The Workplace Papers

The Workplace Papers

  From the Sojourner Truth Organization 

workplacepapers.jpg picture by adam_freedom

 

  The Workplace Papers are a collection of articles and reflection pieces assembled by members of the Sojourner Truth Organization involved in workplace struggles during the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Although coming out of the new communist milieu of the early 1970’s, the organization took up a number of unorthodox and critical positions around race, workplace organizing and revolutionary organization that have today become influential discussion points among those those on the left influenced by anarchism and by some members of the radical IWW union. 

  With the Workplace Papers (click the graphic above to open a pdf) STO took a position similar to the early IWW of building independent worker organization and rejected the approach held by most of those on the left of  reforming existing unions. While ultimately unable to build any form of permanent organization, their members published workplace bulletins and were influential in contributing to a number of wildcat strikes and short lived committees in various factories and meat packing plants around Chicago. Well worth the read are there reflective discussions of worker consciousness and organizing around workplace issues, as they are one of the few revolutionary groups during this time (and sadly still to this day) to understand and take up Antonio Gramsci’s ideas of dual consciousness.

  Another gem to be found in the Papers is the piece, “A Golden Bridge: A New Look at William F. Foster, the Great Steel Strike and the ‘Boring-From-Within’ Controversy” by Noel Ignatin. William Foster was a labor organizer and anarchist who started with the IWW during the early 1910’s until he became convinced that labor radicals should leave independent structures such as the IWW and seek to “bore from within” and revolutionize the mainstream, conservative unions. Failing to convince more than a handful, he left the IWW to apply his own strategy and became an organizer with reactionary AFL craft unions in attempting to organize the meat packing and steel industry in Chicago. Following this, Foster published several accounts of his organizing efforts and joined the US Communist Party, becoming an influential leader and later seen as upholding the ‘golden era’ of CP influence in labor unions. Most of the new left communist organizations as well as the Trotskyist tradition, despite their critical views of the CP, still uphold this golden era as well. Ignatin breaks this legacy down around race and its actual accomplishments, offering a critical and revisionist look at the legacy of Foster and the ‘boring-from-within’ strategy.

  Background on STO: If you would to learn more about the organization and the discussions their legacy is still creating, I recommend checking out  the blog STO: Notes Towards A History and this digital archive of their pamphlets and writings (where you can find the Workplace Papers article in text form). Both are maintained by Michael Staudenmaier, who is working on a book around the group’s history and legacy. Here is a snippet from his writing posted in the STO Wikipedia entry:

The Sojourner Truth Organization was founded in Chicago at the end of 1969, partly by people who had been involved with the Revolutionary Youth Movement II faction of the recently crumbled Students for a Democratic Society. The group largely turned its back on the student milieu, and instead focused its efforts on what has been variously called “industrial concentration” or “(point of) production work.” This focus dominated the group’s first several years, until the mid-1970’s. During this time, the bulk of the membership (close to 50 people at some points) was employed full-time in a variety of factories throughout the Chicago area. In this context, the group agitated for what it called mass revolutionary independent workers’ organizations, built alliances with black and Latino revolutionaries in workplaces, and struggled around a variety of campaigns that reflected the group’s strategic orientation of placing the struggle against white supremacy front and center. Since STO was the first post-new left group in Chicago to emphasize production work, it was able to tap into and relate to a strikingly broad range of workplace struggles, wildcat strikes, and independent organizing efforts. Some of the best stories told by former members focus on these experiences. Still, the failure to build any sort of lasting momentum (much less a mass organization) caused STO to reflect critically on the limitations of industrial concentration as the group had practiced it throughout the early 1970’s.

“Insurgent Worker” Newletter, July 1973 iw4coversml.jpg picture by adam_freedom

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A Short Road to Nowhere for the Left

on the long road to my education by iDanSimpson.

A Short Road to Nowhere for the Left

  Speaking of the old new left- “The Bumpy Road Ahead: New Tasks of the Left Following Obama’s Victory” is a strategy and analysis piece circulated by folks who do believe the state/electoral alliances/politics can be a vehicle for change leading to revolution. The piece is by ex-SDS leader Carl Davidson, who is now a figure in the anti-war group, United for Peace and Justice, and an alliance of pro-Obama progressives and radicals aptly named Progressives for Obama.  The analysis is well worth the read, but the strategy is something completely different. A few points I would agree with, but it is by and large a trip down a well beaten path I think many would be wise not to repeat.  

  Problematic is the idea of the left supporting the “green industrial-education policy sector” of capitalism, represented by Obama, against its rival “old hydrocarbon-military-industrial sector,” represented by the McCain and Bush camp. I don’t think the left has a dog in this race any more than the left should support Apple computers versus Microsoft in the antitrust lawsuit brought against the later. It smells too much like the Marxist parties of Latin America who backed capitalist governments pushing industrialization (to the ruin of peasant farmers) against the ‘feudal’ land holders. Shameful though are the attacks on anti-electoral left and those justifiably skeptical of involvement in electoral politics and coalitions as “adding fuel to the fascist fires”- not too far off from the US Communist Party attacking those further to the left as “social fascists.” Worthy of a longer response.

Article Reposts: A New Old Left and the Left States of Latin America

Everybody Wants A New Old Left

By Elliot Liu, http://www.linesblog.com/

Left_1.jpg picture by adam_freedom

A response piece by Elliott Liu of APOC-NYC to two proposals for new directions, along with cohesion and regroupment among the socialist left. The first piece, Which Way Is Left is by Freedom Road Socialist Organization, a nationwide soft/post-Maoist group formed during the 1980’s with the merger of several New Communist Movement remnants. The second, Manifesto For A Left Turn, was put together by a collection of professors from the east coast including Stanley Aronowitz and Rick Wolff. This piece makes me look back on my own attempt to respond to the resurgence of party building attempts in the left, which can be found here and is sorely in need of a re-write.

While I have major differences with the proposals put forward in Which Way and Manifesto, I know [the] anti-authoritarian movement in the U.S. has a long way to go before it can demonstrate that building struggle from below is more effective than strategies that rely on parties and the state. To critique the latter approach carries with it an implicit challenge: to build new kinds of horizontal power, capable of meeting people’s needs while outmaneuvering or outfighting the state form. We have our work cut out for us.

Everybodywantsanewleft.gif picture by adam_freedom

 

Lessons Learned: Latin American Left Has Much to Teach Obama Supporters

Written by Daniel Denvir
January 2009, The Indypendent

ObamandLA.jpg picture by adam_freedomAn interesting, but sadly all too brief overview on the election of left-wing governments across Latin America and their relationship with social movements. Raises interesting parallels and questions about the relationship between Obama and left social movements in the US.

In this context of ambiguous electoral victories, movements throughout the hemisphere have come to the conclusion that despite the importance of electing and defending progressive governments, real change cannot come without struggles in the workplaces, schools and streets. Workers making windows and doors in Chicago and landless farmers occupying oligarchs’ landholdings in Brazil and Bolivia legislate their own reality. While social movements in the U.S. should fight to hold Obama accountable for his business friendly tendencies, we must also fight to transform the political landscape from below. After all, it was the massive social movements of the 1930s and not the president’s ideological disposition that pushed FDR to enact his New Deal reforms. But an “inside-outside strategy” holds both promise and pitfalls, as movements navigate the blurry line between critical engagement and cheerleading. As Uruguayan writer Raúl Zibechi writes, “In love as in cooptation, you need two.” The same goes for social change.

Lenin, Wallerstein and Understanding Imperialism

Leninsweepsup.jpg picture by adam_freedom

Lenin cleans house, but I think he missed a spot

 

 

Rough Draft

  What is the best way to understand what we call imperialism, which is basically the economic and political relationship between the first and third world? Lenin has been the main starting point around this question for most on the revolutionary left. Are there basic problems with the understanding of imperialism that derives from Lenin? I think so.

 

  Below Wallerstein describes the centrality of unequal exchange to capitalism as a system, which is the process of how profits are reaped from the third world (which he calls the periphery zones within the capitalist world economy) and the western or first world nations (which he terms the core zones). First are several points that I think are worth highlighting based on how Wallerstein explains this process and which are in contrast with the much of the left’s understanding of imperialism as it is derived from Lenin.

 

Feedback is welcome.

 

a)      Capitalism has always been an international system and as much so today as it was in the sixteenth century.

b)      Capitalism as a system has always been based on the relationship of core and periphery regions in the world whereby through the process of unequal exchange surplus flows from periphery to core regions.

c)      As production processes move down a hierarchy of processes they move from core to periphery regions.

d)      Core regions use their accumulated capital to build strong states and ensure that states in periphery area remain or become weak and therefore compliant in accepting the relationship of unequal exchange.

e)      There are no stages of capitalism whereby capitalism as a system moves from a presumed more localized, peaceful and competitive phase to a more international, militaristic and monopoly based phase, which what Lenin asserted in his writings on imperialism, which he called the ‘highest stage of capitalism.’

f)        While Lenin’s analysis is useful to explain the political moment that faced the world at the early twentieth century, it does not explain well the system of capitalism as it has existed historically.

g)      Lenin’s analysis of imperialism, which is focused on economics and how the imperialist states must use violence in colonization and will eventually resort to war in competition between each other over colonial spoils, offers a weak explanation of how imperialist and colonial states relates to one another.

 

LeninChillaxin.jpg picture by adam_freedom

 

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