ICC Public Forums on East and West Coast
This past summer the ICC held a number of public forums across the US, which provided the opportunity for comrades from the ICC to meet a wide range of people and discuss a variety of issues with them. On the West Coast there were two forums in Los Angeles (one organized by the ICC, one by the IDP) and one in Oakland, SF, where the central concern was to discuss the student movement in France against the CPE in 2006 and the lessons it may have for the contemporary student movement in California. On the East Coast forums were held in Philadelphia on the lessons of the Tekel strike in Turkey, and finally in New York on the economic crisis. None of these events would have been possible without the practical support and collaboration between our sympathizers. Their efforts, and those of other comrades who participated in the forums, ensured there was a real debate between revolutionaries.
West Coast: Lessons from the student movements
Both forums in LA were attended by student organizers who had participated in the recent struggles in the universities of California. They reported the militant change of mood amongst the students, how they felt that the recent proposal of the authorities were a straightforward attack on their future. As such, the questions were primarily gained at learning more about the anti-CPE movement at the tactical level. The discussions centered first on the importance of the autonomy of General Assemblies (GAs) in order to wage a successful struggle. Many of those present had experienced the typical tactics and proposals of Trotskyists -- proposing ‘co-ordination committees’ for example – that effectively take the decision-making powers away from the mass meetings of the GAs, undermining their autonomy. In the anti-CPE movement in France the leftists were not very successful at this, and that was the movements’ strength. In California the leftists had succeeded in dividing the movement and downplayed the role of the GAs. So, the movement wasn’t yet strong enough to prevent this sabotage.
There was also a reflection on the differences with 1968: today the generation gap is not as large as it was back then. Several generations have experienced years of economic crisis since the 1970s so there is more scope for solidarity. Also, there is a far more equal participation of male and female students, and a effort to make demands that concern the whole of the young generation in relation to the workforce, since a lot of them are working during their studies. There is also a greater concern to reach out to and make contact with the wider working class in struggle. At all the meetings the question was raised: What initiatives were taken towards the urban youth of the suburbs and did it result in anything positive? We were able to give examples of where the students in France sent delegations to the urban youth, linking their problems in the general demands. And slowly but gradually this youth started to join the demonstrations, first the girls then the boys.
On two occasions there was a lively exchange of opinions about how to interpret the struggles in Greece and the difference between the revolt of the youth back in 2009 with efforts towards self-organization and the present movements dominated by the left and the Greek Communist Party and the Unions turning the anger into dead ends. There was also some discussion on the use of violence on the part of some anarchists and terrorists that also derails class activity and autonomy.
There was also an interest in the role of transit strikes (always called for by unions) in derailing struggles and preventing their extension. We discussed about this general type of union tactic, one that claims to support a strike movement but then boycotts and sabotages it in a subtle way, such as forgetting to distribute solidarity leaflets at all, or distributing them just days or hours before the strike. But above all, declaring strikes in transport and communication sectors when there is a threat of extension of the struggle towards other sectors risks cutting transport and information links for those joining the demonstrations. This did not succeed in France. The students wanted their demonstrations on days and times when the workers were not at work. This explains the mass participation of the working class in the student demonstrations: over 3,000,000 in the final demonstration! Finally, there was a discussion on the strong ability of the American bourgeoisie to manipulate its media, making it a master in the black-out of proletarian movements and being capable of changing the agenda through the media manipulation. An example was give about the 1st of May 2010, when 1,000,000 people participated in the demonstration in LA and not one single word was said on TV!!
During the LA forums (but more so at the Oakland forum) there were discussions of the historical challenges of the present period and the activities of the ICC: What are the conditions for the creation of a ‘culture of debate’ and what does it really means? We stressed the importance of creating an atmosphere of open and fraternal debate and collaboration between internationalists -- be they other left communists, anarcho-syndicalist groups like the KRASS in Russia, the joint intervention of the ICC and two anarchist groups in Mexico during the electricity workers strike, fraternal meetings with anarcho-syndicalists in the South of France, etc. Of course, the question of the ‘Party’ came up and the different meaning it has for Left Communism in contrast to the leftist concepts of the party serving for manipulations of the movements and their strive to power. The ICC strives for the power of the workers’ councils.
Another point brought forward in Oakland was how the existence of discussion circles all over the globe demonstrated the need for open non-sectarian debates internationally. We underlined the efforts of the ICC to create arenas for proletarian debate. In this sense, the discussion and collaboration between left communists and internationalist anarchists is one expression of the same striving of the class towards unifying its forces against capitalism. In order to destroy capitalism the working class must have the broadest and widest reflection possible to achieve a level of class consciousness that will ensure it is politically armed for its task to offer its revolutionary struggle as a perspective to humanity. In this sense the aspect of solidarity (shown at the most radical strikes today in China and other places) plays an important role in the working class regaining its identity, which has been weakened after the endless anti-communist campaigns following the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.
After all the meetings there were friendly chats with those present, during which one of the organizers said: ‘The ICC has a big shadow’, pointing that the ICC is much more known than even the we are aware of! We want to thank the comrades who made these debates possible and invite them to continue the discussions by writing or through our Forums on the website.
East Coast: Lessons from the class struggle
Moving over to the East Coast, our forum in Philadelphia was on the topic, “Lessons of the Tekel workers’ struggle in Turkey: How to struggle from below?” Right from the start the discussion took an historical and global approach when one of the audience members, who was in the process of reading Rosa Luxemburg’s “Mass Strike” for a reading group, started with a question on 1905, so we could deepen on the real meaning of the soviet form of organization, the mass strike (as opposed to the planned general strike), and the general assemblies, which have been the shape which every radical strike movement has tended to take ever since.
We also discussed more about the strikes in Tekel as examples of the present strike wave which brings the question of ‘solidarity’ to the center of struggles much more drastically than in the past: not only solidarity with workers of other sectors, but also between different generations, as shown by the student movements in France who invited pensioners and unemployed to their general assemblies, the NYC and Toronto Transit strikes who fought also for decent contracts for the next generations and were greeted by the public. In the Tekel strike, we saw new expressions of solidarity such as German workers who went to Turkey and Tekel workers who made a tour through Germany, Italy and even to Greece, which was a real blow to the ‘nationalists’ who have tried their utmost to separate Greek and Turkish workers ever since the beginning of the 20th century. In Turkey itself Turkish and Kurdish workers refused to be separated and overcame heavy cultural borders during the Tekel strike movement.
Another topic was the situation of the working class in the US and if it is weaker here than elsewhere. We said that maybe the ruling class was stronger and able to use the unions, the mass media and the rule of law in a very sophisticated way to quell class anger. This inevitably strengthens the influence and the ‘confidence’ in the state as an ‘impartial’ body above class conflicts and ultimately weakens the class identity of the workers.
There was a lively discussion on the union question and the difference between unions in the 19th and the 20/21th centuries. In the 19th century, workers saw the unions as their own organizations and sacrificed for them willingly and enthusiastically, whereas now unions are often hated because dues are paid involuntarily in many workplaces and workers, feeling that they derive no real benefit from the unions and see the dues as a kind of tax. Ever since the beginning of the decadent period of capitalism around the turn of the 20th century unions went gradually over to the other camp, supported the nationalist reformist framework, ended up mobilizing the workers for the First World War and ever since have belonged to the class enemy. The audience admitted that the unions certainly have a role in leading workers to defeat, but still wondered about the situation of workers in the US Southeast, where unions are illegal and workers are exploited very harshly. The question was asked whether the unions, despite their conservative and counter-revolutionary nature, could help those workers as an intermediate step before self-organization. Comrades responded that generally you have unions where the ruling class needs them and that better conditions are not the result of having a union but rather that both the existence of a union and better conditions are results of workers’ combativity in a given sector. The example of the recent wildcat strikes in the automobile industry in China was given as ample evidence that workers don’t need a union in place to struggle. In this country the unions are explicitly part of the state and workers were still able to struggle and win on their own.
This led to a discussion of how workers can organize outside the unions and the question of the IWW. We detailed also more about the IWW in the past and today: being an expression of radical class activity through its mass activities in the past and today being torn between 2 tendencies: one that seems to want the IWW to act as a union, represent workers in negotiations, sign contracts, etc., and another that wants the IWW to act more as a struggle committee aimed at stimulating solidarity in the class. All the audience agreed that this debate has to be deepened more in future discussions, and that the issue of the IWW will come up more and more both among revolutionaries and potentially among the working class at large as it looks for historical alternatives to the traditional union-controlled struggle.
In New York where the presentation was given on the latest phase of the crisis, the discussion tended to move very quickly toward the struggle against austerity. The first comments on the crisis asked: ‘Does it have to get worse for workers to react?’ as the leftists say, and all agreed that the answer is NO -- misery is not a good condition, that’s why we have to fight back, but why is the working class’ level of struggle not corresponding to the level of the attacks? The discussion advanced various reflections: first we have to look at the struggle from an international perspective; second, we have to take in account that there is a certain fear compared to the 1970s and 80s, when wildcat strikes were a common phenomenon and a much smaller rate of structural unemployment meant that workers risked much less by engaging in struggle, as they could quickly find other work if victimized by employers; third, the setback after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc is still present
Another discussion was about the loss of class solidarity. Also this question was deepened from different angles. Globally strikes now increasingly start for reasons of solidarity: the New York transit strike for a decent contract for future workers, the Tekel strike in Turkey, and solidarity strikes in Spain in support of immigrant workers. Also, historically, there was a difference in mood between the period around 1968 and since class struggle 2003. Back then the feeling was that revolution was possible, but maybe not necessary, and now that it is more obviously necessary, but might not be possible. There is a fear to overcome and a class identity to regain and his passes necessarily through to expression of solidarity, a capacity only the proletariat can develop.
Another discussion was on the role of leftists, who approach the working class struggle in order to derail it to hopelessly ‘reformist’ perspectives that lead ultimately to defeat. Also discussed was the upsurge of Capital reading groups and discussion circles, in many places in the US, which are part of an international phenomenon and a sign of revival of the reflection on how to overcome capitalism