[OPE-L:1596] Re: Talking to the workers about wages and socialism

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 26 Oct 1999 17:29:36 -0400 (EDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 23:10:24 +0100
From: Jurriaan Bendien <djjb99@worldonline.nl>

Hi Jerry

Your wrote:

>What I have to say doesn't concern NZ, but the inference suggested
>elsewhere that faculty are not working people. This is blatantly not
>the case and reflects a prejudice common among certain Marxists
>(especially "activists" on the Net).

I take exactly the same view as you, and I do not have that prejudice, with
the proviso that beyond a certain income you cannot call academics (like
those consultants) part of the working class anymore, since then they have
the option of not working or going into business for themselves. And you
know as well as I do that some academics are paid fortunes. But some
academics use part of their fortunes to promote working class causes. This
means that although they don't belong to the working class, they support
the working class, and they are should be treated accordingly.

>The stereotype of wealthy, fat, professors living the "good life" is just
>that, i.e. a stereotype.

Yes, I agree.

>Indeed, substituting a few words, I could say that: "a mass of academic
>labor in the US (and elsewhere) are effectively condemned to servile
>lives at a low living standard".

I agree, with the proviso that you can often still have some degree of
autonomy in your work which many workers just don't have. My concern is
only, what is your goal in using that autonomy ? It's not a criticism, it's
a query.

>Do you think I am exaggerating? I am not.

No I don't think you are exaggerating. I talked to a comrade here in
Amsterdam from the Raya Dunayevska group, and he indicated the same.

>In the US, where part-time faculty have increasingly become the *norm* at
>universities, they are paid miserable wages (it is not uncommon for
>faculty to teach at 3 or more colleges and earn between $7, 000 - $20,000
>personal income/year), receive little or no benefits (especially important
>here since there is no national health care system), and have no job
>security or union representation (even where there are unions, the record
>of academic unions at representing the "lowest of the low" among faculty
>is very poor). In many cases, full-time faculty don't have it much better
>(and the trend has also been for colleges to routinely deny faculty

That is terrible. Yes I earnt low wages too as a tutor. But aren't the
employers clever ? Don't they pit one academic against another academic ?
This is the thing.
>So, faculty are "one of us", i.e. part of the working class.
>Unfortunately, the stereotype of a worker is a man with a hard hat,
>jeans, and steel-tipped boots (I used to resemble that stereotype rather
>well when I worked on the assembly line in GM and Ford auto plants). Yet,
>this is just a cartoon-like vision of the working class. The working-class
>has many different segments -- and academic workers are part of that class
>*even when* they don't recognize it and see themselves as "professionals"
>instead of workers. And part, and only part, of the process of building
>class solidarity is for this group of workers to solidarize themselves
>with the rest of their class *and vice versa*. When radicals, though,
>suggest that faculty aren't part of the working class then they make it
>more difficult to break down that wall and build solidarity.
I agree. You will realise though, in view of what I previously said, that I
cannot very well go and recommend action for American workers, or do much
about it at present. It has nothing to do with my appreciation of American
workers. The point is that this is for you and for American people to
decide, unless we form a common organisation where we can discuss these
things in a pleasant, comradely and democratic atmosphere, and make some
common decisions (and even here we have to heed American legislation). I am
an internationalist, let's be sure of that, but I am not prepared to go and
meddle into issues that I do not know the full details of, without the
people who are directly concerned. This is a lesson I learn from the past.

As you know, in the Fourth International in the 1940s and 1950s we had a
comrade called Michel Pablo (Raptis), an honorable revolutionary (as far as
his writing is concerned he wrote inter alia an essay on women's liberation
well before that became a popularly supported political issue on the left).
But, apart from some mistaken and unimaginative perspectives, which imo
were partly but not fully corrected, Pablo tried to intervene directly in
the life and politics of national sections, in an autocratic manner. He
wanted to tell people in other countries "what to do" like a boss, force
his point of view on them in the name of "democratic centralism". And this
was imo a big political, ethical and epistemic error , apart from being
slightly ludicrous in retrospect. I don't believe in that sort of thing at
all, I have never believed it, and I don't want to repeat it.
Internationalism today in the Fourth International continues to exist
because we want it, we think it is necessary, and we volunteer for it in
each country. This is possibly a "dangerous" thing to say, but if I start
to think like that, I would never have done or do anything.

Incidentally, with due respect to Paul Zarembka, this is not "advertising"
for the FI, but an attempt to explain my point view. I am personally
sticking politically to the International, although I am not very active at
present, because I don't know any better alternative. People who want to
join us can always find us, or a sympathising organisation, even without

I gotta look after myself now, or I'll cook.

In solidarity


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