Workers' struggles in Italy, Germany, Britain; riots and repression in Palestine; only the proletariat can put an end to barbarism

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The media, the television newsreels, the press, are all full of news. Little by little during the last year, we have learnt everything there is to know, more even, about the Austrian President Waldheim's Nazi past, and Chirac saying “balls” to Thatcher, to cite only two of the countless "important news events" that have cost so much ink.

By contrast, only the most painstaking reader, scouring several papers every day, could ferret out the rare news concerning the daily miseries and struggles of millions of men. Occasionally, between brackets, we hear that a strike has ended ... but whith no one spoke of when it began. Or, in an article in the Portuguese Socialist Party, we learn that the whole country is being shaken by a wave of "social discontent' (February 88). And when a workers' struggle is too big and has too much of an echo among the public for news of it to be censured, then lies and total misinformation are brought into play. Or else, the workers in struggle are simply subjected to insults.

The bourgeoisie tries to drown any awareness of the situation

The bourgeoisie is doing everything it can to hide the reality of the workers' struggles. It is no longer possible today to hide capitalism's economic bankruptcy. The international bourgeoisie is preparing still more dramatic attacks against the living conditions of all humanity, and especially against those of the world proletariat. The medias' censorship of any news about the struggle aims to limit, and if possible prevent completely, the development of the proletariat's confidence in itself, its strength, and its combat.

But the bourgeoisie is not only trying to hide the workers' struggles. The media are being singularly discreet, apart from occasional very precise propaganda campaigns, about the major nations of the Western bloc's armada, on a war footing in the Persian Gulf to confront the Russian bloc, under the pretext of bringing Khomeiny's Iran to reason. And yet, not a day passes without some kind of military operation, not to mention the continuing war between Iran and Irak. The great powers are strengthening their weaponry, all the while trying to hide behind campaigns about East-West "disarmament" (the Reagan-Gorbachev summit, the NATO summit, etc). Everywhere, everything possible is being done to limit the development of a consciousness that capitalism means war: that if it is not destroyed from top to bottom, it has nothing to offer humanity but a Third World War.

The decomposition of capitalism

The full horror of the future that capitalism is preparing for us appears in the Middle East. Not content with having sent more than a million men to their deaths at the front, Iran and Irak are now massacring the civilian population by launching missiles blindly into city centres, to "put pressure" on the enemy. The horror of the situation in Lebanon has become endemic, and spread to the Israeli "occupied territories".

We denounce the vicious repression meted out by the Israeli state to the populations of the occupied territories: populations in revolt against poverty, massive unemployment, famine, and systematic, brutal, and constant repression. Hundreds have been shot. Thousands have been injured, tortured, and beaten up. The army has systematically and cold-bloodedly broken arms and hands, leaving some handicapped for life. In short, this is capitalist terror; it's banal and every-day -- nothing really out of the ordinary.

But it is not enough to denounce repression. It is also necessary to denounce unequivocally all those forces which act to derail this anger and revolt into the dead-end of nationalism. The PLO is one of them of course. But the whole Western bloc, with the USA in the lead, is also pushing for PLO's implantation – up to now relatively weak - in the occupied territories. The US is aiming, if not at the constitution of a Palestinian state, at least at the PLO controlling the population, since the Israeli state, with the best will in the world, is unable to do so. All we can expect from the PLO is the same state terror as that exercised by Israel. The PLO has already proved itself by maintaining capitalist order in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon.

Whether under the Israeli or a Palestinian state, the populations of the occupied territories or exiled in the Lebanese refugee camps or elsewhere are going to suffer still more from the poverty, repression, and permanent war that are continually worsening in this part of the world, just like the other populations in the region. The only limitation on this growing barbarity is the working class' ability to give a lead to the population as a whole in refusing the logic of war and misery. And this is possible: as we have seen in the street demonstrations in Lebanon against price rises, and in the workers' strikes and demonstrations in Israel.

And thirdly, we denounce the chorus of weeping left-wing democrats and suchlike humanists, who recommend "with all their heart" that repression should be "humane". Non-violent, probably. And how about a "humane" war?· Non-violent, and without anyone dying? These people aren't as stupid as that. In fact, they are hypocrites who with their tears, and the Western bloc's' propaganda campaign, aim to tie the population to the false alternative of Israel or the PLO.

The media publicity around the misdeeds of the Israeli army is consciously decided by the US bloc: it is using the violence of Israeli repression just as it did the massacres in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatila in Beirut during September 1982. The Israeli army was an accomplice to these massacres too, and they were used to justify in the eyes of the populations of the Western bloc the dispatch of US, British, French and Italian troops to Lebanon in 1982.

The situation in the occupied territories means that the Israeli state is in its turn being "Lebanised". The whole Middle East is being "Lebanised". The whole of society is falling apart, rotting. This decomposition is the product of capitalism's own putrefaction. Capitalism is rotting as it stands. The whole world over.

Only the proletariat can put an end to capitalist barbarism

Economic collapse, growing poverty, and war: this is the full Horror of what capitalism has to offer us. And this at a time when the world holds  the potential for a development of the productive forces that would put an end to poverty on this planet. The reality of these contradictions is forging the developing consciousness within the working class:

- of the future that the bourgeoisie is preparing unless we seize power,

- that only the working class is up to seizing power from the bourgeoisie, because everything only functions thanks to the workers; and because  a ruling class that no ohe obeys is no longer a ruling class.

The development of revolutionary consciousness demands the unification of the proletariat. And this unification can only take place in the common struggle, for common interests, against a common enemy.

The proletariat continues to struggle

 at the time of writing, and despite the censorship pf silence practised by the international press, the struggle is continuing in Britain: strikes in the car industry; permanent discontent and struggles among hospital workers, public service workers, and teachers. Nonetheless, from the news received from the comrades of our section in Britain, we can say today that the movement seems to be marking a pause.

In the first days of February, hospital workers, 15000 miners, 7000 sailors, 32000 Ford workers, as well as workers at General Motors (Vauxhall), Renault Truck (RVI), and teachers, were mobilised, in spite of trade union oppositions and sabotage[1]. Although unable to control the movement at first, the unions quickly won a first victory: in managing to delay the outbreak of the strike at Ford until after the national nurses' strike on 3rd February. Despite the simultaneity of the struggles, despite the various demonstrations of solidarity with the miners and nurses, despite the outbreak of an unofficial strike in the Ford factories in London on the 4th February, the unions took control of the situation by avoiding any attempt at unification and extension starting from Ford, the movement's real heart. Once the Ford workers were isolated, and their return to work gained at the cost of a 14% wage rise over two years, the chance of a first unification of the different struggles slipped away. Today, the trade unions, for the moment masters of the situation, are preparing a whole series of "days of action" sector by sector, in order to exhaust the workers' combativity in isolated actions without any perspective.

The British workers are not alone

Despite the bourgeois propaganda about passive, resigned workers who have lost all combativity, the movement of struggle in Britain confirms the existence of an international wave of struggle. This movement follows that of the Belgian workers in spring 86, the strike on the French railways last winter, the workers' struggles of spring 87 in Spain, as well as the massive movement in Italy throughout 1987 and the struggle in Germany at the end of the same year. Not to mention the innumerable little conflicts, that nobody talks about but which nonetheless represent for the proletariat an immense gain in experience as to what capitalism really is. Nor are these struggles isolated in the heart of old Europe: there are struggles in Eastern Europe, in Yugoslavia, Russia, Roumania, and Poland; in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan; in Sweden and Portugal, in Greece; in Latin America … all since the beginning of 1987. Even in those countries where the bourgeoisie had up to now succeeded in preventing the outbreak of workers struggles, the crisis brutal acceleration has broken their fragile equilibrium.

Every continent is hit by the development of workers' struggles. Apart from their simultaneity these movements all reveal the same characteristics: they are massive; they hit several sectors at once, and those they hit are the most concentrated with the largest numbers of workers, especially the state sector; they all pose the necessity of breaking down corporatism and unifying the different sectors in struggle; they reveal an a ever-growing distrust for the trade unions by escaping from their control, at least at the outset ; and by trying to take the strugge's control and organisation out of their hands.

Today's struggles are not enough: we must go further

The situation today is marked by a terrible acceleration of history at every level: economic, in the plunge into the crisis; military, in the sharpening of inter-imperialist antagonisms; social, in the existence of workers' struggles for defence against economic attacks. For the proletariat, this acceleration at every level heralds still more dramatic attacks on its living conditions. These attacks are going to demand a great effort to develop the struggle at a higher level. More and more, the proletariat will have to assume the political aspect of its economic struggles:

“In the working class' combats to come a clear understanding of what is really at stake, of the fact that they are not merely a day by day resistance to capitalism's growing attacks, but the indispensable preparation for humanity's only way out -- the communist revolution – will be a precondition, both of their immediate effectiveness and of their ability truly to serve as preparations for the confrontations to come.

By contrast, every struggle that remains limited to the purely economic terrain of defence against austerity will be defeated more easily, both on the immediate level and as part of a far vaster struggle. It will be deprived of a vital weapon for workers today: generalisation, based on the consciousness of the class combat's social, not trade, nature. Similarly, from lack of perspectives, immediate defeats will be above all factors of demoralisation rather than acting as elements of experience and developing consciousness. (International Review, no 21, 2nd quarter 1980)

Struggles that are limited to fighting the economic consequences of the capitalist crisis without fighting its cause, will in the end be useless even on the economic level. Fighting the cause of humanity's misfortunes means not only fighting the capitalist mode of production, but destroying it from top to bottom, to put an end to wars and poverty for good. Only the proletariat can do this. To advance, the working class must draw the lessons of its past struggles. The British workers have just shown us that they have got over the severe defeat suffered during the miners strike,,In particular by drawing its main lesson: isolated strikes, even long ones, are doomed to defeat.

Italy: the barrier of the rank-and-file unionism

Italy's “creeping May” in 1969 had already been bitter confrontations between workers and unions.
and a strong suspicion of the unions is without doubt one of the Italian proletariat's principal characteristics. In 1984, workers fighting the abolition of wage indexation refused to obey the official unions, and the movement started under the leadership of the "factory councils" -- which were in fact rank-and-file union organisations. Its apogee, and at the same time its burial, came when one million workers' took part in the demonstration in Rome in April 1984.

The defeat of this struggle has required three years of "digestion", reflection, and maturation on of working class consciousness. The movement which began in the schools in the spring of 1987 rejected the official unions. It organised in mass meetings and delegates' committees the COBAS -- and spread throughout the country. In May, 40000 people demonstrated in Rome at the call of the COBAS alone. But despite widespread mobilisation, it did not succeed in spreading to other sectors. After the summer holidays, the movement in the schools ran out of steam, and the other areas of working class mobilisation above all in public transport remained dispersed and isolated, without really managing to take up where the school workers had left off. This was due in particular to the increasing grip of rank-and-file unionism on the COBAS which had sprung up in pretty well all the sectors in struggle.

When mobilisation drops, when the movement retreats, these delegates' committees become an easy prey for trade unionism, which diverts the vital search for solidarity and extension among the various sectors in struggle, towards false problems; problems which are nothing but traps to stifle the workers' combativity:

- first of all to the question of the COBAS' institutionalisation or legalisation, in order to turn them into new trade union forms which don't dare say their names, and which have the workers' confidence;

- towards the question of corporatism ((in Italy, among the railway engine drivers especially);

- in an over-hasty centralisation of the committees, in regional and above all national assemblies, where the leftist rank-and-file unionists can use to the full of all their bureaucratic and … trade union maneuvering skills.

In the name of extension, the rank-and-file unionists -- who in fact are completely opposed to it -- don't hesitate to push either too early or completely artificially for the "centralisation" of the workers' first immature attempts to take the struggle into their own hands, the better to stifle them in the mass meetings at the base; not unlike buds which develop too early, and are killed by the last winter frosts. Only the struggle's movement and vitality, the existence of workers' mass meetings, the search for extension, and the process towards the workers' taking charge of the struggle themselves, can lead to the vital, and real, centralisation of workers' combats.

In Germany, the proletarian giant awakes, and heralds the struggle's unification

The December 87 movement focused an the opposition to 5000 redundancies at the Krupp factory in Duisberg was the mast important struggle in Germany since the 1920's. The German proletariat is called to play a central part in the revolutionary process because of its concentration, its power, its immensely rich historical experience, and its links with the proletariat of East Germany and the Eastern bloc. The struggles in December have dealt a blow to the myths of German prosperity, and of German workers' discipline and docility. We are at the beginning of massive struggles in West Germany.

This struggle was important because, because it provoked the participation from workers in different towns and different sectors, in a movement of class solidarity. Not in a strike, but in street demonstrations, in mass. meetings and mass delegations. Whereas in the French rail workers' strike (SNCF) the central question was still extension from one isolated sector to the rest of the class, in Germany, the question of unifying the struggle around "the Krupp workers was posed right from the start.

But this struggle is. important above all for what it heralds for the future. In spite of its inexperience in confronting the unions and their maneuvers, the left-wing parties and the leftism of the rank-and-file unionists, nonetheless as soon as it entered the social scene the German proletariat clearly demonstrated the major characteristic of and perspective for the movements to come: the attacks are going to hit the central sectors, the very heart of the European proletariat, in the major working class concentrations the Ruhr, the Benelux countries, the regions of London and Paris, and the North of Italy. These central fractions are going to enter the fray and open up, "offer" to the whole class, the concrete perspective of uniting the workers' struggles in each country: the perspective of the struggle's international generalisation.

The movements in Italy together and crystallise the ALL the struggles going on in over and above local and particularities:

- not remaining isolated in corporatism,
- spreading the struggle,

- organising in mass meetings, and not letting unionism whether official or "hidden", "radical", or rank-and-file – stifle them with its sabotage and manoeuvres,

- taking up the general and political nature of the struggles: the whole working class is attacked, and the struggles must be united in one struggle against the different states.

We must get ready for the combats to come

The struggles to come will not be won in advance, automatically. The working class must prepare them and prepare itself for them. It has done and continues to do so through the struggle itself, through its own practice. In developing its experience, and drawing the lessons from it, by gaining confidence in its own strength, the whole working class is strengthening itself collectively and massively; it is doing so both during and after its struggles, "invisibly" or underground, as Karl Marx said of the “old mole”.

In this task, the most militant and class consious workers -- whether orqanised or not have a special part to play. Amongst them, the revolutionary groups are irreplaceable, and must live up to what the situation demands.

This means, first of all, recognising it: recognising the present international wave of struggles, and its significance. For communist groups, this recognition must ensure their political intervention on the ground, in the struggles. This intervention must be correct and effective both immediately and in the long term. For it to be so, revolutionaries must avoid falling into the traps laid by rank-and-file unionism, and above all they must not let themselves be imprisoned, as we have seen in recent years, in:

- the "fetishisation" of self-organisation through the coordinations and other centralising "national assemblies" set up by left unionists;
- corporatism and localism, even in the violently radical and extremist form purveyed by the CP's and the leftists.

Finally, revolutionaries must encourage and take part in workers regroupments, and in particular help in the formation of struggle committees. The most combative workers cannot wait for movements to begin before they start making contacts, in order to discuss and think together; in order to prepare themselves for future struggles so as to be able to agitate within them. And then, whatever the unionists' tricks and maneuvers, or even violent opposition, they must intervene and speak out in strikes, meetings, and street demonstrations to defend the needs of the struggle and draw the mass of workers with them.

The immediate defense of working class living conditions is at stake: and so is the future of humanity itself, seriously threatened as it is by capitalism's blind and suicidal absurdity. Only the international proletariat today can limit the spread of misery. Above all, only the proletariat can put an end to capitalist barbarity.

RL: 7/3/88



[1] For a more precise account of this movement, we refer our readers to our various territorial publications.