Workers Vanguard No. 1142
19 October 2018
Labor Misleaders and Class Collaboration
(Quote of the Week)
In 1946, Max Shachtman, then the leader of the centrist Workers Party, explained that the labor bureaucracy’s appeasement of the bosses is rooted in its support to the capitalist system, posing the need for a new, class-struggle leadership of the unions. While Shachtman had broken from Trotskyism in 1940 with his refusal to defend the Soviet Union at the outset of World War II, for a while he continued to espouse basic Marxist concepts on some questions. Moving sharply to the right during the Cold War, Shachtman went on to join the anti-Communist social democracy and eventually became an open supporter of U.S. imperialism.
The labor leaders will readily admit that there is a conflict between capital and labor. But, they say, this conflict need not exist. The conflicting interests can be composed and settled satisfactorily if both sides take a “reasonable attitude.” If there is a struggle, it can be moderated and eventually eliminated….
The conclusion, says labor officialdom, is that labor must pursue not the path of class struggle but the path of class collaboration. That is why it promotes such schemes as labor-management committees, joint production committees, standards of production, efficiency minimums, and in general follows a policy of bringing labor and capital together on the basis of recognizing “the rights of capital” and “the rights of labor.” The main job of the labor movement thereby becomes not the elimination of capitalism, but “making capitalism work.”
Fundamentally, these ideas of the labor officialdom are capitalist ideas. It is entirely true that the capitalists do not see eye to eye with the labor leaders on every question, and often come into bitter conflict with them. But that is due primarily to the fact that the labor leaders, in order to hold their special position in society, strive to keep the labor unions alive and even to strengthen them. Without labor unions behind them, these leaders would be nobodies, without power, without influences, without privileges, without social position. In this sense, they are labor leaders. For this reason, they and the organizations they lead must have the support of every worker whenever they come into conflict with the capitalist class and its government.
But there is another aspect to the part played by the present labor officialdom. It leads the workers along the path of collaboration with the capitalists. It instills in the workers the idea that no matter how bad this or that capitalist may be, the capitalist system (which it usually calls the system of “free enterprise”) is fundamentally sound and must not be attacked. When workers do develop to the point of militant struggle against capitalism, the labor leaders intervene to restrain them or thwart their aims. In this sense, they are capitalistic labor leaders. For this reason, the workers must oppose their ideas at all times and seek to replace them with leaders who understand what capitalism is and who know how to fight it consciously in the interests of the working class.
—Max Shachtman, The Fight For Socialism: The Principles and Program of the Workers Party (1946)