Correspondence on Zanon, Argentina: Self-management = self-exploitation

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We recently received an e-mail circular that encouraged us to sign a petition in support of the workers of the Zanon factory in Argentina. Here is our reply.

ICCOnline, 14/6/05.


London,

10/6/05.

We are writing to explain briefly why, despite our solidarity with the workers of Zanon in the face of provocations and attacks by the Argentine ruling class, we do not think that your petition is the way to express this solidarity.

1) We are not in favour of petitions in general because they cannot be separated from illusions in bourgeois democracy. A petition is by definition an appeal by the individual citizens to the legal authorities. But as Marx explained, the ‘citizen’ is the atomised individual of bourgeois civil society. To appeal to the rights of the citizen, to see society as an aggregation of individuals is to deny its fundamental reality, which is based on the struggle between classes. And by the same token, the legal authorities can only be the representatives of the ruling class and its interests. Repression and mystification are the methods of the ruling class; against them, the exploited class must use its own methods to defend its interests. That means workers must fight collectively, as workers, not as individual citizens. And instead of appealing to the legal authorities – in other words, to the bourgeois state – they can only appeal to other workers to widen their struggle and build a rapport de force between them and their exploiters.

2) In the past, the trade unions were expressions of this collective struggle of the workers. But this ceased to be the case as long ago as the period 1914-21, when the trade unions first helped the bourgeoisie mobilise the workers for the imperialist war, and then helped it suppress the revolutionary wave provoked in numerous countries by the horrors of the war. Even though workers maintain many illusions in the trade unions, in practise they have been obliged in the course of their struggle to develop other forms of struggle outside and against the unions. A clear example of this were the general assemblies and strike committees produced by the mass strikes in Poland in 1980, before the movement was tamed with the aid of the trade union ‘firemen’ of Solidarnosc. Similar forms, albeit on a less extended scale, have also appeared in Argentina and many other countries. The petition puts forward the position that the trade unions can still be organs for coordinating workers’ solidarity, and we do not accept this.

3) The petition also argues that the formation of workers’ cooperatives represents a proletarian response to the bankruptcy or closure of enterprises. In our view, ‘workers’ self-management’ within the framework of a capitalist economy can only result in the same old exploitation in a different form. There have been countless demonstrations of this reality, from the anarchist collectives in Spain to LIP in France and the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in Britain. It is not possible for the working class to lay hold of the means of production without first taking political power; and when it has achieved this step – which needs to be taken on a global scale – its goal is not to run businesses more efficiently or make more profits than the capitalists but to abolish commodity production altogether.

4) We therefore think that it would be more fruitful to begin a debate on what class solidarity really means than to dissipate our energies on appealing to the bourgeois presidents and judges. We are more than willing to take part in such a debate and encourage all those who receive this message to contact us at our website or write to us at……