Proletarian Political Milieu: 'Emancipacion Obrera' loses its bearings

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The convulsions that are shaking the world (which demonstrate that capitalism has entered its phase of decomposition) are subjecting the organizations of the proletarian political milieu to a rigorous political decantation. The confrontation of their positions must contribute to this decantation, permitting an intervention that will be a factor of clarification and not of greater confusion for the whole of the working class. Unfortunately, this is not the case today.

This acceleration of history is exposing the weaknesses and leftovers in the analysis of the proletarian political organizations. But instead of a serious confrontation of positions, we are seeing second-hand, superficial agreements, in order to produce some form of a "common publication", whose only criteria appears to be a tacit agreement to step up the unfounded attacks on the ICC, which is the only organization that is trying to fully develop its analysis of the present situation and which calls on the milieu to take up its responsibilities. The persistence of such an attitude increasingly risks leading them into a parasitic mode of existence ... and if this constitutes a danger for the organizations which have lost their roots in the left communist fractions but are still capable of maintaining themselves on the class terrain, it is an even greater danger for the relatively young proletarian political regroupments who have not been able - or have not wanted to - to take up the thread of the historical class positions. This has happened with the group Emancipacion Obrera (Argentina).

The defense of the proletarian milieu, even from its friends

Some months ago EO published a pamphlet called We want it all with which, apart from spreading its ideas on the defensive struggles of the proletariat and other themes, it clumsily joins in the prevailing fashion in the milieu of slandering the ICC with such orations as:

"The slogans of the ICC are reduced more or less to 'bread, peace and work' well known slogans of all the world's reformists, Stalinism, Trotskyism and all the other isms form the left that form the left of capital and this includes sections of the bourgeoisie which are not of the left" (page 8).

This is more or less the spirit that animates all the pamphlet: the spirit of ambiguity in the position of EO, the spirit of throwing stones and sleight of hand. Already in the introduction we can read that:

"Along with the positions that they hold which are similar to ours, we have important disagreements with the demands which they (the ICC) have in common with the left of capital" (page 1) " ... not because the ICC is exactly the same as them, but because they have not finished their rupture with the left of capital ..." (page 3).

Thus, according to these comrades the ICC has the same position as the organizations of capital ... without however being one of them. This is confused. But the mistake is not that of the organization being analyzed, but the analyst. An organization which is at the same time bourgeois and proletarian (EO do not talk of errors or divergences, but of slogans and positions) simply cannot exist. And, if the ICC is an organization of capital EO must explain why it has maintained relations with the ICC for years, or else EO hold the opportunist position which sees that a proletarian organization can maintain connections with a bourgeois organization. Otherwise the ICC is a proletarian organization and EO is substituting slander for critique and debate.

It is not only about the ICC that they are confused. When they deal with Rosa Luxembourg and particularly her work Reform or Revolution, it is cited with great scorn as the most pure example of reformism, from which the ICC supports (page 7). EO is incapable of understanding that it was precisely this work which constituted a fundamental weapon with which the revolu­tionary wing of which Rosa was one of the principal leaders of the proletarian party of that time (the Social Democracy at the turn of the century) fought reformism.

They also cite Lenin's work An explanation of the project for the program which the y assume to be: "the most traditional expression of the problem (of consciousness) and with which the majority of the political groups which claim to be revolutionary inside or outside the left of capital, agree" (page 50) and further on: "along with correct points, his limitations are also demonstrated. He was not able to break the resistance of the capitalists and the political alternative of gaining influence in the state" (page 56).

In a novel fashion, EO believes that proletarian and capitalist organizations can "agree" on some things, that is to say, have political positions in common. Furthermore, they completely nullify the revolutionary thought of Lenin - the criticized quotation is in fact a comment by Lenin on the first chapter of the Communist Manifesto about how the force of the proletariat is created through converting its defensive struggles into a struggle for political power - EO reduce Lenin to the level of a vulgar trouble maker whose thinking is identical to that of the ICC:

concerning the ICC: "along with positions similar to ours ... common demands with the left of capital ";

and Lenin: "Along with correct points ... his limitations are also demonstrated".

But here the "limitations" are not those of Lenin, but those of EO who mix up, confuse and scorn the history of the proletarian revolutionary movement. In another part of the pamphlet you read:

"The traditional slogan (raised by Engels, social democracy, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao, Fidel, Tito, etc) that the revolution must immediately pose 'each according to their needs, each according to their abilities' has been exposed as being perpetuated by capitalism" (page 9)                 .

Here EO goes to the extreme of establishing a continuity between the leaders of the proletariat, like Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, with the enemies of the working class, with the most faithful bulldogs of capital such as Stalin, Mao, Fidel or Tito. Neither are Marx and Engels saved from the unbelievable ignorance of these comrades: "The same slogan that made Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto famous, 'Workers of the world unite!', has shown its serious (sic) limitations".

Thus the first thing that the pamphlet We want it all demonstrates is that Emancipacion Obrera has lost its compass and is unable to clearly distinguish the class frontiers which separates a proletarian organization from a capitalist one; neither has it been capable of understanding that the revolutionary positions of the working class, as well as being expressed in the work of this or that revolutionary, have also developed in continuity with the history of the workers' movement. A continuity of class positions which all proletarian political regroupments must take up, if they do not want to be pushed this way and that by bourgeois ideology often dished up as "new" and "original" ideas and concerns.

This is not a question of bowing in front of the revolutionaries of the past as if they were gods who have no limitations or made no errors, neither to ban any criticism of them or any other revolutionary organization. The point is, that in order to try and undertake a critique which better expresses or which takes forward class positions, it is first necessary to under­stand them or at least to be able to tell the difference between them and those of the enemy.

In fact without knowing it, EO has done its bit for the ideological campaign launched by the world bourgeoisie against the proletariat with the aim of using the collapse of the eastern bloc to identify the proletarian revolution of October 1917 with the state capitalism which brought about its defeat, and which also seeks to establish a continuity between Marx and Lenin with Stalin - to 'prove' that Marxism leads to Stalinism.

Likewise, the opportunist silence by the other groups of the milieu in respect to this pamphlet of EO's (a silence which makes them accessories) is worrying. Perhaps bewitched by EO's attacks on the ICC, they have not been worried by the fact that in reality, EO attacks the class frontiers which define the proletarian political milieu and marxism in general. In such conditions the least the ICC can do is to defend the basic positions of the class and the rev­olutionary political milieu, even though on this occasion the attack which we have to confront is not coming from the enemy, but from friends.

Defensive and revolutionary struggles

What is this "serious limitation" which according to EO comes from Marx and Engels, by way of R Luxemburg and Lenin and finally arrives at the ICC? What is this thinking in which "they agree" with the left of capital and which includes sections of the bourgeoisie that are not of the left? It is the question of the most elemental and basic position of Marxism, with which these comrades become entangled throughout the 60 pages of their pamphlet without finding the thread; the position according to which the defensive struggles of the workers against the effects of capitalist exploitation leads to the development (through its extension, unification, radicalization and deepening) of the working class' revolutionary struggle against the whole of capitalism, destroying it and building a communist society.

And seeing that this position has been defended throughout the history of the workers' movement and is repeated constantly in many ways in Marxist literature - just reread the first chapter of the Communist Manifesto - it is "natural" that EO end up wanting to throw Marxism in to the bourgeois camp. The following paragraphs condense its position. Referring to the struggle for pay rises it says:

"... it is a criminal illusion to believe that the unification of the present struggles (we participate in these struggles and therefore we know what they are like) will create the force that will allow it to destroy capitalism and build communism. Principally for four reasons: 1) The majority of the present struggles are on a limited terrain, trying to conserve the workforce; of course it is necessary to do this, but it is wrong to deny their limitations and worse still when they're contained by slogans like 'bread, peace end work' ... other types of struggles are necessary, around other orientations and with other objectives (EO's un­derlining). 2) These struggles do not create that force, nor does their unity allow the destruction of capitalism: this is destroyed with another kind of struggle, which includes another type of methodology (the insurrection is an example) and of course with other objectives. 3) If the proletarian vanguard is not organized in the party... it will not be possible to create a proletarian alternative capable of destroying capital. 4) This party does not arise spontaneously from these struggles though neither will it arise isolated from the real class struggle ... " (p 11).

All of this can be reduced to one con­tradistinction that EO establish between the "present struggles" and the "other types of struggles that are necessary", EO deny that the defensive struggles form part of the process of the unification of the class on the road to the revolution, and therefore are not part of the "real class struggle". This raises two questions:

Why does EO say "of course" we must carry out these struggles? Answer: "We must struggle for the same 'palliatives' because we do not yet have the force to make the revolution" (p 11). Here EO clearly says that for them there does not exist a relationship between the defensive struggles and the revolution, that if we struggle for "palliatives" it is because it's not possible to do anything else, not because this struggle contributes to the revolution, therefore the two things are counterposed.

EO consider that the present struggles only serve "to obtain palliatives" but at the same times says that "they must take place" and that it participates in them. This reduces the role of revolutionary organization to that of a charitable institution. In reality, revolutionaries intervene in the defensive struggles because they're convinced that they constitute the point of departure for the development of the revolutionary struggle: another question arising from this is how will the intervention of the party help develop this struggle?

But the second main question here is what will this "other type of struggle" be, this "real class struggle" which will create the force and unity of the class? Here EO's confusion is great. On the one hand they talk of the insurrection, but this is not what is in question. This is not a question of defining the culminating point for the destruction of bourgeois power, but of what road the proletariat must take in order to reach this point. The history of the working class knows no other road than the development of the defensive struggles, its strike movements. It is in this struggle that it will forge its unity, its consciousness, its organization, which will permit the revolutionary assault.

Likewise, there does not exist in the pamphlet a clear and explicit idea of what EO understands by "the real class struggle" which will have to take the place of the "present struggles", just allusions. For example, when referring to the hunger revolts it says: "It is certain that these are reactions without perspectives ... but they are a part of the struggle which the ICC deny" (p3). In another part dealing with the angry reactions of workers (such as beating up union delegates or fighting with the police) against the abuses to which they are subjected by the forces of capital, at work and in daily life, it says: "These 'small struggles' also form part of the class struggle and in many case have important components for the revolutionary struggle" (p29), or when dealing with such actions as blocking streets, burning cars which have occurred in some strikes, it thinks: "And of course many means, including desperation, have no perspective or  will not have if the working class only responds as individuals ... but today this is not the situation and if we want to intervene in the real struggle, we have to be part of this reality ..." (page 18).

So here we are faced with 3 different situations:

- the revolts of the desperate hungry masses (see IR 63);

- actions by isolated workers,

- the defensive struggles (which elsewhere it rejects but here it salutes, why?).

What do they have in common? What is the most important component of the struggle, this "real struggle"? Quite simply, desperate violence. According to EO: "Seeing that the necessity of destroying the state does not appear in the demands of the ICC (we will return to this question later) it is logical that they despise and underestimate the moments of confrontations with the forces of capitalist order" (page 15).

Here, Emancipacion Obrera is treading on a very slippery slope: indeed class violence is a "component" of the proletarian struggle and clearly not only during the insurrection to destroy bourgeois power, but also in all of the period which precedes it. The defensive struggles, in order to extend under workers' control, already implies a confrontation with the state apparatus, with the unions, the police, lawyers ... What we always oppose, and denounce in all cases, is when workers lock themselves up, or to put it better, they are trapped by the radical petty-bourgeois, the unions, the police, in acts of isolated, meaningless, desperate violence, which block and cut off the tendencies towards the unity of the class - acts that are implicated in the direct confrontations with the organs of repression which have the ability to mobilize and concentrate its superior force against any group of workers or isolated strike. We call on them not to believe in this desperate violence "without perspectives", which leads to dead ends, to defeats and demoralization of sectors of the working class.

There is nothing more dangerous and stupid than the following statement by EO: "It is criminal today to call on workers to arm themselves with firearms in order to defend their pickets from the police, but it is also criminal not to look for means of self defense in the context of the real forces today" (page 16). In essence, we have here the trap of the radical petty-bourgeois provocateur: inciting one group of workers to confront the police, but at the same time telling them not to use firearms, knowing full well that the police can use them whenever they wish.

This dilemma in respect to what kind of self defense workers should use on their pickets is false: workers always defend themselves as best as they can remember the steel strike in Brazil two years ago, in which the workers were trapped in the buildings of the plant and made up weapons from their tools with which they confronted the army. However, despite their great courage, they were defeated. The real dilemma is between whether workers become trapped in their factory until they are repressed by the police, who unfailingly arrive with superior forces, or whether they leave the factory in order to look for class solidarity, the extension of the struggle and the strength of the mass. Although this is a long and difficult road, it is the only one which can lead not only to winning demands and holding back repres­sion, but it is also the only way to contribute to the forging of the class unity that is essential in order to destroy capitalism. Do the comrades of EO now understand our position?

A last point on the class struggle. Along with the attacks on the ICC because it supports the defensive struggles, EO says, at one time or another that the ICC posed: "a unity without any anti-capitalist perspective ... which of necessity leads to new detente" (page 9) "What we really want to ask the ICC about, is not its support for these (the defensive struggles) but its aim of containing them in an economist political schema" (p 29).

Here, it is not a question of the "limited nature of these struggles", but that the Ice wants to limit them! This is a serious accusation, which identifies the ICC with a tool of the bourgeoisie, the unions, whose function is precisely to try to contain and lead the struggles to defeat. Therefore, EO should have some pretty solid arguments to say this. However, it has none.

This accusation is sustained with very ambiguous phrases about how the ICC does not always put forward the final objective or the armed struggle: "this question is not given the importance that it should have ... some isolated texts show an understanding ... but this is not sufficient" (page 15). "Incidentally" (yes comrades: they say nothing more         than "incidentally") "it appears that neither does the ICC defend in its leaflets the dictatorship of the proletariat" (page 38).

What does this mean? It means that EO has lost any ability to delineate the class frontiers, the positions which separate a capitalist organization from a revolutionary organization of the proletariat, and now thinks that a revolutionary organization is defined by the number of times its writes "to take power", "revolutionary war", "we want it all". This is pitiable, but it makes us think that its "political work in the masses" is very radical petty-bour­geois leftism: giving out leaflets and painting ultra-radical and ultra-revolutionary slogans, which are empty of content, on walls.

Well where is this leading the group Emancipacion Obrera ?

Emancipacion Obrera, set adrift

We have had political relations with EO for more than 4 years, including the publication within the pages of this Review of its "International Proposal" and an initial correspondence (IRs 46 & 49). In that time we have saluted the comrades' preoccupation and effort to contribute to the unification of the world-wide revolutionary forces. However, this does not mean that we do not point out, from our point of view, what constitutes the weaknesses of this group. In particular we reject the idea that the criteria for "recognizing" a revolutionary group should be its "practice" and nothing more. We have said that:

"A 'practice' divorced from any political foundations, orientations, or framework of principles is nothing but a practice suspended in mid-air, a narrow mined immediatism, which can never be a truly revolutionary activity. Any separation between theory and practice that opts, either for theory without practice, or for practice without theory, destroys the unity of the immediate struggle and historical goals" (IR 49, page 18)

Likewise, we have pointed out the urgent necessity of making a real effort towards "trying to reestablish the movement's historical and political continuity"(IR 49,page 20), which is very important for the "young" groups, confronted with the organic rupture of more than 50 years, the product of the defeat of the revolutionary wave at the beginning of the century.

We have also warned them about falling into the attitude of some groups who: "find it more profitable to remain ignorant, or even, purely and simply, to wipe out the past and who think that the revolutionary movement begins with them ... that in their desire to wipe out, to imagine that they come out of nowhere, they are condemned merely to come to nothing" (IR 49, page 20).

What at the time could appear as surmountable "weaknesses" for a young group, today have become a chronic illness: scorn for theory and the rejection of the historical continuity of the workers' movement. And what does EO offer us in its place? Little, really very little.

Thus, the problem of class consciousness appears to EO as a "Gordian Knot" which does not need to be untied, but which it prefers to "cut with an axe" (page 50). For EO, two centuries of debate in the workers' movement is "resolved" without difficulty. Marxism is of absolutely no use - all that is needed is a dictionary.

"If we pay attention [instruct EO] in reality spontaneity is not unconscious: something done spontaneously is done voluntarily... according to the dictionary: spontaneity: voluntary and self movement ... " (page 44). And from this infantile word play, EO draws its conclusion: "spontaneity is not opposed to consciousness, but to organization ... our fundamental task is not that the workers become conscious, but to bring them to take a position, to take a party"[1] (page 45). And further on: "The task of the party... is not to ‘develop consciousness' or that it 'becomes consciousness' but that the class 'takes a party' ... The task of the party is to defend a position, a party (sic!) (page 53);

"The situation of the proletariat will not be resolved because they become conscious of the fact that they are exploited, or that the bourgeoisie is the enemy, that capitalism is shit, many working men and women know it already without becoming revolutionaries. Many workmen and women know it already without help from the 'revolutionaries'. And then? Does it change anything of their reality? The question is, first of all, which is the party you take?" (page 53).

We must ask ourselves: why have we never seen a dictionary where it is clearly stated that spontaneity is voluntary, with which the problem of spontaneity would finished? Why is it until now that nobody has understood that "many workers have already become conscious, and yet this has not changed their reality"? Here, the problem of consciousness no longer exists! Why have so many parties been built and how come up until now it has occurred to nobody that the task of the party was - as its name indicates - "to create the party"? Perhaps we are meant to take seriously the stupidities that EO now serve us, seeing they have discovered the "serious limitations" of Marxism .

If we are going to be serious towards EO, we will have to try to explain to them that the problem of consciousness is not a problem of dictionary definition, but that it is the fundamental question of the proletarian struggle. The struggle for class consciousness, which at the same time is the struggle to overcome and break bourgeois ideology, is nothing but the expression of the proletariat's struggle to impose its own historical objectives by overthrowing the prevailing society.

We also have to try and explain that class consciousness is not what each worker "thinks" or believes they think, but what the working class is called on historically to do. That class consciousness cannot be separated from practice - that the consciousness of the proletariat is expressed as a revolutionary struggle.

Perhaps we could also try to define the framework of the debate in the revolutionary camp on the question of class consciousness, showing that it is based around whether it is the masses that come to this consciousness, or only the vanguard and the position adopted determines the type of intervention and orientations a revolutionary organization has inside the class ... But will this serve any purpose for Emancipacion Obrera?

It is certainly possible to recognize in the position of EO a certain influence of the Bordigist current which considers that the consciousness the masses can achieve is limited to the recognition of the revolutionary party ­to "take the party" as EO say - and that the party is the depository of global class consciousness. However, this tinge is deceitful since EO walk another route. Their considerations on the "limits" of Marxist positions; their rejection of the defensive struggles because they are "limited"; their preoccupation with finding a "real struggle"; their difficulties in distinguishing class frontiers; their insistence on "radical phraseology"; their idea that the class is ready conscious and only needs the party ... all of this is not an expression of a coherent and firm political position, but of desperation. Desperation because the party does not exist yet, because the revolution is not immediately realizable. The title of their pamphlet, We want it all, is an expression of this. As if it was only necessary to publish millions of pieces of paper with the same slogan "We want it all, we are going for it all!" in order for the insurrection to take place.

But desperation is not the essence of revolutionary organization which is capable of retaining, at least in its general lines, the historic course of the class struggle, which gives it its steadfastness and patience. Desperation is only the property of the radical petty-bourgeoisie and unfortunately, Emancipacion Obrera is drifting towards this. We consider it our duty to warn the comrades of EO of this threat, we call on them to react against these radicaloid tendencies which are increasingly evident from each of their new publications.

To the other groups of the proletarian milieu, and particularly those who today maintain close relations with EO, we call on them to carry out their responsibilities of debating with EO about weaknesses. The attitude of "Let it pass", the cultivation of a temporary agreement is opportunism: the gangrene of revolutionary organizations.


[1] Note (1). In the original Spanish, this phrase ‘to take a party' has a double meaning: it can be understood as the act of taking a political position or in the literal sense of accepting the leadership of the party.