The Movement and the Workers
By C. Van Lydegraf
Second edition, May 1972
About the second edition:
By 1969 “The Movement” had become a real force with its own identity. And just because there was promise of success in the air, the new revolutionaries were attacked by a lot of people who had supposed that they would be the ones to head up the revolution.
“The Movement and the Workers” was written at that time. It welcomed the new activists but it also tried to examine failings and mistakes and wrong ideas in order to get at sources and causes. It is not a law of history that we endlessly repeat every old mistake.
No modern imperialist country has yet produced a mass revolutionary force that is effective and enduring. This is what makes critical examination of our own understanding and performance such a necessity. Once we can get a clear idea about what is right and what is wrong in our efforts we will already be well on the way to realizing our great potential as a strategic force.
Our problem is how to deal with all the ways that the US empire still uses to control our lives and have its way with us so that it can go on looting and oppressing, even if only on a shrinking portion of the globe.
If the piece were being written now, in May of 1972 rather than in early 1969, I would place less emphasis on overall economic demands and more on collective ways of living and resisting. People should struggle to re-appropriate the loot of empire however they can – by strikes or whatever means.
But this should be done for survival and for revolution; we get nowhere if we only compete for a lot of junk commodities. Unions don’t make workers into a revolutionary class – for that we have to live, think, and fight collectively. Income beyond survival needs and our special skill can be used to build the revolution and to sabotage the evil works of the empire. It’s the only way to live purposefully and joyfully.
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At the end of the original text, a new section has been added with comments on events since the time of the first printing.
A revolutionary is not one who becomes revolutionary with onset of the revolution, but one who defends the principles and slogans of the revolution when reaction is most violent and when liberals and democrats vacillate to the greatest degree…
– V.I. Lenin
THE MOVEMENT AND THE WORKERS – BREAKING THROUGH THE SYSTEM FIX
In the 19th century Karl Marx referred to workers as the grave-diggers of capitalism. In the second half of the 20th century some people are asking whether the modern industrial workers are not more likely to bury the revolution than make it.
Movement people are bombarded with contradictory contentions as to the present and future role of these workers and the Establishment-oriented trade unions.
In such political essays, workers are usually presented as purely economic creatures. They may be automated and educated, but for all that they are still pictured as being moved exclusively by calculations of selfish material gain. Robinson Crusoes all, though surrounded by push-buttons.
Assuming that the “affluent society” will go on and on, pessimists write off workers as hopeless. They think that they will have to find someone other than workers to make the revolution – or there won’t be one.
Ritualists from older times rush to “defend” the workers’ good name and give us impassioned assurance that the workers are still programmed for revolution by the laws of political economy. Only there have been delays in the action.
Thus, choice is apparently limited either to giving up or placing hope in prayer-like incantations which have lost their magic. It is no wonder that a new generation of rebels seeks to find a new course. This impulse grows into a passion after exposure to the cowardice, treachery, and shabby maneuvering exhibited by many leaders once regarded as revolutionary communists. Such was the role of the Khrushchev group in the Soviet Union and similar groups in other places including the US.
Most of the new activists were completely alienated from the traditional left. There was at first not enough contact with, or understanding of, the continuing revolutionary struggle in China and other countries to offset these negative reactions. The new movements were temporarily cut off from any close contact with a scientific analysis of revolutionary history.
Naturally enough, Cuba became the Mecca and Che Guevara the prophet of the activists, adding thereby a touch of Latin romance and more than a little of anarchism and military syndicalism. Cuban experience seemed to confirm the idea that a liberation army can do without a party: the guerrilla army leads the revolution to victory without much support from the working class. Regis Debray later converted this speculation into an entire system in his book, Revolution in the Revolution. But puffing it up only makes it more visible and less convincing.
Ours is a society developed and structured in quite a different way than pre-revolutionary Cuba, even if we leave aside the matter of whether Debray does not misread Cuban experience.
So, repelled by deserters and sectarian mini-groups, the new movements set to house-cleaning. Everything went, garbage, furniture, heirlooms. This leaves most old-generation-left veterans feeling like a motherless child, grudging their loss and calling up old memories. But what is important is that the way is now open for new solutions to correct old mistakes and failures.
But not yet having adequate solutions, the new generation takes to borrowing. The result is the damndest eclectic mish-mash that ever was. It is nothing to be alarmed about. All great revolutionary break-throughs have emerged in fierce conflict with obsolete ideas.
The new collection draws upon Fidel and Che heavily, but also from classic Marxism-Leninism. From anarchism and existentialism and pragmatism it derives pure activism. It takes something from US agrarian populism. It often does all this without knowledge of original sources or consideration of historical circumstances. The whole is seasoned with dashes of psychedelia, sex, and pot.
In the hot-house climate of the movement absurd things blossom in a flash. But so widespread is the growth of the revolutionary struggle, that in the end its basic ideas penetrate everywhere. Its leaders from Marx to Mao and Ho become universally known. Through all the muddle the movement grows and painfully solves problems one after the other.
A clear example is the growth of the Black Panther Party and the political impact of its spokesmen, notably Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and Eldridge Cleaver, but including others. There are now, for the first time since the murder of Malcolm X, leaders who promise to make their own revolutionary understanding and policy meaningful in the lives of their people – and this is a most decisive and strategic constituency. It has been many years since any organization or party has been able to do this. Which makes this a major political event for our country.
If the movement is going to be able to join with white workers to produce our own leap forward, it will first have to work hard to relate to actual fact and not to some dream-world.
Workers individually, as a class, and as part of the entire society are not moved by economics alone. They are structured into the system in a thousand ways just as “middle class” students are. Not in the same roles, but quite as effectively.
What is more, students and intellectuals are not necessarily and entirely middle class. Manual and mental labor are social divisions of labor, but not economic classes as such. Most white collar workers, including PhDs, sell labor power to the boss just like any dishwasher or carpenter and sometimes on worse terms. At the same time, many skilled jobs require workers who are educated. Students and intellectuals who do not make it into status jobs usually end up in the ranks of the workers.
It IS a bit easier to expose the system in the midst of a shattering economic crisis. But it is never easy to radicalize workers. It was not easy even in 1933-35. The process of mass radicalization began among the 17 million unemployed who had no work and who were not all of working class origin to start with. It took some time and enormous effort; it was not spontaneous. Class and long range goals, and political, social, and moral issues all figured in the movement.
The capacity for commitment, sacrifice heroism and comradeship, willingness to put common good ahead of selfish interests – these traits are not a monopoly of young intellectuals. And there is something to be said for the disciplined collective effort and organization which workers are able to produce.
No one can expect the new left to know all these things instantly. But longtime “Marxists” who ignore BASIC Marxism while quoting Marx in the most superior accents imaginable – they have no excuse. They offer Marxism to the new movements in the sorriest condition possible.
Some young people (among them Greg Calvert, Carl Davidson who have written in New Left Notes and in the Guardian) have picked up on this mangled Marxism uncritically. The result is that they deny even some obvious facts such as the effects of bribery and corruption of important parts of the working class through their sharing in a part of the loot of imperialism. On the part of the older opportunists and sectarians (who invented it) this denial is outright falsification of Marx and Lenin. It is also a less than honest attempt to gain friends in labor by flattery and overlooking shortcomings. The young, in this case, are guilty of no more than thoughtlessly aping their elders.
If the new left essayists will take the time to read more carefully the Communist Manifesto and some of Lenin, that will be a very great gain for the movement.
Competition among workers, sectional and selfish interests, short-term favors, plus social pressure and national and racial chauvinism have quite often diverted various groups of workers, and even entire national contingents, from a revolutionary role to one that is either passive or reactionary in its effect. The US imperialists of today have a very great mass of wealth from super-profiteering and they have had a rather lengthy period of relative prosperity in which to manipulate various sections of the population.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote that communists (the Marxists of a century ago) are those who concern themselves with the overall class interests of the workers and not just some craft or national sector, and with the future, not just a momentary selfish advantage.
In the 1920s Lenin, writing about Europe and North America in the book Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder, stated, “…There (in the West), the craft-union, narrow-minded, selfish, unfeeling covetous, petty-bourgeois ‘labor aristocracy’ imperialistically-minded, and bribed and corrupted by imperialism, represents a much stronger stratum than in our country.” Revolutions are made by facing problems, not by denying that they exist. Taking state power is a big job, still in the future. Meanwhile, things must be done to open the way. Workers are still the prime movers and shakers at the social base – calling up this force is the generative act which shapes the future – motivity is its product.
NEW BEGINNINGS – ASSORTED HANGUPS
The new movements did not stop with repudiation of reformist and timid spokesmen who had presided over the decline of the left. The reactionary labor bureaucracy of the AFL-CIO and other parts of the system’s liberal front also came under heavy fire. The NAACP monopoly of speaking for all Negroes was shattered by young and militant Blacks. Within the movements, high-handed bureaucratic ways were replaced by the new-style near-anarchy of “participatory democracy.”
This political storm gathered and took shape with the US capitalist economy as “healthy” as it ever gets and with its military and diplomatic strength at an all time peak. But for all its might, the US experienced major military and policy defeats one after another in China, Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam.
This exposure of the inner weakness of the US colossus was a major event in the growth and education of the new left. The political action which brings this lesson home through militant tactics of confrontation and de-sanctification is a very great achievement. Another strong point of the new actionists is the fact that, having seen through the deceptions of imperialism, they take the side of the future, renouncing prospects of elite and privileged careers.
The movements were repelled by opportunist misuse of logic and dialectic to cover failure and cowardice. Being unready to detect and correct bad theory, they turned to the concept of direct action. But without the orientation which comes from scientific theory, bold plans and daring deeds can cover underlying frustration and feelings of impotency when confronted by a powerful enemy. In these circumstances, even earnest efforts to cope with social problems and class struggle easily turn into phantasmagoria.
Recently a systematic politics of frustration has been patched together and offered as a “new stage,” usually called neo-capitalism. What is important here is not the authors’ intentions or the froth of the theoretics, but its content and effect.
The aimlessness of pure direct-action and the passivity of dropping out is to be “improved” by substituting a more sophisticated “neo-Marxism” no. 1001. The common starting point of these efforts is to declare that imperialism is not essential to US capitalism and that the owners themselves will soon discard it as outmoded and too crude. The arms race will soon fade away for the same reason.
This purely imaginary elimination of imperialism is asserted as if it were obvious fact without need of proof or argument. To help the wish pass as an idea, it is added that by planned obsolescence and “consumerism” (the selling of junk commodities, the expansion of credit) the system can get by nicely with an expanded home market. All the fuss and bother of exporting capital and keeping up the massive and costly military establishment is not necessary.
The source of this glittering vision of transfiguration seems to be a hope of getting around the presumed desertion of the revolution by the workers. Now the contradictions and consequences of imperialism may be dealt with apart from basic economics, state power, and revolution.
Having started with purely economic man, the theorists have now dispensed with basic economics entirely. Solutions may be looked for in juggling books, planning, sociology, advertising, psychology, media, and tactics. Here the “new working class” – that is the graduate student and others with special training and skills – can take care of everything. Marx’s proletarian is still welcome to the revolution, but only as a guest; no longer is he the source of power.
The system will no longer need nasty wars or the genocide of Blacks, Browns, Reds, much less fellow Whites. Internationalism becomes a highly moral pleasure, self-satisfying and purging and not calling for anyone to shed blood in obsolete wars of liberation.
The self-contained US can easily be re-structured. There can be a rational society dwelling amid peace and luxury while crass materiality is scorned. Since only the imperialists benefit from the obsolete empire, while workers remain pure, (even though they gave up their own class revolution to chase after commodities) communism can come at once. There might even be left over things for generous distribution to poor and undeveloped countries.
The new theorists do not examine these absurdities which they have brought into the world. They do not indicate awareness of them nor offer explanations. They are content that they have exorcised the innermost being of US capitalism by officially declaring imperialism to be no more than a ghost. It is exhilarating to think of confronting a ruling power reduced to a body of zombies without class aims. Such is the content of “neo-capitalism.” But the achievements of the new left, such as its withering criticism of the life – and the weaknesses of the old left – are not strengthened by such fantasy.
It is also true that the historic left had a genuinely positive side – this will have its impact as the record is better understood. But doctrinaire solutions of 20 or 30 years standing, combined with inability to define, much less resolve, new facts and problems, or relate to new people with new ways, can in no way further the cause of Marxism or social change and revolution. There is nothing to teach unless we are first willing to learn.
The new activists are wrong in a number of things, but the contempt which they express for distorted Marxism and bad advice is highly justified and valuable. Marxists within the movement, both the old and the young, have to be able to help work out genuine solutions to problems rather than hawk useless cure-alls. Action is aimless without the purposefulness which comes from theory. But theory that is not integrated with the action is lifeless and turns into just another obstacle, Only the combination of theory derived from practice and practice enlightened by theory can create that basic orientation which is urgently needed by the entire movement, but which is achieved so painfully and with so many false turns.
THE ROOTS OF EMPIRE AND THE CRISIS IN OUR LIVES
Imperialism as a full blown stage in our history dates from about the turn of the century, but its roots go back to the earliest colonizers.
The first Europeans to set up enclaves on the Atlantic seaboard built their plantations and businesses by taking advantage of refugees from political and religious persecution and so availed themselves of indentured servants and convict labor. The conditions of these workers were very near to those of outright slavery, which itself was quickly established in the middle and southern colonies with the importation of Black slaves from Africa. The land for these colonial free enterprises was “granted” by the King of England, but in fact it was seized by driving off and exterminating the native red Indians.
Many northern as well as southern family fortunes of the founding fathers rested on one or more of the three corners of colonial trade: sailing sugar and molasses to New England, rum, spirits, and tobacco to Europe, slaves from Africa to the West Indies and the Southern colonies, and repeat. After the invention of the cotton gin, the textile industry was worked into the scheme, with the middle and southern Atlantic coast turning to slave breeding for the middle and western slave states as the soil was exhausted in the east. To serve this new branch of the economy, the slave trade from Africa was closed out with great humanitarian ceremonies.
Later a vast part of the present territory of the US was “purchased” from France, which had seized title by sending canoe expeditions down the Mississippi and up its western branches. Additional wars were cooked up to clear out the various Indian tribes such as the Cheyenne, Sioux, Apache, Nez Perce from the west generally, and the nation of Mexico from Texas, the Southwest and California. Alaska, which had been stolen by agents of the Russian Tsar, was purchased from that ruler without regard to the Indian, Aleut, and Eskimo inhabitants. Hawaii was annexed by threats and the British were pushed out of the Oregon Territory.
Unequal treaties were ceremonially signed with the Indians remaining after the wars, giving them empty promises in return for real land and resources. In sum, the foundation of all the special advantages, the productive “genius,” and the exceptional wealth of the USA commences with the plain and simple seizure by force of arms and genocide of the common property and lives of the original Americans. It rests equally upon the labor and life blood of millions of Black slaves.
The vision of the shining, clean young-giant of a nation built by the sweat and toil of free farmers on free-land and free workers in free enterprise is one of the original big lies. For generations going back to middle age European feudalism, the Christian churches and the earliest merchants, traders, shop keepers, and manufacturers have busily taught contempt for the rights and the lives of the dark-skinned heathen whom they regard as less than human.
The attitudes and habits of imperial white supremacy came with the first settlers. They continued in effect right through the war of independence, when we exercised our right of revolution (in the name of all mankind). We did not recognize the crimes of colonizing as crimes at all; most people justified the practice, and many actively pushed expansion to the west. All our schools still teach the conquest of the west as a mark of national greatness. In our schools, not only African-American history is butchered; so is our entire history, especially that of labor.
Only with the abolitionists and John Brown is there a small break with the rationale of slavery and genocide, only then does it seem possible that the words of the Declaration of Independence may one day be taken seriously by the people and used against the exploiters and oppressors. This is the positive side of our history – but we have still not found it possible to do what is needed to eliminate the slave-making and colonizing nature of our society. John Brown’s unfulfilled goal is at the heart of the contemporary crisis.
It is true that most people in the 1840-1850 decade owned no slaves, drew no income directly from the plantations, hunted down no fugitives. Many were quite as free, in their own opinion, from guilt in the matter as were most Germans 100 years later in the matter of the gas-oven deaths of millions of fellow Germans and Europeans – most of whom also happened to be white, but were also Jews, reds, Poles, Russians and others cast out of the human race by the Nazi race laws – their law and order. (These laws had an ideological prototype in the pioneering slogan of the expanding US: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”)
When the fascist crimes of German, Italian, and Japanese empire are compared with the performance of the U .S. in Vietnam and in the ghettos in this country, there remains no grounds for a plea of ignorance – the essential identity is clear.
Land piracy and genocide are the ultimate source of all those “natural’ geographic, climatic, and ethnic virtues usually cited to account for the exceptionally “high standard of living” of the US.
The methods of modern imperialism are still brutal enough, but they are habitually covered by indirect and sophisticated technique. The real content of still more efficient and intensive oppression and extermination is revealed only when they are effectively resisted as in Vietnam. The historic seizure of the rich lands of the Indians now serves as a model to imitate everywhere. This is the pattern of the US take-over of ranches and oil wells and iron ore mines in Venezuela, the same in Brazil with coffee added, tin in Bolivia, copper in Chile, bananas in Guatemala, oil in the middle east, not long ago it was Cuban sugar and Chinese rice as well.
The modern equivalent of Black slave labor is not confined to the US. It is reproduced in the low prices paid for the oil, iron, and bananas of the new style colonies and in the inflated prices which the monopolists command for their cloth, machines, guns, and “protection” which they export in return. This produces underdevelopment and misery in Africa, South and Central America, Asia, even Canada. It is the cause of starvation wages in Brazil, the Congo, in Panama.
The cavalry, whiskey, and trading goods used against Indians have counter-parts in the jets, napalm, bombs, and peace-corps of today.
Not content with strip-mining humanity, imperialism proceeds to strip-mine the source of life, the earth itself.
Colossal amounts of precious and limited minerals, raw materials, and other resources are being rapidly and wastefully consumed, and in such a way that land, air, and water are spoiled and poisoned in the process. A very large proportion of basic industrial supplies and some kinds of food and agricultural products come here from abroad. Some have estimated that the US consumes about 60% of all raw materials entering into production in the capitalist world, and that we import about the same amount of that from outside our borders.
The US does in fact have bases in all parts of the world. It does spend 100 billion per year on military projects. It is expanding its capital investments abroad. It does make higher profits there. It does expand its holdings in other countries. It does control sources of cheap raw materials. It does try to police the world. It does send AFL-CIO labor traitors abroad with money and threats to contain and destroy labor struggle there.
To reverse all that would cripple precisely most of the greatest corporations and fortunes of the vast industrial and financial and commercial sub-empires of the US General Motors and Standard Oil, Aramco, DuPont, and General Electric are not easy to write-off. Such a reversal would also shatter the plush world of the high military.
The record demolishes the contention that there is no corruption of workers, or other parts of the people, by US imperialism and that the boasted affluence of our society has no effect upon most of the people. The idea is equally unsupportable that by manipulating domestic markets the US economy can get along quite well without the export of capital or extortionate terms of trade and war budgets.
Those who have wiped out imperialism with a stroke of the pen should look again: it is still in business and not for our health but to make super-profit and hang on to power and survive.
It is totally irrelevant whether in theory our country might have developed in another way under different historical circumstances. The fact is that the US right now plays top imperial hog. If we are to speculate, we might consider whether, if tables were reversed, the US would not more nearly resemble India or Indonesia, than it would a small auxiliary economy such as that of Sweden or Switzerland. The real rather than fantastic difference between imperialism and its victims is precisely that between relative affluence and utter misery.
Liberation, if it is to be genuine, must mean that at home and in Africa and Asia and Latin America all the special privileges of US imperialism will have to be undone. There can be no more exchanging the production of a year’s labor of a US worker (priced at $20,000 by the monopoly corporations) for products which represent more than an entire working life for the laborer in a colonized economy (rated at about $400 per year by the unequal terms of trade).
The argument that the US worker does not have any part of the system’s affluence can only be tested by comparing with world standards, depression levels, and long range trends.
Compared to India – the US is affluent. Compared to US 1933 – the US 1968 is affluent. Compared to US families below the level of $3,000 per year – US $12,000 per year is affluent. This is not at all to say that the worker who makes a comparatively large wage has the good life. He still lives his life on the terms of the system.
Those who deny affluence assume that it is good. Since capitalism is bad and cannot do good, affluence must be denied. Actually, under capitalism, affluence is nothing else but a shorter or longer period of increasing economic activity when in a given country fewer people are starving and more are sharing in the consumption of luxury commodities. While this is more tolerable than fighting each day to live to the next, there is no cause to fear that the system has got it made.
The relative prosperity of the US is the product of tightening up exploitation and oppression world-wide and is proving to be very shaky. To pursue the goal of personal enrichment is to live in a fool’s paradise.
One who undertakes to disprove the existence of affluence among workers is Carl Davidson. (Guardian, Nov. 23, 1968, page 6.) He follows in the footsteps of many old left writers who always “prove” this with data about average wages and minimum budget needs. He cited a 1967 average of $116 take home wage for a family of four. He breaks down this figure into several lower categories to show that most families of industrial workers get a good deal less than that. He gives one higher average, that of 3.3 million construction workers who take home $127 per week.
Of course this is peanuts on the scale of bourgeois standards of income in this country. And the fact is that even the highest figure does not guarantee that any family will be able to meet its material requirements plus what have come to be defined as our needs. Even $20,000 or $30,000 a year would still not compare to the system’s higher salary levels. It still is not the good life – it still is caught up in the rat-race. What is more decisive is that under the political economy of imperialism, if a million or so workers “rise” to the $20,000 income level, then they will be used to hold down and grind the face of 500 times that number elsewhere so that imperialism gets ten or a hundred times its money’s worth out of the high price it paid for their labor. This is why, at times, big business men are quite willing to bargain with official labor.
Further, an average which conceals the existence of lower paid groups also conceals the higher wages which make the average come out. Davidson’s lower categories REVEAL the existence of much higher paid groups than any he mentions. It can be no secret that at $6 PLUS an hour, and double time for overtime, many construction workers make $12,000 per year and more.
On the west coast, longshoremen have averaged $9,000 and $10,000 per year and more in the larger ports. In reporting union enforcement of penalties for pilfering cargo, William Gettings, International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union Northwest regional director, states that for a first offense a longshoreman loses work for 60 days, this being equal to a fine of about $2,000. On a second offense a man loses his job plus “… a $235 pension (monthly) for the rest of his life, $13,000 in severance pay and welfare benefits…” (Case of 27-year man convicted of taking two bottles of liquor. Seattle Times, 12-6-68.)
In a family with the equivalent of two such $ 12,000 incomes, (here we are not concerned with whether it comes from moonlighting, overtime, extra worker, playing landlord etc., only with comparing family totals) the total would be $24,000. A family with two $3,000 incomes, only $6,000. The difference is the equivalent of the income of 6 low wage workers. The 4 to 1 ratio assumed here is smaller than many actual cases, which can go to 10 to 1 and more. Again, this is very small when compared to income of big capitalists and management; ratios can go to 1000 to 1. When all the relevant conclusions are drawn from economic data, the result is different than when only those supporting one’s wishful thinking are taken into account. The system has been able to divide and co-opt some of the workers. This fact needs to be faced and dealt with and not ignored and hidden from view.
Even the very real decline in real wages often cited contributes to relative affluence. The better organized workers concentrated in the biggest corporations and more prosperous trades have won the biggest share of the increases and benefits. Those in weaker unions or not organized such as workers in retail trade, some parts of food, and agriculture, hospital workers, local government, and school and college staff other than higher paid teaching posts, are all worse off. In addition to lower wages, they have inferior medical service and pay more proportionately for rent and food which show the highest price rises.
Persons not limited to the world of statistics, but who have some contact with actual skilled workers, know that corruption exists. Corruption is the willingness to put selfish gain ahead of class solidarity or public interest. A small but significant number of workers are also landlords, dabble in real estate or stocks, own beer taverns etc. Certain union contracts are basically job trusts. Sons, in-laws, buddies get the jobs and the apprenticeships. For the best jobs, there are no openings for Blacks or women or outside young persons. Jurisdictional squabbles are everyday stuff. The impact of all this goes far beyond those directly involved.
This pattern is not purely economic. The whole society orients the worker toward competition in accumulating things, doing his job, taking orders and allotting all responsibility for major decision making to bosses and politicians. The worker’s bag is supposed to be limited to baseball, football, TV beer and cards. He should support his family, produce the real wealth and be content to know that he is as good as anyone, maybe a little better. Of this “structured and channeled life style” the new theorists display not the foggiest notion. Many veterans know these things very well but either take it as normal, or being ashamed of it, talk nonsense and babble about class conscious militant and revolutionary-minded workers about to rise and dump the AFL-CIO mis-leaders in the ash can.
Poverty, starvation, and affluence are not mutually exclusive; in the US they exist at the same time and often side by side. Poverty is the necessary foundation for affluence under capitalism and imperialism which make their super-profits from exploitation and oppression.
The existence of poverty is a spur to insure a supply of loyal and industrious labor. It is also a source of profit for ghetto landlords, merchants, and sweat-shop employers who are an essential part of the total system. Why should the system eliminate if it could, anything so useful and indispensable?
The superior conditions of the better-off parts of labor are always fragile and subject to change. But even in bad times, the most favored are not hit quite so hard or so soon by wage cuts and unemployment, evictions etc. So the competition and division pressures are built into the whole structure. Against this, the only weapon of the workers is their political understanding and class solidarity. This is what scabs in union office are trying to destroy when they commit labor to support crimes against other working people, as, for example, war in Vietnam.
This negative side has to be analyzed and faced. It does not mean that everything is lost or that workers must be written off as a revolutionary force. It does mean that the class interest of workers must be defined in terms of 1969, US and not in terms of 1933. The heart of the matter is that, contrary to surface appearances, there is no real security or future prospects for the majority of workers in the individual or craft rat-race for the biggest chunk of pie. The only way to win is to fight the entire system. Since time is not unlimited, we have to start learning to do this.
COMPANY MEN WITH A UNION CARD
Business Unionism rests on the basis of capitalist economics including a portion of the proceeds from imperialism. This is not just pure and simple sell-out and crude bribery. There is a social base and there are ideological roots.
Since World War II, there has been a decline in class conscious action among workers. Many officially recognized unions have become more conservative, even reactionary, in their total role. This is so in spite of some upsurges in strike action and even where, by way of exception, some unions like the former Mine Mill union and the ILWU continue to give lip service to radical positions on some issues.
This does not mean that workers deliberately sell out by the millions. Nor is it only that they are sold against their will by Meany, Reuther, and Bridges, although that happens. The trap is not so simple.
Business unionism flies two main banners, “collective bargaining” and the “partnership of business and labor.” Collective bargaining is the hard won right of workers to be represented by their unions. This right was a life and death matter to workers who had no other way to defend their right to live and improve their conditions.
Collectivity is a very good thing. But today it usually means for one trade, one industry, one corporation, one union, one craft, one crew. It often comes down to a small group of high seniority, highly skilled, better paid old timers in the union whom the officers pay the most attention in order to stay in power. This has great effect upon those next in line for the better jobs and positions. When wild-cat strikes erupt from below, even these are not often connected with radical social or political aims. Usually they are limited to seeking gains in relative standing within the existing structure.
As for bargaining, it once meant more than it literally implies; now it is an accurate definition of what goes on. Usually it goes something like this: union officials and company representatives, with professional assistance from highly paid corporation, union, and federal lawyers and experts, determine how much the company will be willing to pay for continued labor co-operation and peace and how little the workers may be willing to accept. It is determined how to distribute that price to he best effect among various demands, and what the union may be willing to give up in return. Finally, a method of selling the entire package to members and to the public must be decided upon.
In an earlier day of more militant action, demands concerned many very basic things, such as across the board increases o a living wage level, union recognition, seniority to prevent blacklisting of militant workers, anti-discrimination clauses or fair and rotating hiring and dispatching procedures. Rank and file workers on strike often were decisive in the negotiating committees. Political and social issues were part of union activity. Free Tom Mooney, defend the Scottsboro Boys, unemployment benefits, and social security for everybody, all working people, by many unions.
Typical demands at present are quite different. Big increases for the 5 or 6 dollar an hour level, small or no increases for new hires. Wages for women, young people, and jobs usually filled by Black workers still move around the $1.65 per hour minimum or less. Hospital, dental, medical care for the permanent workers of one company, higher pensions for 20 and 30 year men of one company or association.
Of course, when even a few thousand families gain added health services or better pensions, this is good for them individually. But when the benefit” is a concealed pay-off designed to divide them from fellow-workers and from millions of oppressed now taking up the fight against the common enemy, that benefit has too high a price. It is the price of supporting, or contributing to, by passive consent, such things as the spread of fascism, aggressive war and national and racial oppression and genocide. It is to accept the ruling class trap – take whatever you can today and to hell with all the rest.
The alternative is not to give up health service or better pensions. It is to fight for adequate protection for all the working people, as well as those unable to work. Granting exclusive rights to some and denying the same to others is a basic strategy of the system. This is also true in different ways in the educational system, the draft, and all major institutions of the Establishment. Divide and rule is still its basic strategy and best tactic.
Such bargains seem reasonable; they make the big companies pay. But they build up more and more privilege and offer little or nothing to the young, the women, the minority workers. They also raise health and housing costs out sight for everyone else due to medical rackets, etc. They take the government off the hook. Such deals are reactionary in social content – they divide the workers and the people. “Everyone for himself and the devil take the hindmost” replaces the old union slogan, “one for all and all for one.”
A worker with so much depending on his boss and the company is open to all kinds of pressure to go along with the system. This does not put the worker in the same class with all the big and middling parasites who make it big on unearned income. The co-opted worker is not the main enemy. But if facts of this kind are not faced it will be a thousand times more difficult to create a new radical and revolutionary working class force.
How can old fighters with much experience get sucked into such traps? How can they allow the collective class weapon, the union, to be turned into a mere business institution for the benefit of the boss and a few high paid workers? Why don’t lower paid workers rebel? What happened to international solidarity, especially with the Black and the Vietnamese workers and our long range common interest against our common enemy?
KARL MARX: “WAGE LABOR RESTS EXCLUSIVELY ON COMPETITION BETWEEN THE LABORERS.”
Communist Manifesto, 1848
Part of the answer (in general we do not expect to find full answers at once, but only to open up some new directions and new questions) WAS the treachery and desertion of a class struggle outlook by onetime left workers and radicals in the unions who formerly worked to keep alive the revolutionary background and the democratic and anti-slavery traditions of struggle of the labor movement.
But it is also a fact that the left has never taken seriously the reactionary side of US history: so far the dangerous de-facto involvement and entrapment of parts of the people in the crimes of the system have been ignored.
Partly for this reason, after World War II the left was not prepared to meet the heavy attack of US super-egotism and arrogance disguised as “patriotic” resistance to world communism. A very big defeat was suffered through the failure of most of the left to vigorously defend Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were framed and executed on a treason charge by the Truman and Eisenhower administrations as a major blow against the left.
Timidity and panic of this sort opened the way for the Establishment to launch a big brain-washing throughout the nation. With the left weakened, conservatives were able to take advantage of the workers’ need for unions to consolidate their own control and policy. This was made easier by the fact that workers often depend upon one occupation, one boss, one location, one union and are thus vulnerable to blacklisting and have little recourse if thrown on the street.
Productive workers are usually proud of that role. But they are almost entirely cut off from decision making powers in important matters. The only place they have an effective voice is in the union and in a token way by voting. And the union now tells them that the system is really OK. It just needs tuning up and a patch or two.
If workers resist and oppose this line they jeopardize all their benefits from the union which are very real to the individual workers. The dispatcher will pass them by for good jobs or for any job at all. The BA (business agent) will not go to bat for them and may even help to get them fired or sent to jail.
Some unions with a left militant background did not give way at once. But with steady pressure and the growth of war boom, they too fell into line. Again, the west coast longshoremen (ILWU) are an example. This union, unlike most, opposed the Vietnam war – in words and in convention resolutions. But its members make a very good living out of the boom in shipping due to the need for supplies to murder Vietnamese. The union has yet to take its first action to halt such traffic. (Some individuals have.) Outright company unions do not do a much more effective job of scabbing on fellow-workers.
The excuse of the union officers is, “We cannot do anything by ourselves, we would be crushed.” In reality they are out to get all the “blood money,” as Bridges calls it, that they can. (He has a running dialogue going with the Navy over jurisdiction over civil service loaders of ammunition from Navy dumps, as at Bangor, WA.) A few years ago, Bridges made his notorious modernization and mechanization agreement which traded working rules and conditions for a few millions in a special union fund. In five years, the stevedoring and shipping companies made an extra profit of close to 100 million on the deal. The ILWU is not worse than others, it is only that the hypocrisy is more repulsive because of all the “left” talk.
Unions serve a need in defending the livelihood and conditions of workers and their right to organize has to be defended against those who wish to weaken and destroy the labor movement.
But at the same time union members are also victimized by scabs in union offices at business executive salaries running from $25,000 a year up to $150,000 and more, with lifetime pensions to boot. They are also protected from membership control by devices like union dues check-off by the boss and by government imposed regulations, reports, FBI surveillance, fines for militant action, compulsory arbitration and conspiracy laws etc. Many unions are also big investors in business, real-estate, banks and insurance companies.
No one is more loyal to imperialism or more ready to do its dirty work than a “labor statesman” like George Meany. But the Establishment is not sentimental. If one of them gets a little out of line he may be sent to jail like Jimmy Hoffa. In tough times, or if it offers more profit, the partnership of business and labor will be dumped and the bosses will go back to plain and simple union busting.
What workers need is their own version of a new left movement to clean house in labor. They need organization with a class outlook and fighting muscle instead of a mere business expediting machine for carrying cut the boss’s and the government’s labor relations policies. It is not possible to transform the labor movement by trying to out wheel and deal the professional labor skates. It is necessary to oppose them with a movement which serves the genuine class interest of working people.
These facts are not given so that others may feel superior to the industrial workers. Whether loading napalm or running a computer for General Motors, or teaching school, every person in the US is involved in imperialism in some way and has both a responsibility to fight against it as well as an interest in doing so – except for imperialists and their camp-followers. The first step toward effective struggle is to see that it is necessary and accept the responsibility.
The line of denial of the effects of corruption and bribery by the imperialist system is worse than mere passivity, it is self-defeating. If the fact is denied, who will try to change it? Workers and most of the people are not the criminals; they only carry the criminals on their backs. This is what has to be changed.
Lower income workers are also affected by the competitive forces which corrupt many high paid workers. But their situation is different. Many are un-organized; for others there are unions which make little, if any effort to improve wages and conditions. Wages are near or below minimums. (Waitresses and hotel workers, laundry and hospital, farm, clerks, many office and government workers.) Things happen like no wage increases at all, or 4 to 6 cent increases frozen into three year contracts. Speed up and cutting of staff goes on constantly.
A big part of keeping these workers in their place is the sex, color, and age discrimination and division tactic. This is enforced not only by the individual boss, but by the whole system.
Women are a very large part of the work force in these industries. So are Blacks and minority national groups. The inferior sex rationale is in full force. If there is a working husband or son in the house, then the woman is making “extra” money, or at least it is hers and not his to control, sometimes. If there is no man, then with children to support, the problem may be posed as one of personal hardship, broken family, illness etc. – a case worker type problem – or self-blame may be picked up from the bosses’ tradition that workers are stupid. Anyone who has more than average education or other qualification does not work long in such jobs without being asked by some other worker: “What is someone like you doing in this hole?”
In these industries there were formerly many left-minded activists. During the cold war and McCarthy period they were cleaned out by top union officials, by jailings, prosecutions, and firings. In some cases, like maritime and logging, they succeeded in transforming the occupation from low-paid to high-paid and gradually joined the “labor aristocracy.” This poses the critical problem: how to support the justified demands of low-paid workers for wages and conditions without repeating once more that characteristic pattern of labor opportunism and reformism?
The answer is not necessarily in new radical unions. Workers are loyal to even very bad unions knowing how much worse off they would be with no unions. And consider the present AFL-CIO push to co-opt the Agricultural Workers organization of Delano which threatened to actually organize farm workers in a militant and slightly radical way. The bureaucrats know a million ways to sabotage struggle while condemning the ranks for apathy and indifference.
Workers are inevitably concerned with immediate conditions – both to hold whatever they have and to make gains if they can. But petty reforms or even substantial gains of themselves do not change the system in the slightest. The only way to break through the vicious circle of petty reforms (this is called economism or pure and simple trade-unionism – but it is NOT non-political, it is political on the side of the system) is basically a mass understanding that the working people as a total social group, that is as a class, cannot beat the system; the pre-condition of real change is to take it over and do it in. One way this understanding grows is when workers demand not just what is reasonable and easy for the boss to grant, but also fight for those social and political demands which the system should be able to deliver, but which it is unable or unwilling to concede.
The criticism made above of some shallow thinking among part of the new left does not mean that they have not done some great things which can help to solve these problems. Analysis and theory is still a good deal behind the action and politics. But this does not mean everything is one big floundering mess, as some think. There are a number of solid starting points to move ahead from:
Action against the Vietnam war and to support Black liberation has been a very hard blow to the public image and moral posturing of the system.
Action at home too has helped to show that imperialism is not invincible; it can be successfully resisted.
There are people, mainly the young, who have the ability and the guts to reject the values of the system and live for something other than conspicuous consumption covered by a false rationale. This is the REAL importance of the rejection of consumerism – not its projection into a fantastic market solution for capitalism.
The rejection of consumerism and waste and junk commodities and poisoning our lives and our environment, which we referred to as strip mining the earth above indicts one of the biggest of the crimes of imperialism.
If we consider this crime in the context of the Cultural Revolution slogan – fight self-interest, promote public interest – we will be able to get closer to the heart of the problem of the labor movement and the genuine interests of the workers. Labor demands must be conceived in a way which meets collective rather than purely selfish interest.
In addition to seeking collective action and collective controls over our productive and intellectual lives, we need to organize a unified social bloc as collective consumers. Individual competition and consumerism is another non-solution and a trap for all working people. Realizing this, how do we move?
For example, we should not put forward or support, but should oppose creating any more separatist company and union health, hospital, and dental plans. We should fight for such care for all people who need it. Existing plans should be taken into a general plan. We should see to it that public health services come under the control and direction of consumers, not the government and the medical elite. Pensions, social security, disability, and unemployment compensation – these should all be re-examined as universal social rights and as obligations of society, rather than as objects of craft bargaining. Educational opportunities for workers and work opportunities for students offer another field where new directions and new demands are required. There is a need to fight for financing at the expense of profits and waste and the war budget. (Some individual union members with whom this has been discussed object to criticizing present union contract demands for health benefits. All support a general demand for universal care at state expense. Most young workers and all students consulted favor the present wording.)
There is a need for workers to sponsor an entirely new approach to taxes and budgeting to take the load off the lowest paid workers and the unemployed and to work out new concepts of social welfare. These should be based on the idea of providing all the social services in the most effective and collective way under community and consumer control and organization.
In particular there should be a fight against expanding the Madison Avenue nightmare concept of mechanized domestic factories grinding out channeled little American lives by the efforts of menial female and child labor. Everything that can be done better socially and with trained and skilled labor should be done collectively, co-operatively, and without waste and poisonous by-products. Laundry, food preparation and storage, heating, housing, cleaning, and above all transportation are some things which need to be socialized and collectivized to go along with adequate child care as part of the liberation of women, without which there will be no genuine liberation of anybody.
In sum unions should remain in the field of politics and social action but they should be forced to get back on the side of the workers and the people by an uprising from below. Certain things need to be kept in mind:
The economy is a closely intermingled mix of private and state – no major sector can be dealt with separately.
Black workers and Black community may no longer be ignored or used; they will have an equal and strategic weight in all decisions and structure.
The US economy and politics are international. Nothing will serve labor which does not accord with the needs of oppressed workers in other countries. So long as imperialism exists there will be oppression and exploitation, but meanwhile we can fight against all acts of aggression, all unequal treaties, discriminatory laws and tariffs. We can interfere with the military and diplomatic and cultural implementation of imperialism.
The general inability of students and intellectuals to relate the immediate concerns of workers to the general class and public interest is a mountain size road-block in the way of creating a new labor-left. Our generation of young people have become the voice of radical politics and of the future because they have arrived at exactly the right time.
The system is undergoing a severe crisis in credibility caused by the gaping chasm between its liberal pose and its contrastingly miserable fascist and genocidal performances in Vietnam and in the ghettos.
When the Establishment took fright from the first Soviet Sputnik, it hastily created college level educational factories and drew in hundreds of thousands and millions of new students. They could not all be safe conservatives from stable families. Furthermore, the draft began to haunt and channel their lives. They were expected to assume the chores of running the Establishment and defend it loyally – in return for good position and pay and much status. But the breakdown of the liberal rationale by hard facts and revolutionary ideas filtering in spite of everything spoiled the plan.
Many students already questioned the emptiness of a life of collecting material gadgets as the big deal. Without too many immediate obligations, not tied to a boss or conservative union – they were free to think. The system needed them, but for a while it had no real controls over them.
The students made free to reject the values of the universities and to determine their own personal direction, to do their thing. The role of the student and the impact of Korea, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and the Black struggles fitted them to rebel. Some became directly political, some tried to drop out of the system’s anti-culture.
Ironically – the same things which alienated the young people from the Establishment and turned them into radicals and carriers of a new wave of revolutionary excitement, also took forms which alienated them from the workers who remained straight – socially and politically – for the workers were not yet hit directly by the crisis in the super-structure. Later it reaches the workers in the crisis of the military and manpower. …
The intellectual gets disgusted with the conservatism he sees in the worker who is supposed to gain the most from revolution and is to be its chief maker, but who seems not interested. So when the intellectual wants to be friendly because he has heard about Marxism and the need for a working class base – then he does not know what to do and he invents a hundred theories and dozens of organizing projects.
On other subjects the intellectual would do his thing – he would study the problem. This one seems simple – it is pure economics. The workers are assumed to be paid off and hopeless or else they do not know yet that they are poor and can never make it. So the intellectual must prove to the workers that they really are poor.
There is arrogance in this: the assumption that working people will respond only to economic bait – that they are not capable of the same social, political, and moral judgment and motivation and commitment as the student, who in turn may not have yet tried himself out on unemployment compensation or relief-check living. This is snobbery not based on facts.
The movement needs better answers as to the roots of conservatism in the labor movement, what exactly are the problems and outlook of workers. After learning some of this, better grounds for unity in action can be worked out. There should not be illusions that the direction of seeking solutions proposed here is easy to carry out successfully – few real solutions are.
BREAKING THROUGH THE TRAP
When the US took charge of the bankrupt business which came to it as spoils after World War II, it fully expected to be a success because of its superior assets as compared to fascist Germany and Japan.
The US surpasses the axis powers in many ways. It delivers flaming death from the air instead of from obsolete gas ovens. It has computerized all of the planning. It has 2000 and more bases scattered all around in an effort to make a jailhouse out of the entire globe. It has dropped more explosives on one small part of Asia than were used by all countries in all of World War II.
But it too is losing. It has overtaxed its strength and is slipping down the hill. Costs continue to mount while the returns cannot keep pace. The US has set world records in exporting capital and armed force and in importing profits and looted materials. But this in turn has provoked a new world record in resistance which the U .S. is unable to overcome.
The present crisis is a crisis of overexpansion – of gulping down too many indigestibles. This crisis is different in form than that of 1929 which was world wide but broke out first in the domestic economy of the US. This economy is now internationalized. It has exported its contradictions on a world scale where they grow faster than ever.
This crisis is more severe than any before: any one of several main features are potentially fatal to imperialism.
There is that world wide resistance which exposes the boasted military power of the US. Small peoples beat the stuffing out of it. The military is spread thin, trying to hang on everywhere. It gets disorganized and panicky and costs soar. The rank and file of the armed forces become disaffected, and these men and women are mostly young workers.
The democratic and liberal pretensions of the system are rapidly discredited and with the loss of popular support, allies get shaky.
The big corporations make the profit; costs are paid mostly by the government. As these costs rise, the dollar trembles, inflation and higher taxes threaten the middle and poor sections of the people and the weaker parts of the war distorted economy. This uneven effect widens the gap between rich and poor. Alienation increases between those who profit from war and oppression and those who pay the costs.
The eventual crack-up casts its shadow before. This sharpens all the more the clash between the liberal rationale and hard facts for the young people and intellectuals who are being prepared to organize and supervise the dirty work.
Those peoples fighting imperialism abroad, as, for example, Vietnamese and Cubans, have not generally demanded restitution or punishment fitting to the crimes of the US. They have merely said: “Yankee go home.” But there is at home a strong contingent of peoples also oppressed even while embedded in the society and economy of the US. They begin to find themselves as distinct peoples differing from others only in that their colonial and oppressed status is internal to the US rather than external.
But as to these peoples, Black, Red Indian, and Brown Mexican-American, where shall they invite the Yankee to go? He has made his home here on the spot and there is no other convenient place.
Black people speak as those who have had to live with and for the US the longest. They say – get out of my house, my community, and my hair. But they add – Burn, Baby, Burn. In this slogan the Black appears not as a rearguard or second front of world resistance, but as its spearhead and vanguard – this is the Black version of Death to Imperialism.
If we of the white movements do not do an adequate job in helping to deal with “our own” imperialists, this will not affect in the least the commitment of all the others to oppose and defeat and eventually destroy imperialism. In fact, they may rather soon cut off the world network of pipe-lines through which the US pumps out force and violence and pumps back loot. But hang-ups and hanging back on our part can cost very, very much in terms of what is takes to do the job and how soon we too as a people will be liberated from the consequences of imperialism and capitalism.
The world cannot longer afford the military and domestic havoc which is the inevitable residue of imperialist profit-making. An important factor in this is that strip-mining of all available portions of the earth for wasteful (and ultimately suicidal) consumption practiced by the US.
As an example, transportation is a necessity – but two or three private cars in a family and an acre of paving for every half acre of crops is criminal. This social practice provokes hatred no matter how sanctified it may be to General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford because of the high profits which it brings in. The same must be said of every other idle and wasteful and duplicative consumption of metal, food, land, and water. Even worse are the filthy and reckless methods which poison and pollute land, air, and water. And from gutting the land mass and fouling the air, the system is turning its attention to the world’s oceans.
This is a great unpardonable crime of imperialism. Mass deprivation versus the world hog is a time-bomb with very few years on the fuse.
The new left has made a preliminary thrust at this target and has begun to make ecology an issue. If followed up, this can become a prime meeting point of the new movements and the basic class interests of the workers and the public interests of the world’s peoples.
But people in the US should not console themselves with illusions. Whatever else the future may or may not bring, it will not include imperialism, which is beyond salvage. The system is running overtime to conceal the fact that its time is running out. It wants to prolong its criminal existence.
What the system needs to conceal is exactly what we need to expose. This will speed up our common liberation; people have everything to gain in this universal struggle. It is within our power to take our place in the fight.
THREE YEARS LATER, May 24, 1972
Note: Since the first printing of “The Movement and the Workers” is exhausted it seems important to comment on what has happened since early 1969 and this second printing in 1972.
Just as work on this edition was getting started, there came a happy interruption in the form of mass upsurge of anti-war actions and demonstrations. These actions are aimed at Nixon’s desperate efforts to salvage the US’s losing military gamble in SE Asia by one more escalation of its genocidal war in Vietnam.
Life interrupts writing, which is good. In addition, the reactionary liberal “political authorities” have been caught with their mouth open solemnly pronouncing the wasting away of the movement and the death of revolution. This saves wasting time and effort to answer.
Revolution in our country is at its beginning; there has been no real test of basic strategies. Our choices seem unclear. Our initial clashes have begun to show strong and weak points on each side. And the enemy is bearing down on all the real and invented weaknesses hammering the movement to discredit the revolutionary groups and leaders (and using freaked-out and weak ones) to discredit the whole idea.
Sure enough, we are still weak. But without analyzing US imperialism and the best ways to fight it, and the history and psychology of our people, there can’t be a functional evaluation and criticism of how we go about things. Only a wipe-out. If we observe how the empire tries to control its home front, we see that our mistakes and failings have taken place in the middle of furious movement and there are tremendous gains and accomplishments to show for it.
The empire has used all its material, geographical, and technical and spiritual resources to prevent revolution; economic and educational institutions along with climate, space, and land; national arrogance and pride and racism, sexism, chauvinism, individualism, competition, careerism, and family controls, pacifism, cultural, and radio-TV news manipulations.
The loyalty inspectors and people monitors of the empire are on the alert to use all weaknesses on the left, new or old, to make the new activists either fall back into old reformist opportunism or to over-correct with super-left weirdness and so to flounder helplessly.
In the face of all that, the new left has done very well on many strategic points. This is possible largely due to the resistance of, and the successes won by, the Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Angolan, Mozambiquan, and Palestinian, Brazilian, Cuban, and many more peoples. These Third World peoples have created crises for the US empire that are favorable to changes here. These crises continue to expand.
The whole country now know what the rest of the world has known a long time: that the US is not a misunderstood great democratic country, it is a rapacious empire. Masses of people have begun (only begun but still, it’s a beginning) to repudiate white supremacy, national chauvinism, and the authority of the state. People have seen the use by police of violence and terror and assassination, followed by more selective repressions against the most rebellious designed to isolate them and divide the peoples.
People know that the US government rests on force and violence. They can see that there are no moral limits to empire genocide, that expediency is the rule, and that only peoples’ revolutionary resistance can set any limits. But people also see that even very small countries can win against the empire for all its violence and genocide.
Aggressive competition is no longer unchallenged gospel. The nuclear competitive-oppressive family is under fire; people want to learn how to live better collectively. A massive women’s rebellion is building up. It is also under heavy counter-revolutionary pressure and has its problems with factionalism and sometimes go-it-alone ideas. But its basic attack upon sexism and oppression reaches the largest potentially revolutionary force in this country and that brings it into collision with the system and the empire. The US empire did not invent either racism or sexism but it is their biggest promoter, protector, and defender; without such fascist controls the empire cannot survive.
Pushed by Black and Brown resistance and by a new consciousness of how they are being used and destroyed, young women and men of working class origins have been revolting in the armed forces and in the prisons.
The empire depends on these institutions to keep it going. When it loses control here, it cannot last a lot longer.
These are things that we have learned both from world revolution and from our own lives and our best rebels. They are the greatest things to happen in our country, ever. That is why they are sneered at and despised and feared by our enemies. And by cowards and fools parasiting on the movement. These are the main trends in our revolution – Humpty-Dumpty can’t be put back together again. And not the least reason is that many Black, Brown, and white revolutionaries, men and women, have shown that they are ready to go beyond talk and are prepared to die for this good and sufficient cause – but they are also able to survive and fight on.
In this context, the whole long list of past and present failings and foolish ideas is not so depressing. Things like slow learning, rejection for too long a time of past experience, uncertain analysis, uncritical acceptance of freak and dope culture in its entirety, anarchist individualism, rejection of class ideology and understanding, weak organization, bravado and boasting, and so on. All these are serious things, but they are not the main point in evaluating the recent past. (Even though they have to be changed to move ahead.) What is decisive now is that a good many of the old bars to revolutionary action have been broken and breaches made. We haven’t been able to handle so much all at once and we haven’t been able to break on through – but the way is open.
In order to move on, we have to see which of our shortcomings are the most damaging at any particular time and deal with then. We also have to deal with some of the heavier lies being laid on our movements.
Some of those trying to shoot us down say that anti-imperialist politics is nothing but a guilt trip, a moral do-gooding self-purge and a general drag. This is picked up by promoter types hanging around the movement. They say that everyone has to move off of their own oppression. Purely. Which is another way of saying that everyone should just try to do her/his own thing. That is, no revolutionary collectivity, unity, and togetherness in action to win. But how else do you win against an empire that is organizing and oppressing on a world-wide basis?
Move off your own oppression – sure. But – sometimes you have to say but – not all oppressions are equal or even the same kind of thing at all. So what happens with us? The old national arrogance cuts in and there is a “competition” of oppressions. My own usually comes first, then the rest follow in a regular hierarchy of oppressions.
The main put-down is to deny the great importance of the strategic insight to be gained from studying Vietnamese, Chinese, and Black and Brown resistance and wars of liberation.
For the heart of world reality – the nature of the resistance – is the fight to be free of imperial domination of any sort; this is now the center of world-wide revolution. This is steadily, day by day, destroying the old order of things and creating a new and human society – along with new human beings. This does not give us all the answers; it does put the right questions and it indicates directions that we need to take.
Our own oppressions are relative to those of the rest of this world. But only resistance can transform oppression into a revolutionary force. Our resistance depends on a whole lot of things. Class and revolutionary consciousness, experience in struggle and making revolution, numbers as well as organization, mass organizations, movements, having a people’s army and a party with good politics and strategy – allies, the state of the enemy, his resources and skill, and technology and weapons.
Once we see how we fit into this world picture, we can go on from there.
Some people claim that the anti-imperialist movement is not revolutionary because it is led by young people and sometimes by middle-class students instead of by workers. This is pushed by groups that pronounce themselves to be Marxist-Leninist – such as the Communist Party, Revolutionary Union, and a few Trotskyist sects, along with the Progressive Labor Party. One thing they all do in common is to present themselves as the chief advocates of the discovery by Karl Marx of the revolutionary role of the working class. But what they do with that is not to try to destroy imperialism but to the contrary, they wipe out Lenin’s analysis of imperialism and how to make the revolution in the imperialist stage of the capitalist system.
Every reactionary quality of the establishment-controlled trade unions (mostly long ago described and denounced by Lenin) is praised, or rationalized, or hid by these lecturers who are revolutionary only in words. They cover up for reactionary labor officials by shouting that every piddling reform or petty economic demand is the key to revolution. They denounce anyone who won’t praise reactionary unions to the skies. Any militant political or anti-imperialist confrontation they denounce as premature and adventurous. They ignore the fact that in practice any significant reforms or concessions by the system have always come after revolutionary initiative and struggle, not from liberal pleadings.
As for criticizing unions that are conservative, or their elite-minded status-conscious members who fall into racist, sexist, and other fascist-like social conduct – such criticism is looked upon as total treason by all of these groups. What they do is to try to use people’s love of great revolutionary countries and their leaders like Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse-tung, as political stock in trade to confuse the real nature of our own revolutionary tasks here and now in our actual situation.
Lenin declared that the class basis of conservative unionism is the privileged position of special sections of workers (and even of entire classes and nations in some respects) in the imperialist countries. Those who push the mythical “purely revolutionary” worker of the US ignore the existence of that privilege and its effects and never deal with the record or the facts. They show the kind of Leninists they are by totally ignoring Lenin’s great work on this subject.
Even the better off workers are, of course, not the most privileged people in this country. It is also true that young people and students, all but the poorest, most despised racial and sexual outcasts, share in some ways and amounts in empire privilege and all are influenced by US arrogance in some degree.
There is another version of the pure class struggle line which argues that the best way for workers here to help liberation fighters of other countries is to overthrow the system right here at home in their own self interest. Sounds plausible.
The catch is that right now, US workers are a long way from making a revolution. In practice, it comes to worker’s unions negotiating their contracts to improve their own conditions and get more money while those overseas shed more blood and their homes are devastated by the US war machines made and delivered by us on improved terms. This conveniently one-sided “class” self-interest turns out to be not love and peoplehood or collectivity and solidarity, but pure selfishness and people-eating competitiveness in disguise.
The official labor movement of the US has bought its respectability and its bargaining right by abandoning the unorganized and the poor at home and the entire working population of the Third World. That is why it is still a minority of workers in the US and is unable to organize those who need it the most. More, it is uninterested in the fate of the oppressed either at home or abroad.
That this is very real is shown by the action of the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union in its recent strike (that was almost unanimously supported by the left) but which right from the very first made provision to work all war supplies for the US genocide in Vietnam while the strike was on. This is a Union that is officially on record as being opposed to the war in Vietnam.
Way back in 1919, Seattle longshoremen were not afraid to strike and shut down the port to stop shipments of machine guns for US counter-revolutionary intervention Siberia and helped to end that aggression against the Russian people. It is still true today that a revolutionary is one who understands (like those 1919 strikers) that there will never be an anti-capitalist revolution or the building of a new society in our own country until anti-imperialist consciousness and love and solidarity actions among workers breaks through those narrow business union deals with the empire and its bosses. Check it out – if you work for a boss – chances are that your job and your union, if any, are hot-beds of sexism, racism, dog eat dog competition, and elitism and arrogance.
Isn’t it better to risk some time, money, hard work, even a job, to collectively fight all that than to tolerate it and participate in and go along with a system that rests on oppression and genocide? Especially when those selfish craft and small group advantages and privileges can only add up to a life that is mean and sub-human in its essence.
Not far down the road, the imperial way of life is going to meet even heavier weather. Most of the world is already working at knocking out the US empire, and they are winning. When the empire goes down, the stakeholders are going to lose their stakes. Ordinary people don’t have that much to lose. In the long run, even the workers who right now are better off will gain too. I do not mean that they will have more cars and cabin cruisers and mortgages. They can have a better life in quality and human relationships and the security of a purpose for living – a meaningful job to do – and collective ways of using utilities and resources.
Meanwhile, everybody can fight to re-appropriate the loot of the empire in whatever way they can – by strikes or other means.
But that is not revolutionary unless we are living, thinking, and fighting collectively and using our energy and income and skill to build revolution and to sabotage the empire.
Consider the evidence now coming out of Vietnam, Korea, China. People who live on minimum incomes as compared to most of us are already living more human satisfying lives. In many cases they are having better medical care and live in healthier surrounding, eat healthier foods, have much more assurance about the future than do we. For all of the richness in this country, most of our lives are made miserable by the system.
While the empire still hangs on to power, poor and low income people have to solve survival problems. But merely to stay alive on the terms of this system just reproduces the problems bigger and sicker than ever. If a few people do “rise” into the class of families that have enough income to compete in consumption, they are still trapped in a horrible sick society rat-race and often have even less control over their lives than before.
Recently, with some temporary slowing up of action at home, Nixon and most of the media (Time, Life, TV etc.) started in a big way to promote pacifism and non-violence and gradual legal processes as against direct action. (For others, of course, not themselves.) To a small extent they use the old moral sermons, but coming from the bloody establishment this is not all that convincing. So they have created for the use of liberals outside and inside the movement a new twist. What they say now is this: violence has been tried on and it’s a failure; it turns people off too.
What has actually happened is something we could have anticipated. Events have shown that the established and highly organized violence of the state is still stronger than the weakly developed and little practiced power of the people. But even our small trial encounters show that people are happy whenever they get in a stout blow and are not turned off at all by direct action and violence when it is necessary, as for example, as it is used by the Vietnamese.
Mass opposition and hatred for the war in Vietnam has grown most ,just recently when there has been the most forceful action against imperialism both in the Third World and at home. More than ever before. You can not win fighting an empire that you allow to choose which weapons you can use.
Which doesn’t mean that non-violent activity is not also a useful and effective tactic sometimes; and it doesn’t keep some people who believe in non-violence from doing important things against the war.
But practice proves that what is going to bring down the empire and defeat its colonizing wars is the resistance of the intended victims and their wars of liberation together with supporting actions here at home and elsewhere. No popular referendum is going to convert Republican Nixon anymore than it did Democrat Lyndon Johnson. Both of them got elected by promising to end the war. People shouldn’t wear the blinders and the handcuffs offered by the system; neither should they get discouraged if the empire doesn’t fall at the first blow, as some seemed to expect.
In dealing with the negative and weakening things that happen here, we shouldn’t forget what happens in other places. The imperialists are getting beat right around the world because the liberation fighters are stronger in the ways that count the most. And getting stronger, battle by battle. When we see some of our formerly active and organized parts of the left momentarily in kind pf bad shape, we have to remember that we are not the whole universe. Revolution moves on in China. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Korea, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Panama, South Africa (Azania), Guinea Bissau, Peoples Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville), Yemen. Even in the US, more people than ever have this feeling that something has gone terribly wrong here and that some profoundly good things are happening over there where people are making revolution. Within this good situation on the overall scene, we have some urgent unfinished business here.
We are only beginning to be conscious of the extent to which we are controlled and shaped by living in the empire; above all we who are white have been conditioned by super brain washing. Dealing with this has to be the first responsibility of any revolutionary movement among workers of the oppressor nation, as much or more than with other groups.
The revolutionary left in this country is largely unorganized and untogether. No group or combination has shown us how we can overcome the competitiveness, egoism, and elitism that the US is saturated with.
We see and admire the results of magnificently led and organized people of other countries. But because we have been burned a few times we are afraid to get into it. There is even sometimes a philosophy that we should let everything happen spontaneously, by itself. If the Third World people followed that thought, there would be no world-revolution for us to relate to. Which shows that this is an idea that in practice is another white US luxury trip. We would just fight when the spirit moves us – till then the world can wait, if it wants our help.
There is always a heavy danger (more for us, but not unknown in the Third World) in bureaucratic structures and elite leaderships. All the same, our only chance to build a new life is to start working hard to get some together action and collectivity and deal with our hang-ups as we go. If we don’t build our own collectivity, we will just continue to be controlled by the dictates and institutions of the enemy – which is a much worse thing – no matter how free we may imagine that we are.
People who already feel this need and are trying to come together now find some traps already waiting. There are those groups mentioned before who want to limit the movement to working for liberal reforms within the system. The CP, PL, and the Socialist Workers Party are well known for these practices. Newer groups that had some roots in the new left like RU and the New American Movement do the same but are less well known.
The processes of co-optation go through many stages and operate also in Black and Brown struggles as it did in Vietnam and in China; in these countries empire-oriented liberals and reactionaries produced Diem and Thieu in Vietnam and Chiang Kai-shek in China, while the revolution was producing Ho Chi Minh, Mao Tse-tung, and Kim Il Sung. Some give way, but many stand fast and remain revolutionary all their lives. Here too, many are standing up to both the government’s repressions and to all the blandishments of Babylon, while a few are folding up.
To avoid opportunist traps and still not get into the other trap of super-left isolation, we need to think a lot about the many people who, although they are still conservative in various ways, are now moving toward the left. (Which is one reason why both Nixon and the Democrats are maneuvering desperately in this election.) What this opens to revolutionaries is to push the leftward motion further at every opportunity. When great leaps do come, they arise from a whole accumulation of experience and energy.
But a revolutionary cannot allow her/himself to become a social worker helping people get along better within the system. S/he, on the contrary, sees material and spiritual survival as depending on getting involved with more people In more forms of confrontation with the system and becoming more closely organized and collective with each other, and more in solidarity with the revolutionaries of the world.
The empire hasn’t gotten over its crisis; it’s getting in deeper. We know that when it is gone there will be awful hang-overs and putrid remains to deal with. We also see that we can create a collective society able to cope with all that.
Revolutionaries have many jobs, but it adds up to this: we have to smash the empire and the system that feeds on empire so that we will then have the opportunity to build our new human and collective life – there is no other way.