Introduction to Issue #6 - Root & Branch

Introduction to issue #6 of Root & Branch, published in 1978.
Root & Branch was a libertarian socialist journal from the U.S.

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on February 13, 2022

As a journal of libertarian socialism, Root & Branch intends to examine present-day social activity from a political viewpoint that focuses on the relationship of the working class to capitalist society and on social movements that may lead to a reordering of human affairs. The material we print will address these themes, both as they relate to the legacy of past history and in the contemporary situation. While Root & Branch has strong opinions on the analysis of capitalism and on the forms of organization appropriate to the proletariat's revolutionary task, we have no set program. We are interested in publishing material compatible with the idea that the control of society must pass into the hands of those who produce it, which for us means the self-determination of the working class. Since libertarian socialists disagree on how this may be achieved in practice, Root & Branch plans to present these debates with a combination of theoretical, historical, and factual information. Finally, since we are sympathetic to several mutually contradictory strands of radical social thought, Root & Branch hopes to present, criticize, debate, and elaborate those ideas (whether developed by Marx, council communists, anarchists, libertarians, or other socialists) that offer guidelines for analyzing the evermore dire circumstances facing us and suggest strategies for creating a revolutionary solution.

This issue contains three articles on unions, articles on Rosa Luxemburg’s Marxism and On the economic crisis of the 1970’s, and a review of Guy Routh’s The Origin of Economic Ideas.

During the 150 years of their existence, trade unions have played an ambiguous role in capitalist society. On the one hand, workers’ efforts to improve their lot have often centered around unions, which at times have proved quite successful in securing economic and political gains. On the other hand, unions have also proved to be a source of constant frustration by helping capitalists increase productivity, thwart strikes, and adjust workers to periodic layoffs. In addition to supporting reactionary political movements, the unions, regardless of their more or less militant origins, have become organizations beyond the control of workers.

The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) has been singled out by many historians as a federation that in its early years avoided many of the negative aspects of unionism. Only in the 1940’s, it is thought, did the CIO, under the direction of its conservative leaders, return to the fold of traditional unionism as American society found a legitimate place for industrial unions. Elizabeth Jones disputes this tacit periodization of the CIO’s history by liberal and radical historians alike. While the changing needs and moods of capitalists workers, and the state eventually gave dominance to what has seemed to many radicals a minor theme In the 1930’s, the CIO's later conservatism was evident from its conception. Tracing the development of the CIO-brand of “business unionism,” she emphasizes the often ignored contradictions implied by the oxymoron, “revolutionary unionism.”

Anton Pannekoek's “Trade Unionism” is an edited version of his article that appeared originally in International Council Correspondence 2(2): 10-20, January 1936. We are reprinting it here because we think it provides a good summary of the purposes and roles of unions. Pannekoek outlines in general terms both the benefits of union activities and the inherent limitations on the extent of their operations. Also, since the radical critique of unionism has a long, but largely unknown history, we are reprinting Pannekoek as a representative of that tradition.

Picking up where Pannekoek left off, Don Johnson brings these issues into the 1970’s. In particular, he disputes some of the notions that leftists still have about “progressive unionism.” As he puts it, “unions are businesses;” and, no matter how democratic they might become, their need to survive as organizations leads them in a conservative direction. He suggests an alternative model of workers’ organization, which could either grow or disappear depending on the needs of its members as they respond to the changing phases of capitalist development. Successes would no longer be defined in terms of survival, but in the ability of workers to generate and control their own organizational forms. American leftists have limited themselves almost exclusively to the forms of working-class organization that have proven successful in the industrialized countries since the last world war or to vanguard parties. As the economic crisis deepens, interest in the critique of unions may emerge as alternative forms of organization are sought.

Rosa Luxemburg was one of the few Marxists to perceive the breakdown of the European labor movement at the beginning of this century. Her views, consequently, put her in opposition to the practices of both the Social Democrats and the Bolsheviks. In “Rosa Luxemburg in Retrospect,” Paul Mattick regards Luxemburg as the most outstanding Marxist theoretician of the old labor movement. Mattick divides her ideas into three areas: economic theory, her views on nationalism, and her conception of political organization; and, while he disagrees on several specific points, he praises her attempt to uphold a left-wing internationalism against the more conciliatory ideas of the Social Democrats and Bolsheviks alike. Because of this, her views, if not in detail, then in intention, are still of importance today.

Contrary to the expectations of the bourgeoisie and the economists during the 1950s and 1960s, the international market system now finds itself in a deep crisis, and every move to correct the problems only leads to a deepening of some other problem. The new optimism of the economists consists of their hoping that this bad situation will somehow stabilize itself, and not deteriorate further. This economic and moral dilemma of capitalism is described by Fred Moseley in his article, “The Obsolescence of Modern Economics.” As Moseley illustrates with numerous quotes, the economists and state planners can only hope, at this point, that the market mechanism itself discovers a means to recovery. The “state of the profession” is so pathetic that the “invisible hand” is now being revived as a valid economic concept, since direct economic intervention by the state is incapable of restoring profitable conditions.

We hope that Root & Branch will prove to be a worthwhile contribution to political debate. Forthcoming issues will include articles on feminism, China, computers, and economic theory. We will consider any articles that are sent to us, so send what you are working on. Also, we welcome letters on the ideas in the articles and/or the politics put forth in the journal.

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