Workers’ Offensive Points of Unity: a Critique

Patrick Janis addresses Workers' Offensive's position on trade unions

Can't remain indifferent to the movement (image via Steve Rhodes)

The Workers’ Offensive (formerly known as the Communist League of Miami) is a new organization that sprouted off from the Communist League, this being the second split in the CL’s short history, the first involving the branch in New York. One would expect a certain amount of hostility towards the new organization, but this split was a rather friendly one that came out natural political differences between one of the local branches and the general politics of the CL. Although I personally do not think it was a particularly wise decision to split from CL considering its rather absurdly tumultuous short history, the WO expressed a willingness to participate in the national convention of the CL if it ever happens and to be friendly towards CL overall.

However, I believe that it’s important to address the political differences between the two organizations that caused the split in the first place in order to examine a rather cancerous trend within the American left. That trend is spontaneism, or as I’m going to call it neo-Bakuninism to specifically highlight the un-Marxist nature of said trend on the left. Neo-Bakuninism has been popular among the post-Cold War left due to its anti-authoritarian nature, which makes it appealing to those who want to avoid the sort of Stalinist or crypto-Stalinist politics that have defined much of the history of the radical left. Now you will not catch me or anyone involved with the CL defending Stalinism in any of its forms. However, crypto-anarchism is not just anti-authoritarian; it is also anti-organization and ironically in this situation anti-working class. So with all that in mind let us examine the politics of the WO illustrated in its points of unity.

“Labor unions, regardless of their internal structure, are not workers’ organizations but organs of the capitalist state that smother and contain the resistance of the working class against the exploitative system through the negotiation and enforcement of contracts with capital. In the heat of the class struggle, the workers must destroy the unions and form their own mass and unitary organizations to direct and carry out their struggle against capitalism.” – 5th point of the WO’s PoU1

Now before we get into the more theoretically heavy part of deconstructing this point let us get a basic fact out of the way: unions are not a part of the state. They may interact with the state through negotiating contracts with governmental agencies for public sector workers or lobbying for legislation and numerous other examples but it is completely asinine to say that unions are organs of the state. Unions do much more than simply interacting with the state, they also negotiate with the capitalist class directly. With that being said we can rip into theoretical meat of this point. WO rejects working with labor unions regardless of their “internal structure” and claims that union’s smother class struggle.

While this is partially true for business unions, there remains a long tradition of radical unionism in the United States with the IWW and other organizations like it. These organizations may not be strong at this point in time but working within said organizations has yielded some results. For example, the Fight for 15 movement has organized fast food workers, a particularly hard part of the proletariat to organize in the past due to the temporary nature of service work in the industry. WO would probably dismiss Fight for 15 and other labor movements like it as reformist but this is a rather simplistic view of class struggle.Yes, such movements struggle for reform within the capitalist system. There’s a need, however, to engage with these movements because they are means of organizing the working class and defending its interests in the short term. Even Proudhon, the original revolutionary gnostic, acknowledges that engaging in what he calls “political and economic movements” will at least achieve short-term benefits for those who are supported by capitalism: “In a word, the workers should cross their arms and stop wasting time in political and economic movements. These movements can never produce anything more than short-term results.”2

Now the reasoning between the two is somewhat different, however still ultimately similar in the final result. Both deny the ability of the proletariat to defend its short-term interest by participating in the political and economic struggle, leaving the proletariat wholly at the mercy of capitalist class to be exploited while waiting for the Gnostic revolutionaries to decide when class struggle is pure enough for them to join in. Much like Marx points out…

“The master preached indifference in matters of economics — so as to protect bourgeois freedom or competition, our only guarantee. His disciples preach indifference in matters of politics — so as to protect bourgeois freedom, their only guarantee. If the early Christians, who also preached political indifferentism, needed an emperor’s arm to transform themselves from oppressed into oppressors, so the modern apostles of political indifferentism do not believe that their own eternal principles impose on them abstinence from worldly pleasures and the temporal privileges of bourgeois society. However we must recognize that they display a stoicism worthy of the early Christian martyrs in supporting those fourteen or sixteen working hours such as overburden the workers in the factories.”3

When revolutionaries engaged in class struggle for temporary goals they were not only successful, but they ended up creating some of the most popular revolutionary organizations in the history of the Left – from the IWW to even the Bolshevik party, the number of revolutionary organizations that engage in what would be called “reformism” by the WO is extremely staggering. There has never been an organization that has not engaged in struggle for short-term proletarian class victories and lead a relatively successful movement.

 

Notes

  1. https://workersoffensivegroup.wordpress.com/points-of-unity/
  2. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, “De la capacité politique des class ouvrières.”
  3. Karl Marx, “Political Indifferentism.” https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1873/01/indifferentism.htm
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