Political Line

Trotsky vs. a Trotskyist vs. Our Position: a Three-Way Conversation, Part 3

by Jan Makandal

January 21, 2016


76 years ago, Trotsky correctly observed that trade unions were progressively degenerating and fusing with imperialism. That gradual degeneration has, at this point in time, reached its maturity point—institutionalized forms of organized labor have become capitalist organizations, even with workers and laborers as members.


The bureaucratic bourgeoisie—a fraction of the capitalist class—has historically developed within the leadership of organized labor. The problem is not a simple issue of bad or corrupt leadership. The issue lies with the entire structure of organized labor that has now been absorbed—institutionalized— into capitalism. Trotskyists, viewing the process of degeneration as static, will never see this reality.


Institutionalized labor is now a historical form of capital accumulation. Dues, corruption, strike funds, retirement funds, and government stipends are all forms of capital accumulation. Although dues-paying members are currently the principal form of accumulation, it is important that we also point the finger at corruption.


Corruption is a common form of capital accumulation by the capitalist class. Many think that it can simply be corrected by anti-corruptive measures. This reformist conception reduces corruption to the act of stealing, and ignores the fact that contemporary capitalism is an historical form of accumulation rooted in mercantile capitalism (trade).


In most cases, under capitalism, corruption becomes a material condition for the development of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie. This problematic fraction of the capitalist power bloc shares a lot of tendencies with fascism, and functions in contradiction with some foundational elements of capitalism, such as competition. Setting moral boundaries for corruption represents the inter-class struggle among capitalists to limit, control or advance the constitution of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie.


Trotsky vs. a Trotskyist vs. Our Position: a Three-Way Conversation, Part 2

by Jan Makandal

January 19, 2016


First, to avoid any futile debate, let us demarcate from the theory that no work should be done inside the existing unions. This is not our position. In fact, we disagree with that political line and the practices that emerge from that theory—total absence and unilateral abstinence of presence inside these unions. For us, that would be ultra-leftist, the inversion of a right-wing deviation.


We do agree with Trotsky on his conception of the degenerated nature of organized labor [institutionalized unions]. The concept of degeneration is a dialectical concept, implying a phenomenon that is in a process of decaying. We do not think that they could be still at the same stage of decomposition as they were 76 years ago. To say that we are in the same stage is not only intellectually lazy, but is also a dogmatic approach.


Dogmatism is one of our biggest enemies in the theoretical battlefield of dialectics. Dogmatism asserts permanency in phenomenon—dynamics frozen in time. But the only thing actually permanent in a phenomenon is reproduction.


We agree with Trotsky about the degenerated nature of unions that existed 76 years ago. Furthermore, we also think that today’s unions have totally transitioned to their highest form of decay, into capitalist organizations among the working class. These unions, far from being the instruments of working class power that they started out as, are in fact playing a pre-emptive repressive role among the working class, in the interest of capitalism.


Trotsky vs. a Trotskyist vs. Our Position: a Three-Way Conversation, Part 1

by Jan Makandal

January 15, 2016


This is a response to a Trotskyist who asserts that contemporary institutional labor unions in the U.S. currently represent working class interests, rather than having mainly been co-opted by the capitalist class (through various violent and legal means) into instruments of the pacification of workers. He quoted Trotsky in his argument (as indicated below) but we interpret his position to be actually non-correspondent to Trotsky’s. We are posting this as a distinct piece because his application of Trotsky’s position is not uncommon, and others may find it a useful contribution to the general debate.


It is always a danger in our movement to turn the position of any revolutionary, whether proletarian or non-proletarian, into verse—statements frozen in time. Such an approach is dogmatic, and dogmatism is always coupled with sectarianism. “Trade Unions in the Period of Imperialist Decay” was written by Trotsky 76 years ago. It was a theory for the elaboration of a political line, based on the conjuncture and context of that epoch.


Any theory, especially in the social field, is contextual. But it can also give us a foundation to understand the progressive development of the reality it is interpreting. The progressive development of that reality can either: a) force us to totally question that theory, even if it was correct at time of its elaboration, or b) show the need for the theory to be consolidated, while adding needed footnotes to the original theory because our practice and current objective reality demand that we do so.


This is what dogmatists and sectarians refuse to do. The consequences of that refusal are the ossification and stagnation of that theory. Reality is advancing at its own pace, and dogmatists refuse to understand that advancement. Usually that refusal is also due to a mechanical conception or a total denial of class struggle.


I am assuming you are a Trotskyist, but Trotsky was not. He didn’t know about Trotskyism, and his position in the first paragraph of his analysis proves that.


He argued, “…the degeneration, of modern trade union organizations in the entire world: it is their drawing closely to and growing together with the state power. This process is equally characteristic of the neutral, the Social-Democratic, the Communist and ‘anarchist’ trade unions. This fact alone shows that the tendency towards ‘growing together’ is intrinsic not in this or that doctrine as such but derives from social conditions common for all unions.”


Proclaiming to be a Trotskyist is not an automatic immunization from opportunism, nor does it make one absolutely and permanently correct. Trotksy’s point, which we agree with, is independent of your doctrine. The social condition, the objective reality—including you as a Trotskyist—is not only independent of your doctrine, but needs to determine the way your doctrine is to deal with that reality.


So, being a Trotskyist, a Maoist, or an anarchist is irrelevant to the fact that these lenses don’t dictate the reality. They can only provide the basic tools and concepts to give an interpretation to that reality. Mao, Trotsky or any other individual are unavailable to further our thought process in the appropriation of that reality. In this case, the tools provided by Trotsky are a good foundation, with his identification of the degeneration of the trade unions in his time. Rather than ask for proof, we have to consolidate that theory in our time. Proof, by the way, is part of the contextual material conditions that are right in front of us, and our interpretation of it will be based on our political line. On this point, I confirm my assertion that it is not about anyone being a Maoist, a Trotskyist, etc. What really matters in the final analysis is our political line.


Should We Vote? Debunking the Contemporary Misuse of the “Duma” Tactic



Proletarian Alternative

August 5, 2015


Many in the people’s camp, some identifying as progressives, evoke a tactical orientation called “the Duma” to justify their participation in the electoral process. The Duma was the Russian Parliament in which the Bolsheviks saw fit to use the contradictions within the Russian dominant classes to further their political objectives. For the Bolsheviks, though it involved participating in the bourgeois electoral process, this was a revolutionary orientation.


But today this tactic is not revolutionary in the least.


Experiences, both direct and indirect, are not to be duplicated or memorized. They are to be learned from to guide upcoming experiences, other social practices. Revolutionary experiences either consolidate or rectify theory. The Duma experience was specific to the reality of Russia, a tactical line in a revolutionary project. Even though it was correct at that time and place, it’s a mistake to attempt to duplicate it now in another social formation where the material conditions, the subjective and the objective conditions, are totally different.


Some elements of the subjective conditions:


A Brief Note on the Minimum Wage Struggle




Jan Makandal

July 5, 2015      


Struggling for a minimum wage adjustment is a political battle at its initial point: the economic front.


Since we are talking of a political battle, one of the rules of that struggle is the relation of forces. At this moment in our conjuncture, our forces capable of forcing our class enemy to concede are weak and dominantly disorganized.


At present, the alternative to offer us a minimum wage remains in the hands of bourgeois organization and the state apparatus, and if they do so it will be for their own interest. We must admit now that the struggle for the $15 minimum wage is not an autonomous struggle of the working class and laborers. It will transform into an autonomous struggle only when the proletariat in particular owns their destiny, along with the masses under the leadership of the proletariat.


In the hands of the bourgeoisie, mainly bourgeois labor organizations [i.e.: AFL-CIO and SEIU], it is a struggle to secure their primary form of capital accumulation through the enlargement of their membership base to collect dues.


It is a struggle for them to deal with a very complex contradiction: mobilizing the rank and file while at the same time making sure that orientation doesn’t create an overflow that will push the struggle beyond the bourgeoisie’s desired limits. These bourgeois organizations are politically heavily leaning on the petite bourgeoisie’s activism, pragmatism and radicalism to not only help them realize the goal of maintaining a social base, but at the same time to keep the masses at bay. It is a very contradictory orientation since the petite bourgeoisie is dominated as well, and does have demands as well. This contradictory element is creating a constant condition for the possibility of overflowing. The bourgeoisie is well aware of that. Their leaning on the petite bourgeoisie is accomplished through the non-profit, CBO and NGO, structures controlled and funded by them, and they could terminate the lifeline of these organizations at any time.


A second orientation is that the struggle for the minimum wage is a gross marketing ploy, being presented as a moral issue capable of being brought into a legalistic battlefield, while attempting to keep all the classes antagonistic to capital at bay (since the petite bourgeoisie domination under capital is not antagonistic, they are naturally and instinctively reformist—with all their radicalism, they are the most natural allies of the bourgeoisie in that struggle).


The state apparatus is the political organizer and administrator of bourgeois democracy/dictatorship, so they too will intervene in the wage issue. They understand they have a powder keg ready to ignite with any little spark from the plurality of the political spectrum. Their decisions to reform the minimum wage or unpaid overtime are political ploys in the interest of the bourgeoisie (even if some members or fractions disagree)as a way to keep water ready to douse the powder keg. The main objective of the State in giving us crumbs is, in the interest of capitalism, to keep us disorganized.


What do we do?


At this time, though we are in a structural crisis of capitalism, our forces are weak, dispersed and dominantly disorganized. But we will not raise the white flag simply because we are strategically and tactically in a position of weakness. We should certainly not raise our hands on the air and say, “Thank you for the crumbs.” We need to understand our weakness and define a strategy to overturn the balance of power in our favor.


How do we start?


  • Use the internal contradiction of the bourgeoisie in our favor.
  • Use the contradiction between those fractions of capital interested in the minimum wage hike on the one hand, and the masses (including the petite bourgeoisie) on the other hand—push it in our favor to realize a shift in the balance of forces.
  • We should not unite with one fraction of capital against the other, but use the contradiction among them to further weaken them all.
  • At the same time we need to construct our own base, our autonomous organizations. This is the primary material condition necessary to shift the balance of power to our side.


The struggle for the minimum wage adjustment is, at this time, an alternative that will benefit a fraction of the capitalist class and the capitalist class, as a bloc, even if the crumbs are good for us. We should take the crumbs if it happens, but our demands should not be restricted to what they decide we need. WE SHOUILD NEVER BE SATISFIED.


Political Line: a guideline to practice







by Gerye Proletari

(March 9, 2015)


A political line is what separates organizations (revolutionary and progressive) from a collection of activists. When organizations don’t have a proletarian political line, the dominant tendency is to become swept up in reformism. Pragmatism, populism, economism, activism, nationalism and unionism (at this stage in most countries, unions have become integrated capitalist organizations) are all prevalent in many organizations. Indicators of disconnection from a proletarian political line (which would be informed by and inform theory and political practice), many of these tendencies end up turning organizations reformist and opportunist. They are pushed by NGOs, unions, and other structures of capital which try to co-opt and integrate people and movements.


These organizations, which are the main organs of capital recuperation in the streets, DO have their own political lines. The activists who join and or work with them however usually are not part of the construction of the lines. Even organizations which are themselves autonomous from Capital, without a political line, end up objectively being foot soldiers of these other Capitalist organizations; typically, they end up pragmatists, working on whatever is the current “campaign” or “hot button issue” of the day.


International Working Women’s Day: a day of class struggle




by Gerye Proletari

(March 4, 2015)

The bourgeoisie constantly recuperates what belongs to the people. International Women’s Day emerged from class struggle, but various states and imperialist organizations want to turn it into a mere holiday. According to the UN:


“International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.


Capitalism attempts to wash the historical context and class significance right out. But International Women’s Day is also (more appropriately) known around the world as International Working Women’s Day.

2015-03-04-global-unity-aA Brief Historical Perspective:


IWWD emerged from the proletarian struggle in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. On March 8, 1857, women workers from textile and garment factories organized a strike in New York City for better pay, better conditions and basic bourgeois-democratic rights (rights such as wage increases, gender quality, and any rights you would expect in a bourgeois-democracy which can be attained without fundamentally questioning capital). On March 8, 1908, women workers of the needle trades went on strike in honor of the 1857 strike—still struggling for basic rights and the ending of child labor and bettering their horrific working conditions. On November 22, 1909, Clara Limlich, a Ukrainian-born proletarian militant, led 20,000 garment workers on strike in New York City against their horrible conditions and terrible wages. On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where women workers had been organizing, caught (or was set) on fire. The owners of the factory (which like most, was a sweatshop) locked the fire exit and got away with the murder of over 140 workers! In 1910, at the Second International, Clara Zetkin, a German born proletarian militant, suggested that March 8th be the day designated for the working women of the world.


The Problem with Programs




by Jan Makandal

(February 2015)

The problem with programs is the fact that they are quickly self-exceeding, because their conception and implementation are governed and determined by class struggle. In the hands of dogmatists, they become a dangerous tool.

This is not to say that programs are not important. For us in our political current, we tend to construct programs from our political line. Since our political line is based on our understanding of the class struggle, it is contextual and conjunctural, even if it’s based on our general objective of defeating capitalism. Our programs, as well, are contextual and conjunctural. Our attempt to understand the objective reality is based on dialectical and historical materialism; our political line is also based on that understanding.

Needless to say, our political current understands clearly that during our process of realizing our objective of constructing an alternative to capitalism, we will be faced with the constant necessity of defining our political line, our “What is to be done?”


Our Position on Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism


Jan Makandal


There is a fundamental non-correspondence between imperialism and anti-imperialism. They are not simply direct opposites. The struggle against imperialism (the advanced form of accumulation of capital), is not to be conflated with anti-imperialism (the struggle against the domination of one social formation by another).

Imperialism is an advanced stage of the development of capital. Capital is a form of organization of a social formation, and imperialism is a conjuncture, a period. Anti-imperialism is not an alternative form of societal organization, but rather a political struggle to transform a specific political relation (a relation that while not economic, does have an economic effect). (more…)

Why Environmentalists Should Support Working Class Struggles




CMDearth(December 2013)

This is to specifically address class struggle as it relates to the ecological crisis. It will not address all the other (many!) reasons that working class struggle must be waged and supported.

First, we must recognize the fact that global capitalism is driving ecocide.

The problem reaches much farther back than capitalism itself. The combination of an early gendered division of labor with the adoption of agriculture and corresponding formation of permanent settlements set the stage for class divisions and the private accumulation of surplus wealth. Maintaining this arrangement required the development of states with armies, social oppression and repression to weaken internal opposition, and ideologies to make it all seem normal and pre-ordained. And as land was degraded and resources used up faster than they naturally replenished themselves, expansion became imperative, leading to conquest and forced unequal trade. These intertwined and matured over time into an ever-more complex tangle, culminating in late-stage capitalism: the all-encompassing, all-devouring, spectacular horror that is our current global social living arrangement.

The environmental crisis, specifically climate change, is the most urgent problem we collectively face. It is a simple fact that if our planet no longer supports life, then all human pursuits, including social justice, will also come to a screaming halt.