Some points on labor aristocracy

Armand Diego causebellum at yahoo.com
Wed Feb 5 22:30:23 MST 2003


Some thoughts about labor aristocracy written on a
hurry -- pressure from my boss.  Hopefully will
contribute something to the discussion.

1. Labor aristocracy is by definition, the formation
of an strata of the class that receive certain
privileges above and beyond those of its entire class.
Those privileges are essentially based in the sharing
by the bosses of the crumbs of super-exploitation
extracted from other layers of the class. Whether
those super-exploited layers are domestic or work in
the colonies or semi-colonies.

2.  In many cases, those privileges are not obtained
through class struggle, nor as a concession won by
fighting, but as a political decision of the ruling
class to pre-empt disruption of areas of production
they deemed too crucial or important as to risk class
confrontation (and this decision could be taken for a
variety of reasons from the maintenance of colonies to
war, etc)

3. Belonging to the labor aristocracy does not create
what is otherwise a normal conservatism of the class
but strenghten it geometrically. Conservatism is a
natural offshot of the rule of capital (look at the
first chapters of the Hsitory of the Russian
Revolution by Trotsky for an excellent analysis of the
features of conservatism in the working class).

4. Labor aristocracy and the conservatism of these
layers are the social base of labor bureacrats, more
typically leadership that does not emerge as result of
struggles (CUT in Brazil, for example) but as a result
of negotiations and political relatinships beyond and
above the class struggle and even of the normal
democratic and formal procedures of trade unions
(present AFL-CIO leadership and its connections with
the Democratic Party.)

5. The inter-connection between a prolonged stage of
enjoying privileges, a bureacratic leadership which is
not only class collaborationist and undemocratic, but
also incompetent to the extreme of not even knowing
how to change their ways and fight because they never
did (present leadership of the AFL-CIO) and the
absence of mass political organizations of the working
class transform and setback, regress, the class
consciousness of those privileged layers of the
working class to the point that, in certain cases, the
bourgeoisie is able to manipulate them and use them
against other layers of the working class, either
domestically and/or internationally.

7.  This is what explains the different attitude of
the labor aristocracy of Colombia and Venezuela that
Anthony talked about.  One have a putrefact
bureacratic and mafia-like leadership (CTV Venezuela)
educated and nurtured during decades of
socialdemocratic and social Christian governments of
the AP and COPEI and the other, prominently the CUT
leadership in Colombia arise out of a campaign of
terror and murders against activists and no
concessiosn without struggle.  And in Colombia there
is a tradition of working class parties with mass
influence in the unions whereas in Venezuela is not.

8.  Anthony could have mentioned as well the
difference between the labor aristocracy of the US,
led by the most corrupt, pro-management, class
collaborationist and incompetent leadership of the
AFL-CIO and the reformist-minded  leadership of the
labor aristocracy of France, Germany, Britain and
other countries that keeps, if not a class struggle
character, at least some of the reflexes of its past.

6. All privileges are relative to the situation of the
entire class.  You may have, as it happened in the
past in certain neocolonial countries, where those
privileges could be limited at holding a job or having
a job for more than six months. An analogy could be
drawn on privileged layers of other classes as well. 
Someone once asked why the peasants in Nicaragua would
join the contras: simple, they were paid miserable
salaries of $200-300 US dollars per month and a share
in the spoils of war.  Sufficient "privileges" as to
serve the counter-revolution in times of hardship. The
social mechanics of privileges work in a similar way
in most classes. One have to look at the privileged
layer of the petitebourgeoisie that emerged from the
high tech bubble, this apparently despicable yuppie
crowd with BMWs that ended up mostly dissappearing,
exploding with the bubble of the branch of industry
that gave them the privileges in the first place and
are today lining up in the unemployment lines.

7. This is to say that the privileges of the labor
aristocracy - and all privileges of the classes other
than the ruling class - are relative, limited and
temporary.  Nobody would assert that the labor
aristocracy of the 1950s and 1960s in the US
(steelworkers, autoworkers, etc) is the same today or
that they will remain in place forever as changes in
industries, the world situation and the senility of
the capitalist/imperialist system makes the
maintenance of those "privileges" harder to nurture by
the ruling class.  The only problem, or the main
problem I would say, is that those layers of the
working class will need to re-learn the art of the
class struggle after decades and build some kind of
independent political formation to process that
changing situation.

8.  It is interesting to note here that the PT in
Brazil was first based and developed - same with the
CUT - from layers of the working class that benefited
for the US investments and industrialization abroad
(autoindustry, oil, banks, steel ...)who have to fight
anew against both exploitation and the existence of a
rotten union bureacracy of the older sectors of
industry and the less dynamic at that.  In their
struggle they, the new layers, became a layer with
privileges, but they got their unions, their party and
now their government through struggle.  This, of
course, does not constitute an endorsement of Lula or
the PT policies since they, themselves, suffered a
transformation over the years as a result of the
pressure of their own victories being transformed into
certain, relative privileges that exercises a powerful
conservative pressure over the leaders of the
movement.  But the previous struggles and the way
those institutions of the working class were formed
represent a volcano upon which the new government is
seated since they remain working class institutions
through which politics, struggle and social
aspirations are processed and discussed, as well as
acted upon.  That is what is lacking in countries like
the US which makes the subsistence of the stable
regime of labor aristocracy survive the historical
time of its delivery of the goods for that layer of
the class.

9. The way in which the ruling classes of different
countries transferred the crumbs of their exploitation
of the most oppressed layers of the labor movement to
the labor aristocracy changed from time to time.  It
was more direct during colonial times in which the
workers in the metropolis would benefit for the
industrialization, wages and democratic rights given
to them in many cases on the back of super-exploited
workers in the colonies.  More or less was a direct
distribution of the profits of the colonies among the
workers of the metropolis.  That had been changing
overtime. Not only different, but also increasingly
more limited.  That is why the revolutionary process
in the semicolonial world have the potential of change
and development of the working class consciousness in
the metropolis and imperial countries as well as the
struggles in those imperialist coutnries will have a
tremedous impact in the semicolonial world.

I leave it at this, more some other time.  Got to run.

DA

   


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