Spain, Poland, E1 Salvador -- the most recent convulsions of society in its death crisis have taken place in three countries which are very different from each other. But although these countries in many ways belong to dissimilar worlds -- the first to the developed West, the second to the Eastern bloc the third to the third world -- and although the immediate circumstances of the events which have put them into the headlines are very different, the same underlying logic runs through all these events, expressing the fundamental unity in the destiny of human society today.
The economic crisis of world capitalism
In El Salvador, massacres have become a daily commonplace and society is sinking into the abyss. This is a tragic illustration of what revolutionaries have been saying for decades: that the capitalist mode of production is completely reactionary, totally incapable of ensuring a real development of the productive forces in areas that had not been blessed with capitalist development by the beginning of the twentieth century. El Salvador is a hideous reflection of the reality facing the whole world today. Famines, massacres, terror, the abuse of human dignity -- this is now the daily lot of the majority of people on the planet, and this is what lies in store for the whole of humanity as the crisis intensifies.
In Poland, it is the end of the myth of "socialism" in Eastern Europe -- the lie that these countries had put an end to the crisis of capitalism, the exploitation of man by man, and class antagonisms. The violent crisis which is now hitting Poland and its "fraternal" countries is a striking refutation of the absurd idea that these countries offer the workers any economic gains. The "workers' gains" touted by the Trotskyists -- eg planning and a state monopoly on foreign trade -- have shown themselves to be completely unable to hold off the crisis of capitalism, to counter the growing anarchy of production, the `shortage of the mast basic goods, and an astronomical foreign debt.
Thus, once again we have proof of the completely capitalist nature of the so-called "socialist" countries, and of the utter falsity of the idea that statifying the economy can eliminate the effects of the world crisis.
In Spain, another myth has collapsed in the last few years: the myth that Spain was a "European Japan". The crisis has, in the most spectacular manner, ended the economic expansion of this European copy of the "Japanese model", so widely celebrated by the technocrats of the 1960s. The Spanish economy may have been able to use the last crumbs of the reconstruction period to drag itself out of its backwardness, but now the crisis is making Spain pay heavily for its past exploits: after setting the European record for growth, it now has the record for unemployment (officially 12.6% of the active population).
Whether it takes the form of a new aggravation of famine in the third world or of an unprecedented rise in unemployment in the West, or of the generalized scarcity in the Eastern bloc, the crisis is showing that the world is one, that the whole of human society is in the same boat.
This unity of the world does not only express itself in the universal effects of the economic crisis. It also expresses itself in the kind of responses we are seeing from the ruling class in all continents, faced with the threat of revolt by the exploited masses against the unbearable deterioration of their living conditions.
The response of the bourgeoisie in all countries to the economic crisis and the threat of class struggle
The response has three complementary aspects:
-- The setting up of "strong", overtly repressive governments which make free use of intimidation against the working class. These governments made up of the right wing sectors of the bourgeois political apparatus.
-- The role carries out by the left-wing sectors of the apparatus, which are generally in opposition and not in government as they were a few years ago. This role consists of sabotaging the workers' struggle from the inside, in order to immobilize the class as it faces up to the attacks of capital.
-- The assumption, by the major imperialist powers, of the task of maintaining social order within their bloc; and close collaboration between them, over and above their mutual antagonisms, with the aim of muzzling the working class.
These policies are to a large extent behind the recent events in El Salvador, in Spain with the ‘coup d'état' of February 1981, and in Poland with the workers' struggles of 1980-81.
In El Salvador we are seeing the concrete realization of the "Reagan doctrine" of supporting hard-line governments committed to "the struggle against subversion." This was not the time for a re-run of Nicaragua, where, through the intermediary of international social democracy, the USA allowed the left parties to come to power. Now the USA no longer talks about "human rights", but is launching a crusade against "international terrorism fomented by the USSR." In fact, this policy is not so much aimed at the USSR which only has a limited influence in Latin America, even though it has no objection to taking advantage of instability in the USA's spheres of influence. No -- the real subversion, the real "terrorism" this policy is aimed at is the class struggle in the American continent.
Reagan has made it quite clear that the aid he's giving to the bloody junta ruling El Salvador has a far greater significance that El Salvador itself, and the kind of confrontation going on there. The populist guerillas of El Salvador are no more dangerous for American imperialism than those which have existed in other Latin American countries. Cuba remains an exception and the fact that it's in the Russian bloc is no danger to the USA. On the other hand, what really frightens the American bourgeoisie is the development of the class struggle, as in Brazil in the last few years for example: this is not something which is a specialty of ‘exotic' countries and threatens to spread to the imperialist metropoles themselves.
By giving his active support to the massacres in E1 Salvador, Reagan is giving a clear warning to the workers of North and South America: "No ‘terrorism' - don't extend your struggles against the deterioration of living conditions, or else I won't hesitate to use repression". And to make sure that this message is well understood, that it won't be interpreted as an old cowboy shooting his mouth off, Reagan has taken care to get the support of Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, who was reticent at first. At the same time he has been calling on the European governments to follow the example of his Canadian lackey. The bourgeoisie is attempting to maintain social order at the level of the whole bloc.
Also at the level of the bloc, the left (with Willy Brandt's ‘Socialist International' to the fore) is ‘protesting' against Reagan's policy and giving its support to the ‘democratic' opposition in E1 Salvador. The left will use any occasion (especially when its declarations are bound to remain purely Platonic) to try to divert working class discontent into the dead-end of ‘defending democracy' or other bourgeois theme-tunes. This is one of the ways the bourgeois left ‘in opposition' is attempting to sabotage the proletarian struggle.
In Spain, ‘defending democracy' is also a la mode following the aborted putsch of 23 February. However, this mystification isn't being used in an identical manner: here it's the central power itself which is presented as the best guarantee of democracy. This doesn't mean that the logic underlying the events in Spain is different from the logic of the events in E1 Salvador as far as the response of the bourgeoisie is concerned. On the contrary, the attempted putsch of 23 February has the following ‘merits' for the bourgeoisie:
-- strengthening the central power, notably in the person of the King (as was the case in Italy a few months ago with the President of the Republic Pertini);
-- strengthening the rightist orientation of the Spanish government. After the ‘failed' putsch Calvo Sotelo could count on the support of right-wing forces such as the Popular Alliance, a support which he lacked before. At the same time, the attempt by certain sectors of the Socialist Party's centre to create a centre-left alliance has not come off;
-- strengthening the song and dance about military coups has been directed at the working class. New life has been given to the legend of a Francoist bugbear hiding in every barracks, in order to dissuade the workers from responding to increasing misery by returning to the kinds of struggles that blew up in 1975-6.
Clearly the putschists themselves -- Tejero, Milans del Bosch, Armada - didn't launch their adventure with this perspective in mind. But the advantages the bourgeoisie has drawn from the putsch and its failure (we're not in 1936: this isn't the time for military dictatorships in Western Europe) makes one think that these officers have allowed themselves to be manipulated by more lucid sectors of the ruling class. Is this too ‘Machiavellian' a vision? It's obviously difficult to make precise distinctions between what has been carefully prepared by the bourgeoisie and what can be put down to its capacity to adapt and improvise. However, it would be dangerous for the working class and for revolutionaries to underestimate the strength and intelligence of the class enemy. Let's simply recall the fact that, in the last seven months, this is the fifth time we've witnessed a scenario which had the ‘miraculous' effect of cementing ‘national solidarity' against a somewhat insubstantial ‘fascist menace': bombings in Bologna in August 1980, Munich in September 1980, Rue Copernic in Paris in October 1980, Antwerp in November 1980, and now the Madrid putsch. Is all this accidental?
In Poland, the threat of tanks is also being used to persuade the workers to be reasonable, although in this case it's not so much the tanks of the national army, but those belonging to Poland's ‘big brother'. But the ideological mechanism is the same: in both cases, the government justifies its tough policies, its refusal to make concessions, at its appeals for calm, not so much by threatening to use repressions itself but by its supposed concern to spare the population and the working class from a ferocious repression which would be carried out against the government's will. Using repression to avoid an even greater repression: it's an old trick and would have little credibility if the left wasn't there to lend a hand:
-- in Spain, by associating itself with all the other bourgeois parties in brandishing the threat of a ‘return to fascism', and organizing huge demonstrations in support of democracy and the King;
-- in Poland, by protesting strongly against repression and against the government's refusal to keep its promises while at the same time calling on the workers to be ‘moderate' so that they don't put ‘Poland in danger' - which actually means passively accepting the bourgeois offensive against the working class.
Thus, political life in Poland is following an orientation which has already been used effectively in the western industrialized countries: the division of labor between, on the one hand, a right in power which make makes no attempt to win popularity among the workers and has the task of cynically strengthening exploitation and repression, and, on the other hand, a left in opposition whose task -- thanks to its radical language and the confidence it enjoys within the working class -- is to undermine any resistance to the offensive from the right.
Through an irony of history, it's a so-called ‘Communist' party which is playing the role of the ‘right' in Poland (but in unpopularity and cynicism, the ruling teams in eastern Europe break all world records), while a cardinal of one of the most reactionary Churches in the world takes the part of spokesman of the ‘left'.
But, despite these particularities, the political mechanisms are the same. The domination of Jaruzelski as Prime Minister in February was the first coherent initiative of the Polish bourgeoisie since August 1980 and shows that the ruling team is becoming aware of what needs to be done. The Polish bourgeoisie has got to restore ‘order'(as an army man, the new Prime Minister is ideal): it's had enough of a situation in which the state is again and again forced to retreat in the face of workers' demands, especially when each retreat only inspires workers to made new demands.
But the re-establishment of order can't be based on repression alone, as in the past. The collaboration of the Solidarity union is required, and Jaruzelski has a reputation for being in favor of negotiation. For the moment it's a question of neutralizing those elements in the political apparatus who can't accept the existence of an opposition force inside the country.
But the situation in Poland doesn't only illustrate the bourgeoisie's tactics at the internal level. It shows once again that the bourgeoisie is sharpening weapons against the workers' struggle at an international level.
In the first place, the situation in Poland is being taken charge of by the entire Russian bloc: through threats of an intervention by the Warsaw Pact (a threat that could become a reality if the Polish authorities lost control of the situation) and through the elaboration in Moscow of the policies to be followed at local level. These policies must not only take into account the particular interests of the national capital: they must fit in with the policies of the whole bloc. Even if the Polish authorities were tempted to loosen the reins at home, Moscow would so soon remind them that too much ‘looseness' runs the risk of giving workers in other countries in the bloc the idea that ‘struggle pays'. But the attempt to take charge of the Polish situation goes beyond the limits of the Russian bloc: it involves the whole world bourgeoisie, notably the major western powers who have tried to calm the Polish workers' discontent by giving economic aid that will allow the authorities to distribute a few crumbs. At the same time, along with Solidarity, they've joined in the sing-song about Russian intervention. The western campaign about the threat of Russian intervention is, among other things, aimed at the eastern bloc workers: although these workers are little inclined to believe the propaganda put out by Tass, they're more likely to believe Radio Free Europe or the BBC when they say that this threat is a real one.
Thus, the bourgeoisie is preparing its offensive on a world-wide scale. The ruling class has learned the lessons of the past. It knows that, when faced with the proletarian danger, you've got to show unity, you've got to co-ordinate your activities, even if this means a division of labor between different factions of the political apparatus. For the working class, the only way for forward is to refuse to be drawn into the traps laid for it by the ruling class, to launch its own class offensive against the offensive of the bourgeoisie:
-- against the division of labor between right and left, it must reject both these wings of capital;
-- against intimidation and the threat of repression, it must struggle as resolutely and as broadly as possible. Only the threat of a massive response from the proletariat can stay the criminal hands of the bourgeoisie;
-- against the sabotage of the struggle by the left parties and unions, it must organize and extend its own struggles;
- - against the bourgeoisie's international anti-working class offensive, it must extend its struggles on an international scale. This is the only way to prevent the world proletariat being picked off in a series of isolated battles.
More than ever before, the old watchword the workers' movement is on the agenda:
"Workers of all countries, unite!"
FM March 1981