World Revolution no.300, Dec/Jan 2006/07

The working class is a class of immigrants

The attacks on Muslims don’t let up. Politicians say that the veil is threatening. Islam is evil, say the BNP, and the pope possibly agrees. Muslim ‘communities’ are supposed to be hot beds of terrorism, ready to inflict further atrocities such as 9/11 and 7/7. Muslims are accused of not integrating into or embracing British culture. Ministers say they should expect to be stopped and searched more than other people.

Muslims aren’t the only minority that are being attacked as an ‘alien presence’. More than half a million immigrants from eastern Europe have come to Britain since 2004. The press accuses them of taking jobs and benefits and undermining wages. The government is already preparing to crack down on future immigration from Romania and Bulgaria. There are scare stories about the numbers of illegal immigrants in the country. The press wails that not enough asylum seekers are being sent back. Where once it was only right-wing politicians like Thatcher who would talk about Britain being “swamped by an alien culture”, and then Blunkett who said that the children of asylum seekers were “swamping” schools and should be taught separately, it is now OK to say things that were once seen as unacceptable or even racist.

This is not something that’s limited to Britain. In France the government is expelling more and more immigrants every year, and continually pushing for Muslims to integrate into French society. In the Netherlands the recent general election continued the focus on immigration that had dominated the elections of 2002 and 2003, and the Burka is to be made illegal! In the US, although the legislative proposals that would have expelled 12 million people did not go through, there are still plans to extend the barrier on the Mexican frontier for up to 2000 miles, which will involve an army of 18,000 border guards.

Everywhere you can hear the chatter about the ‘clash of civilisations’ as nations close down their frontiers and demonise minorities, whether Muslims, asylum seekers, or immigrants.

Capitalism ‘frees’ workers to sell their labour power

Current estimates suggest that there are as many as 200 million people living outside the country they were born in. With more than 4.5 million British passport holders officially living abroad, to take one example, the world figure is probably much too low. People move for many reasons: because of famine and draught, war, disease, poverty and persecution. But wherever you go you can’t escape capitalist barbarism.

The movement of population has a particular significance within capitalism. “Capitalism necessarily creates mobility of the population, something not required by previous systems of social economy and impossible under them on anything like a large scale” (Lenin The Development of Capitalism in Russia “The ‘Mission’ of Capitalism”). In the early history of capitalism, its period of ‘primitive accumulation’, the first wage labourers had their ties with feudal masters severed and “great masses of men are suddenly and forcibly torn from their means of subsistence, and hurled onto the labour-market as free, unprotected and rightless proletarians. The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil is the basis of the whole process” (Marx, Capital volume 1, Chapter 26). Marx gives the example of the great English landowners dismissing their retainers and these “tenants chased off the smaller cottagers etc, then, firstly a mass of living labour powers were thereby thrown onto the labour market, a mass which was free in a double sense, free from the old relations of clientship, bondage and servitude, and secondly free of all belongings and possessions, and of every objective, material form of being, free of all property: dependent on the sale of its labour capacity or on begging, vagabondage and robbery as its only source of income” (Grundrisse Pelican 1977 p507).

In this process we see the migration of workers from agricultural areas to the towns. Although essential to the process of capitalist development, this massive rural exodus that ripped the peasant from the land brought people into towns and cities where life expectancy was lower, disease more widespread, exploitation more intensive and living conditions worse.

For capitalism in the 19th century migration was an essential factor in its development. Between 1848 and 1914 some 50 million workers left Europe, 20 million between 1900 and 1914, mostly for America. Initially, until the 1890s, emigration was heaviest from the more industrially developed countries, such as Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. Later there was greater emigration from the less industrialised countries of southern and eastern Europe which had suffered agricultural crises: less skilled workers that took whatever jobs were available at lower wages.

But while for most of the 19th century this population movement contributed to the development of capitalism, subsequent emigration has been essentially driven by negative factors, by persecution, by the need to escape conflict, by the flight from famine and poverty.

It is true that in the period after the Second World War countries of western Europe needed labour from the ex-colonies to use in the process of reconstruction, but by the end of the 1960s governments had started introducing a whole range of restrictive measures.

Many bourgeois spokesmen still say that another wave of migration to western Europe is needed to fill the gaps left by  a declining and aging population. But at the moment the dominant campaign involves the demonisation of immigrants. In the context of wars, economic crisis and social problems, it is not the capitalist system that is being blamed but the immigrants who are ‘flooding’ the country, as well as those who are here who won’t integrate.

False alternatives from the left

On the left of the Labour Party and in the various leftist groups there is a perpetual outrage against bigotry and the scapegoating of minorities by the government and media. Yet they have nothing to offer except further diversions.

For example, the fraud of multiculturalism is every bit as divisive as the right wing campaigns on alien invasions that it echoes. The basic idea of multiculturalism is that every one has a basic identity, whether religious or ethnic, that comes before all other considerations. You might be a worker or a boss of a multinational, but the multicultural ideology insists that you are a Muslim, Hindu or Christian first, or Irish, Somalian or Pakistani before anything else.

This idea is not limited to liberal anti-racism, but is found in Trotskyist groups like the SWP. They ridicule the idea that the veil, for example, is in any way oppressive, arguing that it’s a statement of identity against rising Islamophobia. Fundamentally the identity politics of the left agree with the racist ideas of the right in their intention to divide up the working class into a set of religious and ethnic ghettos. Yes, it’s true that there are many cultural differences within the population of most countries. In London for example more than 300 languages are spoken. But the workers’ movement at its healthiest has always been able to incorporate workers from all backgrounds, regardless of language or national background.

Another aspect of the response to the current campaigns is anti-racism, in particular focussed on groups like the BNP. The story is told that these people are fascists with a particularly extreme ideology, and that all decent people should unite against them to ensure they’re kept from power. This rather ignores the reality of all the capitalist governments that have been quite capable of imposing repressive legislation, restricting immigration and whipping up racist intolerance, all within the framework of democracy.

There’s also a quaint variety of anti-racism that sees it as unbritish. Trevor Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, said, after a recent case involving the BNP leader, that “Nick Griffin’s remarks were lawful, but not respectful. He is British, yes, but his behaviour is alien.” This apostle of moderation sees the problems facing society as coming from the ‘alien’ extremists, the fascists and Islamic fundamentalists. If only everyone could just fall in with the example of the Labour government, talking of ‘empowerment’ while reinforcing repression.

But the most harmful idea from the left is that the verbal and physical attacks on minorities can be dealt with through changes in the law. After the Morecambe Bay deaths of Chinese cocklers, for example, the SWP thought it outrageous that there were no controls on gang-masters. It didn’t actually take long for the Labour government to introduce regulations, nor to see how little conditions have changed for those living on the margins. Or, as another example, there is the idea that immigration laws can be repealed. You can be sure that if the laws are changed it’s because it’s in interests of the capitalist ruling class. In the 1950s workers were recruited from abroad for the NHS and transport industries without any legal obstacles. Subsequently there was a Labour-Tory consensus on introducing restrictive laws.

In France there have also been suggestions as to how the state could change things and reduce the potential for rioting in the Paris banlieus. It’s been suggested that the police should be better trained, in particular in dealing with racism in its ranks. A change in the way that public sector housing is allocated has also been proposed.

Everywhere that frontiers are closing down and bigotry is becoming more and more respectable there is a left wing alternative. But the left’s idea that the state is somehow neutral, goes against the experience of the working class. In capitalist society the state defends the interests of the ruling capitalist class.

The working class has been a class of migrants since the first serfs and villains were torn from the land. It is a class marked by a solidarity that has nothing to do with sentimentalism but stems from the shared experience of exploitation by a capitalist system that now covers the world. Against capitalist attempts to divide us into religious and ethnic segments, it is necessary to struggle as a class, to forge a consciousness of our class interests, of our class identity, of the perspective for the development of the struggle. Against the racists of the right and the reformism and identity politics of the left we insist that the working class has no country and that the workers of all countries need to unite in defence of their interests.   WR. 2/12/06

 

 

 

Geographical: 

British strategy further undermined after the war in Lebanon

During the Israeli offensive against Lebanon during the summer Tony Blair tried to present Britain as a key player in the search for a solution. In the end what passed for a solution was concocted by France and America. Blair was deliberately excluded. After announcing that he was delaying his holiday to deal with the crisis and waiting for several days for a phone call, he had to accept reality and accordingly left for his holiday. The episode not only revealed that Blair’s shift towards America after 9/11 had backfired, but also that the whole attempt to construct an independent policy between the US and Europe, which the British bourgeoisie has followed since the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989, is failing. Far from Britain increasing its position and influence in the world it has declined. Blair himself was faced with a fierce campaign from within the ruling class that culminated in September with the attempt to remove him. This failed, but he was forced to curtail his stated plan to serve a third full term and to confirm that he would be gone within the year.

The struggle over imperialist strategy continues

In the immediate aftermath of the conflict in the Lebanon there has been a continuation of the struggle within the ruling class that we pointed to in the article on the Lebanon in WR 297 but there has also been the first signs of changes in approach.

In his speech to the Labour Party conference shortly after the conflict in the Lebanon ended, Tony Blair maintained his defence of the current policy, using the same, almost messianic, language as in previous speeches. He renewed his claim to a central role in resolving the world’s conflicts, declaring: “I will dedicate myself, with the same commitment I have given to Northern Ireland, to advancing peace between Israel and Palestine. I may not succeed. But I will try because peace in the Middle East is a defeat for terrorism”.

However, the pressure on Blair from the ruling class has been unrelenting. In particular, the military has become openly critical. Just a day or two after his conference speech an internal Ministry of Defence paper was leaked that directly contradicted Blair’s rejection of any link between Iraq and the growth of terrorism: “The war in Iraq ... has acted as a recruiting sergeant for extremists across the Muslim world ... Iraq has served to radicalise an already disillusioned youth and al-Qaida has given them the will, intent, purpose and ideology to act.” (Guardian, 28/09/06). It also stated that Britain had sent troops into Afghanistan “with its eyes closed” (ibid). A second leaked document asserted that: “British armed forces are effectively held hostage in Iraq - following the failure of the deal being attempted by COS [chief of staff] to extricate UK armed forces from Iraq on the basis of ‘doing Afghanistan’ - and we are now fighting (and arguably losing or potentially losing) on two fronts.” (ibid). This was followed by leaks that senior military figures wanted a change in policy and in mid October the head of the army publicly criticised the government’s policy, arguing that “[we] should get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence only exacerbates the problems” (Guardian 13/10/06). Such open criticism by a serving senior officer flouts the conventions of the British ruling class but the general was not dismissed or punished in any way. On the contrary, he remained in place, winning widespread praise while Tony Blair actually said that he agreed with the comments! This attack, far from being the words of a humble soldier concerned for his men, was a calculated blow that exposed Blair’s weakness and humiliated him in public.

Signs of change

Over the last two months there have been hints of a change in approach as the emphasis has shifted to a timescale for the troops to withdraw and the Iraqi government to take over responsibility. In late October Blair reportedly discussed this with the Iraqi Prime Minister while a junior minister said publicly that Iraqi forces would be able to take over in 12 months. It was also reported that British military forces would soon be withdrawn from Bosnia. A month later the Foreign Secretary declared that control in the south of Iraq could be handed over in the Spring. Perhaps significantly the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, entered the discussion when he suggested during his first visit to the country that troop numbers could drop in a few months time.

During his annual speech on foreign policy in mid-November Blair defended his policy, saying that giving up either the relationship with the US or with Europe was “insane” since “in today’s world a foreign policy based on strong alliances, is the only ‘British’ policy which works”.  He went on to call for a “whole Middle East” strategy, beginning with Israel/Palestine and moving on to the Lebanon. Despite subsequent media reports about offering an opening to Syria and Iran, he referred only in passing to the former and was strongly critical of the latter, accusing it of following a strategy of “using the pressure points in the region to thwart us” and called for a counter strategy to defeat it. In fact Britain’s aim seems to be to separate the two. Thus in early November a senior envoy was sent to Syria for talks while Britain’s military participated in exercises off the Iranian coast to practice blocking its oil exports. The overriding aim seems to be to regain some influence in the Middle East. This was dealt a direct blow in the middle of November when Spain, France and Italy launched a peace initiative for the region from which Britain was completely excluded.

The dilemma of British imperialism

None of these steps amount to an alternative policy. In fact British imperialism now lacks a coherent strategy. At the immediate level this is a result of the struggle that continues to be fought out within the ruling class. Blair has repeatedly defended his policy and while he has had to give ground the attempt to get rid of him failed. This suggests that while the pressure being put on him comes from the core of the British ruling class, the faction around Blair remains quite powerful. Moreover, as we showed in the article on the disarray in the Labour Party in WR 298, there are signs that this struggle is leading to a loss of discipline and stability within the ruling class.

More fundamentally the difficulty of developing a coherent strategy that unites the ruling class reflects the reality that Britain’s situation, like that of all lesser powers, is essentially determined by factors outside its control.

In the first place any strategy will be defined by the historical reality of Britain’s position between the US and Europe. This became apparent in the 1920s and 30s when the British ruling class was first confronted with the fact that it was no longer the dominant world power. Despite the humiliation of Suez in 1956 the Cold War made this less acute because the confrontation between the two blocs was the dominant issue. After the collapse of the blocs Britain’s whole claim to be a significant power was based on the fact that it was not subservient to one or the other and that by playing one against the other it could wield influence above its actual means.

Secondly, as a consequence of this, British imperialism’s actions tend to be defined by the actions of others, which above all means those of the only world superpower. Blair’s error was that in moving too close to the American flame British interests got burnt. As a result the impasse of America’s imperialist strategy has resulted in Britain being trapped in Iraq and Afghanistan. And on top of this Britain has not gained any influence within the leading circles of American imperialism. As a State Department analyst disclosed: Britain’s relationship with the US has been “totally one-sided” and “we typically ignore them and take no notice”.

Although we should never forget the historic strengths of the British ruling class - their pragmatism and intelligence in times of crisis - their continuing disputes in developing a coherent strategy cannot be ignored. In the period to come the difficulties facing British imperialism can only grow.   North, 2/12/06

General and theoretical questions: 

The impasse facing the US in Iraq

Daily life in Iraq has become unbearable. Every day there are new outrages, bombings and deaths. The thirst for destruction seems to have no limit. On Thursday 23 November, Baghdad saw its most murderous bomb attack since 2003 and the outbreak of war. The main target was Sadr City, the huge Shia district in the Iraqi capital. The whole district was devastated by at least four car bombs, leaving 152 dead and 236 wounded. At the same moment, a hundred armed men attacked the health ministry, which is controlled by Ali al Chemari, a follower of radical Shia imam Moqtadr al Sadr. Iraq is in chaos. War between Shias and Sunnis is already raging. The government controls nothing. As for the US army, it is largely barricaded in its own camps, coming out only to carry out lightening raids which leave more deaths both among civilians and the army itself. For the US, this war has been an utter failure.

The US has no alternative imperialist policy

The elections which have just taken place in the US have for the first time in 12 years given the Democrats control of the two Houses of Congress. You’d have to go back to 1974 to see the Democrats winning so many seats in an election. President Bush himself talked about his party getting a ‘thrashing’. And the whole American bourgeois press is unanimous: this rejection of Bush and the Republicans is above all a reaction to the war in Iraq. The war in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, is about to become an even greater burden than the Vietnam war. Since 2001, the ‘war on terror’ has eaten up $502 billion. Day after day the US population hears about another young soldier being killed. And for what? Everyone now knows that peace and stability in Iraq are a mirage, and that the war has made the terrorist danger worse. The war has made the weakening of the world’s only superpower increasingly obvious. The majority of the US bourgeoisie, including a large part of the Republican party, is looking for a way out of this mess. To this end, the ruling class has set up a commission made up of Republican and Democratic personalities, known as the Iraq Study Group. This group, under the presidency of an old campaigner of US foreign policy, James Baker, has been reflecting on the means to end the Iraq crisis. Baker’s words now carry more weight with Bush than his former advisors; and in addition, Baker’s friend and a member of the same Study Group, Robert Gates, has now been appointed in place of Donald Rumsfeld. Baker has already made public a number of different options which are now under discussion in the Study Group and inside the Bush administration. One idea, favoured in particular by the Democrat Joe Biden but also by some Neo-Cons, is to cut Iraq into three autonomous regions. Such a solution would almost certainly result in a permanent state of civil war that would serve to destabilise the entire region even more than today. The second option, proposed by Lawrence Korb at the Centre for American Progress, would mean placing US troops in the neighbouring countries, from which they would only enter Iraq for rapid deployment actions. But again this option risks further discrediting the authority of the US in the region. The impasse facing the US is such that the Baker commission has affirmed its agreement with that part of the American political class which intends to open up a dialogue with Iran and Syria and even to use them in the policing of Iraq. At a time when the two countries are already banging their own imperialist drums in the region and openly defying the US, this new diplomatic orientation is a real confession of impotence.

Republican or Democrat, US imperialist policy is still in a quagmire

The results of the elections n the USA have been welcomed enthusiastically by virtually the whole US political class, Republican and Democrat alike. Throughout the election campaign, the Democrats did not cease criticising the Bush administration’s foreign policy, repeating over and over again that a new policy on Iraq was needed, without ever making it clear what this new orientation would be. In reality, the US can’t leave Iraq without massive loss of international credibility. The American bourgeoisie has no illusions about this. “It’s not that the US and Britain don’t have any more options on the ground. The problem is that none of them are any cause for celebration” (The Observer, cited in Courier International, 16.11.06). Whatever policy is followed in the coming months, the weakening of US leadership will become increasingly obvious, whetting the imperialist appetites of all its rivals.   Rossi 26.11.06

Recent and ongoing: 

In Lebanon and Gaza, the conflict continues

Israeli troops have quit Lebanon but the country is once again on the verge of chaos. The assassination of the Christian minister for industry, Pierre Gemayel (the sixth political leader to be assassinated in a year) has exposed the deep divisions in the country. Hundreds of thousands of people used his funeral to express their opposition to Syrian interference in Lebanon. At the time of writing, there are hundreds of thousands on the streets of Beirut in a Hezbollah counter-demonstration which the government has already denounced as a threat to democracy and a Syrian/Iranian plot. Directly egged on by various imperialist powers, the gulf between the different ethnic groups is widening. There is a momentary alliance between Sunnis and some Christian factions against the Shiites, while others, closer to France, are on the anti-government demonstration. Since the failure of the Israeli invasion, the political weight of Hezbollah, which is supported by both Syria and Iran, has grown considerably. This small Middle Eastern country seems to crystallise all the imperialist tensions in the region as a whole. The Lebanese drama is being directly affected by the weakening of the world’s leading power, the US, which has also exposed the weaknesses of Uncle Sam’s main ally in the region, Israel. On the other hand, Iran is affirming itself as a regional imperialist power with the most ferocious appetites. Its influence in Iraq and in Lebanon can’t be ignored by the US and Israel, especially because the other big imperialisms, notably France and Italy, have established a foothold in the region under the pretext of acting as peacekeepers in Lebanon. The growing tensions between France and Israel came to the surface recently when Israeli combat planes flew over southern Lebanon. The French armed forces reacted immediately and prepared their anti-aircraft batteries for action.

In Gaza, a further slide into barbarism

Over the past month, the Gaza Strip has again been in the headlines. Every day has seen violence and killing there. A population already living in the most abject poverty (over 70% of the population are unemployed) lives in a state of permanent fear and its overriding concern is to survive from day to day.

At the beginning of November, rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel, hitting the town of Siderot in particular. In response to this attack, the Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz gave the order for the Israeli army to carry out a major air and land offensive. There has been a succession of air raids. On the night of 15-16 November, five air raids were carried out on houses supposedly harbouring Hamas fighters, in the refugee camps of Jabalia and Chatti and in Rafah. The Israeli bourgeoisie claims that these are precisely targeted attacks, but they are aimed at heavily populated areas. In Beit Hanoun, in one bombardment, 19 Palestinian civilians, most of them women and children, were killed.

The bourgeoisie, whatever its nationality, cares nothing of the suffering caused by the pursuit of its sordid imperialist interests. What difference is there between the blind terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinian suicide bombers manipulated by the armed wing of Hamas, and the murderous Israeli air raids? Each bourgeoisie uses the means at its disposal, with total disdain for human life. Thus the Israeli-Palestine conflict becomes a spiral of barbarism. The retreat of the Israeli army from Gaza in September 2005, after 38 years of military occupation, did not in any way signify a return to calm and still less a step towards peace. Violence has continued over the past year and last month accelerated even more brutally. The Labour politician Binyamin Ben Eliezer spoke plainly: “we have to hunt them down night and day. We will make them see what dissuasion means. If the rockets don’t stop, there will be no respite for Hamas, from prime minister Ismail Haniyeh to the last of his followers”. A ceasefire, agreed for 26 November, and immediately breached by both sides, can only be a moment in preparation of new conflicts as an Israeli source made clear: “We can’t afford to send our paratroops to chase Palestinian kids… They should train day and night for a real battle” (Sunday Times 26.11.06).

All the bourgeoisies are responsible for the chaos

The State of Israel, after its failure in the Lebanon is, like the US, becoming irreversibly weaker. The decline of US leadership and of Israeli dominance in the region can only encourage all the other imperialist powers, from the largest to the smallest, to get involved in the conflicts. The increasing number of divergences within the UN are testimony to this. Thus, the US used their veto on a resolution proposed by Qatar and supported by the Security Council, condemning Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. Similarly, the ‘Peace Initiative’ for the Middle East put forward by France and Spain was immediately rejected by Israel and coldly received in Washington.

Lebanon, Gaza and the Middle East as a whole are being used by all the ‘defenders of peace’ to advance their own imperialist interests and block those of their rivals. All of them are equally responsible for the spread of violence and chaos.

Tino, 2.12.06  (Adapted from Revolution Internationale)

Geographical: 

Signs of the struggle to come

The class struggle is gradually developing. In some struggles there have been encouraging expressions of solidarity. In other struggles explicitly political questions have been raised around issues such as pensions. This has been taking place internationally, since a turning point in the class struggle in 2003. This came after a decade and a half of relative quiet in the working class, marked by disorientation and the campaign over the ‘end of communism’ after the collapse of the eastern bloc.

But some critics think we’re fooling ourselves, that we’re clutching at straws in a period in which the working class, at least in Britain and the industrialised countries of Europe and North America, is simply not responding to the attacks on it. After all, in the last few years statistics have shown very few strikes in Britain, and in 2005 we saw the fewest ‘working days lost’ since records began.

The scale of strikes is certainly important, and the working class will have to develop massive struggles, but it is not the only aspect we have to analyse. At the present time we are not at that level, and there are vital qualitative developments we need to understand and respond to.

The international context

The class struggle can only to be understood internationally. For instance, the UNISON strike at the end of March took place at the same time as the student struggle against the CPE in France and important strikes in the public and engineering sectors in Germany. This already makes it part of a more significant international expression of the working class than a similar UNISON strike four years ago.

We first became aware of a change in the mood within the working class through a greater interest in the positions of the communist left among a tiny minority of young people. This was confirmed in 2003 when there were large strikes over the issue of pensions in both France and Austria. This is an issue that poses the question of what future capitalism has in store for us, and one faced by workers in many countries and has continued to be an important concern in many struggles since then, including the UNISON strike last March.

The development of solidarity

The question of solidarity is central to the development of the class struggle today, and some strikes have arisen specifically as acts of solidarity. The most famous was the Heathrow strike in August last year when baggage handlers struck in solidarity with Gate Gourmet catering workers who were all sacked. Several features make this strike stand out. First of all, it took place only a few weeks after the London bombings, in the face of a huge campaign against terrorism. Secondly, it cut across the ‘ethnicity’ division that the ruling class are so keen on pushing, with mainly white male baggage handlers expressing solidarity with mainly Asian women workers. And it was an illegal solidarity strike taking place in the face of opposition from government, media and unions.

These aspects have been seen in other strikes since. For instance in February 50 power workers in Cottam went on strike in support of Hungarian workers paid only half as much for the same work. During the UNISON strike in March there were also important expressions of solidarity: in the Midlands where Polish agency workers in the street cleaning department struck in solidarity with their permanent colleagues. When they were sacked, the permanent workers struck to win their jobs back. There was also a solidarity strike by teachers in a London college in solidarity with their colleagues during the UNISON strike.

Postal workers in Belfast also expressed their solidarity as workers across the sectarian divide. 800 workers struck against fines, and increased workloads before mobilising against the victimisation of two workers, one from a ‘Catholic’, the other from a ‘Protestant’ office. They marched together up the Shankill Road and down the Falls Road, across the sectarian divide and against the opposition of the CWU.

The central question of solidarity that we have seen in struggles here is an expression of something we are seeing around the world today: the New York transit strike at the end of 2005 was defending the rights of new workers who would be hired in the future. In the struggles in France against the CPE not only did the students go to the young unemployed in the suburbs but also there was a real possibility that employed workers would come out in solidarity, which is why the government caved in with important concessions to their demands.

The role of the unions

In May 3,000 car workers walked out at Ellesmere Port against the threat of redundancy, a few days before 900 job losses were announced. This, along with the other examples of class struggle, shows an increased militancy in the working class, particularly when we remember just how difficult it is to struggle against lay offs. Like several of the struggles we have seen in the last year or so, at Heathrow, Belfast, and Cottam, it was a wildcat. Workers were not prepared to wait for union instructions and approval. In fact unions tried to calm things down, as well as directly opposing strikes. However, that is not the whole story. The unions in Britain are very experienced, very good at playing their role for the ruling class, they know just how to limit and contain the class struggle, while making all the right noises. After the Ellesmere Port walk out, Roger Maddison of Amicus spoke of how difficult it is to struggle against redundancies. After opposing the solidarity strike at Heathrow Tony Woodley of the TGWU called for legalisation of solidarity strikes – subject to all the union ballots and delaying tactics to limit its effectiveness – in other words for it to be brought under control.

The fact that struggles are developing outside the unions, even in the face of union criticism, does not mean that they are finished. They will have an important role to play in the coming period, sometimes openly opposing struggles, but more often to lead them into a dead end.

The working class is facing attacks that are harder to hide: growing unemployment; massive redundancies in the NHS; further erosion of pensions; many young workers starting out with huge debts from student loans. At the same time there is greater willingness to struggle, to express class solidarity, and there is a new generation of young workers coming into struggle, questioning the future that capitalism has to offer. This can only lead to a greater sense of identity within the working class, a sense of belonging to a class with its own interests. The perspective that’s opening up is toward a greater involvement of workers, towards more massive struggles increasingly unified against the capitalist class.   Alex, 28.11.06

Recent and ongoing: 

ICC Public Forum: Debating the perspective for the working class

The discussion at our November public forum in London, ‘What is communism and how do we get there?’ focused on mostly the second part of the question. Communism depends on the organisation and activity of the working class, so what are the signs that this is developing? Two comrades at the meeting didn’t share our perspective. One, an ex-militant of the ICC, thought that there really isn’t anything to get excited about in the class struggle today, even less than in the 1960s and 1970s. Another, from the Communist Workers Organisation (CWO), saw the perspective coming from two things: the worsening of the economic crisis to the point that it gives the proletariat a massive shake up; and the developments in countries such as India and China where we see millions of peasants becoming industrial workers. He also didn’t see the development of the class struggle in the capitalist heartlands. Both thought it significant that revolutionaries remain a minuscule minority

Waiting for the crisis?

No-one denied that there is an economic crisis, but the CWO comrade felt that workers are, or perceive themselves to be, at least as well off as their parents, certainly not ready to risk all for revolutionary change. In response to our points about the attacks on pensions, the greater insecurity of work and rise in unemployment, etc, he noted that all these attacks had been brought in very gradually, and had failed to provide soil for a development in consciousness. For the ICC, this is a very important point – if the bourgeoisie takes care to bring in its attacks gradually it is precisely because it fears developments in the working class. The issues taken up in the class struggle, such as pensions and unemployment, indicate that the class is faced with the question of the perspective offered by capitalism. In addition, workers are also reflecting on the questions of war and the pollution of the environment. The complete failure of the USA to respond to Hurricane Katrina last year showed that the ruling class is no longer fit to govern. For the comrade from the CWO the fact that many are led into anti-Americanism or pacifism or to various bourgeois campaigns on ecology, shows that we must stick to the immediate economic situation of the working class in looking at the development of its consciousness. In reality, the fact that the bourgeoisie takes so much trouble to develop these campaigns, and especially those on anti-globalisation and anti-capitalism and the various Social Forums, shows that it fears the working class even when it is not struggling.

The economic crisis is the ally of the class struggle, it cannot develop without it. But we cannot base ourselves on the crisis alone, without analysing the development in class consciousness. The CWO could not account for the fact that there was more class struggle in the 1970s than today, when the crisis has got so much worse. Worse still, the CWO way of looking at things cannot escape the councilist approach of just waiting for an economic catastrophe to dynamise the class struggle. The CWO like to emphasise the importance of the Party, but talking about it is useless without the ability to analyse what is going on in the working class today, without being able to understand what questions workers are thinking about and responding to them. The idea of waiting for the crisis to give us a jolt undermines this effort, reduces the question of the slow development of consciousness going on right now to insignificance. We have already pointed to the examples of the development of solidarity in struggles, of the assemblies in the French student struggles and in Vigo, which show the vital development in consciousness today.

What does China mean for decadence?

If the CWO comrade could see no hope in the class struggle in Europe and the USA, should we, as he suggested, look to the millions of new proletarians in China and India instead? Although affirming that he agreed that capitalism has been decadent since the First World War, he also stated that present day capitalist developments are improving the conditions for socialism by turning millions of peasants into proletarians. For us this is a contradiction – capitalism became decadent when it had created the conditions for the communist revolution, and this means it can make no further progressive development. The ex-ICC militant pointed out that this is not the first time we have seen peasants pushed off the land and into wage slavery within capitalist decadence: in Russia after WW1, in Europe after WW2. And even in China, hundreds of millions of landless peasants are totally unable to find work, hence they turn up as illegal immigrants, working in the most appalling conditions, as with the cockle pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay.

According to the CWO comrade, the ICC is putting forward an ‘apocalyptic’ vision. He accused us of saying that the working class is decomposing, alleging that we say this in the ‘Resolution on the international situation’ in IR 122. The resolution does not say the working class is decomposing, but that, if the working class does not develop its struggles, it risks being swamped by the effects of capitalist decomposition: a proliferation of local wars, the gangsterisation of society, or ecological disaster. This is the perspective of socialism or barbarism that revolutionaries have talked about for over 100 years, with the various aspects of capitalist barbarism spelled out. This is the choice facing humanity. Socialism is not inevitable, and the effects of capitalist decadence can’t simply go on and on without there being increasingly brutal implications for the planet and all life on it. But if capitalism was not decadent there would be no possibility of communism.   Alex 1.12.06

Life of the ICC: 

Anarchism, Bolshevism and 'workers' control'

A recent discussion on the Libcom website has raised the question of the role of the Bolshevik party in the Russian Revolution. All the fractions of the Communist Left that broke with the Communist International examined the experience of the revolution from a marxist perspective to see what lessons could be learnt for the future struggles of the working class, and for the revolutionary party. The ICC has tried to draw on the clearest contributions from the Italian, Dutch and German Left (see for example, our pamphlet on The Period of Transition from Capitalism to Socialism.) The article that we are publishing here comes from a close sympathiser of the ICC.

A common criticism made by anarchists – of both the leftist and internationalist varieties – is that the Bolsheviks began dismantling organs of workers’ control immediately following the Russian Revolution. The most common expression of these critiques presents a naive opposition between a utopian picture of an economy self-managed by workers and the grotesque domination of the state by wicked Bolsheviks who usurped the self-activity of the working class.

Many of these criticisms appear superficially true – the Bolsheviks did begin to dismantle workers’ organs and subordinate them to an increasingly powerful central apparatus. The question for communists is what were the material pressures that drove this process – and were these tendencies entirely negative.

The economy and the political structures were pulled between the twin poles of localism and centralism. For example, in Moscow in 1918 a Moscow Oblast Council of People’s Commissars appeared. This locally formed council duplicated the functions of both the city Soviet and the national Soviet and its Sovnarkom (Council of People’s Commissars). The Moscow Oblast even had its own Foreign Affairs Secretariat! Councils like this reflected a strong tendency towards localism – effectively trying to establish Moscow as a city-state – as opposed to the unifying tendencies of the Soviets. The organisation of Soviet society in this early phase, while certainly embodying the revolutionary energy of the proletariat, also created many conflicting organs with no clear idea how they were all supposed to interact.

The Factory Committees meanwhile, were caught between the rock of managing essentially capitalist enterprises in the midst of profound crisis and the hard place of angry workers. The Russian economy, already in serious distress, effectively collapsed in the six months following the Revolution. The Committees themselves had appeared on the initiative of the workers in an effort to manage the economic crisis as the economy collapsed from February 1917. Although extremely powerful and influential[1], and definite expressions of working class self-activity, they were never anything other than immediate ad hoc arrangements to combat the economic crisis. Their very foundation, based on the immediate running of the factories that produced them, opened them up to the influences of localism and illusions of self-management.

As the crisis developed, even the most minimal demands of the working class were unable to be met. Many factors, not least of which was the decision by the new proletarian power to abandon all military production, conspired to cause many factories to shut down. In Petrograd, where industry was dominated by arms production, unemployment rocketed to 60%! Factories began to establish armed guards to keep the unemployed out as working class solidarity began to disintegrate in the face of extreme social pressures. Factories sent out procurement teams to gain supplies and these teams – often armed – would sometimes come into conflict with similar teams from other factories.

Political power during economic crisis

During this period there were five centres of power that impinged on economic management at this time: the factory committees, the capitalist owners, the economic departments of the soviets, the trade unions and the state! As the economic crisis advanced, all these organs began to suffer from extreme stress. Angry workers elected factory committees one week, only to dissolve them the next, making accusations of abusing their powers and failing to solve the crisis. In some factories, committees changed almost daily, forming an extremely destructive cycle.

Both the Soviets and the Factory Committees were demanding centralised state intervention in order to co-ordinate the economy and sort out the growing chaos. But, in reality, the response of the Bolshevik-controlled state was confused. In fact, it was the first Bolshevik decrees from the national Soviet Sovarknom that had given economic power directly to the Factory Committees, admittedly legalising an already existing state of affairs.

Against this backdrop of chaos, where no-one was in control of the wider processes taking place in the economy - not the capitalists, certainly not the working class, not even the Bolsheviks! - there was the growing problem of famine. Agricultural production had been taken over by the small peasants, who had no desire to feed the working class for free even if workers were unable to afford food because of the virtual collapse of the manufacturing economy. The central government was also faced with the continuing war with Germany (which did not end until March 1918, with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk), numerous assassination attempts, marauding bands of Cossacks and widespread banditry.

By mid-1918, Lenin had become completely disillusioned with the capacity of the working class (at least in Russia) to run the economy. The Party, always perceived as a vanguard of the working class, was now being perceived in radical Social Democratic terms i.e. being able to run the state and the economy on behalf of the working class - until such time as the Revolution spread across Europe and the more experienced workers in the West came to the aid of the Russian proletariat. The Party’s organisational structures - which had been practically dissolved during the post-October period - were reorganised and a new discipline in force. From now on, Party directives were to take priority for militants regardless of their posts in the Soviet state. The Party was thus re-organised for the means of wielding administrative power, rather than the role it had played in the pre-revolutionary movement i.e. providing a political orientation to the workers’ struggles.

As the most class-conscious workers departed for the various fronts or to participate in the burgeoning Soviet state, the Factory Committees and Soviets began to take on a far more Menshevik colouring. Factory committees began to call for the re-establishment of the old municipal authorities i.e. the return of the state apparatus of the bourgeois and Tsarist state! Other resolutions were passed in favour of an end to the Civil War, i.e. accommodation with the same Whites that were (literally) crucifying communist workers wherever they found them. In this period, the Bolsheviks feared the collapse of the revolution above all else and they began to reinforce the state to protect the fundamental gains of the revolution. They were also prepared to do this in the face of opposition from the mass of the working class, believing (with some justification in this period) that the fiercest opposition was coming from the most backward and degenerated parts of the proletariat.

What anarchists said at the time

Anarchism today cites these practices as proof of Bolshevism’s bourgeois nature. But in practice, anarchists at the time vacillated between three main positions:

  • Open support for the Provisional Government under Kerensky – they saw the February revolution with its petit-bourgeois democratism as the true goal of the Russian Revolution. As an example, Kropotkin served as an adviser for the Kerensky Government, even though he refused any posts within it. These anarchists were essentially Mensheviks;
  • Support for the Bolshevik Revolution – the best elements of anarchism lined up with the Bolsheviks, at least initially. Many, like Victor Serge, remained loyal to the Revolution and to the original content of Bolshevism for the rest of their lives and joined the best elements of Left Communism in their critique of the Revolution’s degeneration;
  • Opposition to Bolshevism on the basis of a false radicalism that challenged any form of ‘authority’. These anarchists shared the error of the contemporary Left Communists in rejecting the Brest-Litovsk peace. But unlike the Communist Left, which submitted to the democratic will of the Soviet, the anarchist and Left-SRs attempted to re-ignite the conflict through a programme of agitation on the front and assassination of prominent German figures. This was the trigger for an attempted ‘Third’ Russian Revolution to unseat the ‘Bolshevik Dictatorship’. The leader of the main force of this uprising, however, was actually a Left-SR called Popov who – far from decrying the use of state power – was actually a leading member of the CHEKA!

This vacillation on the part of the anarchist milieu is also present in their theoretical approach to Red October. Their fetish for the Factory Committees betrays their vision of ‘communist’ society: a loose federation of commune factories, trading with each other. This arrangement does not fundamentally challenge what Marx called the “cell-form” of capitalism – the production of commodities. Whatever pretensions about ‘workers control’ it may have, the real rulers of such a system are the market, anarchy of production and the law of value. This is not the communist vision of the proletariat, but that of the peasantry, artisan-class and petit-bourgeoisie. While modern anarchism’s critique of the Revolution’s degeneration does contain a genuine proletarian opposition to Stalinism there is a strong element of the peasant or petit-bourgeois’s resentment of centralisation, the subordination of parts to the whole and their overall reactionary egotism.

Lessons for the future

Communism proper can overcome the law of value, not by creating a network of free trading communes, but by rigorously subordinating production to an internationally co-ordinated plan. This does not mean the domination of the state but the mobilisation of the global working class on the principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. This true proletarian vision has no need of trade, only distribution, nor of any rivalry between this or that factory commune but harmony and unity between all with each worker, factory and geographical sector of the ‘commune state’ subordinating its own needs before the whole because this is the only way that the needs of all can be satisfied.

Nonetheless, this understanding and a natural desire to defend Bolshevism from its detractors cannot blind us to its very real failings. The proletariat has nothing to fear from confronting its past failings. The Bolsheviks made many grievous errors as they attempted to centralise the economy and defend the revolution against the bourgeoisie. In particular, they were unable to see that their increasing reliance on state repression was creating the very menace they thought they were fighting against. In addition, the centralisation of society’s economic organs does not of itself produce socialism. What made the Russian Revolution a real revolution was not the fact that workers formed committees in an effort to defend themselves in the face of the advancing capitalist crisis[2]. While an expression of the class struggle, these organs cannot be considered the final form of the proletariat’s control of society, simply because while they are essential to run the local aspects of economic activity their nature precludes them being able to manage the economy for the collective benefit of society as whole. The true revolutionary content of Red October was the fact that, through the Soviets, the working class was able to perceive itself not simply as a class capable of controlling factories for the purposes of its own immediate survival but one that could destroy the political power of the bourgeoisie as embodied in the capitalist state and then begin to manage the whole of society. The Bolsheviks began the revolution as an expression of that process but when the consciousness of the class began to retreat they made the mistake of believing they could substitute themselves for the working class.

How then can the proletariat and its revolutionary minorities respond to such pressures in the future? The first point of principle – learned from the experience of the Russian Revolution – is that the revolution cannot be saved by the actions of a vanguard substituting itself for the working class with or without the power of the state. Such actions can only serve to demoralise the class, separate it from its most conscious minorities, and destroy the essential content of a revolution – the actions of the workers themselves. Communists must accept that the class will make mistakes and that often their views will be in a minority within the class. At times, the working class will hesitate and appear to want to hand power back to the bourgeoisie from whom it has just been seized! Communists can only respond to this hesitancy in the way the Bolsheviks did when faced with Soviets dominated by Mensheviks in the first stages of the Revolution – with patient but energetic agitation. When confronted with the inevitable confusions concerning localism, communists must follow the method of Marx and propagandise for the interests of the proletariat as a whole.   DG, 16/11/06



[1]               The Committee were also very pro-Bolshevik at this point. Such was the combination of their support and influence, that at one point Lenin considered changing the Bolshevik slogan from “All Power To The Soviets” to “All Power To The Factory Committees”.

 

[2]               The anarchist fixation on purely economic forms also betrays the tendency to discount the need for the proletariat to seize political power before it can truly seize economic power. This fundamental error of approach is what leads anarchism to trumpet the successes of the Spanish Civil War in terms of the ‘collectives’. While it is true that these collectives took on the form of workers’ economic control, their content was that of workers managing their own exploitation in service to a particular fraction of the capitalist state.

 

History of the workers' movement: 

Political currents and reference: 

Everywhere the bourgeoisie is hammering the working class

According to the bourgeoisie, the working class should be happy. Not a day goes past without its newspapers, journals, TV and radio telling us about the current health of the economy. To do this it gives us figures for growth. At the level of the world economy these increased by 3.2% in 2005, after having registered 4% in 2004 and less than 2.6% in 2003. It calmly forecasts a growth above 3.3% for the year 2006. This class of exploiters hides reality from itself. But above all, it brazenly lies to the working class.

Faced with the aggravation of its economic crisis, the lies of the bourgeoisie

It tries at all costs to hide the gravity of the situation. To do this, anything goes. In the UK, which elements of the ruling class hold up as a solid and stable economy, official unemployment figures are the highest for 7 years. While nobody believes these ridiculously low figures, underestimating real unemployment by millions, they nevertheless point to the underlying tendency and the real results of massive job cuts in every industry and sector. In the face of the ‘vibrant UK economy‘, workers who have to keep 2 or even 3 precarious jobs going, or work all hours to make ends meet, know very well about the lies of the bourgeoisie. But this is nothing in comparison with what’s to come. World capitalism is in economic turmoil and for the predators of the ruling class, the sharpening economic war leaves it no choice but to step up its attacks against the living conditions of the working class. Behind all the lies, the economic crisis is re-entering a new phase that will have much more devastating effects than anything since the return of the open crisis in the 1960s.

The proletariat pays for the bankruptcy of the capitalist economy

The working class is living daily through this violent degradation of the economy. Plans for massive redundancies follow each other without respite. Supposedly efficient companies such as Alcatel and Intel announce job cuts one after the other. In the automobile industry, the bourgeoisie envisages the loss of 70,000 jobs between now and the end of the year at General Motors, Ford and Delphi. This figure gives the measure of the difficulties of this sector in the United States. The situation is no better in the rest of the world, leading the motor industry everywhere to announce massive job cuts. In France, it’s the turn of Renault and Peugeot-Citroen to announce thousands of new redundancies. All the leading sectors of capitalism are in a mess. After the U.S. plane-maker Boeing, the European plane construction firms announced thousands of job cuts. In Seoul, South Korea, one of the biggest naval dockyards in the world belonging to the Halla Group has announced the loss of 3000 jobs, or half of its workers. Such massive job cuts were unknown in this country up to now. But the working class isn’t just subjected to a frontal attack in the area of job cuts. All its conditions of life are under attack. In Germany, the bourgeoisie has just declared that it will push back the retirement age to 67. In Britain, legislation is currently being enacted to make it 68. The same offensive is underway in every country. The bankrupt bourgeoisie can no longer pay for pensions. After sucking the life-blood from the workers, it throws them into the gutter. The Welfare State, already largely dismantled, cannot resist this new economic deterioration. The bourgeoisie wants to definitively bury social security. In all sectors, public or private, the ability of workers and their families to take care of themselves is being savagely attacked. With wages kept down the working class must battle every day to house, clothe and feed itself. It’s exactly the same policies that are rampant under the government of Angela Merkel in Germany or in Italy under Romano Prodi. There is no exception to this policy of a frontal anti-working class attack, no matter what the country or the political colour of the government.

The capitalist economy on the edge of ruin

An organism as representative of the bourgeoisie as the UN, through the intermediary of its Economic and Social Business Department, says that world growth can only slow down in 2006. “In the near future, the eventuality of new rises in oil prices, the possibility of crisis caused by an avian flu pandemic, or a house price collapse in the richest countries, increases the risk of a gradual slowdown of world growth” (Courrier International, 10/06). Millions of deaths from a possible avian flu pandemic do not pose any human problem for the bourgeoisie. On the contrary it is happy to make ideological capital out of it, in order to spread the lie that a sharp acceleration of the crisis would be due to a catastrophe independent of its system. But to the displeasure of the bourgeoisie, facts are more stubborn than its lies. The bursting of the housing bubble has already begun in the United States (and in the UK the FSA has warned banks to prepare for a possible 40% reduction in house prices). From this millions of Americans will find themselves incapable of repaying their debts. The bursting of the housing bubble will have grave repercussions for the world financial system as on the whole of the economy. This bubble has been financed by ‘cheap’ money, that is, very low interest rates. During the course of the last few years the US administration has stepped up the printing of money, thus inundating the world and the USA itself with dollar bills. An article in Courrier International (27/7/06) clearly showed the policy followed by the central US bank, the whole flight into debt: “In June, the consumer price index shows, if there was still need for it, what an immense error the US central bank has committed in monetary policy between the end of 2003 and 2005”. This “error” is much more serious since, contrary to the speeches of the bourgeoisie, it is the United States which continues to pull world demand. A major crisis of the American economy would inevitably plunge the world into a violent recession. The record rates of growth undergone by China depend on the American economy. This year, China will overtake Mexico to become the second commercial partner of the US, just behind Canada. China, like India and all the south east Asian states, could not stand a significant slowdown in US external demand without suffering a violent brake on their growth. And this is the road that the world economy has already begun to take. The USA is in debt beyond imagination. The US deficit has reached 800 billion dollars. It is quite evident that of all the symptoms of a collapsing financial structure, the level of debt causes most concern to the ruling class. In 2002, following a stock market collapse, due in part to the bursting of the ‘new economy’ bubble, the bourgeoisie feared the arrival of deflation. It was able to stave this off. But in the opinion of a number of bourgeois specialists, this spectre is again possible in the present situation. The incredible mass of dollars in circulation today around the world can be dragged into an abyss, with repercussions on the whole world economy. The suppression of the M3 index by the central American bank, an index which allows the measurement of the mass of dollars in circulation, demonstrates the growing impotence of the bourgeoisie in mastering its problems. It is reduced to the politics of the ostrich, hiding the danger because it can’t do anything about it. Meanwhile, this policy of cheap money in the USA, as in all the developed countries, is threatening a new surge of inflation. For twelve months prices have increased in the United States at an annual rhythm of 4.3%, and for three months at 5.1%. As a result, the central US bank, like the central banks of Europe or Asia, can only continue to increase its interest rates. Or else the banks will decide to accelerate their flight into debt by letting the value of the dollar fall, thus financing their debts with devalued money. In both cases the result for the world economy will be the same: recession. The present rise in stock market prices doesn’t correspond to an improvement in the capitalist economy but to its exact opposite. It is a precursory sign of the storm to come. A widespread stock market crisis lies in wait for the capitalist economy and this will be more profound than those we have known up to now.

The capitalist economy faces chaos

In order to face its open crisis at the end of the 1960s, capitalism resorted to massive debt while bringing on its first frontal attacks against the working class. The central countries then began pushing the effects of the crisis onto the poorer countries, which sunk into a misery and chaos that has deepened ever since. Meanwhile, at the heart of capitalism, the traditional sectors of capitalist industry began to be dismantled: mines, steelworks, textiles, etc. The bourgeoisie, for the first time since the post-war boom, had to resort to the printing of money and to a level of debt unknown until then in order to artificially create an effective demand. This debt, though well below what exists today, produced a level of inflation that rapidly became intolerable. The bourgeoisie had to re-orient its economy without pushing it into too violent a recession. This is what was done at the beginning of the 1990s and, despite the suffering inflicted on the proletariat for ten years, it gave some respite to capitalism. Private debt, to some extent, took over from public debt. The banks, pension funds, insurance, financial institutions, businesses and the ‘middle class‘, notably in the USA, played the role of supporting growth. This policy, required by all states throughout these years, allowed economic activity to continue while choking back inflation, all the more because the bourgeoisie did all it could to reduce the cost of labour. The bursting of the ‘new economy’ bubble rang the bell on this period. Since the 80s and 90s, an unimaginable public debt has to be added to an incalculable private debt. The bursting of the housing bubble in the United States signifies the end of this economic madness. Financial and industrial instability is reaching insupportable levels, notably in America, pushing the capitalist economy into a new phase, a phase where financial and industrial bankruptcies will shake the entire world economy.

The bourgeoisie has no choice. This new aggravation of the economic crisis will oblige it to develop its attacks on the working class to a higher level than we have seen since the return of the open crisis at the end of the 1960s. There will be no respite for the proletariat. However, these attacks will not rain down on an amorphous and beaten working class. Since around 2003, everywhere in the world, the working class has returned to the path of struggle. At a time when the working class of the central countries is beginning to draw the first lessons of this resurgence of struggles, the accelerating economic crisis and the generalisation of attacks on living standards can play a major role in the development of consciousness and militancy in the working class.

Tino 23/10/06 (From Revolution Internationale 373)

Recent and ongoing: 

300 issues of World Revolution

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s many publications appeared which claimed to be revolutionary, communist or to defend the interests of the working class. Even at the time it was clear that most of them would not survive for long. World Revolution was first produced in May 1974 and has been published continuously ever since, for the last 25 years as a monthly newspaper.

There is no mystery behind WR’s success in reaching its 300th issue where others have long vanished. Right from the start we tried to put the publication on a historical basis, drawing on the contributions of the Italian, German and Dutch Left. We were also part of an international tendency that formed the ICC in 1975. We warned of the danger of expecting immediate results from intervention and falling into activism. The disappearance internationally of so many papers and journals shows how far our warnings were ignored.

Spreading ideas

Early on we established what the function of the regular revolutionary press was. As the backbone of the organisation it tries to answer the questions being posed in the working class and by those who want to take part in the struggle against capitalism. As we said in a 3-part series on ‘The Present Tasks of Revolutionaries’ that appeared in 1978 (WR 17-19): “Intervention is first and foremost a question of elaborating and disseminating ideas”. In practice this means, “the stimulation of reflection in the class, especially amongst those elements who are moving towards communist ideas, is the central aim of the organisation’s publications. These publications must be composed both of basic programmatic texts and of analyses which apply these basic class positions to the various issues which arise out of the general situation, so that the organisation can assist these elements to understand what’s happening on the world. As an instrument for understanding social reality, the publications must bring theoretical clarification to the general problems confronting the class; as an instrument of combat, they must also contain polemical texts directed against confused or counter-revolutionary positions and the groups which defend them”.

Changing times

In different periods WR has had different emphases, although always within the same overall framework. In the 1970s, for example, it was necessary to explain many basic positions, and show how the historic workers’ movement had confronted questions in the past. We also drew on this heritage when dealing with the various groups and publications that flourished briefly, as well as the influential leftist groups that were very radical in their language at the time.

During the 1980s, when there were extensive struggles across the world, we had to show what workers were doing, what lessons they had already drawn and also how much further the class struggle had to be taken. In many struggles there were signs of the working class beginning to take charge of its fight. However, there was little awareness of the political implications of the struggle, of the perspective it opened up. We showed the massive extent of the struggles in Poland in 1980-81, but also pointed to its limitations, how it was defeated by democratic, trade unionist and religious ideology before the imposition of martial rule in December 1981. With the struggle in Britain, WR showed how the miners’ strike of 1984-85 had the capacity to extend with the struggles of dockworkers and car workers, but also how this was undermined by the unions and, as with the News International print workers at Wapping, this was turned into a long drawn out action that was ultimately discouraging rather than inspiring workers.

Following the break up of the Russian and US blocs, in the 1990s all the publications of the ICC had a responsibility to explain what had happened, particularly with the subsequent proliferation of military conflicts and against the whole myth of the ‘end of the communism’. While traditional Trotskyist and Stalinist leftism was weakened by the collapse of the USSR, new currents emerged that claimed a different approach to ‘what is society and how it can be changed’. Whether they used familiar labels, such as ‘anarchist’ or ‘anti-capitalist’, or saw themselves as part of the movement ‘against globalisation’, the ICC’s publications tried to identify what these tendencies represented and how they related to the struggle of the working class. We have also had to put forward our understanding of the whole period of decomposition, and show how it impacts on every aspect of social reality.

ICC as a reference point

The current period is marked by a revival in workers’ struggles internationally. This revival has been accompanied by the emergence of groups and individuals who are discussing the questions facing the working class and the struggle for communism. Our remarks in 1978 about bringing “theoretical clarification to the general problems facing class” remain entirely valid. When new groups appear we try to relate to them, not through producing a static balance sheet but by identifying their basic dynamic. When individuals write to us we try to see what precisely is being said so that we can reply in a way that is productive. If we have public meetings that discuss things which are of general interest we publish reports in our press. From our intervention on internet discussion forums we get an idea of what concerns there are in different parts of cyberspace.

In all this we want to show the debates taking place in the internationalist milieu. We want to make a contribution as a living organisation to a process of clarification that is already underway. Sometimes this will mean producing articles on general questions such as the perspective of communism, the nature of the working class, what imperialism is or how to understand the decadence and decomposition of capitalism. We want to show how capitalism’s economic crisis is unfolding, what’s going on in imperialist conflicts, how the bourgeoisie arranges its forces, and how the class struggle is developing. Where there are illusions in the anti-globalisation movement, anarchist or Trotskyist groups, we will subject them to a marxist critique. We are also committed to defending the basic principles of behaviour within the working class movement against all their detractors. Fundamentally we want WR, as one of the publications of the ICC, to act as a reference point for all those who are challenging the ideas of the ruling class, or want to participate in the struggle of the working class, or see communism as a necessity for humanity, or are searching for a coherent understanding of what’s going on in the world.

One significant difference from the period when the first WR was published has been the development of the internet. Our website, www.internationalism.org, and our printed press are complementary parts of our intervention. So, if you’re reading this article in the pages of WR, we hope you will be encouraged to go to our website and see the growing number of articles from past issues of our territorial and international press, texts that have only appeared online, texts that are on line before they’re printed, or articles that have appeared in languages other than English. Or, if you’re reading this online, have a look at where future ICC public meetings or street sales are being held, and come and discuss with our militants. Wherever you’re reading this, consider taking extra copies of the paper to sell, making financial donations to support our press, and writing to us on any of the questions raised in our publications. These are among the ways to contribute to the development of WR as part of the whole process of clarification within the working class.   Car 30/12/6

 

Life of the ICC: 

Anarchist Bookfair: Meeting on the movement against the CPE in France

Militants of the ICC were at a number of meetings during October’s Anarchist Bookfair in London, among them one on the students’ struggles in France during spring 2006.

The French state had attempted to introduce the CPE, a law that would enable employers to dismiss people 26 years-old and younger, without having to give a reason, within the first 2 years of the job. There was widespread resistance throughout the universities and amongst young workers-to-be. They forced the French state to back down and withdrawn the CPE, through the organisation of their struggle and by reaching out to the working class in general.

Some people who been involved in the struggles in France had come to the Bookfair to relate their experience and give a perspective on the events. They saw a development from the struggles in France in 2003, because in 2006 there was a more violent response from the French state. They saluted the assemblies that had been created because they had ‘overwhelmed’ the unions’ initial control and because the government was eventually forced into an embarrassing climb-down. However, the fact that the unions had been able to take all the credit for this seemed to show that the movement hadn’t seriously challenged the unions’ ultimate control.

In response to this we tried to make a clear distinction between the union form of struggle and that of the student assemblies. The proletarian nature of the movement was shown in its ability to turn its combativity into the deployment of proletarian methods of organisation. The students wanted to generate a broader solidarity within the working class as a whole. In contrast the unions stood in the way of the extension of the struggle and workers’ taking it into their own hands. The speakers from France didn’t understand the difference. Instead they were euphoric about violent confrontations (like that at the Sorbonne) and applauded the rioting in Paris during Autumn 2005 (See WR 290 ‘Riots in the French suburbs: in face of despair, only the class struggle offers a future’).

In discussion before the meeting started properly, we’d already indicated how the broadest media coverage was given to events that linked the working class with mindless acts of violence, but deliberately made little reference to the student assemblies and the expressions of solidarity, both by students towards the working class and by workers across the generations towards the students.

The ‘facilitator’ of the meeting didn’t feel comfortable with discussion focusing on the student assemblies and wanted to move the discussion on. The meeting rejected this approach. People wanted to look more into the significance of the French anti-CPE struggle. There was a genuine curiosity in the methods adopted by the French students.

In particular there was a need to contrast, on the one hand, the movement for the greatest participation of workers and students in struggles and its use of necessary force with, on the other, the individual and conspiratorial violence characteristic of other social strata. As we said in WR 293 (April 2006 ‘Notes from the students struggles’):

“Not only does violence tend to discredit the movement within the rest of the class, but it also puts into question the sovereignty of the general assemblies since it takes place completely outside the latter’s control. In fact this last question - the question of control - is one of the most critical ones; the violence of the working class has nothing to do with the blind violence of the young hotheads at the Sorbonne or - it must be said - of many anarchist groups, above all because it is exercised and controlled collectively, by the class as a group. The student movement has used physical force (for example to barricade the university buildings and block entry to them): the difference between this and the confrontations at the Sorbonne is that the former actions are decided collectively and voted by the general assemblies while the ‘blockers’ have a mandate for their actions from their own comrades. The latter, precisely because they are uncontrolled by the movement, are of course the perfect terrain for the action of the lumpen and the agent provocateur, and given the way in which this violence has been used by the media, there is every reason to suppose that the provocateur has been present and stirring it up”.   Duffy 2/12/6

 

 

 

Recent and ongoing: 

Israel/Palestine: the proletarian alternative

Despite the spiral of nationalist hatred which often paralyses the class struggle in Israel and Palestine, the severe economic privations resulting from a state of permanent war have pushed workers on both sides of the divide to fight for their most basic material interests. In September, tens of thousands of civil servants in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip staged strikes and demonstrations to demand that the Hamas government cough up several months of unpaid wages. Ironically, on November 29, libcom.org news reported that “A general strike has broken out in the Israeli public sector with airports, ports, government offices, and post offices all being shut down. Histadrut (General Federation of Labour) has called a strike in response to violations in agreements between the union and local and religious authorities. Histadrut is claiming these authorities are in arrears over salaries and employers money due to be paid into pensions funds has disappeared”

Imperialist war means economic ruin. In this case, the bourgeoisie on both sides is increasingly unable even to pay its wage slaves.

Both these struggles were subject to all kinds of political manipulations. In the West Bank and Gaza, the opposition nationalist faction, Fatah, aimed to use the strikes as a means of putting pressure on its Hamas rivals. In Israel, the Histadrut has a long tradition of calling tightly controlled ‘general strikes’ to back particular bourgeois policies and parties. But it is significant that in Israel the Histadrut’s general strike (which was called off almost as soon as it had begun) was preceded by a wave of less well-marshalled strikes among baggage handlers, teachers, lecturers, bank workers and civil servants. Disillusionment with Israel’s military fiasco in the Lebanon has no doubt fuelled this growing discontent.

During the September strike in the Palestinian territories, the Hamas government denounced the civil servants’ action as being against the national interest. And despite all the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie, the class struggle does fundamentally remain opposed to the national interest and thus opposed to the march towards imperialist war.  Amos  2.12.06

Geographical: 

Oaxaca: workers' militancy derailed by democratic illusions

The repression that the state has unleashed against the population of Oaxaca has shown the real bloody and furious face of democracy. The city of Oaxaca has been a powder keg for the last five months where the presence of the police and paramilitary forces has been the main means for spreading state terror. Invasion of homes, kidnappings and torture are the means that the state has used in Oaxaca in order to establish ‘peace and order’. The result of the police incursion has been dozens of ‘disappearances’, the imprisoning of many and at least 3 deaths (not counting the nearly 20 persons run over by the white guards between May and October of this year).

Six years ago the ruling class said that the coming to power of Fox meant that it had entered a ‘period of change’, but reality has made clear that capitalism, no matter what changes are made to its personal or government parties, can offer nothing other than more exploitation, poverty and repression.

Faced with the events in Oaxaca, the whole of the working class has to carry out a profound reflection, recognising that the brutal and repressive actions carried out, are not due to this or that government or its representative, but are expressions of the nature of the capitalism.

In order that the coming struggles are better prepared, it is necessary to draw the lessons of the meaning of these struggles.

The bourgeoisie has contained the discontent and uses it for its own ends

The present mobilisations in Oaxaca are without doubt the expression of the workers’ discontent about the exploitation and the ignominy of capitalism. The mobilisations in this region express the existing discontent due to the continuing degradation of their living conditions. This is the fruit of a profound development that is revealing itself in real courage and willingness to struggle. Nevertheless, the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie have resulted in the workers losing control of the aims, methods and running of their struggle.

Faced with these mobilisations the system has openly demonstrated its bloody nature. However this use of terror by the state goes beyond the repression of the demonstrators in Oaxaca. The incursion by military and police forces in Oaxaca have not had as their main aim the extermination of the Asemblea Popular de Peublo de Oaxaca (APPO), rather it has fundamentally been aimed at spreading terror as a means for warning and threatening the whole of the working class. This state terror has been let loose by the combination of government, federal and state repressive forces, showing clearly that even when there are struggles between different bourgeois gangs, they will always agree to carry out their repressive tasks together. Therefore to think that it is possible to have a ‘dialogue’ with a part of the government, is to stimulate the false hope that ‘progressive’ or ‘open’ sections of the bourgeoisie exist. By aiming to get rid of Ulises Ruiz[1], the APPO has spread the illusion that the capitalist system can be changed by making it more democratic or by changing the people in power.

The APPO’s aim of uniting against Ulises Ruiz, does nothing to reinforce collective reflection or the development of consciousness, but rather spreads confusion and the submission of the working class to the interests of one bourgeois fraction against another.

The clearest demonstration of just how disoriented this movement has become is the pushing into the background of its original aim to increase wages. This allowed the unions and federal government to present the problem of wage increases as a technical aspect, a question of the simple supply of adequate resources to the region through the planning of the public finances. At the same time they were able to isolate the problem, by presenting the question of falling wages as a ‘local’ problem, without importance for the rest of the working class.

The methods of struggle they sanctioned: pickets, exhausting marches and desperate confrontations, have done nothing to develop solidarity, on the contrary, they have isolated the struggle and made it an easy target for repression.

APPO: a body alien to the proletariat

The social composition of the APPO (formed by ‘social’ organisations and unions) reveals that this organisation, and therefore the decisions it takes, is not in the workers’ hands. The fact that this structure leaves reflection and discussion in the hands of the unions demonstrates that it does not have a proletarian nature. This means that the potential strength of the participating workers is diluted. This force cannot express itself in a structure which, despite presenting itself as an organisation that was directed by so-called open assembles, shows in its practice its true nature an inter-classist front driven by the confusion and despair of the middle layers. This was clearly demonstrated by the appeal of  9 November for the APPO to be turned into a permanent structure (State Assembly of the People of Oaxaca). This was made even clearer by its definition of the Constitution created by the Mexican bourgeoisie in 1917 as a “historical document that endorses the emancipatory tradition of our people” and that therefore calling for its defence, also means defending “...the territory and its natural resources...”. Thus its radicalism is reduced to the defence of nationalist ideology, which is a real poison to the workers. Moreover the Appeal contains a false proletarian internationalism, when it insists on the necessity of “Establishing co-operative, solidarity and fraternal links with all the peoples of the world in order to construct a just, free and democratic society; a truly human society...” as the basis of the struggle for “the democratisation of the UN...”!

The constitution of the APPO was not an advance for the workers’ movement, on the contrary, its creation is linked to the subjugation of workers’ genuine discontent. The APPO emerged as a straight jacket for confining proletarian militancy. The Stalinist, Maoist, Trotskyist and union groupings that formed this body know full well how to undermine the working class’s courage and expressions of solidarity, through imposing a leadership and activity alien to workers and the rest of the interests of the exploited. Therefore the comparisons between the APPO and the structure of the Soviets or “embryonic workers’ power”, is nothing but a devious attack against the real traditions of the workers’ movement.

An authentic proletarian organisation is distinguished by the fact that its aims are directly linked to the interests of the class, that is to the defence of its living conditions. This has nothing to do with the defence of the ‘national economy’, state enterprises, let alone the democratisation of the system that exploits it. Above all else it seeks to defend its political independence from the ruling class, an independence that allows it to carry out its struggle against capitalism.

The daily struggles of the workers are the preparation of the radical critique of exploitation: they express the resistance to the laws of capitalist economics, and it is their radicalisation that will open the way towards the revolution. These are moments in the preparation of the revolutionary struggles that the proletariat has to carry out, they are the seeds of the revolutionary struggle.

Consciousness and organisation: the workers’ weapons for confronting capitalism

As an international and internationalist class the proletariat, in every country, must assimilate and make their own, the experience of their past struggles. It is indispensable in the development of consciousness. It is thus vital to remember the lessons of the mobilisations of the students and workers in France against the Contrat Premiere Embauche (CPE) in the spring of 2006. The essential lesson of this movement was its capacity to organise, which allowed it to maintain a control of the struggle which stopped the unions and leftists efforts to divert their central aim: the struggle against insecurity of employment. The movement by the workers in Vigo in Spain, at the same time, confronted the union sabotage, by defending the demand for increased wages, and through maintaining the workers control of the assemblies and the extension of the struggle.

The defence of living conditions, organisational autonomy and the massive reflection that these movements gave rise to, are lessons that belong to the whole of the proletariat and which need to be assimilated into its future struggles.

Workers of the world unite!

18/11/06 (adapted from ICC online in Spanish)



[1]                               The corrupt governor of the state of Oaxaca, who belongs to the old ruling party of Mexico: the PRI

 

Geographical: