Why do we assume the labour movement is the vehicle to strive for socialism?

21 posts / 0 new
Last post
BloodDiamond
Offline
Joined: 30-01-17
Jan 28 2018 23:52
Why do we assume the labour movement is the vehicle to strive for socialism?

In looking around the world today we see a lot of people who seem to recognize that the capitalist world is no longer functioning as it used to and old certainties in life seem to be vanishing. Many commentators talk of a crisis of capitalism but point out that there isn't any alternative that people are gravitating towards outside of right wing populism (which is still capitalism). They remind us that socialism and communism still have no credibility as alternatives as a result of the collapse of the USSR, and that the labour movement is pretty much dead these days anyway so there isn't a genuine socialist movement anyway.

This got me thinking that socialists and communists have, by and large, always seen the labour movement as a key part of the socialist anti-capitalist movement and one of the prime vehicles used in order to pursue this goal. But has the labour movement ever been anti-capitalist in any country? Labour movements always seem to demand better conditions within capitalism, not the abolition of capitalism itself. Of course, they could never demand the latter since that is the one demands the capitalists will never agree to.

So when commentators point out that the labour movement is so weak and ineffective these days, is this truly such a bad thing for the revolutionary socialist movement?

jondwhite's picture
jondwhite
Offline
Joined: 23-10-12
Jan 30 2018 05:59

No, a weak labour movement isn't a barrier to socialism, since traditional non-Leninist socialism sees it as the economic arm of the class struggle contrasted with the political arm. It is only Leninists and reformists who imagine the labour movement demands as anything more than improved conditions or better wages.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Jan 30 2018 09:21

We shouldn't underestimate the importance of the worker keeping up the struggle to maintain wages, resisting cuts to working conditions, etc.

If we always laid down to the demands of our exploiters without resistance we would not be worth our salt as a man or woman, nor fit recruits for waging the class war to put an end to our exploitation. 

That being said, there is no reason why other miseries imposed upon us such as the destruction of our environment might ignite socialist consciousness and fighting spirit within us.

Ed's picture
Ed
Offline
Joined: 1-10-03
Jan 30 2018 11:44

I really don't see how an unwillingness to fight back against our daily experience of capitalism could be anything except a barrier to socialism.

There can be different definitions of 'labour movement' (some more inclusive than others) but whatever the definition, the lack of a militant labour movement is always a net negative rather than positive.

gram negative's picture
gram negative
Offline
Joined: 24-11-09
Jan 30 2018 13:53

the hypothesis that weakening of the labor movement would unleash more radical class struggle is one that was held by many disparate groups and tendencies, especially in the latter half of the twentieth century. at least for the US, i find it hard to argue that the last 30 years of the decline in union membership has also coincided with a high point in the class struggle, for our side, but there may be other factors at work.

jondwhite's picture
jondwhite
Offline
Joined: 23-10-12
Jan 30 2018 17:26

In the Uk, among reformists, labour movement often is used to mean the Labour Party and trade unions.

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
Jan 30 2018 21:25

I think that the point BloodDiamond makes about the collapse of the Soviet Union is an important one.The bourgeoisie has always profited from the lie that Stalinism = communism and it certainly profited from its implosion to mount a massive, global and sustained to this attack on class consciousness that continues to this day. This ideological assault was particularly potent coming on top of significant strikes being isolated and beaten and the disorientating effects of globalisation. Even given the profound increases of class struggle in China and other parts of Asia, globally the proletariat had the wind knocked out of it and there's been further blows since.

I agree (I think it's what Ed's saying) that a working class that doesn't fight for basics is not going to fight for revolution, however pyrrhic the 89 "victory for capitalism" has turned out to be.

What do you mean by "labour movement"? To equate the unions and the left parties with the working class is to deny their fundamental opposition. When there is a problem from the working class to the bourgeoisie or the state the unions and the left are its best lines of resistance from their particular functions. The unions today are not at the forefront because the state has no immediate need of them but they are still working away, every day, in the interests of the national capital.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Jan 30 2018 22:30
Quote:
I agree (I think it's what Ed's saying) that a working class that doesn't fight for basics is not going to fight for revolution

This was also the point of my own comment.

One thing that should be remembered is that the working class re-shapes its organisations and tactics. The 1930s was a period where the CIO was formed and the sit-in strikes took place in America. Post-war we saw the rise of the British shop-steward movement, not seen since the 19-teens. We witness today workers groups beginning to grow outside legal-shackled party-controlled trade unions.

But as my own organisation has said for over a century, the economic struggle has serious limitations in its scope for action and it is political organisation that is required to achieve emancipation because it transcends sectional interests. Waged labour is the exploitation shared by all...but as i also mentioned another common affliction we suffer is the environmental degradation we all face and that may catalyse another style of resistance to overthrow capitalism.

patient Insurgency's picture
patient Insurgency
Offline
Joined: 10-05-15
Jan 31 2018 01:05

if i may wade in; while i agree that it would be a very good sign for workers struggle if we did have a proper labour movement, and that it would improve the living conditions of the working class now, i think it is right to at least question whether it has any revolutionary potential, given that so many have failed to provide a desired ultimate outcome

Furthermore, i think it's necessary to, at this stage, ask the question, "what do we actually want?", with regard to a strategic vision of the future, because right now we don't actually have anything really.. So i think its necessary essentially to discuss what kind of alternatives there are, if there are any at all, in a very open way. Obviously, this should happen before we pour all our meagre resources into a big project, like rebuilding Anarcho-Syndicalism in Europe and North America.

I don't think i'm really qualified to have such a discussion in fullreally, but i'd love to see it and learn from it!

BloodDiamond
Offline
Joined: 30-01-17
Jan 31 2018 23:21

I suppose we can also look at Impossiblism within the context of my original question. Patient Insurgency asks what we actually want but the labour movement (i.e. trade unions and labour/socialist parties) have always told us exactly what they want: better conditions under capitalism. I can't really think of any historical example of when the labour movement was successfully turned into a revolutionary socialist movement - either by its own accord or through the influence of a Marxist party. Possibly Russia but I can't think of any others.

I mention Impossiblism because of the notion that a successful labour movement (as we have seen it throughout history) often tends to blunt any revolutionary sentiment that might otherwise develop within the working class since they end up winning concessions which simply boost their position within capitalism.

So is the current lack of a successful global labour movement (i.e. the fact that, in the struggle between labour and capital, capital is winning hands down at the moment) a good thing in that it will ensure that things eventually get so bad that revolution becomes the only option? A successful labour movement postpones revolution; an unsuccessful one might just bring one about.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Feb 4 2018 03:28
Quote:
I mention Impossiblism because of the notion that a successful labour movement (as we have seen it throughout history) often tends to blunt any revolutionary sentiment that might otherwise develop within the working class since they end up winning concessions which simply boost their position within capitalism.

I'm not so sure of your premise. The two major proponent parties of Impossiblism was the SLP and the SPGB.

The SLP adopted and promoted industrial unionism and its own 'IWW' in a sword and shield analogy of class struggle - the combination of political action and economic organisation.

The SPGB has always supported the trade union movement with certain caveats but never viewed them as a liberatory vehicle, merely defensive.

The workers councilist tradition was critical of conventional unions but supported alternative labour organisations while rejecting political parties and parliamentarianism

Lucky Black Cat's picture
Lucky Black Cat
Offline
Joined: 11-02-18
Feb 11 2018 08:40

If the labor movement isn't the key vehicle to strive towards revolution, what is?

To clarify: By labor movement I don't mean unions; I mean class-struggle by workers.

I'd genuinely love to hear other suggestions and ideas, but as far as I can see, there's no other way.

Only workers can organize to take the means of production away from capitalist control, and continue production on the basis of free distribution.

Revolution can't happen if workers don't organize and fight. So how else can we get there if not by a movement where workers organize and fight?

Lucky Black Cat's picture
Lucky Black Cat
Offline
Joined: 11-02-18
Feb 12 2018 20:28

I just thought of another point to add.

BloodDiamond wrote:
the labour movement (i.e. trade unions and labour/socialist parties)

I'm not going to take this definition of the labor movement (if that's ok with you), but instead define it as class-struggle by workers for reforms.

BloodDiamond wrote:
have always told us exactly what they want: better conditions under capitalism. I can't really think of any historical example of when the labour movement was successfully turned into a revolutionary socialist movement - either by its own accord or through the influence of a Marxist party. Possibly Russia but I can't think of any others.

The Spanish revolution is another example. Even before the revolution, much of the labor movement in Spain very much aspired to socialism (or libertarian-communism).

When a fascist section of the military tried to take over the government, people sprang to the occasion and fought back. They succeeded in preventing the coup and pushing the fascists out of more than half the country.

Three years later the fascists won the civil war, but that's beside the point here. The point is about the initial fight that stopped the coup.

Why did they even fight back in the first place? Why not just hide in their homes the way most people would and have in other places when the military is launching a coup? And how were they able to coordinate their fight so successfully?

I think it's because they had a strong culture and habit of fighting class-struggle, and strong working-class organization that had been built by that struggle.

And there's another question. After giving the coup the smack-down, why did they then use the opportunity to seize the means of production and launch a social revolution? Why not just carry on with the previous liberal capitalist status quo?

I think that, again, it's because they were used to class-struggle, they were used to being organized, and also, this had all been combined with efforts by anarchists to turn people onto libertarian-communism, to get people to embrace that vision as an alternative to capitalism. (So, for that part of it, a little bit like what Patient Insurgency recommends.)

Bottom line: Maybe it's not that workers struggle for reforms will "turn into" the revolution. But it will give us the organization and the habit of fighting needed to seize the opportunity for revolution when it comes.

Lucky Black Cat's picture
Lucky Black Cat
Offline
Joined: 11-02-18
Feb 14 2018 23:03

Ok, so I expressed a strong opinion on this issue, but I very much want to hear other views. Mostly I want to hear what people think we should be doing (besides labor stuff), what activities to focus our energies on.

Patient Insurgency said we need to have plenty of discussion about a a strategic vision of the future. What other ideas can we put on the table?

BloodDiamond
Offline
Joined: 30-01-17
Feb 20 2018 19:53

Well I think one of the problems now that didn't exist so much in the early 20th century is that Marxism/Communism are seen as discredited theories that were responsible for poverty and suffering when they were tried. And the only remaining remnants of the Marxian left tend to be Leninists in some form or another. So I would say we need to argue that the USSR et al were not socialist and that Leninism is not the way to build a successful socialist society but I honestly don't think anyone will listen.

Sadly, I think we will need to wait a while for the older generations to die off so that the younger generations can grow up without the historical baggage of Leninist Socialism impacting on their views. At the same time, hopefully the ageing rumps of the many communist parties will finally disappear allowing for a blank slate on the political playing field once again.

In a way I'm kind of glad Trump won because I think it was a response from people who recognize capitalism is failing right now but they remember when it "worked" and so have bought Trump's rhetoric about trying to return to those days. Inevitably, when he and others like him fail to return to those halcyon days then this will prove, through bitter experience, that capitalism's best days - at least in the West - are behind it, thus hopefully giving greater credibility to non-capitalist alternatives.

redschlog
Offline
Joined: 20-02-18
Feb 20 2018 21:19
BloodDiamond wrote:
Sadly, I think we will need to wait a while for the older generations to die off so that the younger generations can grow up without the historical baggage of Leninist Socialism impacting on their views. At the same time, hopefully the ageing rumps of the many communist parties will finally disappear allowing for a blank slate on the political playing field once again.

Blimey, you've an hope! Most of the older tankies are actually pretty decent folk. Obsessed with militant unionism, which is okay in my books, and rather apologetic about Stalin. You might disagree with them but you can work with them. Go out on Mayday now though and what you'll see is not the wrinklies but young folk who are keen (goddamn!) on the whole 'Soviet experience'. Especially the gulags. And given the existing 'anarchist' alternative - lifestylists and idpollers to a 'non-gendered person' - who can blame them.

redschlog
Offline
Joined: 20-02-18
Feb 20 2018 21:31
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
Ok, so I expressed a strong opinion on this issue, but I very much want to hear other views. Mostly I want to hear what people think we should be doing (besides labor stuff), what activities to focus our energies on. Patient Insurgency said we need to have plenty of discussion about a a strategic vision of the future. What other ideas can we put on the table?

Trying to be positive here: "labor stuff" is important but so is any and all activity that opposes capitalism and the state. Examples might include agitation on housing issues as well as anti-fracking campaigns. It's old hat I know but have you any better ideas?

Lucky Black Cat's picture
Lucky Black Cat
Offline
Joined: 11-02-18
Feb 23 2018 10:14
redschlog wrote:

Trying to be positive here: "labor stuff" is important but so is any and all activity that opposes capitalism and the state. Examples might include agitation on housing issues as well as anti-fracking campaigns. It's old hat I know but have you any better ideas?

Ah yes, good point!

Better ideas... gulags? wink tongue

Lucky Black Cat's picture
Lucky Black Cat
Offline
Joined: 11-02-18
Feb 23 2018 10:18
redschlog wrote:
young folk who are keen (goddamn!) on the whole 'Soviet experience'. Especially the gulags.

Yeah, I've noticed this. About the gulag thing, I'm still not sure if I should be disturbed or if they're just making ironic jokes.

R Totale's picture
R Totale
Offline
Joined: 15-02-18
Feb 23 2018 13:30
redschlog wrote:
Blimey, you've an hope! Most of the older tankies are actually pretty decent folk. Obsessed with militant unionism, which is okay in my books, and rather apologetic about Stalin. You might disagree with them but you can work with them. Go out on Mayday now though and what you'll see is not the wrinklies but young folk who are keen (goddamn!) on the whole 'Soviet experience'. Especially the gulags. And given the existing 'anarchist' alternative - lifestylists and idpollers to a 'non-gendered person' - who can blame them.

Speak for yourself pal. (Also you should probably try to avoid making jokes that use other people's gender identity as a punchline, it's not a great look). Anyway, I would be interested to understand more about this phenomenon of kiddy-Stalinism that seems to have developed over the last few years.
I can completely understand why people look at Momentum or the DSA and decide "those people look like they're going somewhere, I want to get on board with them", but I am mystified by the appeal of contemporary " Marxism-Leninism". My main guesses as to what's causing it would be American influence, because I know Maoism was always more of a thing over there, and something about the destigmatization of "communism" as a word, but that's not much of an explanation.
I also don't really know much about what these folk actually do - are they actually joining vanguard parties, or just posting about gulags on the internet or what? Does anyone have any experience of working with them in campaigns or whatever?

Mike Harman
Offline
Joined: 7-02-06
Feb 23 2018 13:49

Opened a new thread for this: https://libcom.org/forums/theory/kiddie-stalinism-23022018