Labor and aristocracies

loupaulsen at loupaulsen at
Mon Feb 10 14:51:21 MST 2003

> From: "LouPaulsen" <LouPaulsen at>
> clip...  I think that all the debate is about
> whether (a) imperialism, racism, etc. are in the short term beneficial to
> the 'privileged' / less oppressed group, while being against their long-term
> class interests, or (b) whether they are against the interests of the
> 'priviliged'/less oppressed group in the short term  AND in the long term.
> Some people then think that they have to prove (b) in order to prove that it
> is in the 'material interest' of the less oppressed workers to join in the
> revolution.  I don't think we do in fact have to prove (b), so I'm less
> concerned about whether it is true or not.
> For example, Al Szymanski once published a study in a sociological journal
> which purported to demonstrate (b) with respect to racism in the US.  He
> claimed to demonstrate that wage rates for whites were lower in states where
> there was 'more racism' against African-Americans.  It wasn't a very good
> study, unfortunately, from the methodological point of view.
> ^^^^^^^
> Charles:  This is also one of Victor Perlo's theses in Economics of Racism
> and II.
> It always seems to me that Marx and Engels placed this issue at THE center
> Marxism's tasks with the top priority they gave the slogan "Workers of all
> countries, unite ! ".  Surely, Marx , who said that Britain's capitalism was
> built on the pivot of Irish workers', English workers' and American slaves'
> labor,  was thinking especially about British "bourgeois" workers overcoming
> the false consciousness of their identification with the British bourgeoisie
> instead of with the Irish and Negro workers ,in emphasizing this slogan. It
> was important that they unite with French ,German, Belgian and Italian
> workers too, but attaining internationalist consciousness would be
> difficult in relation to the more underprivileged nations and races of
> workers. So, in a way, the topic of this thread was seen as the number one
> problem of Marxism by its founders from the beginning. It is appropriate
> this thread is so long on this list.
> I'd be curious as to why Lou Paulson doesn't think what he labels "b" above
> doesn't have to be proven. I'm not disagreeing with him, but just want to
> hear his thinking on it.

Actually let me clarify my point.  What I would say is that the divisions that
the capitalists make among workers, on the basis of race, gender, sexual
orientation, nationality, citizenship, colony/metropole, etc., are BOTH in the
immediate short-term interest of the favored/less oppressed group, IF you make
the term short enough, AND contrary to their long-term interest, IF you make
the term long enough.  This seems pretty obvious to me.  On the one hand, if
the boss is deciding who to promote, and gives the job to the white / male /
straight / citizen applicant, etc., that's immediate short-term material
interest.  On the other hand this retards the day of the socialist revolution
which would be in the benefit of all workers.

The corollary is that as soon as one becomes a socialist at all and realizes
the necessity to overcome divisions in the working class in order to build
class consciousness and unite behind the revolution, then from that moment on
one has the duty to fight all these forms of division regardless of the short
term or medium term considerations (which is basically what I meant when I
said that I didn't feel the need to prove 'b').

Now if you start studying these things more closely you can identify cases in
which these divisions make it harder to reach medium-term goals, short of
socialist revolution, like 'reviving the trade union movement', or 'winning a
union contract at a given company', or 'winning a wage increase in a
particular negotiation', going roughly from longer term to shorter term.
Experiences with these situations help workers to become class-conscious and
to fight for class unity, which means fighting the oppression of the more
oppressed workers, even if they haven't been won over to socialist
consciousness, but only to "trade-union consciousness" if you will.

Underlying all the above discussion, though, is the idea that you need class
unity for the purpose of some kind of struggle against the capitalists.  If
you leave the struggle dynamic out of the discussion, I don't see how you
could possibly demonstrate that divisions are bad for the favored side of the
division.  Which is to say that you can only make this kind of claim with a
particular struggle, level of struggle, kind of struggle, or period of
struggle, in view.

So if you want, I guess you could phrase the question this way: for a given
instance of division within the working class, between less oppressed and more
oppressed, how do you have to frame 'material interest' - in what kind of time
frame, and in what kind of struggle perspective - in order to demonstrate to
the less oppressed that unity with the more oppressed is really in their
material interest?  The answer to this question is going to depend on how big
the division is, the cost of bridging it, etc.  The point is that the
bourgeoisie is always on the scene trying to rephrase your argument in the
most short-term and non-struggle perspective.

For example, suppose you that women 'traditionally' make the coffee on your
job.  You come along and propose that in the interest of class unity men
should make the coffee at least half the time.  Well, what the hell, it's not
a big deal to make the coffee.  That particular 'instance of division' may be
easy enough to overcome.

But if you say to the $50,000-a-year worker that we should unite with the
homeless unemployed worker, the bourgeois is ready to say "OK, would you like
me to take $25,000 per year from you in taxes to house your
homeless 'brother'?"  If you oppose limits on immigration, the bourgeois is
ready to say "All right, that means you want to compete for jobs on equal
terms with Mexican immigrants who are willing to take less than minimum
wage?"  If you oppose imperialism in the Middle East, the bourgeois starts
talking about expensive oil and how you won't be able to keep your SUV.  (This
will be a big issue for some people, I'm told.)  In each of these situations,
you may find that you have to frame 'material interest' in different ways, and
maybe not in very short-term ways, and in an extensive struggle framework, in
order to convincingly argue that class unity is in the 'material interest' of
the less oppressed.  In SOME situations, you may not be able to find ANY
convincing ways to frame 'material interest' that will win over the less
oppressed workers, short of the material interest of a socialist world.

(This brings us back to some of the stuff Mark Jones has been telling us
about.  If I understand him correctly, he might argue that as far as the
issues of resource distribution, energy, etc., and so on are concerned, it is
ridiculous to talk of ordinary material benefits for the less oppressed
workers of the imperialist countries in the overthrow of imperialism.  We had
better get used to some serious reduction in our standards of living, he
believes.  The only good side is that the species gets to survive.  If we
don't overthrow capitalism, we ride the runaway bus downhill into the abyss,
really, but the workers in the imperialist countries will always have comfier
seats on the descent.  We have a choice between an upholstered seat on a
doomed bus, or sitting on a less comfy seat, maybe even on a rock or on the
bare and stable ground, with the assurance that our children will survive.
Framed that way, is the upholstered seat 'material interest'?)

Lou Paulsen

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