Ideological campaigns: Weapons of the bourgeoisie faced with the class struggle
Having spent the past several weeks treating us to a campaign about the famine in Ethiopia and the thousands who have been its victims, the media is now turning its spotlight onto the events in South Africa: demonstrations by the black and colored population repressed with bloodshed, images of army control of entire areas, the deportation of blacks thrown onto trucks under the blows of rifle butts to the ‘bantustans', the separation of families, images of black workers penned up in ghettos going back to work looking down the barrel of a gun or under the crack of a whip. Every day the western TV, radio and press are multiplying the images and commentaries on the misery and repression blacks are subjected to under the 'apartheid' regime. And within this enormous ‘anti-apartheid' campaign all the fractions of the western bourgeoisie, both of the left and the right, from the Pope to the South African nationalist organizations, from Mitterand to Reagan, have united to unanimously denounce the ‘violation of human rights' and to express their indignation about the racist, inhuman and unacceptable South African regime.
But in reality the situation of misery and repression affecting the poverty-stricken population is not specific to South Africa. In all the peripheral countries where the economic crisis is raging even more fiercely than as yet felt in the industrial countries, where large sections of the population have never been integrated into the production process, the barbarism of world capitalism expresses itself in a very extreme way: both at the economic level - where epidemics, malnutrition, famine rage more and more - as well as at the ideological level - where the bourgeoisie uses somewhat less sophisticated mystifications but makes no secret of the little importance it attaches to human life (the problem of ghettos, segregation and repression). The situation in South Africa is merely a caricature of capitalist exploitation throughout the world, a caricature of the real nature of capitalist domination over the exploited classes.
The western bourgeoisie wants to make it appear as if it has ‘discovered' a new ‘hell on earth'. But in fact it is Reagan and Mitterand who today, playing the role of the outraged, are working hand in hand with the government in Pretoria. The racist form of domination and exploitation to which the working class and the population is subjected doesn't hinder them at all in maintaining good economic and military relations with South Africa. They chose this country as a partner because it is one of the world's principal suppliers of raw materials. For a long time now, the role of policeman for the western bloc in southern Africa has fallen to it as was evidenced only recently by the army raid on Angola which aimed at re-integrating this country into the western bloc, as was the case with Mozambique.
Like everywhere else the aggravation of the crisis is provoking more and more frequent strikes and demonstrations which constitute a factor of instability. Repression alone does not suffice to contain the growing revolts. One of the bourgeoisie's most essential weapons in trying to hold back such situations is to apply repression by the most efficient and appropriate forces of containment. This is the case in Latin America where the United States favors ‘democratization', i.e. the more or less official recognition of religious, union and other ‘oppositions' which take charge of containing the revolts against the capitalist state in order to deflect them into a dead-end. This kind of process has been going on in South Africa for a long time now and there, like everywhere else, the bourgeoisie is strengthening the division of labor between ‘opposition' and government in order to confront the social discontent. To be able to do this, to be able to discuss the exigencies of the situation with Botha and his ‘opponents' there is no need for an international campaign in all the countries of Western Europe. Therefore, why all the fuss if this unanimous barrage of anti-apartheid doesn't have some other specific purpose to fulfill?
The anti-apartheid campaign - to divert the working class
For a long time now the bourgeoisie has accustomed us to campaigns about various ‘hellish situations' and scapegoats in order to make us accept our own situation more readily. It delights in so-called ‘humanist' talk, in presenting scenes of horror: from the ‘boat people' of Vietnam to the famines of Ethiopia; from the massacres in Cambodia to apartheid ghettos; from piles of corpses in Lebanon to those of the earthquake victims in Mexico, etc. These are the mounds of misery, ruin and death which daily penetrate and pervade TV screens, radio and press.
If the bourgeoisie has always tried to hide the reality of its system of exploitation and its real interests behind its ideological spoutings, today we see that the subjects haven't changed ‑ they are the same ones regurgitated for the thousandth time. None of the campaigns lasts very long. No sooner is one over than another begins. Does anyone still remember the campaign about the Falklands war? Is there anyone still talking about Ethiopia three months after the event? One day it's Pinochet's regime in Chile, the next it's Nicaragua; one day it's aviation accidents, the next, AIDS; one day, its ‘terrorist attacks', the next ‘anti-terrorism'; one day, the strong state, the next ‘hooligans', etc., etc. There is a permanent barrage aimed specifically at preventing the real problems from being seen. It is an attempt to exhaust, to disorient the working class, the sole class capable of putting an end to the barbarism of capitalism.
The real problems of capitalism are not the ‘dictatorships' and the ‘injustices', the more the corpses pile up, the more intense the campaigns; the real problems are not the ‘dictatorships' nor the ‘injustices' for it is capitalism itself which is the fundamental cause of the misery and massacres, of dictatorships and injustice. The real problems of the bourgeoisie, about which the media make no campaigns, are the struggles of the proletariat, its mortal enemy. These they shroud in a silence equal only to the extent of their fear of the proletariat.
The bourgeoisie bombards us with campaigns on any and every old question except on one: there is an immense international consensus about blacking-out information on workers' struggles; nothing or at least very little on the massive strike wave which embraced ‘peaceful' Denmark in the spring of 1985; nothing about the movements which shook the whole of Spain or the strikes which multiplied in Scandinavia during the first half of this year, just to give a few examples. And if we are bombarded with certain aspects of the situation in South Africa, other aspects, namely the social classes, the real forces in the country, are passed over in silence; not a word on the strike of 20,000 white miners in the spring of 1985 on the question of wages.
Turn the attention away from the misery in the advanced countries
The bourgeoisie uses these campaigns to force us to forget about the general degradation of the proletariat's living conditions in the advanced countries in order to immobilize it and to divert the growing consciousness away from the fact that it is world capitalism which is solely responsible for the misery which befalls the exploited classes of all countries. It's not just in the Third World that people die of hunger but also in the industrialized countries where misery, unemployment, soup kitchens are accelerating at a rate not witnessed since the Second World War.
The propaganda we are subjected to presents the riots and the repression in South Africa as the sole result of apartheid racism. And yet the bourgeoisie also ‘explains' the Birmingham riots as racism in very ‘democratic' England, thus hiding the real causes of the revolts: the crisis and unemployment. Faced with the proletariat of the ‘rich' countries which is the most likely to become conscious that the problems are posed in class terms, the bourgeoisie is trying to put over a propaganda of false racial division in order to blur the path of unity of the working class.
In South Africa the miners' struggle is presented as a battle for ‘racial equality' to lead the class struggle astray onto the bourgeois terrain of democratic and nationalist demands, just as the workers' struggle in Poland in 1980-81 was presented as being a ‘national', ‘religious' and ‘anti-totalitarian' struggle.
While the ‘democratic' states daily unmask their true dictatorial character more and more (thousands of miners were sent to prison during the strike in Great Britain and hundreds are still there today), the anti-apartheid campaign is designed to highlight a much ‘worse' situation at the other end of the globe so that the proletariat will not notice that the bourgeoisie is preparing massive redundancies and repression.
Polishing up the tarnished image of the unions
If the first goal of the bourgeoisie's propaganda is to break the international unity of a class combat against the misery of capitalism, its second goal is to identify workers' struggles with unionism: the lamentations of the South African unions about the ‘lack of respect' for union rights and how the (black) workers are treated with disrespect because the union is not more widely recognized, etc. We know this refrain only too well. The campaign about Solidarnosc in Poland had the same theme since the strikes of 1980-81. This aims at leading the workers to defeat, in immobilizing the international proletariat in ‘union' and ‘democratic' snares. At a time when more and more workers are contesting ‘union actions', where a general de-unionization reflects a growing consciousness that the unions are a barrier, the campaign about South Africa comes along to remind them of their ‘good fortune' in having ‘their' unions. At the juncture when the working class of the advanced European countries is daily becoming more aware of the lie of bourgeois democracy, of false racial, national and sectoral divisions, the events in South Africa are used to try to keep the proletariat in a passive state faced with the draconian austerity which is coming down on its back, to imprison it within the framework of capitalist institutions, its parties and its unions.
The campaigns on the class struggle in Europe
The proletariat is at its most numerous and most concentrated in Western Europe. It has experienced bourgeois democracy and unionism for decades. It is also that part of the proletariat which can best counter the false problems advanced by the bourgeoisie: racial, democratic and union mystifications because it is concretely confronted with the reality hiding behind it; the capitalist ‘hell' is also to be found in the ‘free' and ‘rich' countries and all the fine words fundamentally hide the same repression with the same weapons as those used by the apartheid police! The proletariat prepares for battle against capitalism from within the latter's very heart, and the bourgeoisie is also preparing for this confrontation. At the same time that it tries to numb the proletariat with its incessant campaigns, that it tries to demobilize it by a subtle division of labor between its different fractions, at the same time that it increases police budgets in all countries (a very clear indication of its intentions), at the same time as all this, it tries to focus attention on a different subject: the fact that the working class is supposedly not struggling, that the working class is ‘in crisis'.
Mystifications are always based on certain realities. It's true in fact that the strike statistics in France and Italy are much lower during the past two years than they have been for a long time. It's true that in a situation of generalized crisis that one doesn't strike as readily as in other years. The bourgeoisie plays on this to demoralize the proletariat, to tell it that it is not struggling, to prevent it from gaining self-confidence, to try to make it quit the social stage. But the truth which is hidden behind this appearance is first of all the fact that there has never been such an international simultaneity of struggles in history, which is even affecting countries such as Sweden, West Germany and Denmark, countries noted for their ‘social peace', sectors like the civil servants in the Netherlands which haven't gone on strike for decades. The reality behind this apparent ‘weakness' of workers' struggles, in particular in the traditionally combative countries is that after so many struggles having been led into dead ends, the working class is very hesitant and very suspicious of following the unions' calls for action. And of course the bourgeoisie tries to avail to the utmost of this situation - the workers' suspicion of the unions and the de-unionization which is its expression are used to make the ‘crisis of unionism' appear as a crisis of the working class movement. This is why, for example, the media in Great Britain treated us to the dismal ‘spectacle' of the TUC Congress, giving all the details of widespread union ‘divisions', of ‘unionism' in crisis in the ‘oldest democratic country in the world'. Although it was the miners' union, the NUM, which led the strike to defeat, the bourgeoisie presents this as the ‘defeat of the NUM' - that's the secret of its victory over the workers. In France, the CGT has radicalized its image in ‘opposition' in order to forestall workers mobilizing. It does this by making a big fanfare about ‘days of action' and ‘commando actions' to lend itself a ‘militant' image in front of ‘passive' workers. In Germany, the DGB (Trade Union Federation) announced huge days of action for September ‘85 only to later reduce this to calls to a few isolated demonstrations.
The unions are not trying to mobilize the workers. They are afraid that every gathering will submerge them just as happened in Hamburg on 1st May 1985 where the unemployed clashed with the police or as in Lille in the north of France in July where workers did the same. The unions are trying to create a definite image of the struggle as being challenged, minoritarian, divided and unpopular. And all the while they are developing an increasingly ‘radical' tone. The bourgeoisie's concern is to make it appear as if the working class no longer exists in order to sap its self-confidence.
This same type of ideology about the ‘crisis' of the proletariat and its ‘integration' into capitalism appeared during the sixties. The resurgence of the working class struggles in 1968 at the very beginning of the open crisis into which society was plunging more and more deeply soon put an end to this lie. Marx used to say that if history repeated itself, the first time it was a tragedy, the second a farce. The ‘remake' of this ideology in the middle of the eighties which the bourgeoisie is attempting is obviously of the second kind. Nevertheless, within the proletarian political milieu there are many who express the same doubts about the capacity of the working class to develop its struggle and its own perspectives. Taken in by the false appearance of phenomena and by the mystifications with which we are bombarded by the bourgeoisie, they do not see the growing ineffectiveness of these mystifications nor do they perceive the real potential of the situation. They see only ‘misery in misery' and that is precisely the goal of the bourgeoisie. By so doing they fall prey to the campaigns of the bourgeoisie to make the working class lose all of its self-confidence and they themselves become mere actors when all is said and done. This is what tae bourgeoisie wants: to make the proletariat believe that it is powerless, impotent, that it is not capable of constituting a force united against the decadence of the doomed capitalist system.
Perspectives: The extension and self-organization of the struggles of the working class
The class struggle is developing; the tensions and discontent are growing in society. If the resurgence of struggles is slow and difficult, it's because the proletariat in the West is confronted with the most experienced bourgeoisie in the world, a bourgeoisie which knows that the proletariat is at the heart of the situation and which deploys all its knowhow to try to mystify and surround the proletariat to keep it demobilized.
Faced with the resurgence of struggles the bourgeoisie has been forced to deploy a whole range of ideological weapons such as its propaganda campaigns aimed at intimidation and disorientation, its division of labor between right and left with the left in ‘opposition', the readaptation of the unions to the multifold expressions of the class struggle. The creation of an ‘unemployed union' in France, the radicalization of fractions of the unions in Great Britain, the development of a ‘radical union base' or ‘militant unions' in the majority of countries, the creation of an ‘international federation of miners' among other things, are the means of control which the bourgeoisie adopts to ward off the upsurge of workers' struggles and to try to anticipate the problems which this upsurge will pose.
The lessons accumulated by the proletariat on the unavoidable consequences of the economic crisis and the perspectives of its acceleration in those countries considered up to now to be havens of social peace and models of capitalism (the Scandinavian countries, Germany), the lessons of the unions' work of derailing which the working class of these countries are beginning to draw, the lessons learned by the working class in France on the real nature of the left such as has been revealed by its presence in the government, the experiences of the workers in Spain and in Italy with the many forms of rank and file unionism, oppositional unions - all of these experiences, especially their cumulative nature, will become an important factor in the acceleration of the struggles.
All of the struggles have posed the problem of their extension to other sectors, the problem of the need to struggle on a massive scale. The struggles against unemployment and the struggles of the unemployed have raised the question of the unity of the proletariat over and above all of these divisions. Each time, the unions with their innumerable maneuvers have been the means of derailing the struggles and leading them into an impasse. But it's through the accumulation of experience of union sabotage that the question of self-organization will be posed more and more clearly.
If today we can ascertain a ‘quietening down' of workers' struggles in certain countries, an easing off which is loudly exploited by the whole of the bourgeoisie to demoralize the workers, this by no means implies that the working class has been put to heel. In fact it is the ‘calm before the storm', when the proletariat is gathering its forces for new attacks, where it will be led to reply in an even clearer way to the problems posed in past struggles: extension, self-organization, autonomy of struggle, their international generalization; and it's also in these struggles that the proletariat will develop its consciousness of the revolutionary nature of its combat.
In this situation revolutionary organizations have to actively contribute to accelerating the growing consciousness in the class of the necessity, of the goals and of the means of the struggle: by denouncing the traps laid by the bourgeoisie, by helping the class to avoid them, by pushing it to assume the control of its own struggles, to affirm their unity, to become conscious of its strength as the only class capable of giving a future of humanity.
 See the International Review, nos 37-42 on the resurgence of workers' struggles since autumn ‘83.