Thanks for your thoughtful reply.
> There is a separate Yahoo group dedicated to discussing SWP issues. The
> specifics of the SWP's degeneration into one of the more bizarre workerist
> sects are considered off-topic here, and if Haines wants to dig into it, he
> should look into that group.
I definitely don't want to dig into it (no interest). My question was
only meant to flesh out the general issue.
> But, briefly, on "workerism" as a generalized political phenomenon on the
> left, it includes things like denigrating various social movements because
> they aren't real "workers" movements; centering all your efforts in unions
> and neglecting/abstaining from political struggles, glorification of
> economic struggles as the "real" class struggle and so on.
> Many will not agree, but I consider attempts to interpret various social
> struggles solely in CLASS terms as a form of workerism, though I think class
> reductionism is a better term.
I would argue on the contrary that seeing things in terms of class is
not at all a reductionism, but that is a different topic. So let me
just say that the validity of your point depends on what what we man
by "class". I fear that you may assume an empiricist definition of
class rather than a Marxist "relation of production".
> The issue is a big one on the U.S. Left because, although Marxist
> analysis says the working class is the only revolutionary class and
> the only class with the social power to change society and so on,
> the plain, unvarnished truth is that however much those statements
> may be true on a world-historic scale, they are not true in any
> practical political sense in the United States TODAY and have not
> been true since the 1940's.
An an empirical observation, perhaps true. But it is not a good idea
to base generalizations on an empirical description. I'd object that
the US working class does not live in a vacuum, but is capable of
development only to the extent it sees itself as part of the
international working class. Secondly, I'd object that if things were
really hopeless for the US working class, then we should all take our
marbles and go home, wishing all those with a direct interest in a
particular struggle the best of luck. Third, to say or hint that the
US working class has no revolutionary potential is a prediction of the
future that becomes self-fulfilling. As long as there is any hope that
it could at some future date become more revolutionary, that should be
on our agenda. Incidentally, I don't entirely agree with your
assessment of the US working class because I fear it may presume an
economist notion of class struggle (but, again, that's another issue I
don't want to explore here).
> This means that there is a much bigger problem that workerism is
> just a symptom of. Marxism is supposed to be the conscious
> expression of an actual movement going on before our very eyes, but
> THAT movement, at least in THIS historic period in THIS country,
> does not exist. There is no "class for itself" movement of the
> workers as a class, and even the union movement and economic
> struggles over wages and working conditions, which Marx and Engels
> viewed as the PRECURSOR of the actual class-political struggle of
> the workers, has retrogressed many decades. And even such unions as
> exist today by and large do not function as workers organizations,
> but rather as businesses that workers pay to handle negotiations
> with the employers, sort of a poor man's version of a Hollywood
My objection here is that what you say may imply the lack of
contradictions under capitalism. That is, a contradiction implies that
of necessity the working class acquires ever greater capacities for
action (I'm not saying the subjective intention), and there are ever
mounting unmet needs. Under present circumstances in many places, that
might seem a difficult thesis to justify, but I'm working on it and
won't bore you with details. Let me just say that if properly
understood, the capitalist system necessarily gives rise to ever
greater revolutionary potentials, and, if so, one can never conclude
that the US working class lacks revolutionary potential.
> Those facts and many others point to a central conclusion:
> U.S. imperialism has been able to use its superprofits from its
> world domination to "bribe" its own working class with concessions
> to the point where "Americanism" has overwhelmed class consciousness
> and the latter REALLY exists to a significant degree, as a rule,
> only among the minority of workers who are also nationally
You are saying, if I may parse it, that capitalist culture
(nationalism, imperialism, "Americanism") has successfully discouraged
the development of class consciousness in the US. If I understood
correctly, I'd tend to agree. However, class consciousness arises from
experiencing contradictory objective conditions, and since I assume
those conditions are indeed contradictory, the tension between class
consciousness and "Americanism" always exists and so offers a critical
juncture at which to direct action. On the other hand, if your
"overwhelmed" means that capitalist culture removes the basis for
class consciousness, then I'd have to disagree.
> I think we can safely say that talk of a classical workers
> revolution in the main imperialist countries while these sorts of
> conditions prevail, while the capitalists retain their ability to
> "bribe" much/most of the working class within the imperialist
> country, is just hot air.
> In this sense, I would say pretty much the ENTIRE Marxist left in
> the United States suffers from workerism to at least some
> significant degree.
Well, I'd agree to the extent that as long as imperialism succeeds,
the development of class consciousness in the US is more
difficult. However, I'd argue that a) US imperialism is contradictory,
and so not only is its success but temporary, but I believe that its
end is nearly upon us, and b) that while imperialism has paid for
various social programs that limit the deleterious impact of
capitalism, this should not be seen in narrowly economistic
terms. That is, the US is (to put it in very general terms rather than
belabor the point) a "sick" society; a lot just doesn't work well, and
a lot does not work at all. The ways in which it does not work
impinges in tangible ways upon working class consciousness, although
often not in ways that the left would like to see.
Let me turn now to your useful catalog of what "workerism" entails,
which you did not entirely elaborate in your message.
> ... it includes things like denigrating various social movements
> because they aren't real "workers" movements;
I don't know if "denigrating" is the right word, so I suppose we could
put the question as: do various reform efforts that are associated
with the bourgeoisie (not just petite) have any relevance for the
working class? The obvious answer is yes. The working class is broadly
aware of these efforts, sometimes taking them seriously and sometimes
not. Such efforts are usually dismissed by the working class as
irrelevant when the issues are not relevant to its needs. When a
reform effort is in fact irrelevant to the working class (if such
exists), I could see that the effort might be dismissed as petite
bourgeois, etc., which seems a fair characterization. However,
objectively speaking, these efforts may all deepen capitalist
contradictions, in which case they are welcome. So I suspect your
accusation might be inaccurate.
> centering all your efforts in unions and neglecting/abstaining from
> political struggles,
Again, I don't know that this is accurate. I've never been in a union
or sat on a central labor body that was indifferent to politics. Yes,
there are some people who focus on the economic struggle, and others
who prefer the political issues, but that's only natural. Naturally,
the economic struggle is one's most pressing concern. Most people
understand that economic struggles often need community support, must
be undertaken in light of globalization, and that one ignores labor
outside the country only at one's peril. We can't take a certain
indifference to radical politics to be an indifference to politics per
se. Also, we can't take the AFL-CIO as a reflection of what unions in
To expect the average person to mount the barricades just because
someone suggests it will result in the transformation of society, is
naive. To suggest that one should mount the barricades even before one
has experienced political successes on reform issues is to invite
However, what you offer does seem a characteristic of workerism. The
issue is, where does such workerism exist?
> glorification of economic struggles as the "real" class struggle and
> so on.
I'd argue (at tedious length) that the economic struggle is in some
sense indeed the real class struggle. That is, the economic struggle
creates the possibility for all other struggles, not that all
struggles must be over bread and butter issues.
You offered three criteria to define workerism. The context wasn't
whether or not US labor is workerist, but whether the US left is
workerist, and that context seems to have shifted in what you have to
say. After thinking about your criteria, I'm not sure they are
accurate characterizations of labor, and instead seem a
characterization of labor held by certain sectors of the left that is
highly vulnerable when inspected closely.
Haines Brown, KB1GRM