International class struggle: The simultaneity of workers strikes: what are the perspectives?

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In the previous issue of the International Review (No.37) we dealt with the international resurgence of class struggle. Following the defeat of the proletariat in Poland and the reflux in class struggle which ensued in 1981 and 1982, we have recently witnessed a massive resurgence of the struggles throughout the world and principally in Western Europe.

This resurgence confirms that the working class is refusing to put up with more belt-tightening, that it doesn't accept sacrificing itself in order to ‘save the national economy'; that the bourgeoisie has neither succeeded in obtaining social peace, nor any support for its immediate economic projects: the slashing of wages, massive lay-offs, generalized misery. This social indisci­pline of the proletariat signifies that the bour­geoisie does not possess the political means to unleash a third world war, despite the intensifi­cation of inter-imperialist rivalries and conflicts. Incapable of making the accumulation of misery acceptable, which doesn't mean that it won't succeed in imposing a large part of it, the bourgeoisie is all the more incapable of imposing the greatest sacrifices up to the ulti­mate one which would open the road to the capit­alist conclusion to the crisis: generalized war.

We continue therefore to affirm that the historic course of the period opened up at the end of the ‘60s is towards class confrontations and not towards war.

In the 1980s, the ‘years of truth', the bourge­oisie can no longer delay its economic attacks against the working class. This attack is not improvised, but has been prepared over several years now by the ruling class, at the internat­ional level:

-- at the political level, through the implement­ation of the ‘left in opposition', in other words outside all governmental responsibility;

-- at the economic level, through the planning by organs such as the IMF or the OECD, or by inter-state agreements, of the economic attack against the working class.

We have frequently elaborated this question in the pages of the International Review (notably in No.31, "Machiavellianism, and the Conscious­ness and Unity of the Bourgeoisie") and in our territorial press. We will not return to the question here. It is certainly an internation­ally coordinated, planned and organized attack against which the working class has been defend­ing itself since the end of 1983[1].

The Silence of the Press

The silence, the various lies developed by the bourgeois media, cannot prevent revolutionary groups from recognizing this resurgence. Since last September, all the countries of Europe have been affected by strikes, by massive and determ­ined reactions of the proletariat. Without neglecting the hunger revolts in Tunisia, Morocco, and recently in Santo Domingo, it is necessary to insist that the movements which have once more swept the USA, Japan (22,000 dockers on strike) and above all Britain, Germany, Belgium, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, etc, are taking place in the historic centre of capitalism, and on this account acquire a particular importance.

Despite the blackout of press coverage, we are aware (and one of the tasks of revolutionaries is to spread the news) that:

-- in Spain, "the workers under attack have begun to defend themselves against the plans of the government. Not a single day passed without a new strike breaking out..." (Der Spiegel, 20.2.84). Involved in the strike were workers from SEAT, General Motors, textile workers, Iberia (aviation) the railways, the public service sector, the steel industry (Sagunto) and the shipyards;

-- on March 24th, 700,000 workers demonstrated in Rome against plans to eliminate the ‘scala mobile' (inflation-linked pay compensation scheme);

-- on March 12 and 13, 135,000 miners launched a strike in Britain which has continued ever since;

-- in France, after Talbot and the post office, it's now the steel sector, the shipyards, the mines and the automobile industry which are featuring in the workers' reactions;

-- in May, in the paradise of social peace - in West Germany - the strike launched by the unions around the 35-hour week is the response of the bourgeoisie to the combativity of the workers which has begun to express itself in a series of spontaneous wildcat strikes.

From the movement of the general strike in the public sector in Belgium in September 1983, to the present strike of the metal workers in Germany, it's the entire international prolet­ariat which is returning to the road of the class struggle, to the refusal of the logic of sacri­fices which capitalism offers us.

The weapons of the bourgeoisie

1. The Campaigns of Diversion

The silence and lies of the press are not the only weapons used by the bourgeoisie. The organization of campaigns of diversion allows for confusion, a demobilization of the workers -- essentially those who have not yet entered the struggle. This was the whole thrust of the pacifist demonstration organized by the left and the leftists in the middle of the public service sector strikes in Belgium and Holland last autumn. The utilization of the "aerialoil-detect­ion" fraud campaign invented during the Talbot strike in France, the fuss made over the financ­ing of political parties in Germany -- what a sudden outburst of honesty! -- at the moment when the metal workers'' strike began, are intended to enable the workers' struggles to be passed over in silence. All these campaigns (and there have been many others, too) create a smokescreen to hide the reaction of the workers, thereby reinforcing their isolation.

2. False Appeals for Extension

Faced with sectors of the class which are already on strike, these smokescreens are not sufficient. Today, the one thing the bourgeoisie is afraid of is the extension, the real coordination of the strikes. It can no longer prevent proletarian reactions; it is no longer capable of doing so. And so it tries to smother them in despair and isolation. Since the proletariat is not an amorphous mass incapable of reflection, the bourgeoisie has to develop themes which perm­it this isolation and this division. This task falls primarily to the loyal servants of capital, the trade unions: enclosing the workers in dead-ends, in the defense of the national economy, in the "produce French, consume French" slogan of the CGT (the trade union of the French CP), in opposing the workers of one region to those of another such as in Belgium, of one sector against another as in Holland where the unions during the public sector strike proposed a ... reduction of wages in the private sector!

It becomes more and more obvious that workers, who are isolated, dispersed by region, by indust­rial sector, are destined for defeat. The concern for the necessity of extension is affirmed more strongly each time. In order to oppose this will, to empty it of its proletarian content, the bourgeoisie does not hesitate to take the lead. It proposes false extensions, false generalizations, and false solidarity.

We have already seen how the unions have ‘generalized' the struggle of the railway and postal workers in Belgium towards the less combative and more easily controlled public sector The bourgeoisie uses base unionism in order to workers. In doing so, they wipe out a real extension in order to assure complete control over the strike. It was in the attempt to achieve the same goal that the CGT organized, called for and supervised, under the ‘protection' of its stewards and wardens, the ‘March on Paris' of the steel workers on the 13th of April. It was in pursuit of this same goal also that the ‘March on Rome' of the 24th March was organized. The same goes for the union of the Spanish CP, the ‘workers commissions' who, along with the leftists have appealed for a ‘March on Madrid' on the 6th March aimed at enforcing the same isolation and dispersion as the Belgian FGT.

3. Base Unionism

The accumulation of all these maneuvers damages the image of the unions among the workers even more. And despite the radicalization of their image, they have not succeeded in reversing the drop in union membership, in preventing their leaders from being more and more jeered and shouted down as soon as they appear and, above all, in keeping complete control over the workers' reactions. This is the point where critical, ‘radical' unionism sets in, tending to bring back into the union prison those workers who are turning their backs on it, and trying to avoid the unmasking of the unions as a whole. It is base unionism, rank-and-file unionism, the ‘Collectif' of 1979/84 which at Longwy has corralled the workers into ‘commando actions' serving only to isolate them all the more in ‘their' region, ‘their' town, ‘their' factory. It is the ‘coordination groups of the trade unionist forces', the committees of solidarity and struggle which, with Camacho -- the leader of the Spanish ‘workers' commissions' -- have promoted a hypothetical ‘general strike' on some as yet unspecified date which ... only the unions should decide on.

The best example of the dirty work accomplished by base unionism is in Italy. It would have taken the official unions a great deal of time to mobilize so many people -- but 700,000 workers responded with the ‘March on Rome' called by the ‘national assembly of factory councils'. It must be said that these ‘factory councils' are councils in name only. It's not the first time that the bourgeoisie has usurped words and names of the proletariat in order to disfigure their real meaning, their class content. These councils are nothing but a trade union structure, the base of which has existed since 1969. They are quite the reverse of organs produced by the struggle, controlled and directed by the workers united in their general assemblies. Created at the end of the movement of 1969 to keep the struggles enclosed in the factories and workshops, they return to the scene today, having constitut­ed a nation-wide base unionist organization credible in the eyes of the workers, ready for use from the beginning of the movement. It serves therefore to streamline the official unions. The motto of the ‘factory councils' of the Italian leftists is "we are not against the unions: we are the unions."

The bourgeoisie uses base unionism in order to empty the struggle of its content and take control through an application of the tactics of ‘a free hand for the base', of ‘recognizing all the actions'. One of the arguments of base unionism is to make workers believe that through their struggle, their determination, their combativity, they can exert pressure on the unions in order to push them to give their recognition or to take the struggle in hand. In this way they constantly draw the workers back into the union prison, in taking up the argum­ents of the radicalization of their language.

These alterations in the language of the unions reveal their true meaning in those strikes, such as at Citroen or Talbot in France where the employers announced a greater number of lay-offs than was really necessary, in order to permit the unions to show off their radical image in refus­ing any retreat, and allowing them finally to get people to believe in their victory, in their effectiveness in making the bourgeoisie ‘back down' by ‘reducing' the number of lay-offs ... to the levels originally planned! And so, at Talbot, having announced 3,000 lay-offs, ‘only' 2,000 were finally sacked, ‘thanks' to the energetic reactions of the unions.

Even if this tactic is not new, its coordinated application by employers and unions is becoming increasingly common today.

4. The Utilization of Repression

The state cannot allow itself a blind and frontal repression against the workers' struggles which are presently developing. This would only have the opposite of the desired effect: one acceleration of the coming to consciousness of the workers that it is the entire bourgeoisie, the state, which has to be confronted. However, the state needs to display its presence and its force. And therefore it makes use of selective repre­ssion. It tends to create points of fixation in order to divert the combativity of the workers.

This is the reason behind the court actions against the miners union in Britain over the organization of strike pickets. Moreover, this enhances the credibility of the union by giving it a martyr's halo. The British bourgeoisie hasn't hesitated to arrest over 500 miners to date. This was also the aim at Talbot in France in allowing the hired militia of the bosses to intervene against the workers on strike under the noses of the police. The same thing at Longwy with the "punch up" and "commando" opera­tions. This is also what has happened at Sagunto in Spain with the violent repression against a workers' demonstration. This is a favorable terrain for base unionism, for the leftists, who are therefore able to benefit from state violence through their need for victims in order to give their actions credibility. The utilization of selective violence and the violence of leftism are perfectly complementary and comprise a unity.

5. Keeping the Left in Opposition

In order to be fully effective, all the obstacles which the bourgeoisie places in the path of the proletariat require the existence of an apparent opposition to governments charged with attacking the working class. In order to gain the confi­dence of the workers and in order to play on their illusions and weaknesses, the maintenance of a workerist language by the important left parties allows for a credible and effective deployment of the obstacles previously mentioned. The return of the SPD into opposition in Germany last year made possible the organization of powerful pacifist demonstrations. Today it permits the DGB trade unions to organize pre­emptively a strike movement around the 35-hour issue, with the goal of exhausting and demoralizing the workers' combativity which was beginning to express itself spontaneously. Equally, the calling of pacifist demonstrations in Italy corresponds to a more pronounced opposition of the CP in relation to the govern­ment and to a radicalization of its language; just like the GCIL which, in developing a base unionism of the ‘factory council' breed, tries to occupy the social terrain. Although partici­pating in government, the French CP is trying to follow the example of the Italian and Spanish CPs, and of the German and Belgian SPs, in appearing to be opposed to the attack mounted against the working class. This is the reason be behind the ever-growing criticism which its trade union - the CGT - is making against Mitterand.

For the bourgeoisie, the time has not yet come for changing the deployment of its political apparatus in face of the proletariat. On the contrary, it needs to reinforce the policy of the ‘left in opposition' in confronting the working class.

The characteristics of present struggles

The present resurgence of struggles signifies that the proletariat - on the one hand, under attack economically and on the other hand maturing and reflecting on its defeat in Poland, progressively losing both its illusions in a way out of the capitalist crisis and its confi­dence in the left parties and the unions - is returning to the path of its class combat through the defense of its living conditions, through the struggle against capital.

The necessity to maintain the left in opposition, the need for a political force of the bourgeoisie to be present in the struggles in order to control, sabotage and divide them, has been the tactic employed since 1979-80. The present resur­gence of the class struggle reveals the progre­ssive wearing out of this tactic. In the majority of the west European countries, the existence of the big left parties in "opposition" is no longer sufficient to prevent the upsurge of struggles.

At the same time as the card of the left in oppo­sition progressively wears out, the present workers' struggles express equally the end of the illusions concerning the economic renewal of capitalism. The illusions maintained by the left and the unions concerning the protectionist, nationalist, or ‘anti-capitalist' solutions of the ‘make the rich pay' variety, tend to collapse more and more. This is what is expressed in the refusal of the steel workers, whether in Spain or in France, to be fooled by the plans for ‘industrial reorganization' or for ‘retraining'. The same thing is expressed all the more by the return of the workers of the USA and West Germany to the path of struggle after two years in which they accepted wage cuts in order to ‘save' their companies.

The maturation of consciousness in the working class proceeds today via the recognition of the bourgeois character of the left as a whole, the inevitability of the deepening of the crisis of capitalism and that only determined, massive and generalized workers' struggle can open an alternative perspective to the continued degra­dation of its living conditions. This progressive maturation is expressed in the very characteristics of the struggles unfolding today before our eyes:

-- a tendency towards the upsurge of spontaneous movements expressing a certain overflowing of the unions;

-- a tendency towards large-scale movements;

-- a growing simultaneity of struggles at the international level;

-- the slow rhythm of the development of these struggles.

1. A Tendency Towards the Upsurge of Spontaneous struggles

Whether we take the public sector strike in Belgium which began without the unions in Septem­ber ‘83; the rejection of the agreement drawn up by the unions and the employers by 65,000 shipyard workers in October ‘83 in Britain; the struggle of 15,000 miners without union approval the same month in the same country; the criticisms made by and the disgust of the Talbot wor­kers with the unions in December ‘83; the violent, spontaneous demonstrations of the steel and shipyard workers in France in March ‘84; whether in Spain at General Motors or in Germany where wildcat strikes broke out in Duisburg (Thyssen) and Bremen (Klockner) or even the hunger revolts in Tunisia, Morocco, the Dominican Republic, in Brazil, etc - all these workers' reactions express a general tendency towards a spontaneous overflowing of the unions.

The unions no longer succeed in preventing workers' reactions even if, for the most part, they still, succeed in keeping control. The coming to consciousness concerning the anti-working class role of the unions grows. The lies about their working class character, about the possibility and necessity to utilize them, about their indispensability, are unmasked more and more.

2. The Tendency Towards Large Scale Movements

Millions of workers throughout the world, and particularly in the major centers of capitalism, have and are continuing to participate in the present struggles. As we have already noted, large-scale movements have hit and are conti­nuing to hit the whole of western Europe, the USA, South America, both North and southern Africa, India etc. Moreover, every sector has been affected by the workers' reactions: the public services, the car industry, steel, shipbuilding, mining etc.

Inevitably, the workers learn of the existence of these movements. Inevitably, in order to break out of their isolation, the question of the extension and the coordination of struggles are posed. At the beginning the answer was given by the railwaymen at Liege and Charleroi (Belgium) who went to the postal workers and succeeded in drawing them into the strike of last September. The miners in Britain have come out on strike against massive lay-offs. 10,000 flying pickets appealed for extension, and on the 12th and 13th March 135,000 miners ceased work. That also is a beginning of a response to the question of extension.

Extension, however, is not solely directed to towards workers who still have a job. Those who are out of work are just as concerned by the struggles of their class. We have seen how unemp­loyed workers have joined demonstrations of workers in Longwy and Sagunto. In the Dominican Republic the unemployed, 40 per cent of the population, have participated in the workers' revolt against price rises of basic foodstuffs. The same goes for Tunisia and Morocco last winter.

3. The Simultaneity of Struggles

At no time either during the first wave of workers' struggles (‘68-‘74) or during the second wave of ‘78-‘80 was there such a degree of simultaneity. And each of us knows the price which the proletariat in Poland paid for this: the incapacity to break with the entanglements of bourgeois propaganda on the specificities of ‘the east' in the mass strike of August ‘80; the incapacity of the workers' struggles to break the international isolation of the proletariat. Today, this simultaneity is merely a juxtaposition of workers' struggles, and not the international generalization of the class struggle. However, the idea of generalization is already making progress. In the general assemblies, the workers of Charleroi, up against the unions, reacted to the bitter clashes between the workers and the French police at Longwy by shouting "to Longwy! to Longwy!" Make no mistake, the strikes in Europe, particularly (though for different reasons) in Germany and in France, have captured the attention and aroused the interest of the workers.

4. Self-Organization

Up to now the proletariat has not extended, coordinated, not to mention generalized its combat. As long as the workers do not come to challenge the union control of their struggles, as long as they don't succeed in taking them into their own hands, as long as they don't confront the unions concerning the goals and the control over the movement, they cannot organize the extension. In other words, the importance of self-organization in response to immediate needs is primordial in every struggle today.

It is up to the general assemblies to decide on and to organize the extension and the coordination. It is up to them to send mass delegations or delegates to call for strikes in the other factories, to nominate, and if necessary at any moment to revoke the delegates. In fact, up to now the bourgeoisie has succeeded in emptying all the existing assemblies of their content.

Without self-organization, without general assem­blies, there can be no real extension, never mind the international generalization of class strugg­le, But without this extension, the rare examples of self-organization, of general assemblies in Belgium, France, and Spain lose their function and their political content and allow the bour­geoisie and its unions to occupy the terrain. The workers are in the process of understanding that the organization of the extension can only be achieved at the price of combating trade unionism.

5. The Slow Rhythm of the Development of the Struggles

The present difficulties in the self-organization of the working class are only the most obvious result of the slow progress of the pre­sent development of the struggles. The economic attack is, however, very strong. Some people see in these difficulties and in the slowness of the resurgence, in the absence of a ‘qualitative leap' towards the mass strike overnight, an extreme weakening of the proletar­iat. They are confounding the conditions of struggle facing the proletariat in the major industrial and historical countries of capital­ism with the conditions prevailing in the coun­tries of the ‘third-world' or of the Russian bloc such as Poland. Before being able to un­leash the mass strike and an international generalization, the proletariat must face up to and surmount the obstacles placed in its path by the bourgeoisie - the left in opposition and the unions - and at the same time organize the control and the extension of its struggles. This process necessitates a coming to conscious­ness and a collective reflection on the part of the class, drawing the lessons of the past and of the present struggles. The slow rhythm of the resurgence of struggles, far from constitu­ting an insurmountable weakness, is the product of the slow but profound maturation of consciousness in the working class. We affirm therefore that we are only at the beginning of this wave of struggle.

The reason for this slowness is due to the necessity to take up again the lessons which were posed during the previous wave, but which have not been resolved: the lack of extension in the dockers strike in Rotterdam in 1979; the absence of general assemblies at Longwy-Denain the same year; the base unionist sabotage of the steel strike in Britain; the necessity for an international generalization after the mass strike in Poland; the role of the ‘left in opposition' in the reflux and at the end of this wave of struggles.

But, as opposed to ‘78-‘80, it is the totality of these questions which the workers find themselves confronted with in each struggle today. It's not one question which is raised in each struggle, but all of them at one go. Therein lies the slowness of the present rhythm of the struggles. Therein lies the difficulty but also the profundity of the maturation of consciousness in the working class.

6. The Present Particular Role of the Proletariat in France

In the coming to consciousness of the inter­national proletariat, its sector in France has a particular responsibility, be it temporary and limited. As a result of the accidental arrival of the left in power following the election of May and June 1981, this country presently constitutes a cleavage in the inter­national deployment of forces of the bourgeoi­sie. The participation in government of the left parties, the SP and the CP, is a serious weakness for the international bourgeoisie.

If the mass strike of August 1980 in Poland has contributed considerably to the destruc­tion of the mystification of the ‘socialist' character of the Eastern bloc, the present development of struggles in France cannot but contribute to unmasking the mystification and the lies hawked by the left in the other countries and weakening these same parties in the workers midst.

The sacking of thousands of workers by this government, the support it has received from the unions, the strikes themselves such as in the public sector (post office, railways) or in the car industry (Talbot, Citroen), the violent confrontations between the police and the ‘left' and the steel and shipyard workers (Longwy, Marseilles, Dunkerque) can only accelerate the recognition within the entire working class of the bourgeois character of the left parties of capital. On this coming to consciousness by the proletariat depends to a great extent the development of the class struggle up to the proletarian revolution.

The role of communists

There is another part of the proletariat which plays a particular role, which cannot be measured with the same scale as the previous one. This part carries a historical, permanent and universal responsibility. It consists of the communist minorities, the revolutionaries.

"Without revolutionary theory, no revolutionary movement", wrote Lenin in What Is To Be Done? Without a communist program, without a clear position in the class struggle, no proletarian revolution is possible. Without political organization, without a programme, no clear position and therefore no revolution. The struggle of the working class can only develop in affirming and maintaining its autonomy from the bourgeoi­sie. The workers' autonomy depends on the political clarity of the movement of struggle itself. As an integral part of the working class, its political minorities have an indis­pensable and irreplaceable role in this nece­ssary political clarification. The political groups of the proletariat have the responsibi­lity of participating and intervening in the process of coming to consciousness of the working class. They accelerate and push to the limit this collective reflection of their class. This is why it is important:

-- that they recognize the present resurgence of the workers' struggles after the defeat in Poland;

-- that they denounce the ‘left in opposition' as a major obstacle thrown up by the bourgeoi­sie to the workers' struggles;

-- that they understand that Western Europe is the key, the epicenter of the renewal of the struggles today and of their development;

-- that they recognize that the historic course is, since the end of the sixties, towards class confrontations and not towards imperialist war.

Only this general understanding can allow for a clear intervention:

-- the denunciation of unionism in all its forms. We have seen the disastrous effects of the Solidarnosc union in Poland after the mass strike of August ‘80. It wasn't only a very great portion of the workers who were blinded and at sea concerning the profoundly syndicalist and capitalist character of Solidarnosc, but also numerous revolutionary elements and groups. The rejection and the overcoming of unionism in the organization of the extension by the workers themselves requires the unyielding and unwaver­ing denunciation of the unions, of base union­ism and its proponents, by the communist mino­rities, organized for that purpose. This is indispensable and determining for overcoming the traps of the bourgeoisie.

-- putting forward perspectives of struggle through the organization of the extension and of the generalization in the general assemblies. This is a permanent fight which has to be taken to the most combative and advanced workers, and, among them, the small communist groups in the struggles, in the assemblies, to organize the extension and the coordination against the trade unionism which opposes it.

Intervention, propaganda, the political combat of revolutionaries will determine more and more the capacity of the proletariat as a whole to reject the traps laid by the bourgeoisie and its unions in the struggles. The bourgeoisie for its part does not hesitate to ‘intervene', to be present, to occupy the terrain in order to block the development of the coming to consciousness of the workers, to obscure the political ques­tions, to divert the struggles into dead ends. Here is the necessity for communist minorities to struggle within the class (the assemblies) to expose the maneuvers of the bourgeoisie and of all its agents, and to trace a clear pers­pective for the movement. "The revolutionary organization is the best defense of workers' autonomy". (IR, no 24, page 12 ‘On the Role of Revolutionaries')

These communist minorities, theoretically, politically, materially organized and "therefore the most resolute fraction of the proletariat" of all countries, the fraction which pushes forward the others (in accordance with the idea of Communist Manifesto). Revolutionary groups must march in the front line of the proletarian combat. They ‘direct' in the sense of orien­ting the working class towards the development of its struggles, along the road of the prole­tarian revolution. This development passes today via the inseparable necessities of self-organization and extension of the struggles against the unions.

That is the task that the ICC has assigned itself. It is the whole meaning of our combat in the movement of the present struggles.

R. L.



[1] On this subject, we want to correct a formulation which we have often used, in particular in the ‘Theses on the Present Resurgence of Class Struggle' in the Internation­al Review No 37: on page 4, point 2, it is said that: "it is the working class which holds the historic initiative, which on a global level has gone onto the offensive against the bourgeoisie..." It is true that the working class holds the key to the historic situation in the sense that its combat will decide its outcome in capitalist barbarism or in the proletarian revolution and communism. On the other hand, it is wrong to say that the working class has moved onto the offensive against capitalism. To move onto the offensive means for the proletariat that it is on the eve of the revolution, in a period of dual power, organized in workers' councils, that it is consciously preparing to attack the bourgeois state and to destroy it. We are still far away from that.