Class Struggle: The bourgeoisie sets barriers before the class struggle

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In our article "The proletariat must not underestimate its class enemy" in International Review 86, we said in our conclusion:

"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 away 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".

It is within the framework of a continued course towards decisive class confrontations that we have to locate and understand the present situation of the class struggle. Despite the profound retreat it has suffered following the collapse of Stalinism in 1989 and the intense ideological barrage about the death of communism orchestrated by the bourgeoisie on a world scale; despite the many campaigns that ensued, aimed at inducing a feeling of powerlessness within the proletariat, the latter has certainly had to give ground but it is not defeated. It proved this by returning to the path of struggle, from 1992 in Italy, in order to defend its living conditions against the redoubled attacks inflicted on it by the ruling class everywhere.

The bourgeoisie's strategy against the revival of the struggle

In order to face up to this menacing reality, full of peril for its system, the bourgeoisie, particularly in the main European countries, has come up with all kinds of manoeuvres in order both to sabotage the struggle and to strengthen its main anti-working class weapons.

This revival of struggles has alerted the bourgeoisie all the more because in its first stages it brought back to life the demons that it thought it had buried after 1989. Thus in 1992, the workers of Italy forcefully expressed, in mass demonstrations, their continuing suspicion of the unions. This was a reminder to the rest of their class of something that it had become increasingly conscious of during the 1980s - the fact that the unions are not workers' organisations, and that behind their proletarian masks and language, they are ardent defenders of the interests of capital. Furthermore, in the strikes in the mines that shook the Ruhr in 1993, the German workers not only ignored and even rejected the proposals of the unions (which had not been their usual attitude up until then) but also sought, through street demonstrations, to express their class unity beyond sectors and workplaces, linking up as well with their unemployed class comrades.

Thus, two fundamental tendencies that had appeared and developed during the struggles of the 80s:

 

- growing distrust of the unions, a tendency to break out of their grip more and more;

 

- a dynamic towards a wider unity, expressing the proletariat's self-confidence and its growing ability to take charge of its own struggles; appeared once again as soon as the working class returned to the path of struggle, and this in spite of the major reflux it had been through.

This is why, since then; the bourgeoisie has, on an international level, been developing a whole strategy whose central objective has been to restore the credibility of the unions. The spearhead of this strategy was the vast manoeuvre it carried out in France at the end of 1995, through the strikes in the public sector.

 
This strategy of trying to give a positive image to its organs for controlling the working class was not only aimed at halting the 20 years' decline in the unions' credibility, which was once again demonstrated in the first struggles of the resurgence. It also aimed at pushing the workers into positively having confidence in the unions once again. This result began to take concrete form in 1994, notably in Germany and Italy, when the unions started to take control of the struggles again. At the end of the following year, in France, this strategy met with a resounding success. Despite having been very much discredited in this country, the unions managed - through the powerful movement in the public sector, which had in fact been provoked, encouraged and manipulated by the bourgeoisie - to reforge a working class image for themselves. And this was not only because they were able to adopt a combative and radical stance, but also because, taking advantage of the momentary weakness of the workers, they got the latter to believe that they, the unions, were capable of taking up the real needs of the workers' struggle - needs which they had so long opposed and sabotaged, such as sovereign general assemblies, elected and revocable strike committees, the extension of the struggle through massive delegations, etc. Through this movement, which was presented world-wide as an example to follow, which blocked the country for almost a month, and which is supposed to have made the government retreat, the bourgeoisie once again succeeded in making the workers think that they had rediscovered their strength, their ability to fight and their confidence - all thanks to the unions.

Through this manoeuvre the ruling class has responded both to what had appeared violently in Italy (the workers' overflowing and rejection of the bourgeoisie's organs of control), and to what the working class had expressed in the miners'· struggle in the Ruhr (the tendency towards unification, which is key to the workers' capacity to see themselves as a class, to wage an autonomous struggle, and to develop their self-confidence). The year 1995 thus ended with an indisputable victory for the bourgeoisie over the proletariat, a victory which allowed it to erase momentarily the main lessons of the struggles of the 80s.

The bourgeoisie then did everything it could to extend this victory to other countries, to other fractions of the proletariat. Initially and almost simultaneously, it reproduced exactly the same manoeuvre in Belgium: on the one hand, a government which adopted the Juppe method, acting with arrogance and brutality to inflict particularly violent, indeed provocative, attacks on working class living conditions; on the other hand, unions which rediscovered their militancy and called for a massive, united response, pulling in a number of branches within the public sector. As in France, a pseudo-retreat by the government completed the manoeuvre and sanctioned the victory of the bourgeoisie, with the unions as the main beneficiaries.

In the spring of 1996, it was the turn of the German ruling class, using virtually the same methods to attack the workers and reinforce the unions. The difference with what had gone on in France and Belgium was mainly situated at the level of the problem that needed resolving. In Germany, the bourgeoisie's aim was not so much to restore to the unions their lost credit, but to improve their image: faced with the inevitable perspective of a development of workers' struggles, the traditional image of the unions as organs of consensus, specialists in ordered negotiations, was no longer sufficient. New paint was needed to portray them as unions of struggle. This is what they began to do when their main leaders declared their sympathy with the French strikers in December 1995. They then took this further with the struggles and demonstrations which they called and organised in the spring of1996. Now they were intransigent in the defence of workers interests. They have also tried to refine this image in the different mobilisations they have orchestrated since then.

During the greater part of this year, in most European countries, the bourgeoisie has been doing everything it could to prepare for the unavoidable class confrontations of the future. It has been organising all kinds of mobilisations in order to strengthen its unions and to enlarge the influence of trade unionism within the working class. The return in force of the big union federations has been accompanied, especially in France and Italy, by a development of rank-and-file unionist organisations like the SUD (Syndicat Unitaire Democratique) and the FSI (Federation des Syndicats Independents), the COBAS (rank-and-file committees), etc. These organisations, animated by the leftists, have the role of providing critical but indispensable support to the union federations, in order to make sure that the whole of the workers' terrain is covered, to keep control of workers who are beginning to go outside the classical union structures, and, in the final analysis, to draw them back towards these same unions. In the 1980s, the working class had already confronted organisations of this type: the coordinations. Then, however, the latter presented themselves as being anti-union and their job was to do the dirty work that the unions were finding harder and harder to do because they had been so deeply discredited. Today the rank-and-file or fighting unions, which are direct emanations of the big federations (often through splits) have the essential aim of reinforcing and widening the influence of trade unionism and not of feigning opposition to the latter (this is not required in the present situation).

Despite proliferating obstacles, the revival of workers' struggle goes on

For over a year, parallel to all these manoeuvres, the bourgeoisie has been deploying a whole series of ideological campaigns against the working class. Attacking the consciousness of the proletariat is a primary and constant objective of the ruling class.

In the last few years, it has spared no effort at this level. We have dealt with this at length in our press, in particular the massive ideological campaigns that present the collapse of Stalinism as the death of communism and even as the end of the class struggle. At the same time the bourgeoisie has trumpeted the historic victory of capitalism, even if this second lie has been a bit harder to market, given the difficulty of hiding the daily barbarity of its system. It is in this framework that, for over a year now, the bourgeoisie has been increasing its campaigns around the theme of defending democracy.

This is what it has been doing when, with a great fanfare from the media, it tries to mobilise people against the rise of fascism in Europe. This is also what it has been doing, in the last few months, through its crusade against revisionism. Through the latter, it is trying, on the one hand, to whitewash the democratic camp of the monstrous massacres which it, along with the fascist camp, perpetrated during the World War II; at the same time, it is attacking the only real defenders of proletarian internationalism, the revolutionary groups who come out of the communist left, trying to present them as secret accomplices of the extreme right of capital. Finally, it has also been doing this by organising big mobilisations aimed at improving the democratic system, at making it more humane, at overcoming its weaknesses. The workers of Belgium have just been through this via the deafening campaign around the Dutroux affair, in which they were pushed into demanding a cleaner judiciary, a judiciary for the people in monster demonstrations (300,000 at the Brussels demo of 20th October), side by side with bourgeois democrats of all stripes. For several years the workers of Italy have had a similar treatment with the mani politi ("clean hands") campaign.

By stepping up its ideological barrages in this way, the bourgeoisie is obviously trying to derail the process of reflection going on in the working class, to turn it away from its class concerns. This was illustrated very clearly in Belgium, where the campaign around Dutroux made it possible to a great extent to distract the workers from the draconian austerity measures announced by the government for 1997. This was of great benefit to the bourgeoisie, which managed to push through its anti-working class attacks, put off a confrontation with the working class, and thus gain time in order to set up new obstacles and traps.

 

But this manoeuvre by the ruling class in Belgium, which involved strikes and walk -outs in a number of workplaces - instigated by the unions and the leftists - in which workers' demands were effaced by calls for a cleaner judiciary, had another objective: that of taking the proletariat onto a bourgeois terrain. The bourgeoisie is not only trying to derail the workers' consciousness, but also their rising combativity.

This evolution in the attitude of the bourgeoisie is rich with lessons and enables us to understand:

 

- first, that workers' combativity is on the rise and is spreading, in contrast to the situation at the end of 1995 and the beginning of 1996. In fact it was the workers' weakness at this level which the bourgeoisie exploited in launching its preventive manoeuvre. It was this weakness which allowed the unions to return in force and to organise big unitary struggles without fear of being overrun;

 

- secondly, that the manoeuvre initiated in France and taken up in several European countries, despite its success on certain levels (notably in strengthening the unions) is revealing its own limits. If it led to a certain exhaustion amongst the workers, particularly in France where it was carried out on a bigger scale, it has not put things off for very long, it has not prevented the deepening of discontent, which is now beginning to express itself again. Similarly the famous retreats by the Juppe and other governments are now being shown up for what they were: mystifications. To all intents and purposes, the anti-working class measures which the workers were called out to oppose have gone through. As for the much-vaunted victory obtained thanks to the unions, this is more and more felt as a painful memory by the workers who have a bad taste in their mouths, a feeling that they have been had.

Because it is conscious of this situation, the bourgeoisie has somewhat modified its strategy:

 

On the one hand, the unions are tending more and more to limit the breadth of their mobilisations when they are based around class demands, as we saw in France on 17th October and even more so during the week of action from 12th to 16th November; and as for the trade union unity which the big federations were glorifying yesterday, this is now giving way to a policy of division between the different unions, in order to disperse the anger and militancy which are ripening in a dangerous manner.

 

In the case of Spain, to take another example, the divisive tactic of the unions is not for the moment taking the form of quarrels between the different federations. Here, nearly all the unions, with the exception of the radical CNT, called for a campaign of mobilisation (march on Madrid on 23rd November, general strike in the public sector on 11th November) against the wage freeze for state employees announced for 1997 by the right wing government (the same unions did nothing when this policy was regularly carried out by the Socialist party). In this episode, the unity proclaimed by the unions, which was a necessity if they were to have any credibility, was really a cover for the division between the workers in the public sector and those in the private sector, a division completed by the use of partial walk-outs, on different days, and separated into different provinces and regions in order to reinforce regionalist mystifications.

At the same time, the bourgeoisie is not just using its permanent ideological campaigns to muddy the workers consciousness. Through these campaigns it is trying to derail the proletariat from its class terrain, to divert its rising combativity (which it has not managed to smother)into bourgeois demands and interclassist mobilisations. This is what it did in Belgium and Italy with the call to clean up the judiciary. This is also what it did in Spain by calling on the workers to mobilise against the terrorist actions of the ETA.

*****

Contrary to what certain resentful and more or less ill-disposed elements claim, the ICC is not at all underestimating the present efforts of the working class to develop its resistance against the repeated and increasingly violent and massive attacks being mounted by the ruling class. Still less do we have an attitude of disdain towards these efforts. On the contrary: our insistence on exposing the various traps that the bourgeoisie is laying, apart from being a fundamental responsibility of revolutionaries worthy of their names, is above all based on an analysis of the present period, which since 1992 has been characterised by the revival of workers' struggles. For us, the manoeuvre of 1995-6, orchestrated at an international level, was nothing but an attempt by the ruling class to respond to this revival. And its present policy of multiplying obstacles is proof that it knows that the proletarian danger is still present and indeed is on the rise. When we point to this reality, we do so without giving in to euphoria (to do so would be to disarm ourselves in the most stupid manner), without underestimating the enemy, and without denying the difficulties and even the partial retreats and defeats of our class.

Elfe, 16 December 1996