Against Organizational Patriotism – (Draft Fragment from 2009)

“The place where workers, as workers, can move in “organic unity” at this stage of the political development of the class is at the point of production. Does this mean strikes, for example? It does, and it doesn’t. Some strikes involve mass participation in struggle, but most clearly do not. No alternative conception of the world is manifested in those strikes where the union and the management co-operate in the orderly closure of operations; where picketing is only a dull and tiring public-relations chore; and where the bulk of the workers just disappear till a new contract is signed. And this is the character of most present-day strikes.” Reflections On Organizing, Don Hammerquist

Commitment, accountability, and pride are necessary for the proletarian movements. We need organizations so that our actions can be effective, so we can develop and strategize, and so that lessons of struggle aren’t lost every 2 years or so. There is no place for free-agents in this movement. Anyone who has tried to work with someone who has no respect for an organization, yet continues to use it for personal or political ends, knows how this actively harms the work we want to see. Some level of organizational patriotism is in order then.

But this can and does go too far. The quote above contains within it something crucial for us to understand in our organizing. Not all actions by workers advance the working class, and not all organizational advances are good for the working class. That’s just to point out that what must come first for us is the advancement of the working class working towards the abolition of class society and all its wrongs. As revolutionaries we must keep in focus that our job is to move forward the class in our struggles, not only our organizations. Unions are infamous for acting parochially and guarding the interests of some small subsection of the class at the expense of the broader working class.  The ILWU’s selling out of B-men, the UFCW’s creation of graded union membership after the California grocers strikes, racist white unions striking to keep black workers out, etc., these are only the most obvious examples of how working class struggles can sometimes work against the class.

The upshot of putting the organization first is to lose clarity over the direction of the struggle in hopes of flying the organizational flag. This is a form of opportunism that can emerge from a genuine desire for change that gets overcome by organizational patriotism. In contrast to this sort of patriotism, we need to be organizational internationalists. We should welcome the advancement of a plurality of organizations that move the class forward. We should choose to strategize around struggles that advance the class as a whole, not merely those most expedient for organizational jockeying.


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