[Marxism] YADL (Yet another disillusioned liberal)/all

Marv Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Sun Apr 5 17:54:06 MDT 2009

Michael Friedman write:
> One point of Marvin's that I don't agree with is his view that the union
> bureaucrats are blameless for the decline of unions. While, I agree that
> the
> primary current "cause" (argghh!) for the phenomena lies with decades-long
> changes in the world economy (i.e., neoliberalism), I would point out that
> the decline began prior to the consolidation of the neo-liberal model, at
> about the time that Douglas Frasier began moaning about the "one-sided
> class
> war". I would argue that these bureaucrats "canalized" (to use a genetic
> term) the union movement into a position that was poorly equipped to
> confront capital, much less do so within the context of an all-out
> globalized class war. I mean, as a teacher, my union was good for a)
> sweetheart contracts with the City of New York, b) stifling dissent, c)
> attacking (a la Albert Shanker) belligerent labor movements elsewhere in
> the
> world and d) offering its members credit cards.
I've been around enough union bureaucrats in my lifetime, having been one
myself, to know that the best of them lack imagination and the worst of them
are corrupt. So of course they can't be absolved of all responsibility for
the decline, and it would not be my intention to do so. But I would stress
that they largely reflect the consciousness of their members, and are a
PRODUCT rather than a CAUSE of the weak state of the unions, whose condition
owes to deeper historical factors which I tried to describe in my earlier

Most, in fact, rose through the ranks as militant oppositionists only to
discover that the power of the employers, backed by the state, and the
reluctance of the membership to challenge that power beyond certain limits,
was greater than they had anticipated in opposition. An unfavourable balance
of power has a profoundly conservatizing effect on leaders in any
organization. In the US labour movement, this bureaucratic conditioning was
compounded by the virulent anti-communist chauvinism which saturated all
social institutions and by the expansion of the economy and improved living
standards in the postwar period. Shanker, who did jail time for leading
illegal strikes, and Frasier, a sit-down striker who was twice fired for his
union activity before being elected president of his wartime UAW local, are
both cases in point. You would hardly know this from their subsequent
evolution, but they were not unique.

The theory of the "crisis of leadership", to which most list members
subscribe, rests on an entirely different premise - that the consciousness
and combativity of the base of the trade unions and the union-supported
political parties is somehow in advance of its leadership. The founding
principle of both the Third and Fourth Internationals was that the objective
situation was such that the workers were ready to break with their reformist
union and party leaders in favour of the revolutionary factions in the mass
workers' organizations.

History has shown otherwise - to date, at any rate. After nearly a century,
innumerable Marxist caucuses operating on this premise in all of the
advanced capitalist countries have everywhere failed to dislodge the
reformists. Bureaucratic maneuvers to stifle dissent notwithstanding, many
of us have had the opportunity to challenge these leaders in open forums,
including attempts to overturn sweetheart deals of the type mentioned above
by Mike. Successes have been rare and due primarily to our efforts as good
trade union and party militants rather than the more politically advanced
ideas we circulated informally or as part of a larger program.

It seems to me we can't have it both ways. We can't blame the passivity of
the working class on the fact that it has not moved beyond reformism because
it has been bought off by imperialism, and simultaneously see it as
incipiently insurgent, it's militant impulse to move beyond reformism
thwarted by the fetters placed on it by a reformist leadership whose
political outlook is in contradiction to - rather than complementary - to
its own.

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