Spain: Debate on the general strike
As the CGT and the CCOO-UGT regrouping five different unions in Spain called for yet another 24-hour ‘general strike’ for October 31 and November 14 respectively, comrades of the Assembly movement - Indignant and Self-Organized Alicante Workers - published and distributed a declaration called "In the face of the 24-hour strikes: What strike do we want? The mass strike!".
These workers have been actively involved in a struggle for more than two years and have the merit of having denounced mobilizations which only de-mobilize and demoralize, and which only complement the attacks of the Rajoy government. But this is not all they have done. They have posed a perspective: to struggle for the mass strike. Faced with the unions’ demobilizations, this is the orientation which the workers’ struggles have tended to take since the 1905 Russian Revolution.
It is a mistake to think that there are no alternatives to the unions “mobilizations to demobilize”. Following in the steps of the Alicante workers, we think a debate has to develop to clarify the alternative which the proletariat has had since 1905. The two contributions by two workers which we are publishing here go in that direction.
We salute the declaration and the contributions, and we would like to encourage other workers and groups to give their input.
ICC November 1, 2012
Faced with the “24 hour strike”, which strike do we want? The mass strike!
Why is a 24-hour strike, a strike? Most importantly, how can it benefit the working class?
We identify with the political positions of internationalism and proletarian autonomy. We think that all action by conscious minorities should be orientated toward generating class consciousness, unity, and the self-organization of the working class. We know that there have been many mobilizations as of late and a great effort toward organization by the working class. This period of new and massive mobilizations has started, symbolically, in May 2011 and is the answer against the ever more brutal attacks against the population’s conditions of life. This development has not been linear and has gone through different phases. At first, there is a strong impulse toward self-organization and an embryonic, yet wide-spread movement toward the creation of General Assemblies. Later, the unions and the left of capital take advantage of the exhaustion and visible decrease in the masses’ participation to gain the center-stage. This leads the mobilizations toward the typical union-inflicted defeat: mobilization which are controlled by them, mobilizations which break the unity and are carried out sector by sector, demoralizing mobilization led into dead-ends and which only generate a sense of isolation and disgust in the participants. This is why the absence of a majority of the workers in these mobilizations is only logical, since they are perceived as alien to their own interests, opening the possibility of reflection.
We need to think, learn from our experiences and look for the path toward our own self-organization. This will not be given birth to by ‘specialized vanguards’ or anxious impulses, even if these may have the best of intentions.
It is the workers themselves who have to call for and extend everywhere, the kind of strike which we is needed and efficacious. It is the workers who have to occupy all the spaces and create new types of relationships and social communication. This type of strike does not detain life, it rather generates it. This type of strike is the mass strike, which during the last century has become a feature of the struggles, and which all its enemies-all bourgeois strata- have conscientiously silenced until its memory has become blurred. This is because the bourgeoisie fears its attraction and legitimacy for the proletariat.
A true strike is a massive and integral movement which does not consist solely in a work stoppage. It is the fundamental weapon of a working class in the process of taking control of its life, expressed by the fact that the working class struggles against all aspects of exploitation. In this process, the exploited class also expresses the human society to which it aspires. However, this is not a process that can be prepared ad hoc, not even with the best intentions. It is a part of the process by which the class struggles and comes to its consciousness. It is not a question of 24, or 48 hours, or of indefinite time. Its radical nature is not a matter of time. Its radical nature is based in the real movement of the working class as it organizes and leads itself.
What is the mass strike?
The mass strike results from a particular phase in the development of capitalism starting in the XX century. Rosa Luxembourg developed it from the revolutionary movement of the workers in Russia in 1905. The mass strike “is a historic phenomenon at a given moment because of a historic necessity resulting from social conditions”.
The mass strike is not an accident of history. It is neither the result of propaganda nor of preparations taking place ahead of time. It cannot be created artificially. It is the product of a specific stage in the development of capitalist contradictions. The economic conditions which produced the mass strike were not inscribed in one country only. Rather, they had an international dimension. Such conditions generated a type of struggle which has historic impact, a struggle which was a fundamental aspect of the birth of proletarian revolutions. In short, the mass strike “is nothing more than the universal form of the working class struggle, resulting from the present stage of capitalism’s development and its relations of production.” This "present stage" was capitalism’s final years of prosperity. The new historic circumstances accompanying the birth of the mass strike were: the development of imperialist conflicts and the threat of world war; the end of the period of gradual improvements in the conditions of life of the working class; the growing threat against the very existence of the class under capitalism. The mass strike is the product of a change in the economic conditions at a historic level. Today we know those conditions marked the end of capitalism’s period of ascendance and heralded capitalism’s decadence.
The great concentrations of proletarians in the advanced capitalist countries had acquired great experience with collective struggles, and their conditions of life and work were similar everywhere. In addition, as a result of economic development, the bourgeoisie was growing into a more concentrated class who more and more became identified with the state apparatus. Like the proletariat, the capitalists too had learned how to confront their class enemy. The new economic conditions made it more and more difficult for the working class to gain durable reforms at the level of production. In a similar way, the decomposition of bourgeois democracy made it more and more difficult for the proletariat to consolidate gains at the level of parliamentary activity. Therefore, the political and economic contexts of the mass strike were not the product of Russian absolutism, but rather of the growing decadence of bourgeois rule in every country. In the economic, social, and political spheres, capitalism had laid the foundations for the great class confrontations at a world level.
The form of the mass strike
The goal of the union form of organization was to obtain reforms and betterments within the framework of capitalist life. Under decadent capitalism, this was more and more difficult to accomplish. In this period the proletariat does not engage in struggles with a perspective of gaining real improvements. The great demonstrations of today, the strikes of today gain nothing. As a result, the role of the unions to obtain economic improvement within capitalism has disappeared. But there are other revolutionary implications deriving from the dislocation of the unions by the mass strike:
- The mass strike could not be prepared ahead of time. It emerged without a plan and became the "method of the proletarian masses’ movement". The unions, which were devoted to a permanent organization, were concerned about their bank accounts and membership lists, and could not even envision having the stature necessary for the organization of the mass strike, because this is a form which evolves within and through the struggle itself.
- The unions divided the workers and their interests into industrial branches, while the mass strike "integrated itself from the particular and the different". In this way, it tended to the elimination of al divisions among the proletariat.
- The unions only organized a minority of the class, while the mass strike brought together the class as a whole.
The decadence of capitalism
The struggle needs to be joined to the reality in which it happens. It cannot be posed as a separate entity. Since the beginning of the last century the decadence of the system has dried up the extracapitalist markets. In this way capitalism’s insatiable need for growth has been severely blockaged. In turn, this has caused a constant crisis and constant social cataclysms -wars and unprecedented misery for humanity.
The period since 1968 expresses the permanent nature of capitalism’s crisis. It express the impossibility for the system to expand and the acceleration of imperialist antagonism, the consequences of which threaten the entire human civilization. Everywhere the State takes charge of the interests of the bourgeoisie and extends it repressive apparatus. It is confronted with a working class who, admittedly numerically weakened in relation to the rest of society since the 1900’s, is ever more concentrated, and whose conditions of existence are becoming shared in all countries at an unprecedented level. At the political level, the decomposition of bourgeois democracy is so evident that it can barely mystify its true function as a smokescreen for the terror of the capitalist state.
In which way do the objective conditions of the present class struggle correspond to the conditions of the mass strike? Its nature rests in the fact that the characteristics of the present period express the highest point reached by the contradictions of capitalism, starting in the 1900’s. The mass strikes of that period were the answer to the end of capitalist ascendance and the dawn of decadence. Taking into account the fact that these conditions today are chronic, we can conclude that what pushed toward the mass strike is today much stronger and much more wide-spread. The general consequences of the development of international capital which were at the root of the historic birth of the mass strike have continued to ripen since the beginning of the century.
What we can do?
What can we do to foster the development of the mass strike, the international self-organization of the proletariat, and its indispensible unity? Our contributions cannot be more than that: contributions of a conscious part of our class. We cannot do more, nor less.
One such contribution is the very critique of the mistakes which fetter self-organization and the deepening of consciousness. Even with the best intentions activism, base-unionism, leftism…all are part and parcel of the barriers that workers have to overcome to accomplish class autonomy. Another contribution is to encourage reflection and the clarification of the experience of the struggle. We can also aid in the re-appropriation of the memory of our struggles and their fundamental weapon: the mass strike
Indignant and Self-organized Workers “for a pro-worker, anti-capitalist 15M”
Analysis and reflections on the Alicante ‘critical bloc’
At the end of 2011 comrades of the Indignant and Self-organized Workers (“Take the Square” commission) proposed the idea to collaborate with various groups in favor of the workers’ assemblies. We made the proposal to TLP and addressed ourselves mainly to organization such as the CNT, CGT, and SO which had taken part in joint actions and theorized in favor of the workers’ assemblies. This is what we call “the extension of the assemblies movement”, a project which sponsored what its name suggests from the point of view of the exploited and going beyond party divisions. We put it in writing and made a first attempt at contact. At the time of the 29M strike a Critical Bloc (1) is formed, reflecting our idea about unifying initiatives in order to extend the movement of workers in the assemblies in a wide sense, and question the present situation globally. In the assemblies that were generated that day, a rough outline of how to continue to work was drafted. From this outline followed different orientations. Several supported self-management, others centered on the organization and the struggles by the workers. I took part in the second, which gave birth to several interesting proposals: a solidarity commission with the workers to take care of the work-places, a solidarity fund - which TIA (2) still keeps - protocols for the realization of assemblies after massive mobilizations - and many assemblies took place - protocols for how to respond to repression.
In the summer of 2012 TIA makes an attempt to re-start the Bloc through summer meetings centered on the debates taking place in the Carolinas Community Garden. The initial idea was to meet workers and militants to share experiences and see if activities would surge. This is how the first meeting took place, in which it did not matter at all which group any one participant belonged to. This dynamicchanges once a group who had not attended any meeting makes the proposal to take part in the day of struggle of September 26 within the framework of the national day of struggle organized by several organizations. This was the last act by this bloc-transformed into 'Space': the September 26 day of struggle. This day of struggle changed for me the meaning of what I understood to be the aim of the bloc: "the extension of the movement of the workers’ assemblies".
What happened in this day of struggle? We can analyze it in two parts, according to how the events were posed. On the one hand, there was the assembly. It was participatory, sometimes dispersed, as it often happens. We talked about many subjects but not of the fundamental issue: the workers’ means of struggle, without labels or party identification. It was respectful and at times emotional. It provided a sense of unity and posed the question of a collective reflection.
On the other hand, there was the demonstration. There were many slogans, many blocs separated from each other, a superficial ‘radicalism’ and the absence of common perspectives that go beyond the slogans, totally isolated from the few people in the street who looked on with strange gazes. The feeling was of a disconnect with reality and a lack of unity. In my opinion, the wide-ranging debates that took place before the two events were joined in a kind of consensus which only peddled a false unity. On the one hand there were people who posed the question of a contribution to the generation of consciousness, unity, and workers’ self-organization and who thought that the best place for this is the general assembly. For us, the movement is the autonomous movement of the proletariat, and nothing can change it or direct it other than itself. Obviously, this movement only comes to the forefront in small and short explosions, but this only reinforces the idea that the emancipation of the workers is either the workers’ own action, or it won’t happen. This is why we give priority to ‘horizontal’ spaces that have no labels and where we look for all that we can have in common and what we can pose in common, even though we are open to collaborate with comrades who belong to organizations with their own slogans and ideology.
However, those who defend the idea that it is the organizations of the ‘radical left’ who must unify because they represent the workers, want a common front with a minimum common program, yet they also want to preserve their differences (which are many) and peculiarities and even their own activities. It is not difficult to see who was in favor of the assembly and who for the demonstration, who wanted labels and who didn’t, and who valued a common, general, name with each any worker could identify with, and who was more interested in the particular labels, but not in the importance of a common name.
After all this, we need to pose what we want to do. We were wise in leaving the disputes for later and to postpone the assessment of the event. An assessment will necessarily imply a confrontation of the two tendencies which appeared and which are not likely to consent with each other eternally. However, a serious assessment needs an understanding of the reality in which we move and needs to answer a number of questions: why did the bloc’s conception change? How is it possible to move from posing the question of a space for reflection to a leftist posture within a day? How can we consider a success the fact that we had a night stroll with other 500 people? Certainly, the dynamic has changed. When the bloc developed the idea to extend the assembly movement, this was then a possibility because of the number of massive struggles taking place, and a certain tendency toward self-organization-i.e., the first assemblies of the 15 M, the first moments of the mobilization of the teachers…). But the situation has changed and the mobilizations have been first controlled by the unions and others, and then de-mobilized or taken into a dead-end. The extreme left sees this movement as its property, where they have to denounce the role of the ‘bad managers’ in order to create a pole of attraction toward their positions. From this perspective, the present mobilizations have a meaning. For us, THEY DON’T.
If the workers are not mobilized right now, it is because they know that they can’t get anything with these ‘leaders’ and these ‘struggles’, even though they know things have to change…but they do not know how. For us, this is a moment of collective reflection. We have to contribute toward helping the workers develop a sense of confidence and find the path toward their autonomous organization and their own direction of the future struggles. It is now the time to learn the lessons, be loyal to our class, and not abandon our class.
About one year ago something like the day of struggle of September 26 was inconceivable because the masses would have gone beyond it, since they would have not allowed any organization to take center stage. If today these organizations try to substitute themselves for the participation of the masses, it is precisely because the masses are not ready to mobilize at all. Without understanding this we cannot understand anything else, and we can only end up following the dynamic of activism, which has nothing to do with the real rhythm of the working class struggles. It is possible that some of us felt less lonely in these actions than if we were in our small groups, but the need for ‘company’ is not a political imperative, at least for a working class politics. What is indeed needed are coherence and honesty. Revolutionaries are not ‘lonely’. We are a part of a class that needs and can change the world. Outside of this we lack meaning and we become something else.
What are the conditions for the formation of a permanent collaboration amongst comrades of different groups? We need to understand two things:
I mean permanent collaboration, not an occasional one based on tactical questions.
I mean honest comrades with whom we have serious differences, but of whom we don’t doubt their commitment to the cause of the exploited.
Here, I will explain how, in my opinion, we can have a permanent space for meetings and discussion. Assuming the following premises:
That it be a space of debate, struggle, and meeting with comrades who may or may not be in other organizations, but who give priority to creating common organizational spaces for the working class.
That it be a space for assemblies, both in form and content. Not only is it organized as an assembly, but it also tries to transmit this model to the working class as the embryonic form of the future society.
That is be radically critical of the capitalist system and that it search for the way to transform reality to create a society capable of satisfying all human needs.
That it be a unitary space which searches for a workers’ unity that goes beyond borders, categories, sectors, and organizations. It is a space without labels.
That it be an internationalist space because workers unite as a world community who defends human interests. We belong to the same class, not a fatherland, flag, ideology, or organization.
I am aware that these premises do not exist today, and I have no pretensions of coming to an agreement on questions which each one of us considers fundamental. That is the false unity I referred to before. If I think that these positions are necessary and basic for the struggle of our class, it is obvious I cannot renounce them in favor of a ‘consensus’. When do I think will these conditions exist? When the very autonomous dynamic of the proletariat imposes them. Therefore, debating over them would be absurd. Until then, until the moment that history decided, we can only keep discussing all of the above and much more. I think that we cannot aspire to anything more or less than this in the present period.
Reflections on the present situation and the methods of struggle
I am adding some incomplete reflections in the context of the present situation, taking account of the recent texts, “The organization of the proletariat outside periods of open struggle” and “Analysis and reflection about the Alicante’s bloc”.
- The present situation offers a principal characteristic regarding the class struggle: a lateness in its political abilities (nature and depth of the crisis, role of the state and of democracy) and also in its ability to struggle (proletarian methods and weapons of struggle, ability to self-organize. Both levels, political and class struggle, are interconnected and feed on each other, be it in a vicious or virtuous circle.
- For now, this delay does not appear as a defeat: notwithstanding the great confusion and fear, there is no total and resigned acceptance and understanding of the ‘needs of the economy’. Also, neither atomization nor decomposition has reached the levels of dehumanization which would completely empower the bourgeoisie.
- The fertile terrain for the historic resurgence of the proletarian struggle is, without a doubt, the depth of the crisis, the sharpening of social antagonisms and the decomposition of the ideological, political, and union apparatus of the bourgeoisie.
- In the previous epoch of great proletarian struggles - from May 1968 in France, to Poland in 1980) which in some local and punctual places even reached pre-insurrectionary levels, the delay which we talked about above did not happen in the same way. While there was an important delay at the political level - democratic illusions, illusion sin the unions and the “workers” parties, in self-management or cooperatives, in nationalism, etc. - this did not impede a great ability to struggle and to develop proletarian methods - workers’ assemblies, revocable delegates, extension of the struggle, self-organization, etc. - It is also important to point out that neither the crisis nor unemployment were, generally, as serious as they are today. That is why they were not a brake on the development of the struggle. In addition, not many states had at their disposal a whole arsenal of anti-proletarian tricks that they have today.
- Approximately 40 years after this wave of struggles, with a dramatic break of the social fabric - a product of the capitalist crisis and of unemployment, and also of a bourgeois strategy of attacks on multiple levels: ideological, social, urban, at the work place against the threat of the proletarian struggle - with a ‘forgetting’ of the methods of the struggle of the working class, with great atomization and a-politicism, and an immense level of precariousness and unemployment, can we expect now great proletarian struggles? Would, in the present period, a ‘class instinct’ be enough, without a minimum of political ability to develop the struggle, as it existed in previous epochs?
- In my opinion, it is not possible. The present period in the decadence of capitalism requires that the class struggle develops the political and economic struggle at the same time much more than in previous epochs. In a more concrete way: the development of struggles with a proletarian method going further than the explosions of anger or desperation required requires a much greater political ability of the class. The class needs a minimum of an understanding of the terrain, of our allies, our enemies, and our false friends. This is because of the same reasons expressed above and the greater sophistication of the bourgeoisie than in the past.
- Because of this, the political, the ‘intellectual’ aspects will play a decisive role in the present period. Is it possible to confront austerity and misery-which are presented in a fatalistic way, without a minimum of understanding of reality? Is it possible, under such difficult circumstances, to find a path of struggle minimally efficacious, without putting in question the role of the unions? The volcano on which bourgeois society is sitting is hotter than ever, but its crater is obstructed by something that requires more than just good will, anger, and indignation to make it explode.
- In this sense, the minorities that surge within the proletariat in search of theoretical-practical and political weapons to confront the capitalist system are an expression of the struggle against the existing conditions of life, of a confrontation happening outside of periods of open struggles and are very important for a political vanguard of the proletariat. Underestimating their role and importance is the equivalent of negating the fact that the class reflects, and that this is a crucial element in its struggle, both for its economic and political interests. To give these minorities no role other than to ‘dilute’ themselves in confused movement, or in artificial ‘unitary organs’ put in place by ‘radical’ syndicalism and by the extreme left is to contribute to disarming the proletariat and opening the door to the worse kind of politics, the worse of substitutionism: by the bourgeoisie, its unions, and its left.
- Therefore, my opinion is that the more politically advanced elements are a part of the proletariat and of it struggle against capitalism. the unitary organs of the class cannot be created or prepared ahead of the real struggle because they surge in and for the struggle. The minorities have an important role to play on the path leading to self-organization and class consciousness. However, this role will be neutralized if the minorities dilute themselves in ‘spaces’, ‘coordinations’, etc, and even in genuine organs which surged from the class struggle if they limit themselves to defending proletarian positions -of course, depending on the context and the needs of the moment. In this case, these minorities would not be acting as revolutionary minorities, but will turn into something else.
- The Critical Bloc is a space in Alicante where comrades from different organization or with no affiliation have converged ever since the last general strike (29M) and who have an orientation toward the general assemblies. It was born to give an answer to the strikes called by the unions, with the intention to extend the assembly movement. On September 26 from this bloc a day of struggle is organized, at the same time as the Euskadi called a strike and the base unions called for a day of struggle at the national level. This is the first time where organizations appear. This day of struggle was preceded by long debates in which very distinct currents expressed themselves on the question of what the bloc is and should be. On this occasion the ‘bloc’ changes its name to ‘space’.
- TIA is a collective born out of the spontaneous regrouping of comrades from the autonomous assembly terrain in Alicante around the assemblies of May 2011. They took charge of the organizational structure of the movement and joined up with other comrades with whom in common they posed the questions of the assemblies, anti-capitalism, and proletarian internationalism. Their many differences with the rest of the 15M led them to formally split from the organizations which took this name (15M) and started to function independently. The incorporation of comrades from the Open Workers’ Assemblies made it so that the group called itself TIA-of the assemblies