China, Poland, Middle east, struggles in Russia and America
Capitalist convulsions and workers' struggles
In a few months, the world has witnessed a whole series of remarkable events: events which reveal what is really at stake in the present historical period. China in the spring, the Russian workers' strikes in the summer, the situation in the Middle East with Iran's new "peaceful" political orientation as well as bloody and menacing events such as the systematic destruction of Beirut and the French fleets' warlike gesturing off the Lebanese coast. And finally, on the front page of all the papers, the formation in Poland of the first government under a Stalinist regime to be controlled neither by a "communist" party nor even by one of its puppets ("peasant" party or the like) reveals how unprecedented the situation is in these countries.
For bourgeois commentators, each of these events generally has a specific explanation which has nothing to do with any of the others. And when they do try to establish some common link between them, some general framework in which they can be placed, then these are put to work for today's hysterical campaigns for "democracy". And so we are told that:
- "China's present convulsions are tied to the problem of the succession to the ageing autocrat Deng Xiaopirig ";
- "the workers' strikes in Russia are explained by the country's specific economic difficulties";
- "the new direction of Iranian politics is due to the death of the mad paranoiac Khomeini";
- "the bloody battles in Lebanon, and the French military expedition, are caused by the excessive appetite of Hafez el-Assad, the 'Bismarck' of the Middle East";
-"only by starting with the country's specificities can we understand the situation in Poland" ....
But all these events are supposed to have one point in common: they are described as part of the universal struggle between "Democracy" and "totalitarianism", between those who defend and those who suppress the "Rights of Man".
Against the bourgeois vision of the world which sees no further than the end of its nose, against the lies repeated endlessly in the hope that the workers will take them for the truth, revolutionaries must show what is truly at stake in the latest events, and place them in their true framework.
At the heart of today's international situation lies the irreversible collapse of society's material base, the insurmountable crisis of the capitalist economy. The bourgeoisie has welcomed the last two years as a 'recovery', or even 'an end to the crisis': it has gone into raptures over growth rates 'unheard of since the 60s'; it can do nothing about reality, which remains as stubborn as ever: the recent ‘good performance' of the world economy (in reality, of the advanced countries' economies) has been paid for by a new headlong flight into generalized debt, which heralds convulsions still more brutal and dramatic than their predecessors. Already, the threatened return of galloping inflation to most countries, and especially to that model of 'economic rectitude', Thatcher's Britain, is beginning to cause concern.... All the bourgeoisie's euphoric declarations will have no more effect than the rain dances of prehistoric man: capitalism has reached a dead-end. In such a situation of open crisis, the only perspective that it has been able to offer humanity since its entry into decadence at the beginning of the century has been the flight towards war, which can only end in worldwide imperialist conflict.
Lebanon and Iran: War yesterday, today, and tomorrow
This is confirmed by the latest events in Lebanon. Once known as 'the Switzerland of the Middle East', this country has had no respite for fifteen years. Its capital has been blessed by the attentions of so many 'liberators' and 'protectors' (Syrians, Israelis, Americans, French, British, Italians) that it is on the point of being wiped off the map. A veritable modern Carthage, Beirut is being systematically demolished: week after week, hundreds of thousands of shells are transforming it into a mound of ruins, where its surviving inhabitants live like rats. This is no longer caused by the confrontation of the two great imperialist powers: the USSR which once supported the Syrians, has been forced to restrain its ambition by the West's massive show of force in 1982. But although in the last instance, the antagonism between the two great imperialist blocs determines the overall aspect of today's military confrontations, they are not alone in the use of armed force. As the capitalist crisis plunges deeper into disaster, the small powers' particular demands are becoming more pressing, especially when they realize that they have been duped as is the case with Syria today.
In 1983, the Syrians agreed with the US bloc to break its alliance with the USSR in return for control over a part of Lebanon. It even policed its zone of occupation against the PLO and the pro-Iranian groups. But in 1988, the US bloc decided that Russia had too many problems of its own to attempt a return to the Middle East: it no longer had any need to respect its previous agreement. Its remote control of the Christian General Aoun's offensive aimed to push Syria back behind its own borders, or at least to reduce its claims, and to leave the control of Lebanon in the hands of more reliable allies - Israel and the Christian militia - while at the same time putting the muslim militia in their place. The result is a massacre, whose main victims are the civilians on both sides.
Once again, there has been a careful division of labor within the Western bloc: the USA pretends to be impartial, in order to pick up the pieces once the situation is ripe, while France has been directly involved through the dispatch of an aircraft carrier with six other warships which nobody, with the best will in the world, can believe are there for 'humanitarian reasons' as Mitterrand would have it. In Lebanon too, the crusades for the 'rights of man' and 'freedom' are nothing but fig-leaves to hide the most sordid imperialist calculations.
In Lebanon today is concentrated the barbarism of dying capitalism. It is proof that all the talk of peace over the last year is just that: talk. Even if the intensity of some conflicts has diminished, there is no real perspective of peace in our time: quite the reverse.
And this is how we should understand the latest evolution of the situation in Iran. The Iranian government's new orientation, its readiness to cooperate with the American 'Great Satan', are not fundamentally due to Khomeini's death. They are essentially the result of years of pressure by the same 'Great Satan', along with all its closest allies, aimed at bringing Iran to heel after its attempt to escape the control of the US bloc. Barely two years ago the US showed Iran that 'things had gone on long enough' by sending the biggest armada since World War II to the Persian Gulf, and by increasing its support for the 8-year Iraqi war effort. The result was not long in coming: last year, Iran agreed to sign an armistice with Iraq and to open peace negotiations. This was a first success for the Western bloc's offensive, but it did not go far enough. It also required that Iran pass into the control of political forces capable of understanding their own 'best interest', and muzzling the fanatical and utterly archaic religious cliques which had led into this situation. Last winter's 'Rushdiecide' declarations were the last attempts by the cliques gathered around Khomeini to take control of a situation that was slipping from their hands: the Imam's death put an end to their ambitions. In fact, his remaining authority made Khomeini the last barrier to a changing situation, in the same way that in Spain during the 1970's Franco became the last obstacle in the way of a 'democratization' ardently desired by the national bourgeoisie and the American bloc as a whole. The speed with which the situation is evolving in Iran, where the new president Rafsanjani has formed a government of 'technocrats' excluding all the old 'politicians' (except himself), shows that the situation has been 'ripe' for a long time, and that the serious forces of the national bourgeoisie are in a hurry to put an end to a regime which has succeeded in reducing the economy to ruins. This bourgeoisie is liable to lose its illusions fast: in the midst of the world economy's present disaster, there is no room for the 'reemergence' of an under-developed country, still less one that has been bled white by eight years of war. For the great powers of the Western bloc, by contrast, the overall result is a good deal more positive: the bloc has taken a new step forward in its strategy of encircling Russia, added to its success in forcing the USSR to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. However, the 'pax Americana', which is being reestablished in this part of the world at the cost of the most dreadful massacres, in no way heralds a definitive 'pacification'. As it tightens its grip on the, Russian bloc, the West is only raising the insurmountable tensions between the two imperialist blocs to a still higher level.
The various Middle-Eastern conflicts only serve to highlight one of the present period's overall characteristics: bourgeois society's advanced state of decomposition after 20 years of worsening economic crisis. Lebanon, even more than Iran, bears witness to this state of affairs, with its rule by armed gangsters, its never-declared and never-ending war, its daily terrorist bomb attacks, and its 'hostage-takers'. The wars between the bourgeoisie's rival factions have never been a tea-party, but in the past at least they had rules for 'organising' their massacres. Today these rules are swept aside every day: further proof of this society's decomposition.
But this situation of barbarism and social decomposition is not limited to today's wars, and methods of warfare. This is how we should also understand this spring's events in China, and this summer's in Poland.
China and Poland: Convulsions of the Stalinist regimes
These two, apparently diametrically opposed, series of events, reveal in fact identical situations of profound crisis and decomposition affecting the so-called 'communist' regimes.
In China, the terror which has swept over the country speaks for itself. The massacres in June, the mass arrests, the series of executions, the daily intimidation and denunciations bear witness, not to the regime's strength, but to its extreme fragility and the convulsions that threaten to topple it. We were given a vivid illustration of this during Gorbachev's visit to Beijing in May when, incredibly, the student demonstrations upset the program for the visit by Perestoika's inventor. The power struggle within the party apparatus between the 'conservative' clique and the 'reformers' who used the students as cannon fodder was not simply about the succession to the aging Deng Xiaoping. It revealed essentially the degree of political crisis that is shaking this apparatus.
This kind of convulsion is not new to China. The so-called 'Cultural Revolution' for example, covered a whole period of confusion and bloody confrontations. Nonetheless, during the ten years that followed the overthrow of the 'gang of four', the situation gave the impression of having been somewhat stabilized under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. In particular, the opening towards the West and the 'liberalization' of the Chinese economy allowed a small degree of modernization to take place in some sectors, creating the illusion that 'peaceful' development had at last arrived in China. Last spring's upheavals have put an end to these illusions. Behind the facade of 'stability' the conflicts had sharpened within the party between the 'conservatives' who considered that 'liberalization' had already gone too far, and the 'reformers' who felt the movement should be continued on' the economic level, and even extended. The party's last two general secretaries, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Zhiang, supported the latter line. The former was chased from his position in 1986 after being dropped by Deng who had at first been his patron. The latter, who was the prime mover of the student demonstrations in spring because he counted on them to impose the domination of his line and his clique, suffered the same fate after the terrible repression in June. This put an end to the myth of 'Chinese democratization' under the aegis of the new 'helmsman' Deng. On this occasion, some 'specialists' recalled the fact that Deng had made his career as an organizer of repression, and in using the greatest brutality against his enemies. To be more precise, this is typical of the careers of all China's leaders. Brute force, terror, repression, massacres: these are virtually the only methods of government for a regime which would collapse under the weight of its own contradictions without them.
And when occasionally a one-time butcher, a converted torturer, sounds the bugle of 'democracy', whetting the appetite of the petty bourgeois intellectuals in China, and the worthy media souls world-wide, his fanfares are quickly reduced to silence. Either (like Derig Xiaoping ) he is intelligent enough to change his tune in time, or he goes down the chute.
The events of spring and their sinister epilogue are a clear demonstration of the acute crisis that reigns in China. But this kind of situation is not unique to China, nor does it spring solely from its considerable economic backwardness. What is happening today in Poland shows that all the Stalinist-type regimes are undergoing the same crisis.
The formation of a government led by Solidarnosc, in other words by a political formation other than a Stalinist party or one of its puppets, is not only unprecedented historically in a country of the Soviet glacis. It is equally significant of the degree of crisis within Poland itself. The Solidarnosc government is not the result of a decision planned and executed deliberately by the national bourgeoisie, but of the latter's weakness, which this decision can only increase.
In fact, these events express the bourgeoisie's loss of control over the political situation. The different stages and results of this loss of control were desired by none of the participants at the 'round table' of early 1989. In particular, neither the bourgeoisie as a whole, nor any of its individual fractions, have been able to master the 'semi-democratic' electoral game worked out during these negotiations.
As soon as the June elections were over it became clear that their result - a crushing defeat for the Stalinists and the 'triumph' for Solidarnosc - were as much an embarrassment for the latter as for the former. The situation that has emerged today is a clear sign of the crisis' gravity, and clearly presages future convulsions.
In Poland today, we have a government led by a member of Solidarnosc, but whose key posts (key especially for a regime which relies essentially on force to control society) of the Interior and Defense Ministries remain in the hands of the POUP (in fact of their two previous ministers), in other words, of a party which only a few months ago had still not legalized Solidarnosc, and had imprisoned its leaders. And although all these fine folk are in complete and unbreakable agreement against the working class (we can trust them on this point, at least), the 'cohabitation' between the representatives of two political formations whose economic and political programs are diametrically opposed is liable to be anything but harmonious.
Concretely, the economic measures decided by a ruling group which swears only by 'liberalism' and the 'market economy' are likely to be bitterly resisted by a party whose whole program and reason for existing go against such a perspective. And this resistance will not only appear inside the government. It will come mainly from the entire party apparatus, the hundreds and thousands of 'Nomenklature' bureaucrats whose power, privileges, and income depend on their 'management' (if such a term can be said to have any meaning in the present state of chaos) of the economy.
We have already seen, in Poland as in most of the other Eastern bloc countries, the difficulty of applying the kind of measure planned by the 'experts' of Solidarnosc, even when they have been decided and are applied by the party leadership. Today, while it is obvious that, for the workers, management by these 'experts' will mean an even greater decline in their living conditions, it is much less clear how it can lead the economy to anything other than still greater disorganization.
But this is not an end to the new government's problems. It will be constantly confronted by a 'parallel' government formed around Jaruzelski, and essentially made up of members of the POUP. In reality, this is the government that will be obeyed by the whole existing economic and administrative apparatus, which is also one and the same as the POUP. The Mazowiecki government, hailed as a 'victory for democracy' by all the Western media campaigns, has hardly been formed and its prospects already appear as a simple development of the reigning economic and political chaos.
Solidarnosc's creation in 1980 as an independent trade union, designed to channel, derail, and defeat the immense workers' combativity of the previous summer, brought about at the same time a situation of political crisis which was only resolved with the coup d'etat and repression of December 1981. The fact that the union was outlawed once it had finished its job of sabotage showed that the Stalinist type regimes cannot tolerate with impunity the presence of a 'foreign body' not directly under their own control. Today's formation of a government led by this same trade union (the historically unprecedented formation of a government by a trade union itself says much as to the aberration of the present situation in Poland) can only reproduce on a still grander scale the same kind of contradictions and convulsions. In this sense, the 'solution' of ferocious repression adopted in December 1981 cannot be excluded. Kiszczak, Minister of the Interior during the state of siege, is still at his post ...
The convulsions shaking Poland today, though they may take on an extreme form in this country, are by no means specific to it. All the countries under Stalinist regimes are in the same dead end. Their economies have been particularly brutally hit by the world capitalist crisis, not only because of their backwardness, but because they are totally incapable of adapting to an exacerbation of inter-capitalist competition. The attempts to improve their competitivity by introducing some of the 'classical' norms of capitalist management have only succeeded in provoking a still greater shambles, as can be seen from the utter failure of 'Perestroika' in the USSR.
This shambles is also developing on the political level, with the attempts at 'democratization' designed to let off steam and channel the huge and growing discontent which has been growing for decades within the whole population. This can be seen in the Polish situation, but also in what is happening in Russia: the nationalist explosions provoked by a loosening of central power are a growing threat to the USSR. The cohesion of the whole Eastern bloc is similarly affected: the hysterical declarations by the 'fraternal' parties of East Germany and Czechoslovakia against the 'revisionists' and 'assassins of marxism' in power in Poland and Hungary are not just playacting; they reveal the degree of division that is developing between the different Warsaw Pact countries.
What is in store for the Stalinist regimes is thus not a 'peaceful democratization', still less an economic 'recovery'. With the deepening of the worldwide capitalist crisis, these countries have entered a period of convulsions to an extent unheard of in a past which is nonetheless rich in violent upheavals. The events of this summer give us an image of a world plunging into barbarism: military confrontations, massacres, repression, economic and political convulsions. And yet at the same time, the only force which can offer society another future has raised its head: the proletariat has made its presence most massively felt, precisely in Russia.
USSR: the working class enters the struggle
The proletarian struggles which, for several weeks in July and August, mobilized more than 500,000 workers in the mines of the Kuzbas, the Donbas, and the Siberian North are of great historical importance. They are by far the most massive proletarian movement in the USSR since the revolutionary period of 1917.
But above all, because they have been fought by the proletariat which was subjected most brutally and deeply to four decades of the terrible counter-revolution unleashed all over the world after 1920, they are a brilliant confirmation of the course of history today: the perspective opened by capitalism's acute crisis is not one of world war, but of class confrontations.
These struggles were not as widespread as those in Poland in 1980, nor even as many in the central capitalist countries since 1968. However, they open a new perspective for the Russian proletariat, which for more than half a century has been forced to tolerate in silence the most appalling living conditions. They prove that the workers can express themselves on their class terrain, even in the heart of 'real socialism', against both repression and the poison of nationalist and democratic campaigns.
They are also, as in Poland in 1980, the proof of what the proletariat can do in the absence of the classic organs for the control of the class struggle: the trade unions. The movement's rapid spread from one mining centre to another through the dispatch of mass delegations, the collective control of the struggle through mass meetings, the organization of mass meetings and demonstrations in the streets overcoming the separations between different factories, the election of strike committees responsible to the mass meetings, are the elementary forms of struggle that the working class adopts when the terrain is not, or hardly, occupied by the professional saboteurs.
Faced with the movement's size and dynamic, and to avoid it spreading to other sectors, the authorities had no other choice, temporarily, than to give in to the workers' demands. However, it is obvious that most of these demands will never be really satisfied: the catastrophic economic situation in the USSR makes it impossible. The only demands that are not likely to be put into question are precisely those that reveal the movement's limits: 'autonomy' for factories, allowing them to fix the price of coal and to sell on the domestic and world markets anything not bought up by the state.
Just as in 1980, the constitution of a 'free' trade union proved to be a trap which rapidly closed on the workers, so this 'victory' will very soon be transformed into a means to increase the exploitation of the miners, and to divide them from other sectors of the working class, who will have to pay more to heat themselves. The large-scale struggles of the Russian miners are thus, like the struggles in Poland, an illustration of the political weakness of the proletariat in the Eastern bloc
In this part of the world, despite the great courage and combativity they have shown against an unprecedented series of attacks, the workers are still very vulnerable to nationalist, trade unionist, democratic, or even religious (in the case of Poland) mystifications. As a result, the political convulsions which regularly and increasingly rock these countries are mostly turned against the workers' struggles, as we have seen in Poland where the banning of Solidarnosc between 1981 and 1989 allowed it to polish up its image, damaged by its role as a 'social fireman'. In the same way, the 'political' demands made by the Russian miners (resignation of local party apparatchiks, new constitution, etc), were used to boost Gorbachev's present policy.
This is why the struggles in Russia this summer are a call to the whole world proletariat, and especially in the heart of capitalism where its most powerful and experienced battalions are concentrated. These struggles bear witness to the depth, strength, and importance of today's class combat. At the same time, they highlight the responsibility of the proletariat in the heartlands. Only the confrontation and denunciation in struggle of the most sophisticated traps laid by the world's strongest and most experienced bourgeoisie will allow the proletariat in the Eastern bloc to confront these same traps victoriously. The struggles mobilizing more than 100,000 workers in the hospitals, and the telecommunications and electrical industries, which have taken place in the United States, the world's greatest power, this summer at the same time as the struggles in the world's second power, are the proof that the proletariat in the central countries is continuing in this direction. In the same way, the great combativity which has appeared over several months in Britain against the union sabotage set up by the world's politically strongest bourgeoisie, especially in the docking and transport industries, are another step down this road.