Revolution or War n°26

(January 2024)

PDF - 509.9 kb

HomeVersion imprimable de cet article Version imprimable

The Union Obstacle in the United States: an ICC Article We Support

Many will be surprised. Below, we publish a recent article from the ICC, which we support for its political criticism of the intervention of the “Bordiguist” group Il Partito Comunista Internazionalista. [1] This group has recently expanded into the United States, where it publishes The Communist Party. The – obviously relative – echo that this group has in the United States may come as a surprise. All the more so as the "orthodoxy" of its bordigism means that the political positions it defends remain fixed at the... Second Congress of the Communist International. In particular, this group continues to defend the union as the unitary organs of the working class. It calls for the reconquest of the unions, their leadership and "red syndicalism". And it is no doubt this position that explains why it is so well received by the new, inexperienced forces emerging in the country. The fact that the North American proletariat’s experience of the mass strike dynamics remains particularly remote – the 1930s – and limited – essentially to the demonstrations by the unemployed of that time – means that the union question remains a much more assertive obstacle than in Europe or the rest of the world. If only because any kind of workers’ struggle is inconceivable for the vast majority of workers and militants in America without unions. By comparison, and even if memories of them are fading, the wildcat strikes of the 1960s-1970s in Western Europe, particularly the mass strikes in France in 1968 and Italy in 1969, or the mass strike in Poland in 1980, are part of the proletarian tradition. Roosevelt and the New Deal of the 1930s sanctioned the total and definitive integration of American trade unions into the capitalist state, in preparation for the 2nd imperialist world war and to ensure the control and discipline of the proletariat before, during and after the war. Recognition of "union rights" in the workplace was accompanied by the adoption of repressive, anti-worker legislation. Any meaningful strike seeking a modicum of efficiency and success is prohibited and repressed, and if necessary officially banned by government decree, as was the case during the 2022 mobilization of American railway workers.

There are several reasons for our publication of the ICC article criticizing the Partito’s position and intervention. The first is that we had planned an article criticizing this group’s [2] intervention in workers’ struggles, particularly that of UPS in the United States. When we read the ICC article, and realized that we shared its essence, it became unnecessary – and wasteful of our energies – to write our own statement instead of reproducing and supporting the ICC statement. Secondly, as anyone accustomed to reading the ICC in the 2000s would know, the tone and political content of this article differ considerably from the sectarian and stupid polemics with which this organization usually graces the proletarian camp as a whole, especially lately. Supporting this statement can only encourage the less sectarian forces that may still exist, or even emerge, within it to continue along this path. Finally, the political content of various arguments should be emphasized and supported. This is not only because they echo the approach and argumentation on various points that we develop in our own political platform and in many of our public statements. But above all, because they tend to break with the councilist approach and argumentation that the ICC of the 2000s systematized and to which its platform opens the door.

No doubt this explains why this article, written by an English speaking member, has not yet been translated into French or Spanish. So we translated it ourselves. To help readers and militants focus on points of interest for debate and intervention in workers’ struggles, we have included our comments of support or criticism in the body of the ICC article. They are placed in brackets and underlined in bold.

December 17, 2023

An opportunist intervention towards workers’ struggles in the USA

Since the summer of 2022 the intervention of revolutionaries in the struggle of the working class has become a more concrete prospect because, after three to four decades of a deep retreat of the combativity and the consciousness in the class, the proletariat has finally raised its head again. This resurgence of the struggles, which started with the “Summer of Discontent” in the UK, was followed by strikes, demonstrations and workers’ protests in various other countries, including the USA [3].

The International Communist Party, which publishes Il Partito Comunista, one of the organisations of the Communist Left, has written about its intervention in some of the workers’ struggles in the past year in the US, among which was a strike of 600 municipal workers at the water treatment plant in Portland Oregon that started on Friday 3 February 2023. This strike was greeted with expressions of solidarity from other municipal workers, some of whom also joined the picket lines. During this strike Il Partito published one article and distributed three leaflets in which it denounced capitalism as a dictatorial system of exploitation and drew the lesson that: “It is only through the uniting of arms above sectors and borders that the working class can truly struggle to end its exploitative condition under capitalism [4].

In the present conditions of an international and historically significant resurgence of the struggles after decades of disorientation and fragmentation, to engage in the struggle is in itself already a victory. That’s why it is certainly important to signal that, as Il Partito did, in response to intimidation, criminalisation and threats by the bourgeoisie, the municipal workers in Portland were able to develop their unity and solidarity.

But revolutionaries cannot stop there. In the intervention with the press, leaflets or otherwise they have to put forward concrete perspectives such as calling for workers to extend the struggle beyond their own sector, by sending delegations to other workplaces and offices. As one of our recent articles underlines, already today workers should “fight together, acting in a unified way and avoiding getting bogged down in local struggles, within one’s own company or sector.”

[This point is right. If this were to correspond to future interventions by the ICC, then it would represent a break with those that have prevailed for over twenty years now. These consist of making the recovery of class identity the precondition for any significant development of workers’ struggles: "recovering (...) class identity [is] the basis of all class solidarity, and it will be the basis if, in the future, struggles are to rise to a higher level through their extension and unification." [5] ]

But to do so, to strengthen the struggle, the main question revolutionaries must state clearly to the workers is who is on the side of the workers and who is against them. And on this question, the ICP diffuses a mystifying fog.

[If the second sentence is right, the first is less so. In the reality of the class struggle and revolutionary intervention, this proposal to enlighten the masses on the nature of the unions and left forces, as the main question, is tantamount to making it the precondition for strengthening the struggle. This contradicts the previous proposal, which we welcomed: to put forward orientations and slogans, as precise and concrete as possible, with a view to the development, extension and generalization of all struggles. It’s not by denouncing the unions per se that these orientations can be concretized and put into practice by the workers. On the contrary, it is the struggle and the positions taken for or against their realization that will push proletarians to take up the political struggle against the various maneuvers and operations of union sabotage, and thus to reject unions and unionism as ideology and practice. And it is in this concrete – i.e., political – field of class confrontation that the Communist Party, and today’s Communist groups and political leadership, are essential.]

Opportunism on the trade union question …

For the Communist Left, trade unionism as such, and thus not only the union leadership but also the rank and file structures of the unions, have become a weapon of the bourgeoisie against the working class. Trade unionism, which is by definition an ideology that keeps the struggle within the confines of the economic laws of capitalism, has become anachronistic in the century of wars and revolutions, as the revolutionaries of the First World War and the revolutionary wave that began in 1917 clearly demonstrated. The new conditions of the present era require that the struggles go beyond the particularity of the workplace, the region and the nation and take on a massive and political character. While unions are no longer of any use for workers’ struggles, they have been taken over by the bourgeoisie and used to counter the tendency towards the extension and self-organisation of struggles. In such a period, defending the trade unionist method of struggle as an authentic means of promoting the combativity of the working class is nothing less than a concession to bourgeois ideology, a form of opportunism.

[By the way, let us note the seriousness and the “tone” of the polemic, which allow us to tackle and confront theoretical-political issues, and thus enlighten readers and militants on the opposition of fundamental political positions.
We must stress the importance of this point and, above all, of the article’s argument. We support it, and encourage those within the ICC who share it to develop it further, and to take up the internal political battle it is bound to raise. Indeed, in arguing that trade unions “has become anachronistic in the century of wars and revolutions”, the article touches on the fundamental historical reason, the period of revolution or war, the factor of generalized imperialist warfare necessitating the universal development of state capitalism, which has since determined “the new conditions of the present era” for the class struggle. We refer to our platform on this point. In so doing, the article goes beyond the councilist limits of the ICC platform, which explains the death of the trade unions and proletarian mass organizations for the revolutionary class – and their integration into the bourgeois state – by the simple economist explanation: “capitalism entered its decadent phase [and] it was no longer able to accord reforms and improvements in living conditions to the working class...” [6] ]

Faced with the problem of the forms of organisation needed for the defence of the living conditions of the working class, whether it calls them class unions, networks or coordinations, Il Partito defends an opportunist position that it justifies as follows: it acknowledges that, “since the end of the nineteenth century, the progressive submission of the trade unions to bourgeois ideology, to the nation and to the capitalist states” [7] has been a real tendency. But it does not explain how it is possible that all trade unions were integrated in the bourgeois state in the first decades of the 20th century. For Il Partito this seems to be pure coincidence, since it does not argue that the objective conditions have fundamentally changed since then. In contrast, it claims that the economic attacks on the workers “will lead to the rebirth of new trade unions freed from bourgeois conditioning” and “directed by the communist party”. These unions will even be “a powerful and indispensable instrument for the revolutionary overthrow of bourgeois power [8].

[Totally secondary comment on the first part of this paragraph: a debate could be held on the definitive and integral integration of the trade unions as organs of the capitalist state as the final result of the process and of the class political struggle. The process began with the 1st World War, for its needs. But when did it finally end? The 1920s? 1930s, with the New Deal-Front Populaire and fascist policies in the run-up to WW2? Or when the unions were reconstituted in 1945? Even if secondary, this question refers back to the historical experiences of the left fractions of the Communist International and to the historical claim - or thread - of today’s communist groups. Roughly speaking, and to put it clearly: German-Dutch left or left of Italy, or both at once and in "synthesis"?]

In other words: after the betrayal of the old unions, new working class unions will emerge and, in good Bordigist tradition, it is assumed that, directed by a proper revolutionary party, they will fulfil a revolutionary role. But here it is necessary to wake Il Partito out of its dream, for the conditions of the working class struggle have completely changed since the beginning of the 20th century. This means that the struggle can no longer “be prepared in advance on the organisational level [for] the proletarian struggle tends to go beyond the strictly economic category and becomes a social struggle, directly confronting the state, politicising itself and demanding the mass participation of the class. (…) The success of a strike no longer depends on financial funds collected by the workers, but fundamentally on their ability to extend the struggle.” [9]

[We fully agree with this quotation of a 1980 text. In particular, with the insistence on “directly confronting the state”, even if we wouldn’t use the phrase “politicizing itself”. Since its formation, the IGCL puts forward this approach and position, which it has included in its own platform.]

And because of this new content, trade unions no longer meet the needs of the proletarian struggle, and even being directed by a revolutionary party would not change this fact. [Minor remark: this is a curious and even contradictory argument in itself: how could an organ of the bourgeois state be run by a revolutionary, i.e. proletarian, party? It is rather this argument that should have been put forward…] The attempt of Il Partito to defend the existence of permanent organs of struggle, during open expressions of struggle as well as in periods of absence of any struggle, will inevitably lead to failure. A rebirth of unions as real working class organisations is only possible in the imagination of Il Partito, for whom the role of the party in the struggle is not only decisive, but even seems able to summon the supernatural power to adapt the unions to the real needs of the workers’ struggle.

…leads workers onto the wrong track

The first leaflet that was distributed at a demonstration on Saturday 28 January was called “Portland municipal workers: Fighting for freedom to strike”, a “freedom” attacked by the proclamation of the state of emergency by the municipality.

With the demand for the “freedom to strike” this leaflet immediately put the workers on the wrong track. In the 19th century, when the unions were still unitary organisations of the working class whose role was to improve working and living conditions inside capitalism, such a demand was undoubtedly valid. But today, when the unions have become part of the capitalist state, workers have nothing to gain from supporting a campaign to defend the right to strike. For such a struggle is in reality a fight for the rights of the union to control the workers’ struggles. The working class doesn’t need to fight for the legalisation of its own strikes, because in the conditions of totalitarian state capitalism any strike likely to create a real balance of power against the bourgeoisie is by definition illegal. The purpose of this campaign for the freedom to strike is mainly to guarantee that the struggles remain confined within the narrow legal limits of bourgeois politics and trade union control. When the bourgeoisie grants the right to strike its purpose is only to reduce the workers’ struggle to ineffectual protest in order to put pressure on one of the “negotiating partners’.

[Exactly. We particularly developed this point in the editorial of the last issue of this journal. [10] ]

After the strike of the municipal workers in Portland the comrades of Il Partito, in the spring of this year,"promoted, together with other trade union militants, a coordination they have called the Class Struggle Action Network (CSAN), aimed at uniting workers’ struggles”. [11] This CSAN intervened for instance in the nurses’ strike in late June. But what is actually the nature of the CSAN? What might be the perspective of such a Network, “aimed at uniting workers’ struggles”

This CSAN has not emerged in reaction to a particular need of the workers to take the struggle into their own hands, to send massive delegations to other workers, to organise general assemblies open to all workers or to draw lessons in order to prepare new struggles. No, nothing of that kind; the Network has been created completely outside the concrete dynamic of the struggle by the comrades of Il Partito “inspired by the same principles and methods on which the Coordinamento Lavoratorie Lavoratrici Autoconvocati was formed in Italy” [12] in the mid-1980s. And on the website of this Network [13] one can read, not by accident, an article by Il Partito, which makes clear that the aim is to work “towards the Rebirth of the Working Class Trade Union”.

[There is no room, and it would be unfair to criticize this article for failing to elaborate on the ICC’s historical position on struggle committees. While the criticism leveled here against the Partito’s initiative is partly valid, it leaves other parts of the question in the dark, which would require further explanation. For example, can a communist organization initiate struggle committees?]

As we argued above, trade unions are today instruments of the bourgeois state and any rebirth as working class organisations is impossible. Thus, Il Partito’s policy can only lock combative workers into a totally vain and discouraging struggle. In this context CSAN will suffer the same fate as any artificially created organ: either to remain an appendix of Il Partito [14] or to become a radical expression of bourgeois trade unionism. But most likely it will disappear after Il Partito has tried to keep it artificially alive. Then it can bury this stillborn child in silence, without the need to draw further lessons from this experience.

In the strike of the municipal workers “comrades participated in the picket lines, helping the workers to strengthen them”. [15] The report of the intervention in the nurses’ strike only speaks of the intervention of the CSAN organising “participants for picket-line solidarity”. This gives the impression that there was no intervention of Il Partito, distinct and separate from the Network. Thus the comrades of Il Partito participated on an individual basis in the picket lines in February as well as in June. But why? Because workers cannot take on this task? Or were the comrades participating as delegates from other workplaces? The answer to these questions is not present in the articles of Il Partito. Fundamentally, behind Il Partito’s intervention, we must point out a great ambiguity about the role of the revolutionary vanguard of the class.

The responsibility of revolutionaries

In the first place, the task of the political organisation of the class is not to help the class to strengthen the picket line, to collect money in order to financially support a strike, or to fulfill other practical tasks for the striking workers. The workers are quite capable of doing these things on their own, without anyone taking their place. A communist organisation has another task, which is not technical, or material, but essentially political. The working class struggle needs to be strengthened by the organised political intervention of the revolutionary organisation.

[Exactly. It is difficult to know the immediate-physical reality of the Partito’s intervention in these struggles in the United States. Its website features various leaflets, including one addressed to UPS workers [16], and the editorial article in its newspaper also appears to be a leaflet. We can conclude from this that both these leaflets were circulated and that the Partito intervened as such, at least during the UPS strike. Was the same true in the Portland strike? In any case, the ICC’s criticism of “helping workers on the picket line” is fair in itself. This is not the specific function of communist organizations. If it is important for them to mobilize themselves, or their local members and the ones in the workplaces, to take part in all gatherings of proletarians in struggle, including picket lines, it is above all to put forward the orientations and slogans needed to extend and generalize the fight against their sabotage by the unions. Because they are the only ones who can do that.]

In line with this orientation, that of being an active political factor in the development of the consciousness and autonomous action of the working class, communist organisations must put forward an analysis of the conditions of the class struggle, lucidly and with a clear method, while being able to denounce and fight against these enemies of the working class – the trade unions. Il Partito, which irresponsibly justifies the possibility of rehabilitating trade unionism or fighting through the unions, despite decades of the limitation and sabotage of struggles by these organs, can in this way only weaken the workers’ class combat. Not only does this kind of opportunism sow confusion, it can only lead workers into a dead-end.

ICC, Dennis, Nov. 15 2023

[To be complete with Il Partito’s intervention, it is nevertheless worth noting a general orientation that we share under the conditions prevailing in the U.S. today: “Of course, we understand that the conditions in America are such that it is standard practice for a strike to be conditional on a vote. Under the current system, voting takes place online where the voter remains anonymous and isolated. Organize with your coworkers, demand that an open discussion take place on the work floor, and demand that voting take place in assemblies of workers.” [17]

[Given the particularly repressive and syndicalist conditions imposed on the proletariat in North America, the fight to impose assembly votes is undoubtedly essential if workers are to be able to decide for themselves, collectively, whether or not to strike. The Partito is right to put forward this orientation, provided it does not fall into any “fetishism of self-organization”. It therefore needs to be advanced concretely according to time and place.]

Extract of the IGCL platform on the union question

Nevertheless, revolutionaries must not remain indifferent to the maneuvers and actions of the unions in the expectation of hypothetical proletarian movements spontaneously rid of their presence. When the latter are called upon, in fact forced, by their anti-proletarian function in the working class environment to occupy the terrain of proletarian struggles, to take initiatives and to call on the proletarians to participate in them, assemblies, strikes, demonstrations, in order to keep a minimum of credibility in workers’ eyes or even to prevent and anticipate any real dynamic of extension and unity in the struggle, the party and its members must not desert the imposed terrain, the assemblies, strikes, demonstrations, etc. simply because it would be called by the unions. On the contrary, they must seize these occasions of workers’ regroupment to fight against the orientations, the sabotage, and the syndicalist impasses by advancing slogans and demands favoring the development of the class struggle and by seeking to regroup around them the most combative proletarians. The party must be at the forefront of the daily political struggle that the proletariat as a whole must take up in its struggles against the bourgeois, particularly its trade unionist and left forces. »



[3. We have removed the notes in the ICC article, including the one at this point in the text, which referred to texts in this organization. We have retained the notes indicating the source of the quotations made by the article. Our own notes are also in bold brackets as our comments.

[5. [We could not find this article in the English pages of the ICC website. It is translated by us. But we could quote many similar articles and leaflet of the ICC with this “orientation” and kind of slogans. It was quoted by Révolution internationale #345, Face à l’aggravation des attaques capitalistes, la classe ouvrière reprend le chemin de la lutte ( For a broader critique of the ICC’s position on this question, we refer our readers in particular to our statement on the ICC’s polemic on the PCI-Le Prolétaire’s intervention in the fall-winter 2019 mass mobilization in France in RW #19:]

[6. [Platform of the ICC, point 7 on the unions, see our Statement on the ICC platform- ( in RW #18.]

[7. Questions from the USA on the SI Cobas and the Trade Unions:

[8. idem.

[9. The proletarian struggle under decadence, International Review no.23

[10. [“the “right to strike” boils down to the right to strike, provided that the strike is impotent and ineffective. The extension and development of mass strike is de facto illegal and a subject to repression. (…) Faced with this situation, the top priority is not to remain isolated, but to spread any strike or struggle as quickly as possible. The mass strike, as Rosa Luxemburg recognized and described it, and as Lenin and the Bolshevik Party brilliantly led from February to October 1917, is more necessary than ever, both to impose demands and develop the struggle, and to paralyze all forms of repression.” (RW #25, Hollywood Screenwriters on Strike vs Oppenheimer and Barbie : Proletarian Struggle or March to Generalized War :]

[11. In italian, A Portland, in Oregon: Una Rete per la Lotta di Classe (

[12. idem.

[14. The first “Class Unionist” newsletter of the CSAN of October already makes report of the “CSAN Organizing Collective September monthly meeting [which] itself shall operate on a model of democratic centralism”.