U.S. New Left Entering the Workforce

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Skraeling
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Jun 3 2011 23:41
Hieronymous wrote:
Maybe this simply makes the case that the New Left was by definition a middle class phenomenon and that's why all the language about needing to "turn" here or there. If you were a baby boomer born in the suburbs, maybe it was a well-intentioned but misguided idea to go from the college campus to the factory. Hence class struggle plays such a limited role -- despite "political work on the job" -- and so much of it is fixated on anti-imperialism and the correct line. No?

No, it's a bit more more complex than that. Internationally and in the US, I reckon the New Left had a mixed class base. Many New Leftists were simply being trained for white-collar proletarian jobs like researchers, technicians, librarians, low-level govt workers and adminstrators, clerks, service workers and so on. Mostly skilled and relatively well-paid (tho often skilled blue-collar work paid more), thus making them a relatively privileged layer of the class, but proletarian nonetheless. Some New Leftists were definitely being trained to become 'middle-class' such as managers and city planners (if you define middle-class as wage workers who have considerable power over other workers. anyway, it's mistaken to assume all of the New Left was being trained for the 'professional-managerial class'). And a tiny minority were from the capitalist class.

Of course this reflected changes in class composition worldwide, with the massive expansion of universities due to capital and the state's demand for more and more white-collar workers to fill their expanding state and corporate bureaucracies. The shift away from manufacturing, towards a service economy etc

Back to the US New Left. When many working class people entered the American New Left by the mid-1960s, some recognised their class base and took on board a largely French theory of the 'new working class' (which i have summarised in my first para). People like Greg Calvert, Carol Neiman and Carl Davidson (before he became a Leninist) developed this viewpoint in numerous articles and a few books. They argued for a 'student syndicalist' perspective: the New Left should not be based on guilt, on organising other people's struggles, but instead organise themselves in the universities on a class basis, aiming for student control of the universitites, and then linking up with other workers in struggle outside the university. (In part, you could argue their syndicalism was a reflection of their class basis as skilled white collar workers to be, who desired control or self-management over the production process - at the same time others have argued that blue-collar assembly line workers did not want self-management because they did not want control over a process that was alien to them - as an aside, this 'refusal of work' is an oversimplification as there many tendencies within the blue-collar working class, some of them self-managementist as evident in the plethora of factory occupations or sit-in strikes in Europe in the late 1960s, early 1970s).

The student syndicalism of the US New Left was popular (the US SDS (damn American-centricism, there were SDS's in both West Germany and Australia) grew rapidly during the period when its leadership adopted student syndicalism), but then lost out to Leninism by the late 1960s. It was during this period that much of the New Left adopted the crude workerism that has been ably critiqued in this thread. ie. the New Left did not see themselves as workers, but outside the class, a vanguard that needed to enter the factories (because they crudely defined the class as involving only blue collar factory work) and bring consciousness in from the outside (this was particulalry the case with Maoists). While other New Leftists wrote of the white working class, or wrote off the older working class (some claimed that it was only working class youth that had potential), or wrote off the entire working class and idolised third world nationalism, the irony was that the working class in the US (both blue and white collar, young and old, Euro and non-Euro) was going thru its biggest upheavel in a very long time, involving heaps of wildcats.

The American New Left peaked in 1970 with a massive nationwide student strike against the Kent State killings, but because most of the New Left saw themselves as outside the working-class by that stage, they did not really attempt to link up with the broader working-class. (while in its earlier period, the New left did attempt to make many links with other workers as Peter Levy outlines in his book the New Left and Labour sorry Labor). Hence this strike was noticeably unsupported by the broader working class.

Overall, the New Left was a very complex, contradictory and diverse movement, involving both a retreat from and embracement of class. eg. Hieronymous dismisses the New Left as middle class, and then goes on praise a New Left journal called Radical America which embraced a bottom-up view of class struggle! Same goes for the first British New Left which retreated from class and then at the same time developed a very influential school of bottom-up working class history in E P Thompson et al.

syndicalist
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Jun 4 2011 00:48

TOWARD A STUDENT SYNDICALIST MOVEMENT, OR UNIVERSITY REFORM REVISITED
By Carl Davidson
Position paper delivered at the August 1966 SDS Convention

http://www.antiauthoritarian.net/sds_wuo/sds_documents/student_syndicalism.html

syndicalist
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Jun 4 2011 02:08

I would agree with this:

Quote:
Overall, the New Left was a very complex, contradictory and diverse movement, involving both a retreat from and embracement of class

Growing up in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial factory city on the fast decline.....
I would also say, so was the youth rebellion amongst working class kids as well. It was a "revolt against work"; against stodgy unions dominated by "straight" bureaucrats and social climbers; against ethnic cultural socities that their parents or grandparents belonged to; it was for loud music and whites digging soul and blues; it was a shout and a scream against the stiff and staright culture of working class bordom and stratification. It was the revolutionary shout, that white and black can hang out, dig each other and break down a lot stuff.

Life is complex. Relationships are complex. Politics are complex. And the rebellion that swept across lots of towns and cities were complex. It was a new world....at least for those of us radicalizing teen-agers who sought shelter from the storm in new politics, new relations and finding out, that alot ain't so new.

Edit: Whoa...sorry, I must've taken a time ship back to my youth on that one. Not very theoretical and more a rap and rant and a wee bit hokey ...that's me in a nutshell...rap and rant and a wee-bit hokey.

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knotwho
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Jun 8 2011 22:54

This is a great thread. Still, it’s mostly rehashing the 60s without necessarily looking at how those lessons relates to where we are now.

Some of the key differences I see are (at least, from a North American perspective):

- Deindustrialization – Not that many factories to parachute in to. Even IWW activity is mostly among food service workers.

- The New Left were college-educated or college drop-outs, which seemed to count for more back then in terms of class position. A college degree doesn’t mean that much today.

- There’s been a huge shift in the workforce to Hispanic labor (especially low-wage jobs). The 2006 May Day Immigration rallies were probably the biggest mobilizations since the anti-war stuff in 2003.

- The youth are not in revolt. At least not dynamic revolt.

These are just some thoughts that this thread brought up. I’m sure some of this has been developed more elsewhere. (In this world, but not of this world - Gilles Dauvé. seems to touch on the industrial/deindustrial theme. I would appreciate any other suggestions.)

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OliverTwister
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Jun 9 2011 00:06

just a quick note that i think Speak Out may actually have some base in transit. I ran into a cadre i knew from city college and he said that he rides for free, and seemed to know the driver of the bus we were on...

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knotwho
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Jun 9 2011 01:09
Quote:
Still, it’s mostly rehashing the 60s without necessarily looking at how those lessons relates to where we are now

Just noticed this was a post in the History forum. That makes sense as to why so much discussion of the 60s history.

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Hieronymous
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Jun 9 2011 08:37
OliverTwister wrote:
just a quick note that i think Speak Out may actually have some base in transit. I ran into a cadre i knew from city college and he said that he rides for free, and seemed to know the driver of the bus we were on...

That's too bad. Or regarding working class self-activity, that's no steps forward, ten steps (at least) backwards. Those fucking "infiltrationist" Lambertist Trots really suck.

knotwho wrote:
I would appreciate any other suggestions.

As for theories of class composition -- as related to deindustrialization and the increasing size of the Spanish-speaking proletariat in the U.S. -- see the article from page 10 to page 22, called The Working Class, World Capitalism and Crisis: A General Perspective in Will Barnes' longer piece The Crisis in Society and Nature and the Working Class in History, available in pdf form here: http://www.instcssc.org/crisis.pdf

syndicalist
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Jun 9 2011 13:36

I think knotwho asks a valid question: what are the lessons learned. Perhaps some replies can be scratched together.

I really don't know a whole lot of Gilles Duave, other then some references here. I think I read a piece about the general strike which Juan posted here. Having grwon up in a rapidly declining industrial city, a link Duave writing on this would be of interest.

BTW, the Seattle generation were composed mainly of youth. This generation was a shot in the arm to the anarchist movement, brought a whole bunch of new people on to the class struggle anarchist movement and has been dynamic in its own right.

Gots to run.

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Steven.
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Jun 9 2011 13:46

Syndicalist, the Dauvé text referred to above is here:
http://libcom.org/library/world-not-world-gilles-dauv%C3%A9

I think it's a great text as well

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Juan Conatz
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Jun 25 2011 17:18

Dogmatism and the Rank & File Movement – The road to isolation by Philadelphia Workers’ Organizing Committee
http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-4/pwoc-dog-3.htm

syndicalist
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Jun 25 2011 23:28
Juan Conatz wrote:
Dogmatism and the Rank & File Movement – The road to isolation by Philadelphia Workers’ Organizing Committee
http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-4/pwoc-dog-3.htm

Looks familiar.

The unions being talked about in the article are the UAW (autoworkers); the UMW (miners) and the USW (steel workers),

Here's another one for your interest: [
May 1st Workers Movement Formed in Bay Area
http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-2/ru-may1.htm

A very interesting "sum-up" of the M1MW can be found here on the 10th para. of this article:
http://leftspot.com/blog/?q=book/export/html/450

David in Atlanta
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Jul 23 2011 17:07

A Note to Young Activists: Get a Rank and File Job!
A Freedom Road militant summing up thirty years experience of trade union work. I love this quote from an anonymous student. , “Your generation put in 30 plus years of work and all you can show for it is Andy Stern? There must be a better way.”

syndicalist
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Aug 5 2011 01:46

Wanna puke....

Proletarian Cause - Communist League
Reformism vs. Revolutionary Struggle in the Labor Movement
Report for the Labor Conference of the Communist League, April, 1971
http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-2/proletarian-cause/article6.htm

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Sep 14 2011 17:15

Maybe a separate thread, but what do people think of the 60s/70s industrial concentration VS groups like Kolinko going in, not to organize, but to observe?

syndicalist
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Sep 14 2011 17:34

Sorry, who and what is Kolinko? Any link(s) would be good.

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Steven.
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Sep 14 2011 17:51

http://libcom.org/tags/kolinko

Juan, I assume you're talking about the call centre book call centre enquiry communism in particular here. I believe they did attempt to organise a little bit, but didn't have much success.

I think what they were trying was an Italian operaist-style workers enquiry.

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CRUD
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Sep 14 2011 21:56

Average construction worker in America wants nothing to do with mother savior intellectuals who's mission is to "show us the way". Granted it does take time to read various socialist materials and time is something most workers don't have but between the ultra PC culture on the American left and sometimes downright snobbery....well, lets just say they give the right wing capitalists a great advantage by expecting everyone to tote the PC leftist line.

I think we need a sort of selfish nihilistic brutal left (with a smile) in America to attract the more rugged of us in the working class wink Get rid of all the PETA type Buddhist vegan hippie lifestylists who have turned the struggle into some sort of fashion show wear your morals on your sleeve popularity contest.

This is what living In San Fransisco will do to you.

In the past workers have resented activists who joined the workforce with the goal of "leading" us to socialism (Marxists specifically). Many joined the union bureaucracy and became a sort of manager class. Whats needed is equal living and working side by side with one another without any bullshit moral or intellectual superiority complexes.

syndicalist
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Sep 15 2011 00:53

I did a very, ver fast read of the interview.

So, to try and reply to Juan, I think theres a distinct difference in what we tried to apply with industrial concentration, and what the Kolinko comrades do/did.

Quote:
We have collected information and discussed it. We got in contact with comrades in Germany and other countries. We have made interviews with call center-workers and we began to work there ourselves. Since October 2000 we have started to hand out a series of leaflets and we have set up a website on these issues.
Quote:
We concentrate on a certain method of work or a certain sector in order to understand the situation there well and find definite starting points for an intervention.

My read of this is that they were not actually employed in the call center industry. That their laflets and involvement were outside (non-worker) "interventions". We tried to get folks to actually work in places, not be observors, but participants. Of course, there were times when we used members to hand out leaflets, when it was either not feasable or practical for us to do so (mainly at big events or in places where folks were still keeping their politics under wraps).

Now, I would suspect, that there are elements of what the Kolinko folks do/did have some merit. Knowing an industry, targetting an industry and putting stuff out with a message. I think where this falls short is that calls for self-organization alone doesn't always lead to self organization. That there should be offered some form of assistance in this regard. Perhaps this is discussed and I missed it (very possible,for sure).

Anyway, no form is higher or lower than another. If there's a way to twine elements of both, the ones which work best, that's cool.

bastarx
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Sep 15 2011 03:04

At least some of the Kolinko people worked in call centres although maybe not at the time of that interview. I'm guessing they they did some preliminary research and writing before chaining themselves to the phones.

These class composition studies are interesting but I'm not sure how much knowledge of class composition can actually help us much in the class war.

RedTrackWorker
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May 7 2013 22:18

There's also projects like "Minds Stayed On Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle In The Rural South-- An Oral History" in which school kids work together to get community oral histories. This one for example helped uncover the role of women and the role of armed self-defense in a Mississippi county during the civil rights movement--things other research efforts have often missed or neglected.

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May 30 2013 23:14
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P.S., regarding workplace organizing...meh. Most people have to work, and organizing where you are also means talking to co-workers. If you're a student or school pupil, it means organizing there, etc. So far, so good.

What most political tendencies that place primary importance on the workplace do, however, is assume that political radicalization occurs at the point of production. I suppose it can, but that is in no way necessary. A lot of people develop anti-capitalist politics on the basis of anti-fascist work, neighborhood struggles/struggles against gentrification, anti-war protests, etc. Insofar as these people also have to sell their labour-power to survive, that political radicalism will carry over into the workplace. But I don't see any automatic connection between struggles over working time and wages and an explicitly communist consciousness.

well, I've been a firm supporter of "industrial concentration". I think it's about developing a social base for our ideas in areas where class struggle takes place. Class struggle can and does take place also outside the workplace, but I've found it is harder to develop a mass organization here that retains its grassroots character, doesn't go off in the bureaucratic nonprofit direction. Partly because people spend 8 hours a day (or more, or less) in the workplace & their livelihood is wrapped up in it, there *can* be the potential for mass struggle & organization to develop there.

It's also true that in a lot of workplaces over a long period, not much resistance takes place. And I think you mistake the thesis anyway. The thesis isn't that being in workplaces, subject to management discipline, etc. leads to radical conclusions necessarily, but that when collective struggles do take place here, those struggles pose the possibility for change in mindset.

No guarantees of course. But this is also true in struggles outside the workplace. And I think it is even harder for struggles outside the workplace to lead to class consciousness. in the USA anyway there is a tendency for people often to think of themselves as consumers and "middle class" when they're away from work. it is the subordination, disrespect, overwork etc in the workplace that is a stark reminder of what working class means.

To get back to the subject of this thread, tho, in Los Angeles in the '60s/'70s two groups I knew of who were doing "industrial concentration" were the LA Work Group and the I.S. I.S. was focusing on trucking & the Teamsters union. This is early '70s. LA Work Group was a Maoist group. Eventually they became part of Freedom Road (Fightback version).

As to STO, they were peculiar because they were the only Leninist group of that era who rejected "boring from within" in favor of a grassroots independent mass worker organization, and looked to the IWW as a model. This will become clear if you read their "Workplace Papers" which I recommend. That was an influence on my thinking in the '70s/80s period.

I did encounter PLP in those years but I only knew their UCLA chapter. I wasn't familiar with any industrial concentration they had there then. In the '80s when I moved to San Francisco, I became aware they had a few people...in a hospital, and working at the transit system (Muni). At Muni they organized the Drivers Action Committee, a group of about 50 drivers, in opposition to the bureaucracy of TWU 250A.

re people feeling a group is manipulative if they are doing industrial concentration. I don't think this is inevitable. it depends on the way it is approached. in reading thru Hammer & Hoe, by Robin Kelley, I get the impression the CP in the south in the early '30s was fairly open to the people it was working with, tho in a largely underground union environment, among unemployed neighborhood groups & the share croppers union. later as they sought middle class respectability and liberal allies during the Popular Front period, they had more of a tendency to hide their politics, which could engender distrust, and play into red-baiting. Their whole popular front strategy in the south proved to be totally unrealistic, since there was no way there could be open legal acceptability for the Communist party in the south in those years.

in re Bob Fitch. I'm skeptical about him being a Maoist. His two books "Assassination of New York" and "Solidarity for Sale" have a sort of Left social democratic brand of Marxist politics.

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Aug 22 2013 03:22

Trying to read Elbaum's Revolution In the Air. I'm not sure ill be able to make it through this Maoid crap

syndicalist
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Aug 22 2013 03:38

try to...it will give you a sense of the dominant left trend of that era

syndicalist
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Aug 22 2013 13:23

OK, for those who have the stomach to read really, really rethorical and polemical "anti-revisionist" stuff.....here's you go: http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/erol.htm

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Hieronymous
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Aug 22 2013 15:21
Juan Conatz wrote:
Trying to read Elbaum's Revolution In the Air. I'm not sure ill be able to make it through this Maoid crap

I met Elbaum once for a book talk where he "subbed" for Paul Buhle and discussed Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History. He's a very, very nice guy and knows some inspiring poetry -- some of it by heart. But he has really, really shit politics and is completely oblivious that ultra-left currents exist -- and existed -- and at times had as much influence in California as the Stalin/Lavrentiy Beria/Mao/Ho Chi Mihn/Castro/Kim Il Sung/Enver Hoxha-worshiping wannabe state-builders in the New Communist Movement.

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Entdinglichung
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Aug 22 2013 15:50

Elbaum was a founding member of Line of March which was in a way a small and less opportunistic version of the CPUSA, modeled after the Communist Party of the Philippines, they avoided some of the lunacies of other NCM groups e.g. supporting South Africa in Angola and had more sensible positions on the "national question in the USA" or on gender and LBGT issues than most Maoists but evolved also into cheerleaders for the Soviet Union (e.g. on Poland) and were ultra-secretive (partly for good reasons, two of their members were killed by the secret service of the Philippines) when working in/taking over campaign groups

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Aug 22 2013 17:12

In the Bay Area, they were affectionately known as "March in Line."

I know a former cadre, who was a member decades ago. He was at a criticism/self-criticism session and while driving home with several other members, laughed about what a "joke" those self-flagellation/self-purification rituals were. Someone in the car informed on him and soon after he was purged for being "objectively counter-revolutionary." Thankfully, it pushed him in a more radical direction and his practice of shopfloor militancy and class solidarity later found a healthier home in the I.W.W.

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Entdinglichung
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Aug 22 2013 17:07

worse was the internal "campaign against white chauvinism" of the OCIC which came from a sinilar Background than LoM: http://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-7/index.htm#pwoc