Class struggle: The proletariat must not underestimate its class enemy

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Following the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in eastern Europe at the end of the 80s, and with all the media campaigns about the 'death of communism', the 'end of the class struggle', and even the 'disappearance of the working class', the world proletariat suffered a massive ideological defeat, a defeat aggravated by the events that followed, in particular the Gulf war in 1991, which further amplified its feelings of powerlessness. Since then, notably with the big movements in the Autumn of 92 in Italy, the proletariat rediscovered the path of the class struggle; this was undeniable even if it was still fraught with difficulties. What fed this revival of proletarian struggles were the incessant and increasingly brutal attacks which the bourgeoisies of all countries were forced to unleash as its system sank deeper into an insoluble crisis. The ruling class knows quite well that it can only get these attacks through, and prevent them provoking a radicalisation of workers' resistance, if it sets up a whole political arsenal aimed at derailing and sterilising the class struggle. To do this, it has to be able to count on the effectiveness of those organs of the bourgeois state in the ranks of the workers: the trade unions. In other words, the bourgeoisie's ability to impose its will on the exploited class depends and will continue to depend on the credibility of the unions and of trade unionism in general. This is demonstrated very clearly by the strikes in France and Belgium at the end of 1995. It is also being demonstrated at the time of writing by the union agitation in the main European country: Germany.

In our two previous issues of the International Review, we examined the means employed by the bourgeoisie, during the strike movement in France at the end of 1995, to take the initiative faced with a perspective of the resurgence of workers' struggles. The analysis which we have developed on these events can be summarised by the following extracts from the article that we published in IR 84, at a time when the movement was not yet over:

"In reality, the French proletariat is the target of a massive manoeuvre aimed at weakening its consciousness and combativity; a manoeuvre, moreover, which is also aimed at the working class in other countries, designed at making it draw the wrong lessons from the events in France"(‘Behind the unions, struggle leads to defeat').

And the first wrong lesson that the bourgeoisie wants the working class to draw is that the unions are genuine organs of the proletarian struggle:

"This renewed credibility of the unions was one of the bourgeoisie's fundamental objectives, a vital precondition for dealing blows still more brutal than today's. Only on this condition can it hope to sabotage the struggles which will certainly surge up against these new attacks "(ibid).

In number 85 of our Review, we indicated how, almost at the same time as the manoeuvre by the French bourgeoisie, the Belgian bourgeoisie, taking advantage of the latter, made a carbon copy which incorporated all its main ingredients:

- a series of capitalist attacks affecting all sectors of the working class (in this case, an attack on social security), but which were especially provocative for a particular sector (in France, the rail way workers and Paris transport workers; in Belgium, the railway workers and the national airline workers); the 'Juppe method' , concentrating in a short space of time an avalanche of attacks, carried out in a cynical and arrogant way, is all part of the manoeuvre: the discontent has to be detonated by;

- very radical appeals by the unions for the extension of the workers' riposte, putting forward the example of the 'vanguard' sector chosen by the bourgeoisie;

- a retreat by the bourgeoisie on the most provocative measures; the unions then cry 'victory' for the mobilisation they have organised, the 'leading' sectors then go back to work and this demobilises the other sectors.

The result of these manoeuvres has been that the bourgeoisie has been able to push through the measures which have the broadest effects, the ones which hit the whole working class, while giving the impression of having had to retreat in the face of the workers' struggle, which lends credit to the idea that they achieved a victory under the leadership of the trade unions. This benefits the government, the bosses and the trade unions. What appears to many workers to have been a 'victory' or a semi-victory (it was not hard for the great mass of workers to see that on the essential questions, like social security, the government did not retreat) and was, in reality, a defeat - a defeat at the material level, of course, but above all a political defeat since the main enemy of the working class, the most dangerous because it presents itself as its ally, the union apparatus, increased its grip and its power of mystification over the workers.

The analyses of the communist groups

The ICC's analyses of the social movements at the end of 1995, presented both in the IR, its territorial press and at public meetings, were met with interest and approval by the majority of its readers and those who came to its meetings. On the other hand, these analyses were not shared by most of the other organisations of the proletarian political milieu. In the previous issue of this Review, we showed how the two organisations who comprise the IBRP, the CWO and Battaglia Comunista, fell into the bourgeoisie's trap precisely because they were unable to identify the manoeuvre. These comrades, for example, made the reproach that our analyses lead to the idea that the workers are imbeciles because they allowed themselves to be taken in by the bourgeoisie's manoeuvres. More generally, they consider that, with our vision, the proletarian revolution is impossible because the workers will always be the victims of mystifications set up by the bourgeoisie. Nothing could be more wrong.

In the first place, the fact that today the workers have fallen into the bourgeoisie's trap does not mean that this will always be the case. The history of the workers' movement is full of examples in which the same workers who allowed themselves to be mobilised behind the flags of the bourgeoisie were subsequently capable of waging exemplary and even revolutionary struggles. It was the same Russian and German workers who had been slaughtering each other under their national banners in 1914 who launched themselves into the proletarian revolution in 1917, and who forced the bourgeoisie to put an end to the imperialist butchery in 1918. More generally, history has taught us that the working class is capable of drawing the lessons from its defeats, of springing the traps in which it has previously been ensnared.

And it is precisely the task of revolutionary minorities, of the communist organisations, to contribute actively to such a development of consciousness in the class, in particular by clearly and resolutely denouncing the traps that the bourgeoisie has laid.

Thus, in July 1917, the Russian bourgeoisie tried to provoke a premature insurrection by the proletariat of the capital. The most advanced fraction of the working class, the Bolshevik party, identified the trap and it is clear that without its far-seeing attitude which aimed to stop the Petrograd workers from rushing into an adventure, the latter would have suffered a bloody defeat, and that this would have blocked the movement that culminated in the victorious insurrection of October 1917. In January 1919 (see our articles on the German revolution in the IR), the German bourgeoisie reissued the same manoeuvre. This time, it was successful: the proletariat of Berlin, isolated, was crushed by the Freikorps, and this dealt a decisive blow to the revolution in Germany and on a world scale. The great revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was able, alongside the majority of the leadership of the newly formed Communist Party, to understand the nature of the trap that the bourgeoisie had laid. On the other hand, Karl Liebknecht, even though he had been hardened by years of revolutionary militancy, notably during the course of the imperialist war, did fall into the trap. Thanks to his prestige, and despite himself, he participated in a tragic defeat of the working class, one which cost him his life and the lives of many of his comrades, including Rosa Luxemburg herself. But even though the latter had done all she could to warn the proletariat and her own comrades against the bourgeoisie's trap, she never thought that those who had fallen into it were idiots. On the contrary, her last article, written on the eve of her death, 'Order reigns in Berlin', insists on an essential idea: that the proletariat must learn from its defeats. Similarly, by affirming that the workers in France and Belgium at the end of 1995 have been the victims of a trap laid by the bourgeoisie, the I CC never thought or implied that the workers were idiots. In fact,
the very opposite is the case.

If the bourgeoisie took the trouble to construct such a sophisticated trap for the working class, the building of which involved the government, the bosses, the unions and even the leftist groups, it is precisely because it does not underestimate the working class. It knows perfectly well that the proletariat today is not the proletariat of the 1930s, that, unlike with the latter, the economic crisis is not driving it deeper into demoralisation but tends to push it towards increasingly powerful and conscious struggles. In fact, in order to understand the significance of the bourgeois manoeuvre at the end of 1995, it is first necessary to have recognised that we are not now in a historic course dominated by the counter-revolution, in which the mortal crisis of capitalism can only result in world imperialist war, but in a course toward class confrontations. One of the best proofs of this reality can be found in the kind of themes and methods used by the unions in these recent manoeuvres. During the 1930s, the ideological campaigns of the left and the unions were dominated by anti-fascism, the 'defence of democracy' and nationalism, and they succeeded in derailing the combativity of the proletariat into a tragic impasse and mobilising it for the imperialist butchery (the best examples of this were the June 1936 strikes in France and the civil war in Spain). If at the end of 1995 the unions were very low key about such themes, if by contrast they adopted a very 'workerist' language, putting forward the classic demands and methods of struggle of the working class, it's because they know quite well that they could not have managed such a massive mobilisation or restored their credibility in the eyes of the workers by making their usual speeches about the 'national interest' and other openly bourgeois mystifications. The national flag or the defence of democracy could be effective in the inter-war period, but now the unions need calls for 'extension', for 'the unity of all sectors of the working class', for sovereign general assemblies. But we should note that if the current discourse of the unions did succeed in deceiving the majority of the working class, it also succeeded in deceiving organisations which claim the heritage of the communist left. The best example of this is probably provided by the articles published in no. 435 of the newspaper Le Proletaire, organ of the International Communist Party ((lCP), which in Italy publishes II Comunista, ie one of the numerous ICP's of the Bordigist tendency.

The digressions of Le Proletaire

This issue of Le Proletaire devotes four pages out of ten to the 1995 strikes in France. Many details about these events are provided, and even false details which prove either that the author was poorly informed, or, and this is more probable, that he has taken his desires for reality[1]. But the most striking thing in this issue of Le Proletaire is the two page article entitled 'The ICC against the strikes'. This title already says a great deal about the tone of the whole article, in which we discover that:

- the ICC is the emulator of Thorez, the French Stalinist leader, who at the end of the second world war declared that "strikes are weapons of the trusts";

- the ICC expresses itself "just like a scab";

- we are "modern Proudhonists" and "deserters (their emphasis) of the proletarian struggle".

Obviously, this article immediately places itself alongside the parasitic milieu, for which everything is fair when it comes to denigrating the ICC. In this sense, Le Proletaire is now making its little contribution (deliberate or unconscious?) to this milieu's attack on our organisation. Of course we are not against polemics between organisations of the revolutionary milieu, and we have always shown this in our press. But a polemic, however vehement, implies that we are in the same camp in the class war. For example, we don't polemicise with the leftist organisations; we denounce them as organs of the capitalist class, something Le Proletaire is incapable of doing since it defines a group like Lutte Ouvriere, the flower of French Trotskyism, as "centrist". Le Proletaire reserves its sharpest arrows for organisations of the communist left like the ICC. If we are "deserters", it means that we have betrayed our class, thank you very much. Thanks also to the parasitic groups for whom the ICC has gone over to Stalinism. Nevertheless, the ICP should one day work out what camp it is in: that of the serious organisations of the communist left, or that of the parasites whose sole reason for existing is to discredit these organisations, to the unique advantage of the bourgeoisie.

Having said that, while Le Proletaire seeks to teach us a lesson about our analyses of the 1995 strikes, what its article demonstrates above all is:

- its lack of clarity, not to say its opportunism, on the question which is so vital for the working class, the question of trade unionism;

- its crass ignorance of the history of the workers' movement, which leads it to an incredible underestimation of the enemy class.

The union question: Achilles Heel of the ICP and Bordigism

The ICP talks about the ICC being "anti-trade union on principle", and in doing so proves that it does not consider the union question to be one of principle Le Proletaire tries to be very radical when it asserts:

"The union apparatuses have become, as the result of a process of degeneration accelerated by the international victory of the counter-revolution, instruments of class collaboration", and, even more, "if the big union organisations obstinately refuse to use these weapons (authentically proletarian methods of struggle) this is not simply because they have a bad leadership whom it would be enough to replace: decades of degeneration and of domestication by the bourgeoisie have emptied these big union apparatuses of their last class vestiges and have transformed them into organs of class collaboration, trading proletarian demands for social peace ... This fact is enough to show the falsity of the traditional Trotskyist perspective of conquering or reconquering for the proletarian struggle these apparatuses of professionals in conciliating workers' interests with the demands of capitalism. On the other hand, there are a thousand examples to show that it is very possible to transform a Trotskyist into a union bureaucrat ..."

In reality, what the ICP shows here is its lack of clarity and firmness on the nature of trade unionism. It doesn't denounce the latter as a weapon of the bourgeois class, but only the "union apparatuses". In doing so, despite its words, it doesn't manage to break free of the Trotskyist vision: nowadays you can find very similar statements in the press of a group like Lutte Ouvriere. What Le Proletaire, which considers itself to be faithful to the tradition of the Italian communist left, refuses to admit, is that any trade union form, whether small or large, legal and openly working at the highest levels of the bourgeois  state, or illegal (as was the case with Solidamosc in Poland for several years, and the Workers' Commissions in Franco's Spain) can be nothing else but an organ for the defence of capitalism. Le Proletaire accuses the ICC of being hostile "to any organisation for the immediate defence of the proletariat". In doing so it reveals either its ignorance of our position or, most likely, its bad faith. We have never said that the working class must not organise itself to wage its struggles. What we do say, in line with that current of the communist left which Bordigism treats with such disdain, the German left, is that, in the present historic period, such an organisation is constituted by the general assemblies of the workers in struggle, by strike committees nominated by these assemblies and revocable by them, by central strike committees composed of delegates from the different strike committees. By their nature, these organisations exist by and for the struggle and are destined to disappear once the struggle is over. Their main difference with the unions in the past is precisely that they are not permanent and thus are not able to be absorbed by the capitalist state. This is precisely the lesson that Bordigism has never wanted to draw after decades of "betrayal" by all the union, whatever their form, their initial aims, their political positions and their founders, whether they see themselves as being for 'reforms' or for 'class struggle', or even as 'revolutionary'. In decadent capitalism, when the state tends to absorb all the structures of society, when the system is incapable of according the least lasting improvement in the living conditions of the working class, any permanent organisation which takes as its aim the defence of these living conditions is destined to be integrated into the state, to become one of its cogs. To quote what Marx said about the trade unions last century, as Le Proletaire does in the hope of shutting us up, just isn't enough to earn the title of 'marxist'. After all, the Trotskyists are very happy to resort to other quotes from Marx and Engels against the anarchists of their era to attack the position that the Bordigists defend today alongside the whole communist left: the refusal to participate in the electoral game. Le Proletaire's method here shows only that it has not understood a vital aspect of marxism - that it is a living and dialectical way of thinking. What was true yesterday, in the ascendant period of capitalism - the necessity for the working class to form trade unions, to participate in elections or to support certain national liberation struggles, is no longer true today, in decadent capitalism. To stick to the letter of quotes from Marx while turning your back on the conditions he was addressing, while refusing to apply the method of this great revolutionary, merely demonstrates the poverty of its own thought.

But the worst of it isn't this poverty in itself, it's that it leads to the sowing of illusions in the class about the possibility of a 'real trade unionism'; it's that it leads straight towards opportunism. And we find expressions of this opportunism in the articles of Le Proletaire when it shows the greatest timidity in denouncing the unions' game:

"What we can and must reproach the present unions with. ...". Revolutionaries don't reproach the unions with anything, any more than they reproach the bourgeoisie with exploiting the workers or the cops with repressing their struggles: they denounce them.

"... the organisations at the head of the movement, the CGT and FO, who to all appearances had been negotiating behind the scenes with the government to put a stop to the movement ...". The union leaders don't 'negotiate' with the government as though they had different interests, they march hand in hand with the latter against the working class. And this is not "to all appearances", it is certain! This is what is indispensable for the workers to know and this is what Le Proletaire is incapable of telling them.

The danger of the opportunist position of Le Proletaire on the union question becomes all the more clear when it writes:

"But if we reject the possibility of reconquering the union apparatuses, we don't draw from this the conclusion that we must reject working in these same unions, as long as this work is done at the base, in contact with the workers and not in the hierarchical organs, and on a class basis". In other words, when in an absolutely healthy and necessary way workers disgusted by union intrigues want to tear up their union cards, there will be a militant of the ICP to speak up like any Trotskyist: "don't do that comrades, we must stay and work in the unions!". What work, other than toiling at the base to restore the image of organs which are the enemies of the working class?

For the choice is clear:

- either you really want to carry out a militant activity "on a class basis", in which case one of the essential points you'd have to defend is the anti -working class nature of the unions, not simply because of their hierarchy, but as a whole; what clarity could the ICP militant bring to his comrades at work by saying: "the unions are our enemies, we have to fight outside and against them, but I'm staying inside them"?[2];

- or you want to stay "in contact" with the union "base", to make yourself "understood" by the workers who compose it, which means opposing the "base" to the "rotten hierarchy", ie the classic position of Trotskyism; certainly this means doing "work", but not on a "class basis", since you are preserving the illusion that certain structures of the union, the enterprise branch for example, can still be organs of the workers' struggle.

We really want to believe that the ICP militant, unlike his Trotskyist colleague, does not aspire to be a union bureaucrat. But he will still be carrying out the same anti-working class "work" of mystifying the nature of the trade unions. Thus, the application of the ICP's position on the union question has once again made a small contribution to demobilising the workers in the face of the danger represented by the unions. But this demobilising activity doesn't stop there. It comes out in broad daylight once again when the ICP shows a complete underestimation of the capacity of the bourgeoisie to carry out elaborate manoeuvres against the working class.

Underestimating the class enemy

In another article in Le Proletaire, 'After this winter's strikes, prepare the struggles ahead', we read:

"The movement this winter shows precisely that if, in these circumstances, the unions have shown an unusual flexibility and allowed the spontaneity of the most combative workers to express itself, rather than opposing it as they normally do, this tolerance allowed them to keep hold of the leadership of the struggle without any great difficulty, and thus to decide to a very great extent its orientation, the way it evolved and its outcome. When they judged that the moment had come, they gave the signal for the return to work, abandoning in the blink of an eye the central demand of the movement, without the strikers being able to come up with any alternative. The rank and file and democratic appearance of the way the movement was conducted was even used against the objective needs of the movement: it wasn't the thousands of daily general assemblies of strikers who gave the movement the centralisation and direction it needed, even if these organs did allow the massive participation of the workers. Only the union organisations could make up for this lack and so the struggle was suspended according to slogans and initiatives launched centrally by the union organisations and passed down through the apparatus to all the general assemblies. The climate of unity reigning in the movement was such that the mass of workers not only did not feel or express disagreements with the orientations of the unions, except with the orientations of the CFDT and their leadership of the struggle, but even saw their actions as one of the most important factors for victory".  

Here Le Proletaire gives us the secret of the attitude of the unions in the strikes of 1995. Perhaps this is the result of reading what the ICC had already written about them. The problem is that when it comes to drawing the lessons from this obvious reality, Le Proletaire, in the same article, tells us that the movement was "the most important of the French proletariat since the general strike of May-June 68", that it salutes the "strength" which imposed a "partial retreat by the government". Decidedly, coherence of thought is not Le Proletaire's strongpoint. Do we have to recall here that opportunism, which is always trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, also avoids it like the plague?

For our part, we concluded that this movement was not able to prevent the government from pushing through its main anti-working class measures and that it had succeeded in restoring the image of the unions, as Le Proletaire shows very clearly. This movement was not initiated against the will of the unions or the government; they wanted it to happen precisely to obtain these objectives. Le Proletaire tells us that the feature of this movement "which must become an acquisition for the future struggles was the general tendency to breakout of sectional barriers and the limits of the enterprise or administration and spread to all sectors". This is quite true. The only thing is that this took place with the blessing, or rather, very often, the direct impulsion of the unions. The fact that workers have rediscovered a proletarian method of struggle no longer constitutes an advance for the working class the moment that this conquest is seen by the majority of the workers as being due to the action of the unions. The working class was bound to rediscover these methods of struggle sooner or later, through a whole series of experiences. But if such a rediscovery had been made through an open confrontation with the unions, this would have struck a mortal blow against the unions when they had already been strongly discredited, and this would have deprived the bourgeoisie of one of its essential weapons for sabotaging workers' struggles. Thus it was far preferable for the bourgeoisie that the rediscovery took place in a way that was poisoned and sterilised by trade unionist illusions.

The fact that the bourgeoisie could manoeuvre in such a way completely escapes Le Proletaire:

"If we are to believe the ICC, 'they' (no doubt the whole bourgeoisie) are extraordinarily tricky: pushing 'the workers' (this is how the ICC baptises all the wage-earners who went on strike) to enter into struggle against the government's decisions in order to control their struggle, to inflict a defeat on them and come back later on with even harder measures, this is a manoeuvre which would have stupefied Machiavelli himself.

The modern Proudhonists of the ICC go even further than their ancestor because they accuse the bourgeoisie of provoking the workers' struggle and allowing it to be victorious in order to derail the workers from the real solution: they hit themselves in order to avoid being hit. If we wait a while longer and look through the ICC's magic lantern we will see the bourgeoisie organise the proletarian revolution and the disappearance of capitalism with the sole aim of preventing the proletariat from doing it"[3].

Le Proletaire likes to think that it is very witty. Good luck to it. The problem is that its tirades show more than anything else the total vacuity of its political understanding. So, to prevent it from falling into total idiocy, we will permit ourselves to recall certain banalities:

1. It is not necessary for the whole bourgeoisie to be "extraordinarily tricky" for its interests to be well defended. In order to assume its defence, the bourgeois class has at its disposal a government and a state (although perhaps Le Proletaire doesn't know this) which defines its policies by relying on the advice of an army of specialists (historians, sociologists, political pundits ... and union leaders). The fact that there are still bosses in existence who think that the unions are the enemies of the bourgeoisie doesn't change anything: they are not the ones who are charged with elaborating the strategies of their class any more than sergeant-majors are given the job of running wars.

2. It is precisely the case that between the bourgeoisie and the working class there is a state of war, the class war. It's not necessary to be a specialist in military matters, but anyone who has a middling intelligence and a little bit of education (but perhaps this isn't the case with the editors of Le Proletaire?) knows that trickery is an essential weapon for any army. In order to defeat the enemy, it is usually necessary to deceive him, unless you enjoy a crushing material superiority.

3. The main weapon of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat is not the material strength of its forces of repression, but precisely its capacity for trickery, for mystifying the workers.

4. Even if Machiavelli, in his day, was laying down the bases of a bourgeois strategy for conquering and exercising power as well as for the art of war, the leaders of the ruling class, after centuries of experience, know a lot more than he did. Perhaps the editors of Le Proletaire think the opposite, but they would do well to spend a bit of time with their history books, particularly those dealing with recent wars, and above all with the workers' movement. They would discover that the machiavellianism which the military strategists are capable of in conflicts between national fractions of the same bourgeois class are nothing compared to what the bourgeoisie as a whole can come up with against its mortal enemy, the proletariat.

5. In particular, they would discover two elementary things: that provoking premature combats is one of the classic weapons of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, and that in a war, the generals have never hesitated to sacrifice part of their own troops or their own positions the better to lure the enemy into a trap, by giving him an illusory feeling of victory. The bourgeoisie will not make the proletarian revolution to stop the proletariat doing so. But in order to prevent it, it is quite prepared to make 'retreats', to grant apparent 'victories' to the workers.

6. And if the editors of LeProletaire take the trouble to read the classical analyses of the communist left, they will finally learn that one of the main ways the bourgeoisie inflicted on the proletariat the most terrible counter-revolution in its history was precisely to present its greatest defeats as 'victories': the 'building of socialism' in the USSR, the Popular Fronts, the 'victory over fascism'.

Thus, we can only say one thing to the editors of Le Proletaire: back to the drawing board. And before you do that, try to reflect a little and to overcome your terrible ignorance. Well-turned phrases and witty words are not enough to defend correctly the positions and interests of the working class. And we can give them one last word of advice: listen to what's really happening in the world. Try, for example, to understand what's just happened in Germany.

Union manoeuvres in Germany: a new example of the strategy of the bourgeoisie

If we needed further proof that the manoeuvre concocted by all the forces of the bourgeoisie at the end of 1995 in France had an international scope, the recent union agitation in Germany provides it in the most striking manner. In this country, obviously with its local specificities, we have seen a 'remake' of the French scenario.

At the beginning however, the situation seemed very different. Just after the French unions had been giving themselves an image of radicalism, of being intransigent organs of the class struggle, the German unions, faithful to their traditions of being negotiators and agents of the 'social consensus', signed with the bosses and the government, on 23 January, a 'pact for employment' which among other things contains wage reductions of up to 20% in the most threatened industries. At the end of these negotiations, Kohl declared that "everything must be done to avoid a scenario a la francais". At this point he was not contradicted by the unions who, a few weeks before, had been saluting the strikes in France: the DGB "assured its sympathy to the strikers who were defending themselves against a big attack on social rights"; IG-Metall affirmed that "the struggle of the French is an example of resistance against the blows aimed at social and political rights".

But in reality, the German unions' salute to the strikes in France was not at all Platonic; they are already getting prepared to carry out their own manoeuvres. The scope of these manoeuvres would be revealed in April. This was the moment Kohl chose to announce an unprecedented austerity plan: a wage freeze in the public sector, cuts in unemployment benefit and social security, increase in the working week, increase in the age of retirement, abandoning of the principle of 100% sick pay. And what was most striking was the way this plan was announced. As the French paper Le Monde put it on 20.6.96: "By imposing in such an authoritarian way his plan for economies of 50 million Marks at the end of April, Chancellor Kohl has given up the mantle of moderator, which he made so much of, to take up that of the decisive leader ... For the first time, the 'Kohl method' begins to resemble the 'Juppe method'".

For the unions, this was a real provocation which had to be met with new methods of action: "We have left consensus and are entering into confrontation" (Dieter Schulte, president of the DGB). The scenario 'a la francais', in its German version, was set up. The attitude of the unions hit a crescendo of radicalism: 'warning strikes' and demonstrations in the public sector (like at the beginning of autumn 95 in France): nurseries, public transport, postal services, cleaning services were hit. As in France, the media made a lot of noise about these movements, giving the image of a country paralysed, and making no secret of their sympathy for the strikes. References to the strikes in France became more and more commonplace and the unions even waved French flags in the demonstrations. Schulte invoking the French "hot autumn" promised a "hot summer" in the industrial sector. Then began the preparations for the huge demonstration of 15 June which was already announced in advance as "the most massive since 1945"[4]. Schulte predicted that it would "only be the beginning of sharp social conflicts that would lead to conditions a la francais". Similarly, whereas a few weeks before he had asserted that "there was no question of calling a general strike in the face of a democratically elected government", on June 10 he announced that "even a general strike cannot be ruled out". A few days before the 'march' on Bonn, the negotiations in the public sector gave birth to an accord which finally conceded some flimsy wage increases and the promise not to threaten sick pay, which allowed the unions to make it look like this 'retreat' was the result of their actions, as had been the case in France when the government had 'retreated' on the planned contract on the railways and on retirement in the public sector.

Finally, the immense success of "everyone to Bonn" (350,000 demonstrators), achieved thanks to an unprecedented media barrage and the enormous efforts made by the unions (thousands of coaches and nearly 100 special trains) looked like a show of force by the latter on a scale never seen before, while at the same time it made it possible to push into the background the fact that the government had not made any concessions on the essentials of its austerity plan.

The worldwide character of the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie

Thus, within an interval of a few months, in the two main countries of continental Europe, the bourgeoisie has developed two very similar manoeuvres aimed not only at pushing through a whole train of brutal attacks but also at giving a new image to the trade unions. Of course there are differences in the precise objectives of the two national bourgeoisies. As regards France, it was necessary to restore the image of the unions in the eyes of the workers, an image that has been particularly tarnished by their support for the policies of the left when it was in the government; this is why they had to allow the coordinations to take centre stage in the task of sabotaging the struggles of the railway workers in 1986 and the hospital workers in 1988. As regards Germany, the problem wasn't that the unions were discredited. On the whole, these organs of the bourgeois state still had a considerable standing in the working class. On the other hand, the image they have had for the workers has been that of specialists in negotiation who have succeeded, thanks to the 'round tables' they have taken part in, to preserve something of the gains of the 'social state', a task obviously made easier by the fact that German capital has been better placed to resist the effects of the world crisis. But with the growing difficulties of the German economy (recession in 1995, record rates of unemployment, explosion of state deficits), this image could not have lasted much longer. At the negotiating table the government and the bosses will now only be able to propose increasingly brutal attacks on the workers' living standards and the dismantling of the 'social state'. The prospect of the outbreak of workers' anger is inevitable and this is why it has been necessary for the unions, if they are going to be up to the task of derailing this militancy, to shed their habits as 'negotiators' and take on the mantle of' organs of the workers' struggle'.

But granted the differences in the social situation in the two countries, the important thing is that the points these two episodes have in common should open the eyes of those who think that the strikes in France at the end of 1995 were 'spontaneous' and that they 'surprised the bourgeoisie', that they were not planned and provoked by the latter for its own ends.

Moreover, just as the bourgeois manoeuvre at the end of 1995 in France had an international significance, the different forces of the German bourgeoisie did not carry out their manoeuvre in the spring of 1996 for purely domestic reasons. F or example, in Belgium, if the bourgeoisie organised a copy of the French scenario last winter, it has again shown what an excellent mimic it is by also copying the German episode. Not long after the signing of the of 'pact for jobs' in Germany, a 'contract for the future of employment' was signed in Belgium between the unions, the bosses and the government, and this too proposed to introduce wage cuts in return for promises of jobs. Then the unions did a 180 degree turn and suddenly denounced this accord "after consulting the rank and file". This spectacular about-face, which again was given maximum coverage by the media, allowed the unions to take on a 'democratic' image, to pretend to be "interpreting the will of the workers", while at the same time washing their hands of any responsibility in the plans to attack the working class that have been prepared by the government (which is partly made up of the Socialist Party, the traditional ally of the most 'militant' union, the FGTB).

But if the international dimension of the manoeuvres of the French bourgeoisie at the end of 1995 were not limited to Belgium, as we've just seen with the manoeuvres in Germany in the spring, the significance of the events in Germany is also not restricted to this small country. The social agitation in Germany, well publicised by the TV in a number of countries, have a similar role to that of the strikes in France. Once again, it's a question of reinforcing illusions in the unions. The 'fighting' image of the French unions, spread far and wide by the media, has been used to rejuvenate the unions in other countries. Similarly, the radicalisation of the German unions, their threat to stir up a "hot summer" and the alarmist comments by the media in other countries about "the end of the German consensus" serves to relay the idea that the unions - even where they have a tradition of consultation and negotiation - can be authentic organs of the workers' struggle, and effective organs to boot, capable of defending workers' interests against the austerity of the bosses and the government.

Thus, it is indeed on a world scale that the bourgeoisie is carrying out its strategy against the working class. History has taught us that all the conflicts of interest between national bourgeoisies - commercial rivalries, imperialist antagonisms - fade out when it comes to confronting the only force in society that represents a mortal danger to the ruling class, the proletariat. The bourgeoisie elaborates its plans against the latter in a coordinated and concerted manner.

Today, faced with the workers' struggles that are brewing, the ruling class has to resort to a thousand traps in order to try to sabotage them, exhaust them and defeat them, to prevent them leading to a growth of consciousness in the working class about the ultimate perspective of its struggle: the communist revolution. Nothing would be more tragic for the working class than to underestimate the strength of its enemy, its ability to set such traps, to organise itself on a world scale to make them more effective. Communists have to be able to expose and denounce these traps in front of their class. If they can't do this, they are not worthy of their name.

FM, 24.6.96



[1] One of the most striking examples of this rewriting of the facts is the way the return to work at the end of the strike is dealt with: we are told this only began almost a week after the government announced its 'retreat', which is not true.

[2] It's true that the Bordigists are not lacking in contradictions: towards the end of the 70s, when there was a growing agitation amongst the immigrant workers, we often saw ICP militants explaining to flabbergasted immigrants that they should demand the right to vote in order to be able to ... abstain. You can't get more ridiculous than a Bordigist. It's also true that when ICC militants tried to intervene in a demonstration of immigrants in order to defend the necessity not to get trapped in bourgeois demands, members of the ICP lent a hand to the Maoists in chasing them away.

[3] We should note that issue number 3 of L 'Esclave Salarie, a parasitic bastard of the ex-Ferment Ouvriere Revolutionnaire, gives us an original version of the ICC's analysis of the bourgeoisie's manoeuvre: "We want to congratulate the ICC (ES thinks it's very witty to write the initials of our organisation in lower case) for its remarkable analysis which fills us with admiration and we would like to know how this elite of thinkers managed to infiltrate the bourgeois class to get so much information about its plans and traps. We wonder whether the ice isn't invited to the meetings of the bourgeoisie in order to study its anti-working class plots concocted in secret and through the rites of freemasonry". Marx was not a freemason and he wasn't invited to the meetings of the bourgeoisie, but he did devote a large part of his militant activity to studying, elucidating and denouncing the plans and traps of the bourgeoisie. We can only think that the writers of ES have never read The Class Struggles in France or The Civil War in France. This would be logical for people who have such contempt for thought, which is by no means the monopoly of an 'elite'. Frankly, it wasn't necessary to be a freemason to discover that the strikes at the end of 95 in France were the result of a bourgeois manoeuvre: it was enough to observe the way they were presented and publicised by the media in all the countries of Europe and America, and even as far as India, Australia or Japan. It's true that the presence in these countries of sections or sympathisers of the ICC assisted it in its work, but the real cause of the political poverty of ES does not reside in its weak geographical extension. What is provincial about this group is its political intelligence, which really is set in lower case.

[4] This refrain is a bit worn out: the demonstration of 12 December 95 in France was also presented as "the most massive since the war" in many provincial towns.

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