On the Autonomous Struggle of the Proletariat

by Jan Makandal
(July 14, 2010)

Ever since social agents in social formations became divided into social classes, these classes have always been in struggle. Capitalism/imperialism produces a class that has the historical capacity to struggle to bring an end to exploitation in any social formation. This class is the working class.

In the epoch of capitalism, the working class is the most revolutionary class in the history of humanity capable of ridding humanity of all forms of exploitation. The working class is the only class capable of bringing an end to exploitation, but not the only class capable of bringing radical changes in a society. Historically, besides the working class, no other classes have shown their capacity to bring an end to exploitation and domination.

The fundamental forces of capitalist societies are the capitalist class and the proletariat: The bourgeois class has the constructor of the capitalist society, has the dominant class; the working class has the destructor, the only social force capable to bring society to a new level. At each historical moment, a social class will show a capacity to bring society to a new level. In the period of imperialism and capitalist it is the working class.

One of the many lessons, we can learn from the revolutionary struggles of the working class and the popular masses in general, is the result of the lack or total non-existence of an autonomous presence of the most revolutionary classes who historically have the most interest in pursuing radical changes to the highest level. In Haiti, we can learn from the lack of autonomy of the slaves in their class alliance with the new feudal aristocracy of former slaves and mulattos in the Haitian rebel army; in Russia, the lack of autonomy of the proletariat with the radical petit bourgeoisie and the latter quickly taking ownership and control of that struggle; in China and Vietnam, in their own specificity, the non-presence of the working class. We can also learn from the inexperience of the working class in the Paris Commune. So in order to advance in our struggle against capitalism and imperialism two questions need to be addressed: the role of the working class and the autonomous presence of the working class.

In every historical moment there are social classes that demonstrate an objective capacity to bring humanity to another level through a revolutionary process. In most instances, these classes achieve their historical goals through alliances with others classes, under their leadership.The autonomous struggles of workers are struggles waged by workers at two levels: the democratic level and the revolutionary level. Not all struggles waged by workers are autonomous. The struggles wages by workers under the leadership of reactionary unions at the democratic levels are not autonomous. They are struggles waged by workers under the leadership of reactionary bourgeois organizations. Even, if in these struggles the autonomous element is present, dialectically dominated, in the final analysis, they are not autonomous. In the healthcare struggle in the US, the role of workers is quite limited and the working class is unable to offer autonomous demands and even struggle for an autonomous alternative to the one presented by a fraction of the bourgeoisie. The workers that are present in the Tea Party or at the base of the Democratic Party are workers taking class positions against their class interest under the leadership of different fractions of the Bourgeoisie. In Germany, workers in the fascist movement as well were not waging autonomous struggles and were against their own class interest. The struggle for the minimum wage was a mostly autonomous struggle of the American working class.

It is not only the working class that was and is capable of waging autonomous struggles. I think the American capitalist class did and still is waging autonomous struggles. The American capitalist class, contrarily to European capitalists, did not have to wage a prolonged 300-year struggle against feudalism. The American capitalist class, contrarily to their European counterparts, did not have to engage in class alliance to defeat colonialism. The two struggles waged by them were in most part against colonialism and addressing internal contradictions in the manner surplus value needed to be extracted. Capitalists that favored colonialism were severely repressed and driven to exile [Canada]. In their army, the masses were treated with cruelty. They showed no interest in the masses that took arms in favor of the capitalist revolution. The benefactors of the revolution were exclusively from the capitalist class as they were robbing the masses blind. Some appeared in front of the masses as patriots while maintaining close relations with England, the enemies of the revolution and were still largely remunerated. The American capitalist class, at the time, was a revolutionary class clearly understanding its class interest and objective and with a particularity exclusive to that class, its capacity to restructure and reproduce itself even in periods of deep crisis, while maintaining its traditional autonomy, built since 1776. G. Washington’s wealth was about $530,000 and he owned 15,000 acres of land. Ben Franklin was worth more than $150,000. Many patriots of the revolution became the richest MF in the land. The masses were faced with the most repressive conditions, sent to jail in places like the Newgate prison in Connecticut, even after they spilled their blood on the battlefields to defend that bourgeoisie. The popular masses were unable to offer an autonomous alternative to relentless attacks of the bourgeoisie in its demagoguery that all men are created equal.

Nowadays, if all our demagogues, our petit bourgeois democrats and our reformists/populists had learned from the practice of the American capitalist class, they would bury once and for all the notions of supporting a lesser evil as a viable alternative. Now we have our Clinton, our Bush and our Obama [some lesser evil] accumulating fortunes with/for the bourgeois class and at the same following the traditions of their forefathers giving nothing, not even crumbs… to the popular masses. We have the same autonomist tradition during the Vietnam War. African-Americans were sent to defend bourgeois democracy and at the same denied the same basic rights they supposedly went to spill their blood for.

Workers wage autonomous working class struggles independently and autonomously from the bourgeoisie, addressing their interests at the democratic level and at the revolutionary level. Examples of autonomous popular struggles are struggle wage by the popular masses from the interest of the working class. The student’s movement of the sixties carried some autonomous elements while the American working class took a class position antagonistic to its own. The anti-war movement is not an autonomous movement since class interests are not defined. An anti-imperialist movement is objectively an autonomous movement in the interest of the working class. An anti-imperialist movement will address domination, sweatshops and the struggle of workers in sweatshop against multi nationals. An Anti imperialist struggles are struggle wage at the democratic level to build unity and expose domination of one social formation to other social formations whether for political purpose or economical purposes.

The autonomous struggle of workers and popular masses are struggles to better their life conditions under capitalism and struggles to rid society of capitalism. The role of the proletarian revolutionary militant is necessary to break the political and ideological domination on the working class and the popular masses. Bourgeois and petit bourgeois ideologues are doing their utmost best to convince the masses, especially the workers that they are not owners of their destiny. Sometimes they even try to convince workers and the masses of their incapacity to own their future based on the pigmentation of their skin color. The final objective of this reactionary propaganda is simply to prevent workers and the masses from realizing their interests and to organize for these types of ideas to transform them into realities. This is totally normal, they attempt to influence and deviate us from our objectives. If workers are realizing their interests, it simply means bourgeois domination will no longer be the democracy of the land. No more capitalist exploitation. There is a battle and a war to know which ideas are going to shape our future. If we remain dominated by their ideas, they will dominate our future. If we choose to remain autonomous and independent of their ideas, meaning struggling against their ideas at the same building our own, we are defining our path, our autonomy, we are on the path to realize our future.


Many other classes attempted to fight domination and exploitation. Although they fought against exploitation, their understanding of exploitation was very limited. In many cases, some didn’t see capitalism as a social form of organization, permitting a society to reproduce itself. In other cases, this revolutionary struggle was led by classes incapable of conceiving any other form of social organization. The only class that has proven to be capable of such a historical task is the working class because of its relations to productions in general. Not all workers understand this absolute relative truth.

Many reasons explain why not all workers understand this. Even if instinctively they understand it to be true, the objective reality is quite complex and goes beyond our instinct and requires deep analysis and the use of scientific proletarian theoretical concepts to give a scientific interpretation to that complex reality. In many cases, the workers don’t have these tools, and they are not yet involved in struggles allowing them to develop and appropriate these tools. Others reason also explain the incapacity of workers to actively participate in constructing their own theory to defeat capitalism, in particular, the influence of other classes on them. In order for the bourgeois class to maintain its domination, they use repression, and they use ideological/political influence on how workers think, act and on the attitude of the class on how it sees life and the solution for life’s problems. We spontaneously tend to address our problems collectively. As a result most workers will yield the leadership of their struggle to other classes, mainly the petit bourgeoisie.. This results in negative influences. The workers, in order to surpass these negatives influences, must construct their own organizations at all levels, even if it takes longer for the revolutionary process to achieve maturity.

Besides these negative influences, the struggles of the workers are still on going, some are more advanced than others in the same social formation or in different social formations, but none of them are on the verge of addressing a people’s power under the leadership of the working class. The influence of bourgeois reactionary ideology is pretty strong among the American proletariat. Even their democratic struggles, workers are totally dominated by reactionary organizations such as organized labor. Popular democratic struggles are reduced to issue oriented struggles and are led by non-political organization such as NGO’s. The left is totally engulfed in opportunism/reformism. It is totally incapacitated to correctly respond to the onslaught of bourgeois ideological domination on the working class and the masses in general. We are just reacting to capitalism, not defining struggles against capitalism.

The anti immigrant law in Arizona just passed. In Alabama the candidate for governor is asking anyone who doesn’t speak English to move out the State. The response is racism and the fight against racism and if these fights are stripped out of their anti-domination anti-exploitation content in order to unify all that can be unified, it leads objectively to reformism and economism. If the response to this political attack is boycotting Arizona, it is a plan that is a no plan. In the final analysis, it is a struggle being waged from a non-proletarian interest, in plain scientific term, not in the long-term interest of the proletariat. The real issue of the capitalist class in a period of crisis is how surplus value is to be produced and accumulated. There is an objective tendency of polarization of inter-capitalist class struggle in the American social formation. This polarization is totally secondary to the contradiction of the masses to the capitalist class as a block. It is a polarization very important at the time. It is a polarization that is objectively pushing inter-capitalist contradictions to become antagonistic even if they remain secondary in relation to the fundamental contradiction of the masses to capitalism. The principal aspect of this polarization is to shake the bourgeois democratic structure and to offer antagonistic solutions to resolve this contradiction. This is not simply an anti-immigrant law. It is a law aiming to further reactionary ultra-nationalist objectives and to rally sectors of the masses, creating a social base for their ultra-nationalism. Now, to simply wage a struggle on anti-immigrant law is to reduce this struggle to reformism. Furthermore, this law aims to divide the masses in order to maintain domination in a period of crisis. Our reformist orientation, however noble and humanitarian it looks in theory, is contributing to creating more division amongst the masses. Our task is to oppose capitalism and the evil of capitalism. Our task is to place these measures in the periods of crisis of capitalism. We needs to expose ultra-nationalism, we need to show the migration process is due to not only the failure of imperialism but also to the failure of capitalism in the social formations dominated by capitalism. We need unmask the false promises of the ultra-nationalist bourgeois propaganda that the protection of the US border will create jobs for workers. We need to remind workers that it is the same bourgeoisie that abandoned them in search of more profits that is now rallying workers to again bail them out, to scapegoat immigrants while implementing a neo-liberal agenda that is wholly anti-worker, wholly pro-capitalist. We need agitate among immigrants that their best salvation is to support and coordinate anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggles in their social formation of origin. This is a political line that carries the elements of an autonomous struggle and is independent from the bourgeoisie. We need to engage in these struggles without opportunism and populism and understand where we are and define political practice to continuously advance from where we are to a higher level of struggle, to radically militate to break the influence of the bourgeoisie on the masses, especially the working class.

The autonomous struggle of workers is struggle waged by the working class and its organizations to achieve its class objectives through organizations that constructed and deeply rooted in the working class. Most of all, the autonomous struggles of the working class are struggles waged by the workers to achieve their democratic objectives and their fundamental objectives without opportunism/populism or class collaboration.
The autonomous struggle of workers is the struggles waged by workers to unify all the dominated classes to defeat capitalism, under their leadership, free from the bourgeois influence.


The masses need to build their own organizations controlled by them. The working class needs to recognize that at the trade union level organized labor is no longer a working class organization. To retake control of these organizations is useless. Structurally, they are bourgeois organizations with rank and file workers. These trade unions are mostly playing a pre-emptive repressive role in order to keep workers disorganized. To struggle to regain control of these organizations is to fail to understand that the structure of these organizations is capitalist, and to that the struggle to retake control of them will easily be recuperated by these same structures. We need to understand the internal contradiction of organized labor, their need to maintain a rank and file, the capitalist interest to maintain their working class membership without changing their capitalistic nature. The working class needs to build autonomous organizations, while using existing bourgeois structures till our autonomous organizations are viable alternatives.

We also need to construct an autonomous working class movement addressing all political issues regarding the interest of the working class. We also need to build the revolutionary organization of the working class. At the same time being very active in the construction of the democratic mass movement of the working class and the popular masses.

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