Industrial proletariat and class struggle

glevy at glevy at
Sat Jul 8 04:17:29 MDT 1995

Jerry, I really have no major disagreements with any of this, but one
observation. There is no great divide between the Reagan Bush corporate
attack years and the fightback movement that is developing today in the
labor movement. The development of the class struggle in the years from the
60's thru the 90's are no great sweep of history. For those who 'gave up' on
manufactoring workers (after ten to twenty years)- were way too quick and I
dare say many were not committed to the long haul. (We who came to political
maturity in the 60's and 70's weren't called the instant gratification
generation for nothing you know.)

I have no interest in deviding the working class along any of the lines that
you mention, but I do believe that manufactoring workers, at the point of
production *do* play a *key* role in the overall class. They are the center
of gravity. Dare I say it, what in Stalin's day was called the key link in
the chain. I do believe there is still major validity to the factors that
Lenin and Marx felt made the proletariat a key sector of the working class.
IE: organization, socialization in the production process, labor discipline,
point of production fight v. capital, strategic postion in the economy etc etc.

If we have limited resources then concentrating where we reasonable expect
to find the most advanced potential is still good strategy.

Lastly, yes there are many class war zones these days, but I do believe it
is telling that the Illinois Class War Zone was so named by the
manufactoring workers themselves and their unions involved in life and death
struggle with captial directly at the point of production. This is the most
advanced self conscious 'class war zone' that I can think of.

>Today's exchanges concerning the location of class struggle (and
>especially Scott's response to Howie) suggest different understandings
>concerning the role of the industrial proletariat in the class struggle.
>Firstly, the industrial working class (as I'm sure Scott is quite aware)
>is not the entire working class.  It is a minority, in fact, of the US
>working class. The organized industrial working class is an even smaller
>proportion of the total working class.  So, it logically follows, that
>many areas of class struggle occur outside of the industrial proletariat.
>We, as Marxists, have to participate in those other class conflicts as
>well (Scott surely must agree).
>Deciding which arena of class struggle has more "revolutionary potential"
>is by no means an easy question nor is it reducible to workers' role at
>the "point of production."  In practice, many revolutionary struggles in
>other countries have begun in areas outside of the working class (e.g.
>student rebellions, peasant uprisings, etc.).  What is needed is an
>understanding of the dynamic of different struggles and their historical
>context and meaning.  Even here, problems can arise if Marxists
>simplistically assume how different segments of the working class will
>respond to crisis.
>Let me illustrate one problem that can occur with reference to a
>relatively recent page in the history of the Left in this country
>(although the following trend occurred in many other countries as well
>during the same time period):
>In the late 1970's (circa 1977-78) most left organizations (including the
>CPUSA, as I can recall) had an analysis of that period that argued that --
>a) the economic crisis of capitalism would force the capitalist state
>and private capital to attack the working class to a greater degree;
>b) the center of this struggle would be the industrial working class
>which would be increasingly attacked by both capital and the state;
>c) the increasing attacks on the industrial working class and their
>unions would force workers and their unions to respond in a more militant
>The policy conclusions of the above analysis were that: a) industrial
>unions were the place to be for revolutionaries; and b) the dynamic of
>struggles in the industrial working class would lead to increasing class
>conflict and class consciousness.
>Much of the above did, in fact, come to pass.  Under the Reagan
>administration, especially (during the 1980's post-PATCO), the capitalist
>state actively assisted corporate "restructuring" in the name of
>"competitiveness."  This lead, as we all painfully remember, to the
>infamous "concessions movement" that took hold especially in the
>industrial sector of the economy but eventually spread to all other
>sectors as well, including government employees.
>What was wrong with the basic analysis that I outlined above?  The major
>problem, IMO, with the theory was that it assumed that when the
>industrial proletariat and their unions are attacked, they will fight
>back. What was forgotten was that any group under attack can fight back
>or it can concede.  Of course, a very large factor for the retreat by
>industrial unions was the fact that the "leadership" (i.e. bureaucracy) of
>the industrial trade unions chose not to fight back and bought into the
>"concessions movement" arguing that concessions were needed to increase
>firm competitiveness and, consequently (so they said), save jobs. Instead
>of the old "them vs. us" trade union position we were treated to the
>"we're all in the same boat" class collaboration.
>It is true that there were some significant trade union struggles by
>industrial workers during that time period (P-9 and Continental Airlines
>come to mind), but, overall, there was retreat rather than advance.
>In accordance with their analysis of the conjuncture, many left
>organizations "colonized" the industrial unions by pulling their members
>out of other activities, employment and struggles and encouraging
>members to become industrial workers ... so that they would be in the
>best possible position to await the anticipated heightened class
>conflicts.  In retrospect, it is easy to see that this policy was a
>mistake.  I believed it to be a mistake, though, at the time (even though
>I *was* an industrial worker during most of that time period).
>The problem, as I see it, is that it is very difficult to predict before
>the fact what will be the major class conflicts and that the responses by
>workers and their unions to attack can not be assumed.  Today, there are
>many "class war zones" (Scott's term, I believe) many of which occur
>outside of the capital/worker sphere, e.g. struggles for housing,
>struggles by students against tuition increases and budget cuts,
>struggles for civil liberties and for political prisoners ("Free
>Mumia!"), struggles for the environment (e.g. "Earth First").  All of
>these struggles are important and are not diminished by the role of
>industrial workers "at the point of production."  For those of you (like
>Scott) who are involved with struggles for trade union democracy and
>militancy in industrial unions I say: Right on!  For those of you who are
>involved in other progressive and militant struggles I also say:  Right
>on!  The class struggle is located not in one sector of our economy but
>in every part of it and there is plenty of good work that Marxists can do
>in the many progressive struggles out there.

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