Class struggle in Eastern Europe (1970-80)
The international unification of the proletariat in the process of the world revolution is the most decisive material condition for communism. After showing the strength of the workers' struggle in Eastern Europe between 1920 and 1970, and the limits imposed on them by their isolation from the international arena (International Review 27 & 28), the last part of this study shows how the struggles of the 1980's are opening up the possibility of ending this isolation
Generalized resurgence 1976-81
In September 1976, the Czech Oppositionalists reported in Listy Blatter the development of a new wave of resistance in the USSR: "On November 8 last year, 60 Russian, Latvian, and Estonian sailors of the Red Banner Fleet mutinied on board the rocket destroyer ‘Storoschewoi'. The ship left the harbor of Riga and was attacked at high sea by helicopters and submarines. The battle is said to have been very bloody, since most of the sailors were killed, and the survivors came before a war tribunal and were executed. The cause of the rebellion: unbearable social conditions and inhuman treatment - similar to the Czarist cruiser Potemkin in the year 1905 off Odessa...There is also the continuing unrest in the Georgian metropole Tiflis, about which the Georgian party organ Sarja Wostoka has reported in April. Street demonstrations from school kids and students, assassinations against Russian party functionaries and their collaborators, spontaneous freedom demonstrations of the workers and women, even barricade fighting and bombings of party palaces...the unrest has taken on a mass character, and cannot be totally suppressed by the secret police. Finally we must mention the recent strike wave caused by the shortages of groceries, which here again has its center in the industrial centers of non-Russian areas (Balticum, Ukraine). The supply situation heats up the pre-revolutionary atmosphere. Spontaneous downing of tools, mass gatherings, marches, protest meetings, have been reported from Rostow on the Don, Lviv, Kiev, Dnijpropetrowsk, Riga and Dnjiprodserschinsk. In the Ukranian metropole Kiev, bloody clashes took place between women workers and militia in front of empty food stores. The biggest shortages are in the supply of essential foodstuffs - meat, bread, dairy produce. In the combines of Tscheljabbinsk (machine construction) and Schtschekino (chemicals), strikes broke out in reaction to lock outs." Apart from the nonsense about a "prerevolutionary atmosphere", there can be no doubting the extent of the social turbulence which gripped wide areas of the USSR at the end of the 70s. One report tells of how supplies had to be rushed to Tula in face of a strike movement which broke out in 1977. The workers there had refused to collect their wages two months running, because there was nothing to buy with it, Brezhnev decided -- 33 years after the end of the last war! -- to declare Tula a ‘Hero City' for its role in defeating Hitler. This status involves getting better food supplies. (Osteuripakomitee, Info 32 and Socialist Review, Summer 1980). In December of the same year there was a violent strike in the big rubber plant of Kaunas, Lithuania, and soon afterwards, a go-slow strike in the Putilov steel plant in Leningrad, the plant which stood at the heart of the October Revolution, in protest against the treatment of prisoners working in the plant. (Reported in Listy).
In 1973 protest strikes broke out in the minefields of Rumania. As in 1970 they were violent in nature, but they remained sporadic and isolated. (Reported in Der Spiegel, 12.12.77). In 1977 the miners, the militant of the working class in Rumania, struck again. The strike broke out in Lupeni and spread immediately to all the neighboring mining valleys. Altogether 90,000 went on strike. 35,000 of them gathered at Lupeni, to avert the danger of repression through weight of numbers. On the second day, some members of a top party delegation sent to ‘negotiate' were taken prisoner, and others had the filthy food which the workers are given to eat, rubbed in their faces. Ceausescu then came in person, and was lucky to get away alive -- the workers tried to lynch him. He flew immediately to the Kremlin to consult with Brezhnev. An army detachment went to disperse the workers changed its mind when it met with resistance. Then, as the strike began to spread beyond the minefields of the Schil valley -- to the railways, to a textile factory in Brasov, to a heavy machinery plant in Bucharest -- Ceausescu returned to concede all the workers' demands. For two weeks the supply situation improved dramatically. Then the army returned. 2000 crack troops alone were sent to Lupeni. They attacked the workers, beating many of them until they were crippled for life. Then they deported 16,000 miners with their families to different parts of the country. Many were sent to work in uranium mines, where they lose all their hair within weeks, and get cancer within months. The main slogan of the miners in Lupeni was "Down with the proletarian bourgeoisie". In their fifth letter to Radio Free Europe, the workers wrote "From our whole hearts we ask you to read this letter over the microphone. Don't be afraid that it will become known that there are strikes in socialist states. There will be more, and we may have no other choices than to take justice into our own hands - with our pick axes." In September the German News Agency DPA reported new strikes in the area. From 1 January 1978 on the Schil valley was declared a forbidden zone, which outsiders could not enter.
The problem of isolation facing the workers in Rumania is akin to those met with in the USSR. This explains the viciousness of the Ceausescu regime, much praised in the west for its ‘independence' vis a vis Moscow and its supposed ‘commitment to peace'. Ceausescu's is in fact the most hated government in the Eastern Bloc, with the exception of the Honecker regime in the GDR.
In the late 70's, working class discontent began to manifest itself in the western part of the bloc. Already in 1971, a series of strikes were reported to have taken place in Budapest. In 1975 Der Spiegel reported the following on the situation in Czechoslovakia. "Leaflets distributed at many factories speak of protest actions which show an open discontent of the workers directed against the regime: in the industrial complexes of Prague, in the steel works in eastern Slovakia, among the railway workers". Reports of short protest strikes have come through from Czechoslovakia frequently since then, for example, at the key CKD machine factory in Prague in protest against price rises (Reported in Intercontinental Press, no 49, 1978).
The brittle social peace which has reigned in East Germany since 1953 came to an end in the Autumn of 1977. In October of that year, a strike movement erupted in Karl Marx Stadt against hidden price rises, centered on the Fritz Heckert Werke, which was violently crushed by crack troops and the political police. 50 workers were arrested. The bosses of the local administration were decorated with the ‘Karl Marx Medal' for their part in crushing the revolt. (Tagesspiegel 13.1177 and Deutschlandarchiv 12, December 77). On the 7 October, a crowd of young people fought police in the centre of East Berlin after the latter tried to break up a rock concert. Several people were killed including two policemen. The population in the nearby workers' district of Prenzlauer Berg protected the youngsters by hiding them in their homes and by pouring boiling oil onto the heads of the pursuing police. A few days later, the workers of the Narva works in East Berlin struck, demanding that a third of their wages be paid in western currency. The Stasi had to go to the workers' homes every day, force them to work and take them back again in the evening (Reported by Robert Havemann in an interview with Le Monde, 21.1.78) A series of strikes were reported from Dresden, where the same demand was raised. In the middle of the same month construction workers in East Berlin struck (Der Spiegel, 17.10.77). A new law passed on the 1.1.78 made it possible for workers to be fined up to half a million marks! Such measures have not succeeded in intimidating the workers. In May 1978, in the cities of Witteberge and Erfurt, violent confrontations with the police were reported. In the second half of 79 and into 1980 reports continued to reach the west of strikes and protest actions, for example a strike of the dockers in Rostock, which held up war material due for shipping to Vietnam, and a big strike in Waltershausen which ended with a series of arrests.
The quantitative and qualitative progression of the class struggle in the Russian bloc can only be understood in the context of the downturn of the world economy, which eliminated the last illusions in an expansive world market through East-West trade. The sharpening of the overproduction crisis makes it impossible for the COMECON to repay its spiraling debts in the west through increases exports, and left its member countries tottering toward bankruptcy. The crisis heightens the imperialist conflict between the blocs, and it forces the bourgeoisie to attack the proletariat all the more firmly, in order to support increased military efforts. The bourgeois solution for the crisis is war. If the crisis provoked a rapid drop in workers' living standards (soaring prices and increasing shortages in all COMECON countries), it also made the invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 1979 necessary. And this military effort in turn calls for even harder attacks on the workers.
The rivalry between the blocs, and that between the classes, are the two poles around which decadent capitalism revolves. Of the two poles, that of the class struggle is fundamental. In the absence of the class war, the rivalry between the blocs will become dominant. We mean here the absence of the proletarian fight, since the bourgeois attack against the workers is permanent. Since the end of the 60's, the class war has been the dominant factor in the world, for the first time in almost half a century. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan did not alter this. It expressed a heightened tension between the blocs, but this tension remains secondary, so long as it provokes in its turn a response from the workers at a qualitatively higher level. The two poles of society are determined by their goals: war or revolution. They are diametrically opposed to each other, but since the full participation of the proletariat is essential for either, the trajectory of society depends on the workers' response to the crisis.
The struggles of the 50's necessitated a temporary collaboration of the world bourgeoisie. But because these struggles remained restricted to one bloc (as opposed to 1917-23, when both war camps were hit by the class struggle, especially on the eastern front) they did not challenge the domination of inter-imperialist rivalries over society. In the face of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie installed some popular governments (Gomulka, Nagy, Khrushchev even) and these were supported by more left wing oppositions, who tried to tie the workers to these governments. The Dubcek regime in Czechoslovakia was the least successful attempt to control the workers through a popular government. Also the mass terror of the Stalin era came to an end. It was replaced by selective terror, which clamped down immediately on militant workers in the factories, but which allowed bourgeois oppositionalists room for maneuver. This change in climate did not yet correspond to an alteration of the balance of class forces. The oppositionalists were there to boost the democratic image of the regimes such as that of the USSR, where the bleatings of the Samizdat circulated under the eyes of the KGB, and where there were at the time at least one million political prisoners, mostly proletarians, being held to this day! (see Boris Lswytzkij: Politische Opposition in der Sowjetunion). These oppositions were foreseen as the guarantee that the regime would grant full democracy to the workers if they were prepared to fight for the capitalist fatherland. They were ‘anti-Stalinist' and warned Khrushchev against a ‘return to Stalin's methods'. Even when they called themselves ‘Marxist Leninist', or referred to the USSR as being state capitalist (an obvious concession to an opinion prevailing among many workers!), these groups usually declared their loyalty to the constitution (of Stalin!), to the CP, against the ‘restoration of the bourgeoisie' (!) etc. In this period, those who were pro-western were immediately repressed or deported. The principle thesis of the ‘Democrats of Russia, the Ukraine and the Balticum,' for example (a movement claiming to have 20,000 activists and 180,000 sympathizers -- see Lewytzhij, 69-70) was that it was in the regime's own interests to reform itself.
The international upsurge of the class struggle in the 70's did change the balance of class forces, and left the bourgeoisie, including its oppositional factions, in complete disarray. In Poland the workers no longer believed that it was possible to ‘regenerate' any part of the Stalinist apparatus, and the oppositionalists coming from 1956 and from the student movement of the 60's (Kuron etc.) who were propagating just that, found themselves completely isolated from the class. This created a dangerous political vacuum, into which the class struggle could expand. After the 1970-71 strike movement, militant workers in Sczecin and other centers tried to resist the dissolution of the strike committees by converting them into nuclei of an oppositional trade union. Oppositionalists inside and outside the CP were still able to channel workers' illusions in trade unionism into a project for making the existing unions ‘independent of the government.' The project to control the workers in this manner failed miserably, on the one hand because the workers had lost all faith in the existing unions, on the other hand because the bourgeoisie was prepared to organize a democratic facade for the unions, but wouldn't agree to it organizing strikes and protest actions. In the west, the unions maintain their grip by organizing stillborn ‘actions' in order to prevent the workers taking their fate into their own hands. In the east, the Stalinists have traditionally relied on the police to maintain order, since every stoppage, even if union organized, means falling further behind the west in the arms race.
The 70's saw important changes in the social atmosphere in the Russian bloc, especially in the USSR itself. The new generation of workers, who didn't live through the Stalinist counter revolution, are outspoken and fearless. At the market places of Taschkent or in the Moscow underground, they openly criticize the regime. But they still have many illusions in the west, and especially in ‘free trade unions' and in western democracy. In the USSR, strikes have become an everyday occurrence in small and medium sized factories; where there is little work done anyway. The workers are undernourished, often starving, and productivity is abysmal. In the key plants working for the war economy, which are in Siberia, armed police stand with machine guns trained on the workers at their work places. In these factories there can be no strikes. The only alternatives are production or civil war. With the generalization of the class struggle, in the USSR and internationally, it can only be a matter of time before these workers also revolt. The strike waves of the 70 have made this clear to the bourgeoisie. They are sitting on a powder keg.
The invasion of Afghanistan further exacerbated the social tension. It became clear that the sacrifices workers were being called on to make were not for a ‘better future', for ‘Communism', but for world war. This perspective has strengthened the resolve of the proletariat not to make any sacrifices for the sake of this system. The mass desertions from the Russian Army in Afghanistan are just a symptom of this. Most significantly, in the Russian USSR, the last patriotic identification with the ‘fatherland', hanging over from the Second World War, has disappeared. With Afghanistan, the absolute contradiction between the interests of the proletariat and those of ‘mother Russia' are becoming particularly clear.
With the workers of the east ready for a fight with their own government, and being held back only by the vastness of the apparatus of repression, the development of a strong and credible bourgeois opposition becomes a major concern of the world bourgeoisie. It should be remembered that whereas the Eastern European oppositionalists do not have a very high press circulation (the KOR in the late 70's distributed 30,000 copies of each issue of Robotnik), their politics are transmitted to millions of workers day and night via the western broadcasting stations. These are the propaganda organs the workers attend to, not Pravda or Neues Deutschland.
Nationalism is a prime weapon for controlling the workers. In the 50's and 60's, CP governments were able to use it to strengthen their control over the class (e.g. Gomulka). In the USSR, Khrushchev's decentralization reform was intended to give the CP's of the Ukraine, Georgia etc more room for diverting anger against ‘the Russians'. In addition, it played the different nationalities off against one another. In 1978 for example, a strike wave swept the autonomous province of Abchasien, belonging to Georgia, gripping the capital city Suchunci and the mining districts, and gaining the active support of the landworkers and peasants. This intense social movement remained completely isolated, because it was diverted into a national liberation struggle against ‘the Georgians'. Abchasien sells its industrial and agricultural produce to Georgia at a fixed price, and Tiflis then feels free to resell a portion to Russia at a profit. Under such circumstances, it wasn't difficult for the oppositionalists to lead a workers' movement into a bourgeois cul-de-sac, involving the workers in a customs war at the frontier.
By the beginning of the 70's, the ability of the ruling CP's to enforce the nationalist mystification in Eastern Europe or in the non-Russian USSR was dying; because nobody believed anything they said anymore, and because a convincing nationalism in the eastern bloc today has to be very much more anti-Russian than any governmental team can afford. Instead, the Kremlin decided to leave the task entirely to the opposition. The official governmental position against anti-Russian nationalism in any shape or form could only reinforce the credibility of the opposition. This was the reasoning behind the ‘Brezhnev Doctrines':
-- after the Prague invasion, the so-called ‘limited sovereignty of socialist states'
-- then, in December 1972, proclamation of the ‘solution' of the national question in the USSR through the creation of ‘one great Soviet people'.
As in Poland and Czechoslovakia the party/reformist and human rights/pro-western oppositionalists in the USSR entered into crisis with the upsurge of the class struggle. The future clearly belonged to those who could radicalize themselves and create a presence within the proletariat.
In the Ukraine and other areas of the Soviet Union where the class struggle has been particularly powerful, the oppositionalists have long been radical and have concentrated on gaining an influence. Among such groups in the past were ‘All Power To The Soviets' (Moldavia 1964), ‘The Young Workers' (Alma-Ata 1977), the Kommunarden Group, the ‘Ural Worker' (Sverlowsk 1970), ‘For The Realization of Lenin's Ideas' (Voroschilovgrad, 1970). (See ‘Die Politische Opposition in der Ukraine', in Sozialistisches Osteuropakomitee, Info 32). We don't possess sufficient documentation to judge whether some of these groups could have represented political expressions of the proletariat. What is certain is that the majority of them, for all their verbal radicalism, represented programs for ‘democratizing' Russian capitalism, in order to avoid social explosions. The fact that these groups had to resort in many cases to talking about ‘Soviet Capitalism' and the ‘new bourgeoisie' in the USSR in order to get a hearing among the workers certainly reflects the attitude among the militant workers to the ‘Socialist Fatherland'. The radicals in turn have been divided into hard line nationalists, who work in strict clandestinity, propagate and even practice ‘armed struggle'; and more working class oriented currents who mix the nationalist poison with demands for free trade unions. During the seventies, in the Ukraine for example, such leftists have developed an activity in the factories. There are hundreds of such organizations all over the USSR. In addition, towards the end of the seventies, a series of attempts have been made to set up republic-wide oppositional trade unions, the most recent and well-known being the SMOT, with sections in a dozen cities to begin with. Whereas striking workers in strategically vital factories are executed out of hand, these stalwart defenders of the capitalist state get away with being harassed or arrested by the KGB. If the police left them completely alone, the workers would hardly have much trust in them.
The formation of the KOR in Poland in 1976, which had the immediate effect of steering the workers' response to the repression of 1976 onto a legalist and democratic terrain, is a good example of the development of a radical, oppositionalist current, which claims to defend the workers against the government, in order to head off the rise in class struggle. The KOR abandoned the demand of reforming Stalinism, and called instead for the workers to organize ‘outside and against the state' -- in state organs however, in trade unions, which give the workers the illusion of being able to permanently defend themselves without having to constantly take up the struggle and organize themselves in that struggle. This agitation (members of the KOR went to work and militate for example on the Lenin docks before the summer of 1980), helped to prepare the way for the formation of Solidarnosc, today the number one force for law and order in Poland.
We do not intend here to go into the details of the mass strike in Poland and its international repercussions. We refer our readers to the articles in the International Review Nos 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, and to scores of articles in our international press in seven languages.
The veer of the opposition to the left, and the willingness of the state to tolerate their activities, were key factors in the bourgeois strategy against the working class after Afghanistan, and especially after the eruption of 1980 in Poland. Realizing the impossibility of preventing the outbreak of the mass strike, the bourgeoisie concentrated on restricting it to single nation states. The threats to invade Poland, which were directed more at keeping the workers in the other Eastern European states in check, were reinforced and complimented by the posing of bourgeois goals for the movement, (being put forward by the newly radicalized opposition). This, in turn, led to the encapsulation of the movement and reinforcing the state through strengthening the oppositional wing of its apparatus with new oppositional unions. The ideology of democracy and free trade unions not only succeeded -- after a year of struggle -- in ending the mass strike. It allowed the world bourgeoisie -- in Eastern Europe via the oppositionalists to present false lessons of a struggle in Poland which was gripping the attention of workers all over the world. If the workers of Eastern Europe didn't join the mass strike, this was not only because the supply situation is not yet as bad in East Germany or Hungary as in Poland, or because of the immense presence of the Russian Army in these countries, or because the governments could persuade their populations that the strike movement was ruining the Polish economy, but above all because the opposition in these countries was telling the class that the workers in Poland had succeeded in raising such massive resistance because they had organized themselves beforehand in free trade unions. Therefore, the task of the Eastern European proletariat should not be to join the fight, following their comrades in mass struggle organized in workers' assemblies and elected and revocable strike committees, and confronting the state. Rather, it should consist in waiting, in building ‘free trade unions'; each in his own country, each working class democratizing his ‘own' terrorist state. This ability to stop the mass strike spreading beyond Poland was, in turn, crucial in persuading the workers in Poland of the absence of any perspectives other than national ones. And this is the message of the Gdansk Congress of Solidarnosc with its famous appeal for the formation of ‘independent trade unions' in the other Eastern bloc countries. This false internationalism consists in announcing: ‘for you too, there are only national solutions'.
How little ‘national' the strike wave of 1980-81 in Poland was, is shown by the fact that it was a continuation of a strike movement of the late seventies which passed over East and West Germany, Holland, Britain and France, Brazil, the USSR and South Korea etc. It was immediately preceded by a massive if short-lived strike movement in the USSR. In early May 1980, 17,000 workers in the car plant in Togliattigrad came out in solidarity with the bus drivers, and had their demands met after two days. Immediately afterwards 200,000 car workers in Gorki struck in protest against shortages. The strike was preceded by the widespread distribution of leaflets. It was the biggest single walkout in the history of the USSR. A month later a strike is believed to have taken place at the giant Kama River truck plant. In August and September, at the height of the movement in Poland, a series of protests and disturbances were reported from the mining areas of Rumania, and soon afterwards in Hungary (Budapest) and Czechoslovakia. The Czech party boss Husak had to rush to the mines around Ostrava in order to put the lid on the situation. Many of the mines in this area extend across the Polish border, and the contact with the Silesian miners at this time was particularly intense. Prague reacted by practically sealing the border to Poland. Soon, the Polish borders to East Germany and the USSR became practically impassable for ‘ordinary' Eastern Europeans. All local trains between East Germany and Poland were cancelled for instance, At the same time, the armies of the Warsaw Pact were massed along these borders, and an unending series of maneuvers were held in and around Poland, At the beginning of October, street demonstrations and clashes with the police were reported in the capital of Estonia, Tallin, and spread to other centers in the Baltic USSR. Strikes were reported from Kaunas and Vilnius in Lithuania, cities where many people speak Polish.
As the situation developed, workers in Poland, for example at the Lenin Docks in Gdansk, began to dismiss the threats of an invasion as a bluff, because, as they said, the workers in the neighboring countries would not permit such a thing. This conviction was vindicated by an accumulation of reports in the western media, of which we give two examples here - "The soviet authorities fear that an invasion of the East German army in Poland would provoke a generalized strike movement in the GDR. Already, social movements have been in progress in the country for three months now..." (L'Expansion, 22.12.80) The movements referred to concern, among other things, the strike movement around Magdeburg in November and solidarity strikes in cities along the Polish border such as Gorlitz and Frankfurt/Oder.
The second report, from the Financial Times (13.2.81) concerns attempts to mobilize reservists in the Ukraine in order to invade Poland. "According to reports, the call up of reservists in Trans-Carpathia in August proceeded amid scenes of near chaos. Residents of the area were dragooned on the streets, cars were commandeered on the roads, and reservists, many of whom regularly left assembly points to sleep at home with their families, were said to reflect the low morale of people in the area, who are well informed about events in Poland and sympathize strongly with the Poles."
1981 continued with important struggles of the workers. The most important were in Rumania in November, where the miners were joined by steel workers and others in a series of strikes, clashes with the police and attacks against state buildings, leaving several people dead.
"The helicopter which was to fly in the state president Ceausescu for a dialogue with the ‘dissatisfied' in the miners districts was pelted with stones" (DPA/AFP reports). The same report speaks of the increased activity of the oppositionalists in the Baltic republics and elsewhere in the USSR, the formation of ‘independent' trade unions, and, for example, the distribution of leaflets in Estonia calling for a strike for the beginning of December in protest against the price rises of August 1. Similar appeals have been reported from Lithuania and Latvia. Significantly enough for a region where nationalist and separatist mystifications are very persistent, the report claims that it is the deteriorating economic situation which is animating the workers.
Alongside the class struggle of the proletariat, there have been important social explosions in regions where separatism and nationalism play an important role, but where now more than ever the impoverishment of the workers and other sectors tends to become the dominant aspect of the social situation. This is the background for instance of the violent uprisings in Georgia (USSR) and in Kosovo (Yugoslavia) during the spring of 1981.
Today we can say that the potential for the generalization of class struggle in Eastern Europe is evidently greater than at any time since the 1920's, but that the relative quiet on the strike front in Western Europe (which is nothing but the lull before the storm), and the encapsulation of the mass strike in Eastern Europe by the oppositionalists, who have largely succeeded in limiting it to Poland, have prevented the powder keg from exploding. The perspective of major struggles in the western metropoles in the coming period, and the acceleration of the crisis, now also in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, show that despite the world wide bourgeois counter-offensive in the wake of Poland, that the potential for generalization is growing.
Towards the unification of the world proletariat
From the Marxist standpoint, the most revolutionary achievement of capitalism was to have created its own gravedigger, the international proletariat -- and the forces of production, at a world scale, with which the proletariat can abolish class society. For this service we will be eternally grateful to our grabbing exploiters and their barbarous system. Capitalism has created the material conditions for communism, but only on a world scale. Capitalism has conquered the globe, not in a planned manner, but through centuries of competition which have created an international division of labor, the interdependence of each part of the world economy. This is why the international unification of the proletariat in the process of the world revolution is the most decisive material precondition for communism.
Today, every struggle of the proletariat is a conflict with capitalism as a whole, because the system confronts the workers as a single reactionary mass, where all of its parts are equally rotten. This is why the workers can no longer organize themselves corporately or nationally. The secret of the existence of the workers' councils in the mass struggles of decadent capitalism is the permanent, subterranean -- but surfacing! -- thrust towards the world-wide unification of the working class. "The proletariat creates a new form of organization, which encompasses the entire working class regardless of profession, and political maturity, an elastic apparatus which is capable of constantly renewing and expanding itself, of integrating new sectors into itself..." (Manifesto of the Communist International 1919).
The workers' councils have appeared in the context of the mass strike, of the autonomous generalization of the proletarian fight, which threatens to overflow all the barriers erected by capitalism within the working class. And yet, up to now, as a result of the immaturity of the subjective conditions for the world revolution, the workers' councils have paradoxically always reflected also the heterogeneity of the world proletariat. The councils of 1905 in Russia signaled the end of capitalist ascendency worldwide. But they also sowed the avant garde role of the young Russian proletariat, which led for example to the Communist International being formed in 1919 clearly around a pole of regroupment in Russia -- the Bolsheviks. Similarly, in the revolutionary wave of 1917-23, the workers' councils played an important role only in those countries which had been defeated in the war. As such, the workers' councils expressed not only the striving for unity of the class, but also its real division as a result of the war. Thirdly, the appearance of the workers' councils in Hungary in 1956 was not a sign of an international maturation, but of the coming to an end of the continuity with the revolutionary wave. The defeats of the 50's were the final break with this continuity. The Hungarian workers still remembered the experience of the councils in 1919, as was expressed in the call within the councils for "not a government of Nagy or Kadar, but of Bela Kun!"
Today the workers in Poland have been confronted with the unified resistance of the world bourgeoisie, which has united around the strategy of strengthening, the left, oppositional factions like Solidarnosc, the organs of the bourgeois state implanted within the working class to control its reactions. Because of this unity, there can no longer be a ‘weak link in the chain of imperialism' as with Russia in 1917. This is why there were no workers' councils in Poland in 19801981: not because of the weakness of the Polish sector of the class, but because the mass strike there is the most developed expression to date of an international maturation, a real homogenization of the world proletariat. In these circumstances, the workers' councils and the class party of the future will be directly international phenomena, they will appear as a result of a growing awareness of the need to confront and destroy capitalism.
In the perspective of the world revolution, Europe becomes the key to the future, the centre of the world proletariat and of the rivalry between the blocs. The proletariat of Western Europe will play the most crucial role
-- because of its concentration, its industrial and cultural level
-- because it has the most experience with bourgeois democracy and ‘free trade unions', these most lethal weapons of the class enemy.
-- because the national economies of this area are so intertwined, that a nationally limited struggle will sooner appear as an absurdity
-- because the workers of West Germany or France speak five or ten languages, not in different regions, but on one and the same assembly line, and will more easily attain a global vision of the world wide tasks of the class
-- because a mass strike can be downplayed in Poland and quietly massacred in Siberia, but if it breaks out in a major country of the west, it will paralyze a large part of the world economy, and therefore force workers everywhere to take account of it
-- finally, the workers of the west have been spared the crushing double defeat of the 20's and 30's. This is why they will have to play a leading role in preparing the way for the international council republic and the world communist party of the future.
The last revolutionary wave of the 20's ended with the near obliteration of the revolutionary proletariat of Russia and Germany. Tomorrow, the working class of the USSR, larger, more concentrated, more powerful than ever before, will take its place alongside its class brothers and sisters in the world wide revolutionary fight. And the proletariat in Germany will have to take up the key role of forming the bridgehead between east and west, smashing the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the splitting of the world proletariat through two world wars. The isolation of the workers of the east is coming to an end. That is the lesson of the class struggle entering the 1980's.
Krespel. November 1981.