AN OUTLINE HISTORY OF THE WORKERS' MOVEMENT
The labor movement has evolved over the past two centuries through a series of upsurges and ebbs, and its institutions, the embodiment of much of that history have played and continue to play a huge role in the ability of labor to define its interests. Without institutions such as the trade unions, that have been built up by previous struggle, labor would be powerless. But these same institutions often act to prevent effective response in new situations. Many of the crucial issues facing today's global labor movement -- effective internal democracy, the development of independent political parties, the tendency of leadership to drift away from labor's interests to those of capital, the bureaucratizing and ossification of labor's institutions -- have arisen many times before in labor's long struggles. To understand these issues today, we must understand how they have arisen in the past and how that history affects today's movement. For the labor movement, too, those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.
THE DYNAMIC OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT
To those coming of age any time within the last 20 years, roughly those under 40 today, it sometimes appears that the labor movement has always been in retreat, and that the massive battles of the past are... history. Yet perhaps the most fundamental aspect of labor's history is that such ebbs are an inevitable part of the rhythm of the labor movement's evolution, and have always been followed by brief, intense periods of upsurge, and revolutionary activity. These ebbs and flow define the major period of labor history
The first period of general labor upsurge peaked in the European revolution of 1848, in which labor and socialist organizations first began to differentiate themselves from the broad movement for democracy, and to put forward a specifically working class program. The defeat of these revolutions led to a long ebb until around 1860. But another upsurge followed that decade leading in Europe to the founding of the International Workingmen's Association, the first international organization of labor, and eventually to the first attempt at working class rule, the Paris Commune in 1870. Again the defeat of the Commune led to a decade of retreat, which was again followed by an upsurge, this time stretching over an entire generation. From 1880 to 1905, the working class in Europe and North America organized itself into large union federations, founded powerful political parties (at least in Europe), created a Second International labor organization , now of mass based political parties, and won major gains in living standards and hours. This period peaked in a period of revolutionary activity, with the failed Russian revolution of 1905 and the growth of a radical labor wing in Europe and the US. An ebb followed as nationalism gripped Europe, the Second International collapsed and war shattered working class unity and organization. But in 1915 and 1916 the workers of Europe ,appalled by the carnage of Work War I and the greed that led to it, renewed their battle, leading to a gigantic global convulsion. In 1917 came the Russian Revolution, in 1918, revolution in Germany, in 1919 the threat of a general socialist revolution in Central Europe. The failure of these attempted socialist revolutions, outside of Russia, again paved the way for a long and deep retreat of the labor movement, leading to the near-collapse of the union movement in the US by the early thirties, the fall of Italy and then Germany to fascism and the smashing of the labor movement there and the huge privations of the Great Depression.
This ebb and flow did not stop in more recent times. The radicalization that led to the formation of the CIO in the 1930's in the US and strike waves France and Great Britain failed to breke the process leading towards the expansion of fascism and a new world war. Under the Nazi boot, European workers organizations were forced underground and millions of workers reduced to slavery. But workers became the core of the Resistance and the Partisan bands and with the defeat of fascism struggled to win the peace in a huge strike wave peaking in 1948. Another long ebb followed, with conservative rule in Europe and McCarthyism in the Unitd States. Finally, this time of apparent class peace was shattered by the radicalization of the 60's, leading tostrike waves throughout the world, capped by the French General Strike in 1968 and the Italian Hot Autumn the following year.
So, the 20-year long ebb from the early seventies to '92 was by no means a unique event in the history of labor, nor, as the media would have it, a symptom of the obsolescence or near-dead state of the labor movement. However, the latest ebb has been exceptional in its length, stretching out nearly twice as long as the ebbs of early periods. Thus a much larger fraction of the working population has had no personal experience with a period of labor activism.
SOCIALISM VS REFORMISM
The present period of labor resurgence shares with earlier such periods in this century the same basic problem. : how can the political and economic power of capital be broken, how can the key economic decision pass from the hands of a tiny group of capitalists to those of millions of organized workers. ? As we saw in the last chapter, anything but temporary concessions within the context of capitalist power are impossible today, and this situation has occurred repeatedly during the present century. Several times before, huge workers movement shook capital, but each time fell back, often having exacted major temporary concessions, often having strengthened their own organizations, but each time without fundamentally weakening capital's political rule. And each time, workers suffered the consequences of this continued rule in the disaster of World War I, the Depression, the rise of Fascism, the Second world War , and the current decades-long decline in living standards.
Curiously, each time these labor offensive were defeated or limited not primarily by the power of capitalist institutions, armies, laws and governments, but primarily by the leaders of the workers' own organizations and institutions. Again and again organizations formed out of the labor struggle have moved to accommodate to the existing structures of capitalist society, and to try to defend the workers interest within that structure. While at at times, this reformism has presided over periods of advance for workers, when conditions change, reformist gains become impossible and the problem of who holds power, who runs the economy, comes to the fore in stormy periods of labor upsurge. In such periods, reformist institutions, ideology and leaders have crippled the workers movement and prevented any successful challenge to capital.
This conflict between the socialist-revolutionary and reformist tendencies within the labor movement is central both to its history and to understanding the present situation where these issues are again on the agenda. The extent of working class defeat or victories both then and now are tied up with this central conflict. To understand how earlier movements won or lost, this conflict and its dynamics must be understood.
Both socialism-- the movement to overturn capitalism--, and reformism-- the effort to win concessions within the limits of capitalism --have their origins in the very beginnings of the labor movement and have always been integral to it. The labor movement arose in Europe and the United States in the early years of the 19th century out of three streams. First, as industrialization began to develop, especially in England, initially illegal associations of workers in a given trade began to form the first unions to fight for better wages and hours. At the same time, during the period 1815 through the 1830's working people were drawn repeatedly into mass democratic movements, that attempted to gain again, especially in England and France, basic democratic rights, such as universal suffrage and the abolition of the privileges of nobility. The third source of the labor movement was the various socialist groupings that came into existence in the period from 1830 to 1848. These groups began to formulate programs that attacked not only specific capitalist policies, but the entire capitalist system, and proposed replacing it with some form of collective ownership -- either cooperatives of workers, as with Robert Owen, or later through democratic control over state-owned, nationalized industry, as with Marx and Engels.
These three trends --consisting of labor unionists, democratic revolutionaries and socialists -- merged in the 1830's and 40's to form broad organizations and to take part in a series of revolutionary movements in nearly every country in Europe, culminating in the widespread revolutions of 1848, which attempted unsuccessfully to found democratic republics in Continental Europe.. At the same time, these organizations increasingly began to formulate independent working class political goals, organized to unite the entire working class independently of the employers and increasingly raised the issue of public ownership of industry.
The revolutions of 1848 were defeated in their democratic aims, but they sufficiently swept away feudal barriers to trade to pave the way for a huge expansion of capitalist industry throughout Europe. With the passing of the long economic crisis of the preceding decades, and with the defeat of '48, the embryonic working class organizations, for the most part, disappeared. The early movement had been, of necessity, limited, since in most all countries other than England the industrial working class had not yet come into existence, or was just beginning to do so, and the vast majority of workers were artisans or laborers in small shops.
What was left behind, however, was the general ideas raised by these movements, and the residue of expanded trade union activity. In particular, the socialist ideas put forward by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto had widespread echoes. They argued that the conflict between labor and capital was inevitable, that capitalism itself, while capable of enormously developing society and the force of production, would in the end, reach its limits and begin to hold social development back. At that point, they wrote, only the working class could push society forward by assuming its direction. They emphasized the absolute need for the unity of the entire working class, irrespective of nationality.
The program they put forward became the core of working class demands and remains completely relevant today: nationalization of finance, land, communications and transportation; extension of state owned factories; a heavy progressive income tax; free education; abolition of child labor. (Significantly, in light of later developments, the Communist Manifesto did not advocate the nationalization of all industry, as Marx and Engels were well aware that small scale production could not be efficiently run by a state, only centralized, large scale production.)
Marx and Engels completely overestimated the pace at which capital would exhaust itself . But their early work established the basis for independent working class movement with a program that advocated a fundamental transformation of society.
With the growth of capitalist industry in the next fifteen years, and the spread of large factories to the Continent, trade union organizations, generally with narrow economic goals, grew considerably. For the first time, the working class was establishing strong, numerous and above all, permanent organizations, which could weather temporary defeats without dissolving. The expansion of industry rapidly exhausted reserves of rural labor, and the price of labor, reinforced by the trade unions, began to rise. Capitalism spread throughout the world through imperialism, the enormous growth of the world market in these years meant that capitalists had the money to increase wages, while increasing profits at the same time.
Out of this situation emerged a growing reformist ideology among trade unionists, especially among the trade union leaders, a counter-weight to revolutionary socialism. A radical transformation of society was not needed, they argued, for the continual improvement of the workers' lot -- just steady, prudent trade union organizing. Especially in England, but not only there, a form of apolitical business unionism began to take root. At the same time, with few internal political issues, workers' interests in the unions' functions declined, and with that came an inevitable bureaucratization of the unions -- professional, fully paid union leaders inherited all decision-making owners by default.
But this placid decade was ended by the outbreak in the United States of the Civil War. The largest industry in England and one of the largest generally, was textile, and that fed in large part off the South's cotton. With the Union blockade, a general crisis began to develop not only in the textile industry, but in the European economies generally. The English government, siding with the Confederacy, attempted to mobilize working class opinion on the side of intervention in the Civil War -- in order to protect cotton supplies and thus English jobs. an enormous outcry for war with America resounded in the press. In response, a working class organization for peace and for the North rapidly grew up. A decade of relative prosperity was not enough to convince the English worker that slavery was in his or her interest. The economic crisis was now combined with a rapid politicization of English, and later European workers, being drawn into the broad struggle of free labor against slave labor.
By 1864, the growth of the Italian movement for independence and national unity and the Polish insurrection against Russian rule led to a further expansion of links among European workers. As strikes became more common, English and French workers started to contribute to each other's strike funds. There was growing concern about ways to stop the importation of scabs to break strikes. In September, 1864 the English trade unions appealed to the French and other organizations to form an international organization of working people, and at a meeting of 2,000 people in London, the International Workingmen's Associations, later known as the First International, was founded. The International was intended to draw together all the organizations of the working class, irrespective of their political doctrine. Marx, long in exile in London, was asked to draw up the founding statement, and rapidly became the most active leader of the International. The International united reformist British trade unionists, socialists, Prohoudian anarchists from France, Lasalleans from Germany, and half a dozen other political currents. While the founding principles called upon the working class to "conquer political power" it laid down no concrete method as to how this could be done. Within the International there was to be free debate over the principles' strategy and tactic of the labor movement.
In the brief six years of its existence as a vital organization, the International had a profound impact on the working class movement. As strike activity picked up in the mid to late '60's, the International started to prove its value by interrupting the cross-border strike breaking traffic, informing potential recruits that they would be used as scabs. Many of the English trade unions participated, as did unions and political parties in France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, the United States, Spain and Portugal, among other countries. At a series of annual Congresses, the International debated and began to arrive at the outlines of a common program. In 1867, the International agreed to call for the nationalization of land, rail, mining and forestry. The ideas of Marx and Engels, that productive resources had to be in the hands of a democratically run state, began to gain over those of Proudhon, who wanted workers to own their individual factories. For the first time, working class organizations were trying to arrive at an alternative program to that of capital, not mere resistance to the demands of capital. And for the first time, the various contending political currents within the workers' organizations were debating together, and working together for agreed-on goals.
Equally important, the existence of the International meant that those struggling to start workers' parties in various countries could rely on the moral, although not material, support of the International and its network of adherents. The founding and growth of the German workers movement was substantially aided by the International. And yet, the International remained a small and in many ways embryonic organization. At its height, its income, mainly from the British trade unions, amounted to 50 pounds, the equivalent of less than $50,000 today. It had perhaps 50-100,000 individual members and perhaps similar numbers in affiliated trade unions and parties. In addition, its membership was heavily concentrated among craft workers, rather than workers in heavy industry, which was growing rapidly. But its ability to funnel concrete aid to strikes throughout Europe, and its emerging program, gave it a growing prestige as the symbol of working class unity.
The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 was a decisive challenge to the International. For the first time, an international organization sought to unify the working class in warring nations, first condemning the French for initiating the war, and then the Germans for annexing Alsace-Lorraine when they were victorious. Out of the French collapse came the desperate struggle of the Paris Commune, when for the first time in history, a section of the working class attempted to seize state power. The Commune was a democratically elected government, established by revolutionary workers and their supporters in Paris, with all delegates recallable at any time. Lasting only two months before it was crushed by the French army, the Commune did not have time to establish any clear economic or social policy.
The crushing of the Commune, with the wholesale massacre of thousands of workers ended the radical period of the 1860's. Although the International played no real immediate leadership role in the Commune, Marx's pamphlet praising the Commune as the first attempt at workers' power, issued by the International, identified the two in the minds of many workers. But the end of the period of labor upsurge brought about a rapid decline in the International's organization and it ceased to be a real force after 1870, formally dissolving a few years later.
Thus ended the first broad period in the organization of the labor movement. The legacy of the First International was not so much organizational, as educational. By the end of its existence, and through its work as an open and democratic forum for debate, the workers' movements in Europe were generally agreed on the goal. This was to be political power for parties of working people, a democratic state, controlled by the workers, with broad ownership over the most critical means of production. At the same time, the importance of an international organization of workers was agreed.
Thus the evolution of the labor movement during the whole first three quarter of the 19t century led to the hegemony of a socialist, revolutionary perspective--capitalism was not to be accommodated, but replaced.
THE SECOND INTERNATIONAL
AND THE RISE OF REFORMISM
The First International had led to the dominance of socialism within the labor movement. But it was the organizations of the Second International that became the permanent organizations of the working class, organizations that, in most cases still exist today. At the same time, the evolution of these first mass based working class parties laid the foundation of the reformism and bureaucratism that remains deep rooted in the labor movement.
The 1870's, 80's and 90's were a period of continued industrial growth in Europe and very rapid industrialization in the United States, although the pace of growth began to slow as early as 1880. The scale of industry developed to the point that by the turn of the century the working class had become the most numerous class in Europe and in the US. Spurred by the rapid growth of the working class, the lessening of competition from ever- new layers from the farms, and by the real possibilities for advance, trade unions multiplied and grew in strength through persistent battles with capital. In Germany trade union membership grew from 50,000 in 1875 to 300,000 in 1890 to 1.5 million by 1905. In the US, the period of the National Labor Union and the Knights of Labor merged into the massive battles of the eight hour day in 1886, and the pitched battles of the Homestead Steel Strike, where armed workers fought off the Pinkertons, before being defeated by the National Guard. In 1886, too, the American Federation of Labor was founded.
During the same period, in Europe, came the growth of mass-based Socialist parties, closely tied to the growing trade union movement. In 1875 the German Social Democratic Party(SPD) was founded , which, despite massive repression by Bismarck's government, managed to grow to a formidable force in the next decade. Strong socialist parties developed as well in Austria, Italy and France. By 1889, the socialist parties came together to found a Second International, a loose confederation of working class parties initially dedicated to standing against the rising tide of imperialist rivalries that would tear Europe apart a quarter century later.
During this thirty year period, real wages of workers generally rose quite steeply in both Europe and the US, despite interruptions by sharp depressions, and the hours of work gradually shortened, although the goal of an eight hour day was not achieved. This increase in wages was, in part, the product of the workers' own struggles. But with the growth of the world market it was possible for capital to yield concessions and at the same time increase profits. More, capitalists realized that without real wage concessions, improvements in education, workers would simply be unable to learn the skills needed by the development of new industrial technologies -- this was particularly true in the fastest growing industries of machine building.
However, this more or less continuous growth of wages, the growth of their own organizations, the seemingly steady advance of technology and living standards bred in the working class organizations, in their members, and especially in their leaders, the illusion that this pattern could continue indefinitely. The unions would grow, wages would increase, the party would grow. In these circumstances, the program of "minimum" demands, what would be fought for day-to-day, became the be-all. The "maximum" program, the goal of a socialist society, became more and more meaningless, something to be trotted out on labor holidays. The strength of the organization itself, the unions, the party, its treasury, became the measure of the success of the movement. Naturally, with this perspective, union leaders, paid by their organizations, became a bureaucracy, increasingly isolated from the rank and file and increasingly concerned with persevering the status-quo, even if this sometimes meant cutting deals with the employers. In parliament too, compromise with the ruling bourgeois parties for small gains seemed the most reasonable path. And with no major battles, the rank and file increasingly left the running of unions and party to the professionals.
On the European continent, this evolution towards cooperation with capital, and the concomitant bureaucratization of the workers' movement was somewhat covered up by the radical rhetoric displayed by SPD leader August Bebel and others. In the United States and Great Britain, where the imperial markets allowed greater concessions to workers, openly socialist parties did not even take root during the 19th century, and "business unionism" of the AFL variety was dominant. Sheer avoidance of risk, identification with the most conservative trends in the society, exclusion of outsiders -- such as the foreign speaking immigrants flooding into the US -- and dependence on the existing, capitalist dominated political parties was the rule. In the United States, in particular, the waves of immigrants tended to divide the working class along language lines, and many of the immigrants themselves were from the countryside and new to industry. The existence of the frontier drew off many of the most active and ambitious elements in the working class, who saw greater prospects for themselves as farmers and pioneers.
Thus this period bred adherence to reformism, and not just among the leadership of the labor movement. Ordinary workers, too were convinced that this was the method that "worked", that delivered the goods.
With the turn of the 20th century, the situation changed abruptly. As we saw in the preceding chapters, imperialism had succeeded in dividing up the entire world, and the American frontier had been settled. The growth of the world market ceased. Suddenly, capitalists were seeing a closed market, within which they had to contend with rival nationally based capitalists. To do this, they had to "cut costs" i.e. wages. From 1900 to 1914, real wages began to drop, declining about 10% in England and by similar amounts elsewhere.  In England, this was the first sustained drop in living standards since the hungry '40's and on the Continent, since the '60's. Forty to sixty years had elapsed since the working class had faced a situation in which employers were steadily gaining at their expense. By comparison, when real wages started to drop in the US in 1973, the last sustained drop had ended forty years earlier in the Depression (although there was a shorter period of decline in the immediate post-W.W.II years).
As the offensive of capital accelerated, trade union and Social Democratic party leaderships tried to preserve their organizations by adapting to the increased pressure from employers and capitalist society as a whole. Avoidance of risk meant dropping socialist goals, which risked isolating the movement, concentrating on limited trade union struggles, and, if necessary, prudently retreating on those. It meant moderating or abandoning the traditional socialist opposition to military and nationalism, trying to blend in with the dominant ideology.
In the face of increasing pressure from capital, these leaders advocated a strict adherence to law, the channeling of the trade union struggles into the narrow confines of individual battles of each union, an emphasis on the peaceful electoral struggle and above all, a growing cooperation between labor and capital wherever possible. Such was the policy of the leadership of the German Social Democratic Party, the strongest in Europe, and of those who founded the British Labour Party in 1908. The Labour Party, resting directly on the conservatism of the trade unions, came into being as an organization vaguely committed to a socialist future, but in day-to-day activities committed to collaboration and compromise with the forces of capital and their political parties.
Thus, in the period when reformist tactics, sticking to the rules of capitalism, failed to work, when it resulted in loses for the working class, not gains, the reformist bureaucracies began to become a gigantic drag on the movement. As the rank and file became disillusioned with the old ways, their own institutions prevented change.
NATIONALISM VS INTERNATIONALISM
Thus , by the time of World War I, the labor movement had given rise to two distinct traditions: the revolutionary socialist tradition of the first International and the reformism of the Second. One sought to overthrow capitalism, the other to accommodate with it. In the course of the 20th century, these two tendencies battled with each other in the course of this century. Repeatedly, new socialist organizations arose in opposition to failed reformist policies. But these organizations themselves evolved, as had the organizations of the Second International ,from actually socialist and revolutionary, to a sort of centrist advocacy of socialism in theory, while being reformist in practice; to an open embrace of reformism. The relentless pressure of capitalist society distorted the internal dynamics of the labor movement ,transforming its organizations from weapons in the hands of the workers to shackles around their feet. To a large extent, the bureaucratization of labor organizations and left groups under capitalist society is broadly inevitable. Organizations, to survive, must over the long run accommodate to the society within which they find themselves, and during periods where the class conflict is at an ebb, and rank and file participation wanes, bureaucracies form to fill the vacuum. The problem of the global labor movement during the 20th century has been how to cast aside these bureaucracies during times of sharp class conflict, when masses of workers become actively involved in the struggle, and form new organizations that can effectively challenge capital's rule.
In this general struggle between socialist and reformist polices, five issues have stood out as separating the two tendencies: internationalism vs. nationalism; internal democracy vs. bureaucratism; the mass strike vs. business unionism; political independence vs. alliance with capital and finally the question of labor's program and goals. We will briefly look at each of these questions in the light of labor's history. Each lies at the heart of labor's struggles today.
The First International had promulgated and practiced the idea that workers of all nations were each other's allies, that their opponent was capital, not the people of another nation. The Second International had echoed that idea in words, but the leadership had increasingly accommodated , in this as in other issues, to the pressures from capital. This evolution was in large part covered up by the centrist rhetoric and even in the days leading up to the outbreak of World War I, the socialist press on all sides resounded with denunciations of the militarists.
But when War was actually declared, first the German SPD, by then the largest party in the German parliament, and then the other socialist parties of the combatant countries, excepting only the Russians, fell in line and voted with their government for war, in most cases unanimously. This enormous betrayal of the idea of working class international unity, coupled in Germany with a pledge to suspend class struggle for "the duration", signified the collapse of the Second International and astounded huge numbers of workers and socialists. The leaderships had capitulated to capital and to the nationalist fervor it had whipped up. Yet this betrayal, on the surface so astounding, grew inevitably out of the steady adjustment of the organizational leaderships to capitalist society over the long period of growth, and during the last fifteen years of growing crisis. The organization was all -- and to preserve the organization, any dangerous baggage that would put the organization in jeopardy must be thrown overboard. To vote against the war, the socialist leaders knew would mean in all probability repression by the state at least temporary loss of popular support in the nationalist frenzy of war, risks that could not be taken. In fact, the policy of accommodation and capitulation posed the greatest risks of all to the workers' movement, as history, and future betrayals, would prove. The capitulation of the Second International ensured that the World War would initially be pursued without any fear of domestic opposition. It condemned millions of workers to death on the battlefield.
The World War split the socialist movement. In every country, a revolutionary , internationalist, faction began to organize against the war, and for a refounding of the workers' movement, which the leadership of the Second International had betrayed in backing the war. These factions met together in a series of international conferences, forming a loose network, despite significant differences among them.
They had their roots in the Second International's small left wing, which had emerged over the previous decade as an opposition to the rightward drift of the International's leadership In Germany, from the turn of the century on, Rosa Luxembourg stood forward as a lone voice, warning against the drift towards an accommodation with the employing class. In Russia, in 1903, Lenin led a split in the small Russian Social Democratic Party, forming the Bolshevik faction, which stood for a firm demarcation between the working class and bourgeois opponents of the Czarist regime. In the United States, the formation of the Socialist party in 1901 and the International Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905, started to split the American labor movement away from the conservative tactics and politics of the AFL.
In nearly every country, this left wing, battled against the main organizations of the working class, which supported the war, opposing the tide of nationalism that infected the working class and, the repression of the governments. Even by 1917, when war weariness had set in and the nationalist support for the war had evaporated, the labor left was organizationally weak nearly everywhere. There was imply too little time to build organizations from scratch. Internationalism seemed buried beneath the nationalist tide.
THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION AND THE THIRD INTERNATIONAL
THE ROLE OF INTERNAL DEMOCRACY
The exception was in Russia, where disgust with the war had merged with deep-seated opposition to Czarism and the worker's hopes for socialism, leading to the Russian Revolution in March, which overthrew Czarism. In the white-hot furnace of revolutionary Russia, the tiny Bolshevik party ,which had militantly defended internationalism throughout the war and called for the transformation of the imperialist war into a class war, gained a democratic majority in the workers' Soviets, and came to power in a second revolution in November..
The Bolshevik Party, later renamed the Communist Party, had suddenly risen from a tiny group of a few thousand members before the war, and only 20,000 at the beginning of the Russian Revolution, to the leaders of the first seizure of power by a working class movement. Unlike the tiny left organizations in Western Europe, which arose during the war itself, the Bolsheviks had existed as an organized party for fourteen years.. In addition, and most critically, the Bolsheviks faced no entrenched reformist workers organizations which had own workers loyalties over decades, as was true in the West. Since under Czarism socialist groups had been illegal and small, workers had few ties to reformist groups like the Mensheviks, and were won to Bolshevism in the course of 1917.
The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia triumphed under conditions that were very different from those existing in the West. Yet now the Bolshevik leaders were the leaders of a global socialist movement, and their ideas would do much to shape the course of labor history, and history in general, for the next 75 years. The enormous prestige of the Russian Revolution made it inevitable that workers seeking to battle the war and capital would look to the Russian leaders, Lenin and Trotsky, for guidance. Thus the focus of the workers' movement was shifted to a semi-developed nation where the working class was a small minority -- only a few percent --within a mainly peasant mass, a vast region very different from the heavily industrialized countries of Western Europe and North America.
The political outlook of Lenin and Trotsky, especially the former, was heavily influenced by the peculiarities of Russian history. The Russian Socialist Democratic Party (Bolsheviks) had emerged under conditions of nearly complete illegality and clandestine operation. In these circumstances, where the risks of political activity were very high, Lenin had developed the concept of a vanguard party, small groups of professional revolutionaries who would devote their lives to the cause. This was in sharp contrast to the concepts, shared by all factions in the West, of a mass-based workers' party with hundreds of thousands or millions of members, the vast majority full-time workers. Within this small party, Lenin laid great stress on party discipline, through the concept of democratic centralism. In such centralism, there would be democratic discussion up to the point of a decision, but after the decision, dissent would be expressed only inside, not outside. Thus dissent from a party decision in theory should be discussed only within the party, and, in the case of the central committee, central committee members were expected to support Central committee decision within the party as well, even if they disagreed with them, voicing their dissent only within the central committee. Lenin, looking at the more loosely organized Western Social Democratic party, interpreted their tendencies to opportunist collaboration with capital as a product of their looser organizations. Luxembourg, among others, pointed out that this was a serious misunderstanding on Lenin's part, that in fact opportunism went hand in hand with the growing strength of the party bureaucracy and the weakening of the party's internal democracy.
When the Russian party was suddenly transformed into a mass party in the course of the revolution and then the ruling party in a country torn by civil war and foreign intervention, Lenin's conception of centralized party was put to an extreme test. During the revolution, his ideas seemed brilliantly vindicated. The Bolshevik party, surging with new members fired in the heat of the revolution, contesting for power in the struggle within the democratically elected Soviets, had sufficient internal democracy to overcome the hesitance and disorientation of much of its leadership, like Zinoviev and Stalin, under the unremitting prodding of Lenin. Lenin indeed used the democratic process within the party to overcome resistance to his concept, originated earlier by Trotsky, that the Russian revolution could only succeed as a socialist revolution as the seizure of power by an alliance of workers and peasants. But after 1917, as the tide of civil war ebbed and flowed, Lenin and Trotsky increasingly relied on bureaucratic methods themselves to maintain the revolution. They set forward as a model for the West, and increasingly imposed upon Western revolutionaries, a highly centralized party where internal democracy was secondary to discipline, a formation that history showed was highly vulnerable to the growth of bureaucratism, indeed even more vulnerable than the parties of the Second International had been.
The Russian Revolutionaries expected that the World War would give rise to Socialist revolutions in the West. In November, 1918, the German empire, defeated militarily, collapsed in a revolutionary uprising. Workers and Soldiers Councils were formed, and the Socialist Democrats formed a government -- not to destroy, but to preserve capitalism. Luxembourg, Karl Leibneckt and others in the revolutionary left who had organized themselves as the Spartakus Bund during the war, emerged as the German Communist Party in December. They expected that the revolution would, as in Russia, turn from a political overthrow of the old regime to a socialist overthrow of capital. But this did not occur. The new German Communist Party, whose roots grew only during the war years, was organizationally extremely weak, far weaker than the Bolsheviks with their years of underground work had been. In January, a chaotic uprising in Berlin, which the newly formed Communists had not initiated, but joined and tried to direct, was crushed. In its wake, the Socialist government rounded up and murdered the core leaders of the KPD -- Luxembourg, Leibneckt, Jogiches and others.
The elimination of this leadership had fatal consequences for the German revolution. Without its leaders, the KPD was incapable for itself leading a revolution that in any circumstance would have been extremely difficult. Not only in Germany, but in all Europe, the war which was the main impetus for revolution ended at the very start of the revolutionary process. As well, the Communists were, in these years of massive turbulence, only beginning to come into existence, without any clear idea of how a socialist transformation could be undertaken and how workers could be won to it. The KPD was organized in Germany only after the War, the Italian communist party in 1921, less than a year before the Mussolini's fascist victory. None of the parties had arrived at a conception of how the reformist organizations' grip could be overcome. Above all, not one had the slightest glimpse of a program that showed how socialism could concretely solve the economic and social crisis gripping Europe. How could unemployment be ended? How could production be restarted? How could inflation be ended and real wages again rise? Thus there was no revolution in the West, which meant that the Russian revolution was to be isolated for at least a significant length of time.
But equally important, the murders of Luxembourg and the other German leaders removed the only Western revolutionary leaders whose prestige and theoretical grasp in any way rivaled that of Lenin and Trotsky. They determined that, when the socialist Left, gathered in Moscow two months later in March, 1919 to proclaim the founding of a Third Workers' International, the new organization would be entirely dominated by the Russians. This extremely unbalanced organization, consisting as it did of, on the one hand the victorious Bolshevik party, leading a massive revolution, and on the other of tiny groups or small parties, often without any outstanding leadership in the West, was bound to center on the Russians in any case.
But the penchant of Lenin and Trotsky for centralized disciplined control accentuated this tendency still further. From the start of the Third International the Russians intervened in the effort of the Western Communist parties, often without firm knowledge of political conditions, and paved the way for the later transformation of the International into a tool of Stalinism.
Together the victory of Revolution in Russia and the decapitation of the revolutionary leadership in Germany set the stage for much of the subsequent history of the labor movement in this century . For the new Communist parties came into being in the context of an International which had increasingly little tolerance of democratic debate and dissent. This meant that while the old Second International had abandoned all pretense of working for the abolition of capitalism, the new International was also unequipped to do the job and in fact would rapidly become another obstacle in the way of workers' successful defense of their own interests.
STALINISM AND DEPRESSION
Following the death of Lenin in 1924, the victory of Stalin within the Russian leadership had a profound and disastrous impact on the history of the labor movement. As will be discussed in more detail in chapter 9, Stalinism was the victory of a bureaucratic layer over all socialist tendencies within the Communist movement. Since Stalin strangled all democratic discussion within Russia, and to a large extent with the Communist movement internationally, his ascendancy crippled the struggle for socialism and enormously weakened the working class movement. On the one hand, the Communists could not in any way be effective in defending working class interests when they themselves were cut off from all internal debate and discussion. Stalin subordinated the foreign Communist parties to what he perceived as the Soviet Union's national interests and in the process led them to a series of catastrophically disastrous policies in China, Germany, France and elsewhere. At the same time, the identification of socialism with the bureaucratic regime in the Soviet Union and with the rigid and democratic Communist parties discredited the very idea of socialism in the eyes of many workers, as of course did the wild policy shifts of the Communist parties themselves under Stalinism leadership. Stalinism ensured that the once-revolutionary Communist parties were swiftly transformed into centrist organizations: radical in rhetoric, but in practice obstacles to socialism, and to the workers movement.
Trotsky fought against the consolidation of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and after his exile continued to try to build an alternative socialist tendency within the Communist movement. Initially this effort was weakened by the already significant withering of internal debate in the Soviet Communist party, even under Lenin. Later Trotsky had to contend with the enormous prestige of the Soviet Union among workers committed to socialism. It was only gradually that the bureaucratic nature of the Soviet regime became more and more clear to those outside the country and in any case for those who wanted to fight against capitalism and for socialism, it appeared that the Communist parties, the Third International led by the Soviets and by Stalin, were the only viable alternatives. With the workers' movement already split between the reformists, pro-capitalist social democratic parties and the avowedly revolutionary and socialist Communist parties, the Trotskyists, criticizing the Communists as bureaucratic and ineffective, had little chance to attract a broad following. The dominance of the Communist parties over the left of the labor movement was, in fact, not seriously challenged right up until the collapse of these parties as a socialist alternative at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The consequences of the Stalinist dominance , of the strangulation of internal democracy, were catastrophic, particularly in Germany. There, in the late 1920's, the SPD had discredited itself by cooperating in the austerity drives of the German corporations. With the Depression and the coming of mass unemployment, reaching nearly 40% of the workforce, the unions were decimated, strikes became nearly impossible and the workers' movement became acutely demoralized. A huge declassed mass of unemployed and bankrupt small businessmen looked not to the weakened labor movement but to the National Socialist for salvation with their mixture of rabid nationalism, racism, and a pseudo-radical rhetoric that attacked the ruling class verbally while cooperating with it, in fact. Fascism represented a deadly threat to the workers' movement, since, as Italian fascism has demonstrated, it mobilized a mass based movement to smash all working class organizations, unions and parties, reducing the working class to a completely atomized state. Under Italian fascism, workers' living standards had dropped by 50% in a few years. But faced with Nazism, the SPD retreated, failing to organize physical defense against the storm troopers who beat up and killed union , SPD and Communist workers. The SPD failed to offer any solution to the crisis of unemployment, for to do so would have meant attacking the very basis of capitalism, which the SPD leadership refused to do.
The German Communist Party, the KPD, could have offered an alternative to the SPD. It could have, as Trotsky proposed, attempted to form a united front with the SPD, against the Nazis, continually challenging the SPD leadership to set up joint defense squads to protect worker activists and to sweep away the fascist gangs. It could have at the same time presented concrete programs to resolve the crisis, programs based on eliminating the parasitic burdens of debt that were strangling the European and world economy.
Instead, Stalin directed the KPD to adopt the fatal policy of "social fascism". The SPD was attacked as social fascists, indistinguishable from the Nazis. Rather than making common front with the SPD against the Nazis, the KPD policy further split the workers' movement, making it more impotent in the face of the Nazis. While the KPD was, by itself, too weak to defeat the fascists, its attack on the SPD made it impossible to attract socialist workers, who knew that their unions, however poorly led, were protection for the workers, while the Nazis were their deadly enemies.
The internal discussion and debate that could have corrected this policy was impossible in Stalin's International and within the KPD itself. The results were fatal for the German working class. Confused and demoralized by the policy of "social fascism", and paralyzed by the SPD leadership , the working class offered no significant resistance when the Nazis were invited into power in 1933. The SPD and trade union dealers cravenly tried to win mercy from the Nazis by actually joining in Hitler's May Day celebration. The following day, Hitler arrested them, seized the union and party offices and outlawed all workers' organizations. The crushing of the workers' movement in Germany, once the most organized in the world, paved the way for the militaristic policies that led to World War II. Without working class organizations, Hitler needed to take no account of popular opinion in pursuing his policies, since without organizations, workers were impotent to make him defend their interests. Internal democracy proved to be no luxury for the German workers-its absence led to catastrophe.
THE MASS STRIKE VS BUSINESS UNIONISM
THE ORIGINS OF THE CIO
Despite these catastrophes in Europe, the 1930's saw the radical strengthening of the labor movement in the United States, the formation of the CIO and the organization of the modern industrial unions. From the standpoint of today's labor movement, the crucial feature of this period was the role of mass strikes and other tactics like the sit-downs that took place far outside the legal framework of ordinary labor relations and stood in stark contrast to the methods of business unions.
In times of economic expansion, strikes become routine affairs, run by the rules of "business" unions. Strikers walk picket lines, production stops and each side wait it out. But in harsher times, like the '20's and '30's or the '80's and '90's, such tactics of reformist unionism are suicidal. Strikers walk, scabs are hired, and production goes on. Waiting it out then means waiting for the union to surrender. In such times the only generally reliable route to labor victory is the mass strike, in reality or at least as a threat.
The mass strike was first analyzed as a central phenomenon of the labor movement in times of crisis by Rosa Luxembourg. Luxembourg, who participated in the abortive 1905 Russian revolution in Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, returned to Germany and analyzed the lessons of the revolution in a pamphlet "The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions". The pamphlet is as timely today as when it was written, and should be required reading for anyone interested in the future of the workers' movement.
Luxembourg argued that in a period where ordinary methods of struggle are defeated, because capital is unwilling, or unable to yield concessions to workers, indeed is requiring concessions from workers, in a period in short, where a revolutionary transformation of society is needed for workers to move forward, the mass strike becomes the most crucial method of workers' activity. By mass strike she was not referring to the one-day general strikes that had been discussed in the movement (and which were to become common in Italy many decades later) nor other anarchist notions of a universal general strike to end capitalism. Rather a mass strike occurred when a single struggle in a given plant became generalized, often seemingly spontaneously, and spread into a growing strike movement, joining hundreds of thousands of workers, often unorganized in any union, into strikes of entire industries, or general strikes of cities or regions. Such mass strikes characterized the years before the 1905 revolution in Russia, as well as the revolutionary year itself. They were to recur in the Russian Revolution of '17, the German revolution of '18, in the US in 1934, in France in 1937. Nor were they to be limited to the first half of the century. Mass strikes following Luxembourg's description shook France in 1968, where ten million workers occupied factories, Italy in '69 and most recently included Ukraine and Poland in 1992 and in France again in '95. The mass strike process is central to the situation facing labor today.
Luxembourg showed that mass strikes were prepared by the educational work of socialist groups, who convinced workers of their common interests in a program that united political and economic demands.--in Russia this program included, the shortening of the work week, the need for freedom of organization, of press and assembly, the need for the overthrow of Czarism and a democratic republic and the need for organization of workers independent of employers. On the basis of this education, in repeated cases when workers in one industry or plant went on strike, they were able to appeal against police attacks to workers in neighboring plants, often going in procession to the other plants. Led generally by the small minority of Social Democratic (socialist) workers, these plants then joined the strike around broader demands than those affecting a single factory. Luxembourg emphasized that, rather than separating the economic and political demands, the minimum program and the maximum goal, the mass strikes tended to unify them, showing to workers that only by changing society in fundamental terms could the immediate demands of higher pay and shorter hours be won. .
In pre revolutionary Russia, where union were illegal and weak, most participants in such mass strikes were "unorganized". Luxembourg generalized to argue that the essence of the mass strike process was unifying the organized and unorganized sectors of the class, bringing layers far beyond the union into motion, and in the process forming much larger and stronger organizations. Indeed, out of the Russian mass strikes arose large trade unions, which then, in turn, conducted local strikes over economic demands, winning many of them. The strength of the mass strike and the fear of its spread forced concessions from the employers that individual union action could never obtain. It was the political threat of the mass strike, the threat of an ever growing unity of the working class, that elicited concessions from capitalists in order to stop the process.
Not only did trade union organizations emerge from the mass strikes. During 1905, the strike gave rise to a new form of organization -- the Workers' Council, or Soviets. These consisted of delegates elected from each of the factories involved in the strike. These bodies (in some later strikes termed strike committees) institutionalized the unity of the working class, allowing the class in an entire city to collectively debate the issues of the day. Through the unifying experience of the mass strikes themselves and through the debates in the factories in the Soviets, the consciousness of hundreds of thousands of workers could be changed in a matter of days or weeks, as workers in a given factory began to see themselves as part of a single class with shared interests.
While it is uncomfortable for the business unionists who still lead most of the United State's unions to admit it, the present-day industrial unions emerged in the '30's out of just such an illegal mass strike process, led by revolutionary socialists. In the 1920's and in the first years of the Depression, the American Federation of Labor craft unions had shriveled as unemployment soared and conventional strikes became suicidal, just as similar conditions of high unemployment today, similar conservative union leaderships, has led to similar shriveling of union strength. With wages plummeting, and a quarter of the population out of work, radical opposition to business unions grew, organized in large part by workers in both the Communist party and in small Trotskyist organizations. These leftists sought to organize among both unemployed and unorganized layers, as well as within the shrunken unions.
In 1933, the bottoming out of the Depression and a slight upswing in employment started to break the demoralization of the workers. At the same time, the election of Roosevelt and the promulgation of a very weak, but psychological important, protection for union organizations in Roosevelt's National Recovery Act, began to revive hopes among broad layers of workers that the deadly alliance between government and employers was cracking. But it was not until the mass strikes of 1934 that a real labor upsurge began.
On April 12, 1934, workers at the AutoLite parts plant in Toledo, Ohio struck after management refused to negotiate with their newly organized union, Federal Labor Union Local 18384. As was routine then (and is again now), the company hired scabs and strikebreakers to maintain production. But then something different happened. Unemployed workers started mass picketing in support of the strikers, rather than crossing the lines to take their jobs. The unemployed were organized by the Lucas County Unemployed League, a group dedicated to organizing the unemployed to help labor. It had been set up by members of a small Trotskyist group, the American Workers' Party, led by A.J. Muste.
Immediately the company got an injunction against the local and the League, limiting pickets to 25 per gate. The local complied, but the League served notice that it would defy the injunction. On May 21, League Leader Luis Budenz led a mass of 1,000, calling for peaceful mass picketing and smashing the injunction. The next day the crowd grew to 4,000. The following day it was 6,500, and then 10,000. On Wednesday, May 23rd, the sheriff arrested Budenz and four other picketers. Massive battles between police and ,later, the Nantional Guard, and the mass picketers followed. With the battle at a standstill, the state government, fearing a further spread of the struggle, told AutoLite that it must stop reduction for the duration of the strike, and the company agreed. After weeks of negotiations, the company gave in, recognizing the union, granting a pay raise and rehiring all strikers.
Just ten days before the battle in Toledo climaxed, on May 15, Teamster Local 574 struck the Minneapolis trucking industry. The local was led by Ray Dunne, a member of the Communist League of America, another Trotskyist organization. Every night mass rallies of from 2,000 to 20,000 were held, mobilizing not just strikers, but workers and unemployed from the whole city. Again huge battles of police and mass picketers broke out leading to a total rout of the police. The union took control of the streets of Minneapolis, even directing traffic, and panicked cops fled. It was against this background of labor news that the Toledo battle was fought two days later. A temporary truce was negotiated in Minneapolis, with the union suspending the strike and the employers reemploying the strikers. Both sides prepared for further war.
While labor battles were flaring in the mid West, the West Coast was in the grip of a longshoreman's strike -- ports from Seattle to San Diego were shut on May 8 by an International Longshoremen's Association strike for a union hiring hall and recognition. They were joined by the maritime unions. Two months into the strike, on July 5, the employers, with a newly formed trucking company, tried to break the picket lines with the help of massed police. A general battle broke out in downtown San Francisco. The picket lines were broken and the next day the port was occupied by the National Guard.
In response, the Joint Maritime Strike Committee appealed for a general strike. Although the Central Labor Council declined to issue a call, individual unions began to respond. On July 9, a massive funeral march was held for the slain strikers. A huge wave of support for the Longshoremen swept the city, yet most of the union leaders urged their members not to join a general strike, which was, in any case, illegal. But at meeting after meeting workers swept aside these objections and voted to strike. Teamsters, construction workers, and dozens of other unions voted to strike, beginning July 12. Under intense pressure from the base, on July 13 the Central Labor Council voted a general strike. For four days from Monday July 16 through July 19th, San Francisco was shut tight by a general strike. On Thursday, the employers agreed to arbitrate outside differences, including the hiring hall, and reluctantly the ILA went along, ending the general strike. After several months of arbitration and further negotiation, the union won a complete victory: recognition and the union hiring hall.
The same day the general strike in San Francisco began, the teamsters in Minneapolis resumed their strike. On July 20, one day after the end of the general strike, there was another pitched battle in Minneapolis, ending with two slain strikers and seventy two injured. Again there was a mass procession of 100,000 workers. And again, the National Guard was called in, this time by Farmer-Labor Governor Olson. . Guerrilla war raged in Minneapolis. Faced with the prospect of an open ended battle, and mindful of recent events in San Francisco, Olson forbade further truck shipments except for necessities , On August 21, the employers, stripped for government protection, capitulated.
In four months, American labor had won three major victories. Their tactics were defiance of injunctions, mass picketing, armed self defense, organizing of the unorganized and unemployed and the general strike. It was on this basis that the previously unassailable alliance of government and employer, the strength of the National Guard, was broken. Ultimately politicians knew that further application of armed might would lead to only further spread of the conflict and further unity of labor.
The mass strikes of '34 followed the broad pattern Luxembourg had described --small groups of radical socialist convincing workers of their common interests, the unification of organized, unorganized and unemployed workers, the successful defiance of anti-labor law, and the building of permanent organizations and the wining of concessions by the political threat of the mass strike's growing unity. In was in the wake of the 1934 mass strikes that the Federal Government, with the Wagner Act, moved to get out of the open alliance with employers in strikes. By codifying the ways in which labor could organize, the Wagner Act sought to channel the increasingly radicalized labor movement into a legal framework. Without the strike of '34, it would never have been passed. But now, fearful of the new labor upsurge, the Federal government was ready to make major concessions, making it easier to organize unions.
While the '34 strike had shown that victory was possible, they by no means assured it. To organize the big industries of the United States, industrial unions were required, which the leadership of the AFL opposed. By the end of 1935, the Committee for Industrial Organization, CIO, had broken from the AFL to begin organizing in steel and auto.
But to break the resistance of the big corporations one more new tactic was needed -- the sit-down. In many way the most radical of the new tactics, the sit-down was a factory occupation, in which the strikes took physical possession of the plant, preventing any question of scabbing. The sit-down, first used in the meat packing industry in '33, became widespread in rubber in '36 and led to the key victories in auto in '37. But the sit-down itself was firmly based on the '34 mass strikes. Because, clearly, strikers could be evicted by force by the National Guard. From '34, employers and politicians had learned that the National Guard, in turn, could be defeated by mass strikes that mobilized an every growing body of workers and raised the political risks ever higher. Without the threat of the mass strike, sit downs would have themselves been isolated and smashed. As it was, with Governors no longer willing to use the National Guard to battle sit downers, the sit down became extremely effective, although it was, again, clearly illegal. The famous Flint sit-downs in early '37 laid the basis for the organizing of the key industries, first auto then steel, rubber and the rest of heavy industry. It was out of such tactics that the main American unions were formed. By the end of the Depression, a third of the US workforce was organized, and most of manufacturing was.
In the period following World War II, the re-channeling of the US labor movement back into the groove of business unionism was a high priority for capital. For this to happen, the role of all radicals and socialists in the labor movement must be eliminated and the alliance of left intellectuals and workers broken. The CP had made this task easier: it eroded its strong base of support in the unions by its wartime backing of the no-strike pledge, a policy dictated by Stalin's temporary alliance with the United States. The sudden swerves of the CP's line from anti fascism, to isolationism during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact, to the no-strike pledge after the entry of the Soviet Union and the United States into the war in 1941 made workers distrustful of the Communists and sensitive to their obvious ties to Stalin's foreign policy.
When the post war strike wave hit the United States in 1946-48, anti-Communist leaders within the unions found it easier to isolate the Communists, and in the process begin weeding out leftists and militants of all stripes. With the start of the cold war in 1948, with a sudden threat of war with the Soviet Union, the stage was set for the witch hunts of McCarthyism. By stirring up a virulent fear of the Soviets and of the Communists as their willing pawns, McCarthyism was able to hound Communists and leftists out of the unions, in the process domesticating labor and strengthening the most conservative business unionist forces. Equally critical, by pillorying intellectuals and terrorizing them to stay out of politics and away from the working class, McCarthyism succeeded in breaking the links between leftists and unionists that had been key in building the CIO unions in the '30's.
Communists ALLY WITH CAPITALISTS;
THE GROWTH OF POLITICAL Dependency
The Second World War radically reshaped the labor movement, especially in the European countries conquered by the Nazis. Once the Soviet Union entered the war with the attack by Germany, the Communist parties in Europe became one of the strongest components of the Resistance. And the Resistance was often concentrated among industrial workers, who under the Nazi regimes were among those suffering the worst. In Italy and in France, in particular, the Communists became the main organizers of resistance in many regions. Following the defeat of the Nazis, the Communists, at the head of armed resistance organizations, had enormous support and indeed in Italy could have become the government in the wake of liberation.
But by this time the Stalinist CPs had evolved, under Stalin's' grip, into distorted copies of the per-World War I Social Democrats: radical in rhetoric, but in practice subordinate to and allied with capitalist political rule. Even in the mid and late 30's, reacting to the Fascist threat, Stalin had jerked the CPs from the policy of social fascism to that of the Popular Front. Instead of all parties except the Communists being viewed as allies of fascism, all parties except the fascists -- socialists, capitalists, moderates, even rightists -- were viewed as allies against the fascists. But such popular fronts, by tying together the working class parties and the capitalist parties, restricted the workers to what the capitalist parties would tolerate and thus prevented any policies that would actually resolve the crisis. The Communists, far from criticizing this situation, became a pale echo of the socialists, and even attacked left wing socialists for proposing socialist policies.
After the defeat of Nazism, Stalin decided his safest course was to continue such policies in the West. Stalin had agreed at Yalta that Europe would be split into spheres of influence, East Europe to the Soviet Union, West Europe to the US, supported by Britain and France. He ordered the Western CPs not to, in any way, be involved in revolutionary seizures of power or the organizing of socialist regimes. As a result, in France and Italy, where the CP's resistance roles gave them enormous prestige, the reins of government were handed over to capitalist regimes. Nonetheless, the Western countries were shaken by huge post war strike waves as workers, now organized into mainly Communist led unions, sought to make up the huge fall in wages under the occupation. Faced with the mass strikes, and fearful of revolution despite Stalin's pledges, employers and government rapidly gave up large concessions, returning real wage briefly to their pre war levels. In defeated Germany and Japan, too, as occupation forces legalized unions, workers flocked into them, with again Communists gaining strength, especially in Japan.
With the introduction of the Marshall Plan for investment and reconstruction of Europe, a rollback of post war concessions became an urgent necessity for capital. Investments could only be profitable if wages were radically reduced again. As inflation raged and employers resisted wage increases, another huge strike wave roiled Europe in 1948. But the Communist parties, the leading force now in France and Italy, held back from any militant tactics, allowing the strikes to be defeated piecemeal. The CPs had now taken over the role of the old Social Democratic parties in France and Italy, ordered by Stalin not to rock the boat, and insulated from rank and file dissent by their rigid lack of internal democracy. By the 1950's, as recovery allowed wage increases, the leading role of the Communist parties was further strengthened. As with the Social Democracies, that leading role was taken by parties whose leadership were committed to staying within the bounds of capitalist rule.
In the United States, the political dependency of the labor movement was far more open, since in the 30's, the alliance of the labor movement and the Democratic party was cemented, even though the Democratic party was openly a party that supported capitalism and that was dominated ,as was the Republicans by moneyed interests. The costs of such dependency have become all too clear in the past twenty years, as Democratic as well as Republican Congress and Administrations have presided over the dismantling of labor gains.
The channeling of the labor movement into a renewed business unionism in Europe, the US and Japan was greatly strengthened by the overall expansion of the world economy in the recovery from World War II, as we've described in the last chapter. Throughout the fifties, real wages rose nearly everywhere, and in Europe and Japan unemployment slowly declined. While strikes continued, they were, in general, conducted by the new, post war rules -- a strike meant the shut down of the plant and a passive waiting game on both sides. The general success of such tactics in continuing to increase wages solidified support for moderate and conservative business union leadership, while the continued relatively high rates of unemployment in Europe still worked as a deterrent for any more aggressive union leadership.
LABOR UPSURGE IN THE 60's AND 70's
Beginning in the early 60's, the calm of the preceding decade began to evaporate. Full employment lifted the confidence of workers and encouraged a growing strike wave that won wage concessions. But by 1967, the post war boom was ending and capital was forced to drive down wages to preserve profits. In the advanced countries, the sudden shift toward austerity ran into the momentum of a gathering strike wave. Workers suddenly found that wage increases were being eaten up by inflation and employer resistance to further wage concessions stiffened. Equally important, in many countries, notably France, the Government stepped in with proposals to roll back many hard won worker gains. The result was an incipient willingness of workers to go beyond the bounds of traditional business unionism.
At the same time, the Vietnam War, combined with the evident slowing of economic expansion and the increased direction of the economy toward war needs gave rise to a wave of student and youth radicalism. In the US as well, the slowing of job growth accentuated the problem of the African American minority, in the midst of the civil rights movement and sharpened the links between them and the labor movement as a whole. The frustration over shrinking job opportunities boiled over into the massive riots of '65-'68.
The Tet offensive in Vietnam at the beginning of 1968 began a series of events that would spark the massive labor upsurge. It shook to the roots the confidence of not only the government, built all the advanced capitalist regimes. In April followed in the US the assassination of King and the riots that followed and the Columbia student strike against the war. But by far the most significant of the sequence of events was the General Strike in France, the largest mass strike in history. It was this event that signaled the complete transformation of the labor situation in the world.
The French government, under DeGaulle, had taken the offensive in 1967 against both workers and students. A series of ordinances were passed which would cut back unemployment compensation, gut social security benefits, restrict union rights and activities and massively contract the public university system, which at that time did not come near providing enough places for all those qualified. Throughout early '68, worker and student agitation against the ordinances and the Fouchet educational "reforms" increased.
In late March, the entire campus of Nanterre University had been closed by the government following student protests. Student leaders went to the Sorbonne in Paris to gather support. In May 3, several Trotskyist groups organized a protest against the repression in Nanterre at Sorbonne. The administration called police onto the campus, leading to a pitched battle with 600 students arrested and hundreds more injured. 
In the following weeks, there were a growing series of demonstrations and clashes with the police, climaxing in a bloody attack by the police on May 12. On May 13th, under intense pressure from rank and file workers, the communist led CGT, joined by the two other labor federations, called a one day general strike and a demonstration in Paris to protest against the repression . The response was overwhelming -- one million workers, students and others paraded in Paris, the largest demonstration ever there. Under the protection of this massive demonstration, students occupied Sorbonne. The following day, workers at the big Sud Aviation aircraft plant in Nantes, went on strike, occupying their factory. Within four days of Sud Aviation's action, one million workers were on strike, occupying their plants. Within six days, there were seven million strikers, within eight days, 10 million strikers. The strike was total in manufacturing, but it spread well beyond -- the schools were shut, the trains had stopped, Paris was paralyzed as the subways and busses and cabs ceased to operate, shops and department stores closed, all but the most essential services stopped. Throughout France elected strike committees sprang up on the factory level, and even in some areas on a city wide level, similar to the Soviets of the early Russian Revolution. France was in the grip of the largest mass strike in history.
In the course of the strike, the workers demands advanced form the defensive--revoke the ordinances--; to the offensive--reduction of hours and retirement age, increase the minimum wage and vacations; to the openly revolutionary--De Gaulle resign, Popular Government, Worker Power. Small Trotskyist groups who had been active in initiating the student protests agitated for the formation of a national stirke committee. But the workers still placed their trust in the Communist and the CGT. And these had no interest in social revolution: they wanted a return to business as usual.
On May 27, the leaders reached a tentative agreement with the French government to end the strike. on the basis of significant, but limited government concessions in wages and hours. Under strong prodding by CGT and other union leaders, the stirke gradually unraveled.
While the strike did not win most of its principle demands, and merely shook but didn't shatter capitalist rule in France, it represented a huge victory for the entire world working class. It won substantial concessions immediately, so the workers self confidence was strengthened, and it demonstrated that the mass unity of the working class was possible in the present day, not only in the past. The force of the strike, the threat of a revolution, frightened capitalists not only in France, but globally. In France, employers and government alike staged a long retreat dealing out repeated concessions to avoid a repeat of May '68. In the following five years, in repeated strike waves, French hours of work did indeed fall, dropping by about 2 hours a week, and a further two hours by 1977. Real wages rose sharply, increasing by nearly a third from 1967 to 1973. The ordinances and the Fouchet plan were in fact quietly scrapped not long after the strike. Indeed, to quell student unrest, the university system was substantially expanded, eliminating, to a large degree, the two-tiered educational system of France.
In other nations, too, the example of the French General Strike led to mass strikes, as in the Hot Autumn of Italy the next year, While the French example had less direct impact on the US, the rising tide of labor militancy washed these shores as well. While in '68 most workers still supported the Vietnam War, within two years, that support had shriveled. At the same time the acceleration of inflation pushed workers into increasingly militant strikes to defend wages and win back earlier losses. In 1970 a wave of wildcat strikes broke out with workers defying both employers and their own union leadership. Illegal wildcats of postal workers in New York and Washington forced major concessions from the government. In 1970, a series of Teamster wildcats throughout the West and Midwest defeated a concessionary National Teamster agreement. In the face of National Guards called out to protect truckers, wildcatting teamsters, demonstrated jointly with student anti-war groups. For the first time since the forties, socialist literature began to find a reception among some younger workers. Again, the response of employers was a tactical retreat, yielding concessions to prevent the widening of political alliances among workers and students.
While the retreat by capital was general throughout the industrialized countries and the Vietnam War was gradually given up as lost, the repression remained ferocious in the Third World. In 1968, the viciousness of the Brazilian military dictatorship was reinforced with mass arrests and torture. When a mass student rebellion broke out in Mexico, it was suppressed with a bloody massacre, hundreds of students shot dead by the Mexican army in the capital.
And even in the industrialized states, the labor upsurge of the late 60's and early 70's had its limitations. Concessions were gained, in Europe, long lasting concessions in the democratization of higher education, in the reduction of the work week and the strengthening of social guarantees. The union movement was toughened by a renewed radicalism, and reinforcement of internal rank and file militancy. But there was no decisive shift in the social structure, no real undermining of the power of capital.
Despite the radicalization of workers and the mass strikes, the bulk of organized workers had not entirely lost confidence in the established union leaders. The period of upsurge came after a long period of wage increases that had leant credibility to existing union structures, and this credibility was reinforced by the repeated concessions won during the upsurge, even though most workers knew that it was their own militancy that guaranteed such concessions, not the skills of the leaders. As a result, the mass strikes of the sixties and seventies did not give rise to any new institutions, nor was there much, if any, improvement in the internal democracy of existing unions and political parties. There was no move towards increased working class political independence--in the US for example, the labor-Democratic alliance continued. And there was no successful effort in forming organizational links among the militant workers of various nations. Thus, with the institutions of the working class relatively unchallenged, with the passing of the stirke wave, a return to business unionism as usual become inevitable.
This was in part due to the weakness of all left socialist groups which sought to lead the upsurge towards a socialist transformation of society. At best, these groups entered the late sixties as organizations of several hundred. At worst, many of them, especially in the United States, were infected with the grossest sectarianism, lacking in internal democracy and often the reflection of the ideas of a single guru. Above all, none of the left organizations was able to put forward a viable program, an alternative to the economic policies of capital. As was true in earlier upsurges, this lack of concrete program made socialism appear as an abstract and unnecessary goal, irrelevant to the immediate problems of the workers' struggles.
The reluctance of masses of workers to break with existing union leaders fed the sectarianism of the left groups. In general, when leftists are denied a hearing in the broad layers of the working class, sectarianism is the natural response, encapsulating the groups in their own insulated society, cut off from the rest of the world. This, in turn, made it impossible for such groups to be a significant influence among the militant workers. And the militant workers, in turn, felt that determined unions, rather than socialism, was sufficient for securing their interests.
Thus, although the world labor movement emerged from the upsurge strengthened, it had made no real changes in its institutions and was ill equipped to meet the counteroffensive of capital that began in 1974. The lack of any alternative working class program, or of any organizations capable of developing such a program became particularly important. In the 60's capital's position was weakened by the Vietnam War. The demands of the war, spread through the world economy, ensured relatively low unemployment, where the competition of the unemployed could not hold back workers' struggles. This meant that the offensive against workers had to be carried out at the governmental, political level, as in the case of the French "ordinances". In the US, the war itself was, of course, a governmental policy as well. so the war ensured that the workers' struggles would be highly politicized, a more or less direct confrontation with the state. This is what made the situation so dangerous for capital, and which encouraged the repeated retreats and concessions.
But with the end of US involvement in the war in '73, and the oil crisis in '74, the situation was quite different. The assault on workers' living standards now came from an apparently external cause, the oil price increase, not from the actions of European or American governments. The issue had to be politicized by the labor movement's putting forward demands on government, a program of economic action -- it was not, as in the 60's, merely a matter of opposing existing government policies. Equally, when the ensuing recession struck in '75, it again did not appear the result of any governmental action. To politicize the issue, to tie the individual battles of workers in a given plant or industry against layoffs to preserve their wages, into a single battle, a political and economic program was needed, and organizations capable of using such a program effectively.
But, in fact, such programs and such organizations did not exist. So, although a new wave of strikes and militancy occurred in response to the crisis of '74-'75, it remained disjointed and failed to prevent sharp cuts in workers' real wages, and a sharp rise in unemployment. The long period of relatively high unemployment in the second half of the seventies rapidly sapped the confidence of workers everywhere. In addition, neither the traditional union leadership, not rank and file militants, nor the shrinking and disoriented left would offer a coherent strategy for fighting the rise in unemployment. From '76 to '79, the radicalization of the 60's ebbed into a growing apathy.
LABOR'S RETREAT AND THE CURRENT REVIVAL
The way was thus prepared for labor's retreat in the 1980's. The combined effect of high unemployment, high inflation and a renewed aggressive alliance of business and government, especially in the United States, fundamentally altered labor's conditions, and the labor leadership was completely unable to cope with these new conditions. The long upsurge of the 60's and 70's had not left any institutional residue at the top of the labor movement. While some radicals moved into local leadership positions, at the top nothing was changed. All the reformist' sins combined to destroy the effectiveness of the labor movement. Rather than learning the lessons of history, the reformist leader, whether Communist or Socialist party bureaucrats in Europe or AFL CIO officials in the US, enthusiastically repeated the mistakes of the past.
Labor leaders were still tied to business unionism and, with the assault on labor, they were left without any response. In the US in particular, the craven lack of unity in support of the PATCO Air Traffic Controllers, fired by Reagan, was a decisive backward step, and proved to management that labor could be picked off one union and one strike at a time. Management was no longer willing to sit and wait, and for labor the only effective response to the renewed threat of scabs was the mass pickets, solidarity strikes, and the mass strike, all of which were illegal. Instead, labor leaders stuck to strict legality and lost strike after stirke. Far from combating the new offensive most labor leaders accepted the rhetoric and then the reality of labor management cooperation, increasingly putting a good relation with the employer than defending their members. Without the internal democracy needed to fight such suicidal policies, he predictable result was a rout of labor, declining union memberships, and deteriorating pay and benefits. Without political independence from capital, unions were left naked to the increasing attacks of government run by their "friends", such as the Democrats in the US. Without effective international organizations committed to fight capitalist policies, labor was incapable of combating the multinational corporations who could switch production around the world . And of course without a program of their own, labor leaders had no alternative to the policies of austerity restructuring and privatization launched by capitals' offensive
The retreat was the most severe where unions were weaker, both in the United States and in the Third World. In Western Europe, the greater level of unionization and the greater traditions of labor unity moderated the offensive's impact. Indeed, in Germany unions were able to win some concessions of working hours through a series of hard fought strikes in 1984. But everywhere, losses outweighed gains and labor's number and power declined.
The rapid erosion of workers' conditions in the early and mid 80's was followed by a brief stabilization in the late 80's. But in 1989, with a new recession, the employers' offensive resumed. Labor management cooperation, concessionary bargaining, which was supposed to lead to more jobs, instead led to greater unemployment, speedup and lower wages. The effect of this renewed offensive was quite different from the initial phase a decade earlier. It discredited both the labor management cooperation line and the top union leadership who had supported it. Workers began to realize that the events of the 80's were not a temporary aberration, but the start of a prolonged period of erosion of working conditions. In this situation, a renewed willingness to consider militant action and radical ideas emerged.
A second major factor leading toward a new wave of labor action was the collapse of Communism. The transformation of the former Communist states and their ruling parties into newly minted capitalist societies, and the simultaneous chameleon-like conversion of the Western Communist parties into supporters of the market economy, led to an implosion of Communist influence in the labor movement. No longer were the CPs the place workers would turn to combat capitalism. While the Communist-led union federations remained dominant in France, Italy and many third world countries, the discipline that had been long imposed by the CPs disintegrated. For the first time since the collapse of the Second International at the start of World War I, the labor movement was in a state of profound flux, with no real organized, anti-capitalist left.
The ability of the CPs to hold back militant labor action was vastly reduced. Now, when workers wanted to fight against the capitalist offensive, they knew that they had to look to new ways of doing and new organizational forms. It was thus no coincidence that the first signs of a new labor upturn began to be seen in 1992, immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Western Europe and in the Third World, unionists previously tied to the CPs began to move into action, forcing their unions to respond. In the United States, where the CP had long been a nonexistent force within the labor movement, the fall of Communism also had a big impact -- for it removed a potent weapon against the left. No more could socialists in the labor movement be red-baited as supporters of the Stalinist system and of the Soviet Union. Indeed, the willingness of many in the American labor movement to support the formation of a Labor Party is dependent on the absence of this threat.
The simultaneous discreditation of the labor management cooperation dear to the hearts of pro-capitalist union leaders and of the CPs, combined with the widespread realization that without struggle only further decline awaits workers everywhere, have formed the preconditions for the current emerging labor revival.
In contrast to most previous upsurges, when the reformist institutions entered the crisis with the strong loyalty of most workers, today that loyalty has been massively eroded by the preceding tow decade of retreats. As in the 1930's, reformist institutions have a relatively insecure grasp on their members. Then however, the left alternative was the Communist parties, crippled by their Stalinist leadership and lack of internal democracy. Now, this obstacle has been effectively removed.
The vacuum on the left of the labor movement and the clearly international character of the assault on labor has led as well to the rise of a new internationalism in the labor movement and a search for new organizational forms. Inadequate as they were, the CPs had formed an international network that were committed at least rhetorically to the fight for socialism and against international capital. With the collapse of this institution, workers and union leaders were confronted with the question -- how could they now fight against capital? and how could they get support on a multinational scale?
There is one further aspect of the international situation of labor today that is worth mention. This is the growing impact of the Internet as a tool of international organization and communication. While the media have hyped the Internet as a new gold mine for commerce, it has quietly as well served labor movement in increasingly important ways. A glance at the reference to the present book will show that it could not have be written without access to the Internet. The various bulletin boards, on which workers with access to a computer can post articles, request for aid and messages of support, has made it measurably cheaper to communicate globally. It has allowed workers to contact hundreds or thousand of individuals and organizations around the globe that they do not know, without significant cost or time investments. Thus when Liverpool dockers , Belarus subway workers or Mexican bus drivers needed support, they could put their request on the Internet, with out having to know the names and addresses of hundreds or thousands of unions world wide, or having to pay for mass mailings or faxes. Equally important, it has made available alternative sources of news and information. No longer are those on the Internet depend on either the mass media, with its distortions and omissions, or tiny left publications, with their small circulation, and limited resources. First hand reports of labor events around the world are posted daily on the Internet, and can be easily accessed, free of charge by any one with a computer.
So far, Internet users are concentrated in the United States., in large part because it is there that computer ownership is so widespread. But in almost every country, with the exception of some in Africa, there are labor organizations or publication with Internet connections. A global web connecting workers is springing up, with great potential for the future, a web that would have been quite impossible without the technology of the Internet.
Such technology is unique to the present period. but as we have seen the basic challenges facing the labor moment are not--to overcome the dead weight of bureaucratic organizations, to achieve internal democracy and political independence, to replace the failed tactic of business unions with those of mass action, and to formulate and fight for a program that represents a real alternative to capitalist policies and to forge an international movement.