Report on ICC Public Forums, West Coast of the USA, Summer 2008

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Printer-friendly versionSend to friend During the summer of 2008, the ICC held two well-attended public meetings on the west coast, one in Los Angeles (July 19th) and in San Francisco-Oakland (July 26th). Both forums were only possible thanks to the local help of comrades sympathetic towards the ICC, who provided the meeting places and arranged local publicity. We are extremely thankful for this help. Both discussions were on "May ‘68 and the Resurgence of the Working Class Struggles Worldwide."

1. The ICC Public Forum in Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, the Public Forum was held at the ‘South California Peoples' Library'[1]. There were two presentations, the first by a local militant who drew up an assessment of 30 years of anarchist activism in the US, and the second by the ICC on the international impact of May ‘68 and the subsequent workers' struggles worldwide, heralding the ending of the counterrevolutionary period.

A lively discussion followed about the shared characteristic of both presentations to distance themselves from the violence provoked by the forces of state repression. It was argued that in the end the anarchist and black liberation movements in the past were extremely vulnerable to getting consumed by these violent temptations, ultimately wasting militant energies and resources in paying for costly legal defenses and fundraising.  In many instances violent incidents and actions involved were not acts of class violence by the proletariat, but were acts initiated by adventurists, provocateurs, or petty bourgeois individualists. Instead of effectively fighting the system by  linking the social problems to the struggle of the working class,  these movements dissipated militant energies, burnt comrades out, sent people to jail, without being able to construct organizations that can help to develop revolutionary perspectives.

One of the participants recalled how some years ago in Los Angeles, during an anti-globalization demonstration, protesters were prepared to attack the CNN studios, when he suddenly saw cops deploying their forces. He instantly realized it was a trap and helped to disband and saved a lot of innocent people from getting arrested. For him, this decision was a turning point, it made him reflect about the ineffectiveness of the violent confrontations. It made him think about breaking out of this self created ghetto mentality that frequently characterizes certain anarchist groups. But for some years he did not know how to do it, until he came across ICC analysis which seemed to contain more perspectives for the struggles. Linked to this was a discussion of the nihilist orientation, which isolates the generations and drives them to  dead-end partial struggles instead of bringing the generations together in their attempts to destroy capitalist exploitation, as was done by the French student movement in 2006, which invited unemployed workers, pensioners and urban and suburban youth to their daily general assemblies.

Linked to the first[2] and the second presentation[3] we also discussed the present struggles and their parallels and differences with May ‘68:  the development of a new period of struggles since 2003 and the importance of solidarity in those movements (i.e., NYC transit strike with demands concerning the future generation, etc), and the reemergence of consciousness through the development of discussion circles all over the world.[4] The ICC said it stimulates the life of discussion circles because the current historic period more than ever needs theoretical deepening and reflection within the working class. This is in sharp contrast to the leftists who suck the life out of these discussion circles in their role as the extreme left of the state capitalist apparatus in blocking the development of genuine class consciousness.

These political questions became even clearer in the clash of ideas with a Trotskyist sympathizer. At the end of the discussion someone invited the others to attend the first meeting of a newly created discussion circle in LA, an initiative that was welcomed by other participants[5].

2. The Public Forum of the ICC in San Francisco-Oakland

A week later another Public Forum was held at the Niebyl-Proctor Library[6] in Oakland, the area where there had been a historically significant wildcat strike just after the war in 1946.[7] Although it was a holiday period a wide range of the political milieu of the Bay Area showed up for debate, as was observed by one of the participants: "I did a headcount at one point and there were more like 25 people -- coming from a fairly wide variety of political perspectives which were: left communist, council communist, Marxist humanist, pro-situ, post-left anarchist, conventional leftist ( the rest must've been out electioneering) (...). Despite an infamous Bay Area crank claiming that there are no left communists in the Bay Area, close to a dozen of the people at the event would describe themselves as such. And several other local left communists didn't attend because they were  away on their summer holiday".

We received also some feedback from the same comrade about the presentation and the open discussion:"The presentation was quite good and flowed from an account of the working class upsurge in '68 through subsequent struggles to the radical possibilities for working class self-activity today. I agreed with nearly everything, but my only reservation is that I don't share the presenters version of decadence theory. Other than that, it was great fodder for discussion. And the discussion was equally spirited, comradely and interesting. With the exception of the very few very brief conspiracies of a fascist threat, most comments were insightful and affirmative of radical possibilities in the present. All in all a worthwhile forum".[8]

Although we cannot reflect the whole richness and variety of subjects that were brought up in the discussion, we would like to highlight some of the major points that were debated.

a) The Link between students' and workers' struggles

There was first a questioning of the role of the students in 1968 and today. Out of the discussion came a general agreement on the petit bourgeois character of the student revolt in the 1960s and its incapacity to join the workers movement in the US. Especially in the US as one participant said: "we had more free time than now and were much more implicated in the ‘civil rights' movement", which was in fact a democratic campaign and reinforced the illusions in the capitalist system.  In contrast, today many more students have been proletarianized, i.e. many have to combine study and work and are therefore capable of linking their struggles to the working class. In 2006 in France the student movement invited unemployed, pensioners and urban jobless youth to their assemblies; in 2006  in Chile and in 2007 in Venezuela they confronted the ‘left icons' of the bourgeois state (Bachelet and Chavez). This social context of proletarianization and the increased role of women in the struggle helped the movement avoid the trap of the ‘heroic' violence of the 1960s, and on the contrary helped to extend their movement towards the working class and the older generations.

b) How to characterize the workers' strike wave of the 1960's?

Another discussion focused on how to judge the strike wave that broke out in the 1960's. According to a comrade from ‘News & Letters', the 1956 uprising in Hungary was more ‘radical' than that in 1968, because it posed the ‘question of the content of socialism'. In the discussion we underlined the difference between ‘radical' and isolated uprisings during a period of counter-revolution, such as 1956, and the waves of struggles in after 1968 period, with their influence on each other, reaching a high point with the mass strike in Poland in 1980. All these struggles had in common the features of struggles in decadence (ever since 1902 in Holland, 1903 in Belgium and 1905 in Russia, as described by R. Luxemburg): spontaneous strikes, general assemblies, chosen strike committees, confrontations with unions, etc. These struggles spread all over the globe - in industrialized countries of both the western and eastern blocs, but also in the Third World like China, Mozambique, Angola, Algeria, Zimbabwe were they confronted the new ‘national liberation regimes', demystifying their so called ‘socialist character'.

c) How to Interpret the Economic Crisis?

There was an important contribution on "the falling rate of profit as the cause of the crisis and the margin of maneuver of the ruling class, installing the misery little by little in order not to put its system in danger. So slowly we are getting used to a miserable life affected by desindustrialization and globalization and its terrible exploitation in India and China".

The ICC pointed out that two factors were involved in causing the economic crisis: falling rate of profit, but also saturation of markets. Mass unemployment in the industrialized world, terrible exploitation in newly industrialized countries and the threat of mounting destruction of the planet make the overthrow of capitalism an absolute necessity, but it can only be accomplished by a class conscious proletariat, that has to seize political power before it can start to destroy the laws of capitalist production and  wage labor.

There was also some discussion on how to interpret the boom in China and its capacity to contain social unrest (even if there are violent outbursts, the social unrest does not yet threaten the system as such, and can derail many struggles there into anti-corruption fights).

d) Other questions and perspectives

A comrade who described herself as a council communist raised the question of the ‘usefulness of demands.' In response, it was argued that demands were the first necessary step in the struggle towards putting into question wage labor and the capitalist mode of production. In this effort the stakes are high and the proletariat has to face a treacherous enemy - the unions (its former class organs). The ICC emphasized the positive and hopeful features of the  class struggle since 2003, underlining in its very demands and actions the need for solidarity and open debate within the proletariat. Another comrade mentioned was the upsurge of discussion circles all over the globe: the tip of the iceberg in the emergence of a new generation of future proletarian revolutionaries. It is particularly important for the older generation of working class revolutionaries to pass the torch to this new generation with sufficient skill and patience and to be open to learning from the new generation as well.

This led to a discussion of the urgent  need for a ‘culture of debate', the need to end the period of monolithism so strong in 1968 ("I am right and you are totally wrong"), to deepen the question of ‘ethics' and ‘solidarity'[9] for the proletarian struggle.

Towards the end of the meeting, someone brought up the existence of difficulties and personal clashes between comrades [there had been in the past some members of the discussion circle in San Francisco accusing others in an inappropriate and unworthy manner]. The ICC responded that this is a real problem we have to address: we all bear the scars of the capitalist system's exploitation and dehumanization.  We have to learn to become more human and understanding of each other, to show more empathy and solidarity. In this sense we can learn from the younger generation. ‘The teachers must also be taught'. An appeal was made towards the younger comrades to learn from the recent events and bridge the gap between the generations.

At the end the ICC publications of ‘Internationalism' and ‘International Review' and some ICC pamphlets and books were passed through the room.[10]  

We want to thank the Niebyl Proctor Library and the members of the local discussion circle for their fraternal help and hope they continue their efforts to deepen their revolutionary understanding of how to fight this barbaric capitalist exploitation system. For us it was a boost to see so many comrades participate in a proletarian debate.

JZ, November 2008

 



[1] http://www.socallib.org/

[2] "... so I decided to leave the ghetto and look for a possibility to reach a wider perspective and came across the positions of the ICC, who has widened my scoop in the analysis of the world situation and defend internationalist approach for the workers' movement".

[3] "... I had the privilege to hear a communist spread the gospel according to Marx without reverting to Stalinist dogmatic lines. I was impressed with the down to earth non preachy style of presentation".

[4] References were made to the Orientation Texts of the ICC on ‘Solidarity & Confidence' Part 1 and Part 2  and on ‘Marxism and Ethics'

[5] For more information try to find out via : www.garyrumor.com

[6] http://www.marxistlibr.org/

[7] One of the assistants had just organized a very interesting guiding tour about this major post war event in California the day before.

[8] Both quoted from the letter of H, July 30th .

[9] Reference was made to the Orientation texts published by the ICC on these subjects.

[10] There were also 2 others publications: ‘Out to the Wide' and ‘News & Letters'.

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