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Economic crisis and class struggle

In our press, we have often characterized the 1980s asthe years of truth’ (see, in particular, the International Review numbers 20 and 26). The first two years of the decade have confirmed this analysis. The years 1980‑81 have witnessed events of the greatest importance, events that are particularly significant for the stakes that will, in large part, be played out during the 1980s --imperialist war or worldwide proletarian revolution.

The illusions about the economic situation -- which determines the whole of social life -- have come brutally to an end; 1980 and 1981 appear as the years of a new recession in the world economy, with a massive growth of inflation and an unprecedented rise in unemployment.

The bourgeoisie’s response to this crisis -- wor­sening inter-imperialist tensions and the preparations for war -- has fully lived up to the causes that prompted it. 1980 began with the invasion of Afghanistan, while at the close of 1981 comes an intense growth in armaments throughout the world, and the opening in Geneva of new negotiations between Russia and the US over ‘disarmament’. We have already seen their role as a smoke-screen designed to conceal the headlong arms-race towards a new holocaust.

The workers’ response has also lived up to the raising of the stakes; during the summer of 1980 there took shape in Poland the mightiest move­ment of the world proletariat for more than half a century. A movement that every bourgeoisie spared no efforts to stifle, and which it has not yet managed to deal with. A movement which showed, at the same time, the capacity of the capitalist class for solidarity in the face of the proletarian struggle, and the necessity for this struggle to spread to the world level.

This article aims to take stock of these three fundamental elements of humanity’s destiny: the capitalist crisis, and the response of bourg­eoisie and proletariat respectively.

A continuously deteriorating economic crisis

In 1969, the leader of the world’s greatest power triumphantly declared: “We have finally learned to manage a modern economy in such a way as to assure its continuous expansion[1]. A year later, the United States entered its worst rec­ession since the war: -0.1% growth of the Gross Domestic Product (nowhere near as bad as it was to become later) .

In 1975, Chirac, Prime Minister of the world’s fifth largest power, was taking his turn to play Nostradamus: “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.” A year later, he was obliged to make way for ‘France’s best economist’, Prof­essor Barre, who, on his departure in May 1981, left the situation even worse than he had found it (unemployment doubled, inflation at 14% inst­ead of 11%).

A year ago, the American bourgeoisie chose Reagan to put an end to the crisis (at least this is what he said). But the remedies concoc­ted by Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize for Econom­ics, and a few other adepts of ‘supply-side economics’ have achieved nothing. The American economy is plunging into a new recession, unemp­loyment is approaching the 10 million mark (a post-war record) , and even David Stockman, dir­ector of the budget, admits that he didn’t really believe in the success of the economic policy for which he himself was largely responsible.

As regularly as autumn follows summer and win­ter follows autumn, the world’s leaders have deceived both themselves and their audience in announcing “the end of the tunnel as if in a surrealist film, the tunnel’s end has seemed to retreat more and more as the train advanced to the point where it is no more than a little speck of light, soon to disappear altogether.

But the western leaders don’t hold a monopoly on hazardous predictions.

In September 1980, Gierek was replaced by Kania at the head of the PUWP for having led the Polish economy to disaster. With Kania, things would be different! And different they were -- to the point where the economic situa­tion of the summer of 1980 takes on an air of prosperity compared with the situation today; a fall in production of 4% has been followed by a collapse of 15%. Kania, after being tri­umphantly re-elected to the leadership of the party in July, disappeared into oblivion in October.

As for Brezhnev, his regularly disappointed predictions are at least as numerous as the plenary sessions of the Central Committee of the CPSU. In an outburst of lucidity, and with a certain humor that was probably unintended, Brezhnev recently finished by observing that after three consecutive years of bad harvests caused by the weather, the analysis of the Russian climate would have to be revised.

In recent years, the whole of Comecon has been marked by a chronic inability to meet the obj­ectives of the 1976-1980 plan. While the most ‘serious’ member, East Germany, managed to raise the national income by 80% of the plan’s forecast, for Hungary this figure falls to 50%. As for Poland, its growth in relation to 1976 has been zero, which comes down to saying that it produces only 70% of what was forecast by the planners. So much for the ‘great wor­kers’ victory’ that the planned economy is supposed to represent, according to the Trotskyists!

As for the state monopoly of foreign trade -- the other ‘great workers’ victory’ according to the Trotskyists -- it too has demonstrated its remarkable effectiveness: the countries that make up Comecon are among the most indebted in the world.

As for the myth of the absence of inflation in these countries, it has been killed off ever since the massive and repeated official price increases -- going as high as 200% (eg 170% on the price of bread in Poland) .

In 1936, Trotsky saw the economic progress of the USSR as proof of socialism’s superiority over capitalism; “There is no longer any need to argue with the bourgeois economists; socialism has shown its right to victory, not in the pages of Capital, but in an economic ar­ena that covers a sixth of the planet; not in the language of dialectics, but in that of iron, cement and electricity[2].

With the same logic, we would today be obliged to come to the opposite conclusion -- that cap­italism is superior to socialism, so obvious is the economic weakness and fragility of the so-called ‘socialist’ countries. Moreover, this is the battle-cry of the western econ­omists to justify their defense of the capit­alist mode of production. In fact, the crisis hitting the eastern bloc is a new illustra­tion of what revolutionaries have always said -- that there is nothing socialist about the USSR and its satellites. These are capitalist econ­omies, and relatively under-developed ones at that.

But the cries of satisfaction coming from the defenders of private capitalism, as they point the finger of scorn at the countries of the eastern bloc are unable, though this is their purpose, to conceal the gravity of the crisis in the very heart of the citadels of world capital.

The following graphs give an idea of the dev­elopment of the three main economic indicators for the whole of the OECD (ie the most devel­oped western countries): these are inflation, the annual variation in the Gross Domestic Product and the rate of unemployment.

The yearly figures are already significant in themselves, but it is more interesting to ex­amine the mean for a period of several years (1961-64, 1965-69, 1970-74, 1975-79, 1980-81). For the three indicators that we are consider­ing, the figures show a constant deterioration in the situation of western capitalism. 

AVERAGE VALUE OF THREE ECONOMIC INDICATORS (in %)

Period

65-69

70-74

75-79

80-81

Annual variation in GNP (OECD total)

5.1

3.9

3.1

1.25

Rate of unemployment (15 principal OECD countries)

2.66

3.36

5.16

6.35

Annual variation in consumer prices (OECD total)

3.7

7.4

9.3

11.7

For some people, of course, this is not yet the ‘real’ crisis, since we have not seen a massive decline in production over a long per­iod, as was the case during the 30s: for the moment, the average rates of growth are still positive. There are two things to be said in reply to this argument:

1) As we have already pointed out in previous articles, while the bourgeoisie has not ‘learnt’ to resolve the crisis -- for the good reason that it is insoluble -- it has, by contrast, learnt since 1929 how to slow down its devel­opment, in particular through the massive use of state capitalist measures, and through the leading countries in each bloc taking in hand the affairs of a number of their satellites (essentially via Comecon in the eastern, and via the OECD and the IMF in the western bloc) . Moreover, it is worth remarking that notwith­standing inter-imperialist antagonisms, the richer bloc may, when the need arises, come to the aid of the stricken economy of a coun­try in the enemy bloc, especially if it is threatened by social upheavals. Western aid to Poland and the adherence of Poland and Hungary to the IMF are good illustrations of this.

2) The existence of a real crisis is not indic­ated solely by a decline in production. The continuing decline in the average rates of growth, clearly shown by the graph, demon­strates that something has definitively broken down in the world economic machinery. Further­more, the present massive introduction of automation means that the yearly rate of inc­rease in labor productivity is such that, in good times or bad, and even if many companies have to shut up shop, the total volume of pro­duction may increase from one year to another, without this indicating the slightest health in the economy[3].

In fact, among the most significant indicat­ors of the deepening crisis, the increase in unemployment is especially important. This is a direct expression of capitalism’s inability to integrate new workers into its productive apparatus. Worse still, it expresses the be­ginning of their large-scale rejection. And this is the case not only in the Third World, as it was during the post-war reconstruction, but in the capitalist metropoles themselves -- the developed countries. This is a flagrant sign of the historical bankruptcy of a mode of production whose mission was to spread its relations of production -- the exploitation of wage labor -- throughout the world, but which is now not even capable of maintaining them in its own strongholds (not to mention the sit­uation in the Third World, where unemployment has held tragic sway for decades).

The development of the rate of inflation is another highly significant indicator of the constant breakdown in capitalism’s function­ing. Inflation is a direct expression of cap­italism’s headlong flight forward which has become its mode of survival. Unable to find solvent outlets for its production, the sys­tem is drawing credits on its future by in­debting itself massively and continuously. And it is the state that shows the way. By means of constantly growing budget deficits and use of paper money, the bourgeoisie tries to create artificial markets to re­place those that slip from the grasp of national production. Currencies are more and more turning into ‘funny money’, IOUs put out by states that are themselves no longer solvent. And this ‘funny money’ can only go on diminishing in value, whence the increase in inflation.

When it tries to put a limit to this phenomenon, economic policy only succeeds, in the end, in bringing about a recession: the attempt to mort­gage the future a little less puts the present more at risk. We have seen the result of Mrs. Thatcher’s ‘shock treatment’, which incr­eased unemployment by 68% in a year, to over 3 million (a record since the ‘30s). Reagan’s magic potion has also had wonderful results: 9 million unemployed, 8.4% of the working pop­ulation in November 1981 (Reagan had under­taken not to go beyond 8%). As for Schmidt’s elixir, it also has proved its worth -- unemp­loyment increased by 54% in a year.

In fact, every bourgeoisie is caught more and more tightly between two scissor-blades: recession and inflation. Every attempt to escape one of these scourges ends up falling into the other -- without, however, getting away from the first.

Reagan, for example, amongst many other pro­mises, announced a reduction of the budget deficit to $42.5 billion for the fiscal year 1981-2: the forecast is now in the order of $100 billion for this fiscal year, and $125 billion and $145 billion for the following two.

We could go on citing figures which all high­light the dead-end that capitalism has run into. In fact, plain common sense is enough to see that this system’s crisis has no solution: if the conditions of 1965-69 brought about the worse conditions of 1970-74 (see Table 4) , and if these in their turn resulted in the still worse ones of 1975-79, it is hard to see how, or by what miracle, things could suddenly get better.

Already in 1974, the then French president Giscard d’Estaing declared, in a burst of lucidity: “The world is unhappy. It is unhappy because it does not know where it is going, and guesses that if it knew, it would find out that it is heading for a catastrophe (24/10/74).

More recently, the OECD in its July 1981 ‘Economic Perspectives’ gave a touching ex­ample of the anguish that grips the bourg­eoisie every time it considers its own future. Put off by years of forecasts that have turned out to be overoptimistic, and refusing to probe lucidly into the world’s economic future for fear of “finding that it is heading for a catastrophe”, this serious organization if ever there was one wrote: “In most countries, the immediate perspective is complex and difficult.... Forecasts can never be considered as certain. Even behavior, whose reg­ularity, which is the very basis of any fore­cast, appears to be well-established, can change, sometimes very abruptly…..     

If, as often happens, the many hypotheses at the foundation of our forecasts are not confirmed, the future can appear in a very diff­erent light.

In other words, the OECD admitted that it was no longer of any use ... This inability of the bourgeoisie to forecast its own future ex­presses the fact that as a class it no longer has any future to offer humanity other than a general holocaust.

Only the working class can give humanity any future. This is why it alone is able to understand the perspectives facing the world today, in particular through its revolutionary currents basing themselves firmly on Marxist theory. This is why revolutionaries, without any of the immense resources for study and investigation available to the bourgeoisie, were able to write as early as 1972:

... the coming crisis is indeed of the same type as those which have plunged the world during the 20th century into the greatest catastrophes and barbarities of its existence. This is no longer a crisis of growth like those of the previous century, but a true death-crisis.

Without wanting to make predictions as to the time-scale, we can therefore indicate the following perspectives for the capitalist world:

-- massive reduction in world commerce;

-- commercial wars between different countries;

-- setting-up of' protectionist measures, and the break-up of customs unions (EEC etc);

-- a return to autarky;

-- falling production;

-- massive increase in unemployment;

-- reduction in workers’ real wages.

(Revolution Internationale Ancienne Serie no 7, March/April 1972)

And it is for the same reasons that in 1968, at a time when no-one yet spoke of the crisis, which revolutionaries were already writing:

1967 saw the fall of the £ Sterling, 1968 has seen Johnson’s measures; and as inter-imperial­ist struggles make the threat of war ever more present, we see the decomposition of the capit­alist system, which was hidden for a few years by the intoxication of the ‘progress’ that foll­owed the Second World War.

We are not prophets, and we do not claim to guess when and how future events will take place. But what we are indeed aware and sure of', as far as the process that capitalism is at present plunged in is concerned, is that it cannot be stopped by reforms, devaluations or any other variety of capitalist economic meas­ure, and that it is leading directly to crisis.(Internacionalismo, January 1968. Press of the ICC in Venezuela.)

The bourgeoisie’s response to the crisis

Increasingly, the bourgeoisie is mortgaging the future, through runaway indebtedness and inflation. But its forward flight is not limited to the economic level. As in the past, at the bottom of the economic abyss lies generalized imperialist war. As surely as the great crisis of the 30s led to World War II, so the present crisis is pushing capitalism to a third holo­caust.

The threat of war no longer has to be demon­strated -- it is more and more among the daily preoccupations of the vast majority of the population. It is enshrined in the enormous acceleration in all countries’ military efforts, and especially in that of the most powerful countries: as he presented his military program, Reagan declared (12 October): “No American administration since Eisenhower has presented a nuclear project of this scale. It appears in the development and installation of new and ever more sophisticated weapons: the Backfire bomber and the SS-20 on the Russian side, neutron bomb, cruise missile and Per­shing 2 on the American. It is revealed in the fact that more and more it is Europe -- central theatre of the two previous world wars -- that is becoming the main ground for military prep­arations: the present controversy and the Russian-US negotiations at Geneva over ‘Euro­missiles’ are good illustrations. In the same way as the crisis struck violently first at capitalism’s periphery, and then struck at its heart, so war, which has for so long confined its ravages to the Third World (Far East, Middle East and Africa) , now extends its threat to the metropoles.

But the third holocaust is not being prepared by the accumulation of armaments alone. It also in­volves a process of closing ranks around the leading countries of the two blocs. This is especially clear in the west, where despite all the declarations and campaigns of the various parties, the governments are drawn into toeing the line behind the positions of the US. Schmidt, for example, has seemed to be acting as a sharp-shooter and to be disobeying Amer­ican instructions. In fact his 22 November meeting with Brezhnev was not an occasion for infidelity to his bloc: quite the reverse -- the positions he adopted during this meeting even earned him the congratulations of the right-wing opposition in the Bundestag.

For his part, Mitterand has adopted a fine air of independence from the US as far as the Third World is concerned. At the North-South summit of Cancun, he made a song and dance against Reagan’s positions and in favor of ‘global negotiations’ between developed and under­developed countries, so that the former should come to the aid of the latter, Two days prev­iously, in Mexico City, he had made a moving speech, prepared by his counselor Regis Debray (one-time admirer of Che Guevara), in which he addressed himself to “those who take up arms to defend their liberty. His message to “all freedom fighters was that “courage, freedom will win!

These declarations, along with the recognition of the E1 Salvador guerrilla movements, seemed like spanners in the works of American policy. In fact, it was simply a division of labor within the western bloc between those who use the language of intimidation (which is dominant as far as the Third World is concerned) and those who have the specific job of giving the western bloc control over opposition and guerr­illa movements and preventing them from going over to the Russians.

The American bloc has already long since del­egated to French imperialism the job of keep­ing order in certain zones in the Third World. Mitterand has taken over the job of policing Africa from Giscard (as we have recently seen in Chad). Given his ‘socialist’ and ‘humanist’ image, he has also been given a mandate, along with his Mexican acolyte Lopez Portillo, of doing the bloc’s public relations as regards the bourgeois movements struggling against Latin America’s military regimes.

But these ‘deviant’ declarations do not express the real ties between French and Amer­ican imperialism. These are to be seen in Mitterand’s other declarations, following the 18 October meeting with Reagan at York­town:

These were good conversations. Dialogue is easy between friends ... We spoke with the frankness of old friends who can say everything without destroying anything; and Mitterand emphasized “the good health of Franco-American friendship, which is not threatened by our divergences.

The idea of a rise in neutralism, so often put forward in the bourgeois media (and which finds a complement in the idea of the ‘disintegra­tion of the blocs’ so dear to the groups Pour une Intervention Communiste and Volonte Comm­uniste), is basically no more than a propaganda exercise, aimed at allowing the continued strengthening of the ties amongst members of the western bloc, faced with its growing imper­ialist rivalries with the Russian bloc.

A recent illustration of this tendency to strengthen the western bloc was given by Sadat’s assassination, in which the ‘hand of Moscow’ was detected -- as propaganda demanded. In reality, Sadat’s death was very convenient for the west. On the one hand, it allowed the replacement of an increasingly unpopular leader confronting a growing social discontent. Continued US support for Sadat was likely to end up in an Iran-style situation. On the other hand, (as Cheysson, French Minister of Foreign Affairs bluntly put it) it opened the way towards reconciliation amongst the Arab coun­tries, and especially the two most powerful -- Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And this restoration of Arab unity, which had fallen apart after the Camp David agreements, and which can only be realized under the American aegis, is indeed one of the spearheads of western imper­ialism in the face of instability in Iran and the Russian thrust in Afghanistan. If anyone’s ‘hand’ is behind the religious extremists who carried out the assassination, it is certainly not the KGB’s, but rather the CIA’s -- which, moreover, was responsible for Sadat’s security arrangements.

Sadat’s assassination was presented as a threat to ‘peace’. In a sense this is true, but for quite different reasons from those put forward by western propaganda. If this event contri­butes to the march towards war, it is not because Sadat was a ‘man of peace’; he never has been, whether in 1973 when he started the war against Israel, or at Camp David, designed to strengthen the west’s political and military positions in the Middle East, in the framework of the ‘Pax Americana’. And, as always in dec­adent capitalism, peace in one part of the world is simply a preparation for a still more widespread and murderous war elsewhere.

This is a cruel reality of the world today: peace, and talk of peace, has no other purpose than to pave the way for war. This is the significance of the present enormous pacifist campaigns being unleashed in Western Europe.

History shows that world wars have always been prepared by pacifist campaigns. Even before 1914, the reformist wing of the Social-Democ­racy, notably under Jaures’ leadership, under­took an intense pacifist propaganda -- the better to call the workers to war in August 1914 in the name of ‘defending civilization’: the same civilization which they proposed pre­viously to defend by demonstrating for peace. While Jaures, who was assassinated on the eve of the war, did not have the chance to take this final step, by contrast Leon Jouhaux, leader of CGT and who had taken a leading part in the pacifist campaigns, ended up in the Government of National Unity. From before 1914 then, the pacifism promoted by the reformists was one of capitalism’s methods used to bind the proletariat hand and foot, and hurl it into the imperialist massacre.

In the same way, in 1934, the Amsterdam-Plegel movement (so called after the two towns that hosted the preparatory conferences) fixed itself the objective of the struggle for peace, under the aegis of the Stalinist parties and their fellow-travelers, with the participa­tion of the Socialists and the enthusiastic adherence of the Trotskyists (and even the anarchists). This movement ended up in the ‘Popular Fronts’ against fascism (supposedly the main war-monger) , and was one of the means by which the proletariat was mobilized for World War II.

The same maneuver was used again at the begin­ning of the ‘50s, when the ‘cold war’ made its appearance as the preliminary of a Third World War. Following the ‘Stockholm appeal’ against atomic weapons, the Stalinist parties set in motion an immense campaign of petition-signing ‘for peace’, which met with a certain unden­iable success (to the point where prostitutes caught in the act of soliciting their clients claimed in their defense to be soliciting signatures for the petition!).'Although this time, the inter-imperialist tensions did not result in a new world war, the methods for preparing it had once again been put to work.

Why are wars always preceded by pacifist cam­paigns?

In the first place, by proposing to put pressure on governments to ‘keep the peace’ or ‘give up armaments’, they give credence to the idea that governments have a choice between several policies, that imperialist war is not an inevitable evil of decadent capitalism, but the result of a ‘war-mongering’ policy on the part of a particular section of the bourg­eoisie. Once this idea is well fixed in the workers’ heads, it can then be used to con­vince them that it is ‘the other country’s’ bourgeoisie that is ‘war-mongering’, that ‘wants war’, and so that the ‘sacred union’ is necessary to fight it and prevent its victory. This is how the French Socialists in 1914 called for a struggle against ‘Pruss­ian militarism’, and the German Socialists for a struggle against ‘Tsarism and its allies’. This is how the Stalinists and social-demo­crats prepared the ‘anti-fascist’ crusade of World War II.

Secondly, pacifist campaigns tend to deny class differences and antagonisms, in that they draw together all those citizens who are ‘against war’. In doing so, they channel and dilute proletarian combativity into an inter-classist morass, where all ‘men of goodwill’ meet, but where the proletariat loses sight of its class interests. They are thus a formidable barrier to the class struggle -- which is the only real obstacle to the bourgeois conclusion to the contradictions of capitalism: imperialist war.

This is why, both before and during World War I (in particular under Lenin’s leadership), rev­olutionaries fought against pacifism, and put forward the revolutionary slogan “Change the imperialist war into a civil war” against slogans of the reformists; this is why they explained that the scourge of war could dis­appear only with the disappearance of capitalism itself. In the same way, the only ones to re­main on a class terrain between the wars and during the second were those who maintained this position against the pacifists of the day.

Today’s pacifist campaigns have exactly the same function as those in the past. They are the follow-up to the previous campaigns for the ‘defense of human rights’ promoted by Carter, and the ‘defense of the free world’ promoted by Reagan. But while the previous campaigns were in the main a failure, the pacifist ones are meeting with a far greater success, for they are based on a real anxiety on the part especially of the population of Western Europe. For the moment, they are not directly anti-Russian as were their predecessors. In some places they even enjoy the support of the eastern bloc, through the Stalinist parties. But even if their main target is for the mom­ent the military policy of the western bloc (in particular the Pershing and cruise missiles and the neutron bomb), this is only of second­ary importance, since they are only a first step in the mobilization of the proletariat in the west behind ‘its’ bloc. At the right moment it will be ‘shown’ that the real danger to peace is the ‘other side’, the eastern bloc. In the meantime, the object is above all to prevent the proletariat from appearing as an autonomous social force, as it has begun to do especially since the strikes in Poland.

The main thing for the bourgeoisie is that the workers should be unable to understand the link between the struggles they are forced to wage against austerity, and the struggle against the threat of war. Nothing worries the capitalist class more than the prospect of the proletariat becoming aware of what is really at stake in its struggles, since the significance of the class struggle today is not limited to the economic demands which accompany it; it is a real barrier to the bourgeoisie’s preparations for imperialist war, and constitutes the work­ing class’ preparations for the overthrow of capitalism.

The pacifist campaigns are thus a smoke­screen designed to mislead the working class, to take it onto unfavorable ground, and to imprison its struggles in the strictly econ­omic arena. They aim at defusing the resurg­ence of the class struggle and in so doing, to remove capitalism’s only real obstacle on the road to imperialist war.

The role of revolutionaries is to denounce them as such.

What perspectives for the working class?

The struggle of the working class, because it threatens the very foundations of this society of exploitation and not just a particular section of it, and because it therefore obliges the world bourgeoisie to close ranks, is the only force within society capable of throwing the imperialist war out of gear. We have seen this once again during 1980. Following the invasion of Afghanistan, the first part of the year was dominated by an unprecedented aggrav­ation of inter-bloc tension. By contrast, as soon as the mass strike exploded in Poland, the overall situation was transformed.

The escalation of war propaganda was temp­orarily halted, and in November of 1980, even before his investiture, Reagan sent his per­sonal ambassador Percy to renew a contact with the Russian government that had been broken since the end of 1979. Although America continued its diatribes over Poland, they had a quite different meaning from those following the invasion of Afghanistan. Certainly, the occasion is too good to miss for presenting Russia to western opinion as the ‘bad guy’ that has it in for ‘the independence of the Polish people’. But the main purpose of America’s warnings to the USSR against any temptation to invade Poland was precisely to make this threat credible in the eyes of Polish workers, and thus encourage them to stick to ‘moderation’.

Confronting the proletariat in Poland, we have seen the creation of a real ‘Holy Alliance’ of the whole world bourgeoisie, which has shared out the dirty work both on the external level (eastern and western blocs) and on the internal (UPWP and Solidarity) so as to isolate the proletariat and curb its struggle[4]. This is why the question of the worldwide generalization of proletarian combat has become so fundamental, as we have so often emphasized in these pages[5].

Today we can see how, for lack of such generalization, the bourgeoisie has progressively recovered the ground that it had to yield in August 1980. By deciding (2 December 1981) to use force against the striking trainee firemen (6000 riot police against 300 firemen) the Polish authorities scored a new point against the working class. This progressive recovery goes back to February 1981 with Jaruzelski’s appointment as head of government. It opened out in March with police violence at Bydgoszcz, where the authorities deliberately provoked the working class (even if Walesa presented the affair as ‘a plot against Jaruzelski’), so that they could go ahead with preparing for the repression. And moreover, it was not so much the government as Solidarity that played the crucial part here. After a lot of noise over a 4-hour warning strike and the preparation of an unlimited general strike, Solidarity signed a compromise with the government and made the workers swallow it.

The process continued with Jaruzelski’s nomin­ation in October as First Secretary of the UPWP. From this moment, the general held three key posts: at the head of the party, the govern­ment and the army. And, just as after his nom­ination in February, that of October was foll­owed by a brutal and still more massive use of the police -- this time under his direct respon­sibility.

Today, it is once again up to Solidarity -- using a radicalized language if necessary -- to defuse the accumulating discontent of the workers, who are faced with the government’s counter-offensive and the continuing decline of their living conditions. And so, on 7 December, the government gleefully and repeatedly broadcast Walesa’s radical words at the 3 December meeting of Solidarity’s leaders, following the police intervention:

I've got no more illusions. Things have gone so far that we mus to tell people everything, tell them that what’s at stake is nothing less than changing reality. No system can be changed without breaking something. The main thing is to win.

The aim of this government maneuver is obvious: to intimidate the population by threatening serious repercussions to such talk. The other aim is to refurbish Walesa’s image amongst the most combative workers, since the government will still need him to calm them down when the moment comes.

The bourgeoisie’s strategy is obvious -- to drive the proletariat to a choice between capitulation or a head-on attack which it knows it would lose, given its present isolation.

This is why the international generalization of the class struggle appears every day as a still more imperious necessity.

For the moment, this generalization is slow in coming. In the eastern bloc, we have seen a rising combativity amongst the workers most hard-hit by the crisis -- in Rumania (where the government has taken over the western pacifist campaigns!). This combativity will only find a full expression in every country, east and west, when the economic pressure on the working masses becomes intolerable. With the worsening of the crisis, this pressure is dev­eloping everywhere. But at first, it tends to provoke a greater passivity in the proletariat (although the significance of such figures should always be examined with caution, stat­istics reveal an almost universal decline in strike-days lost and in the number of disputes for 1980 and the beginning of 1981). This does not mean that the proletariat has already lost -- although this would become a danger were such passivity to continue. Rather, it is a sign of awareness spreading through the class of what is at stake in the coming struggles, of the full extent of the tasks that await it. If the proletariat still hesitates, this is because it is beginning to realize that ‘the years of truth’ have begun.

F.M.  (8 December 1981)



[1] Richard Nixon’s inaugural address, January 1969.

[2] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, chapter 1, section 1.

[3] The development of new automation techniques does not, however, prevent growth in productivity from slowing down, or even declining in certain countries (the US for example). This should not be seen as a ‘failure of technology’, but as an effect of the crisis itself, which reduces the level of use of industrial potential and slows down productive investment (through lack of solvent outlets). As the OECD drily notes:

…..one of the min aims of governmental policy should be to create an environment where market stimulants incite companies to improve their performance and their ability to innovate….. obviously, the recommended technological renewal can only take place in favorable economic conditions. There is thus a great risk that companies do not innovate at a sufficient rhythm, preferring to wait until the business climate stabilizes.” (‘The Stakes of the North-South Technology Transfer’, OECD, Paris 1981.)

As it deepens, the crisis undermines capitalism’s ability to conceal its gravity.    

[4] See our articles in International Reviews nos 23, 24, 25, 27.

[5] See especially the texts of the ICC’s Fourth Congress in International Review no 26.