The labor aristocracy and the labor bureaucracy are the most difficult obstacles to overcome to advance the mass movement in the midst of a situation of deep crisis of the capitalist economy and social breakdown.
In places as different as Europe, the United States or Argentina, in the face of this political, economic or social crisis one can perceive the absence of an organized workers’ movement possessing a concrete political program and a leadership that having realized the depth of the changes in the world, mobilizes massively, providing leadership for all of the classes of society affected by the crisis of capitalism and formulates a workers’ socialist alternative.
Without concrete political program and effective leadership, there may be mass protests that can cause an imbalance and even the replacement of governments or political parties in power, however it will not achieve a change of system for one that would guarantee full employment, a sustainable economy, good salaries, quality education and housing, and universal health care for all.
This is the case because the only social class able to replace capitalism and the antidemocratic institutions of bourgeois democracy for another system, that would guarantee full equality, is the working class. This is the social class that has the social muscle to paralyze the economic and political machine of the existing powers and postulate its leadership and forge a new destiny for society.
The working class has major difficulties in leading that struggle or even to assume these tasks essentially because of the existence of two built-in phenomena within the movement: the working class aristocracy and the organized labor bureaucracy.
The working class aristocracy, as we have already explained in the article What is the Working Class Aristocracy? What is the Labor Union Bureaucracy? Why do they Exist? Inthis issue of International Left Review, is a social engineering product of social work created by the bourgeoisie. Their purpose was to create a privileged layer of the class – in relation to the majority of the working class – to provide a political and social base of support permeated with the ideology and cultural aspirations of the bourgeoisie or petty-bourgeoisie.
This layer of the working class, in the case of an imperialist country, obtains benefits at the expense of workers from other countries. It also exists as a layer in non-imperialist countries where their benefits rest on the exploitation of the rest of the workers.
In exchange for sustaining a high level of class collaboration, they receive good salaries, better working conditions and even subsidies for their employers which are transferred to them for strategic and economic reasons or to maintain the peaceful social conditions needed to overexploit both the rest of the working class and other nations.
In general the working class aristocracy represents no more than 5-10% of unionized workers and its leaders are recruited to the leadership of the trade union federations or confederations and therefore act as the “leaders” for the rest of organized labor or the entire working class. In organized labor they tend to also lead the weaker labor unions.
These higher-ups are the ones who decide the fate of immigrant workers, nonunionized workers, informal workers or the unemployed. This layer of the working class aristocracy, fundamentally its bureaucratic leaders, are the ones that regulate for capitalism, the salaries, the working conditions and the social relations with the ruling class, and serve as both their employees and their lieutenants, and when and if the conditions require it, as their labor police. In those rare occasions when they oppose a sector of the bourgeosie, they do it only to serve some other competing bourgeois force; they never rise to fight class against class. Their mission is to preserve social peace and suffocate any expression of indiscipline or independent thought in any of the networks of the exploited classes.
These leaders receive high salaries and multi-million dollar perks and they themselves become businesspeople, in return they show their greatest hostility toward militant workers, the left and to union democracy. They manage their organizations with money, cooptation, bands of thugs and negotiate anything with the employers behind the backs of the rank and file workers. They continue in this role for decades as heads of their unions by means of reactionary legislation, fraud and violence.
They are drafted to serve in the institutions of the bourgeoisie in a variety of different capacities, including elected legislative representatives, senators, mayors, council people and even government ministers. Their assigned mission is to protect the prestige of bourgeois democracy during times of crisis, stop any manifestation of discontent that could lead the workers to develop their independent political awareness.
The labor bureaucracy mobilizes its social base, the working class aristocracy, to rallies, demonstrations and to vote for the candidates of the bourgeoisie. If necessary they organize armed bands in the service of the ruling class to destroy uprisings, revolts and revolutions.
The working class aristocracy is always in a series of transitions in terms of the permanence of their privileges, unlike the labor bureaucracy, whose petty bourgeois lifestyle is affected only when a deep economic crisis takes place. It is in these bad times, like the ones we are living in now, when the bourgeoisie, having exhausted all other sources of income, struggles to take back the concessions it made before.
The union bureaucracy, at such times, politically confused, helpless in its passivity learned over decades of class collaboration and incapacitated by the straitjacket that it has help impose upon the “represented”, has two and only two choices: surrender unconditionally, or, fail in any attempt to survive as a direct result of its incompetence.
In the worst case and if necessary, the bourgeoisie would appeal to the fascist gangs and annihilate the labor and political organizations of the working class by methods of civil war. At that point, many in the working class aristocracy and the union bureaucracy will join the reactionary chorus against the most oppressed, or participate directly in the bourgeois’death squads, or will be incapable of leading any struggle and in despair for their future, they will be looking for the progressive bourgeoisie to pull them off the hook.
In those moments of time, brief in historic terms, but sudden and violent, it will become clear before hundreds of thousands or even millions of workers that the political and union leadership they have, are leading them to the killing fields or to a guaranteed defeat. They will reach, through their concrete historical experience, the conclusion that they need to have a leadership that is decisive, daring, incorruptible and independent from the bourgeoisie in order to defeat the reaction and take control of the failing capitalist society and take them forward to new social norms. The masses will see the evident perspective, that they need a revolutionary leadership.
This new leadership, however, is never created by a spontaneous process and it cannot, overnight, acquire the ideological and programmatic homogenization to lead the whole working class and for it to become the leadership of the rest of the oppressed.
The formation of combative, even revolutionary working class cadres and workers’ organizations takes decades; it takes time to forge them in the struggles and gain the confidence of the majority of the workers; they need to test their new methods of struggle during the daily confrontations with the ruling class; they not only need to learn by themselves how to lead mass organizations, but also, need to comprehend the theory that will enable them to act efficiently; advance tactics that can move them forward and develop the necessary strategies that will lead to a socialist society.
The emergence of a large fighting vanguard, that struggles to get rid of their middle class prejudices inculcated in them for decades by the ruling class and replace that with an unshakable impulse in the class confrontations or the implementation of radical measures to succeed, is the first symptom that a renovation of the working class and its leaders is underway. This vanguard does not act independently of the rest of the masses but rather turns to them constantly to pull them forward to advance their conscience and collective organization.
From within this vanguard the best individuals will emerge and coalesce into singular organizations, those who embrace the theory to understand history, economy and social organization; those who implement working class democracy from below and represent the independent politics of the class called to lead society. Only then can the working class lay claim to rule society. This is what is called a revolutionary party.
Hoping and wishing will not accomplish the task. Like in any battle, it demands the greatest sacrifices, the tenacity that only the crisis can imbue, the certainty that a sick system will survive for as long as the oppressed allow it to before they decide to overthrow it. The masses will reach this conclusion only on the road to the radicalization of the class struggle.
Our international current has been committed to this since its inception, to finding the bridge, that is, the program, that seeks to establish the connection between the current consciousness of the masses with the achievement of their historical objectives: the seizure of power by the workers, building and empowering their own democratic institutions, in replacement of the decadent and anti-democratic bourgeois “democracy”. As part of this work, in this issue of International Left Review we publish our document about the labor aristocracy and in the next one we will publish a comparative study about the labor aristocracy in different countries together with the analysis of the labor bureaucracy that leads it.
Only by knowing the obstacles and identifying the adversaries, together with the practical preparation of the struggle, is when you can advance toward victory. We are confident that the urgency provoked by the crisis and the launching of growing numbers of workers contingents, of the oppressed sectors of society and the youth will shorten the time necessary to learn and provide opportunities to test themselves in the fire of a more intense class struggle and in the process the movement will witness the emergence of the new leadership it needs.l