working class


International Working Women’s Day: The Real Meaning of March 8

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Most workers in the world don’t know the date of March 8th is of the greatest importance for them. And many of those who do know it don’t realize what the date really represented in history. For us, conscious workers, for whom the struggle is our daily life, it is absolutely necessary we know our true history, the various battles waged by our class and the lessons we should draw from them.

 

First of all, since many workers in Haiti and throughout the world, especially in the maquilas and free trade zones, work in the textile industry, we should know that the mobilizations held on March 8th, 1908, were carried out precisely by textile industry workers. Despite this, presently, most workers in this branch know nothing of this part of our history.

 

In 1975, the United Nations proclaimed March 8th “International Women’s Day”. Once more, this was a recuperation of the international ruling classes to distort the real significance of our battles. In this way, they have attempted to wipe out the collective memory of the real working-class mobilization that occurred on this date, turning it into a wide-ranging, limited celebration completely void of class content, in which all women partake, including totally anti-worker and reactionary bourgeois women. In this way, the nature and logic of our battles are obliterated. Our own history is robbed from us.

 

What was March 8th?

 

March 8th is a historic date! Doubly so. First of all, on March 8th, 1857, a large number of factory workers in the United States took to the streets to demand their economic and political rights. The owners called the police who arrived immediately and opened fire, engaging in blind repression… Later on, in 1908, the same date of March 8th was once again a memorable date of struggle. On this day, capitalist bosses in Chicago set fire to a textile factory where over a thousand women worked. A very large number was terribly burnt. 120 died! This heinous crime happened simply because the workers were demanding that the legal 8-hour work day be respected, as well as substantial ameliorations of their work conditions since they were working in a hellish environment in which their very dignity was constantly and totally denied. In this factory, however, the workers refused to cower. They fought daily. And having reached a certain level of organization, they held protests, work stoppages and strikes… On this day of March 8th, 1908, instead of obeying the law and satisfying the workers’ legal and legitimate demands, the factory owners decided to bar in this way what they called “the rising disorder”.

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Class Analysis to Define Historical Tasks and Alternatives

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By Jan Makandal

December 8, 2015

 

[This was written as part of a debate about defining the working class].

 

I will argue that the definition of unproductive worker is quite a secondary point, since all will have to be organized in the struggle against capitalism. For us, whether an unproductive worker is considered a worker or a petit bourgeois in the social category of laborers, either way they need to be organized under the leadership of the productive workers—because the surplus value produced by productive workers is the source of all capital.

 

Our only difference in this case will be which class among the social category of laborers (or which fraction of the working class) is to construct that leadership role, and which class (or fraction of class in the social category of laborers) will be the fundamental allies of the proletariat. We have seen such orientation in Russia and China. It requires an analysis of the social formation we aim to radically transform.

 

A very interesting thing happened in Vietnam—due to a lack of working class presence in the Communist Party there, the party changed its name from the Communist Party to the Party of Labour, and then later went back to the Communist Party. Ho Chi Minh pointed out the irony of a Communist Party with no workers.

 

A synthesis of past practices, either of socialist revolution and/or national liberation movements, is enough to construct a theoretical framework that takes into consideration the limitations of these struggles and revolutions, at least so far as to determine the central role of the working class, and the role of intellectual petit bourgeois radicals and the need for their objective transformation into proletarian revolutionaries. One commonalty of those struggles is the heavy role played by petit bourgeois radicals, with a lesser role of leadership played by the workers (or no role at all).

 

We want to learn from these experiences in their respective social formations. In Russia, the Bolsheviks conflated leadership with control. And Mao attempted to introduce the working class into a party dominated by the rural petite bourgeoisie [sectors of the peasantry] in the revolutionary transformation of China. Only dogmatists will take these experiences as cast in stone, and will refuse to see the need to learn from them for the future. In fact, this is why we identify this moment as a moment of stagnation and ossification of proletarian theory. This period will continue as long as the petite bourgeoisie thinks they are Marxist.

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Notes on Power, the State, and Proletarian Dictatorship

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by Jan Makandal

November 29, 2015

 

Marxism reduced to a dogma is no longer materialist. It becomes a deformation, a deviation and is no longer capable of being a revolutionary guide for the future. In fact Marxism reduced to a dogma, such as being presented as a compilation of verses and quotes, is not Marxism.

 

Marxism is a materialist approach of interpreting the objective from the interest of the proletariat for the realization of proletarian dictatorship. Most proletarian revolutionaries will argue that studying Marxism in a study group and understanding class struggle are not the criteria to be a Marxist. Even if some intellectuals do contribute to Proletarian Theory [Marxism], their contributions remain very limited in the absence of their immersion in proletarian struggle and in the active participation of organizing productive workers and their fundamental allies: fundamental laborers. Marxist/proletarian revolutionary is not a title indicated by a red star pin on a lapel; that would be simply a fable. Marxism is the immersion of one’s self in the struggle for PROLETARIAN DICTATORSHIP.

 

We can find in Marxist theory many variations of the definition of the state apparatus. But in our time, to think the state apparatus is only a tool for the oppression of one class by another is a quite limited conception and vision that can only lead to a reformist political line. This definition of the state apparatus by Marx, Lenin and others was correct in their time, but even than it was a very limited definition in need of deepening. Now it is correct to stay the state apparatus is not only an instrument of oppression. The oppressive nature of the state apparatus is one effect of the antagonism between classes, but really the state apparatus is the organization of a class, or a bloc of classes, as a dominant class.

 

The proletarian state apparatus is the organization of the proletariat as a dominant class to achieve its own political objective: the abolition of classes. Without the state apparatus no class will be able to exercise its dominance [dictatorship] over other classes, especially the currently dominated classes that are in an antagonist relation with the bourgeoisie. Historically most state apparatuses [slavery, feudalist and capitalist] have been for the reproduction of dominancy of classes. The proletarian state apparatus is for the proletariat, using its domination, to gradually strip all capital and concentrations of capital away from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all labor instruments in the hands of the state apparatus (meaning in the hands of the proletariat), for production to be organized by the popular masses under the leadership of the proletariat by counting on our own strength, and most importantly in that process to transform the social relations of production for the objective of a classless society.

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Students, Workers and the Specter of Surplus Value

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By Vincent Kelley
November 2015

Workers in the industrial belt in Gurgaon. Photo by Vincent Kelley, 2015.

Workers in the industrial belt in Gurgaon. Photo by Vincent Kelley, 2015.

It’s six in the morning in Delhi, India. The smog sits above the sprawling city as I and some friends take the long auto-rickshaw ride to the industrial belt on the outskirts of the nation’s capital. We left early to help distribute workers’ newspapers to the thousands of workers walking to their morning shifts. As we approach the industrial belt—shielded from the eyes of the city’s increasing and increasingly isolated middle class—the smog gets thicker. Already the most polluted city in the world, the air in the industrial belt is suffocating. It’s no wonder why. Just past where we stand to distribute the papers, an interminable line of factories stretches out into the distance, guarded by bouncers. Many of these factories are where raw materials are fused with human labor to produce products for U.S. multinational capital. Indeed, this setting is where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative is being realized, as the country surpasses China and the U.S. as the number one global destination for foreign direct investment.

 

The constant stream of workers walking to these factories for hours at a time seems more reminiscent of early 19th century London than it does 2015 in a leading “developing” economy, one in which the Prime Minister tells the country’s dispossessed, “achhe din aane waale hain” (the good days are about to come). As I was distributing papers along with three other students and the publishers of the newspaper, I realized on a visceral level that this was the setting in which the core exploitation to fuel global capitalism was happening. I also began to reflect on my position as a student in relation to these workers. Far from the peaceful green environment of the campus space where I was studying, the industrial belt literally felt like a whole other world. Upon returning to the U.S., I wondered if these two worlds may have a parallel even in the imperial center of the globe.

 

Switch contexts to Grinnell, Iowa, home of Grinnell College and, despite the College’s efforts to downplay the fact to prospective students, roughly 9,000 rural Iowans. As I was in town distributing leaflets and a workers’ newsletter on a crisp fall evening, I met a man smoking a cigarette outside of a dilapidated house behind a grocery store. After striking up a conversation with him, I quickly found out that he worked at one of two plastics factories in Grinnell. Shortly after meeting me, the worker said in a suspicious and even accusatory tone, “Are you studying here or something?” As a senior, I was already well aware of the stark “town-gown” divide between Grinnell and Grinnell College, but it is always a clear reminder of this physical and social partition to hear it implied so strongly after just meeting a “townie.”

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2015 Elections in Haiti

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By Kiki Makandal
November 18, 2015

premyemebo2015.inddSince 1986, after the popular uprising that led to the ouster of Baby Doc Duvalier and ended the 29-year Duvalier totalitarian regime, there has been, at times, a widely held position in “left” political tendencies in Haiti that elections under imperialist domination should be denounced and opposed because they could only serve to impose a pro-imperialist political solution to the political crisis in Haiti. Even Aristide and the Lavalas movement once held those positions. But, as election dates have drawn closer, inevitably, this consensus has fallen apart as populism and opportunism have teamed up to engulf the majority of these “left” political tendencies.

2015 is no different, although anyone with any sense of objectivity could easily draw conclusions from the failures of earlier attempts and realize that the objective conditions are even worse this time around. This time, the ruling faction in power is openly taking its directive from the American embassy, it has managed to gain control of the electoral apparatus, particularly in terms of vote counting and tabulation, and its armed thugs are brazenly beating down and killing political opponents. Never mind that the OAS, the “Core Group” (US, Canada, France, Brazil, Spain and the EU) and the UN MINUSTAH occupation forces have the final say in validating election results (that they have financed).

With a voter turnout maxing out at about 25% and rampant brazen ballot stuffing, only those completely sold out can lend any legitimacy to this masquerade. The low voter turnout makes the manipulation of results even easier.

It is not hard to understand how “left” populist opportunism predictably makes a recurring resurgence around election time, particularly in Haiti. With about 70% unemployment, job opportunities for petty-bourgeois intellectuals are limited mostly to NGOs and government jobs. Elections are like a desperate mating ritual for the few available positions of political patronage that depend on personal connections to winning candidates. How many so-called “left” militants have we seen jump ship to take on government positions, from minister to president? This is a class phenomenon of political opportunism, and government jobs are one-time opportunities to make a racket.

The Haitian popular masses have paid for their election lessons in blood: in 1988 massacres put an end to the first attempt at elections after the ouster of Baby Doc. In 1991 a violent coup and subsequent massacres put an end to the first Aristide populist government. In 2005, the popular masses once again showed their ability to thwart the most openly right wing pro-imperialist candidates by voting in Préval, only to see this Préval government enact the same neo-liberal reforms they had voted against… The 25% voter turnout shows how much disdain the Haitian masses have learned from these experiences of massacre and deception.

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Scientific Socialism

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Jan Makandal

September 20, 2015

 

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System Creation vs. Proletarian Revolution

 

Lately, due to the structural crisis of capitalism, the radical left petite bourgeoisie has increasingly been in the business of initiating system-creating schemes. While most of these creations are totally absurd, none of these models are historical, or even reflective of actual tendencies in the existing contradictory processes of the capitalist mode of production. They exist only in the wild imaginations of certain sectors of the radical petite bourgeoisie, those who are in a race against the working class to produce a new mode of societal organization.

 

The petite bourgeoisie, in particular the most radical sectors of that class, is attempting to offer its own alternative, and even to claim Marxism (albeit with a myriad of sectarians definitions, as branding) and Marxist-flavored theories. They are driven to do so because as a class, they are dominated by capitalism. For the petite bourgeoisie (in contrast to the working class), this domination is not antagonistic, but it still weighs them down, leading them to struggle to become a leading force among all the popular classes for a societal alternative.

 

To achieve that goal, this petite bourgeoisie needs to attempt to displace the only class that does have an antagonistic relation to capital, under capitalism including in social formations dominated by imperialism: THE PROLETARIAT.

 

While struggling for its own leading role, the petite bourgeoisie in fact rejects, in theory and in practice, the leading role of the proletariat. But since it is based solely on a non-antagonist relation to capital, their own struggle for a societal alternative can only be external to capitalism’s fundamental antagonistic contradiction between capital and labor. Thus the only alternative it can produce is to make the living conditions under capitalism more bearable. They seek a more equitable or egalitarian society, which would involve an amelioration of the super-structure but not a radical transformation of the capitalist mode of production.

 

The petite bourgeoisie is very persistent and resilient in their attempt to offer their own societal alternative. This is resulting in their obsolescence. Since their alternative to capitalism is non-antagonistic, even the most radical sectors of that class are progressively being replaced by liberal sectors of the capitalist class.

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A Brief Note on the Minimum Wage Struggle

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Jan Makandal

July 5, 2015      

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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.

 


Constructing Intermediate Level Workers Organizations: a Starting Point

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Proletarian Alternative, June 29, 2015

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This is in response to a question that is fortunately getting asked more often: what are some practical ideas for organizing working class struggle?

 

We’re far from where we need to be, and have a lot of work to do. Conditions are ripening; capitalism is in a major crisis, and everything that the capitalist class and its representatives do to try to fix it is making it worse. In this situation, an organized, combative working class could perhaps achieve significant gains. But unfortunately we aren’t yet able to take advantage of the enemy’s weakness.

 

During the past decades, the capitalist class has methodically assaulted the working class on all fronts. The result is that the working class has been utterly disorganized and is heavily ideologically dominated, unable today to offer an autonomous alternative. As one worker recently put it, most workers “don’t even understand they are a class [with their own interests antagonistic to capital]; they’re caught up in the politics of democrats vs. republicans.” Most of what the masses are led to believe will make a difference, is confined within the capitalist framework.

 

In addition, in the US especially, the working class has been severed from its history of struggle. There is a generation gap—workers today have grown up without a frame of reference, without concepts of class autonomy, class solidarity and unity, class interests, or any experience of organizing to fight for these interests. Workers have been pitted against one another to compete for jobs (instead of blaming capitalism for unemployment), and have been conditioned to passively rely on establishment unions to wage their battles in their stead (such as they do), and to reluctantly accept the inevitability of being sold out by them over and over again. This is viewed as “the way things are,” or “the best we can do,” or “it could be worse.”

 

So, in the US and many other places, to various degrees, we’re starting basically from scratch. Proletarian (working class) militants need to affirm and reclaim the history of working class struggle, take our place in the continuity of that struggle, and organize to fight for our class interests. We are not “activists” who engage in endless activities that lead nowhere just to feel good about “doing something” (and who are often paid to draw others into this useless cycle). In contrast, militants act from our conscience, with a goal, and a strategy to achieve that goal.

 

In our practice, no matter how limited or embryonic, we are always learning. We need to be constantly sharing our experiences and our analysis so we can learn from each other. What follows are a few brief thoughts based on some experiences from different areas. We seek feedback from other militants in the form of constructive critique, insights from additional experiences, creative responses to different situations, and deeper analysis.

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A few reflections on a brief history of New Direction Caucus in NYC Transit (1980’s – 2005)

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by Kiki Makandal

(January 23, 2015)

First, it’s important to note that I was not a NYC transit worker, nor was I a member of New Directions. These are mainly reflections of what I remember on observations and conversations I have had with different New Direction members over the years, coming from my interactions with them in the course of various labor solidarity actions in NYC while New Directions was in struggle and after it eventually dissolved. Please bear in mind that there may be some factual inaccuracies.

New Directions came about as a result of a confluence of factors:

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Notes on Class Analysis

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by Jan Makandal

“The proletariat, the modern working class, developed – a class of laborers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital. These laborers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.”
(Communist Manifesto, Marx & Engels)

The question of classes is one area of historical materialism that has not been developed. This has created confusion, and sometimes very erroneous political lines, in particular populism. Mao made some very important contributions to the concept of classes, but these were very limited due to his own populism and opportunism.
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