Revolution or War n°8

(Biannual - September 2017)

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Reflections on the Intermediary Groups between the Party and the Working Class

In the text Nature and Tasks of Factory Groups and the Role of the Class Party, O Damen (1965) strongly criticizes a certain ’economist’ viewpoint popular at the time, according to which the working class can gradually attain power by conquering the world of work, workplace by workplace, supposedly obviating the need for eventual insurrection and even rendering the party redundant. He draws on the experience of defeat of struggles led by unions to argue for the need for political leadership. He extends this criticism of the limitations of trade union struggles to struggle committees organized during the struggles outside of the unions. These transient struggle committees would also be infected by the corporatism that is inherent in every economic struggle.

It is impossible for the working class to gradually conquer power. The role of leadership of the Communist Party [1] is fundamental, and ultimately the political struggle of the working class leads it toward a full-on confrontation with the bourgeois state.

The two core questions are what kind of interaction is necessary between the party and the class and what is the relation between the economic and the political struggle?

“it makes no sense for an organisation defining itself as communist to regard action among the workers as an activity to be carried out only in certain historical periods or a future circumstance of greater numerical strength. The intervention of communists among the workers must always be an integral part of the activity of revolutionaries.” (Internationalist Communist Tendency, The Unions, the Class Struggle and Communists) [2]

It is reasonable to agree with this statement and still grant that workers are more or less sensible to revolutionary ideas depending on whether they are in active struggle or not.

What kind of intervention?

The PCint informs us that territorial and workplace workers’ groups are an integral part of their program and the concrete way in which the party exercises influence within the working class. These are necessary for the political organization to become organically rooted within the class. This allows it to adapt its intervention on the basis of the class balance of power within a specific workplace or neighborhood, rather than just repeating abstract principles. The workers’ groups are to be permanent organizations whose main task is political education as opposed to economic demand struggles, although party militants may participate in struggles for economic demands [3].

The insistence on the need for such intermediary organs is not without precedent. It recalls of Kautsky’s discussion, later adapted by Lenin in What is to be Done?, on trade union vs communist consciousness. Indeed, some groups today that we consider to be part of the proletarian milieu (i.e. the Bordigists) continue to agitate for the formation of red unions, essentially unions under the direction of the communist party. The tactic of attempting to conquer the leadership of the trades unions was adopted by the third international, and was pursued also by the PCI before the split with Programa Comunista. Today the organizational framework that is to act as an intermediary between class and party is no longer the unions, but rather the internationalist workplace and territorial groups that are under the direction of the revolutionary organization.

The blatant sabotage of workers’ struggles by the unions leads to the conclusion that it is their role as mediators in the sale of wage labour during a period when capitalism has become historically obsolete that leads to their eventual integration into the capitalist state. One apparent solution to this problem is precisely the organization of permanent political bodies controlled by the party within workplaces and neighbourhoods. [4]

The political struggle, the struggle for economic demands, and the role of the unions as apparatus of the capitalist state

It’s not that the unions are an ineffective tool for waging the economic struggle by the working class. Rather, they are apparatuses of the capitalist state whose function is to enforce labour discipline and to systematically sabotage workers’ struggle. There was a change in the function of the unions from being genuine, though reformist, representatives of workers’ interests in the ascendant phase of capitalist development, in which capitalism still had a progressive role to play in relation to the vestiges of feudalism, to ideological and repressive apparatuses of the capitalist state in the decadent phase of capitalism. This integration into the state inevitably occurs when an economic struggle of workers leads to the formation of a permanent organization devoted exclusively to demands relating to wages and conditions of work. Thus, the formation of rank and file unions is not the solution.

Therefore, it is not the complete picture to note that the unions’ role of mediators of the sale of wage labour is the reason why they are today in the service of capitalism. There is a qualitative difference between the role of the unions in the period of capitalism’s ascendance and today in the period of capitalism’s obsolescence. In the 19th century it was possible and necessary for the working class to struggle to reform capitalism and favour the development of the bourgeois republic in relation to feudalism. This is no longer the case today since capitalism has outlived its usefulness. Its continued existence threatens to plunge humanity into barbarism, and the present property relations have become an obstacle to rational development. A failure to grasp this historical difference could lead to doubting the potentialities of spontaneous economic struggles that adopt modes of organizing themselves in response to the needs of the struggle.

It is the task of revolutionaries to intervene in working class struggles wherever they appear, including in struggles waged by unionized workers or organized by the unions themselves, particularly to contest the leadership of the unions in these, and to draw out the political implications that are immanent in such economic struggles. It is the position of the working class in the economic system that compels its members to engage in struggle for the improvement of their immediate condition. The economic and political struggles are dialectically related and it is through the intervention and leadership of the revolutionary organization that the political program of the working class is discovered by the workers in struggle. The solution to the apparent paradox that workers are moved to struggle due to their economic position as wage slaves for the valorization of capital and the inherent limitations of the purely economic struggle is precisely the revolutionary political organization.

“...the economic struggle is the transmitter from one political centre to another; the political struggle is the periodic fertilisation of the soil for the economic struggle. Cause and effect here continually change places; and thus the economic and the political factor in the period of the mass strike, now widely removed, completely separated or even mutually exclusive, as the theoretical plan would have them, merely form the two interlacing sides of the proletarian class struggle...” (Rosa Luxemburg, The Mass Strike) [5]

The problem of the interaction between the economic and political in the working class struggle has important political and organizational implications. Where and how should the revolutionaries focus their intervention?

The intervention does not come like a bolt out of the blue from self-styled revolutionaries completely divorced from the realities of their class, because one of the tasks of the party is that of political education of its cadre and sympathizers. The organization of workplace and territorial groups is how the PCint tries to respond to this need. However, it may be worth raising two points here. If a group is constituted by members of a particular workplace, is this not itself a concession to corporatism? Why should they be insulated from their class comrades in other workplaces? Territorially based groups are an improvement in this regard. Territorially based party organizations, essentially sections, can do the work of political education by holding regular public meetings, educational workshops, by attending demonstrations and pickets, selling literature, distributing agitational propaganda, and through their interactions with workers’ groups (circles, nuclei) that spontaneously organize themselves following or during a period of heightened class struggle. The other point would be to caution against underestimating the potential of struggles that begin in the workplace as economic struggles to become politicized and generalize to the streets and subsequently to other sectors of production. For such an evolution to lead to a revolutionary outcome, there needs to be an organized expression of the communist programme, an expression that is visible to the workers in struggle, and that is taken up by them. Therefore, the Party of tomorrow, the communist groups of today, should reach out to the circles, nuclei, committees of politicized workers that emerge more or less spontaneously as a result of the objective needs posed by given struggles, and not try to artificially create them where workers are not actually in struggle.

“Communists must give out propaganda, proposals, be an active part in the organs of self-organised struggle: the workers’ assemblies, agitation committees. In doing so they must always try to provide a communist political framework.” (ICC, International Review #21, 1980) [6]

The permanent work of political education is what allows the Party to be rooted in its class. Then during periods of explosive class struggle, when the working masses tend to be more sensible to their newly discovered political weapon that is the communist program, the Party intervention can be most effective. And it is the result, in terms of balance of power between classes, that determines whether the confrontation was a (partial) victory or defeat for the working class. This is reflected in an increase or decrease in revolutionary consciousness.

“The class struggle in the period of capitalist decadence advances explosively. Sudden eruptions appear which surprise even those elements who were the most combative in the proceeding round of struggle, and these eruptions can immediately go beyond previous experience in terms of the consciousness and maturity developed in the new struggle. The proletariat can only really organise itself on a unitary level within the struggle. To the extent that the struggle itself becomes permanent, it causes the unitary organis­ations of the class to grow and become stronger.” (idem) [7]

One intervention revolutionaries ought to make, given an assessment of the objective social conditions, would be to argue for the sending of mass delegations to other places of work to spread the struggle on a territorial basis, and thus to break the sectoral and local confines. This is precisely where the struggle of the working class demands the formation of territorial workers’ councils (not the factory councils argued for by Gramsci) that are the means by which the class exercises its power, with its revolutionary political organization assuming leadership of the councils. The critical battle does not occur within the walls of the factory, though it often starts here, but when the struggle begins to transcend the confines of a particular workplace, factory, or sector. It would be erroneous to think that permanent organizations of economic mediation, which trap workers in the confines of their workplace, sector, enterprise, could be used as a shortcut to politicize the working class in revolutionary manner, and it is impossible for the vanguard to organize in a premeditated manner the explosions of class struggle that do occur.

The interaction between party and class is not one-directional, the party teaching the class. The political lessons borne by the party are the product of the historical struggle of the working class, history being an ongoing process. Yet one of the functions of the political organization is to bring back to the class the lessons of its previous fights including on the political nature of the class struggle. One of these lessons is that in the historical epoch of capitalist decadence, struggles for economic demands are best served by instruments that are adapted to the particular situation and that arise as a result of a concrete need. As a result, they are necessarily transient phenomena. For the purpose of the struggle to defend, at least temporarily, working and living conditions, strike committees and neighbourhood assemblies are well suited as was demonstrated by the Telefonica workers in 2015 and the Montreal student mobilization in 2012, respectively. Furthermore, the strike committees and general assemblies that are organized in response to the needs of a given struggle are the genuine “schools of socialism”, not unions in one form or another.

“communists must be inside the struggle to give out propaganda, proposals, be an active part in the organs of self-organised struggle: the workers’ assemblies, agitation and strike committees and on the picket line. In doing so they must always try to provide a communist political framework at the same time as supporting every initiative which tends to the development of the self-activity of those involved. There is no magical formula in the demand struggles of the working class that can open the way to greater class consciousness as the Trotskyists for example claim. It is not the task of communists to raise demands but to support those demands that extend the struggle and criticise those that don’t.” (ICT, Theses on the Role of the Communists in the Economic Struggle of the Working Class) [8]

The fight of the Spanish telecom workers in 2015 did not occur as a result of political action organized by the revolutionary Party, through a red union or another intermediary organ between Party and class that is under the direction of the Party. What motivated it was the recognition by a group of workers of their economic position and their immediate collective interests. It occurred in the context of outright sabotage by the unions. Moments such as these are critical because the social realities, plain as day to the participants in the struggle, make it so they are more receptive to and can respond dynamically to a political program that they recognize as its own. There is a confluence between the lived reality of workers around the world, and the perspective that is provided by the revolutionary groups.

In the current historical period, global capitalism is in the midst of a crisis for which there is no solution short of massive devaluation of assets and physical destruction of a large portion of the constant and variable capital through a world war. The way that the ruling classes try to resolve this crisis in the meantime, before the political preconditions [9] are in place for this mutual mass slaughter, is by increasing the rate of profit by intensifying exploitation. As the economic imperatives of the capitalist system impose themselves more and more, the ruling class will be constrained to attack the working class in an increasingly brutal fashion. The working class will respond by engaging in defensive struggles, organizing itself in mass assemblies, strike committees, as well as circles and nuclei of militant workers, as it does so. The nuclei of militant workers that emerge from these struggles are the intermediary organs between party and class. In addition to having a political presence in the unitary organizations of the class, the communist organizations must connect with the militant workers’ groups that will emerge from the struggles to come, and provide them with a revolutionary political perspective.




[1. By this we mean the revolutionary political vanguard of the world proletariat, not to be confused with the bourgeois political formations of the same name

[5. The Mass Strike, chapter IV, by Rosa Luxemburg.

[7. The organisation of the proletariat outside periods of open struggle (workers’ groups, nuclei, circles, committees)

[9. Definitive subjugation of the proletariat of the main industrial powers.