Forwarded from Anthony (labor aristocracy)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Feb 5 07:12:53 MST 2003


A few notes on the social conscious, historical formation, relation to 
imperialism, etc. - of labor aristocracies.

I think the recurring discussion on labor aristocracies is very 
important, especially in light of the impending war by the USA against 
Iraq and the world.

The fact that privileged layers of workers exist, and have strong short 
term material interest in maintaining the status quo, is unassailable.

If you have a three bedroom house, a car - or two, electricity and the 
appliances that go with it, a university education for your children, a 
high probability of a pension, affordable medical care and dental care - 
you can not think of yourself as a person, or a member of a class, “with 
nothing to sell but your labor.”

You have strong reasons to fight to keep things as they are.

The fact that many, possibly the majority of, workers in imperialist 
countries have most or all of these things makes them a labor 
aristocracy - compared to the workers in their own countries who do not 
have these things, and compared to the vast majority of the workers of 
the world who do not have these things.

The fact that in the rest of the world important privileged minorities 
of the working class have some or all of these things - the house, the 
car, the electric appliances - makes those minorities into labor 
aristocracies also.

However, the fact that these privileged layers exist, and that they have 
a conservative stake in the status quo, does not determine directly the 
role they will play in the class struggle, nor the social and class 
consciousness they acquire.

To see my point, you only have to look at the labor aristocracies of 
Colombia and Venezuela, and the very different roles they are now 
playing in the class struggle in these two countries, and the very 
different social consciousness expressed by their different roles in 
struggle.

In Venezuela and Colombia the oil workers, teachers, and bank workers 
are well organized into strong unions. They constitute labor 
aristocracies if any sectors ever did: much higher pay than other 
workers, much better benefits, much higher standards of living, etc.

However, in Colombia these unions are the backbone of the left and of 
the opposition to the right wing government of Alvaro Uribe Velez. They 
have suffered more than anyone else from the government’s neo-liberal 
program of privatization, tax increases, and cuts in pensions, benefits 
and social programs. They have suffered the most from the paramilitary 
death squads.

However, in Venezuela those unions actively support the business strike 
organized and led by the reactionary cabal of the Cisneros family and 
their friends and allies against the leftist government of Hugo Chaves.

The very different social consciousness expressed by these two very 
similar labor aristocracies (in terms of wages, living conditions, and 
social relations with other sectors of society), have been historically 
determined.

Social consciousness is not directly determined by economic relations, 
but social consciousness directly determines a person or group, or 
social layer, or social class’s role in the class struggle.

Whether or not a particular labor aristocracy sides with the capitalist 
class, or with the oppressed masses of their own country, or of the 
world, is a key question in the modern class struggle.

The most important labor aristocracy of the world in terms of numbers, 
economic power, and potential political power is the labor aristocracy 
of the United States. What it does in relation to the oppressed of the 
world - especially and most immediately in relation to those in the 
Middle East and the coming war in Iraq, is one of the most important 
political issues facing the world today.

If the labor aristocracy of US imperialism supports the war, it will 
happen. If the labor aristocracy of the United States opposes the war, 
it will not happen.

At least for the moment the labor aristocracy of the United States 
supports the war - passively. On the one hand, they are not lining up to 
join the army. On the other hand, they are not planning a nationwide 
general strike to stop the war.

The most important practical political point in this discussion about 
the labor aristocracy is how we can influence it to oppose the war. 
Clearly our actions can influence what the labor aristocracy thinks and 
does. Social consciousness is not directly determined by economic 
factors, not even by relative privilege.

I think that the examples of resolutions from central labor councils in 
different parts of the USA, and the participation of various unions 
(even not en masse) in the recent anti-war demonstrations, point in the 
right direction. I hope to talk about this aspect more, later on in 
these notes.

However, beyond the immediate practical, and tactical considerations for 
Marxists in relation to the labor aristocracies, are some of the more 
theoretical points raised in the discussion on this list. I hope I can 
address those issues in the next installments of these notes.

All the best, Anthony


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