Interview with the International Communist Party on the SICobas movement

Interview with the International Communist Party on the SICobas movement

An interview of members of the International Communist Party who are based in Italy and involved in the SICobas, a militant union that fights for class struggle principles rather than the corporatist arrangements that dominate unions in Italy.

Below is an interview done in collaboration with Croation Communist Iskra with members of the International Communist Party who are based in Italy and involved in the SICobas, a militant union that fights for class struggle principles rather than the corporatist arrangements that dominate unions in Italy. We publish this not only to spread awareness of this militant class movement, but to potentially provide insight into the task of building a classist labor movement in the USA and beyond.

-Communist League of Tampa

QUESTIONS REGARDING THE SI COBAS

Introduction

The party did not form the SICobas: the SICobas arose entirely independently of the party and there are no ties binding the two organizations. The party is not now, nor has it been in the past, in the SICobas executive.

How did the SI Cobas come to be formed?

The formation of the SICobas is described in the article “A Report on Rank and File Movements in Italy” published in The Communist Party No.1

What are some of the more recent struggles they have been involved in?

A survey of the SI Cobas’s recent struggles is included in the article ‘No “Christmas truce” for the struggles of the SI Cobas.: Against police and Confederates’, which is in The Communist Party, No.3

You are a territorial union instead of a “company” one. What does it mean inpractice? How are the SI Cobas different from the mainstream Italian unions, which are integrated into the State? What differentiates them from the other rank and file “base” unions?

The reasons why trade union organization on a territorial basis is to be preferred is explained in a leaflet, ‘For territorial reorganization of the working class’, which also appears in the first issue of The Communist Party.

What methods do you use in your struggles? Are you using “direct action” or are you also using lawyers and other legal means?

This and other fundamental questions are covered in the speech made by one of our comrades at the First SI Cobas conference, which can be found in The Communist Party, No.2.

Do you cooperate with other organizations in your struggles? I saw you had joint general strike with USI-AIT.

The SI Cobas doesn’t offer preferential status or collaborate on a permanent basis with any particular trade union. Indeed, during a strike, it has show that it is prepared to unite the forces at its disposal with those mobilized by other trade unions, supporting the principal of unity of action. This has happened in conjunction with other rank and file trade unions, as was the case during the last general strike on March 18 last year, when it organized alongside the CUB and the USI-AIT. But also with regards to mobilizations organized by the CGIL, the biggest of the Italian regime unions: on 14 November 2014 a thousand SI COBAS logistics workers joined the march organized by the FIOM, the CGIL metal-workers’ federation and the main trade union in the category. A month later, on 12 December, it saw to it that the general strike in the category within which the majority of its members are concentrated – logistics – coincided with the general strike of all categories proclaimed by the CGIL.

In our view the latter policy is the right practical policy, and it is classist, because by uniting the workers it means strikes acquire greater force and that is the initial condition needed for them to break free from the control of the regime unions. Thus uniting with the mobilizations of these unions doesn’t in fact strengthen them.

This policy has been rejected by the other rank and file unions, which have always boycotted strikes when called by the regime unions, and organized their own ones in competition with them, on different dates, thus weakening the workers’ mobilization.

In our eyes this practical policy adopted by the SI Cobas is one of the positive elements which distinguishes it form other rank and file trade unions, as we have explained on various occasions, for example during our speech at the first congress of the SI Cobas.

A big debate amongst proponents of class struggle unionism here in the USA is on the use of paid staff. Do the SI Cobas use paid staff and if so for what functions?

It is not a matter of principle at stake here: large trade unions will always need a certain number of full-time organizers. The prevalence of a conservative, self-serving trade-union bureaucracy isn’t therefore the cause of the conciliatory policies pursued by the union and of its betrayal, but the effect: the bulk of its members and organizers have not proved strong enough either to prevent the leaders from betraying or to get rid of them and replace them with leaders they can have faith in.

What does the organizational structure of the SI Cobas look like? How are decisions made?

The SI Cobas is a young trade union which wants to equip itself wit a more robust organizational structure. It is composed of committees [cordinamenti] and provincial and national executives. In the case of enterprises which are spread out over several sites across the country there are also Company National Committees. These organs are not always that effective

The Provincial Comittees are made up of delegates from the various forms in the province. The Committee elects a smaller group as its Executive. The provincial Committee is supposed to meet at least once a month and the Executive once a week.

As far as know there are a lot of immigrant workers in your union. What is the union’s position on the”European refugee crisis” and do you act somehow to help people arriving in Italy?

It is necessary to come up with a class, rather than a vaguely humanitarian, solution to the problem: the immigrants are workers and are doubly oppressed, as proletarians and as foreigners.

On 16 September the SI Cobas organization a national demonstration in solidarity with the the immigrants and refugees. We distributed this leaflet.

QUESTIONS REGARDING PARTY AND TRADE UNION IN THE USA

While in the USA the situation of the unions is radically different, are there any lessons to be learned from the experiences of the SI Cobas for militants in the United States who want to build class struggle unions and connect this with the struggle for a Communist programme? Are there any developments in the class struggle here that have caught your attention?

Communists do not pretend that the various forms within which the class struggle finds expression should conform to a fixed pattern. The history of class trade unionism has shown that the types of organization that most lend themselves to leading the working class against the bosses’ State are the ones to be preferred, thus those open to all workers, independently of their ideas, political beliefs, party membership and religious faith. For the same reason are to be prefigured industrial trade unions as compared to those of a particular trade; those of a category as compared to those a particular firm; and national as opposed to local ones. The vast majority of the base unions in Italy apply, or attempt to apply, these organizational models.

On the history of the American workers’ movement we are publishing a long study in our English review Communist Left. the 5th installment of which will appear in the forthcoming issue. The general conclusion of this study confirms what the American working class has often lacked in its history is not trade unions, and examples of great mobilizations and bravery, but a communist party which is, 1) firmly founded on the uncorrupted doctrine of revolutionary Marxism, 2) which is committed to tactics which are intransigently anti-opportunist, and which, 3) lives according to a corresponding type of internal organization which is centralised, fraternal and anti-personalistic.

QUESTIONS REGARDING PARTY AND TRADE UNION

In the USA many who identify with the Communist Left take a hard-line anti-union stance and argue that all unions inevitably become integrated into the state. The ICP, regarding the SI COBAs, takes a different stance. How did you did come to this political conclusion?

It is true that we have witnessed, 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, to the point that they participated in disciplining proletarians in two world wars and the defense of national capital in both peacetime and war. But this process, even if it has now become irreversible for many of the large existing trade unions, which have become virtually institutionalized as organs of the bourgeoisie, does not detract from the imperative necessity of workers’ defense against the growing pressure from the ruling class; this will lead to the rebirth of new trade unions freed from bourgeois conditioning. And in fact, we are seeing this rebirth. Whether they succeed in maintaining their independence will depend on the relative forces between the classes and the ability of capitalism to continue to hand out a few corrupting crumbs – something which today seems ever more unlikely.

What kind of political work does the ICP do within the SI COBAs? How does the organization work to politicize workers within the union?

This is the authentic Marxist position on the trade unions, summarized to the extreme:

The economic struggle is a necessary defensive and spontaneous response of those who sell their labor power: given the balance of forces between capitalists, who monopolize the means of production, and the destitute proletarians, if the latter stopped defending the level of wages and of working hours they would soon be reduced to conditions lower than those necessary for their own physical subsistence.

Because it soon became evident that this was not a matter of an individual dispute between single capitalist and working class citizens, but a clash between the opposing interests of two classes within society, from the very beginning trade union type organizations arose with the aim of defending more or less vast groups of workers.

These working class associations arose spontaneously, not through the will and intervention of a political party. The process by which the Marxist communist party, possessor of the doctrine and program of the working class, and the trade unions were born and developed was of no short duration, and though it happened side by side, it was not simultaneous as regards time and place. Over the course of the years there have often been situations in which the trade union movement and working class combativeness extended itself greatly on the level of economic demands, but there was minimal response to the communist party’s directives within the class.

To anticipate revolutionary or communist trade unions, as trade unions composed only of revolutionaries or communists, is to ignore the real historical revolutionary process. In the course of the transition from capitalist society to communism, that’s to say in the period when the dictatorship is exercised by the party, the wage-earning class abolishes itself. Where there are trade unions there is no communism, and vice-versa. The trade union emerges as and remains a product of bourgeois commercial society and remains subsumed within it, with many of its defects.

It is only when directed by the communist party that the trade union, functioning as a transmission belt between the party and the class in general, becomes a powerful and indispensable instrument for the revolutionary overthrow of bourgeois power; and, after the seizure of power by the party of the proletariat, for the reorganization of production and the distribution of goods.

How the communist party relates to the trade union movement has been definitively outlined by Marxism:

Marx – [url=http://www.international-communist-party.org/BasicTexts/English/IWMA.htm#Resolution_1871)]1871, London Conference of First International[/url]:

“… Considering, that against this collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied classes; That this constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to ensure the triumph of the social revolution and its ultimate end – the abolition of classes; That the combination of forces which the working class has already effected by its economic struggles ought at the same time to serve as a lever for its struggles against the political power of landlords and capitalists The Conference recalls to the members of the International: That in the militant state of the working class, its economic movement and its political action are indissolubly united”.

In What is To Be Done (1901), Lenin wrote that Social-Democratic consciousness could only be brought to the workers from without.

“The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labor legislation, etc.”.

The Communist Left – 1957, The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Communism:

Syndicalists “are actually far removed from Marxist determinism, and the interaction which occurs between the economic and political spheres is a dead letter to them. Since they are individualist and voluntarist, they see revolution as an act of force which can only take place after an impossible act of consciousness. As Lenin demonstrated in What is To Be Done? they turn Marxism on its head. They treat consciousness and will as though they came from the inner-self, from the ‘person’, and thus, in one deft movement, they sweep away bourgeois State, class divisions, and class psychology. Since they are unable to understand the inevitable alternative – capitalist dictatorship or communist dictatorship – they evade the dilemma in the only way that is historically possible: by re-establishing the former”.

Therefore the specific and principle task of the party within the union is not to politicize workers. The communist party does not work to make the trade union a watered-down version of itself, nor, in the revolutionary process, does the party dissolve itself and blend in with the trade union.

The communist party, from outside, with the support of the communist fraction within the trade unions, which is composed of the minority of communists among the militants and members of the union, comes to conquer its leadership. The working class, as an army, is already organized in the trade unions: the party sets out to lead this army; first in its defensive economic struggle, and then, when the historical situation allows it, in its political and offensive struggle.

The guidelines for practical behavior that the party advocates inside the trade union, on how best to defend itself in a particular situation, entail no contradiction with the party’s task of reorganizing the forces of the proletarian class towards the general and vaster end of the struggle for communism.

Propagandizing the party’s general positions, the diffusion of its press, manifestos, invitations to public conferences, takes place, as in every other environment, but not at the same time s its trade union organizational work.

Only in this sense is “connecting class struggle unions with the struggle for a communist program” conceivable.

Some party comrades are militating within SICobas (as in other rank-and-file trade unions) and observing discipline to it: they bring their energy to bear as members and as communist sympathizers. Being known and respected, and openly declaring their allegiance to the international communist party, they regularly make the party’s point of view known within the trade union with respect to the struggle under way, denouncing any possible strategic errors and indicating the best way to obtain the hoped-for results. They perform the organizational and propaganda work of the trade union: being present on picket lines, distributing the union’s flyers, building links, and editing and distributing press releases.

Originally posted: May 17, 2016 at the Communist League of Tampa

Comments

Hieronymous
May 20 2016 19:00
Juan Conatz wrote:

Introduction

The party did not form the SICobas: the SICobas arose entirely independently of the party and there are no ties binding the two organizations. The party is not now, nor has it been in the past, in the SICobas executive.

While the ICP might not have been part of the creation of SI-COBAS, it was clearly created by cadre from Marxist-Leninist party organizations, and some of them remain leaders.

Quote:
In What is To Be Done (1901), Lenin wrote that Social-Democratic consciousness could only be brought to the workers from without.

“The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labor legislation, etc.”.

The Communist Left – 1957, The Fundamentals of Revolutionary Communism:

Syndicalists “are actually far removed from Marxist determinism, and the interaction which occurs between the economic and political spheres is a dead letter to them. Since they are individualist and voluntarist, they see revolution as an act of force which can only take place after an impossible act of consciousness. As Lenin demonstrated in What is To Be Done? they turn Marxism on its head. They treat consciousness and will as though they came from the inner-self, from the ‘person’, and thus, in one deft movement, they sweep away bourgeois State, class divisions, and class psychology. Since they are unable to understand the inevitable alternative – capitalist dictatorship or communist dictatorship – they evade the dilemma in the only way that is historically possible: by re-establishing the former”.

Therefore the specific and principle task of the party within the union is not to politicize workers. The communist party does not work to make the trade union a watered-down version of itself, nor, in the revolutionary process, does the party dissolve itself and blend in with the trade union.

The communist party, from outside, with the support of the communist fraction within the trade unions, which is composed of the minority of communists among the militants and members of the union, comes to conquer its leadership. The working class, as an army, is already organized in the trade unions: the party sets out to lead this army; first in its defensive economic struggle, and then, when the historical situation allows it, in its political and offensive struggle.

How is this any different from Trotskyite/Marxist-Leninist boilerplate that has been disproven by history? Just read Rosa Luxemburg's The Mass Strike for historical documentation of how the working class in Russia and Poland proved wrong Lenin's vanguardist dogma in What Is To Be Done?.

The idea of "taking over" trade unions to turn them into truly fighting revolutionary working class organizations is a thoroughly outdated and authoritarian ideology.

And this caricature of syndicalism is shamefully disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.

Pennoid
May 20 2016 15:40

The Bakuninists at Work is a good take-down of the political bankruptcy of 'mass strikism'.

So is reading Jeremy Brecher's 'Strike!' (likely against his own intent) wherein the American working class raises specific, sectional, labor struggles to a fever pitch *repeatedly* and fails to grapple explicitly with the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Or if you prefer, with the generalized re-organization of society, the placing of workers in power in society. At every moment that workers in a city or a few, take over, they are beaten back by police and starved out. This is similar on an international level as well. This problem doesn't go away with bigger strike. It has to be addressed head on, as a set of strategic problems.

I get that people are pretty averse to 'communists leading the unions' it recalls all the problems of Stalinism in the U.S., which was a gigantic detour away from socialist politics generally. But the ICP advocate for things quite similar to that of the IWW, in their work in the SI-COBAS

Pennoid
May 20 2016 15:40

Also, thanks Juan, for posting this.

Hieronymous
May 20 2016 17:49
Pennoid wrote:
I get that people are pretty averse to 'communists leading the unions' it recalls all the problems of Stalinism in the U.S., which was a gigantic detour away from socialist politics generally. But the ICP advocate for things quite similar to that of the IWW, in their work in the SI-COBAS

While SI-COBAS has done admirable organizing among rank-and-file logistics workers, what's worthy of being averse to is how the Marxist-Leninist cadre who created it have hidden this connection. SI-COBAS didn't rise organically out of the class, it was created by a vanguard. It would be hard to say that about the I.W.W.

And Luxemburg's critique of Bakuninist "calls" for general -- and mass -- strikes is as strong as her emphasis on working class self-activity during the wave of agitation, from the wave of strikes in 1896 that culminated in the St. Petersburg Soviet in 1905, having refuted Lenin's ideas of consciousness being brought from the outside.

fnbrilll
May 20 2016 18:17
Hieronymous wrote:
While SI-COBAS has done admirable organizing among rank-and-file logistics workers, what's worthy of being averse to is how the Marxist-Leninist cadre who created it have hidden this connection. SI-COBAS didn't rise organically out of the class, it was created by a vanguard. It would be hard to say that about the I.W.W.

Which vanguard? And readings? And why is the SI Cobas organizationally tainted vs ILWU, UE, etc?

FWIW: IWW was founded by SPA and SLP not without their own political organizational self-interest.

Burgers
May 20 2016 18:36
Hieronymous wrote:
While the ICT might not have been part of the creation of SiCobas, it was clearly created by cadre from Marxist-Leninist party organizations, and some of them remain leaders.

I think you mean ICP.

Hieronymous
May 20 2016 18:57
fnbrilll wrote:
Hieronymous wrote:
While SI-COBAS has done admirable organizing among rank-and-file logistics workers, what's worthy of being averse to is how the Marxist-Leninist cadre who created it have hidden this connection. SI-COBAS didn't rise organically out of the class, it was created by a vanguard. It would be hard to say that about the I.W.W.

Which vanguard? And readings? And why is the SI Cobas organizationally tainted vs ILWU, UE, etc?

Some regular posters on libcom, as well as an avid reader who never posts, visited Italy last fall and interviewed many of the IKEA workers who had been on strike. I was with them at a screening of Ditching the Fear, where they pointed out the factual discrepancies in the film. I don't remember the names of the Leninist groups, but they are ones from the 1970s.

Comrades, please post these details.

And sorry for my typo: I meant the ICP.

Pennoid
May 20 2016 22:21

I don't know about the MLs. But I don't think a tout court rejection of the merger formula makes any sense. It's a sort of slippery authenticity game that isn't very useful because it doesn't highlight those institutional mechanisms or strategies or tactics which make the inauthentic so. Instead it counterposes leadership in the abstract with 'workers themselves' an absurdly simplistic way.

Juan Conatz
May 21 2016 00:21

I found the parts where the questions are answered by referring to party documents both offputting and a bit cultish. I suppose its not surprising if you remember the few times that members of that group have posted here, but still, disappointing. You should be able to explain stuff without referring to approved party documents.

Other than that, I'm glad this interview was done because there doesn't seem to be much English-language information on the SI Cobas, or really any of the Cobas organizations.

Hieronymous
May 21 2016 05:18
Juan Conatz wrote:
I found the parts where the questions are answered by referring to party documents both offputting and a bit cultish. I suppose its not surprising if you remember the few times that members of that group have posted here, but still, disappointing. You should be able to explain stuff without referring to approved party documents.

When it's formulaic to the point of being liturgical, it's simply hard to accept as credible or take seriously.

Juan Conatz wrote:
Other than that, I'm glad this interview was done because there doesn't seem to be much English-language information on the SI Cobas, or really any of the Cobas organizations.

Here's an account that's so thorough and full of details from first-hand interviews with S.I. Cobas militants and historical information about class struggle in Italy contemporily, that it makes the ICP wooden documents seem frozen in time (i.e. 19th century):

Also check out the Clash City Workers website (the English translations) for articles like this:

With insights like this, about the class collaboration of cooperatives that affects the class composition in this sector:

Clash City Workers wrote:
The peculiar element in the Italian logistics sector is not the strategy of the outsourcing per se, which is broadly adopted, but the role that cooperatives have come to play within it. The system of cooperatives has expanded significantly in the last few decades within the Italian economic fabric, in particular within the logistics, the retail and the service sectors. Born as a form of alliance between capital and labor (in favor of the latter) and according to the principles of mutuality and democratic participation, cooperatives are nowadays ‘temp agencies’ that guarantee a flexible workforce for a system of production and distribution based on the ‘just in time’ logic.

For more background on these struggles, a video of interviews (with English subtitles):

An interview with an Egyptian immigrant logistics worker:

Insurgent Notes article with good background on the struggle of S.I. Cobas, but with the blind spot of not mentioning its origins in the sectarian Leninist parties of the 1970s:

But in the above text, Loren Goldner did take editorial suggestions of comrades into account when the final draft ended with this proviso:

Goldner wrote:
In conclusion, a note of caution comes from some libertarian comrades. They argue that many of the struggles were initiated by the workers themselves who then asked for help from SI Cobas. They also readily acknowledge that the struggles in logistics in Italy are important, and indeed have been the only victorious struggles there in recent years. SI Cobas, undoubtedly, has played an important role in them.

But workers in logistics, these comrades point out, have exceptional power when they disrupt the supply chain. Not, of course, that it is easy to organize strikes, given the criminal networks that control the work force, using violence. But we should not underestimate the fact (as was pointed out above) that these strikes are immediately effective, and that this efficacy is a highly relevant stimulus to action. They also point out that the logistics workers are organized by the structure of the work itself, and by informal networks of ethnicity, as much as they are organized by SI Cobas.

Finally, these comradely critics also warn against a certain mythology that has grown up around the union, promoted by people who do not do the hard work of organizing, while at the same time taking nothing away from the dozens of youth from the social centers who have definitely played a positive role in confrontations with the Mafiosi bosses and aggressive cops. Finally, these comrades question SI Cobas’s own self-conception on the centrality of struggles in logistics and on the possibility of extending their organizing model to other sectors.

Juan Conatz
May 21 2016 05:29

Thanks, H., I wasn't aware of any of those pieces. The only think I know is what we have in the library here, which is limited and 10 years old.

Spikymike
May 21 2016 10:51

Yes, it crosses over with this earlier thread that also references both the ICP and the ICT:
http://libcom.org/blog/base-unions-italy-05062013 although Hieronymous's links above are more comprehensive.

Craftwork
May 21 2016 16:21

Nice, lots of extremely interesting material in the comments section - might be worth uploading some of it onto libcom.

Pennoid
May 22 2016 16:23

Most of the stuff linked is reports from SICOBAS conferences, that is, things written by people directly involved, or publications from the paper or leaflets. I agree that it would have been nice to just state the views of the interviewer, in a literary sense, but they've opted instead to give a representation of the wider views of the organization through direct linking of their own publications on the various topics. Its like referring people interested in the IWW to read the published experiences of their organizers in the IW. In fact the only 'official party position' they reference is the 1957 text, the relevant passage being quoted in full toward a given argument.

Don't get me wrong, the body of invariant theses stuff is kinda strange to me (anti-personalistic overkill probably) but most of the texts referenced here aren't in that 'body'.

klas batalo
May 23 2016 02:49

i agree with H. the stuff on how the party relates to the unions seems so much like boring from within, and totally against the idea of politicizing workers through struggle and co-education. the union are the army to be lead by the party leaders who have captured union leadership. i brought this up to fnbrill on facebook.

Pennoid
May 23 2016 04:39

What does 'politicizing workers' entail?

klas batalo
May 23 2016 04:59
Wobblyism wrote:
Alongside mentorship, another essential but often-lacking component of our organizing has been education. Early Wobblies identified three key components of our revolutionary organizational practice known as “the Three Stars of the IWW”: Education, Organization, and Emancipation. Throughout the first decades of Wobbly activity, a rich culture of working class self-education prevailed, giving the rank and file a compass toward Emancipation to guide their daily activity on the job. Fellow Workers led classes on economics using real-world terminology and illustrations. “Ordinary workers” recorded their ideas, often very advanced even for our time, in union publications or in pamphlet form32. They recognized that it was important for workers to understand their position in society in order for them to use it to the class’s advantage. They knew that workers could not only grasp concepts of struggle, but expand on and improve them, because they too were workers who yearned to resolve the system’s contradictions that played out in their everyday lives. Clearly, education plays an indispensable role in Wobbly organizing, now as much as then. The challenge today is to identify obstacles to successful education practices and to overcome them. Specifically, the IWW needs a method of co-education where Wobblies share their knowledge and experiences to build a smarter, more vibrant organization on a trajectory toward universal emancipation.

To be clear, our perspective as revolutionary organizers is not as professionals or intellectuals, hoping to insert correct ideas into an ignorant and passive working class from the outside. “The workers” - if we can refer to “them” in the third-person - are neither ignorant nor passive as a whole, and we are living examples of that. Our approach to education is from within the class, and this shapes our education practice. Further, even as “well-read” revolutionaries, we do not find that we have to bring politics33 into organizing, but that politics is implicit in everything we do. The power relations built into this society touch every aspect of our lives. We do not have to search long to find the connection between an aspect of our lives and the system. Thus the personal becomes political in a profound way. “Politics”, we find, are lying around everywhere.

That said, our role can be seen as two-fold: one is to draw out the contents of this system from our co-workers’ lived experience and facilitate a process of connecting that experience to the big picture of the system and revolution; second is to give them the tools to better agitate and organize on their own. In doing so, we stand to learn as much as we share. In fact, we should approach our education practice expecting to learn something from our co-workers that we didn’t know before. While we will often have organizing and political tools that others have not yet developed, we should not see ourselves as possessing all relevant knowledge. We say that a Wobbly educational component should resemble a two-way street; we call this co-education.

Our approach to co-education will necessarily vary with the circumstance. We should be flexible and do our best to orient education around our co-workers' interests, experience, and capacity. While study groups are appropriate for some, others might get more out of a film or discussing how things went on their first picket line. Drawing from a Food Mart example, we’ve adapted dense texts to a slideshow presentation, adding visuals and extracting key quotes for discussion. This way, the contents of the text can be communicated more easily for more people, and there’s more time to discuss how it relates to everyone’s lives. Further, by breaking down complicated concepts this way, we’re better able to take these concepts into the workplace and enrich our agitation skills.

Obviously, a key ingredient in this process is a desire to participate. Our co-workers have to want to be part of this, and we have to want to initiate and follow through with it. As with everything else, there are no silver bullets to revolutionary co-education. It is challenging, and at times discouraging, but nonetheless necessary - and possible.

Pennoid
May 23 2016 15:08

That sounds good and all, but I wonder if it's shooting ourselves in the foot and condescending. If we have specialist knowledge, aren't we obligated to present it and put it in clear terms. Further, if we have a set of skills, aren't we obligated to put them at the dispensation of the membership? (Staff). Since the sixties (and in some wings before) people have been obsessed by demonstrating a knowledge of the 'really radical' tradition inherent in 'everday working class life'. If 'everday workingclass life' was so damned politicizing , we wouldnt need cooeducation or a union or organizing! tongue

It doesn' really offer a definition of 'politiciszation'. It contradicts itself and argues instead that the process is moot because the 'political is implicit in the everyday'. That doesn't answer the questions; what is politicisization? who will lead the unions? A bureaucracy? The abstract 'workers'? That's part of the problem for me; there is no 'pure' or abstract proletarian will. There are strategies for accomplishing particular aims (political strategy) and ideologies derived from these strategies often color sections of the working class. The strategies (from Nativism, To general strikism, to social democracy to liberalism) often present themselves as 'authentic' especially in places or times when their strategy or its premises deviate far from reality. Authenticity shouldn't be the question; workers are in regime unions, or bureaucratic unions; it's fact, whether or not those unions represent 'authentic' feelings. The deeper point would be that there is no 'authentic' feeling which we must 'awaken' through cooeducation, but tactics and strategies that we have to outline, discuss, amend, implement, revise. The 'authentic' move is that which is a win for working class power as an organized force in society, in order for it to throw off capitalism. Politicization (I wouldn't use the word) might be said to be 'getting workers talking' about these very things. That entails education, organization, agitation, for sure.

As for leading the unions-

Let me pose it this way; if we want workers to be communist, and we are communist workers, don't we advocate for our ideas? If we want people running the unions who look out for workers interests and steer clear of bourgeois traps, then don't we want our comrades to win out in terms of policy? Whether we and they are anarchist, schachtmanite or Sandersnistas?

The ICP doesn't advocate getting leadership positions in what they call 'regime trade unions', those integrated with the bosses. It's not as if their strategy applied to the U.s. would see them trampling over members in order to get Hoffa jr.'s spot atop the teamsters. Instead, they've joined the unions as members and gone to congresses openly as their org and stated their positions; in good faith. Indeed 'leadership' in a democratic organization implies (barring foul play) winning out in terms of ideas and general policy among a majority of the membership.

donald parkinson
May 23 2016 19:13

Hieronymous, who cares if the Cobas were originally formed by some M-L groups back in the day and some of their members are still in the union and even hold leadership positions? A union is going to be multi-tendency by nature because there are political contradictions in the working class. Should the ICP just abstain from working in the Cobas since everything Stalinism touch turns to evil, or should they work within them and win leadership positions and educate the rank and file to challenge the Stalinists?

Hieronymous
May 23 2016 21:12
donald parkinson wrote:
Hieronymous, who cares if the Cobas were originally formed by some M-L groups back in the day and some of their members are still in the union and even hold leadership positions?

The rank-and-filers who call bullshit on the myth being peddled about how the group began. It's disingenuous regardless of which party hack you interview.

donald parkinson wrote:
Should the ICP just abstain from working in the Cobas since everything Stalinism touch turns to evil, or should they work within them and win leadership positions and educate the rank and file to challenge the Stalinists?

Yes (on abstain).

But their bigger problem is the robotic language they use and mechanistic formulations they try to transmogrify from the 19th century to 2016.

klas batalo
May 29 2016 21:17

@pennoid i see nothing really wrong with the formulations you put forward, but they just seemed simultaneously against the battle of ideas within the unions framework (only for doing political education and agitation outside of them? who knows why) and for capturing leadership.

i agree if you have successful leadership around policy then you might win out positions in unions, struggle bodies, etc and that is okay. but it just seemed like their piece was awkward about that. against education, and agitation... because you needed to keep the unions economistic and pure. can't taint the workers!!! at the best it seemed they thought there needs to be a separate time and place to talk politics and that should be outside the unions within the party framework.

personally i don't think you should separate the two. struggle around economic exploitation should be linked to discussing and winning politics.

Pennoid
May 31 2016 03:04

I think it's less of a forceful separation, and more of a recognition of a fact of capitalism. Workers tend to come together in order to defend sectional interests - workers of a trade or industry, or small area. Here they often unite along those lines. But the task at hand is to foster a class unity. This can be done within unions, but ultimately, workers need to unite around a political program - a plan of action to seize power and coordinate a transformation of society internationally.

Why? Because workers interests *as workers* extend beyond the workplace. Certainly organizing at work plays a very key role and will serve to 'radicalize' many workers. But radicalizing them is not enough. The 'party' or 'political organization' can win out by suggesting policy and leading the unions (democratically) and in a way that confirms their basic program.

For example if the ICP argues that territorial based units within the union will foster more class based action and wrench more from the bosses, and if they prove correct, they've advanced a correct policy line in that respect. There are no shortcuts. To my knowledge they don't carry a policy of 'protecting the workers' or leading them by their noses. They outright argue for their positions, which is exactly what communists ought to do.

Does that make sense?

Iskra
May 31 2016 22:07

Even I've participated in making of this interview I have to say that I'm not here to defend it at all as I think its pretty bad and far from what I've initially wanted. I was quite disappointed and angry when I saw this, but we learn everything from every mistake (unless we are fools). Now I'm calm and therefore I post.

I think that biggest flaw of this interview is the fact that it was made with activists from some small political group that operates within the union, instead of rank-and-file members of union, more militant workers or maybe even union organisers. But sometimes there are language barriers and poor execution (at least from my side). Second thing is the fact that Bordigist group interviewed here had more interest in proving its worldview correct than engaging in the real discussion about this union. That is one of the biggest problems of 21st century left. They are all like ostriches that dug their heads in the sand of abstraction instead of dealing with concrete questions. All my more concrete questions were answered with links to "party" papers which is really annoying and it proves what I've just said about abstraction vs. concrete.

Before reading all the comments I wanted to post AWW's piece on SI COBAS, but I see that Hieronymous has already done that. I think that that piece is essential for any discussion on SI COBAS.