working conditions to the extent in some cases of cutting deeply into the bosses' prerogatives. On this basis alone, your view is disqualified and unacceptable.

The universality of your view of unions rests directly and immediately on your characterization of the epoch... “in this epoch,” “in the present epoch”... and while you don't describe this characterization or how you arrived at it, you further refuse to discuss it (instead it constitutes a “theoretically interesting and important” question but not “the real issue” - your second post). By fiat, you preclude such discussion, but surreptitiously revert to this characterization because your view of unions depends on it.

I do not accept your view of “this epoch.” It is, as I stated earlier, incoherent. I reject any attempt to deduce a concrete determination of the nature of an institution, a social relation or social group from an axiomatic theory. In its universality, your view is unevidenced, speculative. Your insistence on it is dogmatic.

I do not, then, accept your position on unions. You don't know where to draw the class line without this baggage you bring to bear on the issue, and carrying this baggage you fail to draw it properly: The contradictory nature of unions as I described it earlier indicates the adequacy, the fundamental “correctness,” of where I have draw it. You do not offer a critique of my practice (without one of your own you cannot rise to this level), and instead merely state such is warranted from the perspective of your dogmatic position. The warrant, however, is contingent upon acceptance of that position. And while I would not insinuate that you are a counterrevolutionary, that position makes you a dogmatic sectarian.

I hope that others on this list will now intervene as a back and forth between Will and me, has already established the basic positions at issue.

WB: Indeed, since it is only now that the true parameters of this discussion have become apparent, others might well intervene.

April 4, 2011

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