The evolution of class struggle
No-one can deny that the present situation of the class struggle is very different from what it was in 1977-78. At this time apathy and disorientation reigned among the workers, especially in the European countries. Dark clouds loomed over the horizon: austerity plans, massive lay-offs, a dangerous aggravation of imperialist wars ... Capitalism could impose all this without provoking much of a reaction by the working class. It’s not the same today: the whole of Europe has been hit by a wave of struggles which began with the strikes in the US and Germany in 1978 and culminated in the formidable battles of Longwy and Denain in the Spring of 1979. In the face of the capitalist crisis and its funereal march towards the holocaust, the proletarian giant is once again raising its head, threatening to transform the crisis into a revolutionary crisis which will open the door to the communist emancipation of humanity.
Of course, there is still much doubt, hesitation and mistrust in the proletariat’s ranks: the more combative workers are themselves not always aware of the scope and importance of the struggles they’ve been through. The workers have not yet rediscovered the enthusiasm and determination of the last revolutionary wave, and frequently display a certain apathy and disorientation. This is quite understandable seeing that we are only at the very beginning of a new revolutionary wave. As Rosa Luxemburg said:
“The unconscious precedes the conscious and the logic of the objective historical process precedes the subjective logic of its protagonists.” (‘Marxism against Dictatorship’)
This report, which expresses the discussion which took place at our Third International Congress on the present state of the class struggle, has a clear, practical and militant objective: to make the combative workers conscious of the “logic of the historic process”, ie of the overall context -- economic, political, social -- of the struggles we are now seeing, of their effects and their perspectives. Only by grasping this “logic of the historic process”, or as the Communist Manifesto put it, “clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement”, will our class be able to strengthen its confidence in itself, redouble its determination and annihilate the power of its class enemy.
However, in the revolutionary movement today there are still too many blind men who don’t see this or don’t want to see it. This is the case with the FOR (Ferment Ouvrier Revolutionnaire), PCI (Battaglia Comunista) and the PCI (Programma Comunista). These groups refuse to see the essential, underlying aspects of the present struggles. And this isn’t new: these groups also have a low opinion of the huge workers’ struggles which shook the five continents in the 1960s, seeing them as somewhat unimportant skirmishes.
More precisely, this report will serve to reaffirm the essential axes of the present historical period, against the obvious blindness of these comrades:
1. The struggles of the sixties (May ‘68, Poland, Italy) represented the end of the period of counter-revolution which descended on the working class from the 1920s on, opening up the perspective of a new revolutionary period.
2. The relative reflux which dominated the European proletariat after 1973-74 was due to the weaknesses which characterized the post-‘68 wave of struggle, and to the bourgeoisie’s counter attack.
3. This reflux was in no way a defeat, and did not overturn the course towards revolution which opened up in the sixties.
4. The struggles which have broken out since Autumn 1978 in a great number of countries, particularly the capitalist metropoles, announce the end of the period of calm and the maturation of a new proletarian offensive.
Programma Comunista and Battaglia Comunista are beginning to see that something is going on: even though their analyses are contradictory, they are beginning to see the importance of the present struggles. But the FOR continues unheedingly in its blindness, in its Olympian disdain for the present struggles: for them, all that happened in Iran was just a manipulation by the Ayatollah and the events in Longwy and Denain were completely recuperated by the unions.
The FOR pushes to its logical, caricatural extreme the attitude of all the revolutionary groups and militants who don’t understand the dynamic of the situation and the characteristics of the class struggle -- who don’t even attempt to find a concrete perspective for the present historic course.
To fail to see the perspectives which are emerging out of today’s ‘poor little strikes’ amounts, comrades of the FOR, to denying the “logic of the historic process”, to leaving militant proletarians at an unconscious stage, to putting obstacles in front of the development of class consciousness. The FOR defends the essential class positions, but at a time when it has to understand reality, understand the evolution of the class struggle, it doesn’t put them into practice. That’s because class positions aren’t something that have to be repeated parrot-fashion till they enter into people’s heads; they’re not a nice sermon aimed at converting people; they’re not a good news sheet for proselytes. They are above all a global framework for understanding the class struggle, for seeing where we are going and how, through what process and with what perspectives. They are an instrument for understanding the logic of the historic process and acting consciously towards its fruition. Defending class positions in a general way while at the same time failing to see the reality of the present struggles and lacking a concrete perspective for the period, as the FOR comrades do, amounts to throwing away a precious treasure, a priceless implement for understanding the reality of the class struggle, for participating in it and giving it a revolutionary direction. It amounts to reducing class positions to mere ideology.
The present text contains our conclusions on:
-- the conditions which determined the relative reflux of 1973-78;
-- the evolution of the crisis, of the deepening political crisis of the bourgeoisie, and of the balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, which have determined the end of the reflux;
-- the balance-sheet and concrete perspectives of the struggles since November 1978.
It is a militant appeal for the whole revolutionary movement to make an effort to arrive at a global understanding of the proletarian movement, of the steps it has already made and the ones which lie before it; to be at all times conscious of where we are and where we’re going in the current proletarian movement.2. Why the reflux?
After 1973-74, the huge wave of struggles which began in the 1960s virtually disappeared from the central countries of capital, giving way to a phase of social calm. Why this reflux?
In the report on the international situation which our organization elaborated in early 1978 (see International Review, no.13), there is a general explanation of why the movement of the working class has never followed a straight line but goes through a series of flux and reflux. This ‘saw-tooth’, uneven character is accentuated in the period of capitalist decadence, owing to:
-- the state totalitarianism which -- either by repression or integration, or a combination of both -- prevents the existence of any permanent mass organizations of the working class;
-- the impossibility of winning any lasting reforms and improvements, which prevents any stable, structured struggle.
We must understand the reflux which followed the struggles of the sixties within the context of the general characteristics of the proletarian struggle, to which must be added:
-- the weaknesses of the post-1968 wave of struggle;
-- the ideological and political counteroffensive of the bourgeoisie.
Concerning the first point, this is not the place to make a complete balance-sheet of these struggles: this has already been done in several texts of our organization (cf RI, Old Series; the texts ‘World Perspectives of the Class Struggle’ in Accion Proletaria, nos .12 & 13, translated in English in World Revolution nos.15 & 16; ‘On the Present State of the Class Struggle’, AP no.18; ‘May ‘68’ in IR no.14). Here we will limit ourselves to:
-- a schematic reminder of the main weaknesses of the movement of the sixties: illusions about a radical form of economism; a frequent break with the trade union form, but not with its content; the relative isolation of the struggles; their lack of perspectives;
-- looking at the general conditions in which the wave took place (a still limited level of the crisis; the slow, uneven rhythm of the crisis; the limited experience of the proletariat which was starting from scratch after fifty years of counter-revolution), in order to get to the roots of these weaknesses;
-- and finally, understanding these weaknesses as an integral part of the first stage in a new revolutionary epoch, which alongside its great revolutionary potential inevitably contains all sorts of immaturities and weak spots.
Concerning the second point, it is important to understand that the bourgeoisie consciously took advantage of these limitations and weak spots in order to mount a vast political and ideological counter-offensive which aimed at holding back and undoing the proletariat’s advance. Basing itself on the general conditions from which the struggles of the sixties arose, the bourgeoisie strengthened its mystifications, its anti-working class offensive.
The struggles following May ‘68 took place in the first phase of the capitalist crisis (the recession of 1966-67 and 1970-71); this made it difficult to see how profoundly sick senile capitalism was, especially with the mini-boom of 1972, when a number of countries achieved the highest levels of production in the post-war period. This boom was in many ways the swan song of capitalism’s famous period of ‘prosperity’.
The struggle unfolded then in the context of:
-- a slow development of the crisis;
-- its uneven development nationally, regionally and industrially;
-- the general, marked tendency toward increasing state capitalism which allowed the bourgeoisie to initially avoid a frontal assault on the workers. The effects of the crisis could be partially diverted away from the central sectors of the class to hit those at its margins or even weaker elements of the population. This inhibited the development of the struggle and became the soil that nurtured all manner of illusions in the workers’ ranks, thus allowing a counter-offensive to be effectively mounted by the bourgeoisie.
The slow development of the capitalist crisis took its toll on the consciousness of the class:
-- it had difficulty in understanding the nature of the capitalist crisis;
-- trade union-style, reformist illusions caused the class to believe that it could protect itself from a degradation in its living standards by means of legal ‘guarantees’. Self-management and ‘workers’ power’ are the most radical expressions of such illusions;
-- the illusion persisted that, given social contracts and negotiations, workers could participate in the administration of capitalist society and benefit accordingly;
-- the workers over-estimated the stability and coherence of the capitalist system, continuing to believe that the ruling class could govern eternally.
The uneven development of the capitalist crisis between different firms, regions and countries facilitated:
-- the illusion that a national solution could be found for the crisis. This illusion entailed the acceptance of class collaboration and ‘sacrifices for all’;
-- trust in the effectiveness of defensive struggles waged at a sectoral level -- factory by factory, sector by sector, or category by category -- heightened the workers’ belief that solutions to the crisis could be found at the level of the individual factory, sector or region.
Finally, the acceleration of state capitalist measures at the first signs of the crisis strengthened various illusions held by the class:
-- the bourgeoisie identified state capitalism with socialism by presenting the intervention of the state in the economy and nationalizations as so many steps toward socialism;
-- measures taken by the bourgeoisie to indirectly concentrate capital, or divert the consequences of the crisis onto the middle classes or anachronistic sectors of the population, were presented to the working class as proof of the ‘just’ , ‘social’ and ‘progressive’ character of the capitalist state;
-- the left and the unions were given a ‘proletarian’ and ‘combative’ image by means of the bourgeois mystification that a ‘workers’ government’ and the ‘union of the left’ would provide a solution to the crisis, favorable to the working class’.
All of this provided the material basis for a general political and ideological strengthening of the bourgeoisie, which allowed it to assume a counter-offensive against the class. The principal positions governing this offensive, which ended up bridling and demobilizing the proletariat were:
1. The democratic mystification -- it was brought to bear in periods of intense social unrest in the form of ‘direct democracy’ and ‘popular power’. As the intensity of the struggle diminished, democratic mystifications assumed their ‘classical’ form.
2. the left in power -- was presented as the great legal, peaceful, though very radical ‘change’ which would provide a solution to all problems.
3. the national solution to the crisis -- required ‘the solidarity of all the classes in the nation’ so that social contracts, plains to restructure the economy, etc, could be implemented. This mystification was used to justify the sacrifice workers were being asked to make.
An active factor in the ideological and political rearming of the bourgeoisie was the re-adaptation of the union and left-wing machines at the end of the 1960s to the new climate of class struggle:
-- they ‘democratized’ and ‘de-bureaucratized’ themselves;
-- they ‘radicalized’ their own outlook, integrating all the components of the ‘modern struggle’, such as self-management and the need for radical ‘changes in daily life’, into their arsenal of attack against the class;
-- they proposed ‘new programs’ and ‘social change’, linking the class struggle to a ‘legal’ terrain.
The leftists were precisely those ‘anti-bodies’ secreted by the bourgeoisie which were needed, initially, to immobilize the struggle and give credibility to the ‘renovation’ of the unions and left parties.
The bourgeois state, rigidified by the years of social calm and too preoccupied with all the problems of the reconstruction period, also underwent a rapid re-adaptation in face of the new conditions of class struggle brought to life by the crisis. This re-adaptation allowed the state to present itself as a ‘neutral organ’ standing between the classes, which could provide the means for the participation of all citizens in the life of society because it was a ‘democratic instrument’ of the popular will.
The process by which the bourgeoisie mounted its ideological and political attack on the class can be seen in the following:
“In a great many countries, particularly in those where the working class had shown the greatest combativity in its struggle, the bourgeoisie launched a campaign of mystification which tried to demonstrate:
-- that class struggle didn’t pay;
-- instead, ‘changes’ were needed in order for the country to face up to the crisis;
Depending on the country, these ‘changes’ took the form:
-- in Great Britain, of the assumption of power by the Labor Party at the end of the wave of big strikes in the winter of 1972-73;
-- in Italy, of ‘the historic compromise’ and the participation in government of the PCI, designed to make political life ‘moral’;
-- in Spain, of the ‘democratic break’ with the Franco regime;
-- in Portugal, of ‘democracy’ initially, and later of ‘popular power’;
-- in France, of the ‘Common Program’ and the ‘Union of the Left’, which was supposed to bring to an end twenty years of ‘big capital’ politics.” (‘Report on the World Situation’, IR, no. 13)
The process by which the bourgeoisie rearmed itself allowed the bourgeois state initially to isolate the most dangerous struggles of the class in order to liquidate the general social unrest. Steps were taken to channel workers’ struggles into an impasse, on to a false terrain of struggle which would lead to their demoralization. This allowed the unions to redeploy themselves, to take the struggles in hand by mounting sham strikes that would end in demobilizing the working class.
Confidence in all sorts of ‘legal’ actions, inter-classist campaigns and government programs took the place of the workers’ trust in their own strength. France is a good example of this. Having got through the most difficult phase represented in May ‘68, the French bourgeoisie set about isolating the strongest struggles still taking place -- the SNCF railway strike waged in 1969 for example. It left the radical strikes of 1971 and 1972 to rot in isolation, while it staged itself, via the unions, the famous ‘new May’ of 1972, 1973 and 1974. The ‘new May’ was nothing but the means used by the bourgeoisie to prevent another May ‘68 from reoccurring. Since 1975, we have seen a period of maximum social calm during which all the perspectives of the struggle were turned around into support for the sinister ‘Common Program’ of the left.
Trade union and democratic mystifications were used to crush, like a steamroller, the first cycle of open struggle that came to life in the sixties. Thus, the immense deepening of the economic crisis in 1974-75, the first clear indication of the decisive, mortal nature of today’s economic depression, hit the demobilized workers hard, producing an aggravation in the reflux in the class struggle.
“The intensification of the crisis at the start of 1974, essentially marked by the explosion in unemployment, did not immediately provoke a response in the class. On the contrary, to the extent that the crisis hit the class hardest at a time of reflux in the preceding wave of struggle, it engendered a temporary tendency of great disarray and great apathy in the ranks of the class.” (‘Report on the World Situation’, IR, no.13)
1977 saw the deepest moment in the reflux of proletarian struggle. This capitalist offensive had important anti-working class consequences, both on the economic level and on the level of repression.
1. On the economic level, we can say that between 1975 and 1976, the bourgeoisie was extremely cautious, only gradually increasing its economic attack on the working class. But once the class had been relatively demobilized, the bourgeoisie attacked brutally, especially in 1977 and 1978. Today we can draw up a balance-sheet that shows a significant fall in the living conditions of the working class:
-- wages, which kept pace with inflation without much trouble until 1974, have now been slashed, and the phenomenon of an absolute cut in wages has become generalized;
-- unemployment has not only assumed monstrous quantitative proportions, it has also increased qualitatively, affecting more and more the large, concentrated units of production;
-- speed-ups in work rates have increased in an uninterrupted fashion throughout the last fifty years -- but even these rising norms have accelerated in the last three years;
-- the working day has increased in length in a constant fashion, but this increase has expressed itself in different forms: certain, holidays have been done away with, hours have been increased, etc. Union demands for a 35-hour week represent a tactical, temporary maneuver by the bourgeoisie, which won’t alter the tendency towards a longer working day;
-- social services have been cut on both a quantitative and qualitative level;
-- retirement pensions have dwindled;
-- the famous promises about free education, public housing, etc have all disappeared.
2. On the level of repression, the sinister, antiterrorist ideology employed to the hilt by the West German bourgeoisie in relation to the Baader gang; by the Italian bourgeoisie in relation to the Moro affair; and by the Spanish bourgeoisie in regard to ETA, has served to:
-- strengthen the police and juridical machinery of the capitalist state;
-- create a climate of terror and insecurity in the population.
The strengthening of the state apparatus was designed to prevent inevitable class confrontations by giving the state a gigantic arsenal of physical and military repression. The climate of fear created by the anti-terrorist campaign was meant to paralyze the class from within.
On a general level, this strengthening of the state apparatus on the basis of ‘anti-terrorism’ can be seen in the following:
“Even before the working class, with the exception of a tiny minority, had understood the inevitability of violent class confrontations with the bourgeoisie, capitalism had already stationed itself for the fight.” (ibid)3. Conditions for a proletarian revival
The struggles in Germany and in the United States at the start of 1978; the short, but nonetheless, violent succession of struggles that happened in May and June in France in 1978; the big class movement in Iran; the hospital strike in Italy; the struggles in the steel industry in Germany and the big struggles in Longwy and Denain; the strikes in Spain since the beginning of 1979; the telephone strike in Portugal -- taken together, can all of these class movements be interpreted as an effective revival in the class struggle? Do they represent a new landmark in the revolutionary epoch opened by the strikes of 1968?
Prudence is necessary to avoid a premature evaluation of the situation. However, equivocation would leave us paralyzed, stuck between the ill-defined and the possible. It is necessary to take up a position and say clearly in what context these struggles have happened and what perspectives they have opened up. Better to have an erroneous position, than the security of a vague, eclectic, wait-and-see attitude. To take up a clear and decisive position carries risks, but that is necessary if revolutionaries are to accomplish their task of being an active factor in the class struggle.
The great fear than can assail us is: are these strike movements the last flares of proletarian resistance? It would be pessimism to give into such a theory. The weaknesses that have been manifested in these struggles -- their more or less general inability to extend themselves (except in Great Britain, France and Iran); the relatively effective control the unions appear to have over them; in general, the non-appearance of forms of self-organization by the class -- all of these things are used by every type of pessimist to justify their contention that ‘there hasn’t been a revival in the class struggle; these movements have simply been the last shocks from before’.
In order to answer this argument, it is necessary to recall clearly, a general theoretical point. The direction taken by the proletariat’s struggle cannot be measured by looking at the forms of struggle and organization created by the class in themselves. It is an erroneous argument that maintains that in relation to the extension of the struggle, today’s strikes have given rise to forms of struggle and organization which are less well-developed than those present in 1968. Therefore, we are witnessing a reflux in the struggle today.
It’s true that at both a quantitative and qualitative level, today’s strikes are weaker than those of 1968, but it is wrong to conclude that this means a reflux in the struggle. Experience has shown that when a great avalanche of proletarian struggle unrolls, it takes a certain time for the class to take up again the highest forms of struggle, to maximize the content and organization, produced in its previous struggles.
For us, what is most important to see is the general social context in which the struggles are developing, to understand the unfolding of the crisis and the evolution of the balance of forces existing between the classes.
The mistake made by the ‘autonomes’ and other currents, which look at the workers’ struggles in themselves as if they took place independently from social reality, is that they forget that the proletariat doesn’t exist in capitalism by itself, but that the action of the class takes place in the midst of a number of social conditions engendered by the general movement of capitalism. The autonomy of the working class is not realized by the working class becoming a class which acts outside of the conditions imposed on it by capitalism. The autonomous action of the class is expressed in its movement within the social conditions created by capitalism in its struggle to oppose such conditions and constitute itself as a revolutionary force capable of destroying them.
This is the reason why we must reply to the question posed at the beginning of this section as follows:
1. by saying that the reflux of 1973-78 was a relative reflux; not a decisive defeat for the proletariat but a phase of calm and retreat which still presaged new advances by the proletariat;
2. by analyzing the global conditions confronting the struggle (the development of the crisis, the impact of the bourgeoisie’s political and ideological weapons);
3. by drawing up a balance-sheet of the struggles which have gone on since November 1978 throughout Europe, and which have more and more clearly represented a resurgence of the proletariat;
Here we will develop the first and second points; the third will be dealt with in another section.
1. In Accion Proletaria, no.18 we explained why the period of social calm during the reflux could not be seen as a defeat for the class:
“What is the meaning of this reflux? Does it mark the definitive defeat of the proletariat? Has it changed the course of history, eliminating all hope of revolution? A global, worldwide analysis of the class struggle allows us to affirm that we find ourselves in a phase of momentary retreat in the class struggle, but the proletariat is not faced with a decisive defeat which would put an end to the revolutionary perspective opened up by the struggles of the 1960s:
1. The proletariat has not suffered a decisive defeat in any country. Where important, partial defeats of the class have happened -- as in Chile, Argentina or Portugal -- the working class wasn’t beaten into the ground because new, powerful struggles began to reappear, especially in Argentina.
2. The bourgeoisie couldn’t launch a total, definitive attack against the proletariat, in the first place because the economic crisis had not reached such an extreme level as to oblige the capitalists to impose an open war economy based on draconian austerity measures, and in the second place, because the bourgeoisie has been concentrating more during this time on preparing its future attack on the class rather than unleashing a decisive confrontation. For these reasons, the bourgeoisie and proletariat have not confronted each other in a decisive way.
3. Despite the reflux in struggle in the major capitalist countries, the proletariat’s struggle has developed strongly in the periphery of the system. Despite the weaknesses of these struggles, they have a great importance for the world proletariat:
-- they have demonstrated that in countries where exploitation has reached extreme limits, the proletariat is far from accepting the self-sacrifice demanded by capitalism;
-- in Algeria, Morocco, Egypt or Israel, strikes have momentarily restrained imperialist war;
-- these strikes have contributed to the development of class consciousness, allowing the class to understand the objective basis of its unity as a world class.
4. Even in Europe, despite the reflux at a general level, hard struggles have surged up. And these struggles -- like those in Poland and Spain in 1976 -- are important, although they have been isolated and sporadic. The strikes which have begun in Germany, as well as the strike of the American miners, are equally of value.” (AP, no.18)
One thing which shows in a conclusive manner the relative nature of the passing reflux in the proletariat’s struggle is the limited result and weak impact of the left within the proletariat. If we compare today’s situation with the 1930s, the vast difference between the two is obvious. At that time, in a practically total fashion, the left and the unions could mobilize the enthusiasm and voluntary adhesion of enormous numbers of workers behind the criminal policies of anti-fascism, the Popular Front, the defense of democracy etc ... Today such nightmares seem to be excluded from history. The left and the unions are able to impose themselves on the class only because the class lacks its own perspectives for its struggle, and suffers from momentary confusions. Workers don’t adhere to the politics of the left and the unions enthusiastically, as they did in the 1930s. This means that: a. the control of the left and the unions over the proletariat rests on a precarious basis; b. we are far from being in a period of defeat for the proletariat, the material basis of which is the atomization and rout of the class. This is what caused the workers to adhere in desperation to the program of the bourgeoisie in the past.
Generally speaking, to summarize the analysis made above, it is possible to say that the class follows the propositions put forward by the unions and the left today without having a great deal of confidence or illusions in them. These propositions seem to constitute the ‘lesser evil’ and are taken up by the class on that basis.
This represents a positive precondition for the development of class consciousness in the future. In this connection, we have seen, for example, how the great ‘brain-washing’ of the French elections of March 1978 did not intimidate the class, but rather acted to fire the explosions of class struggle which followed in May and June. Even while adopting a necessarily prudent attitude, it is possible to affirm that the myth of the ‘Union of the Left’ and the ‘Common Program’ has died its death even faster than we had forecast.
As a parallel development to this, we can note that in a period of reflux in the class struggle, the slow maturation of class consciousness continues to follow its course. The workers’ nuclei, discussion circles and action groups have not disappeared and, although they are dispersed and fiddled with confusions, they express the effort within the class to come to consciousness. In the same manner, the relatively frequent ‘crises within the rank-and-file’ which have affected many leftist groups, and even the central unions, reveal the contradictory, but real, tendency for fractions of the proletariat to separate themselves from the ideological control of the bourgeoisie. In certain leftist groups, ideological crises have appeared, causing small fractions of these groups to split in a more or less clear attempt to find revolutionary positions.
Finally, revolutionary groups, the expression of the most advanced consciousness within the class, have developed, have strengthened themselves and their programmatic positions, and have extended the scope and impact of their intervention. Although these groups still manifest great weaknesses, and although they remain a tiny minority within the class, their progress is a testimony to the advancement of consciousness within the class.
As Marx said, the consciousness of the class is like a mole, which slowly -- in the depths of society -- nibbles away at all the political and ideological foundations of the bourgeoisie. Already you can catch the sound of the mole nibbling, but it has yet to come up into the light, even though its existence is beyond dispute. In periods of social calm, a somber mood of passivity, apathy and hesitation seems to grip the workers. While in contrast, the bourgeoisie appears to be at once very active and a spectator watching its own activity, given the nature of this class as one based on exchange relationships. This gives rise to the impression that the bourgeoisie exercises a control and domination over society which does not, in fact, correspond to social reality.
At the base of society, among the exploited, doubts and a lack of confidence, mingled with intuition, are always present. Significant events, the most decisive workers’ struggles, and the activity of revolutionaries will transform the doubts into certainties, and the intuitions into conclusions and programs of action for the class.
Sooner or later, the monolithic edifice of bourgeois order will reel under a new avalanche of proletarian struggle.
There you have in outline, the reply to the initial question we posed ourselves. The answer has taken shape: the reflux today is temporary. In response to it, in embryonic form, the struggle and class consciousness itself are developing, allowing us to conclude that the reflux will disappear in a new round of proletarian assaults on capitalism.
2. Now to reply to the second question. We have witnessed since 1974-75, an important worsening in the capitalist crisis. Illusions concerning the so-called recovery of 1975 have given way to an explosive increase in unemployment and a general degradation in the workers’ living standards. Unemployment has not only hit the major branches of production -- steel, shipbuilding, textiles, metallurgy, etc -- but also the principal capitalist countries, such as Germany, France and the US ... It has ceased to affect only the marginal or peripheral sectors of the working class -- something which had prevented the class from becoming conscious of the gravity of the situation -- and now attacks even the biggest concentrations, the vital centers of the proletariat.
This further worsening in the crisis is one of the fundamental factors influencing the class struggle. It opens the workers’ eyes, causing them to become aware of the necessity of defending themselves, and ignoring the promises, programs and solutions emanating from the ruling class.
But is the crisis by itself enough to cause new explosions of class struggle? No! The crisis causes both a series of convulsions within the social order of the bourgeoisie, and the revolt of the working class, but it is necessary to understand on what level these convulsions are taking place and to what degree the proletariat has attained its own autonomy.
A second condition affecting the class struggle is the political crisis of the ruling class. As a general principle, the bourgeoisie has never had, and will never have, unified class interests. The overriding interest governing the bourgeoisie is its exploitation of the working class, but this gives rise to a constant struggle within the bourgeoisie for the distribution of surplus value. The bourgeoisie is thus divided; it has a thousand particular interests which hurl one faction against another.
The general tendency governing the development of state capitalism in the period of decadence neither unifies nor homogenizes the bourgeoisie. State capitalism doesn’t eliminate the internal conflicts within the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, it magnifies these conflicts, raising them to the level of the social activity of the state as a whole where they gain added resonance and a greater implication in social life.
In reality, the internal conflicts besetting the bourgeoisie could only be attenuated and limited when the capitalist system was expanding into non-capitalist areas of the world, developing its own tendency to socialize and universalize commodity production. But when this process had reached its objective limits at the beginning of this century with the onset of decadence, and when the internal conflicts within the bourgeoisie had themselves multiplied to an impossible degree, state capitalism appeared as a desperate last resort. Through state capitalist policies, the bourgeoisie attempted to regulate its own internal conflicts by means of the concentration of all the strength of capital at a national level. But if the bourgeoisie was successful, temporarily, in limiting the contradictions wracking it as a class, this only meant that these contradictions would reappear later in a sharper, more brutal fashion.
State capitalism has, thus, accentuated the internal conflicts of the bourgeoisie, and these conflicts express themselves in constant political crises which convulse the bourgeois governmental machine. This means:
a. the weakening of the power and cohesion of the state, diminishing its authority, especially over the exploited;
b. the disunity and fragmentation of the bourgeoisie, which bring to light the divisions and contradictions which afflict it;
c. the viability and coherence of the various programs and alternative programs of the bourgeoisie are locked within a political framework of compromise and underhand deals, which try to reconcile the increasingly insurmountable divergences dividing the bourgeois class;
d. the impact of anti-proletarian mystifications weaken the more the conflicts, maneuverings, and dirty deals enacted in the bourgeois camp increase and become obvious. This undermines the credibility of these mystifications in the eyes of the workers. The political crisis of the bourgeoisie, flowing from the historical crisis of capitalism, facilitates the unfolding of the workers’ struggle since it:
i. demonstrates the incapacity of the bourgeoisie to ‘govern as before’;
ii. breaks the hold that fear and passivity exert over the workers;
iii. exposes the weakness and lack of authority of the bourgeoisie and by implication the possibility of a successful struggle against it.
The second precondition -- the political crisis of capital -- is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for class struggle. It requires another: the given relationship of strength between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
If the proletariat has previously been defeated, completely atomized and flattened, neither the development of the economic crisis nor the political crisis engulfing the bourgeoisie can aid the development of the class struggle. On the contrary, both are converted into the means by which the struggle is annihilated.
If the proletariat has been beaten and atomized already, the economic crisis is the vehicle which carries it further into demoralization and toward a total rout. The crisis is thus converted into an increasingly grave factor adding to the degradation and disintegration of the class. This is what happened after 1929.
But if the proletariat is undefeated, and has already experienced much in its recent struggles as the crisis unfolds, then the crisis adds to the proletariat’s indignation and its understanding of the poverty of the bourgeois social order; it can serve to provoke further struggle. The crisis is transformed into a factor acting to mobilize the class against capital, as happened after a certain point in the revolutionary crisis of 1917.
In the same way, if the proletariat finds itself defeated and atomized at a time of political crisis affecting the bourgeoisie, this situation won’t stir the consciousness of the proletariat, but will be used by the ruling class to mystify and mobilize the class behind one or other of the contending bourgeois factions. The 1930s are a good example of how the proletariat was transformed into cannon-fodder, caught up as it was in the internal struggles of the bourgeoisie in defense of the Popular Front, ‘socialism in a single country’, or democracy against fascism. It is precisely the pinning down of the proletariat in this way that allows the bourgeoisie to limit its internal class conflicts.
But today, the tendency of the proletariat to develop its own political independence and class unity (even in a period of retreat which can give the impression that both have disappeared) is accentuated in the face of the political crisis of the bourgeoisie. It becomes transformed into a factor that leads to disobedience and revolt in the ranks of the workers; the prestige of the ruling class diminishes, animating the struggle and the search for a proletarian alternative to capitalism.
We have said that three big mystifications have been used to immobilize and bridle the offensive of the working class struggle since 1968. These mystifications are:
-- the left in power;
-- the national solution to the crisis;
-- the democratic and anti-terrorist ideologies.
Today we can see that given the combination of the crisis, the political convulsions of the bourgeoisie, and the non-defeat of the proletariat, the weight of these mystifications has reduced and slowly the conditions are appearing for the proletariat to free itself from them.
In a number of countries, the solution of a ‘left government’, put forward by the bourgeoisie as a way to pin down and mystify the class, has -- at least temporarily -- been used up. We don’t doubt for a minute that the bourgeoisie will be able to revitalize this mystification under a different cover. In those countries where there has been little experience of the left in power (in Spain, for example), or in other countries where the left has undergone a restorative spell in opposition (eg Portugal), the bourgeoisie can still resort to this lie with a certain success. But it is incontestable that the ‘Union of the Left’ has lost much of its credibility:
In France: the difficulties the Common Program came up against dealt a strong blow to electoral illusions held by the class, as well as its illusions concerning the ‘working class’ or ‘progressive’ character of the Common Program. We don’t believe, at least in the short term, that a spell in opposition will increase the abilities of the French Communist Party to mobilize the workers, since its policies rest for the present on an ultra-nationalist footing.
In England: two Labor Party governments in the last twelve years , both tied to tight wage freeze policies and other anti-working class measures, have caused the confidence of the proletariat in the Labor Party to dwindle. The alternative of the Labor Left won’t alter this situation, at least not in the short term.
In Germany: ten years of the Social Democracy in power have depreciated, slowly but effectively, the ‘alternative’ of the left. Its ‘antiterrorist’ measures, its attacks on the workers’ conditions, and the impact of the workers’ struggles in 1978/9 have led to a weakening in the social influence of the left.
In an overall sense, two things undermine the credibility of the left vis-a-vis the working class:
-- the gradually developing lack of faith in electoralism;
-- the requirements imposed on the left by the general political crisis of the bourgeoisie.
Parliament and elections regained some of their previous attraction in the workers’ ranks, relatively speaking, between 1972 and 1978. In the face of the not as yet decisive development of the crisis, and the need for overall political alternatives, there was a certain renewal of confidence in electoralism in the working class. The clearest expression of this was the rise of the Common Program of the French left in that period. Its rapid falling apart and subsequent checkmate are the very signs of a changing tendency developing within the class -- the development of an understanding about the mystifying, anti-proletarian role of parliamentarism and electoralism. We can see a certain confirmation, as yet not absolute, of this same tendency in the increase in abstentions registered in the Spanish elections.
There is another factor that has undermined the prestige of the left among the workers: the politics the left is obliged to adopt given the internal conflicts of the bourgeoisie, at both a national and an international level.
At an international level, the inevitable alignment of the major capitalist countries within the western bloc has prevented their Communist Parties from using a powerful mystification against the working class: the myth of the existence of ‘socialist countries’ and its offshoot that ‘socialism is possible in a single country’. Both of these lies have wrought havoc in the working class in the past.
The famous ‘Eurocommunism’ which took the place of other ideological screens covering Stalinism, like ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ and ‘proletarian internationalism’, was adopted by the European Communist Parties (as the ICC has shown elsewhere) because they are the most faithful representatives of the national capital. Given the constant proof that the needs of the majority of these countries -- and the only option open to them in the middle term -- lay in remaining in the US bloc, the western CPs were forced, more or less strongly, to distance themselves from the Russian bloc.
All of this has obliged the CPs to change their language. But such a change has important repercussions on the CPs’ ability to control the proletariat. The new language lacks the concrete content and combative power of the old. ‘Socialism within Freedom’; ‘the consolidation and deepening of democracy’; or ‘national unity’ have a less mystifying weight and are distinctly inferior to the mystifications contained in slogans such as ‘socialism in a single country’, ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, or ‘proletarian internationalism’, particularly when the crisis is deepening and the class struggle is developing.
At the level of the internal conflicts of the bourgeoisie in each country, the obligation to maintain at all costs the cohesion of the national capital restrains the left, causing it to make ‘concessions’ to backward sectors of the bourgeoisie, or those linked to particularistic interests within the national capital. Such concessions have meant that the left has been forced to adopt a more ‘conciliatory’ language, speaking less of ‘class struggle’. It has been forced to moderate its old mystifying slogans (‘state capitalism = socialism’; ‘the right = capitalism’) and has been led more and more to ameliorate its relations with the Church, the army, the fascists and all sorts of factions and institutions of capitalism which are very obviously counter-revolutionary. This deprives the left from using its ‘ringing’, ‘denunciatory’ language. The old mystifications fitted together like cogs in a wheel, but the new lack the same solidity and coherence.
Certainly, it is possible to see within the CPs (and the same tendency also exists within certain sectors of the Socialist Parties), that they seek a cure for their present problems by being in opposition. This will allow them to furnish themselves with a more combative, working class language, designed to give them the ability to corral and imprison the proletariat. However, we should not exaggerate the possibilities of their success in doing this despite the enormous enthusiasm this move has given rise to in the leftist milieu. The left finds itself torn between two requirements:
-- on the one side, the increasingly onerous demands of the national capital, on account of the development of the crisis and the tendency towards greater state capitalist measures. This extracts the greatest of compromise from the left. These compromises, whether direct or indirect, between the left and the national government push the left into a politics of ‘moderation’, ‘conciliation’, ‘Eurocommunism’ and ‘national solidarity’;
-- on the other side, the need to imprison and mystify the proletariat forces the left into opposition, and into using a more combative language -- all within the general context of a wearing away of the old mystifications inherited from the 1930s. The see-sawing of the left parties between these two requirements continually reduces their capacity to mystify the class, especially when the class struggle is developing.
It has been shown that mystifications don’t occur in a vacuum; they can’t be administered at will like a drug. On the contrary, in order for mystifications to gain a hold over the working class, they must be rooted in real problems and real necessities, which are then interpreted in a totally idealist fashion within the framework of bourgeois politics.
All the components of the analysis we’ve made above, allow us to see how -- little by little --the material basis of the mystifications of a ‘left government’ and ‘the unity of the workers’ parties’ are being eroded, thereby undermining these pillars of bourgeois order within the working class.
The huge myth of the possibility of a national solution to the crisis has been the strongest weapon for:
-- impeding the independent struggle of the proletariat;
-- inculcating into its ranks the necessity for sacrifice and austerity.
We have seen the material basis for such a mythology in previous sections: the slow development of the crisis, its uneven development in different countries. However, this slow and unequal rhythm of the crisis is beginning to disappear. The important acceleration of 1974-75 has given way to a pure and simple collapse without visible perspective of recovery, while at the same time the conditions for a new acceleration of the crisis continue to develop.
In the first place, the acceleration of the crisis towards pure and simple collapse is sweeping away the possible hopes and illusions which many workers could harbor in the system. The horizon seems to be getting darker and darker, and workers are beginning to understand that the only perspective which capitalism offers is a re-run -- only worse -- of the world war and post-war period of our elders, who were told that the ills of that time were the promise of eternal prosperity.
In the second place, the workers of the most prosperous countries, regions and firms, are seeing their conditions of work fall to the same, or similar, levels as those of their less fortunate comrades. We are moving towards an equalization of misery for workers in all countries, firms and regions. This is a tendency which always can be seen and which denies any real basis for the mystification of national, regional, technical solutions, nationalizations etc. On the contrary, it encourages the general conditions for the unification and internationalization of struggles. For all its weaknesses and limitations, the objective internationalization of struggles is one of the most outstanding features of the recent wave of workers’ combativity in the central countries of capitalism; we will analyze this in Part Four.
The third great axis of capital’s ideological offensive against the proletariat -- the democratic and anti-terrorist mystification -- is losing its anti-proletarian impact.
It was in Germany in 1977 that we saw the most historic moments of capital’s anti-terrorist campaign and where it was transformed from an ideological intoxication to a concrete mobilization of the workers. Strikes were proposed as a sign of mourning for the death of the businessman Schleyer. Those strikes had to be reduced to symbolic actions of 1 to 5 minutes; as has been indicated by our German comrades, the workers used these breaks as an opportunity for chatting or smoking a cigarette.
Some months after these events, the strikes of January and April 1978 occurred, and revealed that the anti-terrorist poison had much less impact than was hoped for.
In Italy, the most intense moments of the antiterrorist campaign occurred during the kidnap of Aldo Moro in April 1978. The Italian comrades reported the same phenomena; the passivity of the workers in the face of summonses to strike and demonstrate; the growth of class consciousness in the form of workers’ circles which distanced themselves both from the anti-terrorist ideology and from the myth that a ‘combative worker is an armed worker’ etc, etc. As a matter of fact, the huge strike of hospital workers in October 1978 was a promising harbinger of a proletarian revival in Italy.
In Spain, the gigantic anti-terrorist campaign deployed by the Spanish bourgeoisie immediately after the exploits of the ETA, were a resounding political failure -- heralding the failure of the constitutional referendum and the legislative elections. Thus, the anti-terrorist demonstrations called for after a hysterical campaign by the CCOO, UGT, etc, achieved a poor attendance and there was no way of organizing strikes, assemblies or anything else.
The relative, and at the least momentary failure of the anti-terrorist and democratic mystifications is simply the fruit of the obvious decomposition of the whole of bourgeois ideology, and the patent gangsterism and racket-like character of all inter-bourgeois confrontations. Thus, these intestinal struggles cannot be presented as easily as before under the disguise of a great moral ideal capable of mobilizing the proletariat and the whole of the population.
Concerning this third point, the employment of new mystifications could have great importance, as we have just seen, by combining mystification and repression.
One of the most important problems confronting the bourgeoisie is the reappearance of clashes between the proletariat and the unions. Since recovered the initiative between 1972 and 1978, the bourgeoisie’s union bastion seems to be veering again into a period of erosion and of violent confrontations with the workers. The signs seen in the Italian hospital workers’ strike are beginning to be extended, although very weakly, to France, Britain, Spain etc. Do the unions have new bases for ideologically confronting the proletariat?
Like, in general, their mother parties, the unions are going through a rest-cure in opposition in a great many countries. Such opposition remedies allow them to recuperate their ‘combative’ and ‘proletarian’ image, which gives them, for a certain time, a capacity to lead strikes and to defuse them with more or less success. Although they will not be able to break up the more radical movements, they will at least try to keep up the idea that the unions may be tail-ending the struggles, but they are still with them. One myth which may become strong is that unions and assemblies or workers’ councils are not incompatible.
Another tendency which is beginning to show itself is that the unions are beginning to distance themselves from parties and politics. The currents of ‘revolutionary’ syndicalism and an anarcho-syndicalism may be acquiring a certain prestige as the last effort of the union apparatus to recuperate some of its old stature. The rebirth of the CNT or the USI in Italy is in no way a movement by syndicalism towards proletarian positions, but a rejuvenation of capital’s union bulwark in order to confront the proletariat more effectively.
Finally, the tendency towards a single, unified union machine is another element which, although very hackneyed, is beginning to be put forward as a ‘guarantee’ for an ‘effective’ and ‘combative’ trade unionism.
Thus we can say that we are witnessing the bankruptcy of the bourgeois mystifications which momentarily cut short the proletarian resurgence in the period 1965-72; what’s more, looking at things at a historical level, we are seeing the beginning of the collapse of all the myths of fifty years of counter-revolution. Obviously the weight of such deceits will not disappear overnight. On the contrary, their pernicious effects will still linger on in the ranks of the proletariat.
Ideologies and mystifications are engendered by capitalist relations of production, but they then become an active factor in the conservation and defense of the existing order, in such a way that they acquire a degree of relative autonomy, which allows them to survive -- for a certain time, and at particular levels -- the collapse of the social conditions which created them and made them possible.
And so the weight of the intense ‘brainwashing’ of the recent years of the bourgeoisie’s offensive, of all the theoretical and ideological effects of fifty years of counter-revolution, is still going to be very strong and is going to undermine the strength of many workers’ struggles.
“Men make their own history, but not of their own free will; not under circumstances they themselves have chosen but under the given and inherited circumstances with which they are directly confronted. The tradition of the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the minds of the living. And, just when they appear to be engaged in the revolutionary transformation of themselves and their material surroundings, in the creation of something which does not yet exist, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they timidly conjure up the spirits of the past to help them; they borrow their names, slogans and costumes so as to stage the new world-historical scene in this venerable disguise and borrowed language.” (Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte)
The effects of these ‘dead generations’ is going to be considerable and is going to weigh very heavily on the proletarian revival:
First; there will continue to exist over a certain time, a lack of correspondence between the gravity of the crisis and the strength of the proletarian response.
Second; there will be a considerable difference between the objective strength of the movement and the consciousness it has of its own strength.
Third; the gap between the size and strength of revolutionary organizations, and the maturation of the conditions for revolution, is greater than it was in the past.
But we must not lose sight of the fact that the counter-tendencies which have just been indicated do not cancel out the general course towards a new world proletarian revolutionary upsurge which opened in the 1960s. Indeed, the conscious and global recognition of all the dangers, risks and weaknesses which confront our class must be the material basis for confronting and eliminating them.
Another consequence of the weight of the ‘dead generations’ is that not only do we suffer from them to the hilt in the first steps of the proletarian revival which is now maturing; above all, they will be a powerful negative factor in a period of insurrection and revolution. This weight of the past generations will form the material basis for all the forces which will try to divert, divide, undermine and weaken the proletarian revolution. These forces will constitute capital’s fifth column against the revolutionary proletariat.
And so the slow decline of bourgeois ideology and mystifications which we are seeing today does not mean that the most patient, intransigent, tenacious and detailed denunciation of these mystifications is no longer needed. Today, as yesterday, the weapons of critique will continue to be the necessary preparation for the critique by weapons of this criminal capitalist order.
4. Balance sheet of the recent struggles
Before defining the perspectives which we can draw out of all the conditions which we have analyzed, it is necessary to make a balance sheet of the proletarian upsurges of October/November 1978 to January/March 1979, to justify our consideration that they are indicators of a general revival of class struggle. This balance sheet must perforce be provisional and limited given that we lack distance from the period and that many of the struggles still have not finished.
The most important lessons to draw out are:
1. First and Foremost: The Objective Internationalization of the Struggles.
Important strikes, relatively of course, but some as serious as those in Britain, have broken out simultaneously in the central countries of capitalism: France, Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, USA...
On the other hand, the re-emergence of the proletariat in the central countries has been accompanied by the continuation of the struggles in the peripheral countries: Iran, Morocco, Mexico, Saudi-Arabia, Zaire, Polynesia, Jamaica ... are the most recent examples.
Crystallizing the recognition by the class of this internationalization, we can see how, in Belgium and Luxembourg, there have been solidarity strikes with the workers in Lorraine. Without being the most adequate demonstration of the international solidarity of the proletariat, it is, at the very least, a very important step.
There is a general lesson in this internationalization; internationalist agitation, the defense of internationalism, is going to rest more and more on concrete and relatively immediate events and experiences. It will cease to be a ‘theoretical’ or distant question as it has appeared until now.
We said in our ‘Report on the World Situation’ of January 1978 that one of the characteristics of the next proletarian revival must be:
“A greater consciousness of the international character of struggle, which will express itself in practice through movements of international solidarity, the sending of delegations of workers in struggle from one country to another (and not of union delegations).” (International Review No 13)
Up to a certain point, and still with very many limitations, this tendency is beginning to loom up on the horizon.2. The Re-emergence of the Open Confrontations between the Proletariat and the Unions.
The union apparatus, hard hit by the blows of the first proletarian waves of the 1960s, has been able to refurbish its image, consciously taking advantage of the weaknesses of that proletarian wave, and restoring quite a strong control over the workers since 1972.
In the recent struggles we can see something small, but promising:
-- the appearance of extra-union strikes;
-- the autonomous initiative of the workers is reappearing, without waiting for union calls;
-- there are beginning to be frontal blows between the unions and the proletariat.
These three tendencies, clearly closely connected, are minor aspects of the totality of struggles, but, though the example which they give, the force which they have taken and the dynamic which they appear to open, their qualitative weight is far superior to their weak numerical weight.
The rupture and confrontation between the proletariat and unions is going to be a very arduous process but for a whole period it will become a central axis of the class struggle.
We say that it is going to be arduous because the unions are, as is known, the principal bastion of bourgeois order against the working class, and their weapons of deceit and control tend to be the most refined. In many ways the unions which today confront the working class are not the same ones the workers confronted in the 1960s: their arsenal of mystification and their machinery of control are far superior and are much more complete.
As a result, the rupture will be more difficult and painful, but at the same time much more decisive, because it will have, without the ambiguities and obstacles of the past, a completely political and revolutionary character. If in the struggles of the 1960s, the political potential of the break with unionism could be camouflaged and diverted by the myths of ‘debureaucratization’ or of union unity, today, those myths are beginning to crumble and are much more difficult to use in stifling the class struggle.
Although in the more radical and advanced struggles, a total and absolute rupture, without any ambiguities, between the strikers and the unions is vital, we must not see the formal fact of this rupture as a thermometer to measure the strength and effect of each concrete struggle.
In the majority of cases, there will tend to be a balance of forces between the proletariat and the unions. Crystallizing in different ways at a formal level, this balance of forces will represent the future and the limitations of the struggle. In the worst cases, it will be the domination of the union organizations which will indicate the loss of all immediate perspectives for the struggle, in the best of cases it will be the triumph of anti-union strike committees which will open up a dynamic for the radicalization of the struggle.
Revolutionaries will have to fight from the very beginning for strikes to be organized in assemblies. They will have to show why the assemblies should be really sovereign and why there should not be the least ambiguity in the rupture and confrontation with the unions. This doesn’t mean that the dimensions, consequences and perspectives of a struggle will have to be measured exclusively by the concrete form in which, in a given moment, the balance of forces between the proletariat and the unions has crystallized.
The danger of the simple defense of forms, without sufficiently linking form to content, is that it can provide a basis for a new bourgeois deceit which we may see in the future: the creation of ‘anti-union committees’ based on ‘assemblies’ but with identical functions to the unions. In reality, with these myths, the attempt is not simply to oppose struggles, but, above all, to limit their scope, block their growth, divert their content by emphasizing extra-union forms in themselves.
In the ‘Report on the World Situation’ we foresaw a second aspect of the future proletarian revival:
“A much clearer break with the unions than in the past, and its corollary: the tendency towards a wider self-organization of the working class (sovereign general assemblies, elected and revocable strike committees, co-ordination of these between places of work and within the same city, region, etc).” (International Review No 13)
This is what we are now beginning to see, but there’s a long way to go and many mystifications to be confronted.3. All the Struggles have Constituted a Confrontation between the Proletariat and the Austerity Plans of Capital.
This is the material basis of their objective internationalization. Thus these struggles are a harbinger of proletarian resistance against the tendencies towards austerity and imperialist war which capitalism carries within itself. They establish the basis for the transformation of the sharpening capitalist crisis into a revolutionary crisis.
We have seen something that the years of social calm have covered up somewhat: that proletarian struggle against austerity is possible, that it can bear fruit, although temporarily. The proletarian remedy to the crisis is neither to accept sacrifices nor to limit its demands in order to ‘reduce unemployment’; it is on the contrary to deepen the class struggle.4. A Point that Some of the Struggles of Recent Times have Shown is that the Proletariat is the Historical Candidate for the Emancipation of the Whole of Humanity.
Iran has shown that the proletarian struggle gives a completely distinct, uncontrollable impetus to the perspectiveless revolt of the marginal strata, poor peasants and impoverished petty bourgeoisie. Iran has posed a possibility, a potential which the proletariat contains irrespective of the fact that, in Iran, this potential hasn’t been completely realized.
That old principle of the workers’ movement -- the proletariat is the only class capable of emancipating itself and of emancipating the whole of humanity -- becomes a real, concrete problem in this recent period. After fifty years of counter-revolution that famous phrase by Lenin is once again becoming a reality:
“The strength of the proletariat in a capitalist country is infinitely more than its numerical proportion within the population. And this is so because the proletariat occupies a key position at the heart of the capitalist economy and also because the proletariat expresses, in the economic and political domain, the real interests of the immense majority of the laboring population under capitalist domination.”
During the hospital workers’ strikes in Italy, the workers carried a placard which read: “WE ARE NOT ACTING AGAINST THE SICK; WE ARE ACTING AGAINST THE UNIONS, THE MANAGEMENT AND THE GOVERNMENT!”
This preoccupation of the proletariat with winning to its struggle all the oppressed and exploited strata is a promising sign of the general maturation of the consciousness of the class. But more than this, it’s the consciousness of a problem the class is going to be posed with again and again in the future; the bourgeoisie is aware that the intervention of the proletariat can give an uncontrollable character to the protests of the oppressed strata; it is definitely conscious that the working class can direct the unrest of the oppressed strata towards the revolution. That’s why one of the essential policies of the bourgeoisie is, and will be, to neutralize the marginal strata, to isolate them, to separate them politically from the proletariat and, if possible, to set them against the proletariat.
In Britain, the bourgeoisie has mounted a hysterical campaign against the strikes of the lorry drivers and the public service workers. It has mounted demonstrations of housewives and has organized ‘citizen’ pickets against the workers’ strike pickets. The whole axis of its campaign has been to arouse petty bourgeois sentiments, the paranoia of these strata, to use them against the proletariat.
The errors which have been made by some revolutionary groups of seeing these strata as enemies of the proletariat must be eliminated. In themselves they are vacillating strata who tend towards decomposition and proletarianization; in themselves they have no will of their own. If the bourgeoisie succeeds in using the reactionary characteristics of their condition and winning them to utopian program for ‘non-monopoly capitalism’ etc, then they will be channeled against the proletariat. But if the proletariat, without yielding an inch to program which benefit the petty bourgeoisie, struggles autonomously and makes them see that they have no alternative, no other future, then these strata can be won over to the struggle against capital.
This perspective does not in any way diminish the autonomy of the proletariat and is the concrete answer to the mystifications which the bourgeoisie will launch very frequently in the future:
-- the proletariat mustn’t ‘prejudice’ the people in its struggle;
-- the proletariat must sacrifice itself for the triumph of the people in general;-- the movement of the proletariat and the movement of the people are identical.
Understanding the need for the proletariat to win over the marginal and oppressed strata doesn’t mean:
-- lowering the maximum program of the proletariat or any of its immediate demands;
-- supporting the reactionary and illusory programs which derive from the social position of the petty bourgeoisie;
-- dissolving the proletariat into the ‘popular movement’.
5. Class Violence and the Struggle against Repression.
As we saw earlier, bourgeois repression is going to be more and more open, massive and systematic. The problem of struggle against repression and of class violence will be posed in all its sharpness. On this point we can draw out two very clear lessons from the living experiences in the recent period:
1. The famous position of ‘workers’ terrorism, which some comrades within the ICC, the PCI (Programma Comunista) and people of the ‘Area de la Autonomia’ in Italy have seen as an effective means for preparing the struggle or for triggering off workers’ consciousness, has dissolved like sugar in water in the face of recent experiences. In Iran, mass strikes and revolts have paralyzed the repression of one of the most powerful armies in the world, they have sharpened its internal convulsions, and have made a considerable part of their ultra-modern armaments fall into ‘uncontrollable hands’. In France, what was the main defense of the workers of an occupied factory faced with a police blockade and the management militia? It was precisely the huge demonstration of the workers of other factories surrounding the besiegers. Our theorists of ‘workers’ terrorism’ will have seen that their vaunted ‘combat groups’ have not appeared anywhere and that class violence, which they called ‘an abstract and mystifying innovation’, has appeared in a clear and concrete form.
2. Contrary to the mystifications which the opposition factions of the bourgeoisie will, without a doubt, launch, the major defense against repression is not, and never will be, legal and juridical guarantees of the ‘right to strike’ etc, but the proletariat’s own struggle. It will not be a ‘democratic’, ‘national’, or ‘people’s’ police; as the PCF shouts to the four winds, but mass assaults of workers on the police stations to release arrested comrades from the police cells, it will not be a left government which supposedly will be ‘less repressive’ than one of the right, but the workers breaking out of all the union, legal, and leftist straitjackets.
6. The Proletariat as a Brake on Imperialist War.
Iran has confirmed a tendency which has manifested itself, although still in a weak and embryonic way, in the whole international proletariat; that it is the only world force capable of opposing the tendency to imperialist war. In Iran, a repository for ultra-sophisticated and modern armaments has found itself totally disorganized, faced with the impact of class confrontations. And it cannot be said that this repository, abandoned by the US bloc, has now passed into the USSR bloc; the latter at least for the moment, has kept its distance for fear of getting its hand bitten. In Egypt and Israel, one of the factors which has moved the bourgeoisie to search for peace at any price has been the proletarian struggles in both countries, The Morocco/Algeria skirmish has been held back not only by the turn taken by inter-imperialist maneuvers, but also by the bitter strikes which happened in Algeria in May and June 1978 and more recently in Morocco. Cuba hasn’t got such a free hand to be the pawn of Russian imperialism thanks to the strikes and social convulsions which took place in April last year. The strike of the French armaments workers in June 1978 directly hit the war industry, as has the recent strike of the British atomic submarine shipbuilders. It remains to be seen what will be the response of the proletarians of Russia, China and Vietnam against the preparations for war, but the road of proletarian resistance has begun to open up.
7. Perspectives and Intervention by Revolutionaries
The perspective opening up is one of a new offensive by the world proletariat. As we have been able to see throughout this report, we have some powerful indicators, but we must not lose sight of the fact that the perspective is not immediate and that the road in that direction is bristling with various grave difficulties. Without forgetting the fragility of this new proletarian impulse, we must take into account that it has much greater repercussions than anything that a purely immediatist view could understand. We are at the beginning of the end of the epoch of counter-revolution. All the historical conditions which have allowed fifty years of counterrevolution are beginning to effectively dissolve before the impulse of the capitalist crisis and the slow revival of proletarian struggle. The struggles of the sixties were skirmishes which opened the first breach in the monolith of the counter-revolution and prepared its future downfall.
This means that revolutionaries must:
-- avoid false quarrels as the First Congress of the ICC indicated, and strengthen the effort towards discussion and regroupment, with the perspective of providing the revolutionary energies maturing in the class with the most unified framework possible;
-- reinforce the programmatic framework at all levels and thus the work of intervention;
-- become an active and positive factor in the class struggle, surpassing the previous stage of re-appropriating the positions of the class, of programmatic and organizational reconstruction.5. Perspectives
The struggles which we have just mentioned are preparing a new worldwide proletarian offensive, for which we can draw out the following perspectives:1. International Generalization of the Proletarian Struggle.
We want to underline this point which we raised previously, emphasizing that while the focus of the struggle has once again shifted to the big working class concentrations of Europe and the US, this doesn’t mean that there has been a reflux in the Third World. On the contrary, the struggle there has become more intense.
Brazil, one of the most important proletarian concentrations in the periphery, was hit by major strikes in May 1978, and particularly in March 1979, where a general solidarity strike broke out in Sao Paolo, with massive general assemblies of 50,000 and 70,000 workers against police repression. In Iran, the dockers’ strike in Korramanshar-Abadan as well as the movement of the unemployed show that Khomeini and his clique haven’t managed to put an end to the proletarian struggle. In South America, militant strikes have taken place in Mexico, Peru, E1 Salvador, Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia, as well as in Jamaica and Guyana. In Africa, the Moroccan proletariat has fought through a wave of strikes outside the unions and the bourgeoisie’s National Unity. We should also mention the workers’ strikes and revolts in Liberia, Zaire, the Central African Empire and Uganda before and after the fall of Amin. In Asia, there have been strikes in India, the big oil workers’ strike in Dehrram, Saudi Arabia, and revolts in China. In the Eastern bloc, despite the blocking of information by the Iron Curtain, news of strikes in East Germany, Poland, Rumania and Yugoslavia has filtered in.
The simultaneous response of the proletariat in the five continents provides the best conditions for the class to affirm its international unity and develop its revolutionary alternative.2. The Slow Development of the Class Movement.
It’s possible to feel disappointed by the slow, difficult way the proletarian offensive is evolving. But this slowness isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness but evidence of the depth and breadth of the class confrontations that lie ahead. Unlike in the struggles of the sixties, the proletariat is no longer dealing with an enemy that has been somewhat surprised by the sudden reawakening of the proletariat after so many years of counter-revolution. It’s facing up to a capitalism armed to the teeth and prepared to meet workers’ struggles with all its ideological, political and repressive machinery. On the side of the proletariat, the spectacular but short-lived outbursts of the sixties have -- as the recent battles in Longwy and Denain have shown -- cleared the way for a more tenacious struggle, where the constant attempts of the unions, police and government to bury the movement have failed one after the other, leaving the field free for an intermittent agitation which is extremely difficult to discourage. It’s important that we make it clear that the slowness of the class movement in no way facilitates a gradualist, step-by-step approach. We will see a remorseless accumulation of struggles, blow-for-blow confrontations, which will prepare the way for more profound and radical proletarian explosions.
3. The Capitalist Response to the Struggle.
Repression is more and more becoming the capitalist response to class struggle. Italy proves this, with the massive arrests of anti-union militants in the factories, organized by all the forces of the ‘historic compromise’: bosses, police, unions, Communist Party and Christian Democrats. In France, we’ve not only seen the brutal repression of struggles by the CRS, but also trials against the proletarian fighters arrested on the 23 March demo in Paris or after the battles in Longwy and Denain. But we shouldn’t forget that repression will go hand in hand with a strengthening of mystification, thanks to the ‘opposition rest cure’ of the left and unions, through which they’ll try to refurbish a more combative, working class image. Their aim will be to destroy workers’ struggles from within, not simply holding back or side-tracking the proletarian train before it gets going, but derailing it at full speed. However, this tendency has objective limits, limits imposed by the deepening of the bourgeoisie’s internal conflicts and by the frenzied rhythm of the crisis. The fact that the left has to deal with these conflicts, with the crisis, makes its task of mystification much more difficult. As the crisis brings out all the contradictions of the bourgeoisie at all levels of society, the tendency will be for the state more and more to shed its ideological garb and strengthen out-and-out repression; and this will have to be supported by the ‘Fifth Column’ inside the workers’ movement: the left, the leftists and the unions.4. The Clear Affirmation of the Proletarian Alternative to the Historic Crisis of Capital.
If 1979 has shown anything, it’s been the endless spectacle of the inexorable barbarism of capital: nuclear power stations, the Indochinese refugees, Skylab, the horrible massacres in Nicaragua, the ‘instructive’ spectacle of the ‘Islamic revolution’ in Iran ... All this has underlined the irremediable decadence of the system, the collapse of capitalist civilization into a bloodbath. This means that the masks the bourgeoisie has been using for years to hide this barbarism and disorientate the proletariat are now falling to pieces: ‘Socialism in one country’, ‘national liberation’, ‘democracy’, ‘the rights of man’ ... In this putrid atmosphere which is stifling and poisoning humanity, at the head of all the disinherited of the earth, the poor peasants, the marginal strata, the proletariat is beginning to affirm itself as the only revolutionary force, the only hope of liberation from the barbarism of capital:
-- because its ‘modest’ and ‘humble’ defensive struggles, so despised by everyone, including many revolutionary groups, show that it is possible to push back the attacks of capital, to respond to them blow for blow, to undermine the blind laws of the system;
-- because, with its practical struggles, its formidable examples of solidarity and class violence, the proletariat shows that it alone has an answer to repression, wars, and all the other effects of capitalist barbarism which plague humanity.
All the political and ideological weapons of the bourgeoisie (mass-media, parties of the left and right, unions ...) try to fill our heads with the image of the proletariat as an amorphous mass of hopelessly passive citizens. But the impetus of the crisis, the class consciousness reawakened by the struggles of the sixties, the weight of two centuries of heroic proletarian struggles, the very position of our class at the centre of society -- all this is pushing the proletariat to react against this tissue of passivity and impotence and open the door to the world revolution.
The road is going to be more difficult than ever; there are going to be bitter moments of hesitation and temporary defeat; but we must go down that road, because it’s a question of life or death, because it’s the only way out of the nightmare of capitalism.
COMMUNISM OR BARBARISM! WORKERS – IT’S YOUR TURN TO SPEAK!