An Interview with Martin Glaberman
(January 15, 2000)
Downloaded with thanks from Endpage.com.
This interview originates from Red & Black Notes – used with kind permission.
Martin Glaberman has referred to himself as an
“unreconstructed Johnsonite.” Johnson being the pen named used by the
West Indian Marxist C.L.R. James during his time in the United States.
Glaberman was a member of the tendency James founded along with Raya
Dunayevskaya in 1941, and worked with James until the latter’s death in
1989. During this time Glaberman was the managing editor of such
publications as Correspondence, Speaking Out and Speak Out.
Glaberman worked as an auto worker for twenty years where he served as a
shop steward, committeemen and local union editor. He is Professor
Emeritus of Social Science in the College of Lifelong Learning of Wayne
State University in Detroit. He is the author of countless articles and
pamphlets, as well as a number of books including Wartime Strikes. His recent works are Working for Wages, co–written with Seymour Faber, and Marxism for Our Times : C.L.R. James on Revolutionary Organization, edited by Glaberman. The following interview took place in Glaberman’s apartment in Detroit on January 15, 2000.
Q. You had been part of the Young People’s
Socialist League and a part of the Socialist Workers Party. In 1940
there was a split in the Socialist Workers Party and you joined the
newly formed Workers Party which was led by Max Shachtman. Shortly
after, there came together a minority tendency with such figures as
C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya. Can you explain how that happened?
I joined the Young People’s Socialist League at the age
of 13, which was the earliest they would accept my membership. I came
out of a socialist family. They were very traditional, relatively
conservative socialists. I went down to the local Socialist Party
headquarters joined and gradually moved to the left as various things
happened. This was in the middle of the depression. The Trotskyists went
into the socialist movement and when they left, they got the bulk of
the Young People’s Socialist League. I was in the Young People’s
Socialist League which by that time was part of the Trotskyist movement.
In 1939 when the war broke out and the Soviet Union invaded Poland
and Finland, the traditional position or assumption of the Trotskyists
was that they would support the Soviet Union. That got to be a little
bit difficult for a very substantial minority and the split that took
place was over the question of defence of the Soviet Union. The bulk of
the youth went with Shachtman and a minority of the party. It was a
minority altogether, but part of the leadership, including James, went
with Shachtman. However, once the split had taken place and the Workers
Party was organised, there was the question of the nature of the Soviet
Union. Again the traditional position that the Soviet Union was a
degenerated workers’ state began to raise questions in the party,
stimulated partly by the atrocious role of the Soviet Union in the war,
the conquest, the Stalin–Hitler pact and so on.
It was in this period that the Johnson–Forest tendency began to be
formed. It consisted of C.L.R., Raya and a couple of others. At that
time I was living in Washington D.C. where I got my first job with the
Federal government. Strangely enough Raya was also living in Washington
D.C. She began to do research for our position on the Russian question
at the Library of Congress. She was familiar with Russian and economic
questions. The overwhelming majority of the Workers Party supported
Shachtman in the position that the Soviet Union was bureaucratic
collectivist. A tiny minority retained the view that the Soviet Union
was a degenerated workers’ state, even though they supported the idea of
not supporting Russia in the war. We developed the idea of the Soviet
Union as a state capitalist society.
At the first convention, we had one vote. There was a small branch in
Washington, which split 50/50. I was the delegate representing the
Johnson point of view. I had a half vote and somebody else had a half
vote. That was the Johnson–Forest tendency.
The question of Russia was always taken with a considerable degree of
theoretical seriousness. One of the points from the beginning, and what
is intriguing is that people like Paul Buhle aren’t aware of it, and
others are surprised to find out, was that it was not simply a theory of
the Russian state. It was a theory of a stage in world capitalism. Some
of that wasn’t developed until later and it is fully laid out in State Capitalism and World Revolution,
but that was still in the forties. That was the start. What always
intrigued me and helped to confirm the superficiality of the Soviet
union as a bureaucratic collectivist society is that it didn’t tell you
anything about it except to give it a name.
Originally the view was that the Soviet Union was more progressive
than capitalism, but not as progressive as socialism or a workers’
state. Then after a while the view became that bureaucratic collectivism
was equally reactionary with capitalism and then finally with Max
Shachtman’s rightward turn, (he ended up in the Democratic Party and
supported the Vietnam War), bureaucratic collectivism was more
reactionary than capitalism. What kind of theory is it if it has no
relation to anything else, except it changed every year or two with the
Q. In the late 1940’s the Workers Party was
negotiating with the SWP to rejoin the party. The merger didn’t occur
but the Johnson–Forest Tendency did go back to the SWP for five years.
In that time they produced a number of extremely interesting documents – The American Worker, James’ Notes on Dialectics, State Capitalism and World Revolution. Could you talk about that?
There were a few things involved. By that time the
differences within the Workers Party had grown. We had differences over
the Negro question. They refused to accept C.L.R.’s point of view about
the importance of independent black organizations, not subordinate to
the revolutionary party or anything. We developed differences on the
nature of society as the war was coming to a close. The Workers Party
was influenced by a group of German exiles who developed the theory of
regression; that the war and fascism had regressed capitalism into the
point where you cannot talk about socialism, but where you had to talk
about reviving civil liberties, democratic rights and so on. We talked
about the revolutionary perspective in Europe. All of that fed into the
concept of the American working class as essentially militant with
revolutionary potential. The Workers Party had essentially rejected
The fact that negotiations were going on indicated the possibility of
fusion with the SWP and another thing was a pamphlet that Cannon had
written that had laid out a revolutionary perspective for the American
working class. It ended up not amounting to anything. The organization
as a whole didn’t really follow through. What we did was to negotiate a
period of three months where we could be independent and were free to
publish anything of our own. It was clear, because we published our
stuff and everybody understood, that our differences on the nature of
the Soviet Union would remain. It was in that period that we published The American Worker.
It was in that period that we published a weekly bulletin. Then we
entered the SWP. We were welcomed royally because the SWP was beginning
to have trouble with some of the black workers around the organization.
They were kind of unhappy with the attitude of the party and the
activity of the party in relation to black workers. C.L.R. came and made
a major speech to that first convention on the nature of black
struggles which got a real welcome, but it ended up that the support was
largely lip service.
I remember I went to New York to be a sort of secretary of the group
for a period. My wife and I wanted to get out of New York as soon as
that was done because the political life in New York was pretty ingrown.
It wasn’t very satisfying. We finally got invited to go to Flint and
join the Flint branch. I got a job at Buick and it was while I was there
or a little bit after that I found the role of the party and the lip
service they paid to the idea of independent black struggle. It was
reflected in an experience I knew about.
There was a black guy who was a member of the branch and a member of
the executive board of a Chevrolet local. He went to New York for a
party convention and met a white comrade. They fell in love and wanted
to get married. She wanted to come back to Flint. What happened
reflected the limitations of the party’s policy. No one said they
couldn’t get married and no one said she couldn’t go back to Flint with
him, but they kept explaining that if he came back to Flint with a white
wife he would never get re–elected to the Chevrolet local executive
board. It finally convinced them and it broke up the affair. There was
kind of a limitation on the idea that the race question should be
subordinated to the class question and the prejudices that existed in
the working class. The crucial thing was you had to have offices and
power that would be interfered with by racial intermarriage. As I said
nobody said “no” but they sure didn’t make it easy.
We continued to develop our ideas. The thing on dialectics was
published while we were in the SWP and it was circulated secretly. At
that time, before there was easy duplicating we didn’t have cassette
recording and we didn’t have xeroxes. What would happen was, it could
drive you nuts, someone would type the thing out. We’d get the thinnest
onion skin you could find and make copies. If you were unlucky enough to
get the 7th or 8th copy, you would have a hell of a time reading the
I was working at Buick. The copies would come and we’d sit up, late
at night, reading it. It was fantastic. I don’t think anyone else has
mentioned this, but the fact is one chapter abstractly describes what
happened eight years later in the Hungarian Revolution: No vanguard
party, the working class as a whole acting as their own party or
organisation. One of the documents that was published at the time of the
interim period was an analysis of the experience of the Workers Party.
There was another document, this one much more modest and mimeographed
and called The Balance Sheet Completed. It made a lot of people
unhappy because it didn’t have the same straightforward political
quality, traditional political quality that The Balance Sheet
did. A lot of it was involved in questions of life style and forms of
personal corruption in the SWP. I’d like to see it published somewhere
as it explained our split with the SWP, which unfortunately coincided
with C.L.R. getting tossed out of the United States.
Q. After you left the Socialist Workers Party you began to publish Correspondence. The 50’s were a difficult time to be active on the left and in 1955/56 there was a split in the group which produced News & Letters. Then came the Hungarian Revolution. It helped to produce a book, Facing Reality,
which later became the name of the organisation after another split.
This time with Grace Boggs, one of the leaders of the tendency. In the
60’s in Detroit I understand you were involved with some of the people
who later became part of Detroit Revolutionary Union Movement and the
League of Revolutionary Black Workers.
One of the things that’s mentioned in both of the books
written about DRUM is that I taught a class with people who became
leaders of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. The original
contact was made by George Rawick. He had come to Detroit and got a job
at Wayne State. A couple of these guys were in classes of his. It was
through them and George that the connection with the group was made.
There were always disagreements. Part of the reality was, it was to do
with the black movement generally, there was a significant Maoist
orientation. I’m not sure how much of an impact our influence was. It
wasn’t all that great. But there was mutual impact. What they were doing
clearly impacted on us. It was perfectly in concert with our ideas on
black struggle, on working class struggle. Good relations exist to this
day even though they’re scattered. When I went to New York recently to
do a book signing, the chair of the meeting was a woman who had been
part of DRUM. She recollected that and was happy for our paths to be
reunited. But it didn’t result in physical support, in subscribers, in
writing for Correspondence, financial support and so on. Which is one of the things I don’t understand to this day.
Q. Facing Reality dissolved in 1970, at which
time you set up Bewick Editions to continue to make available some of
C.L.R. James’ pamphlets and books and you were also involved in other
journals such as Radical America. One of the things I take from
James, is that much of the left sees the working class as passive
consumers of radical ideas: the left comes to the working class with a
box of soap and says “would you like this soap? It’s 10% off,” or “it
has extra whitener and added starch.” And the workers are expected to
choose. James and the tendency of which you are a part believed that
working people are not passive consumers, they will make their own
destiny. At the beginning of a new century what do you think is the
legacy of James?
It’s a big and complicated question and I’m not sure I
have anything more than a partial answer. One of the things everybody in
the Trotskyist movement and the Marxist movement knew was that the
proletariat was key. That was fundamental to Marx. Except, that could be
interpreted in all sorts of ways, including that the proletariat would
need a vanguard party to lead them to revolution and so on. Part of what
was involved in studying the nature of the Soviet Union was going back
to the Marxist fundamentals. One of my favourite quotations is not in an
obscure book. It is in a book, three chapters of which were republished
as Socialism: Utopian and Scientific by Engels which
sold millions of copies. Engels says that the general tendency of
capitalism is ultimately toward state ownership and control and that
state ownership does not make it less capitalist: The workers are still
exploited by the state capitalists.
There’s an early article and this comes from a different book where
Marx says in order to create a new society we need new people. New
people are created in activity and we need a revolution not only because
the old ruling class can only be overthrown in a revolution, but you
need a revolution in order to transform the people making it. So they
become qualified to create a certain society. That’s clearly the reverse
of what most Marxists think. Most Marxists think you have to change
people. You have to convince them and then you make a revolution, but
Marx says no. You make a revolution and that will change them.
We all went into the working class. I was working in Washington after
the split with the SWP. In the initial split most of the working class
members stayed with the SWP, so that it had people in auto, teamsters in
Minneapolis–St. Paul etc. We went to Detroit and we set up a branch. I
went to work in a factory. There’s no way of knowing which came first,
but clearly the combination of ideas the James group had and the
experience of work in the plant had an impact that each separately would
not have had.
I remember at one point there was an African–American named Morgan
Goodson, a guy I helped recruit, who had been in the steel industry in
Alabama. He was a strong unionist and an effective organizer, but
decided he couldn’t be in steel anymore. What would happen would be if
they needed something done they would pull him out of the plant. He’d
get lost time, but they would never give him the title and position to
go with what the hell he was doing. So he came to work in the auto
industry. We recruited him and we decided we needed a group in his
plant. Three of us applied and we all got hired. I was lucky. It was a
big plant and I got hired for the plant south of the street and the
other two guys got hired for the plant north of the street.
After you’re there for six months and you have your seniority, you
run for office. I ran for committee man and got elected. One of them,
Stanley Engelstein , said he ought to be the one to run because he hated
work more than the other guy did. The other guy, Sammy Fishman, was a
working class kid out of New York who went along with that. Sam later
became head of the Michigan CIO, so he learned to be a bureaucrat. He
learned his lessons well.
So the fact that you go to work in a factory and you live with
workers doesn’t mean you’re going to learn anything if your attitude is
you can’t learn anything thing from workers and you gotta teach them.
It’s a self serving attitude: “Well I hate my job. I’m just here as a
great sacrifice. I ought to become a committeeman so I can get out of
this goddamn nonsense.”
There are other things. What you learn is a certain respect for the
working class and what they do. It isn’t the easiest thing in the world.
I remember when we went to Flint I was working at Buick. I got laid off
one winter and I went to look for a temporary job. “What do I know?” I
had been a radical journalist, I could edit etc. I went to the weeklies
to get a job, but I had no references. How could you get a job like
that? Then I began to realize, that one simple fact makes you think very
differently about work and what you can do: This is where you’re going
to be for your fucking life. Things which seem so damn simple because
they’re simply formal statements aren’t that simple if this is where
you’re going to be for the rest of your life. You can’t afford to be out
of work too damn long because your family starves.
But again you don’t automatically learn it, because you don’t pay
attention to that stuff if you come to the whole situation indoctrinated
with the belief you’re there to lead workers out of their ignorance,
There’s no easy answer, but I think it’s a combination of being in
the working class for twenty years, never pretending to be a worker and
at the same time having certain fundamental kinds of ideas and
principles which make it possible to look at people in a certain way. We
lived in a working class neighbourhood on the west side of Detroit
after we came back from Flint. My wife worked in a little automobile
parts plant called Automotive Spring about six houses down from where we
were. They made little springs for door latches and stuff for the Big
Here’s the intriguing thing, but again you have to have a certain
sense of what the hell you are looking at. Most of the production
workers were women. Most of the set–up men were men and it was a
non–union shop. There were at least three attempts to organize it.
Teamsters came and I think the UAW tried twice, but they could not
organize the plant. My wife and I talked about it and she described it
as a pretty straightforward situation. Everyone who worked there had
either worked in union plants or had a husband who worked in a union
plant. They knew what the hell it was about. They weren’t anti–union
southerners just up from the farm or anything like that. What they knew
was, if the union came in two things would happen: They would get a wage
increase, and the work would speed–up. That was the trade off in the
Big Three. You get paid fringe benefits outside of work, but the work
gets worse. They simply decided, passively, that because they were women
they could rely on another pay–cheque. They always assumed there was
another main income in the family, but whether they really did or not
doesn’t matter, they would rather work at the level they were working
and forgo the wage increases. They voted against the union. Now
formally, that’s a reactionary position: You’re against the union. How
can you be against the union? But if you try to find out why people
think that way you gotta learn something you’re not going to learn if
you think everything they do that doesn’t agree with you is wrong! It
makes sense that people make that choice. It also tells you something
about the limits of the union movement which the old left has never
understood. The union is an unqualified plus, right? In ordinary
situations I would say yes, but you have to understand the
contradictions and so forth.
Q. Some of us are involved in socialist
organizations of small numbers. Could you say something about organizing
in a contemporary context.
First of all everyone has a right to political ideas and
to organize for your own purposes, provided you don’t assume you’re
going to lead the next revolution. That should involve as much contact
as you can make to general working class activity. That’s tricky too. In
the 40’s everyone went into the factories. I remember a guy named
Greenberg, who was a very fine musician and who ended up in a factory.
He went into a factory because that was what he was supposed to do and
he was a goddamn waste. Now what the hell was he going to do in a
factory? Nothing. Particularly with the party line. As a person
interested in music he could make a contribution to society. Not to the
revolution directly, but to the revolution indirectly.
The whole idea was that your activity was a sacrifice. If it is, then
it’s wrong. It’s not that you don’t sacrifice anything, sure you take
risks. You lose your job by being a radical, but basically your
political activity should confirm your humanity. It should represent
your humanity. In terms of the concreteness, it depends where you are.
If you’re on a college campus then that’s where you are. The idea that
you going into a factory is going to make a significant difference to
the working class is nonsense. That you can support workers’ strikes as
an intellectual sure. Concretely I think one of the most important
things is some kind of a press. Even if it starts out as just a little
newsletter that shares ideas, that discusses ideas, that presents
experiences. Impact! Does that. They’re trying. Individually I’m sure it
doesn’t have much of an impact; on the other hand, I’m beginning to
feel that there are bunches of these outfits all across the country, all
across the continent. They don’t necessarily have contact with each
other. They don’t even know about each other, but there’s stuff going on
all the time.
What’s not involved is what I will call middle class time, but
historical time. There used to be a theory in sociology that the working
class was really backward because it depended on instant gratification
and my attitude is that it is the middle class that wants immediate
gratification: the working class hasn’t done anything in three weeks, my
god, forget about it! The revolution may be 30, 40, 50 years away. If
you don’t understand that ... That’s one of the things that led to the
decline of the New Left. They were going to change the world and the
world didn’t change that much. Well, let’s go get a job in law school or
let’s get a job in the academy. I’m not sure where you get that sense. I
know I’ve always had it. They work out or they don’t work right away.
There’s too much that’s right in Marxism to say “well, that proves Marx
You have a historical view and a sense of the working class whether
you’re in it or not. I won’t say everybody has to go into the working
class. There has to be a way of communicating with each other, to
society as a whole and to the working class. In both directions. Not
giving lessons, but also learning: What happened in Seattle? In this
wildcat strike? Why? How? People need to learn that; workers need to
learn that. On one level they do. Workers are not fools. They read
papers, they listen to the evening news. As distorted as it is they know
that two plants in Flint shut down and the whole of GM in North America
shut down after a few weeks. That’s tremendous power, which you don’t
otherwise think about when you’ve got to drag your ass to work every
goddamn morning. That’s part of working class consciousness. You know
that even though you can’t be thinking about it all the time because it
would drive you nuts. I think a lot of it is basically experimentation.
You do a lot of what you can and you save what you’ve done. Some of it
works and some of it doesn’t.
One of the problems now is everyone knows we’re going through a
conservative period. I don’t think it’s a conservative period. I think
the government has turned conservative. In the US, 50% or more of the
population doesn’t even participate in the electoral machine. It’s not
because they’re backward. It’s because they’re cynical and I think
they’re right to be cynical. What they’re saying is: there’s nothing in
this for us. You work from that.
To me, that means the situation is explosive, it’s not that workers
are reactionary or backward. It’s not going to last the way it is
indefinitely and how it’s going to come out I don’t know. We are not
going to come out of it simply because Sweeney is going to organize more
workers. That’s bullshit! In fact he’s been unable to organize more
workers. It’s going to come out of it the way the CIO came out of the
movement. Whether I live to see it or whether I don’t live to see it,
it’s not going to depend on me.
Q. One point you mentioned earlier. You said
you worked in factories for about twenty years, but you were never
really working class.
I didn’t pretend I was working class. I was working
class. I had the income and, especially where I was living in Flint
everybody was working class. But it became clear when I couldn’t get a
job as an editor that there were differences. No visible resume that I
could justify. I ended up getting a job that winter through Kermit
Johnson, who was one of the leaders of the sit–downs.
He had been blacklisted from GM and he was working as a roofer,
building a new GM plant. He got me a temporary job and got me a union
card. The point is, when things like that happen you begin to realise
working in the shop for ten years or working in the shop every summer
and then going back to school in the fall, does not make you a worker in
the sense that workers have to think about they way they live, the way
they work. Part of that I put in poetry because I couldn’t think of any
other way of saying it.
Q. Could you talk about the left and the
working class today. A lot of newer leftists don’t see the logic or
links to the working class, but even the ‘older’ left don’t have a lot
of actual contact with the working class.
And a lot of that is very sectarian. “The noble worker.”
What they’re talking about is themselves. Some of it is very old
fashioned. It’s a very traditional Marxism. The working class is
important for two reasons. First of all you can talk about the
information society as opposed to the productive society, but society
doesn’t exist without food, clothing, shelter, transportation and
communication. You shut down a school, you’ve shut down a school. You
raise a big stink, but that’s all you’ve done. You shut down GM, you
shut down transportation. You shut down steel mills, you shut down coal
Secondly there is this business of the nature of work, the
alienation. People resist it. That’s true of all kinds of work. The
level of alienation of a college professor is not the same as the level
of alienation on assembly line. That’s part of the reality. It doesn’t
depend on somebody going proletarian. You can convince a college
professor to be a socialist, to be a radical. You can convince a worker
to be that too, but it does not move thousands and millions of people.
That’s why to me, what happened in Hungary in ’56 and France in ’68 are
so goddamn important!
In Hungary, ten years into a totalitarian state. How could that
happen? A massive demonstration in support of resistance in Poland.
There was some street fighting and within 24 hours the workers of
Budapest took control of factories, offices – the means of production –
and created workers’ councils to run them. Within 48 hours it had spread
across Hungary. After a couple of weeks, the revolution was crushed,
not by any power within Hungary, but by an invasion of Russian tanks. In
France a very different kind of country: Democratic, no depression, a
Communist Party, a Socialist Party, CP unions, SP unions, opposition
parties. Ten million workers in 48 hours take over all the factories in
France. How could that happen? Marx, Engels and Lenin would have jumped
on it. The left said, oh no, very interesting but you didn’t have a
vanguard party. That was why they lost. That’s bullshit! If they had
followed a vanguard party they wouldn’t have done it in the first place.
Because that’s what the CP and SP were against. They finally managed to
get them out of the factories and they won traditional union demands,
wages increases and so on.
The difference between Hungary and France was essentially on the very
first day of the revolution in Hungary there were visible signs of the
collapse of the military. In the Hungarian army the soldiers either
turned their weapons over to the demonstrators, joined them or just
left. Whereas in France there was no sign of any kind of weakening in
the military structure. Later on it turned out De Gaulle went to one of
his tank commanders, who was over in Germany, and said “will you support
the government?” He said, yes, and De Gaulle came back and stood firm.
And nothing happened. The workers weren’t defeated, but they just went
so far and then they receded.
The nature of a revolution is different from the nature of a reform.
I’m not opposed to reform. I don’t think reform or revolution is a
principled question unless you are for reform as opposed to revolution,
but if workers haven’t won wage increases, haven’t formed unions and
haven’t gotten a certain amount of legislation passed; if they haven’t
battled for those things over a generation, you’re not going to have a
revolution. On what can you base that? You base it on the fact that what
is inevitable is struggle. And whether that is simply sabotage or
getting drunk on the weekend because you can’t stand the thought of
going back to work on Monday morning, still it’s resistance.
What the bourgeoisie interprets as resistance is a hell of a lot more
than what the left does. The bourgeoisie interprets quitting your job
and going someplace else as resistance, because it’s expensive to them.
What they include with such stuff the left doesn’t. All the left terms
as resistance is formal statements of agreement with revolutionary
policy. It’s bullshit. One of the things that I’m sure makes the left
very nervous is what happened in the Hungarian Revolution around the
tearing down of the statues of Lenin. I’m sure Lenin would have enjoyed
it, considering what the hell those statues represented at that time.
They represented a totalitarian dictatorship.
That was the whole point to Wartime Strikes. The idea that in the UAW
in World War II a majority voted to sustain the no–strike pledge, and
while that vote was taking place an absolute majority of auto–workers
went on strike. So what the hell do they believe: A no–strike pledge or
they had the right to go on strike? It’s contradictory. They believed
you should have a no–strike pledge, but when the foreman looked at them
that way, they walked off the job. That was what Marx was about. Marx
says it doesn’t matter what that worker thinks, or even the working
class as a whole thinks, it’s a matter of what they will be forced to
do. They are forced to resist the nature of work.
And that’s becoming worse. Every report about the new automated work,
all I hear from anybody out of the auto–shop is the greater speed–up.
If somebody tells me workers are saying “great! I love to be here.” OK,
I’ll give up on the revolution, but we’re not even close to anything
Q. What about your own activity?
Basically more publishing and writing. I’m thinking of
starting work on a book on race, class and consciousness. It’s
essentially to reject the idea that nothing can happen until white
workers are no longer racist. I don’t know what anybody thinks the
Russian workers in 1917 were. They were sexist. They were nationalist. A
lot of them were under the thumb of the church. But they made a goddamn
revolution that began to change them. Whether there’s a social
explosion or not doesn’t depend on any formal attitudes or supporting
this particular organisation or that particular organisation. It may not
happen. In which case we all go down the tubes; I can’t help that.
Q. Lastly, What’s your assessment of the events in Seattle in November 1999?
I think it’s good and it’s important. One of the
unfortunate, not that unfortunate, side effects is that it gave the
impression of the labour unions being much more militant that they
really are. They sure didn’t want to get into that! They found
themselves in the middle of this mass struggle and they pulled away.
There are a lot of problems that a) are tricky and b) are insoluble.
If you’re a socialist, you’re an internationalist. Why shouldn’t Mexican
workers have those jobs? They shouldn’t be paid a tenth of what
American workers make ... But if I’m a committeeman I can’t argue that. I
can’t tell the people I represent that the Mexican workers have as much
right to the jobs. That’s not what they elected me for. So, part of it
is out of your control. That’s the way the bourgeoisie functions, has
always functioned. The whole business about globalization, it’s weird.
First of all there’s no sign of the decline of the nation state.
Especially there’s no sign of the decline of American power. A lot of
what happened in Africa was because of the pressure of the American
state supporting its own bourgeoisie.
Put it in its proper context. Marx wrote about it in The Communist Manifesto.
It’s not something which rose with the sun this morning. In addition to
which, does anyone remember the phrase “the sun never sets on the
British Empire”? That’s globalization. What’s the difference? The
difference is not the International Monetary Fund, the difference is the
colonial revolution. Globalization at the beginning of this century
consisted of European powers having colonies, which meant they had
control of markets and it meant they had control of sources of raw
materials. After World War II you have the colonial revolution: India,
Africa, etc. What’s the result? The result is that those markets can no
longer be closed. The sources of raw materials can no longer be closed.
What that does is appear as the victory of American imperialism because
who got in there? The United States. The US replaced the Dutch as the
main power in Indonesia, replaced the French in the Middle East, and
replaced the British in South America and the Caribbean. The process is
continuous as long as capitalism exists. It’s not a secret plot of the
capitalists. It’s what’s been happening for 200 years. Only the form has
changed. How do you deal with that? It depends where you are.
If you’re in a factory and your jobs are being exported to Mexico or
Thailand, that’s a problem. But if you’re a socialist thinking about
these things, one of the things it means is that in underdeveloped
countries proletariats are soon going to appear. Sooner or later that’s
going to mean resistance in those countries. I can’t tell that to the
workers I represent, but I have to understand that, to know the limits
of what I can practice. If someone runs for office and says “we’re going
to prevent all our jobs from going overseas” you have got to take that
with a few grains of salt. You can’t do it. Which isn’t to say they
can’t do a hell of a lot more than what the official labour movement has
done. Because what they’ve done is essentially sell off all the younger
workers to protect the core of their supporters, close to retirement:
You protect their jobs and you make concessions to the company on the
backs of the new workers. When I worked, the difference between the
hiring pay and the pay after six months when you got your seniority was
10 cents an hour. You got a nickel the first month and another nickel
after another couple of months. Now it’s a couple of dollars. In other
words there’s a huge gap. So the company is making money on their new
hires for several years before they are incorporated into the high
paying labour force. The unions use that to improve the pensions,
improve the wages of the high seniority employees. To maintain your base
in your membership you sacrifice the rest of the working class. Even
retired workers can understand the difference.
Thank you for your time.