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 Post subject: The Hoax of Business Unionism
PostPosted: Wed Oct 19, 2016 8:41 pm 
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Text found here https://octoberinappalachia.com/thobu/ it was long enough that I've converted it to an audio format that I'll upload soon too.

I'd like to begin by making sure my conception of the text etc. is accurate.

Business unionism, what is it? It is the idea that union bureaucrats are mini-capitalists inside of trade unions that live luxuriously off of union dues etc. The more structured and centralised the union, the more likely it is to be a business union. Fundamental conception presented in this text is that the structured and semi-centralised (the text appears to make a criticism of the distinction between centralised/decentralised unions which is refreshing) nature of the AFL in particular is a result of practical experience and solutions to real problems that confronted the class in its struggles. However, this real experience and knowledge of these forms of union organisation has been sacrificed to ideology. Daniel Deleon in particular is extremely demonised (I wonder what Zero would have to say about this text if he weren't a hitlerite now) for this, trying to break up the various "correctly" structured unions (mostly the AFL) in order to subvert them for his own personal enrichment and such.

The basic progression that is displayed is that the Knights of Labour are the lesson that the American Federation of Labour learns from in order to structure themselves more effectively. But precisely due to the organisation of the KoL, it is most favourable for various opportunist, and particularly non-worker, elements to subvert the union and the struggle. This renders the method of organisation utilised by the AFL to be the most abhorrent deterrent for non-worker and opportunist elements which is constantly under attack for being supposedly undemocratic, overly centralised, catering to a lavish lifestyle lived by the union bureaucrats etc.

The specific names given to the tendencies to revert back to a KoL-esque organisation is industrial unionism and one big unionism which I think are meant to refer to the same thing.

In the form of abstract principles, the basic idea behind the AFL-type union is that the lessons of the class struggle as a whole are preserved through the entire union and dispersed to every section for each section's own interpretation. Each section is allowed to develop relatively on their own and in this way contribute their unique experiences back in to the AFL which thus serves to accumulate the struggles of the working class as whole.

Immediate questions that come to mind. What happened to the AFL? Where is it today? Frankly, as usual, I'm pretty ignorant to historical developments and such, any books or texts etc. would be welcomed as well as an answer if you don't think a single book or a few texts etc. suffice. It would seem like the AFL is no longer in such a great position as it was under Gompers, why did it decline/decay? Was it something organisationally flawed? etc.

A specific question that is raised, again due to my ignorance is from this quote. " ...what Farrell Dobbs was feeling when he abruptly abandoned his influential and important position in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to help the Socialist Workers Party oppose American entry into World War II and raise funds to hire bodyguards for Leon Trotsky in Mexico."

Was the IBT NOT opposing entry in to WW2? If so, is the author suggesting that opposing entry in to world war is an incorrect position to take (I'm doubting this).

I'm reserving questions and comments about the relation of the communist to the unions etc. for after I read the other supplemental works on that website, I'm not going to bother converting them to audio format since they're so short, but if anyone wants me to I will.

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 Post subject: Re: The Hoax of Business Unionism
PostPosted: Thu Oct 20, 2016 12:50 pm 
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Broletariat—
On the bit about the Teamsters from the introduction: there is a shared interpretation of the history of the American labor movement that is common to every nominally revolutionary tendency adhering to a socialist perspective (from Marxist-Leninists, left communists, anarcho-syndicalists, Wobblies, Trotskyists, etc.), in addition there are a group of ideological narratives which are equally shared as a result of this shared interpretation. John Reed and Farrell Dobbs were singled out to give examples of what adherence to these ideological narratives looks like in the most concrete, practical sense. Reed was red in the face arguing with leading Bolsheviks in the meetings of the Second Congress of the Communist International that their perspective of the trade union question (and by extension the proletarian revolution) was wrong—while he was sitting in a hall with communist revolutionaries from around the world under red flags in the former seats of power of former Tsarist Russia guarded by armed revolutionary workers, soldiers and sailors collaborating in the international overthrow of capitalism. Dobbs rose to become a leading figure in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and served as a mentor to a young and at that time obscure Jimmy Hoffa. Dobbs’ structural innovations for the union became the basis for what became the largest and strongest trade union in the world, with the power to shut down American capitalism from coast to coast, and all was built on Dobbs’ influence, something that Hoffa credited him for the rest of his life (and something that official Teamsters history acknowledges to this day). But after coming into contact with the ideological narratives of the socialist movement, and in spite of his personal experience, Farrell Dobbs threw away his influential and important position in the union to become a full-time Trotskyist cadre (he ended up becoming a leader in the Socialist Workers Party later on). The contrast in giving up a powerful position and earned prestige in the labor movement to go play politics with Trotsky after becoming ‘infected’ with the ideological narrative was the point. In both cases it demonstrates the immense effect of becoming an adherent to these ideological narratives. Reality becomes secondary in importance to the ideological narrative.

I’d say that more or less the point of the text is this: the traditional view of the history of the US labor movement in general and the American Federation of Labor in-particular are built on a collection of assumptions and the contemporaneous word of dead liars, schemers and union wreckers in the 19th century. So first and foremost it was an attempt to re-write the history of the American labor movement and expose the ideological narratives common to every branch of a broadly defined socialist movement. This meant attacking the theories of ‘Business Unionism’ and ‘Industrial Unionism’. Both terms are largely without precise definition. It reminds me of that Supreme Court justice who said he could not define obscenity, but he knows it when he sees it. Everyone who uses the term 'business unionism' can point to what they think it is but cannot with any precision define it.

Beyond that it’s a reevaluation of the history of organizations like the Knights of Labor, Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance, United Brewery Workmen, American Railway Union and Industrial Workers of the World, and individuals like Mother Jones, Eugene Debs, William Trautmann, Thomas Hagerty and others who are all so central to telling a story that another labor movement was both possible and desirable from the one that was in fact built in the United States.

But the position of The Hoax of Business Unionism is not found anywhere else. Books which tell the story as it has been inherited by the socialist movement are everywhere, some of the ones used as references in the text include Philip Foner’s multi-volume “History of the Labor Movement in the United States”, Jeremy Brecher’s “Strike!”, Thompson and Bekken’s “The IWW: Its First 100 Years”, the Popular Front-era history book “Labor’s Untold Story” and William Z. Foster’s “Outline History of the World Trade Union Movement”. When it comes to what happened to the AFL in the 20th century and how it became what it is today, that would require another very long examination. But these same aforementioned books give their interpretation of this history which more or less can be summed up as: ‘the AFL was always rotten, which explains why it became even more rotten over time’.


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 Post subject: Re: The Hoax of Business Unionism
PostPosted: Thu Oct 20, 2016 4:04 pm 
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I'm going to post stuff I hastily wrote down at lunch break today at work.

With respect to the following two articles

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/10 ... n-o20.html
http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/10 ... c-o20.html

Taking a look at the narrative proposed by the WSWS, the union is apparently trying to quell the strikes from above while accepting terrible contracts. The alternative narrative being proposed is that the strike would normally have failed, leading to a dissolution of a weaker union, that the preservation of the union is the real fruit of the struggle. Somewhat reminiscent of Marx's reference to the old mole, ready to re-emerge when the opportunity for success is ripe.

I am, of course, blindly transposing the concepts outlined about unions in the late 1800's/early 1900's directly to unions in the early 2000's. The real question, as before, becomes about the modern character of unions today. What are their organisational trends etc. How do we adapt the new knowledge of labour history to explaining and acting on the terrain of modern day unions?

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 Post subject: Re: The Hoax of Business Unionism
PostPosted: Fri Oct 21, 2016 9:39 am 
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I think the definition of an ideological narrative for the socialist movement is when what is becomes rejected for what 'should be', which then becomes a self-perpetuating ideological narrative which manifests in theory and practice. In the 19th century, the Socialist Labor Party failed through their maneuvers and intrigues to capture the American Federation of Labor, therefore the AFL from then on is to be considered reactionary and anti-socialist, and all future work by and through the AFL and its affiliates is already judged before it happens on this basis.

In the case of the article on the teachers' strikes in PA, notice the line:

"In every case, the unions involved are seeking to isolate workers and prevent a political struggle against both the Democratic and Republican parties"

The basis of this statement is an expectation that the trade unions and trade union struggles, without socialist intervention, ought to take up a revolutionary class line on their own and that because they don't, they never can. How often can you look up the press outlets of any nominally socialist organization from any variety of tendency and find a criticism along the lines of "they should have done XYZ (but even if they did we would not have supported it)". There's this presumption that the socialist movement has no obligations in the class struggle and can simply be a spectator or stockbroker in it. If you can't swim, does that make water your enemy?


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 Post subject: Re: The Hoax of Business Unionism
PostPosted: Fri Oct 21, 2016 3:48 pm 
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So real material gains are sacrificed to ideology, and that is, essentially, the legacy of the left in America. Where the working class had fortified itself in the AFL to prevent structural and systemic infiltration by alien forces, the trots, deleonists, leftists in general, cannibalise the organic leadership of the working class. That the socialists in America were largely imported from Europe, where the socialist movement developed organically to a leading position in the working class struggle. Once in America, the imported socialists tried to assume a position of leadership they hadn't earned. Failing this, they tried to artificially graft themselves as leaders of the working class, that their goal, from this point forward, became, not the material betterment of the working class along the road to emancipation, but the role of leadership over the working class by any means. They would read Bordiga's statement that the communists in the communist party should be the leaders in the trade union to mean that the working class must recognise the "communists" as their leaders rather than the communists earning said leadership through organic participation in the class struggle (or simply have the leaders that emerge in the workers' movements begin to see the way forward as communism). That while the capitalists accumulate the labour of the working class, the left accumulates the leaders of the working class. Our job, then, as communists external to the working class movement (there is, of course, a place for communists internally involved in the working class movement) would appear to be the defense of these organic leaders from the left that would attempt to usurp them.

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 Post subject: Re: The Hoax of Business Unionism
PostPosted: Fri Oct 21, 2016 5:46 pm 
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Here's another question though, a big part of this position seems to be a reliance on the trade unions to defend the gains made by workers. I 100% grant that the class struggle causes material improvement in the position of the working class as a whole, but how do we recouncile this with frequent statements from Bordiga that the working class has nothing to defend, can not wage a defensive struggle

Force, Violence and Dictatorship in the Class Struggle wrote:
4) The party must work to instil clear historical understanding of the antagonistic nature of the struggle. Communists demand the initiative of attack against a whole world of rules and regulations, and traditions. They know that they constitute a danger for the privileged classes. They call the masses to the offensive and not to the defensive against the pretended danger of losing supposed gains and improvements won under capitalism. Communists do not lend and lease their party for causes not their own and for non-proletarian objectives such as liberty, country, democracy and other such lies. “Proletarians have nothing to loose but their chains”.


When he refers to losing "supposed gains" I can only assume he is NOT referring to material gains such as better working hours and wages, but more to things like freedom of speech which also serves to explain

The Lyons Theses wrote:
Any “freedom” given to the proletariat will just mean substantially greater freedom for counter-revolutionary agents to agitate and organise within its ranks. The only freedom for the proletariat lies in its dictatorship.

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 Post subject: Re: The Hoax of Business Unionism
PostPosted: Sat Oct 22, 2016 7:31 pm 
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Bordiga is only restating Chapter II of the Communist Manifesto. I'm glad you quoted from Force, Violence and Dictatorship in the Class Struggle, because in it he writes:

Quote:
The Paris Commune has confirmed that the proletarian forces must smash the old state instead of entering it and taking it over; its means must not be legality but insurrection.

The very defeat of the proletariat in that class battle and the October victory at Leningrad have shown that it is necessary to organise a new form of armed state whose “secret” is in the following: it denies political survival to the members of the defeated class and to all its various parties.

Once this decisive secret has been drawn from history, we still have not clarified and studied all the physiology and the dynamics of the new organ that has been produced. Unfortunately an extremely difficult area, its pathology, remains open.


This is the entire purpose of the Class, Bureaucracy and the Union-Form project, which includes the core text and its supplements (3 so far have been completed).

The Hoax of Business Unionism was the first supplement because there is no basis for an honest examination of the trade union question--and by extension labor's class struggles, the organs of workers' control/power, proletarian revolution, proletarian dictatorship and socialism--when the accumulated experience of the working-class is liquidated by dishonest, inaccurate and flawed history and its by-products ('business unionism', etc.).

Bordiga's own personal political history and trajectory is worth remembering. He was a theorist and only capable politically when his views were dominant in the fraction (PSI Abstentionists) and party (PCd'I) he was in. Being ousted from the ECCI and the leadership of the Italian party for not implementing decisions from the International, his fast adherence to the 'Left Opposition' and his eventual expulsion from the International for Trotskyism led him into a kind of political ghetto occupied with various other capable cadre who, often as founders of Communist Parties in their home countries, took a small group out of the Comintern with them (A. Nin in Spain, H. Sneevliet in Holland, etc.). He leaves political life under fascist threats, returns to active political life after the war and creates an organization whose sole function is the generation of theory; theory divorced from practice is mysticism, and it got worse up until he died (and it shows in the organizational legacy of his pure 'International Communist Party' and its various but equally pure splits and splinter groups).


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 Post subject: Re: The Hoax of Business Unionism
PostPosted: Mon Oct 24, 2016 11:20 am 
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My apologies, I missed the first response:

I think the most striking element of US labor history is how advanced the labor movement was compared to both the British and the German for a brief historic window. The effect of the American Civil War on the domestic labor movement was fresh, many trade unionists (and socialists like Marx’s co-worker Joseph Weydemeyer) were veterans of the war and were oriented around the emancipation of the working-class as the sequel to the emancipation of the slaves. Foster characterized the Civil War as a second and completed bourgeois-democratic revolution. The American working-class had generated its first national trade union center, the National Labor Union, shortly after the formation of the First International with which it shared many core programmatic positions.

Due to America’s immigration and political policies, massive influxes of political refugees of the revolutions of 1848 and other political upheavals (national liberation movements in places like Poland and Ireland, revolutionaries from places like Italy and Russia up to ex-communards from France) all found their way here and joined the domestic reform, radical and revolutionary movements but also the domestic trade union movement. Looking at this history suggests that it could have been the American rather than the German labor movement that was the pioneer of the merger of Marxism and trade unionism as the revolutionary labor movement, particularly after the First International moved its headquarters to New York. But this was all squandered by American socialists.

The inherited literature from that time suggests that American socialists, with a variety of theoretical rationales (iron law of wages) and forces of inertia (sectarianism, dogmatism), simply demanded that the developing labor movement give itself over to them because “we say we are the leaders of the working-class”. When they were rebuffed, and their efforts to simply take it through maneuvers and intrigues were beaten back, they declared war on the labor movement and made it a matter of principle.

In the trade union context, Samuel Gompers, Peter McGuire, Adolph Strasser and Jack Elliott demonstrate what successful socialist leadership in the class struggle looks like in practice. In a revolutionary context, what is often overlooked is how many Old Bolsheviks began their political activity as trade union and workplace leaders—Shliapnikov and the metalworkers for example. The first collective bargaining agreement in the history of the Russian Empire was between Baku oil workers and owners following the massive strikes in the oil fields in December 1904, which were organized and led by the Baku Committee of the Bolshevik Party and was one of the opening salvos and formative events of the 1905 Revolution. The absence of an official-legal-juridical labor movement along the lines of Western Europe or North America leads many to interpret the Bolshevik experience as validating their long held anti-trade union prejudices despite absolutely endless polemics to the contrary from the Russians.


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 Post subject: Re: The Hoax of Business Unionism
PostPosted: Mon Oct 24, 2016 4:18 pm 
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Can I take it, then, that your most basic position with regard to the trade unions is that trade unions are how the working class struggles, and that man makes history, but not in conditions of his choosing. Meaning that trade unions exist already, and we have to work with what we have and where the working class already exists and is already struggling rather than trying to make 'ideal' unions or movements or what have you.

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 Post subject: Re: The Hoax of Business Unionism
PostPosted: Tue Oct 25, 2016 1:28 pm 
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The only specific political position offered at the moment is to liquidate the idealization of the class struggle and to return to the one which exists:

"Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence" --The German Ideology

I think the trade union question (in all of its dimensions--theory, history, balance sheet of past practices, etc.) is the means to accomplish this. A broadly defined socialist movement is at present totally unable to engage in meaningful practice, so I think forming concrete political positions and prescriptions for socialist intervention are premature.


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