[lbo-talk] Workers of Europe unite, you've only Euro chains to lose

Wojtek S wsoko52 at gmail.com
Fri Dec 23 07:57:26 PST 2011

Marv: "But at the time these struggles were waged, the national bourgeoisies were very weak or nonexistent and were neither willing nor capable of leading the struggle for independence, and it would be absurd to describe Mao, Ben Bella, Neto, Ho, etc., whatever their social origins, as representing that class. "

[WS:] It is not really the social background of leadership or even the numerical strength of the bourgeoisie that matters, but rather who defines the goals and demands of the movements and in what terms. As it is believed Stalin once said - it matters not who casts the votes but who counts them. Interests and demands of the working class do not naturally present themselves in unambiguous terms like a volcanic eruption - they are socially constructed and their construction is a highly contested process. Anarcho-syndicalists, socialists, social democrats and the Catholic Church (following the teaching of the encyclical Rerum Novarum) claim to represent working class interests - but their interpretations of those interests fundamentally vary. Dismissing Catholic labor unions as a mere ruse and diversion is a semantic argument that misses the fundamental fact that they absorbed large shares of labor movement in Europe. So clearly, some parts of labor movement saw them as genuine representations of their interests, even though their intent was to emasculate socialist influence and split the labor movement.

That is why having "organic intellectuals" of labor movement so critical for the movement itself. The clergy or university trained politicians or technocrats may have some interest in common with the working class but other interests that are tangential or even contrary to those of the working class. So if they are those who heavily influence the social construction of working class interests, the chances are that only the interests that coincide with those of their own class interests will be emphasized.

I can understand that from the American left point of view deference to the peoples historically dominated by the US (or British) imperialism is an important act of social protest against the empire, but I also get an impression that it often acts as an ideological blinder that does not let them see the Global South movements for what they really are. For example, Mao Tse tung was perceived here as a hero by many intellectuals here while he was brutally crushing intellectuals and the working class in the Cultural Revolution that set back the whole country a good twenty to thirty years. I also understand this is not a uniquely American phenomenon - many French communists staunchly supported the murderous Pol Pot regime for similar reasons. Back in my old country, Chechen gangsters are often portrayed as "freedom fighters," and so on.

In any case, it is basically accurate to say that strong labor movements have been essentially confined to the 19th century Europe. Everywhere else, they were either weak or enveloped in other forms of struggle - for national sovereignty, anti-imperialism, civil rights, ethnic separatism, religious freedom etc. There are of course many reasons for that, but one of them is the fact that "organic intellectuals" of labor movement were predominantly Europeans. These movement declined as the labor interests started to be formulated by university trained cadres of pro-labor political parties. Of course, this is not to deny unquestionable successes - such as the Scandinavian-style welfare state - but rather to point out that the justification for labor-friendly policies was made in conventional economic terms, such as efficiency, service quality, productivity, cost-benefit balance etc. In other words, labor movements might have won a few games on their opponents' field, but the fact that they were in effect forced to play on no other but their opponent field pretty much set the stakes against them in a long run.

Cuba and Chile may be exceptions - but elsewhere labor movements were well contained within larger struggles. South Africa is a good example. Apartheid was initially created to divide the growing labor movement along racial lines and from that point on - the struggle was defined in racial rather than class terms - a big ideological victory for the apartheid. Even with the end of apartheid, the main goals of ANC were political while the class issues took the back seat. It is my understanding that ANC pursues pretty much neoliberal policies under disguise of ethno-populist discourse - although some South Africans may take exception to this characterization.


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