Dialectics of Nature
Louis R Godena
louisgodena at ids.net
Thu Sep 12 16:03:26 MDT 1996
Adam optimistically tells us:
>My claim that the "trade union struggle [is] unwinnable in purely trade
>terms" seems to me to be a fairly non dialectical statement of fact, something
>which can be verified entirely within the terms of trade unionism itself.
>Trade unionism, in the eyes of trade unionists, exists in order to negotiate
>the terms of exploitation of labour in capitalist society. Therefore it can
>never end the exploitation of labour.
Adam, common sense should tell you that your claim that "trade union
struggles [are] unwinnable in purely trade unionist terms" is not only NOT
"fairly non dialectical" [sic], it is ontologically absurd. Your implied
definition of "winnable" (i.e., the ushering in of revolutionary socialism)
is not compatible with your use of the phrase "trade union struggle".
Your definition, in other words, of trade unionism (existing, in the eyes
of organized laborers themselves, as a mechanism for negotiating "the terms
of exploitation of labour in capitalist society") does not jibe with YOUR
stated idea of "winnable" (i.e., socialism). [I would argue, in any case,
the premise that most trade unionists view the labor movement in that
light]. This contradiction does not, in reality, exist in the manner in
which you pose it.
Undeterred, Adam continues with his special fortune cookie "dialectics".
>Trade unionism is the expression of a contradiction within capitalism, and at
>the same time acts upon it, both positively and negatively. The actual social
>embodiement of trade unionism, the trade union bureaucracy, is because of its
>specialised negotiating role between capital and labour, tied to the system
>in a permanent, structural way, in a way that the mojority of trade unionists
This section just bristles with fallacies and illogic. Trade unionism is
A feature of the contradiction between capital and labor, it is not its
sole "expression", and, in our era, may not even be the most vital
"expression" of that contradiction. Nor is the "trade union bureaucracy"
the "actual social embodiement [sic] of trade unionism itself, but merely a
weakening echo of the class nature of the bureaucracy itself. The
"social embodiment" of trade unionism exists in the millions of organized
workers themselves, in their struggles, victories, prejudices, defeats,
etc. It would be more accurate to depict the bureaucracy itself as a
decaying structural expression of a particular phase of the trade union
movement, not its social embodiment. I would go further and argue that
your categorical assertion that the bureaucracy is "permanently tied" to the
capitalist system is itself non-dialectical and "static".
And, finally, from illogic to hyperbole:
>On the other hand, Trade Unions are "schools of socialism" : their
>existence helps the development of class consciousness and revolutionary
Adam, communists and socialists are drawn to trade union struggles as part
of a deliberative strategy of organizing. There is little reciprocity.
Trade unions, at least as they are currently constituted here in the US,
are not "schools for socialism" . Your myopia, unfortunately, is part
of the folklore of the Left, a hodge-podge of myths, legends, and
falsehoods about the working class that do not long survive among those
actually working for a living. Nor does the "existence" of trade unions,
in and of themselves, "help" the development of "class consciousness and
revolutionary organization". Rather, as Engels himself would point out,
they are in a complex and inexorable interaction, first forward, then
back, and then, at some juncture, perhaps, forward again. It is the
contradictions within capitalism itself that propel the movement for
Hence the contradictory nature of trade unionism gives rise
>to two organisational and political trends, one of which is true to its nature
>and therefore weakens it ( the Trade Union Bureuacracy, Reformism ) , the
>which negates it nature ( Class Consciousness, Revolutionary organisation ) and
>therefore strengthens it, with the aim of ultimately abolishing it.
>The playing out of the central contradiction at the heart of trade unionism
>is what provides the motor of its development.
Adam, there are many contradictory trends within trade unionism today, as
there have always been, many with overlapping and self-contradictory
features. To postulate your form of dualism (reformism vs revolution)
seems to me completely inimical to the type of argument Engels, in
particular, seemed to be making. Rank and file trade unionists--as
opposed to the bureaucracy (their alleged "social embodiment") supported the
Right in the US in 1980, 1984, and 1992. Was this an expression of
either "reformism" or "revolutionary organization"? It was not. It was
the manifestation of a number of negative trends that ran through the trade
movement's union rank and file that is at once conservative and
revolutionary, with many features in between. This is the real
dialectic of Engels, the transformation of quantity into quality, the
interpenetration of opposites, the negation of the negation.
Adam, many of your postulates on this thread smack of reductive
materialism, which Engels opposed. Statements like "100% right =100%
wrong" are simplistic paradigms that, absent certain premises, explain
nothing. My polemic with you on the trade union issue is a reflexive
protest against that.
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