ICConline - 2007

Articles only available online in 2007

ICConline, January 2007

Articles published by ICCOnline in January 2007.

“International Conference of revolutionary Marxism” in Korea

In October 2006, the Korean group "Socialist Political Alliance" called a conference in the towns of Seoul and Ulsan under the title "International Conference of revolutionary Marxism" , with the explicit purpose of reinforcing the presence of Left Communist positions within the Korean working class and its political minorities.

The conference in Korea was the first of its kind in the history of the workers' movement of that country and indeed in the whole of East Asia. That such a conference should be called today, in a country still divided by the consequences of the imperialist war launched more than 50 years ago, is an event of the greatest importance. It opens a perspective for the development of the international unity of the workers' movement between East and West for the first time since the brief experience of the Third International. However modestly, it heralds the appearance on the historical stage of the proletariat of the East.

Recognising this, the ICC did its utmost to contribute to the conference, presenting texts and taking an active part in the discussions. We are publishing below several documents, including the ICC's presentations on the subjects under debate, the declaration (presented jointly by the ICC and SPA) against the threat of war posed by the explosion of a North Korean nuclear test, and the ICC's report on the conference and the discussions that took place there. This latter has been discussed in the SPA, and the comrades have expressed their overall agreement with it.

There is nothing specifically Korean, nor even Asian, about the subjects under debate: the decadence of capitalism, the perspectives for the class struggle and for revolutionary organisation. The documents we are publishing below are part of an international debate in a new, emerging revolutionary movement. In this sense, we submit them for comment and discussion to comrades around the world.

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Report on the conference in Korea, October 2006

In June 2006, the ICC received an invitation from the Socialist Political Alliance, a group based in South Korea which identifies itself with the tradition of the Communist Left, to take part in an "International Conference of Revolutionary Marxists", to be held in the towns of Seoul and Ulsan during October of the same year. We had been in contact with the SPA for about a year, and despite the inevitable difficulties of language had been able to begin discussions in particular on the questions of the decadence of capitalism and the perspectives for the development of communist organisations in the present period.

The spirit in which this Conference was called stands out powerfully in the SPA's introductory statement: "We know very well the various conferences or meetings of Marxists which are held regularly in various places in the world. But we also know very well the fact that those conferences are focusing on discussions about abstract theory in academia and the ritual solidarity between so-called "left" of capitalism. Beyond that, we recognise profoundly the vision that there is a need for true proletarian revolution against barbarism and war in the decadence phase of capitalism.

Although Korean workers express their difficulties on the shop floor and the revolutionary political forces in Korea are in the midst of confusion for the perspectives of future communist society, we have to accomplish the solidarity of world proletariat beyond one factory, one country and one nation, reflecting the desperate defeats neglecting the principles of internationalism in the past revolutionary movement from the bottom."

Even the briefest consideration of the history of the Far East is enough to reveal the immense importance of this initiative. As we said in our salute to the conference: "In 1927, the massacre of the workers of Shanghai was the final episode in a revolutionary struggle that had shaken the world for ten years, since the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. In the years that followed, the world working class, and humanity as a whole, suffered all the horror of the most terrible counter-revolution history has ever seen. In the East, the working population had to suffer the preface to World War II with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, then the Second World War that culminated in the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then civil war in China, the Korean War, the terrible famine in China during the so-called "Great Leap Forward" under Mao Zedong, the war in Vietnam...

All these fearful, earth-shaking events swept over a proletariat which, in the East, was still young and inexperienced, and which had very little contact with the development of communist theory in the West. As far as we know, no expressions of the communist left were able to survive or even appear among the workers of the East.

Consequently, the fact that today a conference of communist internationalists has been called in the East, by an organisation which explicitly identifies with the communist left, is an event of historic importance for the working class. It holds the promise - perhaps for the first time in history - of building a real unity between the workers of East and West. Nor is it an isolated event: on the contrary, it is a part of a slow world wide awakening to consciousness of the proletariat and its political minorities". The ICC's delegation thus attended the conference with the aim not only of helping to the best of our ability in the emergence of an internationalist, left communist voice in the Far East, but also to learn: what are the most important issues for the workers and revolutionaries in Korea? How are the questions that affect all workers posed there? What lessons can the experience of workers in Korea offer workers elsewhere, especially in the Far East but also more generally world wide? And what lessons can the Korean proletariat draw from the experience of its class brothers in the rest of the world?

The conference was originally intended to discuss the following subjects: the decadence of capitalism, the situation of the class struggle, and the strategy to be adopted by revolutionaries in the present situation. In the days leading up to the Conference, however, the long-term political importance of its goals was overshadowed by the dramatic sharpening of inter-imperialist tensions in the region caused by the explosion of North Korea's first nuclear bomb, and the manoeuverings that have followed it especially on the part of the different powers present in the region (USA, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea). In a meeting prior to the conference, the ICC delegation and the SPA's Seoul group agreed that it was of the first importance for the internationalists to take position publicly on this situation, and decided to present jointly to the conference an internationalist declaration against the threat of war. As we will see, the discussion provoked by this proposed declaration formed an important part of the debates during the conference itself.

In this Report, we propose to consider some of the main themes of the conference's debates, in the hope not only of giving a wider expression to the discussion itself, but also of contributing to the reflection of comrades in Korea by offering an international perspective on the questions that they are confronting today.

The historical context

Before we come to the conference itself, however, it is necessary briefly to place the situation in Korea within its historical context.

In the centuries preceding capitalism's expansion into the Far East, Korea both benefited and suffered from its geographical position as a small country caught between two great historical powers: China and Japan. On the one hand, it has served as a bridge and cultural catalyst for both countries: there is no doubt, for example, that ceramic art in China and especially Japan is greatly indebted to the artisan potters of Korea who developed the now lost techniques of celadon glazing.[1] On the other hand, the country suffered frequent and brutal invasions by its two powerful neighbours, and for much of its recent history the ruling ideology was dominated by a Confucian scholar caste which worked in Chinese and resisted the influx of new ideas that accompanied the arrival of European powers in the region. During the 19th century, the increasingly bitter rivalry between China, Japan, and Russia - the latter's colonial power now extended to the frontiers of China and the Pacific Ocean - led to an intense competition for influence within Korea itself. The influence sought by these powers, however, was essentially strategic: from the point of view of return on investment, the possibilities offered by China and Japan were far greater than those available in Korea, especially given the political instability caused by the internecine struggles between different factions of the Korean ruling classes, who were divided both as to the benefits of "modernisation", and by their efforts to use the influence of Korea's imperialist neighbours to bolster their own positions in power. The beginning of the 20th century saw an intensification of Russia's attempts to establish a naval base in Korea, which in turn could only be seen as a mortal threat to Japanese independence: this rivalry was to lead in 1905 to the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese war, during which the Japanese annihilated the Russian fleet. In 1910, the Japanese invaded Korea and established a colonial regime which was to last until Japan's defeat in 1945.

Industrial development prior to the Japanese invasion was thus extremely hesitant, and the industrialisation that followed was largely geared to the needs of the Japanese war economy: by 1945 there were some two million industrial workers in Korea, largely concentrated in the north. The south of the country remained essentially rural and suffered severe poverty. And as if the working population of Korea had not suffered enough from colonial domination, forced industrialisation, and war,[2] they now found themselves in the border zone of the new imperialist conflict that was to dominate the world until 1989: the division of the planet between the two great imperialist blocs of the USA and the USSR. The decision by the USSR to support the insurrection launched by the Stalinist "Korean Workers' Party" was in effect an attempt to probe the new frontiers of US imperial domination, in the same way as it did in Greece after 1945. The result was also the same, though on a far larger, more destructive scale: a vicious civil war between North and South Korea, in which the Korean authorities on both sides - however much they were fighting to defend their own bourgeois interests - were nothing more than pawns of far greater powers struggling for world domination. The war lasted for three years (1950-53), during which the whole peninsula was ravaged from one end to the other by the successive advances and retreats of the competing armies, and ended with its permanent division into two separate countries: North and South Korea. The United States has maintained a military presence in South Korea to this day, with over 30,000 troops currently stationed in the country.

Even before the end of the war, the USA had already come to the conclusion that military occupation in itself would not stabilise the region[3] and decided to enact what amounted to a Marshall Plan for South-East Asia and the Far East. "Aware that economic and social poverty was one of the main arguments used by the pro-Soviet nationalist factions who came to power in certain Asian countries, the USA created zones on the very borders of China (Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan) which could serve as outposts of western prosperity. The priority for the USA was to establish a cordon sanitaire against the advances of the Soviet bloc in Asia".[4] This policy had important implications for South Korea: "Lacking in raw materials, and with most of its industrial base limited to the north, the country was drained dry at the end of the war: production had fallen by 44% and employment by 59%. Sources of fresh capital, intermediate means of production, technical competence and managerial capacities were virtually non-existent (...) From 1945 to 1978, South Korea received some $13 billion, or $600 per inhabitant, and Taiwan $5.6 billion, or $4.5 per inhabitant. Between 1953 and 1960, foreign aid contributed almost 90% of fixed capital in South Korea. The aid given by the USA reached 14% of GNP in 1957 (...) But the USA did not restrict itself to supplying military, financial and technical aid to these countries; it also took charge of the whole management of the state and the economy. In the absence of real national bourgeoisies, the only social body capable of carrying out the modernisation that the USA wanted was the army. A highly effective form of state capitalism was installed in each of these countries. Economic growth was spurred on by a system which closely linked the public and private sectors through a quasi-military centralisation, but with the sanction of the market. In contrast to the east European version of state capitalism with its absurd bureaucratic excesses, these countries allied state centralisation with the sanction of the law of value. Numerous interventionist policies were carried out: the formation of industrial conglomerates, laws protecting the internal market, trade restrictions at the frontiers, a form of planning that was imperative but also incited further efforts, state management of the distribution of credit, the orientation of capital and resources towards the key sectors, the handing out of exclusive licenses, management monopolies etc. Thus in South Korea, it was thanks to a unique relationship with the chaebols (equivalent to the Japanese zaibatsus), great industrial conglomerates often founded through state aid or initiative,[5] that the public authorities oriented economic development".

The South Korean working class was thus faced with a policy of ferocious exploitation and forced industrialisation, carried out by an unstable succession of semi-democratic and authoritarian military regimes which maintained their power through the brutal suppression of workers' strikes and revolts, notably the mass uprising in Kwangju at the beginning of the 1980s.[6] Following the events in Kwangju, the Korean ruling class tried to stabilise the situation under the presidency of General Chun Doo-hwan (previously head of the Korean CIA) by giving a democratic veneer to what remained an essentially military authoritarian regime. The attempt failed miserably: the year 1986 saw mass opposition rallies in Seoul, Inch'on, Kwangju, Taegu and Pusan, while in 1987 "More than 3,300 industrial disputes erupted involving workers' demands for higher wages, better treatment, and better working conditions, forcing the government to make concessions to meet some of their demands".[7] The inability of General Chun's corrupt military regime to impose social peace by force led to a change of direction. The Chun regime adopted the "democratisation programme" proposed by General Roh Tae-woo, leader of the governmental Democratic Justice Party, who won the presidential elections held in December 1987. The presidential elections of 1992 brought to power a long-standing leader of the democratic opposition, Kim Young-Sam, and Korea's democratic transition was complete. Or, as the SPA comrades put it to us, the Korean bourgeoisie managed at last to erect a convincing democratic façade to hide the continued power of the alliance between the military, the chaebols, and the security apparatus.

Consequences of the historical context

In terms of the recent experience of its political minorities this historical context has parallels in other countries of the periphery, in Asia but also in Latin America.[8] It has had important consequences for the emergence of an internationalist movement in Korea itself.

At the level of what we might call the "collective memories" of the class, there is clearly an important difference between the accumulated political and organisational experience of the working class in Europe, which was already beginning to assert itself as an independent force in society in 1848 (the "physical force" fraction of the Chartist movement in Britain), and that of the class in Korea. If we remember that the waves of class struggle in Europe during the 1980s saw the slow development of a general distrust for the unions and a tendency for workers to take their struggles into their own hands, it is particularly striking that the movements in Korea during the same period were marked by a tendency to merge the workers' struggles for their own class demands with the demands of the "democracy movement" for a reorganisation of the bourgeois state apparatus. As a result, the fundamental opposition between the interests of the working class and the interests of the democratic fractions of the bourgeoisie were not immediately obvious to the militants who entered political activity in this period.

Nor should we underestimate the difficulties created by the language barrier. The "collective memory" of the working class is strongest when it takes a written, theoretical form. Whereas the political minorities that emerged in Europe during the 1970s had access to the writings, either in the original or in translation, of the left of the social democracy (Lenin, Luxemburg), then of the left of the Third International and the Communist Left that emerged from it (Bordiga, Pannekoek, Gorter, the Bilan group, and the French Communist Left), in Korean the work of Pannekoek (Workers' Councils) and Luxemburg (Accumulation of capital) is only just beginning to appear thanks to the joint efforts of the Seoul Group for Workers' Councils and SPA, with which the SGWC is closely associated.[9]

More specific to the Korean situation, has been the effect of the division between North and South imposed by the imperialist conflict between the US and Russian blocs, the US military presence in South Korea, and US support for the succession of military regimes which came to an end in 1988. Combined with the general inexperience of the working class in Korea and the absence within it of a clear internationalist voice, plus the confusion between the workers' movement and the bourgeois democratic opposition which we have described above, this has led to a general infection of society with a pervasive Korean nationalism, often disguised as an "anti-imperialism" in which only the United States and its allies appear as imperialist forces. Opposition to the military regimes, and indeed to capitalism, tended to be identified with opposition to the United States.

Finally, an important feature of the debates within the Korean political milieu is the question of the trades unions. In particular for the present generation of activists, the experience of trades unionism is based on the struggles in the 1980s and early 1990s, in which the unions were in large part clandestine, not yet "bureaucratised" and certainly both animated and led by profoundly dedicated militants (including comrades who today participate in the SPA and SGWC). Because of the conditions of clandestinity and repression, it was not clear to the militants involved at the time that the unions' "programme" was not only not revolutionary, but could not even defend workers' interests. During the 1980s, the unions were closely linked to the democratic opposition to the military regime, whose ambition was not to overthrow capitalism but quite the reverse: to overthrow the military regime and to take over the state capitalist apparatus itself. By contrast, the "democratisation" of Korean society since the 1990s has brought into the open this integration of the unions into the state apparatus, and caused a considerable disarray among militants as to how to react to this new situation: as one comrade put it "the unions turned out to be the best defenders of the democratic state". As a result, there is a general sense of "disappointment" with the unions and a search for some other method for militant activity within the working class. Again and again, in the interventions in the conference and in informal discussions, we could feel how urgent is the need for Korean comrades to have access to the reflection on the nature of the trades unions in capitalism's decadence which has formed such an important part of the reflection in the European workers' movement ever since the Russian revolution, and especially since the failure of the revolution in Germany.

The new millenium has thus witnessed the development of a real effort among many Korean militants to call into question the bases of their previous activity which had, as we have seen, been strongly influenced by the ideologies of both Stalinism and bourgeois democracy. In an effort to preserve some degree of unity and to provide a space for discussion among those involved in the process, a number of groups and individuals have taken the initiative of creating a more or less formal "Network of revolutionary marxists".[10] Inevitably, breaking with the past is extremely difficult and has led to a great deal of heterogeneity among the different groups in the Network. The historical conditions which we have described briefly above have meant that the differentiation between the principles of proletarian internationalism and the bourgeois, essentially nationalist, outlook that characterises Stalinism and Trotskyism has only begun during the last few years, on the basis of the practical experience of the 1990s, and largely thanks to the efforts of the SPA to introduce left communist ideas and positions within the Network.

In this context, there are two aspects of the SPA's introduction to the conference which are absolutely fundamental in our view:

  • First, the explicit declaration that it is necessary for revolutionaries in Korea to place the experience of Korean workers within the wider historical and theoretical framework of the international working class: "The purpose of the international conference is to open widely the horizon of recognition by the theory and the practice with the perspectives of the world revolution. We hope that the revolutionary Marxists go hand in hand for solidarity and unity and accomplish the historical task to crystallise the world revolution with the world proletariat in this important conference".
  • Second, that this can only be done on the basis of the principle of the Communist Left: "The international conference of revolutionary Marxists in Korea is the precious meeting and field of discussions between left communists of the world and the revolutionary marxists of Korea and the first manifestation of exposing the political positions [ie of left communists] within the revolutionary milieu."

The debates at the Conference

This article is too short to give an exhaustive account of the Conference's discussions. Rather, we will try to highlight what seem to us the most important points that emerged from them, in the hope of contributing to the continuation of the debates begun at the Conference both among the Korean comrades themselves and more generally within the internationalist movement world wide.

On the decadence of capitalism

This was the first subject under discussion, and before considering the debate itself, we should first say that we wholeheartedly support the underlying preoccupation of the SPA: to begin the Conference by giving a solid theoretical grounding to the other questions under discussion, namely the situation of the class struggle and revolutionary strategy. In addition, we salute the heroic effort of the SPA comrades to present a brief synthesis of the different views on the question that exist within the Communist Left. Given the complexity of the question - which has been a subject of debate within the workers' movement since the beginning of the 20th century, and has exercised some of its greatest minds - this was an extremely bold undertaking.

With hindsight, however, it may have been too daring! While it was very striking to see that the concept of the decadence of capitalism received an "instinctively" favorable reception (if we can put it like that), it was also clear from the questions posed both during the discussion and informally afterwards that most of the participants lacked the theoretical grounding to tackle the question in depth.[11] To say this is in no way a criticism: many of the basic texts are not available in Korean, which is itself an expression - as we said earlier - of the objective inexperience of the Korean workers' movement. We hope at least that the questions raised, and also the introductory texts presented by the SPA and the ICC in particular, will allow comrades to begin to situate themselves in the debate and also - just as importantly - to understand why this theoretical question is not something posed outside the real world and the concrete preoccupations of the struggle, but the fundamental determining factor of the situation in which we live today.[12]

It is worth taking up one question, from a young student, which expressed in a few words a striking contradiction between appearance and reality in present-day capitalism: "Many people feel decadence, we - the undergraduate students - are subject to bourgeois ideology, there is a feeling that there exists an affluent society, how can we express decadence in more concrete words?". It is true that an aspect of bourgeois ideology (at least in the industrialised countries) is the pretence that we are living in a world of "consumerist abundance" - and indeed the city streets of Seoul, the shops groaning with electronic goods, might seem to give a semblance of reality to the ideology. Yet at the same time, it is abundantly clear that Korean youth faces the same problems as young proletarians elsewhere: unemployment, precarious work contracts, a general difficulty in finding work, the high cost of housing. It is part of the task of communists to demonstrate clearly for today's working-class youth the link between the mass unemployment of which they are victims, and the generalised and permanent warfare which is the other fundamental aspect of capitalism's decadence, as we tried to point out in our brief reply to this question.

On the class struggle

Certainly one of the most important issues under discussion, not only at the Conference but within the Korean movement in general, was the question of the class struggle and its methods. As we understood it, again both from the interventions in the Conference and from informal discussion outside, the union question poses a real problem for the militants who took part in the struggles at the end of the 1980s. In some ways, the situation in Korea is analogous with that in Poland following the creation of the Solidarnosc union - and is yet another demonstration of the profound truth of the principles of the Communist Left: in capitalism's decadence, it is no longer possible to create permanent mass organisations of the working class. Even unions formed in the heat of struggle, as was the case in Korea, can only end up becoming an adjunct of the state, a means not for strengthening the workers' struggle but for strengthening the grip of the state over the workers' struggle. Why is this? Fundamentally, the reason is that it is impossible for the working class to win lasting reforms from capitalism in its decadent period. The unions have lost their original function, and remain tied to the preservation of capitalism. They have taken on a national viewpoint often, moreover, restricted to a single trade or industry, instead of an international viewpoint common to all workers: inevitably, they bow to the logic of capitalism, of "what the country can afford", of "what is good for the national economy". This indeed was one reproach we heard made of the unions in Korea - that they had even reached the point of urging workers to limit their demands to what the bosses are prepared to pay, rather than basing them on the needs of the workers themselves.[13]

Faced with this inevitable betrayal of the unions, and their integration into the democratic state apparatus, the Korean comrades were looking to the ideas of the Communist Left for a solution. Consequently, the notion of "workers' councils" has raised a great deal of interest there. The problem, is that there is a general tendency to see the workers' councils not as the organs of workers' power in a revolutionary situation, but in effect as a new kind of trade union able to exist permanently within capitalism. Indeed this idea was even theorised historically in a presentation on "The council movement strategy in the present period in South Korea, and how to put it into practice" by the "Militants group for revolutionary workers' party". We have to say that this presentation turned history completely on its head by claiming that the workers' councils created during the 1919 German revolution actually evolved out of the trades unions, which is the exact opposite of reality![14] In our opinion, this is not simply a matter of historical inaccuracy of the kind which could be settled by academic debate. It springs more profoundly from the fact that it is extremely difficult to accept the fact that outside a revolutionary period it is simply impossible for the workers to be permanently in struggle. Militants who are caught in this logic - independently of their sincere desire to work for the class struggle, and even independently of the proletarian political positions that they may genuinely defend - run the risk of falling into the trap of immediatism, constantly running after "practical" activity which bares no relationship to what is concretely possible within the real historical situation as it exists.

For the proletarian world outlook, posing the question in this way makes it impossible to answer. As one ICC delegate put it: "If the workers are not in struggle, then it is impossible to hold a gun to their heads, and tell them 'You must struggle!'". Nor is it possible for the revolutionaries to struggle "on behalf of" the working class. Revolutionaries cannot provoke the class struggle: this is not a principle, it is simply a historical fact. What they can do, is contribute to the development of the working class' own awareness of itself, of its place in society as a class with its own interests and above all with revolutionary goals which go beyond the immediate struggle, beyond the workers' immediate situation in the factory, the office, or the dole queue. This is one of the keys to understanding apparently "spontaneous" proletarian uprisings such as that of 1905 in Russia: despite the fact the the revolutionaries of the day played little part in the initial upsurge of struggle, the terrain had been prepared for years by the systematic intervention of the Social-Democracy (the revolutionaries of the day), which had played a critical role in developing the workers' awareness of themselves as a class.[15] To put it briefly, outside periods of open workers' struggle, the essential task of revolutionaries is one of propaganda and the development of those ideas which will strengthen the struggle to come.

There is another question raised in the presentations by Loren Goldner and the Internationalist Perspective delegate, which we feel should not go unanswered: the idea that the "recomposition" of the working class - in other words on the one hand the tendency towards the disappearance of the mega-factories characteristic of the late 19th and 20th centuries in favour of geographically widespread production processes, and on the other the increasingly precarious work conditions of the workers, especially young workers (short-term contracts, unemployment, part-time working, etc.) - has led to the discovery of "new methods of struggle" which go "beyond the workplace". The most notable examples of these "new methods of struggle" are the "flying pickets" supposedly invented by the piqueteros movement in Argentina 2001 and the riots in the French suburbs during 2005. We do not propose, in this article, to answer the comrades' enthusiasm for the French riots and the piqueteros movement, which in our view is profoundly misplaced.[16] However, we do think it necessary to take up a more general political error which is expressed in these positions, which is that the workers' revolutionary consciousness in effect depends on their immediate day to day experience in the workplace.

In fact, not only are precarious working conditions and "flying pickets" not new historically,[17] the supposed "new forms of struggle" that are generally held up for our admiration are nothing other than expressions of the workers' powerlessness in a given situation: the riots of the youngsters in the French suburbs in 2005 are a classic example. The reality is that (in the period of capitalism's decadence) whenever the workers' struggle acquires a certain independence it has tended to organise itself not in unions but in mass meetings with elected delegates; in other words, in an organisational form that both is descended from and prefigures the soviets. The most striking example of recent history is of course the struggles in Poland in 1980; another experience, again in the 1980s, was that of the Cobas (rank-and-file committees) formed during the massive teachers' struggles in Italy (hardly a "traditional" industrial sector!). Nearer to us in time we can point to the strikes in Vigo (Spain) in 2006.[18] Here, the engineering workers who began the strike mostly work on precarious contracts in small-scale industry. Since there was no single large factory which could form the focal point for the struggle they held daily mass meetings, not in the workplace but in the town square. These mass meetings in turn looked back to a form of organisation that had already been used in 1972 in the same town.

The question then is this: why is it that at the end of the 19th century the development of mass precarious workforces led to the formation of the first mass unions of unskilled workers, whereas in the 21st century this is no longer the case?

Why did the Russian workers in 1905 invent the workers' council - the soviet - which Lenin called "the finally discovered form of the dictatorship of the proletariat"?

Why has the mass meeting become the typical form of workers' organisation for struggle whenever the workers' succeed in developing their autonomy and strengh?

In our opinion, as we said at the time, the answer lies not in sociological comparisons but in a far broader political understanding of the change in historical period that took place at the beginning of the 20th century, which was described by the Third International as opening up an "epoch of wars and revolutions".

Moreover, the sociological vision of the working class defended by IP and Loren Goldner strikes us as a complete underestimation of the proletariat's political, theoretical capacities. It is almost as if workers were only capable of thinking about what is happening in the workplace, as if their brains switched off as soon as they leave work, as if they do not concern themselves with their children's future (problems of schools, education, social decomposition), about solidarity with the old and sick, and with the generations to come (problems of declining health service facilities, of pensions), as if they were incapable of viewing the problems of the environment or the endless barbarity of war with a critical eye, and tying what they learn about the wider world to their own direct experience of capitalist exploitation in the workplace.

Nor is this broad, political and historical understanding of the world necessary only for the immediate struggle. If the world proletariat is to be successful in overthrowing capitalism, it will have to build a completely new society in its place, a society of a kind that has never existed in humanity's history. To do so, it must be capable of developing the most profound comprehension of human history, it must be able to claim as its heritage humanity's greatest achievements in art, in science, and in philosophy. This is precisely what the political organisations of the working class are for: they are a means by which the workers think more generally about their condition and the perspectives that are open to them.[19]

The Declaration against the threat of war

We have already published the text of the Declaration on our website and in our press, and will not repeat its content here.[20] The debate around its content concentrated on the proposal put forward by a member of the Ulsan Labour Education Committee to lay the major responsibility for the increasing tension in the region at America's door, and in effect to present North Korea as a "victim" of the US policy of containment. This proposal, and the support it received from some of the more Trotskyist tendencies in the Conference was, we think, significant of the difficulty that many Korean comrades have in breaking with the "anti-imperialist" (for which read essentially "anti-American") ideology of the 1980s, and an continuing attachment to the defence of North Korea and so to Korean nationalism, despite their undoubtedly sincere rejection of Stalinism.

Both the ICC and several SPA comrades argued strongly against changing the main thrust of the Declaration. As we pointed out in the debate on the Declaration both in Seoul and in Ulsan, the idea that one country in an imperialist conflict is "more to blame" than another, is exactly the same idea that allowed the Social-Democratic traitors to call workers to support "their" nation in 1914: the German workers against "Tsarist barbarism", the French workers against "Prussian militarism", the British workers in support of "plucky little Belgium", and so on. For us, the period of capitalism's decadence has demonstrated the profound truth of Rosa Luxemburg's understanding that imperialism is not the fault of this or that country, but a fundamental feature of capitalism itself: in this epoch, all states are imperialist. The only difference between the US giant and the North Korean pigmy is the size of their imperialist appetites, and their ability to satisfy them.

Two other objections arose during the discussion, which we feel are worth mentioning. The first, was the proposal by a comrade from the "Solidarity for workers' liberation" group to include a point denouncing the South Korean government's taking the tense situation as an excuse to step up repressive measures. This very justified suggestion was made during the discussion in Seoul, and the final version debated in Ulsan the next day (and since published) was modified accordingly.

The second objection, from a comrade from the "Sahoejueo Nodongja" group,[21] was that the actual situation was not in fact that serious, and that denouncing war now would in effect give credence to a war scare being orchestrated by the bourgeoisie for its own purposes. This objection is a reasonable one, but nonetheless mistaken in our view. Whether or not there is an imminent threat of war in the Far East, there can be no doubt that the threat of war hangs over this region and that the tensions between the different major players on the imperialist scene (China, Taiwan, Japan, USA, Russia) are increasing. In this situation, we consider it of great importance that internationalists should be able to denounce the responsibility of all the imperialist camps: in doing so, we are following in the steps of Lenin, Luxemburg, and the Left of the Second International who fought for the internationalist resolution voted by the 1907 Stuttgart Congress. It is a primary responsibility of revolutionary organisations to take position within the proletariat on the crucial events of imperialist conflict or the class struggle.[22]

To conclude on this point, we would like to salute the fraternal internationalist support for the Declaration given by the IP delegate and other comrades present as individuals at the Conference.

A balance-sheet

At a final meeting before our delegation's departure, the ICC and SPA found ourselves in complete agreement in our overall assessment of the Conference. The most significant points raised were the following:

  1. The fact that this Conference could take place is itself an event of historic importance, since it represents the first time that the positions of the Communist Left have been defended and begun to take root in a highly industrialised country of the Far East.
  2. The SPA considered that the discussions during the Conference had been of particular importance in demonstrating in practice the fundamental difference between the Communist Left and Trotskyism. In doing so, the Conference reinforced the SPA's determination to develop its own understanding of Left Communist principles, and to make these more widely available in the Korean workers' movement.
  3. The joint Declaration about the North Korean nuclear tests were a concrete expression of the internationalist positions of the Communist Left, in particular of the SPA and ICC. The debate over the Declaration revealed the problem of nationalistic tendencies remaining in the Korean workers movement. Within the "network" there are divergences on this, this problem is unsolved in the milieu, and the SPA is resolved to work to overcome this in the future.
  4. One of the most important questions for future debate is that of the trades unions. It will be necessary for the comrades in Korea to analyse the history of the unions there, especially since the 1980s, in the light of the historical experience of the world proletariat, as this is concentrated in the positions defended by the communist left.

Perspectives

For all its importance, we are well aware that this Conference is only one step in developing the presence of left communist principles in the Far East, and common work between revolutionaries in East and West. That said, we consider that the fact the Conference was held, and the debates within it, have confirmed two points on which the ICC has always insisted, and which will be fundamental for the construction of the future world communist party of the working class.

The first of these is the political foundation on which such an organisation will be built. On all the fundamental questions - the union question, the parliamentary question, the question of nationalism and national liberation struggles - the development of a new internationalist movement can only be accomplished on the basis of the groundwork laid by the small groups of the Communist Left between the 1920s and 50s (notably by Bilan, the KAPD, the GIK, the GCF), where the ICC draws its origins.[23]

Secondly, the conference in Korea, and the SPA's explicit call to "accomplish the solidarity of the world proletariat", is yet another confirmation that the internationalist movement is not developing on the basis of a federation of existing national parties, but directly on an international level.[24] This is a historical advance over the situation when the Third International was created, in the midst of the revolution and on the basis of the left fractions that had emerged from the national parties of the Second International. It also reflects the nature of the working class today: a class which, more than ever in history, is united in a world wide process of production, and in a global capitalist society whose contradictions can only be overcome by its overthrow on a world scale, to be replaced by a world wide human community.


[1] We should also mention the invention, in the 15th century, of the han-gǔl alphabet, perhaps the first attempt to create a notation based on a scientific study of the language in its spoken form.

[2] This included the forced prostitution of thousands of Korean women in the Japanese army's military brothels, and the demolition of the old agrarian economy as Korean farming was more and more directed by the food requirements of Japan itself.

[3] "The United States is interested in the creation of a military barrier between non-Communist and Communist areas. If that barrier is to be effective, the areas behind it must be stable (...) The United States must determine the particular causes of unrest and intelligently and boldly assist in their removal. Our experience in China has shown that it is useless to temporize with the causes of unrest; that a policy looking towards temporary stability is doomed to failure when the general desire appears to be for permanent change", Melvin Conant Jnr, "JCRR: an object lesson", in Far Eastern Survey, May 2nd, 1951.

[4] "The Asian dragons run out of steam", in International Review n°89 (1997)

[5] The first and most important source of finance was the acquisition by the chaebols of assigned goods at prices well under their value. Just after the war this made up 30% of what South Korea inherited from the Japanese. Initially placed under the control of the American office of assigned goods, they were distributed by the office itself and by the Korean government.

[6] We do not propose, in this article, to deal with the situation of the working class in North Korea, which has had to suffer all the horrors of an ultra-militarist Stalinist regime.

[7] Andrew Nahm, A history of the Korean people.

[8] The Philippines, and Brazil are examples that spring immediately to mind.

[9] Some comrades of the SGWC took part in the conference in an individual capacity.

[10] Apart from the SPA, the following Korean groups belonging to the Network gave presentations to the conference: Solidarity for Workers' Liberation, Ulsan Labour Education Committee, Militants' Group for Revolutionary Workers' Party. A presentation on the class struggle was also given by Loren Goldner, in an individual capacity.

[11] This was particularly true of the discussion on decadence, held in Seoul, which was open to the public and therefore included in the audience a number of young students with little or no political experience.

[12] We do not propose to examine here the Internationalist Perspective group's obsession with the "formal and real domination of capital". We have already dealt with the subject at some length in International Review n°60 , published in 1990 at a time when IP still called itself the "External Fraction of the ICC". It is nonetheless worth mentioning that IP's first effort at demonstrating in practice the superiority of its "new" theoretical insight was hardly convincing, since IP continued to insist two years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall that events in Eastern Europe actually represented a strengthening of Russia!

[13] Inevitably, this account remains extremely schematic and open to correction and precision. We can only regret that the presentation by the comrade from ULEC on the history of the Korean workers' movement was far too long to be translated into English and therefore remains inaccessible to us. We hope that it will be possible for the comrades to prepare and translate a shorter version of their text which would summarise its main points.

[14] In fact, the unions during the German revolution were the worst enemies of the soviets. For an account of the German revolution, see the articles published in International Review n°80-82

[15] See our series on the 1905 revolution published in International Review n°120, 122, 123, 125.

[16] For more detail on these subjects, see for example "Riots in the French suburbs: in the face of despair, only the class struggle offers a future ", and "Argentina: the mystification of the 'piquetero' movement ", published in International Review n°119. We have to say also that putting forward the idea of the "disappearance" of a mass industrial workforce came across as somewhat surreal in the town of Ulsan, where the Hyundai factory alone employs 20,000 workers!

[17] If we take as an example the idea that "precarious working" led to the invention of the "flying picket" as a "new form of struggle", we can see that this idea is simply unfounded historically. The flying picket (ie delegations of workers in struggle going to other workplaces to bring other workers into the movement) has been around for a long time: to take the example of Britain alone, the flying picket was famously used in two important struggles during the 1970s: the miners' strikes of 1972 and 1974 when the miners sent pickets to the power stations, and the 1972 building workers' strike, when the builders sent pickets to spread the strike to different building sites. Nor is the existence of a "precarious" workforce anything new. Indeed it was precisely the emergence of a mass unskilled precarious workforce (particularly in the docks) that led to the formation of the revolutionary syndicalist Tom Mann's "General Labourers' Union" in 1889 (Engels and Marx's daughter Eleanor were also involved in the development of this union).

[18] See the article published in World Revolution n°295

[19] The communists "do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement. The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole. The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement." (Communist manifesto).

[20] The declaration can be found online .

[21] In English, "Socialist Worker": despite the name, this group has nothing to do with the British "Socialist Workers' Party". We apologise in advance if we have misrepresented the comrade's line of thought - the language barrier may have led us to an error of interpretation.

[22] The fact that the internationalists in this conference did not remain voiceless in the face of the threat of war is in our view a real step forward compared to the conferences of the Communist Left at the end of the 1970s, where the other participants - and notably Battaglia Comunista and the CWO - refused any joint statement on the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR.

[23] According to IP, we have to go "beyond the Communist Left". Nobody, least of all those groups we have cited, would pretend that they had said the final word on these or any other questions: history moves forward, and we come to understand past history better. But it is impossible to build a house without laying the foundations, and in our view the only foundations on which it is possible to build are those of our predecessors of the Communist Left. The logic of IP's position is to throw out the history from which we spring - and to declare that "history starts with us". However much IP may dislike the idea, this is nothing but a variant of the Bordigist position that "the party" (or in the IBRP's case, "the Bureau") is the unique font of wisdom and has nothing to learn from anybody else.

[24] This aspect of the development of the future international organisation was a matter of polemic between in the ICC and the IBRP in the 1980s, the IBRP holding that an international organisation could only be built on the basis of independent political organisation pre-existing in different countries. The real practice of the internationalist movement today completely invalidates this theory of the IBRP.

Life of the ICC: 

Geographical: 

The theory of decadence is the key to understanding the conditions and principles of the proletarian struggle

The concretisation of historical materialism

The theory of decadence is nothing other than the concretisation of historical materialism in the analysis of the evolution of modes of production. It is thus the indispensable framework for understanding the historical period we are living in. Knowing whether society is still progressing, or whether it has had its day historically, is decisive for grasping what is at stake on the political and socio-economic levels, and acting accordingly. As with all past societies, the ascendant phase of capitalism expressed the historically necessary character of the relations of production it embodies, that is, their vital role in the expansion of society's productive forces. The phase of decadence, by contrast, expresses the transformation of these relations into a growing barrier to this same development. This is one of the main theoretical acquisitions left us by Marx and Engels.

The 20th century was the most murderous in the entire history of humanity, both in the scale, the frequency and length of the wars which took up a large part of it, and in the incomparable breadth of the human catastrophes which it produced: from the greatest famines in history to systematic genocide, taking in economic crises which have shaken the whole planet and hurled tens of millions of proletarians and human beings into abject poverty. There is no comparison between the 19th and 20th centuries. During the Belle Epoque, the bourgeois mode of production reached unprecedented heights: it had united the globe, reaching levels of productivity and technological sophistication which could only have been dreamed about before. Despite the accumulation of tensions in society's foundations, the last 20 years of capitalism's ascendancy (1894-1914) were the most prosperous yet; capitalism seemed invincible and armed conflicts were confined to the peripheries. Unlike the "long 19th century" (as the historian EJ Hobsbawm has described it), which was a period of almost uninterrupted moral, intellectual and material progress, since 1914 there has been a marked regression on all fronts. The increasingly apocalyptic character of economic and social life across the planet, and the threat of self-destruction in an endless series of conflicts and ever more grave ecological catastrophes, are neither a natural fatality, nor the product of simple human madness, nor a characteristic of capitalism since its origins: they are a manifestation of the decadence of the capitalist mode of production which, from being, from the 16th century to the First World War,[1] a powerful factor in economic, social and political development, has become a fetter on all such development and a threat to the very survival of humanity.

Why is humanity faced with the question of survival at the very moment that it has achieved a level of development in the productive forces that would enable it to start moving, for the first time in its history, towards a world without material poverty, towards a unified society capable of basing its activity on the needs, desires and consciousness of mankind? Does the world proletariat really constitute the revolutionary force that can take humanity out of the impasse into which capitalism has led it? Why is it that most of the forms of workers' struggle in our epoch can no longer be those of the last century, such as the fight for gradual reforms through trade unionism, parliamentarism, supporting the constitution of certain nation states or certain progressive fractions of the bourgeoisie? It is impossible to find one's bearings in the current historical situation, still less to play a vanguard role, without having a global, coherent vision which can answer these elementary but crucial questions. Marxism - historical materialism - is the only conception of the world which makes it possible to give such an answer. Its clear and simple response can be summed up in a few words; just like the modes of production which came before it, capitalism is not an eternal system: "Beyond a certain point, the development of the productive forces becomes a barrier to capital, and consequently the relation of capital becomes a barrier to the development of the productive forces of labour. Once this point has been reached, capital, ie wage labour, enters into the same relation to the development of social wealth and the productive forces as the guild system, serfdom and slavery did, and is, as a fetter, necessarily cast off. The last form of servility assumed by human activity, that of wage labour on the one hand and capital on the other, is thereby shed, and this shedding is itself the result of the mode of production corresponding to capital. It is precisely the production process of capital that gives rise to the material and spiritual conditions for the negation of wage labour and capital, which are themselves the negation of earlier forms of unfree social production.

The growing discordance between the productive development of society and the relations of production hitherto characteristic of it, is expressed in acute contradictions, crises, convulsions" ("Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy" [also known as the Grundrisse], Collected Works Vol. 29, 133-4).

As long as capitalism fulfilled a historically progressive role and the proletariat was not sufficiently developed, proletarian struggles could not result in a triumphant world revolution; they did however allow the proletariat to recognise itself and assert itself as a class through the trade union and parliamentary struggle for real reforms and lasting improvements in its living conditions. From the moment when the capitalist system entered into decadence, the world communist revolution became a possibility and a necessity. The forms of the proletarian struggle were radically overturned; even on the immediate level, defensive struggles could no longer be expressed, either in form or content, through the means of struggle forged last century such as trade unionism and parliamentary representation for workers' political organisations.

Brought into being by the revolutionary movements which put an end to the First World War, the Communist International was founded in 1919 around the recognition that the bourgeoisie was no longer a historically progressive class: "2. THE PERIOD OF CAPITALIST DECLINE. On the basis of its assessment of the world economic situation the Third Congress was able to declare with complete certainty that capitalism had fulfilled its mission of developing the productive forces and had reached a stage of irreconcilable contradiction with the requirements not only of modern historical development, but also of the most elementary conditions of human existence. This fundamental contradiction was reflected in the recent imperialist war, and further sharpened by the great damage the war inflicted on the conditions of production and distribution. Obsolete capitalism has reached the stage where the destruction that results from its unbridled power is crippling and ruining the economic achievements that have been built up by the proletariat, despite the fetters of capitalist slavery... What capitalism is passing through today is nothing other than its death throes" (‘Theses on Comintern Tactics' in Theses, resolutions and manifestos of the first four Congresses of the Third International, Hessel, p388-9)

From then on, the understanding that the First World War marked the entry of the capitalist system into its decadent phase has been the common patrimony of the majority of the groups of the communist left who, thanks to this historical compass, have been able to remain on an intransigent and coherent class terrain. The ICC has only taken up and developed the heritage transmitted and enriched by the Italian, German and Dutch lefts in the 1930s and 40s and then by the Gauche Communiste de France in the 1940s and 50s.

Decisive class combats are on the horizon. It is therefore more than ever vital for the proletariat to re-appropriate its own conception of the world, which has been developed over nearly two centuries of workers' struggles and theoretical elaboration by its political organisations. More than ever, the proletariat must understand that the present acceleration of barbarism and the uninterrupted increase in its exploitation are not a fact of nature, but are the result of the economic and social laws of capital which continue to rule the world even though they have been historically obsolete since the beginning of the 20th century. It is more vital than ever for the working class to understand that while the forms of struggle it learned in the 19th century (minimum programme of struggle for reforms, support for progressive fractions of the bourgeoisie etc) had a sense in the period of capitalism's ascent when it could "tolerate" the existence of an organised proletariat within society, these same forms can only lead it into an impasse in the period of decadence. More than ever, it is vital for the proletariat to understand that the communist revolution is not an idle dream, a utopia, but a necessity and a possibility which have their scientific foundations in an understanding of the decadence of the capitalist mode of production.

The decadence of capitalism

As a result of historical evolution, labour power becomes a commodity

Under capitalism, labour power has become a commodity:

"In ancient times, we see the exploitation of surplus labour by those who do not work. Slavery in antiquity, serfdom in the Middle Ages, both depend on a certain level of productivity being reached, on the ability of one individual's labour to support several individuals. Each is a different expression of the way in which one social class profits from this productivity by living on the labour of another class. In this sense, the slave of Antiquity and the medieval serf are the direct ancestors of today's wage worker. But neither in Antiquity nor in the Middle Ages had labour power become a commodity, despite its productivity and the fact that it is exploited (...)

The sale of labour power as a commodity implies a whole series of specific historical and social relations. The appearance on the market of the commodity 'labour power' means:

  1. that the worker is free as an individual;
  2. that he is separated from the means of production, and that the latter are brought together under the ownership of those who do not work;
  3. that labour productivity has reached a high level, in other words that it can provide surplus labour;
  4. that the market economy has become dominant, in other words that the creation of surplus labour in the form of commodities is the aim of the purchase of labour power" (Rosa Luxemburg, Introduction to political economy,[2] Chapter V, "Wage Labour").

For the proletariat, the result was to introduce a new quality to its destitution, compared to previous epochs:

"The primitive tribe is hungry, occasionally or often, when natural conditions are unfavourable to it; its destitution is that of society as a whole, it was unthinkable that some its members could be destitute while others were rich; inasmuch as the means of life were available for the whole of society, they were equally to all of its members. The same is true of antique and oriental slavery. However pressured and exploited the Egyptian public slave or the Greek private slave, however great a gap between his meagre living conditions and the opulence of his master, his conditions as a slave nonetheless ensured his existence. Slaves were not left to die of hunger, just as nobody left their horse or their cattle to die of hunger. The same is true of medieval serfdom: the whole system of feudal dependence where the peasant was attached to the land and where everyone was either the master or the servant of other men, or both at once, attributed to each individual a determined place within society. However pressured were the serfs, no lord had the right to chase them from the land and therefore to deprive them of their means of existence. Feudal relations obliged the lord to help the peasants in the case of catastrophes, fires, floods, hail, etc. It is only at the end of the Middle Ages, when feudalism begins to collapse and modern capitalism makes its appearance, that the situation changes.

(...)

capitalist commodity production is the first form of economy in human history where the absence of work and of the means of existence for a large and growing part of the population, and the poverty of another, also growing, part are not only the consequence but also a necessity and the condition for the existence of the economy." (Rosa Luxemburg, op.cit.).

Capitalism creates the conditions for communism

The Communist Manifesto emphasises the eminently revolutionary role played by the bourgeoisie, as it swept away all the old limited forms of society, and replaced them by the most dynamic and expansionist mode of production ever seen; a mode of production which, by conquering and unifying the entire planet, and by setting in motion in enormous productive forces, laid the foundations for a higher form of society which will at last be able to do away with class antagonisms.

Communism has thus becomes a material possibility thanks to the unprecedented development of the productive forces by capitalism itself.

The society based on the universal production of commodities is inevitably condemned, by the logic of its own internal functioning, to decline and in the end to collapse. In the Manifesto, the internal contradictions which will lead to capitalism's fall were already identified:

"Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. For many a decade past, the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the rovolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeoisie and its rule. It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put on trial, each time more threateningly, the existence of the entire bourgeois society. In these crises a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity - the epidemic of overproduction. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce." (Manifesto of the Communist Party in Marx: the revolutions of 1848, Pelican Marx Library, p72-73)

Marx's work in the years after he wrote the Manifesto was to look more closely at the relationship between the extraction and the realisation of surplus value, and at the periodic crises of overproduction which, every ten years or so, shook capitalist society to its foundations. In unveiling the secret of surplus value, he showed that capitalism is marked by profound contradictions which will inevitably lead to its decline and final collapse. These contradictions are based on the very nature of wage labour:

  • the crisis of overproduction: under capitalism, the majority of the population is, by the very nature of surplus value, made up of over-producers and under-consumers. Capitalism is unable to realise all the value that is produced within the closed circuit of its own relations of production;
  • the tendency of the rate of profit to fall: only human labour power can create new value; however, competition constantly obliges capitalism to reduce the quantity of living labour in relation to dead labour (machines, raw materials), which exerts a downward pressure on the rate of profit.

Despite its incredibly expansionist nature and the dynamic by which it subjects the whole planet to its laws, capitalism is - like Roman slave society or medieval feudalism - a historically transitory mode of production. At the end of this vast historical movement, like all modes of production that preceded it, capitalism is therefore condemned to disappear not because of its moral bankruptcy but because its internal contradictions compel it to destroy itself, and because it has produced within itself a class able to replace it by a higher form of social organisation.

Capitalism's contradictions also pointed to their solution: communism. A society plunged into chaos by the domination of commodity relationships can only be superseded by a society which abolishes wage labour and production for exchange, the society of "producers freely associated" for the satisfaction of human needs, where the relationships between human beings will be no longer obscure, but simple and clear.

During the last years of his life, Marx devoted a large part of his intellectual energy to the study of archaic societies. The publication of Morgan's Ancient society and the questions posed to him by the Russian workers' movement on the perspectives for the revolution in Russia, led him to undertake an intensive study which has come down to us in the form of his very incomplete but nonetheless extremely important Ethnographic notes. The same study also underpinned Engels' great anthropological work, The origins of the family, private property and the state.

For Marx and Engels, Morgan's work on the American Indians was a striking confirmation of their ideas about primitive communism: contrary to the conventional bourgeois conception that private property, social hierarchy, and the inequality of the sexes were inherent to human nature, Morgan's study revealed that the more primitive was a social formation, the more property was held in common, the more also the process of decision-making was collective and the more relationships between men and women were based on mutual respect.

Marxist approach to primitive society was founded on his materialist method which considered that the historical evolution of societies is determined, in the last instance, by changes in their economic infrastructure. These changes brought about the end of the primitive community and opened the way to the appearance of more developed social forms. But his vision of historical progress was radically opposed to the trivial bourgeois evolutionism which imagined a purely linear ascension from darkness into light, an ascension whose culmination is of course the brilliant splendour of bourgeois civilisation. Marx's viewpoint was profoundly dialectical: far from rejecting primitive communism as subhuman, his Notes express a profound respect for the qualities of the tribal community: its ability to govern itself, its powers of imagination and artistic creation, its sexual equality. The inevitable limitations of primitive society - in particular, restrictions imposed on individuals and the division of humanity in the tribal units - were necessarily overcomes by historical progress. But the positive side of these societies was lost during this process and would have to be restored at a higher level in the communist future.

The discovery that human beings had lived for hundreds of thousands of years in a society without classes and without a state was to become a powerful instrument in the hands of the workers' movement and served to counterbalance all those proclamations according to which the love of private property and the need for hierarchy are an intrinsic part of human nature.

The imperialist phase, capitalism's apogee and prelude to its decadence

When the Communist Manifesto was written, the cyclical crises of overproduction could still be overcome "by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones": capitalism still had before it a long phase of expansion.

During the 1870s and 1880s a new phase in capitalism's life opened up. The capitalist system entered its last phase of expansion and world conquest, no longer through the class struggle of emerging bourgeoisie seeking to establish viable national states, but through the method of imperialism and colonial conquest. During the last three decades of the 19th century almost the entire planet was conquered and shared out between the great imperialist powers.

With the appearance of the first signs of capitalism's decadent phase - growing tensions between the great powers and incessant conflicts on the periphery - as Engels was to write in 1891 with remarkable prescience: "All the above was said with the reservation that Germany will be able to pursue its economic and political development in peace. A war would change all that. And war is liable to break out at any moment. Everyone knows what war means today. It would be Russia and France on one side; Germany, Austria and perhaps Italy on the other" ('Socialism in Germany' 1891, in Marx and Engels Collected Works vol 27 p241) "But if war is to break out nevertheless, one thing is certain. This war, in which fifteen to twenty million armed men would slaughter one another and devastate Europe as it has never been devastated before - this war would either lead to the immediate triumph of socialism, or it would lead to such an upheaval in the old order of things, it would leave behind it everywhere such a heap of ruins, that the old capitalist society would become more impossible than ever..." (p245).

Before the outbreak of social disaster of World War I, many influential voices within the workers movement tried to convince the working class that capitalism could be transformed peacefully through reforms.

Fortunately at the time, the Marxist left was able to see through the apparently robust health of capitalism as expressed in its economic statistics. In reality, when the war broke out, capitalism was at the height of its economic prosperity and it was by walking in Engels' footsteps that the Marxist left was able to undertake an implacable struggle against the reformists within the social democracy, and to take account of the exacerbating contradictions of the system.

The understanding of the phase of imperialism and of capitalist decadence was to be developed by Marx's successors, and notably by Rosa Luxemburg.

The 20th century: the century of wars and revolutions

Although the Marxist left was far from being united on the fundamental reasons that had led capitalism to World War I - and a qualitatively and quantitatively new phenomenon in social life - it was nonetheless able to agree on its immediate cause: this was a war between great imperialist powers to divide up the world between them. Obviously those who were the most interested in a new division of the world, and were ready to go to war for it, were the least well endowed in colonies: Germany in particular. The others (Britain, France) were equally ready for war to avoid losing their colonial empires.

As an international wave of indignation against the barbarism of World War I was transformed into a world revolutionary wave which could put on the historical agenda the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the creation of a communist society, there were those within the workers' movement who took refuge in "Marxist orthodoxy" to decree that the seizure of power by the working class in Russia was premature because it had not yet been preceded by the political seizure of power by the bourgeoisie. This polarisation on the supposed immaturity of revolutionary conditions in Russia was not only completely mistaken as to the development of industry and the working class in that country, but above all completely missed the fundamental point that conditions were ripe for a worldwide revolution.

Carried by the wave of revolutionary movements which had put an end to World War I, the foundation of the Communist International in 1919 was based, as we have seen above, on the understanding that the historically progressive role of the bourgeoisie had come to an end.

The fact that the revolution was defeated in no way indicates that the objective conditions for revolution were not yet ready in this period. Not only were the preconditions for a society of abundance already present thanks to the development of productive forces but the working class had already demonstrated, in 1905 in Russia and in several industrialised countries from 1917 onwards, its ability to overthrow the bourgeoisie and set up its own political power world wide.

This defeat, due fundamentally to the defeat of the revolution in Germany, in fact expresses the immaturity of the subjective conditions for the revolution, in particular the continued illusions of a large part of the German proletariat in the Social Democracy despite the latter's betrayal during the war.

The economic foundations of capitalist decadence

The world war, the first brutal manifestation of capitalism's entry into its decadent phase, was obviously not unconnected with the contradictions which had developed within society's economic foundations. Indeed it is a pure product of these contradictions.

A) the underlying economic causes of wars in the decadent period

As we have already pointed out, Marx had demonstrated both the absolute necessity for capitalism to realise a part of its surplus value in exchange with the non-capitalist world, and the fact that this necessity is a result of the mode of appropriation of surplus value which is specific to capitalism: wage labour. It is this that forces the capitalist to reduce the workers' wages to the minimum possible, such that the latter are unable to buy commodities which are not strictly necessary for the reproduction of their labour power, and therefore to constitute a factor in enlarging the solvent market within capitalism. Whence the necessity for capitalism constantly to search for outlets outside the sphere of its own relations of production:

"Secondly he overlooks the fact that the output level is by no means arbitrarily chosen, but the more capitalist production develops, the more it is forced to produce on a scale which has nothing to do with the immediate demand but depends on a constant expansion of the world market. He has recourse to Say's trite assumption, that the capitalist produces not for the sake of profit, surplus-value, but produces use-value directly for consumption - for his own consumption. He overlooks the fact that the commodity has to be converted into money. The demand of the workers does not suffice, since profit arises precisely from the fact that the demand of the workers is smaller than the value of their produce, and that it [profit] is all the greater the smaller, relatively, is this demand. The demand of the capitalists among themselves is equally insufficient." (Theories of Surplus Value part 2, 'Ricardo's theory of profit - (e) Ricardo's explanation for the fall in the rate of profit and its connection with his theory of rent', p468).

The necessity for global capitalism to exchange with the extra-capitalist world affects each capitalist power with more or less force, and pushes each to try to acquire its own colonial empire in order to avoid dependence on other great powers for access to such a market. As a result, even before World War I, the world and colonial markets had all come under the domination of the great economic powers. From then on a country could only acquire new colonies at the expense of its rivals.

Thus although the world war was not a direct consequence of an economic crisis caused by capitalism's insurmountable economic contradictions, it was nonetheless their product in the last instance. The same is true of World War II and of the wars which have followed.

As capitalism plunged further into its own contradictions, a qualitative modification took place in the nature of these wars themselves as they became increasingly irrational from the economic point of view.

This economic irrationality existed already in World War I, in as much as, far from allowing capitalism to develop, it brought capitalism's development to a brutal halt. The economies of most of the combatant countries, in whichever camp they fought, were also hard hit by the war. Only the United States came out an overall winner.

After World War I, the economic objectives of war - in other words seizing the markets of one's rivals - tended to give way to purely strategic considerations aimed at maintaining or improving the balance of power in one's own favour. The example of today's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is a striking illustration, since the control of oil is also here fundamentally a strategic motive not an economic one.

At the global level therefore, it is the absence of any way out economically which pushes each state into the flight towards militarism and war.

B) the crisis of 1929 and the 1930s and the explosion of structural mass unemployment

The history of capitalism is the history of its conquest of the planet. This development is inextricably tied to the development of trade with extra-capitalist economy, and to the latter's integration into capitalist relations of production:

"The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce whiat it calls civilization into their midst, ie, to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image." ('Bourgeois and Proletarians', The manifesto of the Communist Party, in Marx: the Revolutions of 1848, Pelican Marx Library, p71).

The result of this movement is the diminution of the extent of extra-capitalist markets, without any diminution in capitalism's need for their existence to absorb part of its production in order to be able to continue accumulating in "normal" conditions.

The crisis of 1929 was the first direct expression, at a strictly economic level, of the insurmountable contradictions of decadent capitalism. Just like the cyclical crises of the ascendant phase, it was a crisis of overproduction. But unlike the former, it could not be resolved by the opening of new markets which would provide a lasting basis for new growth. It was the expression of the global and growing tendency towards the saturation of extra-capitalist markets relative to capitalism's need to realise surplus value in order to fuel new cycles of accumulation.

The slight improvement in the economic situation during the 1930s was in fact a product of state capitalist measures aimed at controlling the economy, and transforming it to meet the needs of military production in the new world war to come. Far from offering a solution to capitalism's insurmountable contradictions, such measures could do no more than hold them off for a time.

World War I had already forced capitalism to adopt a number of state capitalist measures. Once the conflict ended however the bourgeoisie still laboured under the illusion that it could return to its pre-war golden age. In the years that followed, this tendency towards the state's domination of the whole of social and economic life (state capitalism) has become irreversible.

The crisis of 1929 opened a period of permanent economic crisis, broken only by the atypical years of prosperity that followed World War II. It was marked in particular by the development of structural mass unemployment, which was only temporarily absorbed by the policies of public works and arms production during the 1930s, by the war during 1939-45, and then by the relatively short-lived period of reconstruction that followed World War II.

Both quantitatively and qualitatively, unemployment since 1929 has differed from that of the 20th century, when the unemployed formed an industrial reserve army necessary for capital. It is the expression of the permanent crisis of overproduction affecting the world economy. In a context where the world economy has not enough room to develop, each national capital and each individual capitalist is forced to reduce its workforce as much as possible in order to remain competitive. This expression of permanent overproduction reveals the full extent of capitalism's contradictions, on two levels:

  • In order to maintain social stability, the bourgeoisie is forced to introduce unemployment benefits, especially in those countries where the proletariat is most concentrated and most experienced; this is completely unproductive expenditure which weighs heavily on the economy.
  • By expelling from the productive process the only value-creating productive force, the proletariat, the bourgeoisie constantly weakens the foundations of a system based on the exploitation of the working class.

The post-1945 period of reconstruction: a new lease of life for capitalism, or the reaction of a diseased social body?

The growth rates during the two decades that followed World War II were higher than the best rates achieved during capitalism's ascendancy, and were used as an argument by its supporters to claim that capitalism had definitively overcome its crises. They also engendered considerable scepticism in the revolutionary camp as to the reality of capitalism's decadence.

This was all the more true in that these growth rates were made possible by an equally substantial increase in labour productivity, accompanied to some extent by an improvement in working class living conditions,[3] and although the first signs of capitalism's return to open crisis appeared at the end of the 1960s, the 1970s also experienced relatively high growth rates.

But when we look back on the 20th century as a whole, with the hindsight that our position at the beginning of the 21st century allows us, it is much easier to see that the Reconstruction years are in fact an exception in a period characterised by capitalism"s irreversible slide into crisis.

We should also point out that:

  • Unlike previous society's, and contrary to what Trotsky had believed in the 1930s, capitalism's entry into decadence is marked, not by a halt in the development of the productive forces, but by the presence of a constant fetter on their development. This is essentially because critical technical development is vital to capitalism's existence, as it was not for previous societies, even when the full use of this development is constrained by the inadequacy of the market.
  • A general epoch of decadence is not incompatible with short periods of rising prosperity, as the ruling class tries to hold back the decline in its mode of production through the intervention of the state.

We can give a general explanation here of the economic boom of the Reconstruction period.

Firstly, we need to bear in mind the reality underlying the gross statistics for growth, which include a substantial share of unproductive capital, notably in arms production.

Consequently, although as we have said the bourgeoisie was able to profit from an important increase in labour productivity thanks in large part to state intervention in the national economy, these gains in productivity were in part "lost" to capitalist accumulation due to their sterilisation as unproductive capital.

Secondly, we should highlight the following factors underlying this period of relative prosperity:

  • The impetus given by the reconstruction of Western Europe and Japan, thanks to the essentially imperialist programme of the Marshall Plan.
  • The development of state capitalism within each country, and the adoption of state capitalist measures at the level of the imperialist blocs (IMF, EEC, World Bank, COMECON etc.), made it possible to modulate growing economic contradictions and thus temporarily avoid the sanction of the market.
  • The beginning of a substantial rise in debt.
  • A more efficient exploitation of the remaining extra-capitalist markets. Technical development, the falling costs of communications and transport all facilitated a more intensive penetration of the surviving extra-capitalist markets. In addition, the policy of decolonisation relieved the great powers of a costly burden (the expense of colonial administration and the military presence needed to support it), which made it possible to increase sales to the ex-colonies.

Once the specific factors underlying the economic boom of the Reconstruction period were exhausted, a general rise in debt became an increasingly important palliative to the inadequacy of solvent markets. Far from being a miracle cure for capitalism's contradictions, this could only lead to a long series of bankruptcies among the most indebted states, beginning with a number of African states during the 1970s and spreading to many of the "Tigers" and "Dragons" in 1998. The list of bankrupt states is obviously neither exhaustive nor closed.

The most barbaric century that humanity has ever known

Even the most enthusiastic apologists for the capitalist mode of production are forced to recognise that the 20th century has been one of the darkest that humanity has ever suffered.

Human history is not lacking in cruelty of every kind: tortures, massacres, mass deportation or extermination of whole populations on the basis of religion, language, culture, or race. The obliteration of Carthage by the Roman legions, the invasions of Attila in the mid-5th century, Charlemagne's execution of 4,500 Saxon hostages on a single day in 782, the torture chambers and burnings of the Inquisition, the extermination of the Indians of America, the selling into slavery of millions of Africans between the 16th and 19th centuries: these are just a few examples that any schoolboy can find in his history books. Similarly, human history has already seen other examples of long and tragic periods of decadence and disaster: the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the Hundred Years War between France and England during the Middle Ages, the Thirty Years War which devastated Germany during the 17th century. Yet even if we were to take account of all the catastrophes of this kind which have befallen humanity, we would be hard put to find an equal to the suffering that capitalism has visited on the 20th century:

  • World War I: five million refugees, ten million dead, twice that number injured or mutilated, and an aftermath of disease (the influenza epidemic of 1918) which struck a population weakened by the deprivations of war and killed even more than had the war itself.
  • The terrible civil war unleashed by the bourgeoisie against the Russian revolution between 1918 and 1921: six million dead.
  • More than twenty million dead in the wars that preceded World War II (Sino-Japanese war, Spanish Civil War) and in Stalin's gulag.
  • World War II: 40 million refugees, more than fifty million dead, as many or more injured and mutilated.
  • The "era of peace" which began in 1945 - and which has never, in reality, known a day of peace - counts between 150 and 200 localised wars (including major conflicts such as the Korean and Vietnam wars), with as many deaths or more than those caused by World War II.

Apart from the sheer numbers, there are two particular aspects of the situation today which we should highlight:

  1. The fact that, for the first time in history, the disasters visited on humanity by a historically decadent society cover the entire planet, sparing no corner of it, nor any fraction of our species.
  2. The fact that there has never been such an immense gap between the society that exists, and the possibilities opened up by the development of its historically created wealth.

It is capitalist society that has laid the foundations of this potential wealth through the mastery of science and its extraordinary increase in labour productivity. Thanks to its ferocious exploitation of the working class, capitalism has created the material conditions which allow it to be superseded by a society which will be driven, not by the need for profit and the satisfaction of the needs of a minority, but by the satisfaction of the ever-expanding needs of the whole of humanity. These material conditions have existed since the beginning of the 20th century. Capitalism has completed its historic task of allowing an unprecedented expansion of the productive forces, including the most important of these: the working class. The time has long since come for capitalism to quit the stage of history, like the slave-holding and feudal societies that preceded it. But it cannot disappear by itself: as the Communist Manifesto said in 1848, it is up to the proletariat to execute the sentence of death that history has already pronounced on capitalist society.

The implications of capitalism's decadence

Why is it so important to understand the reality of the decadence of capitalist society? Because the transition from capitalism's ascendant period to its decadence has fundamentally changed the material conditions within which the proletariat struggles. The underlying principles of the proletarian struggle - internationalism, the communist future towards which the struggle tends historically - remain the same; however the concrete manner in which these principles are put into practice by the struggle itself has changed profoundly. The workers' organisation for struggle (the union question, the question of parliamentary activity), their relationship with other classes in society (the national question, the question of so-called "partial struggles") are determined today by the new period in capitalism's history that was opened up by the first world imperialist war of 1914, and by the proletariat's first world assault on power that began in Russia in 1917.[4]

The opening of the decadent phase in capitalism's history has dramatically raised the stakes of the workers' struggles. In the 19th century, workers fought to protect their living conditions and to reduce their exploitation by the capitalist class: today, the workers' struggles in their own defence are the only real barrier against a slide into generalised warfare and barbarism. In the 19th century, workers organised their self-defence within an expanding economic system that could allow them a certain "place" in society: today, every workers' struggle tends immediately to pose the question of power, of the balance of forces not just between the workers and the bosses of this or that enterprise, but between the whole working and capitalist classes.

International Communist Current, October 2006



[1] Properly speaking from the 16th century up to the bourgeois revolutions in the context of feudal decadence, and from the bourgeois revolutions to 1914 in the context of the ascendant phase of capitalism.

[2] Our translation from the French. As far as we know, this book has never been translated into English.

[3] At least in the industrialised countries of the American bloc. It should nonetheless be remembered that this was a period of severe penury in the Eastern bloc countries (workers' revolts in East Germany 1953, in Hungary 1956, and in Poland), not to mention the millions of deaths from famine during China's so-called "Great Leap Forward" (1958-62).

[4] See in particular our article on the understanding of decadence by the Communist International in International Review n°123 (https://en.internationalism.org/ir/123_decadence)

Geographical: 

Heritage of the Communist Left: 

The historical resurgence of the world proletariat and the perspectives for the class struggle

The question that we want to address in this presentation is this: how are we to analyse the class struggle? How are we to determine at any given time - and notably today - the general condition of the working class, and the possibilities that are determined by the balance of class forces, in other words by the balance of power between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Understanding the balance of class forces is not simply a matter of counting strike days lost, or of measuring the degree of workers' militancy. If we take the 1930s in France as an example - where massive strikes, demonstrations, and even factory occupations involving several million workers for several weeks broke out after the electoral victory of the Popular Front in 1936 - we can see that even a massive degree of workers' militancy is no guarantee of the proletariat's ability to struggle for its own class goals: the  demonstrations held on the 14th July (the celebration of French nationalism) after the strikes,  saw workers marching for the first time behind both the Red Flag of the workers' movement and the Tricolor of the bourgeois state. Indeed, the workers were under the illusion that it was thanks to the election to power of their "defenders" that the bosses had been forced to make concessions. Three years after the Popular Front came to power, and three years after this massive mobilisation of the working class, the working class was marched off to six years of imperialist slaughter in defence of the bourgeoisie's national interest.

It is necessary therefore to remain true to the method of historical materialism, and to take as our starting point a general, overall understanding of the historical period in which we find ourselves, and of the different elements that determine the balance of forces between proletariat and bourgeoisie.

This was the method of Marx and Engels, as we can see for example in these words written by Engels for the Preface to the 1888 English edition of the Communist Manifesto: "The Manifesto was published as the platform of the Communist League, a working men's association, first exclusively German, later on international, and under the political conditions of the Continent before 1848, unavoidably a secret society. (...) The defeat of the Parisian insurrection of June 1848 - the first great battle between proletariat and bourgeoisie - drove again into the background, for a time, the social and political aspirations of the European working class. (...) Wherever independent proletarian movements continued to show signs of life, they were ruthlessly hunted down. (...) When the European workers had recovered sufficient strength for another attack on the ruling classes, the International Working Men's Association sprang up. But this association, formed with the express aim of welding into one body the whole militant proletariat of Europe and America, could not at once proclaim the principles laid down in the Manifesto...". 

The lesson that we draw from all the work of Marx and Engels, and from the concrete experience of the working class, is this: revolutionary action is not possible at any moment, it is not the product of the "will" of revolutionaries. When the working class suffers a heavy defeat, as it did in 1848, then the balance of class forces shifts decisively, for a period, in favour of the bourgeoisie. Time is necessary for the working class to recover from defeat.

The one point in the workers' favour is that capitalist society without the proletariat is impossible: the bourgeoisie produces its own gravediggers, as Marx put it. Capitalism cannot live without exploiting the proletariat, and consequently the proletariat will always be forced to struggle. When the proletariat has been defeated, there has always been new strength, new generations, to arise from the defeats of the past and to take up the struggle again.

1914 opens up a new period

With the outbreak of war in 1914 a new period opened up in the life of capitalist society: the period of capitalism's decadence. Suddenly, the proletarian struggle was being fought out for higher stakes than ever before in history. The choice was no longer between greater or lesser exploitation, greater or lesser periods of reaction: now it was between war and revolution, between the life and death not just for the proletariat but for the whole of humanity. The Communist International, founded in 1919 to lead the world wide revolution, described this new period as "the epoch of wars and revolutions" and understood its implications all too clearly: if the working class were to be taken in by the sermons of the opportunists, "capitalist development would celebrate its restoration in new, more concentrated and more monstrous forms on the bones of many generations, with the prospect of a new and inevitable world war."[1]

What are the principal features of this new epoch - in which we are still living - that concern us today?

  1. The tendency towards world wide inter-imperialist war has become a permanent feature of capitalist society.
  2. It would no longer be possible to launch a revolution in the middle of an imperialist war. After the incomplete defeat of the working class in 1914, which meant that it was able to launch a revolutionary assault in Russia in 1917 and in Germany in 1919, the ruling class has become aware of the danger of revolution. The defeat of the revolutions in Russia and Germany were followed by the most barbaric counter-revolutions that the proletariat had ever suffered, but the bourgeoisie has never forgotten the fear it felt at the threat posed by the working class. The end of World War II was marked by a systematic obliteration of any possibility of workers' revolt especially in the defeated countries: the Allies left the German army to suppress ruthlessly the revolts of Italian workers in 1943, Stalin's Red Army stopped before Warsaw to allow the Nazis time to exterminate the Warsaw rising, and the British and Americans undertook a massive bombardment of Germany's industrial cities, deliberately aimed at the working class districts rather than the factories. As Germany collapsed, the Allies occupied the entire country, ignoring all the secret proposals for surrender made by the German army and secret services, to avoid facing a situation like that in 1918, when the war ended in workers' and soldiers' uprisings.
  3. More than ever, the overall balance of class forces is determined internationally, not country by country. We are living in an epoch of world war and world revolution. This means that an apparently revolutionary situation in one country (for example, in France or Spain in 1936) cannot reverse a course towards war which is determined by an international defeat of the working class. And conversely, a defeat for the working class in one country does not necessarily mean a general defeat of the course towards revolution.
  4. Contrary to what revolutionaries had thought on the basis of the experience of the 1870 Paris Commune (and which seemed to be confirmed by the experience of the Russian revolutions in 1905 and 1917), a historic course towards war and a historic course towards revolution cannot be simultaneous. On the contrary, they are antithetical. For the bourgeoisie to be able to undertake all-out generalised imperialist war, the working class must be prepared to die on the battlefield and to accept the greatest material privation on the home front: in other words, it must be utterly defeated.

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As we have said, the defeat of the revolutionary wave begun in 1917 was followed by the most terrible counter-revolution in history. Not only was the class physically smashed, the ideological disaster was even worse. What had once been the highest expressions of working class consciousness (the Social-Democracy prior to 1914, the Communist International after 1919) were destroyed, or worse still were defending rampant counter-revolution in the name of the proletariat itself. It is important to distinguish the defeat which made possible the First World War - which the working class overcame three years later - and the physical and political defeat that followed the revolutionary wave. This defeat was made still worse by many workers' belief in the existence of a "socialist fatherland" in the USSR whose consequences were twofold: under the influence of the Stalinist parties, they were made subject to the imperialist interests of Russia, while at the same time they were divided from those workers who, rejecting the barbarity of the Stalinist USSR, saw no other solution than to turn back to the Social Democratic parties. Things were made still worse by the fact that the Allies victory over fascism was presented not as a victory of imperialist powers, but as a victory of the working class.[2] The internationalists were reduced to a tiny handful of militants in little groups completely bereft of any influence on the action of their class.

So profound was the defeat that during the economic boom of the post-war Reconstruction period, it became quite the fashion for self-proclaimed revolutionary ideologues like Marcuse to pronounce the disappearance of the working class' revolutionary nature; its place was henceforth supposedly to be taken by other social strata - the students, black people in the USA, the peasants in the Third World, etc. 

The Reconstruction period also gave birth to another illusion within the bourgeoisie: that it had definitively overcome its economic problems, that the terrible crisis of 1929 was no more than a memory. But by the end of the 1960s the illusion was wearing thin as the first signs of a return of the economic crisis returned to haunt the capitalist world. And with the return of the crisis, came the renewed danger of war. Like Germany in 1939, the USSR at the end of the 1960s found itself encircled militarily by its main imperialist rival, encumbered with a war machine whose enormous expense could only be compensated by the fruits of victorious war. Around the world, the armies and proxies of the two greatest imperialist powers fought in innumerable conflicts of "national liberation" (Vietnam, Africa, Latin America); in Germany, they confronted each other on either side of the "Iron Curtain" with the most gigantic accumulation of military power the world had ever seen, backed up with the apocalyptic threat of nuclear war.

Yet imperialist war did not break out. Why? 

The answer lies in the events of May 1968 in France - or rather in the reawakening of the working class and the end of the counter-revolution of which these events were an expression.

The ideologues of the bourgeoisie would like us to think of May 1968 as a "students' revolt", so it is worth taking a moment to remember the reality of these events: in fact, France in 1968 witnessed the biggest strike in history, with more than nine million workers on strike and the entire country at a complete standstill: so frightened was the French President (de Gaulle) that he disappeared to Germany to meet the officer commanding French occupation forces there, and to assure himself of the support of the army in case it became necessary to crush the revolt with troops. And France was only the beginning: 1969 in Italy, workers' revolts in 1970 in Poland, then again in 1976, a miners' strike in Britain in 1973 which forced the government to impose a three-day working week for want of coal in the power stations, the famous "Cordobaza" in Argentina in May 1969 which saw the workers virtually taking control of the industrial region of Cordoba. These are only a few examples of a wave of class struggle that swept the world's industrial areas, in both developed and Third World countries, and on both sides of the Iron Curtain dividing the two imperialist blocs. 

At the same time, this awakening of the class struggle was accompanied by a burgeoning political awareness which found expression in the development of existing groups and the emergence of new ones: one of the most important aspects of this new proletarian political movement was the effort to overcome the separation between the generations: as revolutionaries sought to renew their links with the class struggle of the past they worked to rediscover the positions of the Communist Left: the works of Pannekoek, Gorter, the KAPD, Rosa Luxemburg, and Bordiga were published once again. They also worked to renew the international ties that had been broken by the counter-revolution: one example was the international network of correspondence and discussion that led to the formation of the ICC in 1975.

Clearly, these groups were in a tiny minority and had no significant, direct impact on the class struggle itself. But they were symptomatic of a process going on within the working class, and especially within the new generation of workers who had not experienced either the counter-revolution or the world war. This new generation was confronted with the end of the post-war boom and the beginning of the economic crisis, and reacted against it in a wave of struggles that held great promise for the future. 

A decade later, in 1979, this upsurge of class struggle was put to the test by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. With all that has happened since, it is easy to forget, or to neglect, how critically important this event was: for the first time since 1945, the Soviet Union invaded a country outside its own bloc, outside its own immediate glacis: the USSR was increasingly crippled by the economic crisis, and by the enormous weight of the arms production needed to maintain its status as the world's second imperialist power, against its stronger US rival. As with Germany in 1914 and 1939, the weaker of the imperialist powers threatened once again to plunge the world into generalised war, this time with the threat of nuclear weapons looming in the background. The world was faced with a critical question: what would be the reaction of the working class? Would the course towards revolution opened up by the struggles of the 1970s be overturned? Would the bourgeoisie be able to impose its own solution to the economic crisis of decadent capitalism: world war?

The answer was given by the magnificent struggle of the Polish workers in 1980, who showed without a shadow of a doubt that the working class in Europe - which was where the crucial confrontation between the two blocs was bound to take place - was not prepared to lay aside its own interests in the interests of the nation state, whether it be the "socialist" states of the Soviet bloc, or the "democratic" states of the US bloc. The Polish workers who developed their own organisations on the same basis as the workers' councils (mass meetings, elected and revocable delegates responsible to the mass meetings that elected them, negotiations with the government conducted in the open where all could hear...) were certainly not prepared to be drafted into the armies of the Warsaw Pact and marched off to war. 

We should mention here that the history of the 1970s and early 1980s also led the ICC to modify its view of the historic alternative: "course towards war or course towards revolution". Whereas a course towards war necessarily means that the proletariat has been physically and ideologically defeated, and is no longer able to prevent the outbreak of war, the reverse is not true of the course towards revolution since the bourgeoisie remains the dominant class in capitalist society right up to the moment of the world wide seizure of power - not even the victory of the Russian revolution was able to guarantee the victory of revolution world wide, despite the optimistic predictions of the Communist International which we have quoted above. Consequently, the ICC 5th Congress in 1983 adopted a term better adapted to historical reality: "The existence of a course towards class confrontations means that the bourgeoisie does not have a free hand to unleash a new world butchery: first, it must confront and beat the working class. But this does not prejudge the outcome of this confrontation, in one way or the other. This is why it is preferable to talk about a 'course towards class confrontations' rather than a 'course towards revolution'"(Resolution on the international situation, published in International Review n°35).

The Polish struggles of 1980 had averted the threat of imperialist war - but history does not stand still and the question remained open whether the working class would continue to maintain its resistance to the development of the crisis and bar the way to war. In the event, the continued uneven development of the class struggle during the 1980s showed that the working class remained undefeated, and that the road to world war remained closed. Some of the struggles in these years reached heights not seen since the beginning of the 20th century, or in certain cases ever. A few examples:

  • a strike wave that hit Holland in the 1980s was the biggest seen in that country since the mass strike of 1903;
  • the British miners went on strike in 1985 and held out for an entire year, while the Thatcher government set up what almost amounted to a military occupation of the mining districts
  • Denmark saw in 1985 the biggest strike in its entire history
  • in spring 1986, the entire state sector in Belgium came out on strike;
  • France saw at the end of 1986 a massive rail strike that last for several weeks, and at the end of 1988 a massive strike of hospital workers: in both cases the unions had great difficulty keeping up with events;
  • in 1987, the entire education sector in Italy undertook a massive series of struggles against the government: here too, the workers called into question the "classical" union organisations.

This wave of struggle was by no means limited to Europe, as we can see in the example of the Korean workers' movement and the struggles in towns like Kwangju during the 1980s. However, it was above all the struggles in Europe that determined whether the bourgeoisie of each bloc would be able to launch an imperialist war, for several reasons:

  • because Europe is where the working class is the most concentrated, and has the longest historical experience, both politically and organisationally, the working class globally could not be defeated without a crushing defeat of its main battalions;
  • because Europe is also where the bourgeoisie is the most concentrated, and the most experienced in dealing with the working class;
  • because Europe, at the time the most concentrated industrialised area of the planet was the main prize for the bourgeoisie of the USSR, a prize which would have enabled the Russian bourgeoisie both to eject its American rival from the European subcontinent, and to grab the advanced industrial capacity which the USSR lacked, thus increasing its own military potential.

What were the main characteristics of this period?

  • A constantly reaffirmed militancy of the workers in defence of their own living standards, in particular in struggles against redundancies.
  • A profound distrust of government.
  • A growing distrust of the trades unions as "organisers" of the struggle, which led to the development of rank-and-file union structures (controlled by political organisations of the far left), especially in France and Italy, whose aim was to pre-empt the workers' own mass meetings and to keep the organisation of the struggle firmly within the hands of the trades unions.

The period of the 1980s was thus characterised by both a fundamental strength, and a fundamental weakness of the working class:

  • On the one hand, the strength of the class struggle, and above all the fact that - unlike the 1930s - the workers continued to fight in defence of their own living conditions and refused to allow themselves to be enrolled under the banners of the "defence of the socialist fatherland" or the "defence of democracy", meant that it was impossible for the ruling class to unleash its own "solution" to its crisis: imperialist war.
  • On the other hand, the proletariat as a whole was unable to develop its struggles beyond an immediate defence of its existence within capitalism. To a large extent, the workers still lived with the illusion that it was possible to return to the conditions of the 1960s and the Reconstruction period, that it was enough to strike for improved wages or against redundancies to push back the attacks of the capitalist class: they completely underestimated the fact that the attacks of the bourgeoisie were not due to the "bad policies" of this or that head of state (the "reactionaries" Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan for example), but to the inexorable descent of world capitalism into its insoluble crisis. The continued weakness of the communist left around the world was itself an expression of the proletariat's inability to rediscover its own historically determined goal: the overthrow of capitalism and the creation of a new, communist society.

In effect, the social situation at the end of the 1980s was marked by a stalemate: the bourgeoisie unable to go to war, the proletariat unable to launch a revolutionary offensive.

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As a result of this stalemate, the Cold War came to an end, not with a general imperialist bloodbath like that of 1914 or 1939, but with a historically unprecedented event: collapse of one of the two imperialist blocs, followed by the disintegration of the other for lack of an imperialist rival.

The period that followed was to be one of profound disorientation for the working class:

  • The collapse of Stalinism, and the revelation to the eyes of workers all over the world of the weakness, corruption, and backwardness of the Stalinist regimes allowed the victorious democratic bourgeoisie around the world to mount an enormous campaign which said in effect: "Look! This is what you get when you try to create communism", or alternatively "Communism is a nice idea, but it could never work in practice - just look at the USSR".
  • The counterpart to the "defeat of communism" was of course the "victory of capitalism". Capitalism, we were told, might not be perfect but it was the only society possible: there is no point struggling against its effects. Indeed, one bourgeois ideologue even went so far as to declare the "end of history". There seemed to be no possible perspective outside the continued development of the capitalist economy no matter how much misery it created for humanity as a whole and for the working class in particular.
  • This ideological blow to the proletariat's sense of itself as a class able to play a part in history, was combined with the apparent boom of the so-called "new economy" fuelled by the Internet. This tended to reinforce the idea that nothing was possible outside capitalism.

These elements explain why, despite continued expressions of working class militancy in a number of countries, the 1990s marked a serious reflux both in the broad class struggle, and in the fortunes of the organisations of the Communist Left. Those who still held high the flag of proletarian revolution and internationalism were regarded as, at worst, the henchmen of Stalinism, and at best, as dreamers lost in an unrecoverable past. And yet, despite this, the working class as a whole - above all in the most developed countries where the proletariat's political and organisational experience is greatest - had not been defeated in a head-on confrontation with capital, nor did the bourgeoisie succeed in gaining the workers' willing or enthusiastic adherence to the ideology of bourgeois nationalism. The proletariat, in short, remained undefeated. The course towards generalised imperialist war remained closed.

A turning point in the class struggle

The large-scale mobilisations of the spring of 2003 in France and Austria represented a turning point in the class struggles since 1989. They were a first significant step in the recovery of workers' militancy after the longest period of reflux since 1968. Of course the 1990s had already seen sporadic expressions of this militancy. However, the simultaneity of the movements in France and Austria showed the evolution of the situation since the beginning of the new millennium. In reality, these events brought to light the growing impossibility for the class - despite its continuing lack of self confidence - to avoid the necessity of struggle faced with the dramatic worsening of the crisis and the increasingly massive and generalised character of the attacks.

This change affects not only the militancy of the class, but also the mood within its ranks, the perspective within which its actions are placed. We are witnessing signs of a loss of illusions not only concerning the typical mystifications of the 1990s (new technological revolution, individual enrichment via the stock exchange, the profitability of "wars for oil"), but also regarding the hopes of the post World War II generation about a better life for the coming generation and a decent pension for those who survive the horrors of wage labour.

Not every turning point in the class struggle is as significant, or as dramatic, as those of 1917 or 1968. These dates stand for alterations in the historic course, whereas 2003 merely marks the beginning of the end of an ebb within the continuity of a course towards massive class confrontations. More generally, we must be able to distinguish between situations where, so to speak, the world wakes up the next morning and it is no longer the same world, and changes that take place at first almost unnoticed by the world at large, like the almost invisible alteration between the ebb and flow of the tide. The evolution begun in 2003, and continuing today three years later, is undoubtedly of the latter kind.

A particularly significant aspect of the 2003 struggles in France and Austria is that they broke out in reaction to attacks by the state on workers' pensions. The aggravation of the crisis has forced the bourgeoisie to raise the retirement age. In doing so, it has sacrificed a social shock-absorber, which played a large part in making the working class accept the increasingly intolerable levels of exploitation imposed in recent decades, and in hiding the full extent of unemployment.

The bourgeoisie responded to the return of mass unemployment in the 1970s with a series of state capitalist welfare measures, which made absolutely no sense from an economic standpoint and which are today one of the main factors underlying the enormous rise in state debt. The current dismantling of the Welfare State can only provoke a profound questioning of the real perspective that capitalism offers society.

Not all capitalist attacks provoke the same defensive reactions from the working class. It is easier to struggle against wage cuts or the lengthening of the working day, than against the reduction in the relative wage as a result of the growth in labour productivity (thanks to technical improvements), which is part of the process of capital accumulation. As Rosa Luxemburg put it: "A wage cut, leading to the reduction of the real living standard of the workers, is a visible assault of the capitalists against the workers and as a rule (...) it will be replied to as such with immediate struggle, and in the best of cases be beaten back. As opposed to this, the lowering of the relative wage apparently takes place without the least personal involvement of the capitalists, and against this the workers, within the wage system, i.e. on the terrain of commodity production, have not the slightest possibility of struggle and resistance" (Introduction to national economy).

The rise in unemployment poses the same difficulties for the working class as the intensification of exploitation (the attack on the relative wage). When unemployment affects young people who have never worked, it does not have the same explosive effect as do redundancies. The existence of mass unemployment tends, indeed, to inhibit the immediate struggles of the working class not only because it is a constant threat for a growing number of those still in work, but also because it tends to pose questions which cannot be answered without raising the issue of radically changing society. Concerning the struggle against the relative decline in wages, Luxemburg added: "The struggle against the lowering of the relative wage therefore also signifies the struggle against the commodity character of the labour force, in other words against the capitalist production as a whole. The struggle against the fall of the relative wage is thus no longer a struggle on the terrain of commodity production, but a revolutionary, insurrectionary movement against the existence of this economy, it is the socialist movement of the proletariat" (idem).

The 1930s revealed how, with mass unemployment, absolute pauperisation explodes. Without the prior defeat of the proletariat, the "general, absolute law of capitalist accumulation" risked becoming its opposite, the law of the revolution. With the re-emergence of mass unemployment from the 1970s on, the bourgeoisie responded with measures of state capitalist welfarism; measures which economically make no sense, and which today are one of the main causes of the unfathomable public debt. The working class has an historical memory. Despite the loss of class identity, with the deepening crisis, this memory slowly begins to be activated. Mass unemployment and the slashing of the social wage today conjure up memories of the 1930s, visions of generalised insecurity and pauperisation. The demolition of the "Welfare State" will confirm the marxists' predictions.

When Luxemburg writes that the workers, on the terrain of commodity production, have not the slightest possibility of resistance against the lowering of the relative wage, this is neither resigned fatalism, nor "the revolution or nothing" pseudo radicalism of the later Essen tendency of the KAPD[3], but the recognition that this struggle cannot remain within the boundaries of the "minimum programme" (immediate economic demands) and must be entered into with the greatest possible political clarity. In the 1980s the questions of unemployment and the increase in exploitation were already posed, but often in a narrow and local manner: "saving British miners' jobs", for example. Today the qualitative advance of the crisis can permit questions like unemployment, poverty, exploitation, to be posed more globally and politically, as are the questions of pensions, health, the maintenance of the unemployed, working conditions, the length of a working life and the ties between the generations. This, in a very embryonic form, is the potential revealed by the recent movements in response to the pension attacks. This long term lesson is by far the most important one, of greater significance than questions such as the pace with which the immediate militancy of the class is likely to recover. In fact, as Luxemburg explains, being directly confronted with the devastating effects of the objective mechanisms of capitalism (mass unemployment, the intensification of relative exploitation) makes it more difficult to enter the struggle. For this reason, even if the development of struggles becomes slower and more torturous, the struggles themselves become politically more significant.

Solidarity at the centre of the class struggle

A striking feature of many recent struggles, which the ICC has highlighted in its press, is the centrality of workers' solidarity to both the aims and the methods of the struggle:

  • solidarity between workers in different plants against attempts at management blackmail, as we saw in the strikes by Daimler-Chrysler workers at Sindelfingen and Bremen in 2004 - and in the support they received from their comrades in Spain;
  • solidarity with laid-off workers, for example in the Gate Gourmet strike at Heathrow (August 2005) and the SEAT strikes in Spain (December 2005);
  • solidarity between the generations, expressed in the strike on the New York transit system ( December 2005) to defend the pay of future workers, and powerfully in the struggles to defend pensions or against the CPE labour contract in France (spring 2006);

In the aims and the slogans of these struggles, there is the clear sign of a slowly maturing political awareness within the working class: an awareness that the continued survival of capitalism threatens the very future of humanity, and that the solidarity that lies at the heart of the proletariat's very nature is both a critical factor in the struggle itself, and the key to a new society: communism. For communist society is based on the rediscovery, at a higher, world wide level, of the fundamental basis for all human society: the solidarity which will be the foundation for the construction of a world human community.

The inexorable development of the capitalist crisis and capitalism's descent into an inferno of imperialist war and ecological disaster, and the assertion in struggle of workers' solidarity as one of the fundamental weapons of the working class, form the objective and subjective conditions which determine the possibilities open to revolutionaries; which determine also, the enormous responsibilities that they confront in participating to the utmost of their abilities to the development of the course towards the decisive class confrontations that must open the road towards the proletarian revolution itself.

ICC, October 2006



[1]   Manifesto of the CI's First Congress, quoted in International Review n°107.

[2]   Since the defeat of the revolutionary wave, it has become a common tactic of the ruling class to present to the workers their own worst defeats as if they were victories.

[3]   Kommunistische Arbeiter-Partei Deutschlands: founded in April 1920 in Heidelberg after its militants were expelled from the Communist Party (KPD). Originally the party remained a "sympathising member of Communist International." In 1922 the KAPD split into two factions, both of whom kept the name but are referred to as the KAPD Essen Faction and the KAPD Berlin Faction. Among the militants active in the KAPD was Jan Appel, who was present at the founding congress of the ICC.

Geographical: 

Recent and ongoing: 

The international regroupment of revolutionary forces is a precondition for the victory of the proletarian revolution

What do we mean by revolutionary strategy? Fundamentally the question we want to raise today is to understand how the internationalist groups and organisations that exist around the world today can fulfil their role and function within the working class struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. However if we are to determine their revolutionary strategy we need first to be able to understand two things:

  • First of all what exactly are these revolutionary organisations? In other words what is the goal that our strategy is aiming for?
  • Secondly where are we now? In other words what are the material conditions within which we work and which will determine the means available to us to reach our common goal?

What precisely is a revolutionary organisation? 

We think that we should start by remembering Marx's words in the Communist manifesto: "The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer. They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes. The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of communism".

What Marx says here applies equally to the nature and to the function of the organisation: both are determined by the historical nature and experience of the working class, and by the material conditions of its struggle.

Throughout its history the proletariat has produced two types of organisation:

  • its mass organisations whose purpose is to group together all the workers in common struggle and defence of their immediate economic needs;
  • its political organisations whose purpose is to contribute to the development of class consciousness and especially to the proletariat's consciousness of itself, of its own revolutionary nature and goals.

This last point is critical for the proletariat. All past revolutionary classes - that is to say, classes which at a given moment in history were the bearers of a new mode of production capable of overcoming the contradictions within which the old mode of production had plunged society - possessed an economic power based on the ownership of property within the old society which they could use as a lever in the seizure of political power. But the proletariat has no such economic power: its only material strength lies in its organisation. 

Moreover, while all revolutionary classes must have some form of consciousness of their future project, this is critical for the proletariat:

  • Because it is an exploited class whose aim is to put an end to all exploitation, it has no interest in hiding the purpose of its revolution, nor in concealing the nature of the new communist society that it proposes to create.
  • Because it is an exploited class with no economic power or ownership in capitalist society, its consciousness of itself as a class and of its own goals is a vital component in its victory.

These two types of organisation - the organisation of mass struggle, and the political organisation -  have always existed in history, but as we have said their forms have changed as the historical conditions within which the proletariat struggles have also changed. We can see these two forms coming into existence right from the beginnings of the working class:  for example, if we look at the history of the world's first working class in Britain, we can see on one hand the clandestine mass organisations which emerged at the end of the 18th in conditions of terrible repression, essentially to organise strikes and in some cases violent actions aimed at defending wages and working conditions. Secondly, we can see the appearance of what at the time were called "corresponding societies" (the best-known of these was the London Corresponding Society) which were essentially propaganda groups whose aim was to bring together the most determined revolutionary members of the working class in a single national network.[1] 

Let us look first, briefly, at the evolution of the mass working class organisations.

During the 19th-century the emergence of the working class and its need to carve out within an expanding, ascendant capitalist society some kind of decent living conditions, led to the development of mass organisations which took a number of different forms. The most important of these was of course the trade unions, but at the same time we can also see developing alongside the trade unions such groupings as workers' co-operative societies, "friendly societies" designed for mutual help in times of unemployment or illness and even sporting clubs or cultural associations which also had the important goal of raising the mass of the workers' educational level. 

With the beginning of the 20th century however, the changing historical conditions of the class struggle led to a corresponding change in forms of class organisation.

This period, marked above all by the outbreak of world war in 1914 and by the revolution in Russia first in 1905, then in 1917, dramatically raised the stakes in the class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie. The question now was no longer only the defence of working class living conditions, but the historic alternative: either repeated world wide conflicts between capitalist nations which could only lead to the destruction of the proletariat and of humanity itself; or the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the world working class and the creation of a communist society.

The trade unions, created for the struggle within capitalism, proved completely inadequate for the revolutionary struggle for power: in Russia in both 1905 and in 1917, the proletariat created the mass organisation of the new period of decadent capitalism: the workers' soviet, no longer simply an organisation for the defence of workers interests within capitalist society but an organisation for the seizure of power by the working class and the overthrow of the capitalist order. In other words the end of the period of capitalism's ascendancy is marked by a change in the organisational form of class struggle. The soviet form based on mass meetings and elected and revocable delegates tends to appear in all the workers' struggles of the decadent period of capitalism, most spectacularly in the struggles in Poland in 1980. 

Just as we have seen in the case of the workers' mass organisations, the form and function of the working class' political organisations has also changed as a result of changing material conditions. But before we begin to look at how these organisations have changed, it is worth recalling the overall view expressed in the Communist Manifesto:

"In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?

The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement."

Very schematically - and we are well aware that such schemas cannot encompass all the richness of historical reality - we can distinguish the following kinds of working class political organisation which have emerged since the appearance of the working class on the historical stage. 

Let us look first of all at the period leading up to 1848 and the revolutions or attempted revolutions which swept across the European continent in that year. This period saw the emergence for the first time of the working class as an independent actor on the historical stage, conscious of itself as a separate class with its own interests but still are unaware of how long the road would be to the day when it could envisage the overthrow of capitalist society. Consequently the political groups which the working class gave rise to were still very small, tiny minorities in fact; yet at the same time they were able to see far beyond the immediate possibilities of the class struggle to the future that the working class contains potentially within itself, and of course by far the clearest and historically the most important expression of this tendency was the Communist League which was able to give theoretical form to the proletariat's ultimate goal of world revolution, and perhaps above all, to declare the great principle of proletarian internationalism in the famous words: "Workingmen of all countries, unite!".

The period that followed may be described as the beginning of the mass formation of the working class within capitalist society. It is a period where the working class is still detaching itself from the influence of the petty bourgeoisie and where it is experimenting all kinds of new organisational forms in a process of constant struggle both against repression by the ruling class and against the political influence of newly proletarianised strata looking back to their lost status as independent artisans. The highest expression of this period is the First International, founded by British and French workers to resist the import of scab labour during strikes. One of the most important legacies of the First International was the understanding that the seizure of power by the working class is not something that can be done "on behalf of the people" by a small group of dedicated revolutionaries. Against this view, which characterised the groups inspired by such figures as Auguste Blanqui and Bakunin, the First International declared in the first sentence of its 1864 statutes: "the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves"

The First International disappeared following the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871 and the wave of reaction that followed. The renewal of the class struggle in Europe during the 1880s led to the formation of the Second International. This is not the place to undertake the history of the Second International, but in the context of this presentation we can point to one of its most important achievements: with the Second International, marxism becomes a widespread theoretical and practical political current. The heirs to the enormous theoretical achievement of Marx and Engels during the 19th century are the marxist left wing of the Second International: Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in Germany; Anton Pannekoek and Herman Gorter in Holland; Amadeo Bordiga in Italy; John Maclean in Britain; Lenin, Bukharin, Trotsky in Russia - these are names that have come down to us in history but they are only the best-known figures of a current of the revolutionary marxist left which was to rise to the challenge of the Russian revolution and create the Third International.

The Third International declared that capitalism had entered a new epoch: "Ours is the epoch of the breakdown of capital, its internal disintegration, the epoch of the Communist revolution of the proletariat" (Platform of the International). For the first time in history, the Third International aimed to create a world wide centralised political organisation of the proletariat which would play a critical role in the workers' seizure of power - not as a distant perspective, but as an immediate, urgent, and practical necessity. 

The world revolution begun in Russia in 1917 was defeated, but the epoch of capitalist decadence is still with us and humanity's need for communism is more urgent than ever. If the proletariat is to win power, then it must create its own, international political organisation and it can only do so on the basis of the lessons learned from the experience of the Third International. We will turn, then, to the three left currents that were expelled from the Comintern as it lost its proletarian content and degenerated into a mere tool of the imperial ambitions of Stalin's counter-revolution.

The Trotskyist current was not the first to fight against the degeneration of the International and the Stalinist counter-revolution (it was preceded both in time and in its critique of the degeneration of the October revolution by the Dutch/German and Italian lefts to which we will return, and also by the Russian left). The history of Trotskyism until Trotsky's assassination demonstrates all too clearly the disastrous consequences of mistaking the real situation of the balance of class forces - the course of history as we put it in our previous presentation on the class struggle. Because he failed to see that the proletariat had suffered a decisive defeat internationally, and because he was never able to accept the idea that the USSR had become another capitalist and imperialist nation, Trotsky constantly mistook each new link that chained the proletariat to one or other camp in the coming world war, to a potential revolutionary upheaval. Because he did not understand that the party does not "create" the revolutionary proletariat, but on the contrary that the appearance of the party is itself an expression of a maturing consciousness within the proletariat, he was led into one opportunist manoeuvre after another as he attempted to create a "Fourth International" in a period of profound proletarian defeat. The tragedy of Trotskyism is that the great revolutionary who played such a decisive and vital role in the revolution of 1917, and who has left us the most luminous descriptions of the soviets in action, was unable to contribute anything to the generation that was to bring the period of counter-revolution to an end. The Trotskyist movement, by supporting the democratic imperialisms during World War II, and by supporting every war waged by the monstrous regime of Stalinism, has abandoned the camp of proletarian internationalism.[2]

The workers' movements of Holland and Germany were very closely linked, both geographically and in terms of the relations between the revolutionary marxist currents in both countries.[3] The positions of the Dutch/German Communist Left are associated with the names of militants such as Pannekoek, Gorter, and Jan Appel.[4] They were from the outset forged in the heat of the German working class' revolutionary struggle, not against reactionary Tsarism but against the Social Democratic executioners of the German revolution and their trades union henchmen. The Dutch/German Communist Left were the first to arrive at an understanding of many implications of the change in period brought on by the war and the revolutions in Russia and Germany: the impossibility of using parliament to defend working class interests, the betrayal and reactionary nature of the Social Democracy, the fact that the trades unions had become the defenders of the capitalist state and the recruiting sergeants for imperialist war, and that proletarian struggle in the new period demanded a new form of organisation based on the same principles as the soviets.

The Dutch/German Left was vulnerable, however, on the question of the political organisation itself, and on the question of the historic course (the balance of class forces). During the 1930s, faced with the crucial question of how to understand the defeat of the revolution in Russia, it mistook the transformation of the Bolshevik Party into an organ of state capitalism for a cause of the revolution's defeat, rather than an effect. It thus came to theorise the inevitably counter-revolutionary nature of the party, considering the workers' councils as the only possible form of proletarian organisation in the present period. In effect, what became the "councilist" current ended up theorising its own uselessness - or worse still, its own destructiveness - for the workers' movement.

The theoretical development of the Italian Left was essentially born by a group of young Italian workers, who had been forced to flee Mussolini's Italy and take refuge in France and Belgium. Expelled from the Stalinised Italian Communist Party, they formed the group Bilan with the explicit aim of learning the lessons of the Russian revolution's defeat in order to prepare the theoretical framework for the party of the future. The theoretical contributions made by this current - which later on encompassed fractions in Belgium, France and Mexico - were immense and indeed irreplaceable. In its analysis of the degeneration of the Russian revolution - which never led it to question the proletarian character of 1917; in its investigations into the problems of a future period of transition; in its work on the economic crisis and the foundations of capitalism's decadence; in its rejection of the Communist International's position of support for "national liberation" struggles. But as far as the question of revolutionary strategy is concerned, one of its most important contributions was its understanding of the relationship between the party and the fraction. The Bilan group understood the party as both an active factor in the development of class consciousness, and as an expression of the development of consciousness within the class as a whole. When Bilan declared that the revolution was impossible without the party, this did not mean that it was enough to form the party for the revolution to become possible, but that the formation of the party was itself an expression of the ability of the proletariat as a whole to pose the question of the revolution.

Tragically, this profound understanding was not shared by the internationalist Italian Left "of the interior" which had spent the war in Mussolini's goals or in "internal exile" in Italy and which had not taken part in the theoretical development achieved by the Left fractions outside Italy. At the end of World War II, the internationalists within Italy fell victim to the same error that Trotsky had made during the 1930s, mistaking the massive strikes by Italian workers against the effects of the war and the German occupation for a new revolutionary situation which could justify the formation of a new Party... in Italy. Inevitably, the formation of the new Internationalist Communist Party (which was to give rise to the various Bordigist "Parties" and to the Battaglia Comunista group which is the main constituent element of today's "International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party"), in a situation when the level of consciousness within the working class as a whole offered no material basis for the party's existence, was marked both by a high degree of opportunism as they tried to incorporate elements from the anti-fascist partisans and the Stalinist party, and by an exacerbated sectarianism towards the Left Fractions which refused to follow them down this road.

We can perhaps best summarise the relationship between the Italian Left and the Dutch/German Left by saying that the clarity of the councilist current on the union question and the importance of the soviets could only bear fruit in a synthesis with the clarity of the Italian Left on the organisational question. This synthesis began to be developed by Bilan (which integrated the principles of the German Left on the national question in particular), and was continued by the tiny French Communist Left in the period following World War II. It acquired a fully-fledged organisational form with the creation of the International Communist Current in 1975. 

Clearly we cannot, in this short presentation, give a complete view of all the elements of this synthesis of the Communist Left that we believe holds the key to the future development of the world communist party: what will, in effect, be the next International. Here we want simply to emphasise what we consider to be the key points that we need to take from the method of the Italian Left:

  • On the nature of the future party itself:
    • The party does not take power on behalf of the class, it is the proletariat as a whole that takes and exercises power through the workers' councils; but the party is a vital element in the development of class consciousness and organisation.
    • The party is international. The proletariat no longer has any "national tasks" to accomplish, and it can only take power on a world basis: the party itself will thus be formed directly on a world basis, not as a federation of national groups or parties.
    • The creation of the party will depend on the development of the working class' own consciousness and combativeness: for the party to be possible, the working class must have reached a point at which it is able to recognise the party as its own, and to put its political orientations into action. By "party", we therefore mean an international organisation which is able to have a decisive influence on events.
    • The party's programme will be based on the work and the positions elaborated by the Communist Left.
  • On the process which leads to the creation of the party:
    • The possibility of creating the party depends on the development of class consciousness - but this does not mean that it will be an "automatic" process. It will depend also on the conscious efforts undertaken by revolutionary groups and organisations today. In effect, they must be able to fulfil their role as fractions. In that sense, the work of this conference is part of the world wide effort towards the formation of the future party.
    • For today's revolutionary groups to play a positive role in this process, they must be able to combine firmness on internationalist principles with openness in debate, a readiness to listen to and learn from others.

What are the material conditions within which we are working?

We have already, in our previous presentation, outlined the material conditions of the class struggle within which we are acting, and which determine the potential and the responsibilities of today's revolutionary groups.

We want here to consider the evolution of the Communist Left, and more broadly the state of what we can call the "internationalist camp". 

The enormous upsurge of class struggle that followed the May 1968 strike in France was accompanied by a rediscovery, by a new generation of revolutionaries, of the positions of the Communist Left - and consequently by an important growth in the existing organisations and the appearance of new ones. What has happened to them since then?

The "councilist" successors to the Dutch/German Left Communists

As we have said above, the great organisational weakness of the councilists is that they theorise the "uselessness" of the political organisation. This is a serious weakness in a situation when simply maintaining a regular organisational existence (intervention in the class struggle and theoretical development) is itself a difficult task.[5] Since the 1970s, the two main historic organisations (Spartakusbund and Daad en Gedachte) have disappeared, as has, for example, ICO (Informations et Correspondances Ouvrières) which was one of the most important councilist groups existing in 1968 and underwent a considerable expansion during and after the May events in France. Although the councilist tradition continues to exist in small groups and discussion circles, it is hampered by its obsession with the "danger" of forming an organisation, and with the supposed "inevitability" of any organisation becoming bureaucratised. For the councilist groups to play a positive role in the development of an international organisation, it will be necessary for them to undertake a critique of their own past experience, and to look anew - and without any taboos - at the experience of the Italian Left.

The descendants of the PCInt

Today's descendants of the Partito Comunista Internazionalista founded at the end of World War II, all have their origins in the split of 1952 which formed the "Bordigist" Partito Comunista Internazionale (PCI) and the Battaglia Comunista group which was one of the two founding groups of the "International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party" (IBRP) formed in 1983.

These organisations have never been able to overcome the fundamental opportunism and sectarianism which presided at their foundation, and which have led them to reject the experience and theoretical heritage of the Italian Left as this was developed by the Bilan group. 

During the 1970s, the most important of the different PCIs[6] experienced considerable growth - but a great deal of this growth was on the basis of an extremely opportunist attitude towards "national liberation" movements, in particular Arab (especially Palestinian) nationalism. The result was the explosion of the PCI in 1982, reducing what had once been the biggest organisation of the Communist Left to a few tiny scattered groups which all remain entirely closed in on themselves - and all call themselves "The Party".

The Battaglia Comunista group, which initially proved more open to the new situation of the 1970s and showed a readiness to work together with other organisations (notably the ICC and the CWO) in the three International Conferences of the Communist Left during the 1970s, finally forming the IBRP with the CWO, has since returned to its "first love": declaring itself "the only possible basis for the future party", it has proven unable to rise to the challenge presented by the new period and has systematically refused any kind of joint work with other organisations of the Communist Left - although they have had a number of flirts in other directions.[7] 

In effect, the tradition formed by the offspring of the PCInt has become the coelacanth[8] of the proletarian movement. A living fossil, emerging occasionally from the depths of its own sectarianism but incapable of adapting to the new, slowly maturing upsurge in the class struggle above all as it is expressed in the development of today's internationalist movement. 

The new internationalist movement

What do we mean by the "new internationalist movement". During the last five years, the ICC has been making contact with a growing number of new groups and elements around the world - though note that when we say "new" we mean "new to us": in some cases they are groups which have existed for a number of years but which we have only just encountered. There are two factors here: on the one hand, the appearance of new groups, on the other, the general impetus towards international contact on the part of both new and existing groups and individuals.

In part, this development of new contacts is thanks to the Internet, but only in part.[9] Fundamentally, it is the expression of the new development of the international class struggle since the beginning of the decade - a class struggle which is developing very slowly, but which can already feel the need to go further and deeper than the struggles of the 1970s and 80s. The ICC is today in contact with groups and individuals in almost every country of Latin America, in Turkey, in Russia and the Ukraine, in Asia - and of course in Korea.

In some cases, such groups explicitly identify themselves with the Communist Left: this is true of the comrades of SPA for example, but also of EKS in Turkey. In some cases, they have evolved separately and have only recently begun to study the ideas of the Communist Left - ideas with which they do not necessarily agree completely: this is true of OPOP in Brazil, and the ISPRC in Russia. In other cases, they have emerged from a crisis of Trotskyism or Maoism. But all these comrades share the fundamental principle which has always been the touchstone of the workers' movement: internationalism. They also share two of the most fundamental legacies of the Italian Left: a conviction that the working class is international or that it is nothing, that international contacts are therefore of fundamental importance, and that only through an open and fraternal debate can we prepare the conditions for the future formation of the world communist party, the new International without which the working class will not be able to "storm the heavens", overthrow this decadent and barbaric capitalist society and create the new, world wide human community. 

International Communist Current, 2006



[1] It should be said that this underlying distinction between mass unitary organisations and political organisations remained more or less clear during the 19th century. For example, the IWA grouped together both political organisations and trades unions, while even in the Second International we can cite the case of the British Labour Party which was created originally as a "Labour Representation Committee" to organise the representation of the trades unions in Parliament.

[2] It is worth citing here the words of Natalia Trotsky in 1951, when she refused any longer to caution the Fourth International's support for Stalinism: "The most intolerable is the position on war to which you have committed yourselves. The third world war threatening humanity places the revolutionary movement before the most difficult and complex situations, the gravest decisions (...) But faced with the events of recent years, you continue to call for the defence of the Stalinist state, and to commit the whole movement to it. Now, you even support the Stalinist armies in the war which is crucifying the Korean people (...) I cannot and will not follow you on this point (...) I find that I must tell you that I find no other way out than to say openly that our disagreements make it impossible for me to stay any longer in your ranks".

[3] Pannekoek for example was Dutch, but spent much of his life as a militant in Germany. When Hitler seized power in Germany, many militants of the German Left took refuge with comrades in Holland, which they used as base for continued clandestine activity in Germany.

[4] Jan Appel was the KAPD (German Communist Workers' Party) delegate to the Third Congress of the Communist International. He passed on the torch to a new generation of revolutionaries when he took part in the founding congress of the International Communist Current in 1976.

[5] Indeed, we can say that maintaining a revolutionary organisation will always and inevitably be an arduous task, since a truly revolutionary

[6] The sectarianism of the PCI has led to a series of absurd splits - all of which call themselves "the" one and only Party in the world.

[7] For example, it has refused all the ICC's proposals for joint leaflets against the wars in Iraq and Kosovo, or for joint meetings in Germany, as it has refused any participation in the conferences proposed by the NCI in Argentina. Its absence from this present conference (at least at time of writing) is equally noteworthy.

[8] Although now represented by only two living species, as a group the coelacanths were once very successful with many genera and species that left an abundant fossil record from the Devonian to the end of the Cretaceous period, at which point they apparently suffered a nearly complete extinction, and past which point no fossils are known.

[9] We cannot resist citing the Manifesto here: "Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. (...) that union, to attain which the burghers of the Middle Ages, with their miserable highways, required centuries, the modern proletarian, thanks to railways, achieve in a few years."

Geographical: 

Heritage of the Communist Left: 

Internationalist Declaration from Korea against the threat of war

At the end of October 2006 , a conference of internationalist organisations, groups and militants was called by the Socialist Political Alliance (SPA) in the South Korean towns of Seoul and Ulsan. However modest the numbers present, the SPA is the first organised expression in the Far East (as far as we are aware) of the principles of the Communist Left, and this conference was certainly the first of its kind. As such, it has a historic significance, and the ICC gave its whole hearted support by sending a delegation to address the Conference.[1]

In the days leading up to the Conference, however, the long-term political importance of its goals was overshadowed by the dramatic sharpening of inter-imperialist tensions in the region caused by the explosion of North Korea’s first nuclear bomb, and the manoeuverings that have followed it especially on the part of the different powers present in the region (USA, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea). Consequently, the question was extensively debated during the conference and gave rise to the adoption, by the participants whose names appear below, of the following declaration:


Internationalist Declaration from Korea against the threat of war

Following the news of the nuclear tests in North Korea, we, the communist internationalists meeting in Seoul and Ulsan:

  1. Denounce the development of a new nuclear weapons capability in the hands of another capitalist state: the nuclear bomb is the ultimate weapon of inter-imperialist warfare, its only function being the mass extermination of the civilian population in general and the working class in particular.
  2. Denounce unreservedly this new step towards war taken by the capitalist North Korean state which has thereby demonstrated once again (if that were necessary) that it has absolutely nothing to do with the working class or communism, and is nothing but a most extreme and grotesque version of decadent capitalism's general tendency towards militaristic barbarism.
  3. Denounce unreservedly the hypocritical campaign by the United States and its allies against its North Korean enemy which is nothing but an ideological preparation for unleashing – when they have the capacity to do so – their own preemptive strikes of which the working population would be the principal victim, as it is today in Iraq. We have not forgotten that the United States is the only power to have used nuclear weapons in war, when it annihilated the  civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  4. Denounce unreservedly the so-called "peace initiatives" which are bound to appear under the aegis of other imperialist gangsters such as China. These will be concerned not with peace, but with the protection of their own capitalist interests in the region. The workers can have no confidence whatever in the "peaceful intentions" of any capitalist state.
  5. Denounce unreservedly any attempt by the South Korean bourgeoisie to take repressive measures against the workng class or against activists in their defense of internationalist principles under the pretext of protecting national freedom or democracy.
  6. Declare our complete solidarity with the workers of North and South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia who will be the first to suffer in the event of military action breaking out.
  7. Declare that only the world wide workers' struggle can put an end for ever to the constant threat of barbarism, imperialist war, and nuclear destruction that hangs over humanity under capitalism.

The workers have no country to defend!

Workers of all lands, unite!

This declaration was signed by the following organisations and groups:

International Communist Current
Socialist Political Alliance (Korea), Seoul group meeting of 26th October 2006
Internationalist Perspectives

A number of comrades present at the Conference also signed the declaration on an individual basis:
SJ (Seoul Group for Workers Councils)
MS (Seoul Group for Workers Councils)
LG
JT
JW (Ulsan)
SC (Ulsan)
BM


[1] We will be writing in more detail about the conference later.

Geographical: 

ICConline, February 2007

Articles published by ICCOnline in February 2007.

China 1927: Last gasp of the world revolution

 

This article was originally published in World Revolution 11, in 1977, at the time of the 50th anniversary of the Shanghai insurrection. Although some formulations appear to exaggerate the speed of decline of the Russian revolution, we are re-publishing it here because, even after 80 years, the experience of the proletariat in China retains great lessons on the dangers for the proletariat in supporting national liberation movements

 


In March 1927 the workers of Shanghai rose in a victorious Insurrection which gave them control of the city at a time when the whole of China was in ferment. In April that uprising was brutally crushed by the forces of Chiang Kai-shek, whom the Communist Party of China had been hailing as the hero of the Chinese ‘national revolution’. The fiftieth anniversary of the Chinese workers’ uprising will no doubt go unheralded by all the bureaucratic factions jockeying for mastery over the Chinese capitalist state today. As the offspring of the Stalinist counter-revolution, the present Chinese rulers are part of a lineage which not only came to power on the back of the defeated working class, but which also played a significant role in the defeat of the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27. It is up to revolutionaries to pay homage to the workers and communists who fought and died so heroically in those years, and to draw the lessons from the past struggles of the Chinese proletariat, in order to clarify the goals of the future revolutionary struggles of the class.

China and world imperialism

The old Asiatic mode of production and its presiding Manchu dynasty were already in decay when the great imperialist powers of the second half of the nineteenth century imposed their iron grip on the Chinese economy. Britain, France, and later Japan and the USA treated China as a colony, carving it up in their own interests and using it as a massive outlet for their surplus commodities. The Opium Wars of the 1840s and l850s were a classic expression of imperialism’s military-economic subjugation of the pre-capitalist regions of the world, which was so vital for the expansion of the world market towards the end of capitalism’s ascendant phase. The stranglehold of imperialism greatly accelerated the decline of the old Asiatic system, while making it impossible for any significant native capitalist development to take place. The defeat of the Taiping Rebellion in 1865 sounded the death-knell of any possible bourgeois revolution in China.

When the corrupt Manchu dynasty was finally overthrown by Sun Yat-sen’s military up­rising in 1911, it was already too-late to carry through the tasks of the bourgeois revolution - national independence, national unification, political democracy, agrarian reform - which Sun’s party, the Kuomintang, had inscribed in its programme. In a world already divided up by the imperialist powers and hurtling towards the catastrophe of 1914-18, any attempt at a ‘national revolution’ immediately became an arena for intensified inter-imperialist rivalries in which the local bourgeoisie could only act as a pawn in the hands of the major powers. The famous ‘Mexican Revolution’ was still-born in this manner at the same time as Sun’s ‘bourgeois democratic’ revolution in China: both were proof of the impossibility of any more bourgeois revolutions. As the most clear-sighted revolutionaries declared in 1914, the capitalist system had exhausted its progressive mission on a global scale, and only the world proletarian revolution could extricate humanity from the barbarism of a system in its death-throes. Within weeks of the 1911 'revolution', China disintegrated into an agglomeration of satrapies dominated by different war-lords, who in turn were the local lieutenants of the imperialist powers. Sun’s project of a united, prosperous, democratic China faded away like an opium dream.

China and the world revolution

The principal tragedy of the Chinese Revolution was the fact that, just as China came too late into the world capitalist market, so the Chinese proletariat was launched into its decisive struggles against capital at a time when the world revolutionary wave which arose out of the 1914-1918 war was already on the decline.

The first world war had given an enormous impetus to the development of Chinese industry, since China was able to take advantage of the demands of the war while the pressure of the imperialist powers was temporarily relaxed. This in turn accelerated the development of a small but highly concentrated and monstrously exploited proletariat in cities like Shanghai, Hangchow and Canton. Many Chinese workers had learned traditions of organization, during periods of temporary emigration in the West, and it was not long before an organized Chinese proletariat began to make its presence felt in national life. In May 1919 the political weight of the Chinese working class, was demonstrated for the first time (although in a confused manner) when the workers of Shanghai and elsewhere struck in support of nationalist students protesting against Japanese imperialism. In 1922 the seamen of Hong Kong staged a great strike which won major concessions from the British and was the first truly impressive manifestation of the Chinese working class struggling on its own terrain.

Throughout the 1920s the Chinese proletariat’s attempt to organize itself was expressed by the formation of large industrial unions, while in 1921 the Chinese Communist Party was formed. Beginning as a small group of intellectuals with an extremely heterogeneous and confused concept of Marxism, it was able to rapidly expand its proletarian base thanks to the growth of working class struggle in the years after its formation. But both the unitary forms of organization (the unions) and the political organization (the Chinese Communist Party) that the Chinese working class equipped itself with were signs of the inevitable immaturity of this young proletariat. The new Chinese unions began as working class organizations even, though, on a global scale the epoch of trade union struggles was over for the proletariat and the existing trade unions had everywhere shown themselves to be pillars of the bourgeois order. And the Chinese unions were to prove themselves to be a fundamental obstacle to revolutionary struggle in the crucial years 1925-27. Similarly, the CCP never, overcame many of its initial confusions, especially on the question of nationalism. The dire consequence of this soon became apparent.

In the years following World War I, the convulsions of world capitalism shook China to the core. The intensification of inter-imperialist and local bourgeois rivalries, the outbreak of huge peasant revolts against the archaic land-holding system, and the emergence of a highly combative working class provided the background to the crucial period of the Chinese Revolution in 1925-27. But the ultimate fate of the Chinese Revolution was to be settled not in China alone, but on the world arena.

Russia: bastion of the counter-revolution

The great revolutionary wave which had begun with the October Revolution in Russia went into a profound reflux after 1920 and was never to recover its initial impetus, despite desperate struggles in Germany in 1921 and 1923, Bulgaria in 1923, and China in 1925-27. This reflux had the most profound and tragic consequences for the original bastion of the revolution, Soviet Russia. Attempting to survive in a capitalist world, the Russian state, and the Bolshevik Party which had fused itself with it, was rapidly transformed into one of the main centres of the world counter-revolution. In Russia itself the needs of capital led to the crushing of working class resistance at Petrograd and Kronstadt in 1921, the persecution of dissident communist fractions, and the ferocious pursuit of capital accumulation at the expense of the working class. On the world arena, the same needs resulted in the growing subordination of the international revolution to the Russian state’s search for alliances and economic aid in the outside world. As Rosa Luxemburg said, imperialism is the mode of survival of every national state in this epoch, and whatever the subjective intentions of the Bolsheviks, they were unable to resist the growing imperialist demands of the Russian state. As early as 1921, the CI's United Front policy in the West was in part an expression of the Russian state’s overriding need for allies against the hostile imperialisms. But in 1922 Russia took a decisive step towards integrating itself into the constellation of imperialisms with the signing of the secret Rapallo Treaty with Germany. Thus when the German workers took to the streets in 1923, they would discover that Soviet Russia was becoming one of the principal obstacles to the struggle against their own bourgeoisie. It was the same for the parties of the Communist International; once expressions of the revolutionary will of the proletariat, they were more and more becoming brakes on the development of the class struggle.

After 1924, the Stalinist faction consolidated its control in Russia and set about removing the last impediments to the unrestrained pursuit of the interests of Russian national capital. It was this factor which was to prove so pernicious for the subsequent evolution of the Chinese revolution. But even before 1924, the policies of the Bolsheviks in China had already sown the seeds of future defeats. In 1922 the Comintern’s representative in China, H. Maring (alias Sneevliet) had, after friendly discussions with Sun Yat-sen, laid the groundwork for an alliance between the, CCP and the Kuomintang. The intention was the formation of an ‘anti-imperialist united front’ to struggle ‘for the national liberation of China, which in the first instance meant struggling against the war-lords who controlled large tracts of China, especially in the north. This alliance involved the militants of the CCP joining the Kuomintang as individuals while maintaining a nominal political autonomy as a party. In practice, it was to signify the almost total subordination of the CCP to the aims of the Kuomintang. At the 4th Congress of the CI in 1922 - the same Congress which endorsed the infamous policy of the ‘Workers’ United Front’ in the West - Radek rudely dismissed the CCP’s delegates’ hesitations about the Kuomintang alliance: “Comrades you must understand that in China today neither socialism nor a soviet republic is on the agenda.” In other words, China had to go through a 'bourgeois democratic phase' before the dictatorship of the proletariat could be put on the agenda. The Mensheviks had argued the same thing in regard to Russia in 1917.

Such was the CI’s regression from the declarations of the 1st Congress, which had affirmed that only the world proletarian revolution could liberate the oppressed masses of the colonial regions. The subsequent policies of the Stalin-Bukharin dominated CI merely took this logic to its ultimate conclusions. The alliance between the CCP and the Kuomintang from 1922 onwards expressed Russia’s attempt to ally itself with the Chinese bourgeoisie and so constitute a protective circle against those imperialist powers (Britain in particular) who were still displaying an intransigent hostility to the Soviet state. The Chinese proletariat was more and more regarded and used as a bargaining counter in Russia’s dealings with the Chinese bourgeoisie. This inevitably meant that any attempt of the Chinese proletariat to struggle for its own interests could only be regarded as a threat to the alliance with the Kuomintang.

Under Stalin’s auspices, the CI pursued this line without hesitation or doubts. But from 1923 onwards, guided by the adroit hands of Borodin, Russian arms and military advisers poured into China to give practical expression to the Soviet-Kuomintang-CCP alliance. In the CCP, one of the most fervent architects of the alliance with the Kuomintang was the young Mao Tse-tung.

The revolutionary struggle 1925-1927

On May 30, 1925 workers and students demonstrated in Shanghai in solidarity with a strike in a Japanese-owned cotton mill. British-led municipal police fired on the demonstrators, killing twelve. The workers’ response was immediate. Within a couple of weeks Shanghai, Canton, and Hong Kong were paralysed by a general strike. In Shanghai the strike was led by the CP-dominated General Labour Union. But in Canton and Hong Kong the organization of the strike was assumed by an embryonic soviet, the Strikers’ Delegate Conference. Backed up by 250,000 strikers, who elected one delegate for every fifty workers, the Conference set up 2,000 pickets, ran hospitals and schools, took over the administration of justice and maintained a total boycott of all British goods.

The response of the imperialist powers was predictably hysterical, as the despised 'coolies' and ‘Chinamen’ rose to shake an angry fist in their faces. But this huge manifestation of the proletarian danger also had a significant effect on the so-called ‘national bourgeoisie’ organized in the Kuomintang. This party had always been an uneasy alliance of industrialists, militarists, students, petty bourgeois dreamers - in fact everyone except the most venal and submissive of the ‘compradore’ bourgeoisie and the war-lords. (Many of them later joined the Kuomintang when the tide was turned against them.) Initially under Sun Yat-sen’s leadership the Kuomintang felt that it could make use of an alliance with the CCP, since the latter could mobilize the urban proletariat for the ‘national revolution’. As long as the workers’ struggles was directed at foreign-owned businesses and imperialist domination, the native bourgeoisie was prepared to support it. Indeed the 1925 strikes greatly advanced the Kuomintang’s position in China. But when the strikes began to extend to Chinese enterprises, where working conditions were no less appalling than in the foreign owned sweat-shops, the 'national bourgeoisie' discovered that the workers were engaging in “foolish excesses”, that it was “one thing to utilize the workers ... but quite another thing to let them bite off more than they can chew” (quoted from the China Weekly Review, March and April l926, in H. Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, p.77). Very quickly the Chinese capitalists learned that they had much more in common with the ‘foreign imperialists’ than with ‘their’ workers.

As a result, the Kuomintang began to split into a right and left wing. The right represented the interests of the big bourgeoisie who wanted to end the workers’ struggle, get rid of the Communists, and come to some kind of compromise with the established imperialisms. The left was led mainly by intellectuals and the lower ranks of the military, and wanted to retain the alliance with Russia and the CCP. The Comintern, Stalin in particular, laid great emphasis on this 'left' as a resolute opponent of imperialism, but events were to show that it was merely biding its time before moving against the working class. It was not accidental that the principal butcher of the Chinese proletariat, Chiang Kai-shek, originally put himself forward as a representative of the left. In fact Chiang, despite the fact that he always acted out of an insatiable personal ambition, symbolized the whole game of the Chinese bourgeoisie in that period. On the one hand he flattered the Soviet regime and made stirring speeches about the world revolution. On the other hand he was secretly entering into all kinds of deals with the forces of order. Like the new rulers of Russia, he was prepared to use the Chinese working class as a bludgeon against his immediate enemies, but all the while he was systematically preparing to suppress any “excesses” (i.e. any sign of autonomous working class struggle).

In March 1926, Chiang made his first major move against the proletariat. He staged a military coup in Canton which gave him almost unlimited control over the Kuomintang party apparatus. Communists and other working class militants were arrested, and the headquarters of the Canton-Hong Kong strike committee was raided. The strike had lasted for months, but was now quickly broken by the sudden-blows of Kuomintang repression. The response of the CI to this sudden shift in Chiang’s position was silence, or rather a denial that any anti-working class repression had taken place. On the other hand, the Stalin-Bukharin leadership denounced anyone in the CI or CCP who began to get uneasy about the latest developments in the Kuomintang-CCP alliance.

Chiang had staged the coup as a preliminary to launching a major expedition against the northern war-lords. Although the Kremlin had originally been opposed to such an adventure at such a time, its emissaries were soon appeased by Chiang’s gestures towards relaxing the repression against the workers and keeping up the pressure on the Kuomintang right wing.

The Northern Expedition was the fateful backcloth to the bloody events in Shanghai in 1927. Chiang’s troops made spectacular progress against the northern militarists, largely thanks to the waves of workers’ strikes and peasant revolts which helped disintegrate the northern forces from the rear. The proletariat and poor peasants were fighting against their dreadful living conditions under the illusion that a Kuomintang victory would materially improve their lot. The Communist Party, far from struggling against these illusions, reinforced them to the hilt, not only by calling on the workers to fight for the victory of the Kuomintang, but also by restraining workers’ strikes or peasant land seizures when they threatened to go too far. In the words of Borodin, the task of the Chinese Communists and the Chinese working class was to “do coolie service for the Kuomintang”.

While the CCP and the CI were busy preventing the ‘excesses’ of the class struggle, Chiang set about crushing the very proletarian and peasant forces which had assisted his victories. Having forbidden all labour disputes for the duration of the northern campaign, Chiang suppressed the workers’ movement in Canton, Kiangsi, and other towns in the line of his advance. In Kwangtung province the peasant movement against the landlords was violently smashed. The Shanghai tragedy was simply the culmination of this process.

The Shanghai insurrection

Shanghai with its ports and industry contained the flower of the Chinese proletariat. It was under the control of the war-lords and the workers’ bitter struggles against their local rulers was portrayed by the Kuomintang and the CCP as a prelude to the triumph of the 'national revolution'. As the Kuomintang army advanced towards the city, the CCP-led General Labour Union issued a call for a general strike to overthrow the city’s ruling clique and so “support the Northern Expeditionary Army” and “hail Chiang Kai-shek”. This initial attempt was brutally beaten back after fierce street-fighting. The city authorities unleashed a grim reign of terror against the working population, but its spirit remained unbroken. On March 21, the workers rose again, better organized this time, with a 5,000-strong workers’ militia and between 500,000 and 800,000 workers actively taking part in the general strike and insurrection. Police stations and army garrisons were attacked and seized, and arms distributed to the workers’ forces. By the next morning the whole city, except for the foreign concession, was in the hands of the proletariat.

An ominous transition period ensued. Chiang had arrived at the gates of Shanghai and, confronted with an armed working class uprising, immediately set about contacting the local capitalists, imperialists, and criminal gangs in order to prepare its suppression, just as he had done in all the other ‘liberated’ towns. And yet although Chiang’s intentions were growing clear all the time, the CI and the CCP continued to advise the workers to trust in the national army and welcome Chiang as their liberator. By now Chiang’s record of repression had alerted a vocal minority about the need for the working class to prepare to fight Chiang as well as the northern war-lords. In Russia Trotsky demanded the formation of workers’, peasants’, and soldiers’ soviets as a basis for an armed struggle against Chiang and for the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship. In China a dissident group of CI representatives - Albrecht, Nassonov, and Fokkine - took up a similar position, criticizing the spinelessness of the CCP leadership. Within the CCP itself, pressure was growing for a break with the Kuomintang. But the party leadership remained faithful to the line of the CI - that any move against Chiang would play into the hands of the ‘counter-revolution’. Instead of calling for the formation of soviets, the CCP organized a ‘provisional municipal government’ in which it sat as a minority alongside the local bourgeoisie. Instead of warning the workers about Chiang’s intentions, the CCP welcomed his forces into the city. Instead of accentuating the class struggle, the only means of defence and offence available to the proletariat, the GLU opposed spontaneous strike actions and began to curb the power of the armed workers’ pickets which had effective control of the streets. Thus Chiang was able to carefully prepare his counter-attack. On April 12th when he unleashed his mercenaries and criminal bands (many of whom were dressed as ‘workers’ of the newly formed ‘moderate’ unions, the Workers’ Trade Alliance), the workers were caught off guard and were thoroughly confused. Despite vigorous resistance from the workers, Chiang quickly re-established ‘order’ in an orgy of bloodshed in which workers were decapitated in the streets or buried alive in mass graves alongside their murdered comrades. The backbone of the Chinese working class had been broken.

Some time after this catastrophe, Stalin and his henchmen admitted that the revolution had suffered a ‘set-back’, but insisted that the line of the CCP and CI had been correct all along. The Shanghai defeat, they argued, had been ‘unavoidable’. But now that Chiang and the whole Chinese bourgeoisie had finally 'gone over to the counter-revolution' they decided it was necessary for the workers to organize soviets and seize power for themselves. This new line took shape in the ‘Canton Commune’ of December 1927; a putsch organized by the CCP in the guise of a self-proclaimed ‘soviet’. Although several thousand workers responded to the CCP's call to rise and set up the proletarian dictatorship, the majority of the class was already so demoralized by the betrayals of the CCP and the Kuomintang’s repression that they stood aside from the uprising. It ended in another horrible bloodbath.

The death of the Communist International

Stalin had certainly made a mistake in putting too much trust in Chiang and other Kuomintang elements (like the vaporous Wuhan ‘leftists’) as the best defenders of Russian interests in China. Having crushed the working class, Chiang soon gravitated back towards the orbit of the established imperialisms. But the politics of the Stalinists were not a mistake in the sense of the ‘tactical errors’ of a proletarian tendency. This was something that Trotsky and the Left Opposition could never understand. Stalinism represented the final triumph of the bourgeois counter-revolution in Russia and in the Communist International. The Stalinists’ participation in the destruction of the Chinese workers’ revolution was an expression of their class hostility to any manifestation of autonomous working class struggle. It was also the crowning moment in the final smashing of the world proletarian revolutionary wave of 1917-1923. By 1928 the Stalinists had won total mastery of the Russian party; even the Left Opposition had been expelled and the bureaucracy was ready to begin its programme of frenzied militarization and industrialization in preparation for the next world imperialist carnage. At the 6th Congress of the CI in 1928, the adoption of the theory of ‘socialism in one country’ gave the world formal notice of the death of the International and the passage of its parties into the camp of the bourgeoisie.

The events of 1927 also marked the death of the Chinese Communist Party as a proletarian organization. Since its formation it had been unable to resist the tide of degeneration in the CI and had allowed itself to be used as a passive instrument in the hands of the decomposing International. Its best elements were slaughtered in the defeats of 1927. Those who escaped the massacre went in two directions. A few like Ch’en Tu-hsiu, the leading figure in the party prior to 1927, began to question the whole policy of the CI, quit the party, and threw in their lot with the Left Opposition. But the rest, like Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai, remained loyal to the Stalinist counter-revolution, and having assisted in the decapitation of the revolutionary working class, were free to develop their new theory and practice about the ‘leading role’ of the peasants in the Chinese revolution. The defeats of 1927 paved the way for a new round of inter-imperialist warfare in China, just as the defeat of the class globally cleared the route to another world imperialist carnage. In all these conflicts the CCP showed itself to be a faithful servant of the national capital, mobilizing the masses for the war against Japan in the 1930s and the World War of 1939-1945. It thus earned its birthright to become the master of the capitalist state after 1949 and the foreman-in-chief of the Chinese working class.

As for the Chinese working class, it had in a sense paid the price of its own immaturity. The CCP’s spineless policies were in part a reflection of the fact that the Chinese working class as a whole was unable to gain the experience needed to break out of the ideological stranglehold of the Kuomintang and of nationalism, assert itself as a class with its own unique mission, and provide itself with the unitary and political organs necessary to carry out that mission: soviets and a clear revolutionary fraction. But in the last analysis the outcome of the Chinese Revolution was decided on the streets of Petrograd, Berlin, Budapest, and Turin. The failure of the world revolution left the Chinese workers isolated, confused, and con­strained by the forces of counter-revolution which had grown up in their own midst. Thus their massive spontaneous struggles were able to be diverted onto a bourgeois terrain and ultimately crushed.

Trotsky and the lessons of 1927

The Left Opposition’s attack on the Stalinists’ sabotage of the Chinese Revolution, its call for an immediate struggle for soviet power against the whole Chinese bourgeoisie, including the Kuomintang, was one of the last occasions in which Trotsky and his followers were to defend a revolutionary position. But as with most of the positions of the Left Opposition, it was all too little too late, and the real lessons of 1927 were not grasped by them. Trotsky only began to demand a break with the Kuomintang in 1926. He had not opposed the disastrous policy of the anti-imperialist united front in 1922 any more than he had opposed its corollary, the Workers’ United Front in the West. Neither did he deny the possibility of the workers concluding a temporary ‘military bloc’ with the Kuomintang - even after 1927. These confusions were to lead Trotsky and his followers to take up an overtly counter-revolutionary position during the Sino-Japanese War, when they recommended that the bloody-handed Chiang Kai-shek should be supported ‘critically’ against the Japanese invaders. Thus the Trotskyists began their habitual practice of defending one side or another in inter-imperialist struggles, dressed up as wars of ‘national liberation’.

Above all the Left Opposition never called into question the sacrosanct position of support for national liberation struggles enshrined in Lenin’s theses delivered at the 2nd Congress of the CI. Despite the fact that Lenin had insisted on the need for the communists to maintain their political autonomy in such struggles - something that was blatantly reversed by the CI in its alliance with the Kuomintang - the underlying confusions of the theses on the colonial question were to pave the way to all the mystifications about ‘national revolutions’ and 'stages' which the CI took up shortly afterwards. As early as 1921-1923, the policy of supporting the so-called ‘colonial revolution’ had resulted in local nationalist forces slaughtering workers and communists in Turkey and Persia. The capitalist counter-revolution was indeed a world-wide process which emphasized the irremediably reactionary nature of all factions of the colonial bourgeoisie.

Only the Communist Left was able to draw out the real significance of the Chinese tragedy. In Bilan, no.16, February-March 1935, the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left wrote that the Chinese events had proved conclusively that:

The theses of the 2nd Congress must be completed by radically changing their content. These theses admitted the possibility of the proletariat giving its support to anti-imperialist movements, in so far as such movements created the conditions for an independent proletarian movement. From now on-it has to be recognized, after these experiences, that the indigenous proletariat can give no support to these movements: it can become the protagonist of an anti-imperialist struggle if it links itself to the international proletariat to make, in the colonies, a jump analogous to that made by the Bolsheviks who were able to lead the proletariat from a feudal regime to the proletariat dictatorship.

In the decadent epoch of capitalist, there cannot, for a single moment be a congruence of interest between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Whether in the advanced countries or the ‘third world’, the bourgeoisie has nothing to offer the working class except deprivation, repression, and war. Anyone who calls on the proletariat to form ‘anti-imperialist united fronts’, ‘military blocs’, or ‘anti-fascist fronts’ with a so-called ‘progressive’ wing of the bourgeoisie only helps to disarm the class and put its head on the chopping block. After the massacres in China in 1927, there can be no room for doubt. The working class can defend itself only through its own autonomous class struggle and its own organs of combat. And in an epoch when all nation states and all national bourgeoisies are nothing but a fetter on the development of humanity, the working class can have no ‘national tasks’. Its only future lies in the struggle for communism on a world scale.

CDW.

History of the workers' movement: 

Report on the ICC Public Forum in Manchester, 10/2/07

The topic for discussion was “The working class is a class of immigrants” and the presentation was along the lines of the lead article from the Dec/Jan 2007 issue of World Revolution.

Present were three members of the ICC, two of our sympathisers and a member of the Anarchist Federation (AF).

The early part of the discussion took up the question of religion and its effects on the working class. The AF member asked how can we get through the religion barrier when discussing with fellow workers who don’t see themselves as working class? To this we replied that millions of workers belong to every religion – but when they participate in class struggles they can begin to find rediscover their class identity. The state encourages religious identities, but class struggles tend to integrate diverse sets of workers. Also, we emphasised the point that workers have different identities, not just racial or religious: in the workplace conditions define identity. When talking with workers it’s not best to start on the topic of religion, because once it gets to stage of ‘well, god said this or that’ the discussion is over. It’s best to focus on the political questions before us.

The AF member said there has been no criticism of Islam in history, unlike Christianity, and that the political organisations of the working class don’t know how to deal with issue. One of our sympathisers said that this is probably because Christianity predominates in west, but we have a whole history of workers’ struggles to refer to. She felt that it’s important to come to forums such as this because issues have to be discussed. We replied that the main issue is how the State is using religion to divide the working. Our comrade had several religious colleagues in previous jobs, but they were also were very militant about defending workers. One result of the current campaign on the threat of terrorism from Islamic fundamentalists is to ‘ghettoise’ Muslims – to push them be separate – and this is reinforced by leftists and Muslims themselves.

We also referred to another aspect of the current debate on religion: the question of faith schools being part of Labour’s official policy. Again, this is another false debate. Also, there are ‘economic benefits’ for British capitalism from many Eastern European workers coming here, and there are racist campaigns to try to divide the working class. However, we can see response of workers with the examples of struggles at Gate Gourmet, the power station in Cottam, Lincolnshire and in the local government sector, where workers showed solidarity with those from different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Another ICC member pointed to how in 19th century the British bourgeoisie had used workers from Ireland to undercut workers in Britain. Today, the workers from East Europeans are mostly employed by agencies, making them cheaper, which leads to resentment from workers in Britain The state knows this and of the need to create divisions.

The discussion then moved on. One of our sympathisers wondered about whole campaign of the ‘war on terrorism’. Previously the main threat was IRA, now it is supposed to be from Muslim extremists. Iraq was supposed to be a secular country, but the war there has sparked a civil war between different religious groups. We replied by referring to the mass strikes in Poland in 1980, which showed the workers’ response to the threat of war. Despite the weight of religion and nationalism on the workers in Poland they carried out the most massive struggle since WW2. This shows that religion itself doesn’t stop workers going on strike.

On the question of imperialist war we replied that the US and Britain are also killing Muslims in middle east. The war propaganda tends to reinforce separate identities, which is an obstacle to the development of workers’ self confidence. Islamophobia is actively connected to Britain’s military involvement in middle east, which makes it a target for terrorism, for example the 7/7 attacks in London. The massive anti-racism campaign is a counterpart to state engaging in imperialist war. The perspective offered by capitalism is generalised chaos and war – and for the time being the working class is unable to put forward its answer – revolution.

One of our sympathisers asked the AF member ‘What’s the anarchist perspective’? What’s the way forward? Does the working class have to come together? What about political organisations?’ He replied that the AF don’t support national liberation, they try to help refugees, campaign against ID cards, try to help the working class with their struggles. He said that some of the AF had joined the IWW and made it clear that they don’t put faith in politicians or trade unions. The working class has to emancipate itself. As for political organisation, they don’t believe in a professional vanguard and there will be debates about how to organise in future. Finally, he asked for our view on unions. We gave a brief explanation of our position and referred to our pamphlet on the unions on our website.

Finally, the discussion moved on to the perspectives for the future. We recalled that the first Gulf War had taken place in the wake of collapse of Eastern bloc in 1989, which made the US keen to reaffirm its world leadership. Now, after the second Gulf War, the US is in an unprecedented situation of crisis, with its leadership in tatters. The US has explicitly said that it wants to maintain its dominant position as the sole superpower and that no one will be allowed to challenge it. However, it needs an ideology to maintain the war effort – hence the ‘war on terror’. The other major powers have to respond to this to defend their interests, and the US is pushed to use its military might to deter it rivals from going too far. So, there is a cycle, a in-built dynamic towards more war and confrontation. Britain is historically an important player in the middle east, but is very much the ‘junior’ partner with the US. Today terrorism is increasingly used as weapon in imperialist war.

The AF member asked if we could see a time when the US abandons Israel and transfers to Iraq. We replied that this was highly unlikely. Israel has strong historic links with the US and is the most powerful country in region: it plays the role of the US’ policeman. We also stressed how financially damaging the current war in Iraq is for the US. Under the pretext of the ‘war on terror’ the US has been able to wage war, but there has been no question of economic gain: the primary aim is strategic, to gain influence on borders of Russia. It was no accident that Iraq and Afghanistan chosen as targets for invasion. The middle east is on the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Some think that the US bourgeoisie operates on behalf of multinationals, but this is not true. Massive costs are being imposed on workers in the US, in physical and economic terms. One of our sympathisers remembered that when she first met the ICC was on a ‘stop the war’ demo and had bought a copy of World Revolution. She hadn’t thought in terms of ‘strategies’ but historically the US has sought to encircle its enemies. Finally, we pointed out hat it was the CIA that had installed Saddam in Iraq during the 1980s. The result of war is spiral of chaos and decomposition. Things are getting so bad that some parts of the US ruling class want to get out of Iraq (Iraq Study Group).

In the conclusion, we said that this had been good meeting. The discussion had taken up several questions – religion, British imperialism, why the USA is in Iraq. The campaigns of the leftists – ‘anti-war’, pro-Hizbollah – aim to increase feelings of anti-Americanism. The perspective today is for the working class to develop its struggles, but in the difficult context of deepening war and chaos. Nevertheless, the working class is everywhere exploited by capitalism – it shares this common feature in all countries. Political debate is lifeblood of the working class.

WR, 18/2/07.

Life of the ICC: 

ICConline, March 2007

Contents of ICConline, March 2007.

Japan: a history of the workers' struggles in Kamagasaki

The article below was sent to us recently by a comrade in Japan: it describes the emergence and decline of the squatters' and day-workers' movements which have marked the life of several Japanese cities - more particularly Osaka in this case - since the collapse of the Japanese economic "bubble" at the beginning of the 1990s, to the present day.

Our regular readers may be surprised by the somewhat "literary" style that the comrade adopts. This does not in our view detract from the significance of the events that he describes, and indeed it rather enhances some interesting reflections on the way in which the capitalist productive process organises geography and time.

Historically, there has always been a deep divide between the workers' movement in the industrialised West and the East - in Japan and China in particular. This was largely inevitable given the late arrival of the Japanese and Chinese working class on the historical stage (see our articles in the International Review) and the barriers of language.

The bourgeois media in the West have always worked to emphasise this divide (though usually with more subtlety than Edith Cresson (French Prime Minister 1991-92) who described the Japanese as "yellow ants"!). Japanese workers have been shown as going on "strike" by putting "unhappy flags" on their machines while continuing to work. There was even a short-lived vogue amongst management theorists for Japanese-style "quality committees" where the workers themselves could suggest improvements in the production process. The Japanese workers were presented to their class comrades in the West as hardworking and patriotic contributors to the Japanese "economic miracle", from which it has usually been implied that they profit at Western workers' expense.

Not only that: the workers in Japan supposedly enjoyed the supreme happiness of being guaranteed "jobs for life" thanks to the paternalistic attention of the Japanese mega-companies - something which supposedly set them completely apart from workers in the West.

The article below has the merit of blowing a hole in this completely fraudulent picture of Japan. Here we see the masses of impoverished day workers in struggle against the barbaric exploitation inflicted on them by the almost indistinguishable forces of the state, the bosses, and the mafia (yakuza). But we also - and the author is absolutely right to point this out - see that this is not limited to the most downtrodden sectors of the working class: the whole Japanese "economic miracle" has been founded on the increasingly ferocious exploitation of the entire workforce: factory workers and office workers, but also technicians and scientists as skilled jobs are proletarianised.

In our view, the events described in this article are more than just riots. They are clearly a workers' struggle, fought on the terrain of the working class: initially sparked off by an expression of solidarity with a victim of police aggression, drawing in workers and their families from the entire Kamagasaki area, and directed not only against the police but against employers trying to swindle workers out of their wages.

Western readers may recognise some similarity between the events described below, and the situation in certain European countries during the 1970s. The internal immigration towards cities less touched by the crisis, leading to a housing shortage, property speculation, rack-renting, and the squatting of empty property, was a large-scale phenomenon in London and some Dutch cities during the 1970s for example, although not on the same explicitly working class basis: the social composition of the squatters' movements in Britain and Holland was much more mixed.

Western readers will also recognise the manner in which the Japanese state has dealt with the movement in Kamagasaki: "NGOs replaced the direct discipline of police batons as their mediating roles were appreciated by the city in halting unrest (...) newly radicalized unions, who quickly transformed into facilitators of ritual action: such as protest marches completely surrounded by police". This is precisely the role that has been played historically by the trades unions, ever since they betrayed the working class by giving their support to the imperialist slaughter in 1914. Especially under bourgeois democracy, where they benefit from the appearance of separation from the state, the unions are able to achieve results that the police cannot, by sabotaging the struggle and preventing its self-organisation and extension rather than by open repression. A classic example is the role played by the newly formed Solidarnosc union in sabotaging the workers' struggles in Poland in December 1980, delivering the proletariat, bound hand and foot, to the state repression that followed a year later. In Osaka, once the NGOs and the unions have done their work, the squatters' tents which had once symbolised workers' resistance have become nothing but an empty shell, easily emptied by the police.

The value of this article lies - amongst other things - in its clear demonstration that the workers in Japan face the same problems, and the same enemies, as workers in other parts of the world: one more demonstration that the class struggle is international, that the working class is a world class.

All this being said, the article also contains a certain number of ambiguities, or perhaps we should say internal contradictions, which in our view detract from the force of the argument. There are three which seem to us particularly important.

1 - The first, is the role of the unions and of the left generally. While the article in effect denounces the union sabotage of the struggle (see the quote above), elsewhere it seems to suggest that there is a fundamental opposition between the unions, the left, and the "neo-liberal project", and that the collapse of the former in Japan made possible the success of the latter.

But the attacks on the working class from the late 1970s onwards were by no means a Japanese, they were a global phenomenon. The onset of the first post-war crisis in the late 1960s led to an enormous world wide wave of workers' struggles - of which May '68 in France was only the most impressive moment. The end of this wave of struggle was inevitably followed by a capitalist counter-attack, whose aim was to make the workers pay the price of the crisis that had opened up from the late 1960s onwards. The role played by "the left" in the resulting defensive struggles of the working class - when left governments were not directly imposing austerity themselves, as the "Socialist" and "Communist" government did under Mitterrand in France - was to sabotage the workers' efforts to react by making sure they never escaped the narrow boundaries of corporatism and nationalism (the "coal not dole" slogan and the campaigns against imports of Polish coal during the British miners' strike in 1985 are a clear example). The idea that the workers' struggle "re-composes" into unions and that the result, "far from being exterior to the ‘being' of the class which must affirm itself against them, [is] nothing but this being in movement", obscures the profound opposition between the permanent union structure and the needs of the working class in struggle: this is easily verified in practice by anybody who has tried to oppose workers' initiative to the union line during a mass meeting. More profoundly, this opposition arises from the impossibility today (contrary to the period prior to 1914) of the working class creating permanent mass organisations.

2 - The article's second ambiguity lies in the suggestion that it might be possible to create an "autonomous" space outside the institutionalisation imposed by the capitalist state (notably in its "welfare" version). This, it seems to us, contradicts the article's otherwise striking descriptions of capitalism's totalitarian domination of social life, from housing, to transport, to work, and right down to the helping hand and the friendly smile transformed into waged activity. It is this second emphasis in the article which seems to us correct: the idea that it is possible to create "islands of communism" or even "islands of autonomy" within capitalism, is simply an illusion. The experiment was tried repeatedly at the very beginning of the workers' movement, in the days of the Utopian socialists Fourrier, Cabet, and Owen: it was tried, and failed - 200 years on, the illusion belongs firmly in the past, not in the present. This is true even for more limited experiments: as Marx pointed out, in any society the dominant ideology is the ideology of the ruling class, and it is impossible to achieve "autonomy" from this. It will take whole generations after the revolution for humanity to "rebuild" itself, to rid itself of all the ideological muck accumulated in millennia of class society.

We can be inspired and touched by the spontaneous humanity of the homeless in Tennoji Park (see note 8 of the article), but this does not provide an organisational lesson for the struggle of the proletariat as a whole.

3 - The contradiction we have just described is at its most ambiguous in the final paragraph, where on the one hand the author advocates a struggle with "no commitments, no demands as such, no gathering points and thus no encirclement", yet at the same time posing the question of "how an autonomous space can develop against the crushing weight of capitalism". But what is a "social space" with "no gathering points"? What could it be? Surely nothing other than a contradiction in terms.

In Russia in 1917, the Russian workers did not confront the Cossacks (the riot police of their day) on their own terms, they dissolved the Cossacks' power. They were able to do this because the proletariat represented a massive and organised force able to take decisions as a class and to present a vision of the future that stood firmly and radically against the barbarity of capitalism. The road to revolution leads not through riots born of and ending in despair, but through massive, open, conscious struggle, able to assert its own perspective against capitalism's "no future", to the point where even the riot police begin to doubt themselves.

International Communist Current


You must help yourself: neo-liberal geographies and worker insurgency in Osaka

"I realize as the train pulls in that the station is on fire. The platform is aflame and below the streets are empty with people running past occasionally. Something is happening. I pick up some rocks and start throwing them at a police line."

-anonymous rioter at Kamagasaki

"You must help yourself."

-Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS

Confronting the riot police

October 2nd, 1990. The day started as any other does in Osaka's Nishi-Nari ward, men lined up around the yoseba employment center, in the thousands, waiting for work. If it came, they would load into the cars of construction contractors in groups, with parachute pants and wrapped heads. For eight hours they might wave light wands ‘guiding pedestrians', dig concrete roads, re-pave highways or variously break their backs in the sun. This proletarian fate was ceded by the city's bourgeoisie over a period of thirty years of continuous unemployed unrest; all the union officials touted it as labor ‘won' from an inhuman system. After all, without work, one does not eat, and once conditions have worsened to the point that this phrase becomes dictatorial, one works in a fervor; for work leads to ‘independence'. Work might one day lead out of the slum.

If work didn't come, the men wait out lunch and line up for the daily workfare handout, set aside for ‘unsuccessful job-seekers'. This yoseba is in Kamagasaki, a neighborhood of poverty and celebration, a breathing lung, where the yakuza patrol day-workers with icy looks and stashed weapons; at occupied ‘triangle' park, men, dogs and blue canvas spill out into the street sides. Udon and soba are served at improvised stool stands roofed with canvas. Women and men prepare boxed lunches, noodles and Okinawan fare at shops lining the crowded avenues. Just to the east the brothel neighborhood of Tobita sits in expectant dormancy, for the night will soon fall. The slum is quiet.

For the city hall and the construction capitalists, it was just another Tuesday.

There were multiple flashpoints, like any riot, origins that became history for the individuals and groups that experienced them. For most, the riots began with friends running past, heaving paving stones at the police. But most will point to an account of an old homeless man in the Namba theater district, north of Kamagasaki. Police on patrol had stopped at his improvised blue canvas house, berating him to leave the sidewalk. The man (known by most as 'a bit bizarre') unleashed his dog, which quickly sunk its teeth into a senior patrolman. After a struggle, he was surrounded by police and beaten as a crowd gathered, consisting of other homeless people and some day-workers. Hauled away and arrested, the angry crowd followed the car to the Nishinari police station.[1]

News spread on sprinting legs to the enormous yoseba hiring hall in the south, circulating among groups of day laborers. Without any particular confrontation, a few ‘troublesome' workers were pulled aside by the yoseba police patrol and in front of thousands, beaten. The neighborhood exploded. Yoseba day-workers, witnesses in their thousands, took their comrades back and drove the police from the hiring hall, swarming outward like blood through Kamagasaki's lungs. Crowds formed here and there, with a general movement towards the police station, from which the police re-emerged. A rain of stones fell. After the volleys reached a temporary abatement, barricades were quickly erected, bicycles ignited with cheap lighter fluid, stacked and burned, dumpsters dragged into the street. Capital's tendency to crisis, the proletarian form, was erupting.


Workers in the streets

The police retreated in order to barricade the neighborhoods, to shut off the arteries that connect Kamagasaki to the north, south, east and west. A classic siege strategy was put into action punctuated by sudden, violent streams of steel-shield armed police into the neighborhoods. Mobile riot squads surrounded the area with armored buses and paddy wagons, and soon lined the boulevards in columns with five foot steel shields. All the forces of government and private capital arrived to contain thousands of revolting workers and rapidly arriving allies, to circumscribe a space that was impassable for the surging rage of the rioters.[2] Media vans pulled up and were stoned if they attempted to penetrate the riot line and ‘get the real story'. In several cases cameras were sought after and smashed.[3] All footage of the events comes from behind police lines. Advances by the cops were met with volleys of objects flung from the parapets of apartment buildings by the unemployed, workers and housewives. At times, the riot constituted itself as a castle pocked with archers. When the first barricaded day slipped into night, the cars of the construction barons were smashed and degraded. Parks that had been evicted of squatters had their locks broken and were re-taken.

The insurrection faced its own limit, against the borders of space drawn by the state and its own projectuality. Discussions arose everywhere on where to go next. Many feared that the riotous action would blacklist the neighborhood from construction contracts, that the yoseba would close like the one in Tokyo had just a year earlier, that poverty would worsen. Most gazed over the surrounding steel buses of the riot police and saw the impossibility of expansion, of the riot spreading to other sectors. NGO workers and city hall mediators arrived urging people to ‘calm down', that police violence could be ‘addressed'. But these particular beatings were only moments on a continuum of violent surveillance and control. There was no doubt that the situation was in fact rapidly worsening as police ran wild in the streets, smashing skulls and faces with steel pipes and shields. The Kamagasaki population was at open revolt with the organs of repression, most saw no way back to ‘normality'. Buses and sound-cars of the unions and organizations of the unemployed mobilized from their garages and circled the neighborhood, providing a temporary barrier; they eventually moving through police lines, broadcasting messages to a wider portion of the city. Night fell again.

"I edged back to the crowd. From behind me, someone yelled ‘Aim for the lights!'. Stones were thrown aiming towards the lights of TV cameras stationed behind the riot squad.

I entered the crowd. No one took any notice of the camera that I held in my hand. After a while, a man spoke to me. ‘Are you from the news papers?' When I answered no, he said, ‘If you are, you are going to get killed.'" (-anonymous observer at Kamagasaki )

As the riot entered into its third, fourth day the city's strategy was in continual escalation. The rioting, unarmed workers were meat for the mobile riot squads. Largely defensive formations changed into charges, five-foot steel shields were leveled against the flesh of the disgusted. Barricades collapsed or were extinguished, and the police made real progress into the neighborhoods. If the streets could be cleared, then the tear-gas buses and paddy wagons could move in. Hundreds of the most militant were chased south into a union building where the insurrection made its last, unarmed stand. Concurrently and further south, partly in inspiration from the Kamagasaki rebellion, a youth revolt had exploded, spearheaded by ‘speed tribe' gangs on motorcycles who fought the police in skirmishes. This rebellion was contained even quicker, and most of the young rioters found themselves chased into the same building with the older workers.[4] There would be no cavalry for Kamagasaki.

The building was taken with tremendous violence. The 22nd riot in the neighborhood's 30 year history had ended.

Despite the arrest and imprisonment of many, over the next four years there would be more small riots, sporadically, where the police or contractors were targeted. When unrest broke out, other workers would come running; construction contractors dodging back-wages found themselves at the mercy of mobs. People took inspiration from the riots that raged through the neighborhoods throughout the 1960s, contestation, above all was the agenda!

The strategy against the riot by the city and the bourgeoisie was drawn from every lesson learned in the past forty years of class struggle in post-fordist Japan. Initial direct force, followed by the deployment of mediators, the deployment of advanced technological means of repression, filtering of news about the riots, news blackouts, concluding in total geographical isolation of the proletarian ferment. Riots can not be permitted to spread to other sectors, and therefore Japanese capital's only strategy against the eruption of its own contradictions is containment.

MUZZLED CONTRADICTIONS, STRANGLED PROLETARIANS

Tent city in Osaka

The riots of the 1990s took place amid the massive restructuring of the 1980s and the economic crisis of 1989 as the investment ‘bubble' burst and the promise of a Japanese 'prosperity' proved hollow. Already migrant workers from Okinawa and Tokyo had taken up park occupations all over Osaka, not to mention Nishi-nari ward and the Kamagasaki neighborhood. Improvised huts, roofed with blue tarp, decorated with paint, junk, sometimes city free jazz schedules and at the very least posters of famous female crooners holding beer mugs, sprung up all over the city. The huts were statements of autonomy, arising from the immediate inability of newly-arrived workers to afford housing; as a strategy the ‘tent villages' blanketed the city, in order to stake out an existence independent of the welfare state's institutionalization. Out of the riots, the workers' movement in Kamagasaki re-composed into union coalitions. NGOs replaced the direct discipline of police batons as their mediating roles were appreciated by the city in halting unrest.[5] 16 surveillance cameras at major intersections and shopping streets were installed in Kamagasaki alone. Over 1990-1995, the men at city hall dumped all the previous strategies, and Kamagasaki moved from a zone of discipline to one of control, from containment of outburst to total regulation; the unemployed were channeled, mediated and surveilled like never before; what could once communicate itself as a struggle of autonomy against the control apparatus was now more and more forced to speak the language of social peace. Park occupations were slowly apologized for as a response to the poverty of the city's institutional shelters as well as the lack of viable jobs, instead of their obvious essence, areas autonomous from capitalist time, characterized by relaxation, karaoke songs and games like go and shogi. The occupations were attempts to attain a moderately bourgeois standard of living, actualizing in motion, against an ocean of industrial poverty.[6] Continual violence and harassment by yakuza and police managed to dull the direct-action strategy of spiteful day-workers as well as the heaviest strategies by newly radicalized unions, who quickly transformed into facilitators of ritual action: such as protest marches completely surrounded by police, food handouts and supplication to city officials at any level of struggle.

"As real subsumption advanced it appeared that the mediations of the existence of the class in the capitalist mode of production, far from being exterior to the ‘being' of the class which must affirm itself against them, were nothing but this being in movement, in its necessary implication with the other pole of society, capital." (Theorie Communiste)

NEO-LIBERALISM: TRANSFORMED EXPLOITATION, TRANSFORMED GEOGRAPHIES

Outside of Kamagasaki and Osaka, across the social terrain of Japan, the neo-liberal project had been advancing at least since the collapse of the new left in the late 1970s. A near collapse of the social safety net ensued: previous welfare guarantees were transformed increasingly into workfare, an entire landlord class was born atop workfare-registered workers struggling to pay ‘discounted' rents on yoseba wages. The retirement age was officially moved from 60 to 65 for most businesses in 2005, completing an already unofficial shift planned long-term by the LDP; a whole generation of parents suddenly found themselves working longer and harder and by desperation turning their children's' schools into factories for the production of workers who could support them post-retirement, as pension guarantees seemed bound for an irreversible crisis. Elderly workers who laid-off in the crisis often found themselves on the street with no employment prospects. Among the bourgeoisie, support for privatization and the gradual wearing away of the ‘welfare state' gained steam.

Nothing characterized the period more than speed-up. With the unification in the late 60s of train lines around the country under the JR Company and the rapid acceleration of bullet train technology, capital smoothed space towards a white plane, one with no resistance to the circulation of raw materials, labor power and surplus value. Highways brought the same changes, and inside the workplace a collapse of the labor movement ensured human beings snared in 60-70 hour weeks became the norm for full-time employees.[7] The individual experience of labor became more and more an endless conveyor belt between home, transit and the workplace. A metropolitan factory modeled on assembly lines, bound by its very constitution, to disaster.

ENCLOSURE, SPEED, DISASTER

As an island chain along major fault lines, Japanese civilization is fraught with constant disaster. The 1995 earthquake in Kobe was only the most recent massive demonstration of the power of continental plates (5,273 people were killed, most crushed to death in the collapse of their houses or consumed by the fires that followed the earthquake, 96.3 billion dollars of damage were assessed). Earthquakes are phantoms, haunting all considerations of the future. Last December, a scandal broke in the news media; Hidetsugu Aneha, a 48 year old architect working at a construction firm called Hyuza in Tokyo had, under pressure from his superiors to cut costs on the buildings he was designing, reduced steel reinforcements in building skeletons and falsified data to cover his tracks. As his actions were uncovered and an investigation was launched by the city, it came out that the building for which design statistics had been falsified was not a lone example; the number quickly mushroomed, resulted in the implication of 78 hotels and buildings as being at 30-80% of minimal earthquake preparedness, meaning likely collapse during a strong earthquake. In his defense Aneha protested that when he raised these issues to his superiors they told him the firm would simply lose the contract to other firms if proper costs were covered, and so he must cut expenses any way he could; Aneha's comments therefore implicate not only himself and his corporation, but the construction industry as a whole. These vast, condensed metropolises of the Japanese islands contain millions of bodies on foundations increasingly precarious, and despite the spectacular efforts by city governments at reform and revision, thousands will not survive the next earthquake (as many were killed in recent Niigata prefecture earthquakes). Capitalism has developed all formalized dwellings, all massive dormitories of the exploited that stretch from the city to suburbia, into potential coffins.

In ironic contrast stand the humble hut-dwelling day-workers of Osaka whose low-impact ‘outside dwellings' are in no danger of killing them during a disaster.

In 1987, Japan's nationalized train lines were divided into west and east and privatized. Adding a profit motive to trains, already circulating on the rhythm of breakneck post-Fordist Japanese capitalism, guaranteed the narrowing of bottom lines and an amplified pursuit of speed between stations. In 2005, a rush-hour train derailed between Amagasaki station and Takaradsuka station north of Osaka. The young train driver had been berated repeatedly by supervisors and his supervising senior driver to cut seven minutes off of the recommended transit time for the 25 km between these two stations. The train derailed, traveling at a tremendous speed and collided with a large apartment building, destroying part of its foundation and causing the building to collapse on top of the train car. 105 people died either instantly or before rescue workers could reach them. Unfortunately for the bureaucrats and company officials rolled out to the scene to beg apology (and for all who ride these trains) no uptake of individual responsibility for this massacre can erase the obvious but unspeakable culpability of the economy, cloud of massified instrumental necessity, which by shearing away life-time from the individual worker according to its internal pressure, must constantly flirt with cheap materials and disastrous speed. The reaction of the individual: ‘Where is my train? My son is waiting.' gives form to this pressure. Universal demand for the reduction of transit time, born out of the stubborn intransigence of work time, pushes the trains faster and faster. The social pressure of work time against life time produces derailments, just as the concrete capitalist organization of geography ensures this acceleratory dynamic across space. Crisis is therefore implicit in the accumulated forms of capitalist working class subsumption. To which again, capital can only respond with containment.

"When the ship goes down, so too do the first class passengers... The ruling class, for its part incapable of struggling against the devil of business activity, superproduction and superconstruction for its own skin, thus demonstrates the end of its control over society, and it is foolish to expect that, in the name of a progress with its trail indicated by bloodstains, it can produce safer (trains) than those of the past..." (Amadeo Bordiga, Murdering the Dead)

DISINTEGRATING WORKPLACES; ANTAGONISTIC SPACES

During the neo-liberal wave, an expansion of ‘irregular employment' brought about the birth of a precarious class of workers that would precede Europe's ‘precariat' in conditions if not consciousness. It would also create new forms of social labor that were 'out', roving the cities.

Inside workplaces, an increasing concentration of fixed capital within factories accompanied by off-shoring meant that Japanese government had a mostly idle labor force, steadily being undermined in its real conditions of subsistence by welfare reform, one that could be put to work in entirely new ‘service' industries. Jobs were invented. Escalator girls, elevator girls, kyaku-hiki (customer pullers), street megaphones, flyering, etc. new ‘services' that were above all ‘out and about', social forms that seized forms of inter-human sociality, the tap on the shoulder, the kind holding of the elevator door, the smile, amplifying them, valorizing what had been mostly unwaged action. Population shifts led to the unavoidable importation of foreign labor, causing a gradual cosmopolitanization that has thrown the idea of a ‘Japanese' identity into crisis, while also strengthening reactionary ideologies that take strength from it. The growth of an English education industry brought thousands of temporary workers to Japan, and with them, historical methods of class struggle that clashed strongly with Japanese welfare state compromises of the 70s and 80s. As capitalists continually sought to preclude the ability of foreign labor to organize itself, the workplace form quickly dissolved from private schools to dispatch offices, private lessons in libraries, citizen halls, cafes everywhere. In a unique way, this foreign labor also became ‘out', dislocated, social.

To contain these new socialities arising across old geographies, the police and city planners are continuously at work. In late 2003, the already barricaded and privatized Tennoji Park in Osaka was invaded by 300 riot police who had come to evict what was known as the ‘karaoke village', a large area of the park taken over by karaoke carts, venders and crooners, gathering point for hundreds of day-workers daily who belted out song classics after work. For forty years the plaza was a hot-spot, even tourist attraction known as the ‘soul of Osaka', a musical space occupied by the downtrodden, who sunk into song and drink, dulling the pain, remembering more riotous times. In December 2003 the riot police moved in and barricaded the park for ‘construction purposes'. Vendors and crooners showed up in hundreds to watch the demolition and vent their rage. Barricades were thrown at the police, but the disobedients were quickly arrested. There would be no repeat of October 1990. All that is left of the karaoke village now is a steel fence, wrapping a completely empty lot. The park is silent.

Osaka city now plans a wave of evictions of squatters from parks all over its map. The first of the year is already underway in mid-city, and the park's residents are crouched down, preparing to resist the riot squads. The proletarians of Osaka's wards must learn the lessons of the past: against the brutal technological barricades of the riot police, surveillance and containment, they must adapt an improvised, mobile capability. The riots around Clichy-sous-bois provide a possible source of inspiration, totally mobile, skirmish-based attack, no commitments, no demands as such. No gathering points and thus no encirclement, no containment. Also in question is how social space can be re-worked and decelerated, how an autonomous space can develop against the crushing weight of capitalism, while simultaneously understanding its own limitations, how we might ‘help ourselves' to a future that doubtlessly awaits us if we seek it.[8] The strange new crisis-ridden social geographies of post-fordist capitalism offer gates for the fleeing proletariat, which now finds itself everywhere. 


[1] It was revealed earlier that week that the police chief in Nishinari had been taking bribes from Yakuza gangs for a variety of ‘favors'.

[2] Except for the Yakuza gangs who had all run away from the scene.

[3] The information sharing grid between media, yakuza and government is well known in most parts of the islands.

[4] Some of these older workers had cut their teeth on the anti-Yakuza struggles of the 1980s in Tokyo's Sanya district, some who were ex-members of militant groups like the red army, some who had served prison time for throwing bombs at police in the 60s. Incidentally, the Kamagasaki revolt was a big inspiration for Otomo Katsuhiro's Akira.

[5] NGO workers can now be seen every day on the winding employment lines, monitoring workers with friendly armbands that say ‘safety patrol'!

[6] Some hut plots in the autonomous parks have gorgeous gardens growing in them, in one case an occupant had improvised a permaculture system, with over-arching grape vines shading greens below and tomatoes flanking.

[7] Many factory jobs were also shipped to East Asia at this time.

[8] One phenomenon that may offer inspiration on this point: in Tennoji park, the same park that has been fenced and barricaded, robbed of most autonomy, two homeless men living in the lower part of the park have set out before their home five comfortable leather chairs, apparently open to anyone to sit in, chat or play go.  The path on which these men live and on which their chairs are situated is a vital walking path for commuters, who everyday gaze curiously or longingly at these lounging non-workers, these jesters of the free community.

Geographical: 

Recent and ongoing: 

Kondopoga: Down with pogroms, weapons of the state to divide the working class!

A real outpouring of hatred, of rioting, arson and pillage, has taken place in Kondopoga, a small industrial town close to the Russian-Finnish border. The target of these attacks was the Caucasian and Chechen minority. These events have had quite an impact at the national level, in Russia, and even internationally.

The events in Kondopoga are not at all an isolated case, above all since the war in Chechnya which began in 1994. But in recent months, pogroms have broken out in several regions of Russia. In May 2006, in Novossibirsk, 20 native Russians burned a dozen homes belonging to Tsigans on the pretext of fighting the drug trade; in the town of Kharagun in the Tchita region, there were confrontations between Russians and Azerbaijanis, in which one person died; in the Astrakhan region, following the murder of a young Kalmuk in a fight with Chechnyans, 300 Kalmuks attacked Chechens and burned their houses. A month after, in the village of Targuis in the Irkutsk region, an anti-Chinese pogrom resulted in 75 Chinese having to leave. A few days later, the inhabitants of Salsk in the Rostov region took action against Daghestanis, leaving another person dead. On 21 August, a bomb exploded in the Cherkizovo market in Moscow, where the majority of traders come from central Asia or the Far East. Result: 12 dead and 40 injured. The Chechens, seeking refuge from the war, have been the main target of hostility, as well as the Tsigans.

In Kondopoga, the anti-Caucasian pogrom was without precedent in its intensity. For five days, from 30 August to 5 September 2006, a crowd of several hundred people, the majority of them young men between 15 and 20, ran amok. The first target was the town market where, like in many Russian cities, the Chechens run fruit and vegetable stalls. The stalls were smashed up, pillaged and burned. Then there were several nights of rioting with garages and vehicles belonging to Chechens being attacked with stones, bottles and Molotov cocktails. There was also an attempt to burn the school where a number of central Asian families had taken refuge! Several nationalist movements were involved and were publicly calling for the immediate deportation of the Caucasians. The troubles ended up with the massive departure of the immigrant population who were now in a state of panic. 200 Caucasians and dozens of Chechens had to flee for their lives to a another town 50 kilometres away.

The complicity between the neo-Nazis and the state

A lot of people have pointed to the ultranationalists of the Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI). Coming from Moscow and St Petersburg, the militants of this xenophobic, pro-Slav group, backed by neo-Nazis, played a key role in whipping up the young people and organising the pogrom in Kondopoga. However, if they were able to act like this it was because they were not acting alone. Their role was only made possible through the support of the local bourgeoisie. The leader of the DNPI, Belov, even came to the town at the invitation of the local deputy of the populist party, the LDPR, Nikolai Kourianovitch, who called for the formation of a militia of former Russian combatants from the Chechen war to re-establish order!

The public authorities treat the Caucasians as scapegoats responsible for all the ills affecting the population. They talk about their “ostentatious wealth” and their “open-topped Mercedes”, not to mention their “mafia connections” or the bribes given to the police to turn a blind eye to their activities. The governor of the region, Katanandov, a member of Putin’s Russia United party, displaying the racism that is natural to his class, stoked the fires of this irrational pogromism: “The main reason for the troubles is the fact that the representatives of another people have behaved in a n impertinent and provocative manner, showing ignorance towards the mentality of our people”. Chechens have the habit of “not queuing up for technical control” when there is a traffic accident, which shows that “everything is allowed as far as they are concerned” (Liberation, 8.9.06). He further justified the pogrom by denouncing “these young men who have come from Caucasia and other regions” and who behave “like occupiers”, he insists that they should “keep a low profile or go away”(Le Monde, 21.9.06)

The collusion between the official authorities and the neo-Nazi groups isn’t simply a habit of the lower echelons of the state machine. The Russian state as a whole has good reasons for treating Caucasians as scapegoats. The pogrom atmosphere suits the Russian state’s interests very well. It is directly encouraged by the big bourgeoisie and the state as one of the most repulsive means of defending its imperialist interests. The neo-Nazi groups, if they are not directly emanations of the regime, are widely manipulated by the Kremlin. It uses them as a sort of unofficial, parallel police force in the dirty work of repression against any kind of opposition. At the same time they are valuable auxiliaries for propagating all sorts of nationalist hatred within the population, which serves as a perfect cover for the barbarous actions of Russian imperialism in Chechnya.

In the imperialist contest between Georgia and Russia, the Russian state has stepped up the pogrom atmosphere against Georgians living in Russia, especially after the arrest on 27 September of four Russian officers whom the Georgians have accused of espionage. At the beginning of October Putin himself came out against “criminal ethnic groups” who had taken control of trade, making it necessary to “restore order” in the markets, which he called the “most ethnically polluted in the country”, with the aim of defending the “interests of Russian producers and of the native population”(lefigaro.fr.17.11.06) by expelling from Russian territory several thousand “criminalised” Georgians.

Pogroms are also useful to the bourgeoisie in another important way: they serve to create divisions in the ranks of its mortal enemy, the proletariat, to prevent the oppressed classes from recognising their real enemies. These endless campaigns against the immigrants who “steal jobs from Russians” (a credo both of the state and of the ultranationalist groups) provide the background to the numerous physical attacks on immigrants. Blaming the immigrants for the general decline in the living standards of the working class is consciously deigned to undermine the class solidarity and identity of the proletariat.

The instigation of pogroms by the state has a long tradition in Russia, notably in the form of the crimes of Czarism towards the Jews. The Russian state, which has made xenophobia its official ideology, is simply reviving the sinister tradition of instituting measures aimed at “defending Christians from Jewish exploitation” as Czar Alexander III (1882) once put it. Envisaging that “a third of Jews will emigrate, a third will convert, a third will perish”, Alexander ‘s measures were specifically designed to whip up anti-Semitic pogroms as a means of paralysing any struggle against the monarchy. This is why the workers’ movement denounced the role of the state in these pogroms, exposing “the all-Russian autocracy which acted as the protector of this whole clique of brigands and butchers, supported by the official bureaucracy and directed from the top by a cabal of courtisans” (Trotsky, 1905). The crowned heads had no more decorum than today’s capitalist state, which is carrying on the same barbaric tradition.

Pogroms have nothing to do with the struggle of the proletariat.

In a statement published on the internet (Libcom, 24/9/06) - we don’t know whether it is the individual initiative of its author (M. Magid) or whether it reflects the official position of the organisation he belongs to (the Russian section of the anarcho-syndicalist IWA), we can find some dangerous confusions about the class nature of this movement and the perspectives it contained. The author even defines this movement as something, if not from the working class itself, then at least as useful to its struggle: “Everywhere, or almost everywhere in Russian province destruction is widespread, due to bandits of all nationalities, who are controlling local markets, companies and banks…In Kondopoga we saw an attempt of people to set up an organ of self-governance, a regular meeting of people who would make resolutions, which according to opinion of the people authorities should fulfil. But riots became nationalist ones...Is this movement ordered or initiated by fascists or local traders? No, that claim is a lie by mainstream media. It was a popular riot, of working people, which developed to a nationalistic direction, safe for authorities - partly due to events themselves, partly due to initiative of local traders”.

In the final analysis, the author institutes the means used, riots and pogroms, as valid weapons that the proletariat can use. The only regret he expresses is that it should not have simply targeted what he calls Caucasian bandits but should have widened to target Russian bandits. The most striking thing is that he takes at face value the nationalist campaigns of the Russian state which portray all Caucasians as mafiosi. At no point does it occur to him that this could be a false idea. This is clearly making concessions to the repulsive lies of the state, giving credence to the racist scapegoating of the Caucasians.

This attitude is in complete contradiction with the one that revolutionaries should have, in continuity with the traditions of the workers’ movement. Faced with the anti-Semitic pogrom in Kishinev in 1903, the founding Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party called on its militants to “use all means at their disposal to fight against such movements and to explain to the proletariat the reactionary and class-based nature of all anti-Semitic and national-chauvinist agitation”. The attitude of the working class and of revolutionaries has always been to show solidarity with the victims of pogroms and to offer them its protection. This was one of the roles of the soviets in 1905and 1917: “the soviet organised the working class, directed strikes and demonstrations, armed the workers, protected the population against pogroms” (Trotsky, 1905). Under the direction of the councils, in a large number of towns, the workers organised armed militia to repress actions by pogromist thugs. The Bolsheviks themselves were strongly and constantly involved in the formation of armed revolutionary groups to oppose the pogromists. Here is an example of Bolshevik activity in the city of Odessa: “Here I was a witness to the following scene: a group of young men, aged around 20-25, among whom were police agents in civilian clothes and members of the Okhrana, frisked anyone who looked like a Jew – men, women and children – stole their clothes and beat them without mercy….we immediately organised a group of revolutionaries armed with revolvers…we ran towards them and fired on them. They cleared off. But between the pogromists and us there suddenly appeared a solid wall of soldiers, armed to the teeth and facing in our direction. We had to fight while retreating. The soldiers went and the pogromists reappeared. This happened several times. It was clear to us that the pogromists were acting in concert with the army” (O Piatnitsky, Zapiski Bol’shevika, Memoirs of a Bolshevik, Moscow 1956) Today the proletariat does not have the strength to adopt such measures, but if it is to rediscover this strength, it will have to adopt the attitude of the Bolsheviks, and not the one proposed by Magid. If the workers allow themselves to be divided and led into pogroms, they will lose everything. For the working class this is a question of life or death.

The vision developed by Magid, which lends authority to the designation of scapegoats to bear responsibility for the unbearable situation created by the capitalist economic crisis, is completely alien to the proletariat. This ambiguity on the nature of pogroms condemns those who accept it to playing the political game of the state. What lies behind these errors is the absence of class criteria for analysing the reality of capitalist society and the struggles which take place within it, dissolving the proletariat into the undifferentiated whole of the ‘people’, as well as the Bakuninst cult of violence with its idea that unleashing the destructive passions is the lifeblood of the revolution. This is all typical of anarchism. The dangerous confusions which lead to apologising for pogromism lie in its very roots.

The proletariat can only attain its revolutionary future by developing its class solidarity and rejecting all the divisions imposed by capitalism. All forms of nationalism and racism serve only to weaken its struggle for emancipation. The revolution is not and cannot be an act of revenge against a part of the population that gets the blame for its situation. The proletarian class struggle is aimed at the destruction of capitalism as a system, based on the exploitation of wage labour in the framework of capitalist relations of production. Its final goal is the transformation of the present order of things, with the aim of “creating conditions of life for all human beings such that they can develop their human nature with their neighbours in human conditions, and no longer have to go through violent crises turning their lives upside down” (Engels ‘Two Speeches at Eberfeld’).

Down with all pogroms!

Down with the capitalist system which generates pogroms and uses them for its self-preservation!

Long live the international solidarity of all workers!

ICC, 22/2/07.


 


Geographical: 

Heinrich Heine: The revolution and the party of the nightingales

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his death, the year 2006 witnessed the celebration of Heinrich Heine as the great poet of German romanticism. Heine: wasn’t that the author of the Lorelei song, which sounds so popularly romantic that even the Nazis could not do without it? Romanticism: was that not a flight from reality into the past, into religion and the world of legends and myths? And this being the case, why should a contemporary marxist paper deal with Heine today?

Yes, Heine did write the Lorelei song. The Nazis sang it. They signed it “author unknown”.

Yes, Heine was the great poet of German romanticism. Yes, the mood of this period was reactionary, turned towards the past. It idolised the Middle Ages, the aristocracy and the Catholic Church. On the shores of the Rhine and elsewhere, ruined castles were restored. Derelict gothic cathedrals such as in Cologne were brought to completion. Old myths and popular fairy tales were rediscovered. But Heine was a revolutionary, in politics partly, in his art completely. To such an extent, that the revolutionary proletariat owes him much, and can still learn from him today. How does all of this fit together?

Heine and the French Revolution

It is not a mistake to consider romanticism, at least in Germany, as a feudal reaction to the great bourgeois revolution in France, and to the industrial revolution which began in England. Romanticism flourished in particular after the revolutionary armies of Napoleon had been defeated by a European aristocratic coalition funded with English money. But it wasn’t just the feudal world that was shaken by the invasion of capitalist modernisation. Many of the most upright and compassionate human beings and most profound thinkers of the epoch felt concerned and indignant – not because of economic progress, but in the face of the brutalisation of society which accompanied it. They were not opposed to the French Revolution, but disappointed by its results. This is why many of the artists of the time, although influenced by the dominant mood of the day, began to develop a revolutionary side to the romantic reaction to capitalism. More than any other poet of his day, Heine embodied this revolutionary side of romanticism.

Born in Düsseldorf, he was a typical representative of the Rhineland of his time. This was the part of Germany where serfdom and all the rubbish of the Middle Ages had most drastically been eradicated by the French Revolution. This to such an extent that the German aristocracy did not dare to restore it even when, in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat, the Rhineland became part of Prussia. As a result, Heine remained throughout his life a bitter opponent of feudalism and an ardent admirer of Napoleon. For this reason, he was mercilessly persecuted in Germany and driven into exile. The reaction not only outlawed all his existing writings, but also all those he might write in the future! On account of his Jewish origins, Heine was particularly open towards the consequences of the French Revolution in the Rhineland. It was the Revolution which established Jewish equality, whereas the feudal reaction did everything in its power, after the defeat of Napoleon, to revoke these reforms or make them socially ineffective.

The experience of witnessing the introduction of social progress from abroad made of Heine an internationalist. He is said to have been the first to have used the formulation “world revolution”. Like other great minds in Germany before him, he learnt from the French Revolution and from the study of foreign history that social progress transgresses frontiers. He thus took up the struggle against the “shabby, plump, unwashed opposition against an approach which is the most marvellous and holy thing which Germany has brought forth, in other words against the generalised fraternisation of humanity, against that cosmopolitanism which has always been defended by our greatest spirits, by Lessing, Herder, Schiller, Goethe, Jean Paul.[1]

Heine had understood that the progress of humanity depends to an important extent on the capacity to make a higher synthesis of the best acquisitions of the cultures of all peoples. He himself – as a political refugee in Paris – considered it to be one of the most important tasks of his life to contribute to such a synthesis of the thought and creativity of Germany and France. This achievement of Heine made of him a target of hatred – and not only during his own lifetime - in a twofold manner. For one thing, because France was to remain, for another whole century, the arch-enemy of the German bourgeoisie (today of course it is easier to “honour” Heine, since the German bourgeoisie seeks an alliance with France). For another thing, since here Heine spins a thread which was to lead to marxism. As for instance Lenin was later to point out in an article written on the eve of World War I, the most important “pre-proletarian” sources of marxism were already international. “The history of philosophy and the history of social science show clearly that Marxism contains nothing which has the least resemblance to ‘sectarianism’ in the sense of any kind of closed up, fossilised doctrine arising on the sidelines of the main road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary: The whole genius of Marx consists in his giving answers to questions which the progressive thinking of humanity had already posed. His teaching arose as the direct and immediate continuation of the teaching of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and of socialism.” [2]

Heine, popular art and contemporary discordance

Heine’s interest in popular tales and legends was far from being the result of any wish to hold up history or make it roll back. Instead, he took inspiration from these sources, in order to develop a new, unprecedented lyrical rhythm and a new language. Heine, as a great poet, was extremely sensitive towards the spiritual currents which were not only of his own day. As an artist with a philosophical education, who had trained himself with Hegelian dialectics, he was very much aware of the nature of the historical period he was living in. He thus recognised how the bourgeois epoch isolates the artist from society, so that art becomes increasingly incomprehensible to the people. The result of this development is, on the one hand, the appearance of capitalist mass culture as the expression of barbarism, which renders the working class ignorant. On the other hand art and culture are almost naturally considered to be the product of specialists, to which the working population make no contribution.

It would be wrong to consider the engagement with popular art in the period of romanticism to have been exclusively the expression of a reactionary nostalgia. As later on Tolstoy or the English marxist William Morris were to be, Heine was convinced that the creative heritage of humanity consists not only of the works of great architects, painters or writers, but also of popular songs, legends and sagas, or for instance the half-timbered houses or the wood carvings of the artisans of the Middle Ages. The period of romanticism was one of the last ones in which the most significant artists could still be inspired by the living art of the working population. The Grimm brothers wrote down the popular fairy tales of Germany for humanity; Beethoven, Dvorak and Liszt took up and further developed the melodies, dances and rhythms of popular music.

Indeed the whole of Heine’s work is inspired by this tradition. Not only his poems and stories, but even his philosophical, historical writings, or his reflections on the history of art, have something elementary, surprising and even fairytale-like about them. We have already seen how the “traditional” bourgeoisie, even when, all of a sudden, it pretends to honour Heine, has insurmountable problems with Heine’s works already because of his internationalism. But this is no less the case for the Stalinist bourgeoisie, even though these alleged marxists – knowing full well that Marx loved Heine and his poetry – always officially “celebrated” him. But Heine never fitted into the official canon of Stalinism, according to which only “realistic” art can be “progressive”. The “materialism” of the Stalinists is not unlike that of the bourgeois materialism of England after Bacon, about which Marx and Engels in The Holy Family wrote: “sensuality loses its blossoms” and “materialism becomes hostile to humanity”. [3]

Since the essence of Stalinism consists in the lie of presenting national, state totalitarian capitalism as socialism, it is impossible for it to understand the fantastic but truthful realism of Heine. This realism delves deeper than bourgeois vulgar materialism has ever dared to go. Heine was one of the first to bring the psychological truths of the unconscious to the surface. In doing so, he based himself on the wisdom of old tales. He thus opened up a path in the exploration of the human psyche, one which was to be taken up and further developed by the great realistic novelists like George Eliot in England, Dostoyevski and Tolstoy in Russia, but also by the “decadent” Kafka. And Freud recognised in Heine one of those who prepared the way for psychoanalysis. In this sense Heine was not only the poet of romanticism; he at the same time overcame it, through ironising the romantic pose.

But Heine employed romantic lyrics and acid humour above all as weapons in order to disarm us, so that he can take us by surprise with his truths. Heine was one of those spirits, rare enough in history to date, who wanted as much as possible to live without illusions. Already before Marx, Heine had the courage to face historical truth. One example of this is the way he presented the tragic fate of Münzer, who during the Reformation demanded earthly human happiness at a time when this was not yet feasible. “Such a proposition was admittedly untimely, and Master Himmling, who chopped off your head, poor Thomas Münzer, he was in a certain sense entitled to such a procedure. Then he had the sword in his hands, and his arms were strong.”[4]

Heine not only felt in himself the growing inner cleavage and the suffering of the artist in bourgeois society – he also analysed it. “Oh! Dear reader, when you feel like deploring this sense of being torn, you should instead deplore the fact that the world itself has been torn asunder at its heart. Since the heart of the poet is the central point of the world, in present times it must necessarily be woefully torn. Those who are able to boast that their hearts have remained whole are only admitting that they have a prosaic, narrow heart.[5]

This discord makes the artist unpredictable and often difficult to understand. Whereas the young marxist movement had its difficulties with Heine – Wilhelm Liebknecht and even the young Engels at first had problems with Heine, until Marx was able to convince them to the contrary – Marx understood this problem very well. Later on, Eleanor, one of the daughters of Marx, was to recall in the Neue Zeit. “Marx was a great admirer of Heine. He loved him just as much as he loved his works, and was as indulgent as can be towards his political weaknesses. Poets, he declared, are peculiar people. You have to let them go their way. You cannot measure them with the usual scale for normal people.

Heine and the society of the future

One of the most significant achievements of Heine was his contribution to the clarification of the nature of a future socialist society. Not that Heine had been a marxist! He belonged more to the generation before Marx, which, disappointed by the results and the terror of the bourgeois French Revolution, turned away from the class struggle. He was a glowing supporter of the utopian socialism of Saint-Simon. He hoped for the overcoming of class society through an enlightened philanthropist, a kind king or one of the Rothschilds, not through a mass insurrection. In the last years of his life, largely cut off from the world, suffering the tortures of a terrible illness amidst his “burial mattresses”, he no longer succeeded, despite his deep friendship with Marx, in understanding the modern workers’ movement and scientific socialism. He feared the intervention of the masses in history – which he himself had experienced more in the form of the anti-Semitic mob - more than he longed for it. Nevertheless he responded to the real movement of the proletariat when it appeared, for instance the insurrection of the weavers in Silesia in 1844.

From darkened eyes no tears are falling:

With gritted teeth we sit here calling:

“Germany, listen, ere we disperse,

We weave your shroud with a triple curse-

We weave! We are weaving!

“A curse to the false god that we prayed to,

And worshipped in spite of all, and obeyed, too.

We waited, and we hoped and suffered in vain;

He laughed at us, sneering, for all of our pain-

We weave! We are Weaving!

“A curse to the king, and a curse to his coffin,

The rich man's king whom our plight could not soften;

Who took our last penny in taxes and cheats'

And let us be shot like dogs in the streets-

We weave! We are Weaving!

“A curse to the Fatherland, whose face is

Covered with lies and foul disgraces;

Where the bud is crushed before it can seed'

And the worm grows fat on corruption and greed-

We weave! We are Weaving!

“The shuttle flies in the creaking loom;

And night and day we weave our doom.

Old Germany, ere we disperse,

We weave your shroud with a triple curse.

We weave! We are Weaving![6]

As far as the goal of a classless society is concerned, socialism before Marx was essentially utopian socialism. As such, Christianity was an important source of pre-marxist socialism. This socialism had not yet understood that only capitalism, through the enormous development of the productive forces, could create the preconditions for a classless society. The pre-marxist socialism of a Babeuf or Weitling was thus essentially hardly less hostile towards the body than the Christian sects of the time. They could only imagine a classless society in the form of a monastic sharing of poverty, in which there would hardly be any room for art and beauty, play and happiness, love and pleasure, seen as “bourgeois luxuries”. In other words, they would be societies in which proletarianisation and the lot of the proletariat would be idealised rather than overcome.

One might assume that the debates of the time about this question are at best of historical interest to us today. But we should not forget that today, once again, this idea about socialism has again become predominant – but no longer as an ideal, but as something to put us off! But with the difference that today this bourgeois monastery, or rather barracks, socialism, is no longer, as in those days, the expression of the immaturity of the movement, but the result of the Stalinist counter-revolution. As a result, the contribution of Heine to this question seems to us to be more relevant than ever!

Heine pleaded for a world in which humanity and nature, science and art, the spiritual and the sensual, would live in harmony, where the relations of the individuals to their own internal world and to the world outside would come together to form a real unity. In his poem “Germany: A Winter Tale” he wrote:

A new song, and a better song,

Oh friends, I'll sing for you.

Here on earth we mean to make

Our Paradise come true.

We mean to be happy here on earth-

Our days of want are done.

No more shall the lazy belly waste

What toiling hands have won.

Wheat enough for all mankind

Is planted here below;

Roses and myrtle, beauty and joy,

And green peas, row upon row.

Yes, green peas enough for every man,

As soon as they break their pods.

We gladly leave to the angels and birds

The dainties of the Gods.

And, after our death, if wings should sprout

We'll visit you up there,

And eat the holiest tarts and cakes

That angel-cooks prepare.[7]

Using a developed sensitivity and an historical method learnt from Hegel, which prepared the way for marxism, Heine recognised that one of the sources of the attractiveness of religion lay in the imaginary promise of a kind of socialism, and that not least for this reason it had become a fetter on historical progress.

The spiritualistic religion was until now helpful and necessary, as long as the greater part of humanity lived in misery and had to comfort itself with heavenly religion. But ever since the progress of industry and the economy have made it possible for people to overcome their material misery and be happy on earth, ever since – you understand what I mean. And the people will understand us, when we say to them, that from now on they will eat beef every day instead of potatoes, and will work less and dance more.”

For Heine, the critique of monastic socialism made a deeper critique of Christianity necessary.

Our descendants will shiver when they will read about our ghostly existence, how within us the human being was split down the middle and only one half was actually alive. Our times – and they began on the cross of Christ – will be looked on as one of the great periods of the illness of humanity.”[8]

Heine identified the hatred of the body of Christianity as the source of this cleavage. “Whereas the Jews only treated the body with disdain, the Christians went much further down this path, considering it to be something to be rejected, as something evil, as evil itself.[9]

In a very similar manner, Marx and Engels pointed out in their book, The Holy Family, how the punishment of blindness once became the epitome of Christianity, the “separation of human beings from the sensual world outside.”

Marxism, which was able to identify other, deeper lying causes of this cleavage, such as the contradiction between head and hand work, nevertheless confirmed its accentuated character within Christianity. “By taking up this widespread feeling that human beings were themselves responsible for their generalised ruin, expressing this in a sense of the guiltiness of each individual, it was able to preserve its capacity to become a world religion.[10]

Heine also identified the link between the development of the contradiction between mind and body and the growing alienation of man from nature.

Even the nightingale was slandered, and one made a sign of the cross when it sang. A true Christian walked around with fearfully closed up senses, like an abstract ghost, in the midst of blossoming nature.”

In this way the outlines of the future revolution became clearer. He demanded: “The well being of material existence, the material happiness of the peoples, not because we look down on the spirit as the materialists do, but because we know that the divinity of man also expresses itself in its bodily appearance.[11]

He thus also called for a radical transformation of the relation of man to nature.

In present day Germany conditions have changed, and the party of the flowers and the nightingales is closely connected with the revolution.” (ibid).

Or as Friedrich Engels put it:

Thus at every step we are reminded that we can in no way rule over nature the way a conqueror rules a foreign people, like somebody standing outside nature – but rather we belong to it with our flesh and blood and stand in its very midst, and that our whole rule over it consists in our advantage over all other beings of being able to learn her laws and how to properly apply them (…) But the more this is done, the more will humanity not only feel itself once again at one with nature, but also know this, and all the more impossible will be that nonsensical and unnatural idea of a contradiction between spirit and material, humanity and nature, soul and body, such as it developed since the decline of classical antiquity in Europe, achieving its highest expression in Christianity.” [12]

Heine and communism

The poet Heine feared communism as a mass movement, because he could not imagine it to be in any way different from the risings of the marauding peasants and artisans of the times of the Reformation, who destroyed works of art. This is why, in an article in Der Spiegel he was quoted by the former GDR dissident Wolf Biermann as a witness against communism. In this connection it is worthwhile consulting the introduction to the French edition of his “Lutetia”, which Heine wrote shortly before his death in 1856, where he refers to the “two principles” which in his eyes justify the victory of communism. The first of these principles is that all human beings have the right of nourishment. “Let it be destroyed, this old world, where innocence died, where greediness flourished, where human beings were starved by other human beings? Let them be destroyed from top to bottom, these limned tombstones, where lies and injustice were at home.”

The second principle is internationalism. “Out of hatred against the partisans of nationalism, I could almost love the communists. At least they are no hypocrites with religion and Christianity on their lips. Although the communists have no religion (nobody is perfect), the communists themselves being atheists (which is certainly a great sin), but as their main dogma they recognise an absolute cosmopolitanism, the general love of all peoples, the fraternal community of goods between all mankind as the free citizens of this planet.

October 2006, Elemer.



[1] Heine: The Romantic School, Book One.

[2] Lenin: Three Sources and Three Components of Marxism

[3] The Holy Family (Critical battle against French materialism).

[4] Heine; Ludwig Börne. Second Book.

[5] Heine: Travellers Impressions from Lucca

[6] This translation is taken from Louis Untermyer's Heinrich Heine: paradox and poet. Engel's said that “this song is in its German original one of the most powerful poems I know and he made a translation of this poem for the New Moral World, 3rd December 1844:

Without a tear in their grim eyes,

They sit at the loom, the rage of despair in their faces;

We have suffered and hungered long enough;

Old Germany, we are weaving a shroud for thee

And weaving it with a triple curse.

We are weaving, weaving!

The first curse to the God, the blind and deaf god,

Upon whom we relied, as children on their father;

In whom we hoped and trusted withal,

He has mocked us, he has cheated us nevertheless.

We are weaving, weaving!

The second curse for the King of the Rich,

Whom our distress could not soften nor touch;

The King, who extorts the last penny from us,

And sends his soldiers, to shoot us like dogs,

We are weaving, weaving!

A curse to the false fatherland,

That has nothing for us but distress and shame,

Where we suffered hunger and misery –

We are weaving they shroud, Old Germany

We are weaving, weaving!

However Engel's omits the last verse and translates the second last one in a somewhat summary manner, the endings also do not rhyme.

[7] The poetry and prose of Heinrich Heine, Frederick Ewen, The Citadel Press, 1948. page 182.

[8] From the Memoirs of Mister Von Schnabelewopski

[9] Heine: On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany

[10] Engels: Bruno Bauer and the Origins of Christianity.

[11] Heine: The History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany. This formulation expresses the pantheism of Heine which he adopted from Spinoza. Where Heine writes “materialists” here, we would have written “mechanical-” or “vulgar materialists”.

[12] Engels: Dialectics of Nature.

General and theoretical questions: 

Airbus: If we accept sacrifices today, the bourgeoisie will hit us harder tomorrow!

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After several weeks of contortions by the management of Airbus and a meeting between Merkel and Chirac, the axe has fallen: 10,000 redundancies in Europe, the closure and sale of several factories.

The management, hand on heart, tell us “there will be no compulsory redundancies”, “everything will be settled by early retirement and voluntary departures”.

No compulsory redundancies at Airbus, but that only concerns half of the workers affected: 5000 temporary or subcontract workers will be asked to go elsewhere. As for the workers at Airbus, we know what “voluntary redundancy” means: harassment by lower management to force workers out. In all, there will be still more unemployment, above all among the young who are looking for a job. And for those that remain at Airbus: speed-ups and an increase in hours worked for the same wages, or less.

How do the bourgeoisie and the unions explain the crisis at Airbus?

In order to explain the crisis at Airbus that lies behind such measures, everyone has their own song. For Gallois, the boss of Airbus, it’s principally because of the strong euro; the planes are too dear in relation to those produced by Boeing. For the unions, it’s because of bad management or the greed of shareholders. For the bosses, it’s because the state has interfered with their industrial policy, which is not its business: private investors should sort it out themselves. For the parties of the left, it’s because the state has not played its role of shareholder. For the French press, it’s because of the German state taking the lion’s share. For the German press, and the bourgeoisie behind it, it’s difficult to throw this argument back in their faces because, without the French being involved, 6,100 jobs have gone at the chemical giant Bayer, at the same time as the management of Deutsch Telekom decided to transfer 50,000 wages earners to sub-contracting, which is a way to set them up for redundancy once they have been dispersed around multiple small enterprises. And for good measure, those that remain work an extra 5 hours a week without any wage increase. Through its media, the German bourgeoisie tries to console the workers at Airbus by saying that it could be worse for them: the French workers have been hit harder. It’s the same in the Spanish press: it’s not too bad, but that’s because we are more competitive. And to add in the nationalist refrain, the French and Germans are accused of doing their own deals without consulting the Spanish.

As for the British press, discretion is the order of the day: after all, at the same moment there are hundreds of thousands of workers in health being attacked over wages that are already low.

What do those who reject the decisions of the Airbus management propose to us?

For the German unions, the difficulties at Airbus are one example among others of bad management by the bosses, which is equally responsible for the difficulties of Deutsch Telekom and Bayer. They want to be closer to the management of the firms, when they already represent practically 50% of the administration and are already involved in decisions concerning Airbus or other sectors. In this framework, they propose that measures taken “to preserve the future of Airbus” are discussed locally, factory by factory, between unions and bosses.

The French unions, for their part, also denounce the bad “governance” of the present management and propose that the state is more implicated in the management of Airbus, a perspective which is equally supported by the Prime Minister and the candidates of the right and the centre in the next presidential elections, Sarkozy and Bayrou. As for the socialist candidate, Segolene Royal, she makes the further proposal that regional authorities should be involved in managing the capital of the aircraft industry. That’s to say, what already exists in Germany, where the Lander is fully part of the capital of Airbus, with the great success that we now seeing!

Faced with capitalist competition, refuse to let them divide us!

There are partial truths in some of these declarations. It is true that the strong euro is an obstacle to the sale of the aeroplanes produced in Europe faced with competition from Boeing. It is true that there are problems in the management of Airbus. In particular, it is true that competition between the German and French states has not helped things. Everyone can state a small part of the truth, but all share the same lie: that the workers who today are paying for the difficulties at Airbus have the same interests as the bosses. In sum, they should adopt the aim put forward by all the speeches: that Airbus should be more profitable than Boeing. That is also exactly what the American bosses say to American workers and it is for that same reason that the latter have been subjected to tens of thousands of redundancies in the course of the last few years. In the final count, in all the speeches that we hear from the “responsible” people, whether government, bosses or unions, the American workers are supposed to be the enemies of European workers in the same way that French, German, British and Spanish workers are supposed to be all enemies of each other. In today’s economic war, all the bourgeois forces want to set workers of different countries against each other as they do in military wars.

That states are in competition with each other is perfectly true. But the wars of the 20th century show that it is the workers who have most to lose in these rivalries between capitalist nations and who have no interest in submitting to the orders and interests of their national bourgeoisies. In the logic of capitalism, it is necessary for American workers as well as European workers to make still more sacrifices. If Airbus became profitable faced with Boeing, American workers will submit to new attacks (moreover, today 7,000 job cuts have been announced) and after that European workers will again pay the cost. Each retreat by workers faced with capitalist demands can only prepare for new attacks more violent than the previous ones. There’s no other option possible for capitalism in crisis, and the only response it knows is always more job cuts and even more ferocious exploitation of the workers who have the “luck” to keep their job… for the moment.

A single solution: unity and solidarity of the whole working class!

For the workers today hit by the measures of the Airbus management, there is no alternative but to struggle. In several Airbus factories they understood it immediately: from the announcement of the management’s plans, 1000 workers at the Laupheim, in the south of Germany went on spontaneous strike, at the same time as those of Meaulte, in Picardy, stopped work; they only went back when the union told them that the factory wouldn’t be sold, which was a lie.

But the workers of Airbus are not alone in this struggle. All the exploited must feel solidarity faced with attacks that today rain down on aeronautical workers and that tomorrow will hit those in the motor industry, health, telecom, chemicals and all the other sectors.

It is necessary for workers everywhere to unite in sovereign general assemblies where they can discuss and decide the objectives and means of struggle. This struggle is the concern of the workers themselves. It is not the business of politicians whose promises are quickly forgotten. Neither is it the business of their “representatives”, the unions. The latter spend their time cultivating divisions between the workers, whether within the same firm or unit of production (as we see today at Toulouse where the speeches of the main union, Force Ouvriere, are aimed at setting “blue collar” workers against “white collar” office workers). Or they oppose workers from one country against workers from another, since the unions are first to wave the nationalist rags. For the French unions at Airbus, with the same Force Ouvriere at their head, the workers should fight to obtain a “fairer sharing out of the sacrifices”; in other words, French workers should try to ensure that the German workers are hit still harder. And even when a union like IG Metall proposes a day of action by Airbus workers in different countries, to be held in mid-March, it is nothing but a manoeuvre to get ahead of any development of the consciousness that workers’ interests are not those of the national capital. In almost the same breath IG Metall issued a statement condemning strikes in the name of “responsibility”. Such a Europe-wide action is also a means of cultivating a “solidarity” between European Airbus workers that sets them against American Boeing workers who, in Autumn 2005, went on massive strikes against the bosses’ attacks.

The need for solidarity between all workers has already begun to be expressed, since there have been spontaneous walk-outs not only in the Airbus plants most directly hit but also by workers in the factories in Hamburg and Bremen which have been more or less spared so far. A little while ago, workers at Airbus in southern Spain, today under attack, gave their support to demonstrations of families of workers in the motor firm of Delphi, thrown out of work by the closure of the Puerto Real.

Faced with the appeals of the bosses to accept job cuts, lower wages and deteriorating conditions at work, one response: reject sacrifices which prepare the ground for even more brutal attacks! Only struggle pays!

Faced with attempts to divide workers by firm or by country, solidarity of all the working class!

Against isolation, which always means defeat, spread the struggles! Worker’s assemblies must send massive delegations to other firms so that all workers are part of the movement.

Faced with a tottering world capitalist system that will bring even more brutal attacks against all workers, in all sectors, in all countries, there is no other alternative for the working class than to fight back and to develop class solidarity. This is the only way to stand up against the aggravation of exploitation, against more and more inhuman conditions of life and work; it is also the only way to prepare for the overthrow of this system, which offers us nothing but poverty, war and barbarism.

International Communist Current (5 March 2007).

Recent and ongoing: 

Report on the ICC Public Forum in Birmingham, 24/2/07

The presentation was on the title: Only the class struggle can stop the war drive. The presentation focused on the two dynamics.

Bush’s rejection of the Iraq study group’s recommendations has to be seen within the framework of the impasse of US imperialism. Since the collapse of the old blocs the, so-called, “new world order” is really disorder and chaos. The US has launched an offensive to protect its dominant position. It is becoming more and more isolated and has become bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire. The US has to pull itself out and reassert itself. We are faced with the future prospect of a confrontation between Iran and the USA.

The only way the working class can confront war is through the class struggle. The level of the class struggle is low, but we are seeing signs of a re-emergence through a new generation. We can see the students’ movements in France as an important example of this.

The discussion that followed was very good.

On the war a sympathizer said that workers are more cynical about the war. The ideological cover for imperialism, “the war on terror”, is seen more and more for what it is. The meeting discussed the ways that the bourgeoisie manipulates it’s so called opposition. In the UK there is a leftist anti-war movement, but in France the opposition is focused on anti-globalisation (i.e. anti-Americanism).

One thread in the discussion was the role of the revolutionary organization and the development of the class. A sympathizer asked the question “How does the class raise its consciousness to a revolutionary level and how does the revolutionary organization contribute to this?

Another sympathizer answered that the working class learns from its struggles internationally. It needs to go beyond the distortions of the bourgeoisie. By reporting on struggles like those in Bangladesh and Egypt the ICC is contributing, in a small way, to the classes understanding of what is really going on. A comrade of the ICC pointed to the struggles in France. It was only when the ICC intervened in the assemblies that we were able to see the real dynamic that was hidden behind the media focus on the violence.

A comrade pointed out that George Galloway was due to speak in Birmingham. The meeting discussed the arguments put forward by the leftists. The support they give to national liberationism and anti-fascism. In the face of a low level of struggles what do revolutionaries do if they don’t join up with these leftist campaigns. The current favorites are Chavism & anti-Americanism. Like the communists during WW1 & the left communists during WW2 the ICC supports internationalism. This is a fundamental class line anything else is a betrayal of the working class.

A comrade asked the ICC how it defines class struggle. There must be other gauges than days on strike. A comrade of the ICC pointed to Marx’s definition of class struggle. Along with strikes there is political and theoretical struggle. When looking at the present situation it is not just about strike days, because they are at a low level compared to the past, but we are seeing a greater qualitative content. For example the large strikes in Vigo where workers held mass assemblies in the town center. They joined together even though the worked in different factories.

Though the class is at an early stage of development in it’s re-emergence, this meeting was a small example of the qualitative gains the class is making.

Ash, 4/03/07.

Life of the ICC: 

ICConline, April 2007

ICConline articles for April 2007

Philippines: critique of Filemon "Ka Popoy" Lagman

The text that we are publishing below was written by the ICC's section in India, in the context of an ongoing discussion with comrades in the Philippines who have begun to orient their activity towards the defence of the internationalist principles of the Communist Left. During the discussions, the comrades asked us to undertake a theoretical critique of the positions of Filemon "Ka Popoy" Lagman, one of the leading founders of the Partido ng Mangagawang Pilipino (PMP - Filipino Workers' Party), which is one of the main left-wing formations in the Philippines. This party was originally founded in January 1999 as a split from the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines - an organisation which reproduces all the Stalinist and chauvinist practice of its Chinese "big brother", including a policy of bloody guerrilla warfare in the countryside and terrorist attacks in the cities, and a grotesque personality cult centred on its leader-in-exile, Joma Sison. Lagman himself was assassinated in 2001 - quite possibly by the CPP.[1]

The basis of the split with the CPP was Lagman's rejection of the typically Maoist reliance on the peasantry as an armed revolutionary force, in favour of building up a "proletarian" party which would undertake the revolution... in the Philippines. In particular, it is on the basis of Lagman's ideas that the PMP defends the idea of the necessity of a "bourgeois democratic revolution" in the Philippines, an idea which in effect justifies all kinds of electoral and other alliances with what is known as the "elite opposition" (in other words, the openly bourgeois political parties and military opposition movements such as the so-called "military rebels").

The critique of Lagman's writings, which claim to apply "Leninist" theory to the situation of the working class in the Philippines, thus constituted a major hurdle which the comrades felt they had to overcome in abandoning the national, and therefore fundamentally nationalist, outlook of the PMP.

The Philippines: part of an emerging class struggle

There can be no doubt about the importance of the Philippines - a country of 80 million inhabitants (not to mention the far-flung diaspora of Filipino emigrant workers), which includes some of South-East Asia's major industrial zones (around Manila and Cebu in particular) - for the development of the class struggle in Asia, and hence the world. The communist left is still - we are all too well aware - a small and fragile force when we compare it with the immensity of the tasks which we confront. Nonetheless, the emergence of a new internationalist movement in the Philippines, and a growing interest there for the principles of the communist left, together with the recent conference of the marxist left in Korea, are the expression of a profound development in the class struggle: a development which is marked above all by the slow emergence of a process of reflection within the political minorities of the working class - a process of reflection which will be a critical factor, we are convinced, in the more massive struggles which must answer the growing barbarity and pauperisation of a decomposing capitalist society.

As in Korea, one of the most striking features of the emergence of an internationalist milieu in the Philippines is that it has appeared in a country hitherto completely dominated by the ideologies of Maoism or "Leninism". As we wrote in our presentation to the conference in Korea on "revolutionary strategy": "In part, this development of new contacts is thanks to the Internet, but only in part (...) all these comrades share the fundamental principle which has always been the touchstone of the workers' movement: internationalism. They also share two of the most fundamental legacies of the Italian Left: a conviction that the working class is international or that it is nothing, that international contacts are therefore of fundamental importance, and that only through an open and fraternal debate can we prepare the conditions for the future formation of the world communist party, the new International without which the working class will not be able to ‘storm the heavens', overthrow this decadent and barbaric capitalist society and create the new, world wide human community".

This movement is a striking confirmation, in practice, of one of the ICC's founding principles: that in capitalism's decadent phase, there are no "national programmes", there is only one programme possible for workers everywhere - the world wide communist revolution.


A summary of Filemon Lagman's positions and his rejection of the CPP's Maoism

1. On identification of mode of production in general, Philippines in particular:

Lagman gave a very strong effort to counter meaningless theory of Sison the boss of CP of Philippines, the latter stating the particular socio-economic position of Philippines as ‘semi-feudal' and ‘semi colonial'. Lagman wanted to establish that in Philippine what prevails is essentially capitalist mode of production even if there are vestiges of feudalism. He has rejected the theory of Philippine being still dominated by feudalism.

But at the same time quoting Lenin, he has asserted that there is a transition phase in every society, as no hitherto existing production system is replaced by the new one overnight. Thus in this sense only, he has emphasized that Philippine belongs to semi-feudalism owing to her feudal remnants : "present-day Philippine society which is essentially bourgeois and capitalistic in character, and in the context of present-day world capitalist system dominated by imperialism, is what should properly be called "semi-feudalism"".

However, more importantly, he gives the importance not on the ‘transition' but on the question of transformation of the mode of production towards the new: "More specifically, the imperative is to determine which of the two systems is eliminating the other under the influence of the whole course of economic evolution. The task is not just to merely declare it a transitional period for it is something obvious and apparent, static and meaningless, but to understand its laws of development and its inevitable evolution. Marx, Engels and Lenin witnessed these transitional periods of history. But never with false pride did they simply announce that the world is in transition. They declared outright how it would transform." Thus it seems to us that Lagman was of the view that Philippine society is undergoing a process of transformation from feudalism to capitalism where the dominant aspect is utterly capitalist in nature. But for him in Philippines, capitalism is not decadent.

In fact, Sison's semi-feudalism, according to Lagman, is based on the consideration that Philippines is basically feudal with capitalism in urban industrial centers whereas Lagman's ‘semi-feudalism' is based on the concept of capitalism in Philippines being the dominant mode of production with some feudal remnants. So for Lagman focus for class struggle is on urban and rural proletariat while for Sison the same is on ‘peasant masses'.

He opposed Sison as the latter wants to say that semi-feudalism itself is a mode of production which is nothing but a stupidity and absurdity.

Sison often used ‘imperialism' of USA to establish the semi-colonial and semi-feudal character of Philippines, which Lagman negated with several arguments; he asserted that "Sison's anti-imperialism is basically bourgeois-democratic, patriotism and nationalism, driven by self-determinism and the desire for political democracy."

In the course of his analyses of ‘the prevailing mode of production' in Philippines, he used several data starting from the time of Marx and finally put forward the position of Lenin as follows: "The point is, according to Lenin: "Why judge the ‘mission of capitalism' by the number of factory workers, when the ‘mission' is fulfilled by the development of capitalism and the socialization of labor in general, by the development of a proletariat in general, in relation to which the factory workers play the role only of front-rankers, the vanguard. There is of course, no doubt that the revolutionary movement of the proletariat depends on the number of these workers, on their concentration, on the degree of their development, etc.; but all these does not give us the slightest right to equate the ‘unifying significance' of capitalism with the number of factory workers. To do so would be to narrow down Marx's idea impossibly.""

Thus Lagman focused on the proletariat as the determining force in revolutionary struggles in Philippines in spite of their relative numerical position in society.

He has also drawn attention to the assertion of Lenin that, "The socialization of labor by capitalist production does not at all consist in people working under one roof (that is only a small part of the process), but in the concentration of capital being accompanied by the specialization of social labor, by a decrease in the number of capitalists in each given branch of industry and an increase in the number of separate branches of industry - in many separate production processes being merged into one social production process." (This is actually from an 1894 text: What the "Friends of the People" Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats).

Considering the nature of the agricultural sector, he says that "The peasant produces not for him but for the market and has become totally dependent on the market. The industrial centers provide the means of production and the means of consumption of the agricultural sector while the latter provides the raw materials needed by industry and the agricultural consumable products needed by the towns and urban areas.

"The development of the social division of labor and the supremacy of commodity economy in the entire society inevitably leads to our second point - the growth of the urban, industrial population at the expense of the rural, agricultural population."

2. On the question of nature of revolution in Philippines

Thus finally, Lagman comes to the conclusion that Philippines is a semi-feudal and semi-colonial state with capitalist mode of production in both agricultural and industrial sector, in both urban and rural part of the state; but owing to the vestiges of feudalism, it has yet to wipe out feudal remnants in a revolutionary manner for capitalist development for the aim of communist revolution. There is no qualitative difference with the theory of the CPP boss Sison; rather Lagman has strengthened the same belief of ‘Democratic Revolution' as a step towards final socialist revolution. Lagman said: "We participate and strive to assume the leading role in the bourgeois-democratic revolution because the proletariat needs political democracy, because the proletariat needs social progress, even bourgeois progress, for it to develop as a class and create the conditions for socialist struggle".

For Lagman, unlike Sison who focused on the rural peasant mass as the revolutionary force, it is absolutely necessary to identify the real revolutionary force of the day, the proletariat as the only force under the leadership of which the bourgeois democratic revolution should be performed. Lagman has made serious efforts to show that the class analyses of Maoist type in Philippine is obsolete and revolutionaries need to understand that in the rural agricultural sector the production relation is essentially bourgeois even if it does not fit with the classical characteristics of capitalism. Lagman, first of all pointed out that "In Sison's class analysis, he differentiates the peasantry into rich, middle and poor peasants, and even includes them in the basic categories of rural bourgeoisie, rural petty bourgeoisie and semi-proletariat, respectively. But he does not explain the socio-economic phenomenon of the differentiation of the peasantry, its inherent connection with the socio-economic evolution of society, and its significance and direction of development in the transition and transformation of the mode of production."

For Lagman, Sison actually copied Mao on class analyses because: "he did not deal with this question as the historical disintegration of the peasantry as a class but as "simple differentiation", not its split and break-up as a class as both a basis and a consequence of a developing new mode of production but simply as the emergence of "property inequality" but still under the old mode of feudal production".

Lagman continued that the rural bourgeoisie cannot seem to take-off from the simple reproduction of capital "due not only to the vestiges of feudalism in the countryside but also to monopoly capitalism which stunts the growth of national capitalism in the Philippines. But the failure of the rural bourgeoisie to decisively accumulate capital in a continuing way does not mean that they are still within the bounds of a feudal mode or a pre-capitalist stage of development just as it is ridiculous to conclude that the Philippines is still pre-capitalist or non-capitalist, basically feudal in mode, because it cannot reach the more advanced stage of capitalism -- its national industrialization."

Lagman said "From the standpoint of the basic ideas of Marxism, only one thing stands higher than the interest of the proletariat -- and it is none other than the interests of social development, the interests of social progress. Scientific socialism represents the interests not only of the working class, but all social progress.

"The working class must actively participate and strive to take the leading role in the democratic revolution in the interest of its socialist struggle and in the interest of social progress as a whole. And not primarily because the proletariat stands for the interests of the peasantry as a class or stands for the interests of the people regardless of its class composition.

"The proletariat stands for the struggle of the peasants and the struggle of the whole people insofar as it corresponds to the interest of its socialist class struggle and to social progress as a whole. Support for the democratic demands of the peasantry that serve social progress and the class struggle certainly does not mean support of the petty bourgeoisie just as support for liberal demands does not mean support of the national bourgeoisie.

"This is basic, a most fundamental question for a Marxist-Leninist who knows his theory of class struggle. Now, how can the Filipino working class correctly understand this "people's democratic revolution" when, instead of presenting it from the strict class view of the proletariat, from its socialist perspective, it is presented exclusively from the national and democratic interest of the people? Is the working class supposed to participate and take a leading role in such a revolution, and put aside its own class struggle, because it understands the democratic and national interest of the people?

(...) The class conscious Filipino proletariat will be a vanguard fighter for freedom and democracy, not primarily because of a deep sense of patriotism and democratism (of which they have plenty) but mainly because only through political liberty can its class and its class struggle develop to the full and advance more freely towards socialism."

In sum, contrary to two step theory, Lagman's concept of proletarian revolution is one of ‘continuous' revolution, begun from democratic revolution and will be continued unceasingly until socialist revolution is accomplished. For him this stands against the Mao ‘thought' and fully in line with ‘Marxism-Leninism'.

3. On Tactics of revolution:

Third point of his attention was to attack the tactics of democratic revolution as CPP boss thinks. Here in brief, Lagman believes that:

a) Theory of ‘protracted war' as put forward by Mao only at certain stage of development of class struggle in China, is not compatible in Philippine;

b) Lenin said "the choice of method depends on a future we cannot precisely determine", while for Sison, "there is only one road, and it is the path of armed struggle". Thus Lagman said that it is only the revolutionary situation which can affirm the means of struggle and how to wage it. He concluded "In short, it is a dynamic, creative process following closely the continuing alignment and antagonism of class forces in society, its concrete and exact forms and means of struggle forged and "manufactured" by the masses themselves in the process of their revolutionary awakening, and not only by their conscious, vanguard elements in their plenary meetings."

Lagman put the thing as "For Sison, it is the armed struggle that makes a revolution, it is the revolution. But for Lenin, it is the revolution that leads to armed struggle, the class struggle developing to its sharpest form."

c) By shifting attention from the working class to the peasant mass, the Party abandons the road of class struggle and the question of leadership of the proletariat and CPP. For Lagman, day to day struggle of oppressed mass for their demands culminates ultimately into revolutionary upsurge; in first place we have to organize day to day class struggles with the political aim of their development into ‘continuous revolution' with the leading and only revolutionary force, the proletariat as the central axis.

d) Party cannot substitute itself for the whole working class and peasantry, though it must be the vanguard of the bourgeois demo revolution because this revolution is essentially led for the purpose of attaining the political and economical conditions for the socialist revolution.

e) The working class should constitute its ‘independent' class organ to fight for its historical mission, in Philippines, mission being first of all the bourgeois democratic revolution. Lagman actually wanted to relate the day to day struggle of the working class with the mission of demo revolution. Lagman said: "What should be the essence of the program of a proletarian revolutionary party?

It can not have any other essence but to organize the class struggle of the proletariat and to lead this struggle, the ultimate aim of which is the conquest of political power by the proletariat and the establishment of a socialist society. This class struggle of the proletariat, this emancipation of the workers must be the act of the working class itself."

On the question of Party programme, he also believed in minimum and maximum programme. But unlike CPP which, according to Lagman, reduced the question of ousting capitalism to the question of people's power through the democratic revolution and thus made the maximum programme merely a phrase, the main focus should be opposite: it is the maximum programme which is the motor force of minimum program.

Our assessment of Lagman's positions

There are several arguments and dissections of the position of CPP made by Lagman to put forward his own position. We have not taken all the reflections in detail because this text will remain a summary no more; on the contrary, we have only tried to pick up the most essential elements which help us have a clear idea of the essence of the positions of Lagman.

Here we have a man who seems to be living in the 19th century.

After going through his writings, we have felt that:

1. Lagman seems to have the earnest desire to understand the problem of Philippines from a Marxist framework; in fact, for him, the first objection towards Sison, the head of CPP, was the lack of coherence and precision in Sison's theoretical position. Lagman tried to find a coherent framework which will enable the working class of Philippines to understand their task today on the basis of the particular socio-economic and political situation of Philippines and general imperialist condition of the world. Though he has shown intellectual capacity in trying to identify the actual mode of production of Philippines which is according to him capitalist in nature, he has failed to interrelate the particular state of development of capitalism in Philippines as an integrated part of global historical condition of capitalism; and Lagman is obsessed with imperialism of US and not concerned with imperialism in general.

2. For Lagman, the basic framework is completely localized within the horizon of the Filipino archipelago, adhering implicitly to the counter-revolutionary ideologies of ‘Socialism in one country', and most significantly his framework is deprived of any link with the real evolution of the dynamics of world capitalism on the one hand and on the other hand the real form, content and means of class struggle of the working class today. He seems to be little bothered about the most fundamental question of evolution of capitalism as a global phenomenon and how this determines evolution of capitalism in Philippines also. Rather it follows from his assertions that in the era of imperialism (which we would describe as the era of decadence of global capitalism, since it is important to distinguish between the period at the end of the 19th century which saw the great rush of the imperialist powers to seize the last remaining unoccupied territories, and the period opened up by World War I when the imperialist powers could only expand at the expense of their rivals - which marked capitalism's entry into decadence) it is still possible for capitalism to be progressive in a region like the Philippines although at the same time he discovers the cause of handicapped conditions of capitalist development in Philippines in the imposition of US imperialism and the remnants of feudalism. To him unhindered capitalist progress is simply dependent on the political act of democratic revolution led by the proletariat irrespective of the material conditions of global capitalism.

3. Lagman has failed to grasp the coherent Marxist framework for understanding the global historical conditions of capitalism and class struggle, the nature and means of struggle, the role of communist organisation etc and thus he has been unable to situate himself in the indispensable international framework. Proletarian revolution is an international phenomenon and has to be understood on the basis of a single, coherent global framework from which alone we can get the necessary explanations, strategy and tactics for successfully carrying out that revolution and the political positions to defend at a particular historical period and conditions in any part of the world today. Otherwise the proletarian cause will not at all be served in any way but on the contrary will be harmed in every way even if we consider that Lagman tried his best with proletarian spirit and sincerity to resolve the problems of proletarian revolution on the basis of his attempt to understand the Marxist framework. He seems to be light years away from the internationalist position which must be the most important constituent of the foundation of the proletarian political organization today as was correctly emphasized by Lenin in his famous April Theses.

4. He has often quoted from Marx, Engels and Lenin but pays little attention to the real context of those assertions, taking them as unconditional truth independent of the historical phase of capitalism and class struggle - and this despite the fact that he asserts that nothing is to be taken as Bible. He has also paid little heed to the process of further deepening of the vanguard revolutionaries themselves.

5. Communist Party of Philippines is constituted in 1930 and since birth it has been firmly situated in the Stalinist and Maoist counter-revolutionary current which swept away the masses of the working class all over the world as the consequence of the historic defeat of the international wave of proletarian revolutionary struggles. In spite of profound revolutionary urge, spirit and commitment to socialism Lagman has also fallen victim of this. For him also, there exists some entity like Leninism which is, as we know, a term that was coined by Stalin and has been effectively used as the powerful political ideological weapon of counterrevolution. The position of democratic revolution under the leadership of proletariat, the question of national liberation and self-determination of nations follows from this political ideological basis. From Stalin and Mao he has inherited the theory of united front and ‘people's war'.

6. So far as the question of class struggle is concerned, the theory of Lagman will have the most harmful impact on the process of coming to consciousness as he calls on the working class to struggle for political democracy in the phase of decadent capitalism. He has the false expectation that establishment of a new democratic set up (most probably like the Mao brand of new democracy in China in essence) will be helpful for the proletariat in the way of organizing and preparing itself for the proletarian revolution. Thus there is little fundamental difference between the political theoretical positions of Sison and those of Lagman though Lagman has directed the spearhead of his political theoretical critique against Sison. Thus the whole critique and debate seems to be in the same counterrevolutionary terrain as the so called "great debate" during the 1950s and early 1960s between the Russian line and the Chinese line in the Communist Parties in various parts of the world all of whom had definitively gone over to the camp of counterrevolution long ago.

7. Though Lagman defends the position that the party will not substitute itself for the whole class, he nonetheless believes that the role of party will be to organize the working class and other exploited strata for class struggle even in this historical period of capitalism and class struggle. According to him there should still be permanent mass front organizations of a communist party. He has no idea about the material conditions of class struggle in which Communist party comes into being and the material conditions in which this ceases to exist as party. For him, the communist party will have to use the parliamentary apparatus, trade unions and in all this the working class will have to adhere to ‘independent' class character. But the concrete political theoretical aspects which are indispensable for determining the independent class character in this historical period, has not been dealt with by Lagman and thus this assertion of independence remains very vague, and in the actual practice of Lagman's PMP has ended up becoming completely meaningless.

8. The understanding of imperialism by Lagman leads him to the position of some developed capitalist countries being imperialist and other backward countries like Philippines being subjugated and exploited by the former in various ways. The Marxist conception of imperialism being the highest stage of global capitalism signifying the beginning of the phase of decadence of the same is not clear to him. It is not at all clear to him that each and every national fraction of capital in the well integrated global capitalist system can not but be inseparable part of the whole decadent system and thus imperialist. His unhistorical and thus incorrect understanding of imperialism leads him to very dangerous positions pushing the working class in the counter-revolutionary terrain whether he likes it or not. His position is not fundamentally different from the position of the all sundry leftists.

9. Lagman says that in Marxism "only one thing stands higher than the interest of the proletariat: the interest of social progress as a whole", and citing this logic he wants proletariat to fight for ‘democratic revolution'. The problem is, however, that in this epoch "the interest of the proletariat" cannot be separated from "the interest of social progress as a whole": on the contrary, social progress is today dependent on the victory of the international proletarian revolution.

As a whole the notion of the invariance of Marxism has firmly gripped him and this has kept him entrapped in the Stalinist, Maoist counterrevolutionary framework in spite of his declared aim of getting out of it and moving towards the proletarian revolutionary terrain. He seems to have further strengthened the purely leftist and thus counterrevolutionary positions of Sison with better political theoretical argumentation and justification in spite of his earnest desire to play an active role in the process of the weakening of the grip of counterrevolutionary ideology of Sison over the working class in Philippines. Thus wholly contrary to his political will, commitment and aim, in reality and essence he has turned out to be a better Sison, a better social democrat and consequently (we can not but assert in spite of our regards for his intellectual capacity, revolutionary zeal and passionate efforts for grasping the Marxist framework) his activities have only strengthened the forces of counterrevolution though he despised it wholeheartedly and sincerely worked for the victory of revolution.

 

ICC, 20/07/2006



[1] In the same year the PMP entered into discussions with two other splinter groups from the CPP, the "Socialist Party of the Philippines" and the "Partido Proletaryo Demokratiko", discussions which led to the merger of the three organisations in 2002. The name PMP was carried over in honour of Filemon Lagman whom many consider as one of the few who really fought for the formation of a real working class party.

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Slavery: foundation stone of capitalism

We’re really sorry about slavery, say the Church and the Government and the Queen. It was a real blot on Britain’s moral integrity and we really wish it hadn’t happened. But thank goodness for chaps like William Wilberforce who pricked our consciences and persuaded us to renounce the slave trade. Let’s put his head on a stamp and make a film about him. Let’s listen to earnest speeches by the Archbishop of Canterbury and we can all feel better about ourselves.

1807, let’s recall, only meant the end of Britain’s official involvement in the slave trade. It didn’t even signify the abolition of slavery in the British Empire: that didn’t come until 1833. And while the efforts of the likes of Wilberforce certainly expressed the progressive nature of the bourgeoisie in its halcyon days, let’s not forget that slavery was not an accidental blemish on Britain’s civilising mission. It was an absolutely essential basis for the development of the capitalist mode of production, this ‘civilisation’ for which the British bourgeoisie was such an exceptional pioneer. The immoral earnings drawn from slavery – along with looting, buccaneering and other forms of thievery – were fed into the reservoirs of money-capital which in turn nourished the industrial revolution and the commercial greatness of Britain’s ports and shipping. “Direct slavery is as much the pivot of our industry today as machinery, credit, etc. Without slavery no cotton; without cotton, no modern industry. It is slavery which has made the colonies valuable; the colonies have created world trade; world trade is the necessary condition of large-scale machine industry. Thus, before the traffic in Negroes began, the colonies supplied the Old World with only a few products and made no visible change in the face of the earth. Slavery is therefore an economic category of the highest importance” (Karl Marx to Pavel Yasilyevich Annenkov, December 28, 1846).
And let’s not forget that this industrial revolution signified the triumph of a new form of slavery – the wage slavery of a new class of toilers, a form of exploitation which was vastly more productive and thus vastly more profitable than chattel slavery. And just as the slave trade was a foundation stone of the primitive accumulation of capital from the 16th century onwards, so this new form of sweated labour made 19th century Britain the ‘workshop of the world’, whose Empire was second to none. But as the Chartist writer Ernest Jones wrote of the British Empire in 1851: "On its colonies the sun never sets, but the blood never dries."

No amount of apologies will change the fact that the institutions who are conducting these hypocritical services of reconciliation – church, parliament, army and navy – are marked irretrievably by the system of exploitation which they not only helped to set up, but which they help to preserve to this day. Amos 31/3/7

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ICConline, May 2007

Contents

An internationalist voice in the Philippines

For some time now, the ICC has been in contact with comrades in the Philippines to support the development of left communist ideas and principles there, and to foster the ties between communists in the Philippines and the rest of the internationalist movement world wide (see our critique of "Ka Popoy" Lagman already published on this site). The discussions between the ICC and the comrades in the Philippines has also led to the creation of the "Internasyonalismo" group, which is publishing discussion documents in Filipino and English on various theoretical questions, as well as on the political situation in the Philippines and internationally. We encourage comrades to visit the Internasyonalismo web site, which contains numerous articles of political reflection and analysis of the current situation, in English and in Filipino.

The text we are publishing below is Internasyonalismo's statement on the significance of May Day. We are in general agreement with the contents of this statement, but even more importantly we salute the resolutely internationalist spirit in which it is written. We welcome this new internationalist voice that is making itself heard in an important fraction of the proletariat in the Far East.

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Celebrate may day on the basis of internationalism

In the whole world, we can see various organizations, parties and states observing May Day, the international working class day  this year. We can read and hear different statements and saw mobilizations from these organizations paying lip service to the gravedigger of capitalism.

The right of the bourgeoisie -- the explicitly pro-capitalist and pro-‘globalization' -- most of them controlled the different states and governments of many countries, like in the past, repeatedly tell the workers that there is no other system that can save them from misery but capitalism and globalization; that the ‘enemy' of peace and progress is terrorism (in the Philippines, the maoist CPP-NPA-NDF, the Moro secessionist MILF and the islamic fanatics of Abu Sayyaf and the likes). The basis of their call is to defend and develop the national economy while strengthening competitiveness in the world market. They are compelling the workers to sacrifice more for their bourgeois motherland!

These unambiguously profit-hungry sharks once again promise, as what they did in the past to the poverty-stricken workers that "once our nation develops, you can benefit from it so let us unite and help each other for our country!" 

But in the Philippines as anywhere in the world, the disillusionment of the class to the promises of the exploiters reigning in power is increasingly developing. The Filipino workers are more and more disgusted with what is happening to their conditions as the different factions of capitalist politicians alternately rule them through "people power revolutions" and elections.

The left of capital -- the Maoist CPP and MLPP, "Leninist" PMP, different colors of trotskyists, anarchists, radical democrats and unionists, ‘anti-imperialist' nationalists, and the likes -- using different words against ‘capitalism' and against globalization, are basically united to lock up the workers in the framework of national development (i.e. national capitalism) with words that are ‘music' to the ear of the Filipino proletariat -- democracy and nationalism. Shouting radical and ‘revolutionary' slogans of ‘overthrowing' the rotten system but in reality it is only the faction of the bourgeoisie in power they want to topple while helping the other faction to replace the former. Mobilizing for democracy which in essence means giving the workers the illusion that the capitalist system still work as long as the power is in the hands of the ‘people'! Deceitfully explaining to the proletariat that ‘foreign domination' is the root cause of poverty and by uprooting this cause, by liberating the country from ‘imperialism‘, capitalism will develop. Thus, as the maoists would say, "people's democracy" or "direct democracy" will become a reality!

Though the "Leninist" PMP and trotskyists pay lip-service to the overthrow of the capitalist state and socialism, it is no different from the democrats by sowing illusion to the class that "democracy is a necessary road to attain socialism". While the anarchists, abhorring all kinds of "authority", use "direct democracy" as their slogan to deceive the exploited class up to the extent of forming "model communities" in the localities.      

There is no basic difference between the right and left wings of capital on the basis of their viewpoint -- defend the national economy and democracy -- whether using conservative or radical slogans; openly against socialism and communism or defending the latter in words. Both of them mutually helping each other to chain the Filipino workers in particular and world proletariat in general to the mystification of democracy and nationalism.

The nature of the proletariat and its struggles

May Day is the international day of the working class. It is appropriate that on this day once again we must highlight the international nature of the proletariat as a class, which for decades the right and left wings of the bourgeoisie is trying to conceal and alter it with mystifications. And these mystifications, thanks to the Left, dominated the consciousness of the Filipino workers for almost a century.

Workers have no country; no motherland to defend and develop. The proletariat is an international class. Workers around the world, wherever they live and work have the same interests. They have one enemy -- the whole capitalist class. There interests are not subject to the interests of any country. On the contrary, their interests will become a reality if all the national frontiers will be destroyed. Socialism and communism will be realized on the world scale not in one country or group of countries.

Internationalism is one of the two cornerstones of the real proletarian movement. The other is its independent movement, independent from other classes especially to all the factions of the capitalist class. These are the basic difference between the authentic proletarian movement and the left wing of capital under decadent capitalism.

Since the proletariat is an international class, its struggles must also have an international character in order to win. Within the framework of advancing the world proletarian revolution that the struggle of every proletarian fractions in any part of the planet must be based. With this context one can understand that the "struggle for nationalism and democracy" under the current historical epoch of capitalist decadence is anti-proletarian and derail its struggles. In the decadence of capitalism, the tactics of supporting "national liberation and democracy", struggle for reforms, "revolutionary unionism and parliamentarism", and "united front", are all counter-revolutionary.

May Day 2007 in the Philippines

Basically, there are no distinction on the essence of "celebration" in the Philippines with the rest of the world -- dominated and controlled by the right and left of capital. The Filipino leftists used the May Day as propaganda vehicle for their electoral opportunism. ‘Championing' the interests of the class by compelling them to participate in the brutal and fraud-ridden electoral circus of the different factions of the capitalist class. But with the slow emersion of revolutionaries in the Philippines who are beginning to re-evaluate their practice on the basis of internationalism and independent working class movement; who started in theoretical clarification, we can say that indeed there is something to celebrate on May Day this year!

The re-evaluation of a handful of communists in the Philippines of their practice is part of the on-going development of the internationalist communist consciousness in many parts of the world since the late 60s. The international conference of revolutionary Marxism in Korea last 2006 was a glaring manifestation that even in countries where the works of the left communists were not yet read and studied for almost 100 years now there are revolutionaries and workers with their own experiences of the decadence of capitalism and the bankruptcy of the old concepts and tactics inherited from the various leftists organizations that are reflecting with their old theories from which the 50 years of counter-revolution had made them believed as "invariant".

Although the Filipino working class, increasingly disillusioned against the rotten system,  is still mystified with the bankrupt dogmas of the Left, we have great confidence that sooner as part of an international class and with their own experience, they will raise their own collective consciousness and build their own organizations as part of the world-wide efforts of building an international communist party in the future.

WORKERS HAVE NO COUNTRY!

WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

INTERNASYONALISMO, May 1, 2007

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The ICC goes online in Filipino

Thanks to the efforts of the comrades of the Internasyonalismo group in the Philippines, we are able to open a new web site in the Filipino language, carrying some of the ICC's basic texts: we hope to be able to publish more texts in Filipino in the months to come.

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Public meeting in Prague

In February 2007 the Prague infocafe "Mole's Column" organised a public meeting on the class struggle and the question of national liberation in the Middle East, with the participation of the internationalist group "Kolektivně proti kapitálu" - Collectively against Capital). An ICC delegation took part the meeting. The discussion took place in a fraternal atmosphere among revolutionaries with the same goal: to struggle for a really human society, without classes, nations, wage labour, and the alienation that is its result.

KPK and their activities

The KPK group originated in a group established in the mid-1990's within anarchist tradition, originally known as Solidarita, (after the "Organisation of revolutionary anarchists - Solidarity"; ORA-S); beginning with a more syndicalist orientation, it evolved first towards platformist anarcho-communism; after 2000 the group became interested in left communism (on the basis both of the concrete experience of workers' struggles in Moravia and elsewhere in the Czech Republic and theoretical ones). Around 2003 a minority (which preferred platformist positions) left the group to form "Anarcho-communist alternative" (Anarchokomunistická alternativa). The group changed its name to KPK in 2004.Today the group conceives itself as left communist, so it refers to a Marxist basis. Most of its texts are written in Czech. However in September 2006 KPK published an article in English on libcom.org on the "French riots in autumn 2005"[1]. This text posed the central question: "What have the riots brought concerning class struggle?" - The answer was a critical one, opposed to any fascination with nihilistic violence. "(...) where was self-organisation, where were the struggles spread and centralised? (...) Attacks against schools were attacks against institutions that mean nothing for the youth, a symbol of the arrogant state. But most of the violence did not find its class target - it was targeted against suburban working class family cars, there was at least one attack against a shop assistant from a supermarket, against a bus with local people, in which was seriously burnt one passenger. (...) if the primary angry defiance does not reveal (and the process of the struggle does not willingly overcome) the limits that were immanent to it when it started, there is a serious risk that it will not become struggle for communism against barbarism, but only sample of the barbarism of capitalism.

(...) The goal is to find out the contradictions of the movement, to make criticism of its limits, to put these into context and find out to what extent they can contribute to the generalisation and radicalisation of the class struggle.

In these terms, the perspectives and chances of the autumn riots in France are weak. As the riots were a sign of capitalist crises, so they were sign of weakness of our class and limits of its activity." (emphasis in the original)  

The car industry is the focus of KPK's intervention as according to their analysis it is the key sector to the process of accumulation in the region. At the beginning of February 2007 the group intervened with a leaflet at the gates of a Skoda plant in Mlada Boleslav near Prague (24,000 people out a town of 48,000 work at the factory). They had produced a leaflet on the pay negotiations at Skoda, distributing about 2500 copies to two of the three shifts (there was no copy left for the third shift). The leaflet says that the workers are in a position of strength because the company is making large profits and there is a shortage of labour, the unions however are in the process of fixing up an unfavourable deal and so the workers should struggle outside the unions, with the concern that a big battle at Skoda could inspire other sectors to enter into struggle. 

It seems that the leafleting created a bit of a sensation, with workers very eager to take copies and some staying around for discussions. The unions responded furiously and posted all sorts of accusations against the KPK on the company website (a fine public example of the collusion between unions and bosses) accusing the KPK of being in the pay of the multinationals and also working as provocateurs for the police at the anti-globalisation riots in Prague a few years ago. This was a classic Stalinist response which shows the lack of flexibility of the union apparatus in this area of the world, and will obviously only serve to increase interest in the KPK's intervention.

The group decided to react publicly against the slanders of the unions.     

The public meeting

The presentation to the public discussion was made on behalf of the Turkish group Enternasyonalist Komünist Sol.[2]

It was a presentation on an internationalist basis, against imperialism and national liberation. It denounced not only the American and Israeli policy in Middle East, but every kind of nationalism propagated by the leftists, Hezbollah, PKK or the Turkish State. But the presentation also showed the perspective for overcoming war and barbarism. Referring to the conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish nationalists it said: "Yet recently, there has been the beginnings of a class reaction against the war, leaders of the mainstream political parties have been heckled by people at public meetings asking why it is the children of the workers who are dying in the South-East, and not the children of the rich. Yes, the ideology of nationalism is not being explicitly challenged here, but in recognising that the working class and the bourgeoisie have different interests, people are beginning to take the first step towards challenging the hold that nationalism has over the working class. When workers begin to realise that they have common interests as workers, and not as members of some ‘national/religious/ethnic' group, it is the beginning, however small, of breaking the hold of nationalism.

That is why, for us, the recent struggles in the public sector offer a positive perspective to the working class. On December 5th, a quarter of a million public sector workers staged a ‘non going to work day' (It is illegal for public sector workers to strike) in support of their pay claim. Here workers are recognising that they have common interests as workers, independent of whether they are Turks, or Kurds, Alevis, or Sunnis. The thing that unites them is their own class interest. Nationalism, on the other hand, can only offer more division, more ethnic/sectarian tensions, more war, and more working class mothers crying over the coffins of their sons. (...)

As soon as one starts to categorise oneself as a member of this or that nation, or ethnic group, or religious sect, or tribe, instead of as a member of the working class, one starts to walk down the road that leads to massacres, ethnic cleansing, and war. (...)

Iran too was shaken by a wave of strikes last year. While the state tries to unite the ‘people' in a struggle against the ‘Great Satan' over their ‘right' to have nuclear power, Iranian workers were struggling for their own interests against unpaid wages, and for wage increases. A strike started by Tehran bus drivers last January led to massive struggles in many sectors including mining, car manufacturing, and textiles. (...)

The interests of the working class are diametrically opposed to the national interest."

The presentation ended  by underlining the common interests of the working class all over the world.

The discussion showed a homogenous support for the internationalist framework of analysis and agreement about the key role of the proletariat. Several questions were posed about the situation in the Middle East, especially in Turkey. In this brief account we want to focus on one of the most important questions that was raised: How can class positions be strengthened in the Middle East? This question allowed a debate about the role of the working class in general and about its weight in  different parts of the world, as well about the responsibilities of revolutionaries.

Those who spoke in the discussion pointed to the struggles of the working class in Middle East. Several examples have been mentioned already in the presentation, others were given, such as workers strikes in Dubai, Egypt, Israel[3]. It was clear however that the strength of the working class lies in its international character. Unlike the bourgeoisie which is divided by the rivalry between the different national states, the proletariat by its nature is an international class. Proletarian class identity is not only strengthened by struggles in the same country, but also by experiences of the class in other areas of the world. In fact the balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is determined on a world scale; it cannot be looked at only in Middle East.

The ICC delegation insisted on the key role of the European proletariat, above all because of its long history of struggle and enormous political experience, but also because it is in Europe, that the proletariat confronts some of the most powerful, experienced, and devious fractions of the bourgeoisie. Growing poverty is pushing the working class to struggle not only in the old capitalist countries but also in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Perhaps the biggest workers' strike in 2006 was that of the textile workers in Bangladesh. But setting aside the huge number of participants and their anger, a central aspect of the development of the future struggles is the question of class consciousness. In this respect the working class in Europe with its long history of confrontation with democracy, left parties and the unions has a special responsibility. And it is up to the revolutionaries in every country to generalise the lessons of the class in other parts of the world, to strengthen consciousness about the needs of the struggle in the present period: development of class identity, search for solidarity, self-organisation, raising of broader questions about the future.   

After about 3 hours the formal public meeting was closed. Informal discussion continued, above all on the question of the working class and its struggles in the whole world.  But there were also other informal discussions about various topics, e.g.: after the world revolution, will there be a need for a lower stage of communism, a transitional period? Or: What will be the meaning of "work" in communism? It is not possible in the framework of this article to go into these huge themes, but there is no doubt whatever in our minds of their importance.[4]

The meeting with the comrades of KPK showed not only that there is a common interest between revolutionaries of different groups and from different countries, a common interest in overcoming capitalist society, but also a common method to come closer to the goal. This method consists in the capacity to debate  and clarify positions and to adjust the assessment of the situation. It is a fraternal and scientific debate, in which only the strength of the argument is considered. It is the method of the Communist Left, and especially of Bilan that tried to establish an international polemic under much more difficult condition in the 1930s, a debate on a coherent basis: "Perhaps this coherence will represent a favourable condition for the establishment of an international polemic which, taking our study as a point of departure, or studies by other communist currents, will finally arrive at provoking an exchange of views, a closely-argued polemic, an attempt to elaborate the programme of the dictatorship of the proletariat of tomorrow."[5]

Finally, this article would be incomplete if we neglected to thank the KPK comrades for their warm and fraternal welcome. This spirit of comradely confidence is a vital element in the development of unity and cooperation between revolutionaries.

ICC, 17/03/07



[1] The article is the final chapter of a pamphlet in Czech "We Bark To Be Heard: Riots in France, Autumn 2005".

[2] The ICC has already collaborated with EKS in distributing an internationalist leaflet against war and nationalism, in the Middle East particularly.

[3] See also article in World Revolution no 302 "Middle East: despite war, class struggle continues"

[4] However concerning the question of the transitional period we can  refer to the series that began in the last issue of the International Review (128) on "The problems of the period of transition" with the publication of Bilan's contribution to the question in the 1930ies. In addition, we would encourage comrades to read the book on Communism, not a nice idea but a material necessity, which the ICC has just published.

[5] Bilan no 26, p879

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Airbus, Alcatel: once again the unions are there to sabotage workers’ struggles

This article first appeared in the April issue of Revolution Internationale . It describes a situation in which, following some initial spontaneous reactions by Airbus workers in France (and Germany) to the announcement of massive redundancies across Europe, the trade unions had resumed control of the situation through a series of classic manoeuvres. However, as can be seen from a follow-up article, translated from the May issue of RI (‘Spontaneous walk-outs at Airbus: the workers make their voices heard’) the unions have by no means exhausted the anger of the workers or their capacity to respond to further attacks by the company by taking their struggle into their own hands. An article on the wildcat strikes in the Airbus factory at Broughton in Wales was published in World Revolution 303 and can be found online here .



Lay-offs, job-cuts, factory closures, casualisation, relocations….the wage earners are more and more subjected to the terrible reality of an accelerating capitalist crisis. The same attacks are taking place in Europe (Airbus, Alcatel, Volkswagen, Deutsche Telekom, Bayer, Nestle, Thyssen Krupp, IBM, Delphi…) and in the USA (Boeing, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler….In the private sector in France, there were officially 10,000 job losses in 2006 and 30,000 are already lined up for 2008. These plans don’t only affect archaic sectors but ‘cutting edge’ industries like aeronautics, IT, electronics. They don’t only involve small or medium enterprises, but all the big industry leaders and their subsidiaries. They don’t only affect workers on the production line but also the engineers, the office workers, the research workers…..

Every state, every boss, knows very well that this situation is forcing all workers, whether in the private of the public sector, to pose anxious questions about their future and about their children’s future. It is more and more obvious that the workers of all countries are in the same boat. This is why the bourgeoisie is obliged not only to try to put sticking plaster over the gaping wounds in its system, but also to gain time, to prevent the proletarians from becoming truly conscious of this reality.

This is also why the trade unions, whose specific function within the state apparatus is to maintain control over the working class, are trying everywhere to take preventative action, to head off any movement towards a unified working class response to these massive and frontal attacks. Their basic task today is to make sure these attacks can be carried out by sowing divisions in the working class, by separating them by department, sector, enterprise, or country.

The ‘Airbus model’ of union sabotage

The unions, the government and the bosses, the whole political class and the media, have polarised attention on the 10,000 job losses hitting the Airbus employees (up till now presented as enjoying the privilege of working for a highly successful company). And it’s the unions that have been in the forefront of the manoeuvres aimed at dispersing the workers’ anger and dividing up their reactions.

The unions began by pretending that they didn’t know what was coming, but that they would be there to defend the workers’ interests. In fact they had for months been fully involved in the ‘Power 8’ plan, for which the bosses had set up a ‘pilot committee’ made up of the Director of Human Resources and the trade unions, with the precise aim of “preparing for any social impact that these measures might have” (from a note by the bosses of the Toulouse-Blagnac factory). The trade unions all used the same language, minimising the attack when it was in its preparatory stages, involving themselves wholeheartedly in the lies being put about by the bosses and the different states involved. After that, they made sure that the workers at Meaulte, who had come out spontaneously on strike 48 hours before the official announcement of the Power 8 plan, went back to work, telling them that the factory would not be sold, even before the bosses made it clear that no decision about this had been taken.

Adapting to different situations in different factories, the unions organised the division of the workers, as in Toulouse, between those sectors who were affected most directly and those who had been spared. And on top of this, they have been putting forward the idea that if Airbus is in this situation, “it’s the Germans’ fault”. The unions have gone on and on about “economic patriotism”. In a leaflet issued on 7 March and co-signed by FO-Metaux (the biggest union in Toulouse), the CFE-CGC (white collar union), and the CFTC, they declared that “the interests of the whole French economy, local and regional which is at stake…Let’s stay mobilised…to defend Airbus, our jobs, our instruments of labour, our skills and our knowledge for the benefit of the whole local, regional, and national economy” This repulsive propaganda, pushing the workers to rally behind the competitive logic of capital, could already be seen at a demonstration of the unions from different European countries where Airbus is present: “Defend our instruments of labour together, wage earners at Airbus, its subsidiaries, and all the Airbus sites in Europe” (joint leaflet by all the unions, 5 February 2007).

After the demonstrations of 6 March, the unions talked about a big Europe wide demonstrations in Brussels on the 16th, but then cancelled it three days before that, replacing it with local demonstrations but still presenting it as a “European day of mobilisation”, but limited to Airbus workers and scattered across different local sites. And they capped it all in Toulouse by greeting the workers at the gates of the factory, taking them in buses to a totally out of the way assembly point, then marching them to the company HQ in Blagnac, where an army of TV cameras was waiting to publicise the ‘event’. Hardly had they arrived than the unions packed them back in the buses and drove them back to work. And the headlines in the ‘left wing’ paper Liberation next day were effusive: “Unprecedented radicalisation against Airbus management: wage earners of all countries have united”.

The unions, like the rest of the bourgeoisie, certainly don’t want to see a big, Europe-wide mobilisation where workers can get together, discuss and exchange their experiences. Above all in the present climate of attacks: 6000 job cuts at Bayer; raising of the retirement age to 67 in Germany; wage cuts in the health sector in the UK; 300 lay-offs at Volkswagen-Forest in Belgium….

Everywhere the same union dirty work

Nor did the unions want the Airbus demonstration to coincide with the demonstration in Paris of the workers of Alcatel-Lucent against the restructuring of the group, which foresees 12,500 job cuts, at least 3200 in Europe, between now and 2008. That’s why it was called for the day before, 15 March. It was again presented as a unified European action, but there were only 4000 workers from all the French sites affected, especially those in Brittany, with purely symbolic delegations from neighbouring countries: Spain, Germany, Holland, Belgium and Italy, all of them hidden in a forest of Breton flags.

Meanwhile, in a series of small strikes in various parts of France, the unions have focused on different issues. There was a long and exhausting strike over wages at Peugeot-Aulnay, while at Renault in Mans, 150 workers were pulled out by the CGT in a minority strike against a new flexibility contract singed by the other unions. And yet at both factories it is well known that the companies are about to announce lay-off plans. This makes it clear that the real aim of these union actions is to tire the workers out as much as possible and allow the attacks to go through. The teachers were called out on an umpteenth day of action on 20 March with the same objective.

The workers have no common interests with their bourgeoisie. On the contrary: the situation is forcing them to recognise their own common class interests against the massive and simultaneous attacks they face. Such a situation makes for questioning, reflection, a growing recognition of the need for struggles to extend, for unity and solidarity. Even though the unions are usually still able to keep the workers divided and isolated from each other, the more openly they do this, the more they discredit themselves. The conditions are maturing for workers to come together, to discuss together, to organise themselves outside and against the unions, and across national frontiers. Wim, April '07.

Geographical: 

Recent and ongoing: 

Spontaneous walkouts at Airbus: the workers make their voices heard

As we go to press, and the day after the first round of the Presidential elections, we have learned that the workers of the Airbus factories have again expressed their anger against the attacks of capital.

On Wednesday 25 April, the management announced a rise in bonuses for this year: 2.88 euros[1].

Feeling that they were being treated like dogs being thrown a few scraps, the Airbus workers reacted immediately. In Toulouse first of all, anger on the shop floor turned into struggle. One assembly line decided to stop work on the spot and without any warning, then the workers went to other shops to ask them to go with them to the managers’ offices. From shop to shop the determination not to let this get through was growing. One worker recounted his experience: “yesterday when I arrived at 1600h, everyone in my section was aware of the 2.88 euro bonus. The guys refused to work, and a spontaneous strike movement broke out. The whole FAL (assemblage section) followed suite”. And this striker insisted that this was a spontaneous reaction against the advice of the unions: “a union official spoke to us and tried to get us to go back to work, saying that the symbolism of this movement had been noted, but that now it would be good to get back to work”. What this testimony reveals is that the unions are patent saboteurs of the struggle and that the workers will more and more be obliged to count only themselves if they want to fight back. Thus, a union official, concerned about his loss of control, tried to ‘discretely’ inform his members about the strength of the workers’ militancy and implicitly asked them to calm down: “This action was not a trade union initiative. We have to take care about what we’re doing”.

The same scenario at St Nazaire and Nantes. There was a great deal of indignation. The workers followed in the footsteps of their colleagues in Toulouse by launching ‘wildcat’ strikes. They then left the factory en masse to block the entrance. And here again it was without and even against the union offices. “This didn’t come from any union. This came from the fact that the workers themselves are completely fed up”, one worker said to the press. On both sites, the announcement of a derisory bonus was felt as an insult, rubbing salt into the wounds of daily pressure and suffering: “we are being asked to work extra hours on Saturday even though they’re not hiring anyone new and temporary contracts are not being renewed” as another worker angrily put it. 2.88 euros: within a few hours, this figure had become a symbol of the inhumanity of the worker’s condition.

Obviously, in Toulouse as in St Nazaire, the unions, though unable to prevent this explosion of workers’ anger, very quickly regained control of the situation and jumped onto the bandwagon. Thus, as a worker from the Toulouse factory remarked, “a few hours later, before the mid-day meal in my shop, FO had organised a simulated walk-out while carefully avoiding inviting all the workers to join in”.

By acting collectively against their exploiters, by refusing to be treated like cattle, the Airbus workers have shown what the dignity of the working class means. They have made a clear statement: faced with incessant attacks by the bosses and the state, there is no solution except united struggle. Despite all the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie aimed at setting workers against each other, the social situation is marked by a growing tendency towards active solidarity between proletarians. A St Nazaire worker put it very plainly: “we wanted to act in solidarity with the movement in Toulouse”. By going from line to line, shop to shop, then plant to plant, this reaction by the Airbus workers shows the road that the whole working class has to take in response to the bourgeoisie’s endless provocations. It also shows that the trade unions are indeed a force for capitalist discipline. In the months and years to come, the workers will have no choice but to face up to union sabotage in order to develop class unity and solidarity.

Finally, these explosions of anger at Airbus (as well as the multitude of small strikes in the car industry, the post, among the teachers, etc) show that despite the whole election barrage and the ‘triumph of democracy’, there is no truce in the class struggle.

Beatrice 24.4.07 (translated from RI 379 )



[1] This outrageous announcement could well be a provocation to help get through the details of the job-cuts announced on 27 April. This doesn’t alter the fact that the spontaneous reaction of the workers was exemplary.

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Recent and ongoing: 

ICConline, June 2007

Contents.

Class struggle in Brazil

Given the increasing extent of the present class struggle in Brazil, we have decided to open a blog on our site in Portuguese, in order to publish more immediate information on the struggles as we receive it from our contacts there.

Geographical: 

Recent and ongoing: 

The dissolution of the Verhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) or: Will we have a new 1917?

ICC introduction

We are publishing below an article sent to us by the comrades of the IUPRC (International Union of the Proletarian Revolutionaries - Collectivists) in Russia and Ukraine, which we think gives a useful follow-on to the article which we published previously on the so-called "Orange Revolution", and demonstrates clearly the real nature of the great "democratic victory" of 2004-2005.

While we agree with much of what is said in the article, and notably with its denunciation of the democratic mystification, we have two critical comments to make:

  1. We don't really think that it is appropriate to describe the Ukrainian proletariat as "submissive", since the expression has, it seems to us, rather "moralizing" overtones which tend to diminish the enormous difficulties faced by the Ukrainian proletariat in developing its class struggle: the fact that the working class in the ex-USSR has been cut off for decades from the experience of its class brothers in the rest of the world (in the West, but also in the ex-Eastern bloc countries like Poland and Hungary); the visceral rejection of anything like "socialism" by many workers as a result of their experience of the "red bourgeoisie" in the Stalinist regimes; the weight of nationalism, all the stronger as the Ukrainian bourgeoisie has done everything possible to sharpen the antagonisms between workers of Russian and Ukrainian origins. It is necessary to understand, and "patiently explain" as Lenin put it, why these barriers exist and what the real interests of the workers are.
  2. It seems to us historically inaccurate to say that "In 1917 the Russian workers and peasants gunned down these masters". Certainly, violence is an inevitable and necessary component of the revolutionary process - the "midwife of revolution" as Marx put it. However, the proletarian revolution cannot rely on military power alone: the victory of October 1917 was in fact almost bloodless, and made possible above all by the fact that the workers' ability to organise and to put forward and defend practically a revolutionary perspective for the whole of society had effectively disintegrated the forces that would normally have defended the capitalist regime, to the point where even the Cossacks were no longer reliable.

These criticisms however, should not detract from the fundamental point that the article makes: that in the historical memory of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, democracy is explicitly seen as the antidote to the danger of proletarian revolution!

ICC


The dissolution of the Verhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) or: Will we have a new 1917?

The day after All Fools Day 2007 in the Ukraine was followed by April 2nd...

On the evening of that day all Ukrainians were glued to the television. But not because they were broadcasting "Umorina" (an annual comedy festival - translators note). They were broadcasting the speech of President Yuschenko in which he informed the Ukrainian people of his decision to dissolve the parliament, and to hold new elections on May 27th this year. The reason for this dissolution was that a great number of deputies have quit the opposition in order to join the governing coalition where they will earn more money. According to the President this violates the constitution which only allows for the formation of fractions on the bases of agreements between the different parties (which includes all their deputies) represented in parliament. Deputies cannot as individuals move from one fraction to another, swelling the ranks of the parliamentary majority as they spontaneously fancy. Someone in the governing coalition joked: perhaps the President has mixed up the First of April with the Second?

But Yanukovich and the Speaker of the Verhovna Rada, Moroz, were in no mood for jokes. Moroz urgently called an extraordinary sitting of the Verhovna Rada. Its members called the decision of the President criminal and unconstitutional, and its execution as illegal. It also demanded the resignation of the Central Electoral Committee cancelling the December 8th 2004 decree which set it up. One the night of April 2nd an emergency cabinet meeting was called which declared that the Government had no intention of abiding by the President's decision and refused to finance the organisation of the expected elections.

Both parties are talking about a threat to the state and to the constitution. They remember 1993 in Russia when President Yeltsin signed the decree dissolving the Supreme Soviet and bringing forward the organisation of elections. The head of the Supreme Soviet, Khasbulatov and the Vice-President Rutskoy began an impeachment process against the President. It all ended with the entry of tanks into Moscow and the bombardment of the parliamentary building. But no-one wants to repeat the Russian scenario. Yuschenko says that he wants to avoid the spilling of blood at all costs. Yanukovich and Moroz, on the other hand don't want to share the fate of Khasbulatov and Rutskoy, who have disappeared from the political stage forever.

On April 4th Moroz had already proposed a change in the wording of the declaration of April 3rd to the members of the Verhovna Rada, eliminating references to the criminal character of the President's decision. During his meeting with foreign ambassadors, Yanukovich, said, "We have no fear of elections and if in the end they take place we will take part and we will win". He has ruled out the idea, proposed by the Communist Party of Ukraine, of impeaching Yuschenko.

In any case we need to remember that the orange and light-blue and white clans can go on for ever jostling amongst themselves for power and the most comfortable positions, for spheres of influence and the leading role in the drama whilst the Ukrainian proletariat remains silent and submissive, allowing the capitalists and their state functionaries to exploit them as slaves and cannon fodder. The Donetsk clan has even threatened a possible strike of their "slaves". On April 6 the lunch break of the Donbass miners from 12.00 till 1.00 p.m., was transformed into a strike to prevent the dissolution of the Rada. The unions organised assemblies close to the mines where resolutions of the following type were passed:

"We are expressing our clear workers' protest against the decision to dissolve the Verhovna Rada. As it stands parliament has been chosen by the people and represents our interests. We will not allow our rights to be taken away!" On the other side, the Confederation of Free Trade unions of the Ukraine to which the Independent Union of Miners is affiliated (leader of this Indepedent Union of Miners, M. Volynets, is deputy of parliament from Bloc of Yulia Timoshenko) has declared its total support for the President's decision.

The Orange bourgeoisie scares people with the possible disintegration of the Ukraine and the military intervention by Russia, whilst its adversaries instead predict a scenario full of tanks and bombardments in Kiev. Both parties will settle accounts in the constitutional court.

The governing coalition in parliament has organised a permanent vigil in the square in front of the Government building (the Maidan): 15,000 people in tents are there to demonstrate "the indignation of the people" over the dissolution of the Verhovna Rada, against the deputies' loss of their "caviar sandwiches"!

The greatest fear of the Ukrainian capitalists was expressed by the richest Ukrainian, the billionaire Renat Akhmetov: "I see only one democratic way out of this situation: a decision of the constitutional court which will be accepted and carried out by all political sides. Democracy means above all the rule of law. And now we must learn to respect that right not only with words but also with deeds". According to him the "value" of the country was being reduced by this instability. Akhmetov went on:

"It's an ugly thing for us all. Instability and the unending political conflict holds back economic growth. And therefore the life of every single Ukrainian citizen is made worse. Many are unhappy with this. There are emotions, points of view, ambitions and different desires. But we all need to be equal before the law. Otherwise, instead of doing everything according to the European tradition, we will have a new 1917."

In 1917 the Russian workers and peasants gunned down these masters who earn millions and billions on the back of human lives, on our blood and bones. They took power into their own hands establishing the dictatorship of the Soviet of Workers', Peasants' and Soldiers' Deputies, factory commitees and workers' Red Guard.. The bourgeoisie throughout the world will always remember this lesson and, even today, fear the sleeping giant, pretending to treat their slaves as human beings, as "citizens", offering to them, every so often, the crumbs from their rich table, like the latest increase in the minimum wage to 20 grivna ($4).

We should also remember this lesson. Yuschenko and Yanukovich, Akhmetov and Timoshenko will always know how to reach an agreement at our expense, thanks to the blood we spill and the lives we lose. They have demonstrated this on more than one occasion. Only the proletarian revolution can drive out this filth. This year we celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of the Proletarian Revolution of 1917 year.

Let we will worthy the courage and the heroism of our predecessors, who made that revolution, we must prepare the forces for the future class struggle and build our class proletarian organisations in order to become real human beings!

International Union of the Proletarian Revolutionaries - Collectivists (IUPRC).

Political currents and reference: 

ICConline, July/August 2007

Contents.

Cajo Brendel (1915-2007)

Cajo Brendel died at the age of 91 years on the 25th of June, 2007. He was the last of the Dutch "council communists". Cajo was a dear friend and a companion in struggle, who defended his positions fiercely but who was at the same time jovial, warm and cordial in companionship. On the occasion of his 90th birthday we published last year an article in Wereldrevolutie, nr. 107. Here we want to enter at some more length into his life and our ties with him.

Cajo looked upon the ICC as a current referring to "backward positions", such those of the KAPD (Communist Workers' Party of Germany) from the beginning of the 1920's, which, according to him, were surpassed by the Groep van Internationale Communisten (Group of Internationalist Communists, GIC), and he qualified our position on the decadence of capitalism in 1981 in a debate in Amsterdam as "humbug". But Cajo was first of all a consistent and convinced internationalist: that is what we had in common with him and which has always compelled our admiration and respect. We had divergences, among other things, on the unions, which according to Cajo would have been "capitalist" from the outset, and on the national question: according to him "bourgeois revolutions" would still take place, and he classified both the civil war in Spain in 1936 and the changes in China under Mao Tse-tung as such - just like, for that matter, the proletarian October revolution in Russia in 1917-1923.

Whereas for his friend Jaap Meulenkamp political activity was a "socially motivated hobby", for Cajo it was just a little bit more: a conviction for life to which he dedicated himself indefatigably and which he tried to transfer to others with the force of arguments. When with Otto Ruhle he held that "the revolution is not a party affair", this did not stop him from making propaganda for the positions of the Communist Left, nor to make these positions known on several continents. At numerous occasions we have often heartily debated and polemicised with him, to begin with in May 1968 in Paris, and it must be said that emotions could get hot-tempered. But while other members of Daad en Gedachte (Act and Thought), like Jaap, refused ‘out of principle' to debate with organisations or groups which considered themselves to be ‘political vanguards' of the proletariat, Cajo participated in 1973 in several conferences in Dendermonde and Langdorp in Belgium, where the Communistenbond Spartacus (Communist Leage Spartacus) was also represented, as were the groups which would form the section in Belgium of the ICC a year later and of which the repercussions can be found in Daad en Gedachte of 1973-1975.

Cajo was born in The Hague on 2 October 1915. Originating from, in his own words, a "petty bourgeois family" which got into serious financial problems after the bourse crash of 1929, he began to be absorbed in social questions. Initially sympathising with Trotskyism, in 1934, after a debate with David Wijnkoop who had turned Stalinist, he got into contact with two workers in The Hague, Arie and Gees, and then with Stientje. They turned out to be former members of the Kommunistische Arbeiderspartij van Nederland (Communist Workers' Party of the Netherlands) and formed the Hague section of Groep van Internationale Communisten. In 1933 they publish the paper De Radencommunist (The Council Communist). For months Cajo debated every evening with them until he, 19 years old, gave in in September. Much later he told that it was "as if he went from nursery garden straight to university". Through them he comes into contact with the Amsterdam section of the Groep van Internationale Communisten, in which Henk Canne Meijer and Jan Appel played such an important role, and with whom Anton Pannekoek kept in contact. He was also strongly influenced by Paul Mattick and Karl Korsch. Young and with no money Cajo, in the crisis period in The Hague, led, as it is called, a colourful existence. In 1935, after the groups in Leiden, The Hague and Groningen split from the GIC, considering them to be too "theoretical", he published with the group in The Hague first the review Proletariër and then in 1937-1938 Proletarische Beschouwingen (Proletarian Considerations). In 1938-1939 he writes weekly articles for the anarchist review De Vrije Socialist (The Free Socialist) of Gerhard Rijnders, who apparently had no problems with Cajo's Marxism. Mobilised in 1940, Cajo distributes an internationalist leaflet among the soldiers, but without finding any response. After having been transported to Berlin as a prisoner of war, at his return to the Netherlands he got into hiding at a newspaper. After the war he works as a journalist in Utrecht; on the personal level calmer and happier days dawned.

In 1952 Cajo joins the Communistenbond Spartacus, where he is part of the editorial board. In that year he also gets to know Anton Pannekoek. In the twelve following years he writes a great number of articles, and also pamphlets like De opstand der arbeiders in Oost-Duitsland (The Uprising of the Workers in East Germany) and Lessen uit de Parijse Commune (Lessons from the Paris Commune), both in 1953. During the crisis in 1964 when a number of members were excluded from the Communistenbond, particularly Theo Maassen who previously was also excluded from the GIC, Cajo initially takes a conciliating attitude, but finally he rejoins the group that from January 1965 would start the publication of Daad en Gedachte, "dedicated to the problems of autonomous workers' struggle".

But Cajo became really important with the publication of Anton Pannekoek, theoreticus van het socialisme in 1970, a book which in the Netherlands had a great influence on a whole generation of people looking for Marxist positions, and which was also published in German in 2001 as Pannekoek, Denker der Revolution. In 1970 there is internationally a renewed interest in the Communist Left. In 1974, the year when Theo Maassen dies, his Stellingen over de Chinese revolutie (Theses on the Chinese Revolution) is published and in the same year also the German language pamphlet Autonome Klassenkämpfe in England 1945-1972 (Autonomous Class Struggle in England 1945-1970), of which also a French translation has been published, and for the writing of which in 1971 he spent a considerable time among the miners in Wales. Of great importance is also his substantial book Revolutie en contrarevolutie in Spanje of 1977, which unfortunately remained untranslated. Cajo knew his languages, and although most of his writings were published in Dutch, he also published in German, English and French; his writings were translated into even more languages. His influence therefore also grew internationally, also because of his contributions to the magazine Echanges et Mouvement, published in English and French, and his regular participation in international conferences, like in Paris in 1978.

When in 1981 in Amsterdam a conference of internationalist groups is organised, Daad en Gedachte chooses not to participate, but one member of the group is present in a personal capacity and both Cajo and Jaap send in important contributions to the discussion thus assuring the presence of their positions. Also in 1981, during the mass strike in Poland, Cajo, in a well filled hall in Amsterdam, defends that the dividing line "was not between on the one hand the Polish state, and the workers and Solidarnosc on the other, but between on the one hand the Polish state and the union Solidarnosc, and the workers on the other", something we could wholeheartedly agree with. At the presentation in 1983 in Antwerps of the book Blaffende bonden bijten niet (Barking Unions Don't Bite), full of citations from the press of the ICC, Cajo defends in front of a hostile audience of leftists with fervour that the reproach that this book "plays into the cards of the political right wing" is completely unjustified: the right wing employers' parties were conscious as none other of the importance the unions had for them; as much as possible we supported him.

That Cajo was first of all a convinced internationalist emerged again in 1987 when, more or less by mistake, the ICC and a number of its members and sympathisers were invited to participate in a conference of the group Daad en Gedachte. Some of us were actually present, and on our insistence proletarian internationalism was tabled. To our great surprise we stood there together with Cajo and Jaap facing just about all of the ‘younger' of the group who were rather ‘anti-fascist' and inclined to take the defence of bourgeois democracy. We reported on it in our press. It became clear that when this most important of all political point was accorded a second-rate place, the group was drifting away in journalistic academism and couldn't last much longer. Cajo and Jaap were internationalists who all their lives equally denounced without distinction the fascist, Stalinist and democratic camps; but they turned out not to have been capable, at least within their own group, to pass that over to the next generation. The younger elements began to leave the group, which accelerated with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc when everything looking like Marxism began to have a bad odour.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the group in 1990 a "retrospect" is published in which the background and positions of Daad en Gedachte are reviewed. But contrary to the intention it doesn't attract any new readers anymore, and even less new collaborators. What we saw happening within the Communistenbond Spartacus in 1981, that is to say that the ‘young' pulled out while the elderly wanted to continue, repeats itself ten years later within the group Daad en Gedachte. In 1991, after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, we visited Cajo to discuss with him the Manifesto of the 9th Congress of the ICC on the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and Stalinism. We also tried to move him to make a presentation on the subject for a public meeting of the ICC. He was very touched and excited: "I disagree completely with you, but I find it terribly important that such a document is distributed internationally." He took the same attitude in 1992 when he made efforts to have our book on the Dutch Left published in Dutch, "the only study which deals with the subject in its entirety", and for which he himself had provided much information and many documents, despite disagreeing in many respects with the book, which proved to be far less than anticipated. The publication of the magazine Daad en Gedachte would continue until 1997, but with ever less collaborators. The organisational structure of the group, one of an informal circle of friends, made it ever harder to maintain coherence. After the illness and death of Jaap in that year Cajo was almost alone to do the work. An appeal from us in our press not to give up the publication of the magazine because it would represent an incredible impoverishment in the distribution of the internationalist positions of the Dutch Left remained without consequences. We wrote: "Whatever the positions and analyses might be which separate us, we consider this political current as a fundamental branch of the historical heritage of the workers' movement and it has also contributed considerably to its theoretical and practical progress" (Wereldrevolutie, no 85, December 1998).

In November 1998 Cajo, 83 years old, holds a series of lectures in Germany, where we were present, and about which we reported extensively in our press (for instance Weltrevolution, no 92, Wereldrevolutie, no 92, Internationalisme, no 255, World Revolution, no 228 ). It attracted halls of a hundred listeners and participants in the debate. Our comrades in Germany were impressed by Cajo's sharp analyses and his great human qualities. His whole life he has been giving lectures, always with debate and not just a question time, not only in the Netherlands but in a whole series of European countries like Germany, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries, but even in the United States, Russia and Australia. In the year 2000 we invited Cajo to a public meeting in Amsterdam, where the subject consisted of the question "Council communism, a bridge between Marxism and anarchism?" Cajo did not come, but confronted with attempts to incorporate the Dutch Left into anarchism, he wrote to us, and we saluted it in our press that, "I am by no means an anarchist", and, "Of the method of Marx which he applies in his analyses, of any dialectics or real understanding of what Marxism is all about, the anarchists haven't the least clue." (Wereldrevolutie, no 91).

We visited Cajo for the last time in 2005, once in his house, a couple of months later in the nursing home where in the mean time he was admitted. He didn't recognise us any more, but at the first visit the still talked a lot about his activities, although names and places had slipped from his mind. Contrary to the reports in the anarchist press, he did not live in "distressed circumstances"; in the nursing home he was cared for very well and his children saw to it. Nevertheless, he did not receive many visits from comrades any longer.

Cajo's archive, a goldmine almost six metres long, rests in the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam. But it is in particular the more than seventy years in which Cajo with his many gifts and forces - generally "against the current" - upheld proletarian internationalism that made him so exceptional in the history of the Dutch Left, of which he was the last representative.

ICC, 29th July 2007.

 


A short collection of articles relating to Council Communism can be found here:

 

https://en.internationalism.org/taxonomy/term/80

 

Political currents and reference: 

Development of proletarian consciousness and organisation: 

Philippines: Terrorism and Anti-terrorism: both are enemies of the workers of the world

We are publishing below an article by the Internasyonalismo group, against both the government "anti-terrorist" campaigns, and against the terror exercised against the population in the name of "Islam" and "national liberation".


Factional wars of the ruling class

Another war in Mindanao has begun against the terrorists who beheaded the 14 Marine soldiers who tried to rescue the kidnapped Italian priest Fr. Giancarlo Bossi[1] last month.

This happened almost simultaneously with the implementation of the "anti-terrorist" law of the Arroyo regime, the Human Security Act of 2007.

Terrorism is the enemy not only of the working class but also of humanity. The objective of terrorism is to terrorize and sow fear to paralyze the masses not to struggle and instead, "voluntarily" submit themselves to the authority of the powerful forces - the terrorists. 

The Abu Sayyaf[2] bandits and its likes are terrorist groups. But its not only them who sow terror and fear among the people. The state itself, most of all, the powerful protector of the dying capitalist order is terrorizing the population. Currently the state implements political killings against the local leaders of the legal organizations of the left of capital - the CPP-NPA.[3]

No doubt, the Philippine government implemented "anti-terrorist" measures through the dictates of its master, US imperialism. But it is not doing this for mere puppetry to America but the former itself has imperialist character also. In fact, behind the decades war in Mindanao is the interests of the ruling class in Manila to suppressed any rivals (secession of the Moro bourgeoisie) in exploiting the labor-power of the Moro workers and its natural resources. On the other hand, the interests behind the "war for self-determination" are not to give freedom to the Moro workers and people but to change only the faction that would rule and exploit them, from the bourgeoisie in Manila to the capitalists in Mindanao. 

Furthermore, if we're going to examine the history of the terrorist groups in Mindanao, we can see that they were formed through the help of AFP[4] and the Philippine state. Particular example is the Abu Sayyaf[5] bandits. This is no different from the groups of Bin Laden and the former regime of Sadam Hussien which got the whole support of US imperialism before. Today, the anti-US imperialists are ones supporting this groups..

It means, the wars today, despite its different objectives, all are instrument and part of the imperialist war. The workers and the people are divided and are made as cannon fodders in these wars. 

The wars raging in the Philippines, like the wars happening in any parts of the world are not "wars of the people against its enemies" like what the different factions of the ruling class want us to believe. "Anti-terrorism" campaign of the state has no other objective than to intensify its own terrorism and strengthened its control of the whole of society. This is also the objective of the terrorist groups "fighting" the government. Terrorism strengthens the capitalist state.

Class struggles: True solution against terrorism 

All terrorist groups as well as all the capitalist governments in the world who are the main forces that sow terror and fear are enemies of the international working class. WE MUST NOT TAKE SIDE IN ANY OF THE WARRING FACTIONS OF THE RULING CLASS.

Imperialism is war. Terrorism is the result of decadent capitalism in its stage of decomposition. it will not disappear, instead terrorism and war will spread and intensify until the rotten capitalist system is not overthrown worldwide. The anti-terrorist campaign of the state will result in more widespread and more destructive terrorism like what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan today. Terrorism and anti-terrorism would both result in bloodbath of hundreds of thousands or even millions of people and the destruction of their livelihoods and environment. The main victims of these are the workers and poor.

The Leftists call as well as the pacifists to "Stop the war in Mindanao" is one-sided because it only targeted the one faction of the ruling class -- the state particularly of the Arroyo regime. But they are silent in condemning the other factions. Behind this silence is the opportunist tactics of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". This kind of tactics is also implemented by the Left in the war in the Middle East where they support Hamas and Hizbollah and even the "Iraqi resistance" (despite their own history of terrorism) because the latter "fights" against US imperialism. 

The Left's demand to the state and terrorist groups to "Stop the war in Mindanao" under capitalism is no different in demanding that "tigers must be vegetarian".

To fight terrorism, the working class should start its independent struggles against capitalism; they must unite not only in the Philippines but in the whole world against all the attacks of capital.. It means, in Basilan, Sulu, Mindanao, Visayas or Luzon, workers must initiate struggles against exploitation and oppression of the Moro, Filipino or foreign capitalists. 

The workers must cast away the illusions perpetrated by any factions of the ruling class to support the latter's "crusade" in "defending the nation", "defend the right to self-determination" and other calls that would divide the class and sacrifice their lives in an imperialist war. The ultimate solution against terrorism is to overthrow capitalism and the bourgeois state.

The correct calls are: Moro workers must overthrow the Moro capitalists (whether pro-Gloria,[6] anti-Gloria, Abu Sayyaf, MNLF,[7] or MILF[8]). Filipino workers must defeat the Filipino capitalists (whether pro-GMA[9] or anti-GMA). The workers of the world must bring down the international bourgeoisie (whether of the Left or Right). 

In the current permanent crisis of capitalism, in the intensification of wars and terrorism in the different parts of the world in which not only humanity sacrifice their bloods and destroyed their livelihoods but the planet itself is in danger to be ruined, there is no other way out but to destroy capitalism and institute socialism in a world scale; not struggle for reforms but revolutionary struggles. And the only class that can do this is the united and conscious working class, not any form of alliance between the proletariat and a faction of the bourgeoisie. The only alliance that the Filipino and Moro workers must entered into is the alliance of all workers in all countries.

Internasyonalismo

August 2007


[1] Fr. Bossi was kidnapped in the Western part of Mindanao and after a few weeks was released allegedly by the combined forces of Abu Sayyaf and MILF.

[2] Abu Sayyaf is an islamic fundamentalist group in the Philippines engaged in bombings, kidnapping and extortion to finance its cause for an independent islamic state in Mindanao.

[3] CPP - Communist Party of the Philippines, a left of capital adhering to maoism.

   NPA - New People's Army, arm wing of CPP engaged  in guerilla war against the state for almost 40 years.

[4] AFP - Armed Forces of the Philippines

[5] It is well-known that the Abu Sayyaf group was formed by the intelligence agencies of AFP with the help of CIA at the time of imperialist Russia's invasion in Afghanistan. Its founder and later killed, Abdujarak Janjalani, together with tens of Filipino "holy warriors" were sent to Afghanistan  to fight the Russians.

[6] Gloria - Philippine President Gloria Arroyo

[7] MNLF - Moro National Liberation Front, an armed group in Mindanao that capitulated to the Philippine government but its warlords still directly control a section of the Moro population. The MNLF is the officially recognized organization of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) representing the "whole Moro people" in the Philippines.

[8] MILF - Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a split from MNLF in late 70s. It is now the biggest moro armed group in Southern Philippines with its own "state structures". It currently engaged in peace talks with the Philippine state for "genuine autonomy" of the Moro people.

[9] GMA - Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the current president of the Philippine Republic.

 

Geographical: 

Political currents and reference: 

Recent and ongoing: 

Genocide in Darfur: War in the name of humanitarianism

Since its independence in 1956, the population of Sudan has known only war and poverty. But from 2003 on, the stench of blood and death has been hanging over Darfur as never before. This province of Sudan, almost as big as France, has only 200 kilometres of asphalt roads and virtually no infrastructure. But it does have oil! This whole region has been an immense killing ground, a theatre of atrocities: "the story of this man who fled the village of Kurma, 65 kilometres from El-Fasher, sums up everything about life in Darfur! In February 2004, the Janjaweed, these armed riders, descended on this village of farmers, burned the houses and raped the women" (Courier International, 24 June). The bourgeois press provides us with eye-witness accounts of massacres ad nauseam. No one with any human feeling could remain indifferent to such horrors. In four years, there have been 200,000 deaths and two million people have been displaced. More than 230,000 of them have fled to the other side of the border with Chad, living in camps devoid of any resources and subjected to daily violence from ruthless armed gangs.

And as usual, all the imperialist vultures are playing their part in this. The most repulsive thing about these ‘great democratic powers' is their endless humanitarian speeches, the indignant tone they use to cover up their barbaric policies. Humanitarianism is always the perfect alibi for war.

Darfur, battleground for imperialist rivalries

Even if the population is suffering on a local level, the Darfur conflict is not just a local or regional event. This is a drama being determined by imperialist interests on a planetary level.

For more than 50 years, Chad, Eritrea, Uganda, France, Israel and the US have all been hovering around the conflicts that have ravaged Sudan. This is a country which is close to the Arabian Peninsula; it's on the edge of the Red Sea and has a border with Egypt. Its position gives it a geo-strategic importance which has always attracted the interest of the imperialist powers. And today what has lit a new military conflagration is undoubtedly the arrival of a new power in the region, China. Taking advantage of the weakening of the US due to the fiasco in Iraq, China is pushing forward its pawns wherever it can. China cannot yet match the major powers and try to get a place in the Middle East. It thus has to get what it can from regions of secondary importance, notably in Africa. And here Sudan is a primordial strategic stake for the new imperialist giant. Sudan possesses the biggest unexploited resources of oil in the whole of Africa. The exploitation of black gold began there in 1960, but it wasn't until 1993 that production really got going. Today nearly 750,000 barrels a day are being produced. All the world's great powers need oil to make their economies function. But above all, today more than ever, oil is a strategic weapon.

For each one of the great powers, controlling the zones which supply oil means directly depriving your main rivals, undermining their imperialist, military potential. For France or the US, what can't be controlled must simply be destroyed. These are the hidden reasons behind the genocide in Darfur.

More precisely, China is today shamelessly protecting the Sudanese regime of Omar El-Bechir and the Janjaweed militia which were set up in 1989. This is why, since 1997 and the embargo decreed by the US against Sudan under the pretext of the struggle against terrorism, China has been opposing any measures aimed at Sudan. It is notorious that China is supplying weapons to the Khartoum regime. On 10 May last year Beijing was still promising to send 275 military engineers to Sudan. Meanwhile the USA is trying to undermine the Sudanese regime, which it can't control, by giving military support to all the armed movements which oppose the El-Bechir regime. As for France, it is already massively implanted in the vicinity of Sudan with 1200 troops in Chad and hundred of heavily armed men in the Central African Republic and Gabon. It is now trying to directly reinforce its role and presence in Darfur, while trying to prevent the chaos there from spreading to its surrounding zones of influence.

The hypocrisy of French and American imperialism

Humanitarian causes have always been the favourite choice by the imperialist powers for justifying their military interventions and covering up the massacres that follow.

To this end, the bourgeoisie has learned how to make the best use of all kinds of media ‘celebrities'.

Whether they are conscious of this or not, whether they are innocent dupes or cynical go-getters, actors, singers and others have been invading the TV screens to lament the fate of the most wretched populations and call for an international response. Let's recall the 1980s when American artists made a big show for Africa ("USA for Africa") and France reacted by doing the same thing for Ethiopia a few months later. Twenty years later we can measure the success of these campaigns against poverty - the continent is ravaged by it more than ever.

Today France and the US find themselves together for the moment, locked in a struggle with China in their efforts to get the ‘international community' to officially recognise that a genocide is going on in Darfur; such a recognition would pave the way for these scavengers to deploy their forces in the region and play their part in the general butchery.

In this battle, we've seen the likes of Julien Clerc, Samuel Bilian and Brad Pitt crying "Save Darfur". Even more directly, the actress Angelina Jolie, ambassador for the UN's High Commission on Refugees, when visiting Chad, was given the mandate of "alerting public opinion", quickly followed by George Clooney with his documentary Darfur Emergency. The Hollywood actor is very persuasive in this film: "make no mistake, this is the first genocide of the 21st century and if we allow it to continue, it won't be the last". Hence the necessity to send in the troops. In an even more official context, the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, a great specialist in humanitarianism, has made a tour of Mali and Chad, finishing up in Khartoum, in order to officially present what has been called the "French initiative". Under the cover of setting up humanitarian corridors in Darfur, he proposes to send, as part of an international force, a contingent of French troops, which will of course ensure a strong presence of French imperialism in this Sudanese province.

The last act to date in this revolting comedy was the international meeting in Paris on 25 June. Everyone there made a great show of their intention to provide the people of Darfur with all the necessary aid, but behind the diplomatic language lurked the real motive: defending their own imperialist interests tooth and nail. Thus, while Kouchner gave us the benefit of his usual humanitarian speeches after the conference, expressing great satisfaction with the results of the meeting, in reality it was clear that no common position and no peace agreement had come out of it. On the contrary, this summit only served to further exacerbate the tensions, with France in particular making clear its intention to get involved at the military level.

It is very obvious that no one is in a position to control Sudan today. The period of undisputed domination of the country by external powers is definitely over. In this region of Africa, as in the rest of the continent, there is an inexorable tendency towards instability and chaos. Ethiopia, Somalia, Zaire, the region of the Great Lakes, the list of massacres is becoming permanent and it is getting longer. For all the imperialist powers, including China, France and the US, the only durable policy in Africa is the policy of scorched earth - the policy of burning oil wells, of destruction and barbarism.

Tino 26.6.07.

Geographical: 

EKS Speech to the 17th ICC Congress: Problems of decadent capitalism in Turkey

In the last five months, many troubling events occurred in Turkey. Following the assassination of Hrant Dink in January, there have been extremely brutal attacks on foreigners, there have been several massive nationalist demonstrations, there have been bombs in major cities and of course the bloody war between armed Kurdish nationalists and the Turkish army kept going on. The situation seems to be getting worse and worse. The last bomb of the bourgeoisie exploded in Ankara several days ago, killing about six people and wounding more than a hundred. The prime minister, in turn, called for national unity against terrorism, and even the most left wing organizations of the bourgeoisie soon joined the calls of the prime minister.

Turkey has been drawn into an artificial polarization between the secularist bureaucratic opposition and the supporters of the liberal Islamist government recently, especially in major cities. The press organs of the secularist bureaucratic opposition, taking themselves too seriously, started claiming that ‘the regime was in danger' and started organizing mass demonstrations against their political opponents. Although the secularist-nationalist bourgeois media claimed that this was a ‘grassroots' movement, it was obvious that those who went to demonstrations went there comfortably, as they had the support of a strong faction of the bourgeoisie behind them. Perhaps the most significant aspect of these demonstrations was, however, the left-nationalist slogans raised. What those slogans showed was the misery of the ossified state bourgeoisie caused by the decomposition of the old Kemalist state ideology. The problems of the ideology are not limited to such slogans: tiny fascist sects, founded by retired generals, swear to kill and die in order to save the country, old leftist groups which seem to have turned to the extreme right write slogans in the walls, calling for the invasion of Northern Iraq and middle, and sometimes even high ranking cadres of the army are calling for the ‘liberation' of Iraqi Turkmens. The army bureaucracy is still one of the strongest powers in Turkey. However not everything is as it used to be; the propaganda against the current government is a proof of this. Never before has this faction of the bourgeois had to make such a massive propaganda to make it appear as if they gained massive support. Despite the fact that they managed to get hundreds of thousands marching in the streets, this is a sign of desperation. The more desperate the bourgeoisie is, the more vicious it will be.

As for the other wing of the bourgeoisie, they seem to be experiencing problems as well. When Tayyip Erdoğan's government was elected with the support of the major faction of the capitalist class, the plan was to succeed with the old dream of being the bridge between oil coming from Baku to Europe thus entering the European Union. Until most recently, the dream seemed to have a chance to be fulfilled; however when Russia managed to be what Turkey dreamed to be, the imperialist ambitions of the Turkish bourgeoisie in Central Asia were mostly destroyed and the possibility of joining the European Union decreased. Although Erdoğan's government is still very strong, it seems highly unlikely that they will be as strong as they are now following the elections which are coming up. Erdoğan's government did not seem to be interested in entering Iraq when the United States invited Turkey; they too wanted to pursue imperialist interests in Northern Iraq but they did not want to go to where the United States wanted them to go, which was certainly not Northern Iraq at that point. It is also important to note that the social conditions were not really suitable for mass mobilization for war at that time because of the massive anti-war wave. However, right now, there are hundreds of thousands mobilized for nationalism and filled with anti-Kurdish feelings. The question here is whether the invasion of Northern Iraq is a fantasy of tiny fascist sects or an actual possibility. Would American imperialism prefer Turkish imperialism to the Kurdish bourgeois factions who have not been successful enough in controlling the area? Could the Turkish bourgeoisie turn its imperialist ambitions to the control of the oil in Northern Iraq? A new imperialist war in the Middle East might happen sooner than expected. Major television channels in Turkey, including the infamous Fox television network which had just recently started broadcasting in Turkey, has already started debating whether Turkey should enter Northern Iraq or not. While the leftists in Turkey are busy running as independent candidates in the upcoming elections in order to turn the bourgeois assembly into a warm and joyful place; the elections might end up with the creation of a war government, with the support of those who had been mobilized to defend secularism and Kemalism. It is a possibility: perhaps not the most likely possibility, but a very significant and dangerous possibility. What this possibility demonstrates is the mentality of the bourgeoisie in regards to imperialist wars. In decadent capitalism, imperialist wars are waged for the sake of waging wars.

In 1974, when the Turkish army invaded Cyprus, tanks and soldiers were sent to the Greek border by the army commanders. Had the situation been suitable, they would not have hesitated to start a bloody war with Greece. Today, if the conditions are suitable for the Turkish bourgeoisie, they will not hesitate to attack Northern Iraq, ignoring the endless conflict, destruction, violence and pain such war would bring. The bourgeoisie in Turkey is having serious problems: there are serious clashes between different factions of the bourgeoisie, the social state is withdrawing, the old bourgeois concept of citizenship fading away, the Turkish bourgeoisie has failed in regards to its relationships with the Kurdish bourgeoisie and the old Kemalist political and ideological structures, which are the foundations of the regime in Turkey, are now proving to be too heavy for the bourgeoisie. Yet the destruction of those old structures means risking the entire regime as the political justification of the bourgeois regime is based on Kemalism. The Turkish bourgeoisie is walking on thin ice. The only solution it is capable of offering to its problems is a new imperialist war. If it doesn't happen now in Northern Iraq, it will happen tomorrow, perhaps somewhere else: but it will happen. As the Manifesto of the Communist Left to the Workers of Europe, written in June 1944 by the Gauche Communiste de France and Revolutionären Kommunisten Deutschlands declared "As long as there are exploiters and exploited, capitalism is war, war is capitalism", and when we look at all different endless local wars, explosions in cities, brutal murders going on in the world, we can clearly see that capitalism is leading humanity into barbarism.

World Proletarian Revolution is the Only Alternative to Capitalist Barbarism

This brings the question on the situation of the proletariat in Turkey. Following the defeat of the massive wave of proletarian struggle in Turkey which was opened in 1989 with public worker's strikes, quickly spreading to unionized and non-unionized workers in private sectors and leading to the formation of independent factory committees and which ended in 1995 after the public worker's occupation of Kızılay Square in Ankara where the administrative centres of the Turkish government were, the unions managed to gain a very high influence on the proletariat. In the last years, there has been a noticeable increase in the class struggles going on. Especially in the last months, there have been several quite large workers' demonstrations, there has been a significant wave of factory occupations and there have been numerous strikes in quite a number of different industries. However, almost none of the struggles managed to achieve any kind of significant success, mostly due to the fact that although quite numerous, those struggles were limited to single sectors or even single workplaces and did not manage to spread. As there wasn't a united struggle; the bourgeoisie did not have a hard time defeating the struggles of the working class easily. It is also very important to note that most of those struggles were actively sabotaged by the unions; during one factory occupation, for example, the union's method of making the workers stop their struggle was giving them a Turkish flag to hang on the factory. In fact, in a great majority of those struggles, workers themselves made remarks about their discontent about unions. Indeed, the unions in Turkey do not work actively for the Turkish bourgeoisie in sabotaging workers militancy but they play an active part in mobilizing the proletariat for nationalist causes. Even the left-wing unions actively participated in lining up workers behind a section of the bourgeoisie in the secularist demonstrations.

The role of the unions was visible even better during the last May Day in İstanbul. The major left nationalist trade union had declared that it wanted to celebrate May Day in a ‘banned' area in İstanbul, Taksim Square, because this year was the thirtieth anniversary of the infamous Bloody May Day where around a million demonstrators had gathered and were fired at by unknown gunmen from two buildings and a car nearby. The İstanbul city governor, who is known with his sympathies towards Erdoğan's party was determined to prevent such a demonstration; however many leftist groups and parties had already declared that they would be joining the union in the demonstration. Soon, the event got out of union leaders' and legal leftist groups' control. The May Day in İstanbul was quite brutal: İstanbul city government had ordered police to be ruthless, and so they were. Whenever workers gathered to enter Taksim, they were attacked by the police. Many were beaten up, around a thousand were arrested and one old person died in his home because of the tear gas police were throwing around. While the right wing bourgeois media presented the policeman as heroes, liberal nationalists and leftists blamed the governor because of the problems which occurred in traffic, and the union leaders, who were allowed to enter the square by the police and then disappeared, only to declare to televisions later on that this was a victory, were celebrated as heroes. However, as it would be expected from them, the unions had done nothing in regards to class struggle. Simply a threat of a one-day strike would probably be enough to save many from being beaten up or arrested, however the union proved once again that it did not have anything to give to the working class. Instead, union called this May Day a fight for democracy, and the union leader went as far as describing police's attack on the proletariat as the revenge of the last secular nationalist demonstrations.

When we look at the situation of the proletariat in Turkey, we see that the proletariat is living in very bad conditions. The conditions of the industrial and agricultural proletariat are unimaginable in some parts of Turkey. Very huge parts of the university graduates, even doctors and engineers are highly proletarianized and are extremely exploited, if they have a job. There is massive unemployment, especially among young people and with the decomposition of the state ideology and in the absence of a strong communist voice, most of the unemployed are drawn into bourgeois ideologies such as Islamism, nationalism and national liberationism. There are very militant parts of the working class, but the domination of the unions and the influence of bourgeois ideologies on the workers are preventing the workers from uniting on a class basis. The only solution to the problems of the proletariat, the only cure to the harm done to proletarian struggle by bourgeois ideologies, is proletarian internationalism and international class solidarity.

The bourgeoisie is leading the proletariat into more pain, more misery and more deaths. Communism is the only realistic alternative to sinking into barbarism. Under these circumstances, we think that it is extremely important for different proletarian groups to engage in regular discussion and international solidarity.

This was also published on http://eks.internationalist-forum.org/en/node/51 and on libcom.

July 2007.

Life of the ICC: 

Geographical: 

The student movement in Venezuela: the young try to break free from the false alternative between Chavism and the opposition

In Caracas on the 28th May student demonstrations began, which rapidly spread to various cities across the country[1]; the apparent motive was the decision of the government to close the television channel Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), which until now has been the main media outlet for the sectors of the national capital that oppose the government of Chávez. This served to ignite the social discontent that had been incubating within the working masses and the population as a whole, this time expressing itself through the student demonstrations.

Faced with these protests, on the 29th Chávez himself called upon the inhabitants of the shanty towns to "defend the revolution"; a little later, the "radical" deputies of the National Assembly (formed totally of deputies who support the so-called "Bolivarian revolution"), gave their full support to their leader's call for the inhabitants of the barrios to demonstrate against student movements. However the inhabitants of the shanty towns and the poor barrios - where Chavism is meant to dominate - did not mobilise and have not done so since. This shows a certain sympathy with the slogans of the movement which the media have treated as something secondary, such as the necessity to confront the problems of unemployment, delinquency, health and general poverty[2]. More than this, the lack of mobilisation by these sectors following the bellicose calls of the "Comandante" could express the fact that that the lying discourse of Chávez as the "defender of the poor" is not having the same hearing as he used to get with this sector of the population, which had placed its hopes in him as having a solution to increasing pauperisation. In the meantime, the President, his family and acolytes live the life of the real rich beneficences of power, just as the governments in the past have done[3].

As for Chávez and his followers who made this call, they mobilised the forces of repression and the armed gangs in order to intimidate and repress the students and those who came out of their houses and apartments to show their support. In the initial assault 200 students were arrested and various injured, many of these were young. While this pack of dogs attacked the protest, criminalising it and calling the students "lackeys of imperialism", "traitors to the fatherland", "well off children", etc, Daniel Ortega, the mandatory Nicaraguan "revolutionary", joined in these attacks whilst on a visit to the National Assembly, accusing the protesting students of coming from the richest classes of Venezuela and serving their "dream of stirring up the streets".

However, the repression and denigration aimed at intimidating the students only served to radicalise and spread the movement.

How to understand this student movement?

In order to characterise this movement, we must pose the following questions: are these demonstrations another expression of the confrontation between the bourgeoisie fractions of Chavism and the opposition, which have dominated the political scene over the course of 8 years of Chávez government? Do they represent merely student protests about their own concerns?

We think that we have to answer both of these in the negative. This movement by an important part of the students, to the surprise both of the government and the opposition, has taken on a character that is tending to break with the sterile circle of the political polarisation induced by the struggle between bourgeois fractions, and is expressed in a social discontent that until now has been caught up in this polarisation. It is therefore transcending a merely student framework. We can see that:

  • It is undeniable that political forces of the government and the opposition have tried to use the movement to their on ends: the first pose it as a mere manipulation by the political forces opposed to the government, including North American imperialism; the second say it is a political movement of the opposition, since they share slogans such as the struggle for "free expression" and against "state totalitarianism", bourgeois slogans defended by the opposition which is trying to remove Chávez from power. However, the movement has tried to distance itself from political leaders and forces, as much the government as the opposition. The students have not hidden the political character of the protest, but they have made it clear that they owe no political obedience to the leader of the government or opposition. The statements by the spontaneous leaders of the movement have been clear on this aspect: "The politicians have their agenda, we have ours".
  • With this aim, the movement has given itself organisational forms such as assembles, where they can discuss, elect commissions and decide upon what actions to carry out: this has taken place at the local and national level. It was in these assembles, formed in several universities, where they discussed the aim of the movement and prepared the first actions, which were transmitted to the rest of the students. For their part, the students have organised to cover the costs of the mobilisations through their own means, through collections amongst the students and the public.
  • Another important character of this movement since its beginning has been that it has posed the need for dialogue and discussion of the main social problems effecting society: unemployment, insecurity, etc showing solidarity with the neediest sectors. To this end the students have called upon all of the students and the population as a whole, Chavistas or not, to take part in an open dialogue in the universities, the barrios and the street, outside of the institutions and organs controlled by the government, as well as those dominated by the opposition. In this sense, the students understood the need to avoid the trap set by the government, when the government proposed to discuss with the student adepts of Chavism in the National Assembly. The scheme backfired: other students mobilised, and, in a creative and audacious action, read out a document accusing the deputies of the Assembly of criminalising the movement, denouncing the Assembly for not being an impartial place for debate and posing their demands, abandoning the building, faced with the ire and astonishment of the deputies and Chavist students[4]
  • The slogans of the movement have taken on an increasingly political character. although the media, mainly the parts controlled by the opposition, have made the central slogans of the movement the "struggle for freedom of expression" and "stopping the closure of RCTV" or the "defence of the autonomy of the universities", the students since the beginning of the movement have defended openly political slogans: the end of repression, the freeing of the detained students and those having to report to police stations daily, solidarity with the 3000 workers of RCTV, against criminality, against poverty and for the need to "create a better world" etc.

In this sense the student movement that is unfolding is in a "latent" state, due in part to the actions of the government and opposition to control and constrain it. But it did seek to break with the schemas of the past student movements and expressed a social content, influenced by tendencies within it to express the interests of wage labourers.

Where did these characteristics of the new student movement come from?

The genesis of this movement is in the worsening of the economic and political crisis that is taking place in the country. An economic crisis that Chavism has tired to hide behind the enormous resources of the oil manna, which has only served to strengthen the new "revolutionary" elite's hold on power., whilst the rest of the population is progressively becoming poorer, despite the crumbs distributed by the state through the "missions". One of the main expressions of this crisis is seen in the incessant growth of inflation, which according to the untrustworthy official figures has averaged 17% over the last three years (the highest level in Latin America). In fact the increases in the minimum wage directed by the government are essentially due to the incessant increases in the prices of food, goods and services. The much publicised economic growth which has averaged a 10% increase in GDP in the same period is fundamentally based upon the increase in exploitation, a growth of precarious and informal employment (camouflaged under the guise of cooperatives and the government "missions"), which affects about 70% of the economically active population including the unemployed. All of this means that the great majority of wage labourers receive no legal social benefits and a high percentage do not even earn the official minimum wage. This economic crisis, the product of the crisis that is affecting the whole capitalist system, existed long before the Chávez government but it has been exacerbated over the 8 years of this government, leading to the progressive pauperisation of society[5].

Along with the constant increase in the cost of living and growth of precarious employment, we have seen the scarcity of food, lack of housing, an increased criminality which in 2006 cost the lives of 1700 Venezuelans, mainly young people from the poorest sectors, the re-emergence of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, which are the products of ill health and the deterioration of public services. We could go on and on.

This situation is nothing but the expression of the Chavist model of state capitalism, which has no other course than to continue attacking the living conditions of the working class and the whole population, just as previous governments did, accentuating precarious work and pauperisation, but this time in the name of "socialism".

Clearly the students are not ignorant of this situation, since the majority of them are from proletarian families or those pauperised by the crisis. Many students in public and private universities experience exploitation because they have to work formally or informally in order to meet the costs of their studies or part of them, or to help their family's income. Nor are the students ignorant of the fact that their hopes will not be realised in the future: the majority of small professionals that have come out of the universities in recent decades have been increasing proletarianised, as thousands of health and education professionals, engineers etc can testify. They have difficulty in earning more than two times the official minimum wage[6], while the deterioration of the social wage (social security benefits, etc) undermines the possibility of having a dignified life, even it you are one of the "privileged" that the government mouthpieces talk about.

Likewise, a good part of the youth protesting in the streets have seen the ravages inflicted upon their families and society, by the political polarisation introduced by the Chavist and opposition leaderships in their struggle for the control of power. They have been victims of the division of society and a weakening of ties of solidarity; many of them and their parents have been caught up in the networks of political polarisation, even becoming fanatics for one fraction or the other, losing all perspective. They have also witnessed the struggle of the ruling class and its use of the motto of "the ends justify the means", its unscrupulous lying and manipulating, the result of the decay of bourgeois morals.

Thus, the student movement, although arising spontaneously, it is not result of an "infantile disease", nor has it been created by hidden leaders; much less is it something arising out of the heads of the leaders of the opposition or the CIA, as Chávez and his followers have endlessly repeated. It is the product of a process of reflection that has been under way for several years within society, and particularly amongst the new generations faced with living in a society where there will be no chance of living a dignified life. Hence, it is no accident that the student protests have raised slogans with a clearly social content: the struggle against unemployment, criminality, abandoned children and mothers, poverty, but also against the lying, intolerance, immorality and inhumanity that are eating away at society.

These characteristics show that this movement has transcended the conflict between opposition and government and contains the seeds of putting the whole of the capitalist system of exploitation into question; thus it has unquestionably inscribed itself in the struggle of the wage labourers, of the proletariat. The means and methods that it has given to the struggle (assembles, the election delegates answerable to it, the tendency to unite, the call for discussion outside of the universities etc) are those of the proletariat in its struggles for the defence of its interests. Although in a minor and unconscious way, there is the tendency in this movement to express the interests of the working class, and this has pushed it forward.

Over the last few years there have been student movements in other parts of the world, such as Brazil, Chile, France, which have had more or less the same characteristics. In France there were protests and demonstrations led by the students in May 2006, against the government efforts to impose precarious work, which mobilised millions of people across France[7]. The student movement in Venezuela has many similarities with these movements. These movements show that the students in Venezuela are not isolated, but rather are expressing a process of reflection that is taking place within the new generations who are searching for a perspective, faced with a society that offers no future.

Dangers facing the movement

The student movement has unfolded in a fragile and uncertain situation. The pressures exerted by the bourgeoisie in order to control and put an end to it are very strong. Both the government and opposition are making full use of their party machines, material means and the media to do this. There is also the polarisation and division of society brought about by the government and opposition, which has an importance that cannot be underestimated. Nor can the intimidation and repression carried out by not only the official repressive apparatus but also that of the gangs formed by Chavism.

However, one of the most important dangers for this movement is democratic illusions. Slogans such as the struggle for "freedom of expression" or "civil rights", amongst others, even if by these the students mean the necessity to confront the institutions of the state that stand in the way of the struggle, are fundamentally expressions of illusions about the possibility of being able to have freedom and "rights" under capitalism; that it is possible (perhaps with another government) to improve democracy in order to be able to really transform it into something that would allow the overcoming of the problems gripping society. Democracy, with its institutions, parties, mechanisms (mainly elections) is the system that the bourgeoisie has perfected in order to maintain the system of domination by a minority over the majority of society. "Freedom of expression" is part of the totality of "democratic freedoms" that the bourgeoisie has proclaimed since the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, which have only served to mystify the exploited mass in order to maintain its class rule. All of these "rights" are nothing by the codification of these illusions. All bourgeois regimes can recognise "freedom" and "rights" as long as the capitalist order and the state that maintains it are not threatened. Thus, it is no accident that in the confrontation between the government and opposition gangsters, each of them claims to be the true defenders of the democratic order.

The struggle for the "autonomy of the universities" is another expression of these democratic illusions. It is an old demand of the university milieu which defends the idea that these institutions can be free of state intervention, ignoring the fact that universities and educational institutions are the main means for transmitting the ideology of the ruling class (whether of the left or right) to new generations and for training cadre for the maintaining of this order. This slogan, mainly put forward by the student federations and university authorities, tries to imprison the emerging struggle within the four walls of the universities, isolating it from the whole of society.[8]

Another danger facing the movement is the similarity between its slogans and those of the opposition, which unite the interests of those forces seeking to penetrate and control it, and enables the government to try and identify the movement with the opposition. The movement needs to delineate itself from and confront the opposition forces with the same clarity and vehemence as it has the government. If it does not do this it could be submerged into movements that in other countries[9] have been used to bring the opposition forces to power, whilst the fundamental situation (the system of capitalist exploitation) remained intact. The students need to understand that the opposition as much as the government is responsible for the situation we are living in, that the opposition acted as the stepping stone for Chávez to come to power, and that if they return to power they will attack the living conditions of the working class as much as Chavism does today, and that they are both bourgeois forces trying to defend the existing order.

Perspectives

This student movement, which we salute and support, has the great virtue of trying to break with the vicious and poisonous circle of polarisation, through putting forward dialogue and discussion through assemblies that decide what to discussion and in what conditions. This is a gain for the students, for the workers and for society as a whole, since it strengthens the real ties of social solidarity.

However it would be illusory to think that the students' struggle, no matter how brave and courageous it has been, is going to change the present state of things. This movement will truly bear fruit if it can lead to the spreading of the proletarian elements that it contains not only to the barrios, but even more importantly to the workers in the factories and in the private and public enterprises. This cannot be done through the unions and political parties, but only by inviting workers from all sectors and the unemployed to participate in the assemblies. In this way workers will be able to see the proletarian vein running through the movement. At the same time this will stimulate reflection and also the struggle of the proletariat, whose actions are indispensable for confronting the state and being able to attack the root causes of the barbarity in which we live - the capitalist system of exploitation - and to implement real socialism based on the power of the workers' councils. However, if it were to stay an ephemeral movement, subsumed in the inter-bourgeois struggle, it will be crushed.

The most advanced participants in the movement need to try to regroup in discussion circles, in order to be able to draw a balance sheet of the movement up to now and search for ways to strengthen the proletarian elements of the movement which though still at an embryonic state, are being deepened because they arise from the worsening of the economic and social crisis.

Independently of the future of this movement, something very important for the future of the class struggle has occurred: the opening up of a process of reflection and discussion.

The ICC,

July 2007.

 



[1] According to the Minister of the Interior Pedro Carreňo, on the first day there were 94 demonstrations throughout the country.

[2] "We do not want to struggle against our brothers", so declared a member of the communal council of the barrio of Patarse, to the East of Caracas, referring to the call of President Chávez to mobilise the barrios against the students.

[3] "Being rich is bad" Chávez endlessly repeats in his frequent media presentations, whilst the proletariat and his followers (in the majority the poorest sections of the population) are accustomed to living a precarious existence, the real aim of "21st century socialism". However, he and his family, along with the top level state bureaucrats, do not follow this motto. To illustrate this the French newspaper, Le Monde in June published a series of articles on Chávez and his government, under the title of "Les bonnes affaires de la famille chavez" (‘The business affairs of the Chávez family'), where they described the way in which the new rich of the so-called "boliburguesia" (Bolivarian bourgeoisie) live. These articles showed that Chávez has become an object of interest to part of the French bourgeoisie, who want to use the "Bolivarian revolution" and its fanatical "anti-Americanism" to its advantage.

[4] The students had to be escorted by police when they entered and left the Assembly, since the Chavist gangs were surrounding the building.

[5] According to official figures the government has reduced poverty from 54% in 2003 to 32% in 2006. However behind these figures there is state manipulation (principally though the prices of the basket of food), to make sure that the government's talk about putting an end to poverty by 2001 corresponds to the "reality" of the figures. Nevertheless at the same time there has been the increase in the number of "buhoneros" (street vendors). The increase in consumption registered in 2006 was due to the increase in public spending leading up to the elections, and not because of a decrease in poverty. The Andrés Bello Catholic University which has been tracing the levels of poverty for years says that it increased to 58% in 2005.

[6] About $300 according to the official exchange rate of 2150 Bolivars to the $, which amounts to less than $150 at the black market exchange rate.

[7] see "Theses on the spring student movements in France" https://en.internationalism.org/ir/125_france_students

[8] A demonstration of this was the "assembly" held on the 22nd June in the basket ball stadium of the Universidad Central de Venezuela by the Federation of Centros Universitarios, with the support of the university authorities and opposition. This was a show in order to divert attention away from the real assemblies. Faced with this some students shouted the slogan "we do not want shows, we want assemblies".

[9] see amongst other articles, ‘Ukraine: the authoritarian prison and the trap of democracy' https://en.internationalism.org/ir/126_authoritarian_democracy

Geographical: 

ICConline, September 2007

Contents.

WR Day of Study: Presentations and discussions

Earlier in the summer World Revolution held a 'Day of Study' where we discussed in depth two questions: 'Is communism a Utopia?' and 'Is socialism possible through the state?'. A brief summary of the event has already been published in WR307. Here we are publishing the full presentations to both sessions and more detailed reports of the discussions that followed them.

Presentation to the morning session: Communism is not a utopia

Convincing workers that capitalism is in their best interest is not the central purpose of most ruling class ideology. With rare historical exceptions, workers find the prosaic reality of capitalism with its exploitation and dehumanisation too obvious in their daily lives to ever be truly convinced of this. Instead, bourgeois ideology focuses on making their system, however imperfect, seem to be the only possible one. All others are presented as either being even worse or hopelessly "utopian". Winston Churchill's famous aphorism, "it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried" could be said to sum up this main thrust of bourgeois ideology.

History, we are told, is littered with the failures of those who want to establish ‘heaven on earth'. Such people are either good-intentioned but touchingly-naïve fools who want to deny ‘human nature' or dangerous fanatics who will shrink from no atrocity in their efforts to bring about their ‘paradise'.

Communism and ‘Human Nature'

Humans, we are told, are simply imperfect creatures. We lie, cheat, steal, exploit our brothers and sisters, fight horrendous wars, and kick the neighbour's puppy for no good reason other than that we can. A society based on a view of human nature that denies these facts is simply a non-starter.

For communists, however, there is another fundamental side to human nature. The human species is a social one at root and branch and every activity we carry out has a social dimension. Ties of solidarity bind us together at multiple levels and affect us at the deepest levels of our psyche. Without the company of our fellow human beings we quickly deteriorate psychologically and loneliness (that is, a lack of satisfying emotional relationships) has as much a detrimental effect on human happiness as poverty and deprivation. In the most profound sense, an isolated human being is actually something less than human: a man alone is not a man.

Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that the relations of exploitation that arose with class stratification distort this social nature. The presence of an exploiting class that is driven to maintain its rule through oppression undermines the relations of solidarity upon which all societies depend. The exploited suffer under the whip of the taskmaster, while the exploiters are tormented by repressed guilt at their position in society. A class society cannot, by definition, truly satisfy the needs, material or psychological, of its members.

These contradictions express themselves in both the material and ideological arena and are internalised within the psychic composition of each member of society. The anti-social behaviour of some elements represents the working out of these contradictions in practical form. Whether a thief steals to feed his starving family or through some perverse inner compulsion, the root of this behaviour is found within the fault-lines of class society and the psychological torment inflicted upon its members.

Human beings have lived with class society for a long time and the scars of this social development are now so deeply rooted that it must seem to many to be a part of human nature. But we must never forget that class society itself is relatively recent in humanity's evolutionary history.

The majority of our species history was spent living in communal relationships without exploitation and without a state. Despite their limited scope, the very existence of the prehistoric societies demonstrates that exploitation is not an inevitable consequence of human nature. The dim memory and yearning for this way of life and attendant psychological wholeness is found, albeit highly mythologized, in many of the creation myths of ancient religions. From the Golden Age of Greek Mythology to the idyllic hunter-gatherer state of Adam and Eve in the Judeo-Christian canon, humanity has ever looked back to its communist origins. These origins, moreover, are seen as the ‘natural state' of humanity before it ‘fell from grace', something to be valued and cherished. In these ancient myths, which represent the earliest dawning of consciousness, it is in fact class society that is unnatural, so much so that its appearance has to be explained by the action of cosmic forces dwarfing humanity!

Even as the grip of class society tightened upon humanity, communism has never lost its fascination. In every age, in every society the exploited masses have longed for the return of this halcyon period. As an example, for the early Christians, it wasn't simply enough to wait passively until Christ re-established Eden - their communities attempted to express this perceived truth in practical form, by holding all things in common. This radical current is to be found throughout the history of Christianity as well as other religions which, despite its alienated and idealised form, expresses a counterpoint to all those who point to history's tragic procession of wars and massacres.

And paradoxically, even the phenomenon of war itself expresses the contradictions of human nature in class society - this slaughter of thousands, even millions of fellow human beings is accompanied by deep expressions of bravery, solidarity and compassion.

The view of ‘human nature' appealed to by the bourgeoisie is thus a distorted one that, while containing elements of truth, ignores the full import of human thought and behaviour throughout history. To say it is ‘human nature' to exploit others is, in the sweep of history, no more profound an observation than saying it is ‘human nature' to live peaceably. Both can be true in certain circumstances.

Decadent Capitalism: The Living Negation of Humanity

What, then, are the circumstances facing humanity today? What is their import for the communist project?

In 1914, the clearest revolutionary currents considered that capitalism had exhausted its capacity for improving human society. Although capitalism had always been a society based on exploitation and inflicted a new level of alienation upon human society, it was still able, initially at least, to play a progressive role for humanity.

Its earliest stirrings were accompanied by a tremendous advancement in the areas of philosophy, allowing society to begin to criticise the religious and superstitious modes of thought that had now become a fetter on the development of human thought. Science also took dramatic leaps forwards while the toiling masses were mobilised by radical ideas of democracy and freedom. Despite the new exploitation, the living standards of those incorporated into the new system slowly began to rise, albeit as much as the result of ferocious class struggle as any natural inclination on the part of capitalism or its new ruling class.

Signs that this progress was beginning to come to end, at least in Europe, were appearing as early as 1870 but capitalism still had tremendous fields for advancement in the New World and elsewhere. Advancement in many fields, especially science and the economy, in fact continued to accelerate although at the cultural level, signs of decline were beginning to appear. Tensions began to rise between the great powers as each state's need to expand began to conflict with those of others. Philosophical progress began to retreat and the ruling class began to seek comfort once again in the superstitions and cults that it had thrown off in its youth.

In 1914, these tensions exploded and the First World War began. It was a disaster unprecedented in the entire history of humanity to that point, all the more poignant because it was not the random strike of disease or natural disaster but was self-inflicted. Suddenly all the great progress of the previous centuries stood in the balance as the whole of society was reoriented towards the goal of destruction.

From this point, the progress of humanity in many areas has at best slowed down and often stopped altogether. Even those areas where progress has continued - science and production - do not benefit humanity or even the system itself. Instead, they threaten both more and more, fuelling ever more catastrophic economic crises or providing ever more devastating weapons with which to wage war. The increased life expectancy seems meaningless as more and more human populations are subjected to horrific wars or the scourge of easily preventable diseases, or the grinding poverty that is the product of economic crisis. Those who are spared this nonetheless suffer an ever-increasing alienation. In the midst of material abundance, surrounded by millions of our fellow humans and provided with ever more inventive ways to communicate, more and more seem denied the simple satisfaction of normal human relationships suffer with all the attendant psychic distress that this denial implies. The sole purpose of human society is to provide for its members mutual needs - but capitalism today, for all the tremendous advancement it has provided, seems more and more incapable of doing this for all but the smallest percentage of the population and, in reality, not even them.

Capitalism has evolved into a living contradiction, an anti-social society; it is thus capitalism that is the very antithesis of ‘human nature'. Every day this utterly degenerated social organism continues to threaten humanity at multiple levels: economic crises cast more and more millions into poverty if not starvation, while increasingly intractable wars wrack the globe. The nightmares of nuclear annihilation, ecological disaster and social collapse loom threateningly on the horizon. Indeed, total social collapse is no longer some dystopian vision of a few science fiction writers - it is already the living reality facing many in the third world and an incipient reality in the advanced countries. Even if capitalism manages to avoid total self-destruction its continued existence will strip the survivors of anything resembling humanity to the point that we can talk of the spiritual extinction of humanity even if the material shell somehow carries on for a limited period. The price of the continued existence of capitalism is the total negation of humanity and all it means to be human.

If humanity is to survive, it can only do so by the utter destruction of this anti-social system. And this destruction must be accompanied by the reconstruction of society on a truly human basis. The progressive aspects of capitalism have provided humanity with the technical and social means to effect this.

The Proletariat: The Living Negation of Capitalism

One of the fundamental contradictions of capitalism is that, in spite of producing the most corrosively individualist society ever known, it has also created a productive force that represents the polar opposite. In capitalism, production has been increasingly centralised and regimented. Products incorporate materials (and the congealed labour within them) from all over the world and the division of labour has created a level of interaction between the different components of the productive apparatus never before seen.

The bourgeoisie, with its relations of commodity production, perceive production as a question of competition. Planning can only ever exist in such a vision as an alien force, imposed unnaturally over a market that is the true dominant force in capitalism. In counterpoint to this, the fundamental condition of the proletariat is associated labour. Only rarely can an individual proletarian perform all the functions necessary to create the product of his workplace. Her labour exists as one component amongst many, all of which must co-operate if a use value is to be generated. This process of co-operation is explicit in the individual factory or office but also implicit in the whole of the capitalist economy, where each link in the productive process is dependent on the those preceding it for its components and those following it to give it meaning. While the market for commodity production is naturally chaotic, the conditions of production itself are planned and ordered to the highest degree. It is in this socialised aspect of production that we see a potential for a different kind of social organisation and a class that is capable of generalising these conditions throughout society as whole.

The contradiction between the chaos of the market and the order of production is expressed in the life experience of the proletariat itself, which perceives itself to be the victim of the vagaries of the market and relations of commodity production that are expressed in society by the actions of the bourgeoisie. The working class is thus compelled to revolt against the bourgeois class and the relations of production that are expressed by this ruling class.

In the proletariat, therefore, we see a class that represents both an alternative mode of production to the present dominant one and also that this class is compelled to resist and revolt against this dominant mode of production. The struggle of the proletariat then, although conditioned by dying capitalism cannot be limited to it in the sense of a futile revolt against exploitation. It has another form of society to propose, one based on the collective, associated labour of humanity.

This new social form offers humanity a way out of the impasse of capitalism. Moreover, it offers the possibility of the abolition of class society itself and a world without class and without exploitation. The worldwide integration of production and the proletariat achieved by capitalism has laid the basis for a truly global human community. The new society will no longer be plagued by the primitive tribalism that was the hallmark of prehistoric communism and will not be plagued by wars and national conflicts. Nor will the new society be dominated by the chaos of market relations. Just as the modern factory works to a plan, so the whole of society will be managed on a planned and rational basis by the common consensus of the producers.

Conclusion

Communism is not therefore simply the utopian vision of naïve dreamers. It has already existed in concrete reality in the distant past. Nor is it somehow antithetical to human nature - in fact, it is the form of society that best corresponds to human nature! Certainly it is no more foreign to human nature than the debased monstrosity of capitalism today.

But most importantly, the concrete bases of communism exist already in the world today in the form of the modern productive process. And there exists a class whose situation in society both compels it to struggle against the old regime and to generalise those basic building blocks of communism throughout society.

Communism is not therefore just a ‘nice idea'. It is a material possibility conditioned by historical circumstances. It can also be described as a material necessity because it is the only social form that can progress human civilisation as opposed to a capitalism that is more and more destroying it.

DG 18/7/07

General and theoretical questions: 

Morning session: Discussion of 'Communism is not a utopia'

The presentation, delivered by a sympathiser of the ICC, laid out three basic premises for the discussion of this question:
  • That communism, contrary to the ideology of the bourgeoisie, does not contradict human nature;
  • That it is the decadence of capitalism that has created an objective need for communism;
  • And that it is the working class that is the only social force capable of carrying overthrowing capitalism and creating communism.

The first respondent agreed with the notion that capitalism today represents a “crisis of humanity” but questioned how this crisis could be overcome. Is there not also a “crisis of leadership”, in that there is no strong revolutionary party leading the working class today? The speaker mentioned his own Troyskyist background and stated that for this milieu, this question of leadership is the principle question facing the working class.

The question stimulated some lively responses, exploring the role of the party and class in making the revolution. One comrade immediately responded that this view reduces the problem to simply a question of “getting the right leaders”. Other comrades went on to elaborate some important points. The leftist approach is flawed on a number of levels.

Most crucially, it is based on a misunderstanding of the role of the party in the revolution[1]. The party is not there to “organise” the class, its role is push forward the consciousness of the class to enable it to organise itself. This is a complex process related to the balance of class forces. To put things another way, if it’s true the working class is not lining up behind the party – or producing capable leaders – then there is a reason for this is to be found in the consciousness of the proletariat as a whole. The Trotskyist view is simplistic and idealist in the sense that it sees everything else being “ready” for revolution – you just need the right Lenin or Trotsky to come alone and the revolution will happen.

Secondly, the leftists measure consciousness on the basis of how much workers agree with them (i.e. their particular organisation). Consciousness is seen as the adherence to the party line. For communists, class consciousness is to be found in the increasing confidence of the working class to examine questions for itself rather than being dependent on a minority of “intellectuals”.

Leadership can therefore be examined only in the context of the class as a whole. The Bolsheviks were only able to take on the role they did because the mass of the class had awoken to a real consciousness of their own needs and saw that the Bolsheviks were expressing their own demands in a coherent form.

The role of minorities in this process is vital. Because of the nature of the proletariat’s oppression, at most points in history it will only be a minority of the class that is able to throw off the shackles of bourgeois ideology. They have a duty to develop this consciousness by discussing with other revolutionaries and organising themselves to spread this consciousness as far as their means allow.

The forms these efforts take will depend on the objective and subjective circumstances of the time. In the current period, the appearance of web forums and discussion groups around the planet represents this hunger for consciousness deep within the proletariat. The party is the highest product of this process but it is not the only form consciousness takes. By definition, the party cannot exist unless there is a movement within the working class to create it.

Another aspect of leadership was raised, namely the role the proletariat takes in the revolution in relation to other social classes. The ICC believes the proletariat to be a minority on a global scale. There was some debate about this, with various exchanges on differing views of the numerical weight of the peasantry in the third world. Also discussed was the effect of “decomposition” in lumpenising the working class in the central countries. But despite some disputes on the sociological aspect of this, there was a general agreement that the “core” of the working class i.e. those sectors in the heart of capitalism with relatively stable jobs, the discipline and belonging of the workplace, etc. would be a minority.

Despite the disagreements, all participants were agreed that those on the fringes of the working class were not to be written off either. These sectors can engage in powerful struggles and, because of their extreme deprivation, can often act as the detonator for movements. Nonetheless, for the struggle to advance, it is necessary for the “core” to join, bringing their experience and capacity to lead the struggle with them.

Another aspect of the discussion dealt with the issues of working class youth and their struggle to reappropriate the lessons of their class. For many workers, especially those under 30, the last big struggles that would have impacted upon their consciousness took place when they were children. Many have never experienced open struggle in the workplace. There is a hunger for solidarity, especially in reaction to extreme alienation, but little actual understanding of it. Despite this weight, there is an effort within the class to recover this – many of the strikes in the current period have placed this question firmly in the centre, through practice if not explicitly in theory.

Communists have a role to play here, but it is not to somehow artificially engender solidarity. Rather, it is a question of making workers in struggle conscious of the implications of their own praxis i.e. making, practical, instinctive actions into explicit conscious ones. This also works the other way – by drawing on the lessons of the past, revolutionaries can help the working class recover the “abstractions” of theory and lessons learnt from the past so that they can be applied again in today’s situation.

The discussion emphasised the continual nature of this drive for consciousness. It cannot be posed in the sense of the working class becomes conscious, makes the revolution and that’s it. Even after the revolution, there will be heterogeneity of consciousness within the working class. Different layers of the class will be more or less convinced about the communist programme. Only a permanent reflection and discussion undertaken by the whole of the class can drive this process forward.

In some respects, it might appear that the discussion did not focus on the immediate points of the presentation. But, in fact, it examined one of the most vital elements of the opening text – the revolutionary nature of the working class. The concern of revolutionaries to tackle this question springs from the fact that the communist revolution will be the first truly conscious revolution in human history, just as communism itself will the first human society to manage itself in a fully conscious manner. It is precisely because of this that consciousness is such a preoccupation for the proletariat – and it is the proletariat’s capacity to develop this consciousness that conditions the nature of the proletarian revolution.

The rebirth of the class struggle in 1968 was largely dominated by a sense of consciousness rising out of struggles. It was the inspiration of the massive struggles of this period that pushed new revolutionary forces to seek out the “red thread” which had been largely crushed by the counter-revolution and maintained only in the obscure writings of the communist left. Today, a different pattern in emerging: although there have been no massive struggles on the scale of ’68, significant minorities within the working class have already demonstrated an increasing drive to rediscover the “red thread”. If this trend continues, the proletariat will enter into the mass struggles of the future with a far more developed theoretical consciousness than it had in ’68. Although today we are witnessing but small steps in this direction, it is with confidence that we can say along with Marx: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

DG, 15/9/07.



[1] It should be said that confusions on the role of the party are not limited to the leftist milieu. They are also firmly entrenched in the revolutionary milieu as well, especially among the Bordigists.

General and theoretical questions: 

Presentation to the afternoon session: Why state socialism is impossible

None of us in this room believes that state socialism is possible. We could all agree that it's a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. And go home.

Today, we all recognise the state as the antithesis of socialism, the enemy of a new society, an expression and conservator par excellence of the old, along with the ruling class whose privileges and mode of production it defends. The state's fate is to be smashed by the working class en route to communism. As the ICC's book puts it very succinctly, "As far as Marxism is concerned, the strength of the state is the measure of man's unfreedom."

Yet we are obliged to go a little deeper for two main reasons:

a) Because the idea that the state can be the motor of social transformation is still perpetrated by those who claim to defend working class interests - let's take the example, one among many, of Chavism in Venezuela. And illusions in this ‘road' are not absent within the proletariat in general: there still remain confusions, for example, that nationalised capital is somehow more ‘progressive' than ‘private' capital, that a state health service is preferable to a private health service. Or that, in the final analysis, the state is the only protector against such ravages as terrorism, climate change, and so on. In short, we still have to wage a war ‘for hearts and minds' as Mr Blair used to say, on this subject.

b) And because, on a more fundamental level, and despite the fact that Marx and Marxism owes its origins to a class-based critical reaction to Hegel's idealisation of the state, backtracking on this fundamental truth has been a constant feature of life within the proletariat's own political and mass organisations, from the IWW to the CI, from the Paris Commune to the Russian Revolution and its results, or rather its defeat.

Why is this? Why this constant combat on the question of the state? Why this going over what seems today to be such an elemental position, of what in essence was understood from the very beginnings of the politicised workers movement?

Firstly, and most obviously, because we live, exist, in bourgeois society. The dominant ideas are those of the ruling class, which has every interest in preserving the mythology of the eternal state. We, the proletariat in general, and its political expressions in particular, have to wage a constant fight against the penetration of the dominant ideology. This is a cliché. But a cliché is merely the truth repeated until it's lost its original - living - content. It's still the truth.

In the real movement which has unfolded in front of our eyes - in the history of our movement - this has not expressed itself abstractly but concretely at certain, particular stages, around issues specific to the conditions in which they arose. Thus the ICC's book exposes isolated examples of Marx's own illusions - under the weight of the dominant ideology and the level of development of capital at the time - that in certain countries like Britain or America - the proletariat can actually assume a dominant position through bourgeois democracy, through perhaps elections, without first destroying the state but, instead, through its mechanisms.

However such aberrations - and that's what they were - are far removed from the general line of march of Marxism which defined, refined and honed itself precisely against the incursions of the dominant ideology, and specifically its manifestations within the workers' movement expressed by reformism and anarchism.

Not just against the ideological incursions of capital, of course, which is just one side of what is a social relationship, but in light of the actual movement of the proletariat. Thus the Paris Commune - "the real movement which is worth more than a hundred programmes" - enabled Marxism to become more precise: the proletariat couldn't just take hold of the bourgeois state and use it for its own ends: in fact it was obliged to confront, to smash that state in order to assure its domination over society and effect a social transformation.

Here, in the Commune, despite its limitations in duration, extent and in the material conditions under which it arose, was posed and answered an eminently practical, political question: what is the process through which the proletariat must pass in order to transform its own conditions and those of humanity? The answer was that there is no avoiding a centralised, armed conflict with and against the ruling class's state.

Many more lessons, in embryo, too: concerning the revolutionary 'semi'- state that replaces the bourgeois state: not an end in itself, or even a direct expression of the proletariat, but one over which the proletariat will still have to retain its autonomous, political control, concerning which it would have to lop off its most pernicious expressions. Hence the mass elected and revocable delegates, mandated to carry out specific tasks, as opposed to the former bureaucratic elite answerable only to the national capital's needs. This question would be further clarified in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.

Plus the fact that this experience of the Commune was the result of a war that saw, for the first time, the bourgeoisie of different countries unite against the proletariat: an end, as far as Marx was concerned, to discussions over national ‘defensive' wars, at least in the most developed heartlands of capital, even if the colonial question couldn't at this stage be resolved.

All these issues are touched on by the Marxist currents of the time. Some lessons become more ingrained than others.

However... History is not static. Clarity in the final analysis doesn't depend on abstract will and purism. It's not homogeneous throughout the class, and that goes for its revolutionary minorities.

The Paris Commune ended in a defeat, a bloody massacre, the break-up of the Ist International and a retreat of the workers' movement in general. In addition, bourgeois relations of production were still in the ascendancy: the most dynamic growth of this mode of production was still unfolding.

Thus in the wake of this defeat of the first proletarian attempt to take power, the social wealth generated by a still ascendant mode of production allowed for the further penetration of bourgeois ideas into the workers movement. The lessons of the need to smash the bourgeois state, not to use it to create socialism, were going to have to be restated.

For when the workers struggle re-emerged amidst the apparent flowering of bourgeois political economy, its growth was accompanied by a certain receding of the perspective of revolution itself, the maximum programme, in favour of pursuing the minimum programme, the necessary and possible struggle to ameliorate immediate living conditions, to win the right of a shorter working day, of the right of assembly, and so on. Such concerns weren't a deflection of a revolution that in any case was not on the immediate agenda, but a necessary part of the proletariat's education, its formation as a class, one which was genuinely able to influence affairs in its favour.

Nonetheless such successes came at a price. On the level of the revolutionary perspective, the famous Gotha programme which was meant to found the German SDP sees all kinds of illusions, including the idea that the creation of socialism depends on state-assisted workers' cooperatives. The critique made by Marx and Engels of this proposed programme obliges them to clarify, to deepen the communist programme, to insist that, contrary to its illusions, communism couldn't be declared the day after the revolution, but that a period of transition would necessarily ensue; that the object of communism wasn't the perpetuation of exchange relations, or attaching a value to individual or even collective labour power, and that the statification of capital did not equal its suppression.

In fact, long before the onset of decadence, before the lessons bequeathed by the Russian Revolution and its defeat, we can see that Marxism, from the very beginning, defined the state as the antithesis of socialism, as the expression of a society divided into classes. The capitalist state could neither be ignored nor conquered, was not and is not a tool through which the proletariat could express its revolutionary nature. State socialism is indeed a contradiction in terms, an impossibility.

Today, there are revolutionaries - and many anarchists - who take this to mean that the 19th century struggle for reforms, parliamentarism, the growth of mass unionism and mass proletarian parties was an unnecessary and dangerous detour from the maximum programme. Such views ignore the real, material conditions of the time.

It's necessary not to read back into history: not to parachute our knowledge of the appearance of the weapon of the mass strike and the creation of workers councils or soviets; the bankruptcy of the bourgeois mode of production as evidenced by the First and Second World Wars and the unprecedented economic slump that lay between them , and above all the lessons generated by the revolutionary wave - it's necessary to really understand that these events were not known to the revolutionaries of the 19th century.

We're here talking of a time where, in certain places on the planet, capitalism did not even exist. We're talking of a time when it was by no means certain that the bourgeois, let alone the proletarian revolution would triumph: when feudal political forms and autocratic dictatorship still reigned. A time when, even in those countries like France and Germany where the bourgeois economy was making great strides, the realm of political control was still in the hands of dictatorships such as those wielded by Bismarck or by Napoleon. We're talking of a time when workers were forbidden to combine, to meet, to have their own press or parties, to have their views affect the unfolding of reality through political representation, as well as through economic struggle. A time, in short, when the proletariat was still forging itself and being forged as a distinct class, when capitalism was still laying the basis for communism.

Looking at it this way, what is remarkable is not the insistence of Marxists of the day on the necessity to influence current events by being involved in them, but on their clear-sightedness in insisting that this phase would not, could not last forever, that at a certain stage in the evolution of capital, the proletarian revolution would be top of the agenda.

In his later years, through his study of the Russian question, Marx began to see that not all areas of the globe would necessarily have to go through a bourgeois stage of development, that conditions in the main capitalist centres implied that the time of moving directly to the proletarian revolution and a direct confrontation with the capitalist state was approaching on a global level.

Based on these prophetic insights, based on the actual evolution of the struggle between classes towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, revolutionaries such as Engels, Pannekoek, Luxembourg and Lenin attempted to criticise re-orient the workers movements of which they were part, began to re-assert that the time for winning advancements within capitalist society had to be subsumed into preparations for the coming struggle for proletarian power, a struggle which implied preparations for a direct confrontation with the bourgeois state.

All power to the soviets, not all power to the state: this was the Bolshevik's revolutionary translation of this situation in 1917. The defeat of the revolution proved the point in negative. From that point on, there was no question of state socialism - the discussion was about state capitalism.

KT 28.7.2007

Heritage of the Communist Left: 

Afternoon session: Discussion of 'Why state socialism is impossible'

Within a general agreement that the capitalist state cannot bring about revolutionary change - "revolution is the destruction of the state" - two main areas of discussion emerged:

a) The persistence of strong illusions within the working class about the state as ‘protector' of the proletariat, illusions which found an echo in the meeting itself;

b) What method to use to analyse the aims and means of the workers' struggle in the 19th century and today?

On illusions in the existing state apparatus, one comrade (Devrim, EKS) said there were certainly those who thought that state socialism existed - eg the defenders of Chavez in Venezuela - and the role of the ICC's section there was essential to counter such propaganda by clearly showing the deterioration of the proletariat's actual conditions of life. But more pernicious than the idea that the state can produce socialism is the belief that it can protect the working class, an illusion which is widespread. In Turkey, for example, many workers would currently support the idea of a coup by one faction of the state against another more ‘backward' (Islam-leaning) faction. In areas where there is no strong democratic tradition, the idea of a fight for ‘democratic rights' can be strong.

Other comrades agreed on the persistence of such illusions which had weighed heavily on important struggles such as Poland 1980 (illusions in the democratic state and ‘free' trade unionism as protector against and vanquisher of the Stalinist state) or the struggles of workers in South Africa in 1980/90 which (temporarily) had been derailed behind support of the emerging ‘anti-apartheid' faction of the state (Mandela/ANC). These examples expressed the weight of the general idea that it was possible to reform the state apparatus for the workers' benefit.

In Britain, the mistaken notion of the state as defender of workers' interests was exemplified in the proletariat's attachment to protecting ‘our free' National Health Service (NHS) from cuts in jobs and services, particularly through ‘privatization'. One comrade (DL) who had broken from the Trotskyist milieu said that even if he could be persuaded that defending the NHS was not in workers' interests, many workers would not be easily convinced.

In response, various comrades made the following points:

  • Many illusions within the proletariat on the possibility of steering the state in a more ‘beneficial' direction stemmed from the period in the 19thcentury when the struggle for lasting and meaningful reforms was both possible and necessary. Today, under radically different conditions, and despite the fact that communists like Engels had already begun to denounce the idea of the state taking over the capitalist economy as a progressive measure, the weight of such traditions still hangs heavy
  • The first time the bourgeoisie in GB became really concerned about the health of the working class was during the late 19th century Boer War when workers were not fit enough to fight for their country. In other words, state control of health was linked to the nascent war economy, to the evolution of state capitalism. The provision by the bourgeoisie (as opposed to the proletariat's own self-organisation in the 19th century) of basic health and education services was not for the benefit of ‘the poor' but to defend the needs of the ruling class, and such needs of accumulation change in different periods. In the late 1940s, after WW2, and faced with the necessity of both social control and reconstruction with a programme of full employment, the national organisation of health and education services, as well as production (widespread nationalisations) was an essential plank of state capitalism.
  • Such services are not ‘free': they are part of the social wage - ie they are the product of the collective exploitation of the proletariat and represent that portion of its means of reproducing itself not given directly in wages. One comrade estimated that this ‘free' health service had cost him £70,000 in ‘contributions' taken from his wage packet over his working life, not including dental and eye costs
  • The situation is not static: today it is state capitalism itself that is in crisis, making cuts in jobs and services; mass (if sometimes ‘hidden') unemployment reappears, workers are obliged to pay more for less in health and education while the latter is used as a social tool to ‘mop up' unemployment and turns out ill-trained graduates who struggle to find work, while pensions are also attacked. In Poland and South Africa, the workers are obliged to confront the very ‘reformed' states in which they had illusions. In Britain, where the health sector is the largest employer in the land, cuts are met by almost continual mobilisations of protest, even if these are fragmented region by region, and by trade union sabotage.
  • Thus despite the existing and inevitable illusions, this is a fertile terrain for the intervention of communists if they are able to do so ‘intelligently'. Workers remember the time when they could afford neither to visit a doctor nor receive state education and rightly want to defend their existing provisions. The communists too are against job cuts for nurses, doctors, teachers, but who is making these attacks? Why, it is the employer itself, the NHS, or the state education sector! Workers can't fight effectively if they think the state-boss is on their side. We must help ‘tear the veil' which masks this reality: they can't ‘defend the NHS' but must attack the state of which it is part and which is leading the attacks. Such struggles in the ‘advanced democracies' give an important lead to other areas of the globe.

Comrades perhaps summed up this part of the discussion by saying the ICC's book Communism Is Not a Nice Idea but a Material Necessity addresses the underlying illusion: communism is utopian; we can only make capitalism more humane. This applies to the idea of defending the nationalised health service as being more humane than a privatised one.

The discussion also and inevitably touched on the question of capitalism's different periods - that of its ascendancy and that of its senility or decadence and the different conditions that these epochs impose on the form, content and even the goals of the working class and this was the second major theme examined.

For the so-called ‘anti-state' anarchists who nonetheless are often the fiercest defenders of the NHS and of nationalised rather than privatised companies, such distinctions are meaningless. Even the minority of their number who today denounce unions or parliamentary activity often do so by claiming that work for or within these institutions was always reactionary, thus ignoring the real evolution of capital and the struggles it produced at this or that moment in the past - by dismissing vast swathes of the proletariat's history and political organisation, in effect.

One disagreement which might be said to show the influence of this ‘radical'-sounding rhetoric came in a discussion on the position of Marx, Engels and the IWA concerning the American Civil War in which they - together with large swathes of the proletariat in England - supported the Union of the northern states against the slave-owners of the south. For comrade Devrim this, together with Marx's position on the1871 Franco-Prussian war, was tantamount to communists acting as recruiting sergeants for the bourgeoisie, urging workers to die for their bosses. The correct position was that of the Bolsheviks in 1914: turn the war into a class war - indeed the workers did rise up in 1871 (ie the Paris Commune).

For the ICC and other comrades, it was a question of method, of the actual situation unfolding in front of the communists' eyes, not one of universal panaceas.

In the US civil war it was a question of promoting a revolutionary mode of production - capitalism, which in turn was laying down the material basis for socialism - against the incursions of a retrogressive organisation of society in the form of the slave-holding south.

This historical, dialectical, materialist method was first popularised in The Communist Manifesto which argued that the bourgeoisie was still a revolutionary class which had yet to develop globally. In this sense, genuine bourgeois revolutions and progressive national struggles should be supported by the proletariat and its organisations. The Communist League's debate on the bourgeois revolutions of 1848 drew out the fact that such support should be strictly limited: the working class should attempt to act independently and autonomously within this process: it wasn't a case of uncritically supporting even the most radical bourgeois and petty bourgeois currents. Nonetheless, it remained a question of in which direction did the proletariat's long-term interests lie.

By 1870, there was still only one fully-developed capitalist country on the planet - it was in no way analogous to 1914 and the outbreak of WW1 which showed that on a global level, capital had completed its ‘laying of the foundations' for socialism and had therefore lost any progressive content. However even here, Marx and the 1st International recognised a change in the situation: in their first address to workers at the outbreak of the Franco Prussia war, it was a question of resisting through the friendship of German and French workers, the encroachments of Bonapartism which were seen as a threat to the development of a unified capitalism in Germany. However, once Germany became an aggressor in the war, it was a signal that ‘progressive' wars in Europe were at an end (even if this ‘lesson' was not well assimilated). Underlying this was a method which tried to look at the proletariat's historic, not just immediate interests.

In conclusion, the question is not ‘did Marx and Engels make mistakes' but was their fundamental method of understanding ‘the historic line of march' correct or not? It is only such a method which allows us today, regarding for example China, to understand that recent developments there are not some repetition of early capitalist accumulation, nor even a modern return to such methods involving gross exploitation and the despoliation of the environment, but a very real expression of the fact that state capitalism offers absolutely no perspective for the working class today other than misery and war. This was not the case in the 19th century.

KT, 15/9/07.

Heritage of the Communist Left: 

30 years after the “German Autumn”: state terror yesterday and today

The article below has just been published by the ICC's section in Germany to denounce the arrest and imprisonment in isolation ward of several German intellectuals accused of terrorism and belonging to a so-called "Militant Group".


 

We have just published on our German site an article about the so-called autumn of 1977. That was the time when the kidnapping and the murdering of the president of the employer's federation by the Red Army Fraction (RAF) provided the pretext for a wave of repression unparalleled in post-war West German history. It was a time during which the security forces were let loose to intimidate the population. There were police raids everywhere, entire districts were surrounded, trains stopped in the countryside and passengers obliged to get out by armed policemen. An idea of the atmosphere of fear, hysteria and public denunciation which was whipped up at that time, and of the role that the bourgeois democratic media played in this, can be reexperienced through reading Heinrich Böll's novel "Katharina Blum". The extent to which the kidnapping of Schleyer was merely a pretext for putting on a display of power and justifying new repressive measures became clear soon afterwards when the magazine Stern revealed that the police had known  about Schleyer's whereabouts from a very early stage.

Our article shows that the terrorism of the RAF or the "2nd June Movement" in Germany, or of the "Red Brigades" in Italy, expressed an indignation towards capitalism, but also doubts and even feelings of desperation regarding the revolutionary role of the working class. This led to an impotent, because individualist, revolt against the state, which was basically petty-bourgeois by nature, and which not only did not endanger the upper class but even suited its purposes. The extent to which the ruling class not only used this terrorist rebellion, but was able to manipulate it, was already made clear at the time in a book of one of the witnesses of this movement: "Bommi" Baumann's How it all began. The book explains how the first armed fighters, unsuspectingly purchased their first weapons from the German political police.

The bourgeois class used this generation of "armed struggle" in two ways. For one thing they were used as a bogeyman in order to justify a strengthening of the state which was directed, not so much against "terrorism" as against - in a preventive manner - ones "own" population, above all against the working class. On the other hand these armed groups, as a result of their political confusions, and not least on account of their own impotence were invariably drawn into the power struggles within the bourgeois class (whether the East-West conflict or Palestinian nationalism). In fact, already at that time terrorism was first and foremost a means of imperialist struggle between capitalist states and fractions (IRA, PLO etc.)

How little these two main uses of terrorism by the state - as a weapon of imperialist war and as a justification for repression against the working class - exclude each other, how much on the contrary they complement and mutually enforce each other, is best shown by our contemporary world. Islamic terrorism is, in the first instance, a weapon in the hands of a series of states and cliques against economically and militarily often superior imperialist opponents. But above all it is the "war against terrorism" which, at least since "9/11" has become the war cry of all the leading industrial states of the world. This goes not only for the USA, who most recently used this pretext to justify the invasion and occupation on Iraq. It applies no less to German imperialism which opposed the US-war in Iraq for its own reasons, but justifies its own military operations in Afghanistan, Africa or on the coast of the Lebanon in very similar terms. Regarding the recent enormous strengthening of states vis-à-vis their own populations, which has also of course taken place in Germany it is true that initially the foiling of terrorist attacks from enemy states and cliques was the pre-dominant concern. But the ruling class is fully aware that its natural and mortal enemy is the proletariat. This is its enemy both "at home" and world wide. By contrast, the ruling class has no reserves about getting involved in terrorist activities. It is a well-known fact that the USA originally helped to build up, arm and train Bin Laden's organisation. But the longstanding close ties between German politics and terror groups in the Middle East or on the Balkans, or more recently in Afghanistan, is a subject which would also a be well worth researching.

Six years after the terrorist attack on New York, events in Germany this year have powerfully illustrated the second spearhead of the "war against terrorism" directed against the social front. 30 years after the German autumn we can almost speak of a "German summer 2007". For one thing we have seen how the mostly very young demonstrators, who in Rostock and Heiligendamm demonstrated against G8 and for "a different world", were confronted by open state terror, and thrown into prison. For another thing, the activities of a so-called "Militant Group" (MG) has been the occasion for fabricating a connection between critical, anti-capitalist thinking and terrorism, and for answering such thinking with arrests and imprisonment in isolation cells. This group is supposed to have been involved in damaging property, "symbols of capitalism" such as luxury cars or trucks of the German army.

We do not have any confirmed knowledge about the nature of this group, the public appearance of which remains very foggy. What is clear on the contrary, and very striking is the way in which the state has responded to it. These symbolic attacks against objects have been met with the whole weight and spectrum of the "war against terrorism". We quote from an open letter to the attorney general against the criminalisation of critical science and political engagement, which was drafted August 15th by colleagues in Germany and abroad of one of those recently arrested.

"On 31st July 2007 the flats and workplaces of Dr. Andrej H. and Dr. Matthias B., and five other persons, were searched by the police. Dr. Andrej H. was arrested, flown by helicopter to the German Federal Court in Karlsruhe and brought before the court. Since then he has been held in pre-trial confinement in a Berlin jail. Four people have been charged with ‘membership of a terrorist association according to § 129a StGB' (German Penal Code, section 7 on ‘Crimes against Public Order'). They are alleged to be members of a so-called ‘militant group' (MG). The text of the search warrant revealed that preliminary proceedings against these four people have been going on since September 2006 and that the four had since been under constant surveillance.

A few hours before the house searches, Florian L., Oliver R. and Axel H. were arrested in the Brandenburg region and accused of attempted arson on four vehicles of the German Federal Army. Andrej H. is alleged to have met one of these three persons on two occasions in the first half of 2007 in supposedly ‘conspiratorial circumstances'.
The Federal Prosecutor (Bundesanwaltschaft) therefore assumes that the four above mentioned persons as well as the three individuals arrested in Brandenburg are members of a ‘militant group', and is thus investigating all seven on account of suspected ‘membership in a terrorist association' according to §129a StGB.
According to the arrest warrant against Andrej H., the charge made against the above mentioned four individuals is presently justified on the following grounds, in the order that the federal prosecutor has listed them:

  • Dr. Matthias B. is alleged to have used, in his academic publications, "phrases and key words" which are also used by the ‘militant group';
  • As political scientist holding a PhD, Matthias B. is seen to be intellectually capable to "author the sophisticated texts of the ‘militant group' (MG)". Additionally, "as employee in a research institute he has access to libraries which he can use inconspicuously in order to do the research necessary to the drafting of texts of the ‘militant group'";
  • Another accused individual is said to have met with suspects in a conspiratorial manner: "meetings were regularly arranged without, however, mentioning place, time and content of the meetings"; furthermore, he is said to have been active in the "extreme left-wing scene";
  • In the case of a third accused individual, an address book was found which included the names and addresses of the other three accused;
  • Dr. Andrej H., who works as an urban sociologist, is claimed to have close contacts with all three individuals who have been charged but still remain free;
  • Dr. Andrej H. is alleged to have been active in the "resistance mounted by the extreme left-wing scene against the World Economic Summit of 2007 in Heiligendamm";
  • The fact that he - allegedly intentionally -- did not take his mobile phone with him to a meeting is considered as "conspiratorial behaviour".

Andrej H., as well as Florian L., Oliver R. und Axel H., have been detained since 1st August 2007 in Berlin-Moabit under very strict conditions: they are locked in solitary confinement 23 hours a day and are allowed only one hour of courtyard walk. Visits are limited to a total of half an hour every two weeks. Contacts, including contacts with lawyers, are allowed only through separation panes, including contact with their lawyers. The mail of the defence is checked.

The charges described in the arrest warrants reveal a construct based on very dubious reasoning by analogy. The reasoning involves four basic hypotheses, none of which the Federal High Court could substantiate with any concrete evidence, but through their combination they are to leave the impression of a ‘terrorist association'. The social scientists, because of their academic research activity, their intellectual capacities and their access to libraries, are said to be the brains of the alleged ‘terrorist organization'. For, according to the Federal prosecutor, an association called ‘militant group' is said to use the same concepts as the accused social scientists. As evidence for this reasoning, the concept of ‘gentrification' is named - one of the key research themes of Andrej H. und Matthias B. in past years, about which they have published internationally. They have not limited their research findings to an ivory tower, but have made their expertise available to citizens' initiatives and tenants' organizations. This is how critical social scientists are constructed as intellectual gang leaders."
No less striking is the way in which these events have been reported on in the media. On the one hand this subject has not been widely published. The media is evidently concerned to play things down in order not to provoke a hostile reaction of the population. As opposed to the RAF murders which preceded the "German Autumn" of 1977 the recent attacks against property in Berlin and Brandenburg are hardly suitable for creating an atmosphere of public fear and hysteria. Moreover time has not stood still since 1977. In the epoch of open economic crisis, of massive demolition of social services and of bureaucratic mistreatment in particular of the unemployed population, it is much more difficult to mobilize the population even temporally behind the state (as was revealed soon after the attacks in New York). The concern of the organs of repression seems to be rather to intimidate and terrify those politically searching minorities who have already begun to put bourgeois society in question. On the other hand these attacks, when they are discussed, are regularly connected to a certain "theoretical environment" which is referred to as the "fertile soil for terrorism". The media has frequently referred to "talk about world revolution" as a characteristic of this milieu. There is talk about ominous theoreticians, who as a result of the radicalism of their opinions have to be considered to be "intellectual incendiaries" even when they themselves reject terrorism.

It fits into this picture that the recent wave of police raids in Berlin also hit the Rotes Antiquaritat, which more then any other bookshop in Germany offers the possibility to get to know the ideas and the publications of internationalist revolutionary groups. Here also, the difference in the approach of the bourgeoisie in comparison to the 1970s is striking. In those days the media in Germany or Italy didn't give a damn about the political ideas of the RAF or the Red Brigades. The attacks of these groups were, on the contrary presented as the products of mental illness. It was even proposed to deal with them through brain surgery. At that time most politicized people were very activist and tended to accept the slogans of Stalinism more or less uncritically. What characterises the new generation of today, despite of activist, is a much more critical and profound reflection - something which threatens to become a much greater danger for capitalism. Hence the criminalisation of radical theory.

The reappearance of the practise of attacks against "symbols of capitalism" might seem strange. Even though these present actions are not directed against persons, they show that the lessons from the experiences of the RAF or the Red Brigades have not been, or have been insufficiently drawn. Such pointless acts of desperation are, today also, the expression of a profound indignation against the ruling system. We fully share this indignation, whence our solidarity with the victims of state terror, independently of whether or not they were involved in such actions. But such acts are also the expression of a profound difficulty to understand where is the real revolutionary force within this society. Such a difficulty is not surprising. What characterises the contemporary world, in comparison to that of 1977, is not only the much more dramatic and dangerous dead end which capitalism has lead humanity, but also the fact that the proletariat has to a considerable extent lost its sense of class identity since 1989. However today the world proletariat is beginning to rediscover its own strength. And the political vanguard of this class is beginning to rediscover and to further develop their own revolutionary theory and positions. Part and parcel of the solidarity of the proletariat with the victims of state terror is the struggle to win over the desperate ones to the cause and to the methods of the working class (see the article on our German site)

31.08.2007

Geographical: 

Recent and ongoing: 

Statement of Internasyonalismo to the ICC 17th International Congress

We are publishing below the address sent to the 17th Congress by the Internasyonalismo group in the Philippines, which was invited to send a delegation to the Congress but which was unfortunately unable to do so for various material reasons. The comrades have been in contact and discussion with the ICC for over a year, and have undertaken to develop a left communist presence in the Philippines under the most difficult material conditions. It is thanks to their efforts that the ICC has been able to open its own web site in the Filipino language, and readers can follow and participate in the Internasyonalismo comrades' discussions on their blog.

The Congress strongly welcomed this address. Not only is it an expression of international communist solidarity both to the ICC and to all the other groups attending the Congress, but the reflections that are included in it, notably on the question of the trades unions in countries like the Philippines and on the development of China's presence as an imperialist power in the Far East, were valuable contributions to the work of the Congress as a whole.


Comrades,

(...) For almost 100 years, the workers in the Philippines did not know about the positions of the communist left, and more so, the revolutionaries here were not able to read and study about them especially in the 1920s and 1930s. Now, even though we are very small internationalist communist group in the Philippines, we will try our best to contribute in the collective discussions and debates in the Congress through this text.

We collectively studied and discussed the three draft documents for the 17th Congress. May we present to the Congress the following:

Generally, we agreed with the contents and positions in the three draft documents -- Draft Report on the Class Struggle, Report on the Evolution of the Crisis of Capitalism, Report on the Imperialist Conflicts. The documents are founded on internationalism and the current dynamics of the decomposing system and the class struggles, as well as on the actual interventions of the revolutionary minorities in the world scale. These are consistent with the historical materialist method of Marxism.

Draft Report on Class Struggle

"That with the actual evolution of the contradictions, the most critical question for humanity is the crystallization of a class consciousness sufficient for the emergence of the communist perspective" and "the historical importance of the emergence of a new generation of revolutionaries". (Class Struggle Report for the 16th International Congress)

On the whole, we agree that class solidarity is the most important thing for us as revolutionaries. The maturation of class consciousness can be measured on the level of class solidarity because the latter is the concrete expression of self-organization and independent movement of the proletariat. (...).

What is more important today is to seek ways for class solidarity to rise on the basis of internationalism and independent class movement. But we want to propose to the Congress to highlight the following:

1. The reactionary nature of the unions in the decadent capitalism could hinder the true development of class solidarity on the international scale.

If in the advanced countries the unions (both from the Right and the Left) have been exposed in the eyes of the workers, in the countries where capitalism is weakest the unions of the Left still have strong mystifications on many workers because generally the capitalist bosses are anti-union. For these workers, leftist unions are expressions of militancy and defender of workers' interests even though a growing number from the class are questioning the performance and promises of these leftist unions.

In times of massive struggle, when the workers' assemblies are the appropriate form of class organizations, opening these assemblies to the unions for solidarity is putting to risk the independent struggle of the class and also risking these assemblies to be transformed as tools of the unions, as well as fall victim to the inter-union conflicts of the different leftist organizations.

In the 1970s up to early 80s, the massive workers' struggles in the Philippines were led not by the unions but by the workers alliances constituted in the midst of struggles. The composition of the alliances were unionized and non-unionized workers with the support of the middle class. The unions were with the alliances, but they were not decisive. The non-unionized workers were decisive because they were the majority within the alliances.

But the unions guided by the Leftists were organizing the non-unionized workers within the alliances thus swelling their membership in a few years time. In the next wave of struggle in the mid-80s and until now, the alliances were either transformed into union federations or were placed under the control of the unions.

2. It should be highlighted that hand in hand in seeking class solidarity is the vigilant and timely resistance against any maneuvers and sabotage from the unions within the workers' assemblies so as not to derail the generalization of struggle especially in a situation like in the Philippines where sectarianism and competition within different union federations and different Leftist organizations are acute.

3. In seeking class solidarity, the broad masses of workers should also be made aware about the dangers of unionism just as we are always warning the workers about the dangers of any kind of reformism and leftism.

Report on the Evolution of the Crisis of Capitalism

We fully agree with the analysis of the evolution of the crisis of capitalism. However, we would like to stress the following:

1. That the rise of call center industry is also a manifestation of the crisis in the advance capitalist countries especially the U.S. This outsourcing industry hires hundreds of thousands of young workers both in the Philippines and India. Almost all of these workers are contractual or have precarious jobs and work long hours.

2. China is also invading the Philippine economy, but we are still gathering data of how big it is and if it is supporting a faction of the Filipino ruling class to compete against the political control of the U.S.

Chinese made RTWs, electronic chips and even a multi-billion dollar railway project have entered the country. Many Filipino-Chinese big businesses are investing in China and many government officials from local to national went to China on business observation tour. Most of these officials look up to China as model for development.

U.S. imperialism is well aware of this and it is exerting pressures on the Arroyo government on this matter.

Report on Imperialist Conflicts

This report is comprehensive and detailed. We agree that chaos and barbarism today are getting worse day by day, but the capacity of the international proletariat is not yet enough to stop them and eventually overthrow international capitalism. Thus, there is the urgent need for the communist left world-wide to exert more efforts in their interventions within the proletarian struggles.

With all these reports, there is an urgent need today that all the internationalist communists in the world should coordinate their activities and interventions in the world scale. The proletariat could only hasten its accumulation of strength and raising its class consciousness through the common efforts of the revolutionary minorities in the world. Thus, sectarianism of the other communist left organizations is very harmful to the international proletariat in its combat against its powerful class enemy (...)

For the success of the ICC 17th International Congress,

INTERNASYONALISMO

21 May 2007

Life of the ICC: 

Political currents and reference: 

Belfast 1907: Socialism and mass workers' struggle against religious sectarianism

On the occasion of the centenary of the Belfast summer of working class discontent in 1907, John Gray's account of these historic events - "City in Revolt: Jim Larkin and the Belfast Dock Strike 1907 " - first published in 1985, has been reprinted. Gray is not a revolutionary communist, but a Belfast Librarian, an historian and a trade unionist. At all events he has rendered a great service to the international working class by lifting this struggle out of historical oblivion and making it possible for the present generations to re-appropriate its lessons. The book is all the more remarkable on account of the reproduction of photos capturing the drama and the mass character of these struggle, many of them taken by Alex Hog, a well known Belfast photographer of the time.

Basing itself on Gray's account, this article will attempt to briefly summarise the events and their historical and contemporary significance.

Working Class Belfast

The opening skirmish of the Belfast „summer of discontent" took place at the Sirocco Engineering plant April 26, when non-unionised workers went on strike for higher pay. The company responded with threats to transfer the factory to Germany. The strike ended with the sacking of the "ring leaders" and the workers being obliged to sign a document promising not to join any trade union.

The same day, a spontaneous strike broke out at the coal quay in Belfast harbour over the dismissal of union members. The Belfast branch of the Shipping Federation immediately offered its support to the coal merchant employers. The Shipping Federation was experienced in organising armies of blacklegs and transferring them across Europe. At the moment when the Belfast dispute began, thousands of such strike breakers were finishing off a mass strike in the harbour of Hamburg. Later in the same year, they would leave a bloody trail behind them in Antwerp.

But in Belfast, labour unrest quickly spread to the employees of the Belfast Steamship Company itself - again around the question of unionisation. The union representative on the spot at the time was Jim Larkin, who was later to become famous as a labour leader in Dublin during the Great Lockout of 1913, and as one of the founders of the Communist Party in the United States. Infact Larkin tried to prevent the strike, feeling that it was immature since the workers concerned were not yet organised. The two conflicts in the harbour quickly escalated with the moving in of blacklegs and the locking out of harbour workers by the employers. The strikers chased the blacklegs off the quays, brushing the police aside. May 9 the blacklegs, obliged to take shelter in offshore boats, themselves went on strike and departed for Liverpool. In face of the fierceness of workers resistance, the main employer on the coal quay, Sam Kelly, now capitulated, granting higher wages, and also union recognition to the NUDL - the National Union of Dock Labourers which Larkin was representing. During the ensuing victory march, workers carried Union Jacks (the British national flag) and sang "Britons never shall be slaves."

Thomas Gallaher, owner of a major tobacco company in the city, now intervened in public, criticising that employers had backed off in face of workers resistance, and announcing what he believed to be the real stakes in the conflict: the struggle against socialism and trade unionism. Fresh blacklegs were brought over from Britain. 300 policemen were specially assigned for their protection. They were to be lodged on a ship which would steam out into the middle of Belfast Lough (the bay outside the harbour) each night so that they would be safe from amphibious strikers attacks.

A Mass Movement Develops

At a mass meeting May 16, Larkin linked these struggle to those going on at the same moment in New York and in Montreal, Canada, and to growing unrest in harbours throughout Britain. A dynamic of mass public debate had begun, and that same night a police baton charge was needed to disperse a crown of 2000 workers who were still gathered on the streets. On the same day, Larkin directly challenged Thomas Gallaher, who had called for the unity of all the employers, by holding a lunchtime meeting outside his tobacco factory. The following day, Gallaher sacked seven girls for having attended this meeting. In response, a thousand women employees walked off work and marched to the afternoon strike meeting in Corporation Square. A furious Thomas Gallaher threatened to transfer his tobacco production to Britain. In response to a rumour that shipyard workers were intending to join the dockers in storming the warehouses on Donegall Quay, 200 soldiers were called into the harbour - the beginning of military intervention in this conflict.

May 17, the girls at Gallahers Tobaco were obliged to go back to work - under circumstances which were as unprecedented as they were historically significant. They had been called on by Larkin to join a trade union. Now it turned out that neither the NUDL nor any other union could take on so many new members at one go. Nor was there any financial support available for them. This showed how increasingly inadequate the union form of organisation was becoming in the modern epoch of mass struggle and rapid extension of movements.

Encouraged by the success at Kellys, other coal heavers, dockers and also iron workers came out on strike. In face of general discontent and a growing potential of its spreading, they had their demands quickly satisfied. By mid-June, sailors and firemen were presenting ultimatums to their bosses, iron moulders were out on strike, and the main concentration of workers in the city, those at the shipyards - already heavily involved in solidarity actions with those on strike - were themselves threatening to come out. To this list must be added the many workers who were locked out by their bosses as an indirect result of other strikes, and who were regularly participating in the mass assemblies in the city.

In order to widen and galvanise the strike front, the NUDL under Larkin now put in a general wage increase demand to all the cross-channel operating shipping companies. Many of these enterprises were owned by the big British railway companies, making the whole dimension of the conflict clear, going far beyond the nature of a local dispute. Whereas the local bosses were often inclined to seek a settlement with their employees, the great railway companies openly backed the Belfast Steamship Company, rejecting negotiations and instead calling in a further five hundred troops to guard the quays. The British Army stood arms in hand, faced eye to eye with the Protestant workers of Belfast who - according to loyalist mythology - they were supposed to be defending against the "papist" (i.e. Catholic) workers.

That same day, June 26, the railway workers union - the ASRS - was meeting in Birmingham, where the question of strike action throughout Britain for union recognition was on the agenda. The Belfast strikers had been banking on this strike taking place as a means of spreading the front against the block of the employers - within which the rail companies were playing an increasingly aggressive role. But the ASRS rejected strike action, leaving Belfast in the lurch.

Proletarian Solidarity

By this stage, the massive military presence on the quays was beginning to make the dockers' strike ineffective. With hopes of extending the struggle to Britain dashed, the workers were looking for an alternative response to the increasingly massive and united offensive of the ruling class. The first attempt in this direction was a march of the dockers to the City Hall to pressurise the council chamber (the politicians who ruled the city) who were in session. According to a local press report, they were "marshalled in a long column of fours, and headed by Mr Larkin they marched in military order through the streets gathering an immense crowd at their heels." (Gray. P. 67).

Although the "city fathers" had to admit a delegation of the dockers to their meeting, they refused to make any concessions. But soon, an answer to the army occupation of the quays came from another direction. Towards the end of June, the carters came out on strike out of solidarity with the dockers. These were the workers who picked up the goods which had been unloaded from the ships and brought them into the city on their carts. They thus transferred the conflict from the quays, which could easily be controlled by the military, to the streets of the city. What this meant soon became visible. The first blackleg cart which emerged from the port was immediately surrounded by a crowd of several thousand people - the strikers and their working class supporters from all over the city - who in a kind of spontaneous division of labour either jeered the strike breakers or agitated them to come over to the side of labour. By the afternoon these blacklegs brought over from Glasgow were already asking to be sent home again.

Through the solidarity action of the carters, and of the whole of proletarian Belfast, the workers were able to neutralise the presence of the British Army and give their struggle a new quality. Encouraged by this development, the carters now raised their own demands: a wage rise and a reduction of their working week to sixty hours. The ruling class was taken aback by this development, since it is always difficult for the bourgeoisie to understand the nobility of the class solidarity of the proletariat. The world of a difference between the two classes was well summarised by a spokesman of the employers, who declared: "It is difficult for anyone in our business to conceive why the carters should have thrown in their lot with the dockers who, in my opinion, are an entirely different class of men altogether." (Gray P. 69). The struggle had been transferred to the streets. The streets were ruled by the workers. There were discussions and meetings everywhere. Extension of struggle and of consciousness instead of violent confrontation were the means through which the intervention of the armed capitalist state was counter-acted.

Mass Meetings Against Sectarianism

The movement began with labour disputes mainly involving Protestant workers in and around the port. We have seen the workers celebrating their first small victory by marching under the Union Jack. But we have also seen how these labour disputes became a mass movement involving the working population of the whole of Belfast, facing up together to the might of the British state, the principle world power of the day. With this mass movement on a class terrain, something appeared which had never been seen in Belfast before: a social struggle where workers from the Protestant and Catholic districts fought side by side. With this, a politicisation arose which was not that of British Protestant loyalism or Irish Catholic nationalism, but of the working class itself. On the eve of the twelfth of July, the traditional day of the orange order marches and of sectarian violence throughout Ulster, a mass rally was held in Belfast. Reporting on this event, Police Commissioner Hill commented that "the speakers at the meeting last night did not speak of the strike. They spoke of socialism and generalities." (Gray P.77). The following day, Belfast witnessed the strangest 12th of July ever. Instead of riots and pogroms, strike leaders were getting up in public to defend workers interests against sectarianism.

Infact, already before the July 12 parades, Protestant workers had been writing readers letters to the daily papers taking position against religious sectarianism. One Walter Savage of Ohio Street, for instance, wrote of those: "who have been trying all through this dispute to stir up the old spirit of bigotry and hatred that has kept the labouring classes of this great city so long under the heel of their masters and made them white slaves, and even worse than slaves, for no slave had to work the hours we had to work...from 6 in the morning to 9.30 at night for the first five days in the week and on Saturday from 6 in the morning till 11.30 at night, and a good many of us had to turn out and work a half day on Sundays for the miserable sum of 1shilling...being even deprived of the right of attending our place of worship. I would like to know where the Orangeism or Protestantism of our city comes in? Or what Orangeism or Protestantism has got to do with men fighting for their just rights, when the issue lies not in religion but is a question of bread and butter, and shorter hours and better conditions which we should have had 20 years ago.." (Gray P. 80).

Encouraged by these unprecedented successes, the movement began to employ mass meetings more and more consciously as a weapon against sectarianism. Here is the press report on the declaration, given at the mass meeting at the customs house steps by W.J. Murray, one of the strike leaders, the day after the July 12th loyalist rallies. "They intended to begin a new policy and during the week would hold two meetings daily. At noon each day they would hold a demonstration in that square, and at 7.30 another meeting would be held but in different parts of the city. Hitherto they had held all their meetings at that square, but now they would visit every part of the city and strive to promote a spirit of brotherhood between the Protestant and R.C. workers."

The first of these meetings was held at Tennent Street at the foot of the Protestant Shankill Road on the night of Monday July 15. Two days later, another mass meeting took place at the Catholic Falls Road, where Larkin and the labour leader Alex Boyd from the Protestant districts of the city spoke. A press report of the speech of Boyd tells us: "He was proud of the fact that he could come to Clonard Gardens and address a meeting in his official capacity as the representative of Sandy Row (cheers) and moreover, he was glad to tell them that he saw before him some members of his own constituency." (P. 83)

Here is how John Gray comments these developments in his book.

"The new scheme for meetings could be seen as a logical parallel to the ever-widening theatre of strike activity, but it had an added significance not appreciated at the time. It marked the extension of the movement from one within strictly industrial confines to one aiming at a wider mobilisation. This too was reflected in the rhetoric of the strike leaders who now spoke of a more general social transformation as well as immediate strike objectives." (P. 83).

There were now three mass meetings being held a day, with thousands turning out each time.

Traditional Struggle Forms Becoming Obstacles

By mid July, the crisis was beginning to come to a head. The three main industrial disputes were threatening to paralyse the city. But the hopes of spreading the struggle beyond the city had not been fulfilled. Whole sectors of the working population were reduced to destitution. Many were obliged to go begging in the countryside. Others were admitted to the poorhouses.

In this dramatic situation, the workers looked to the co-operative movement and to the trade unions for support. The Belfast Co-Operative Society was asked to hire its own ships and bring in coal for the workers. But the Co-Op was obliged by its statute to supply its own members first, and soon the coal men were refusing to distribute this coal on the grounds that the co-operative movement was charging exorbitant prices to its working class customers. Trade union funding also failed to alleviate the desperate situation of the strikers, since the whole working class was being reduced to destitution by the long strikes and lock-outs.

At this moment, trade union leaders from Britain arrived in Belfast with the promise of massive material support. But it soon turned out that they had come in order to end the strikes. Despite their rhetoric of solidarity, they set out to break up the strike front piecemeal. Infact, in early July the Belfast Trades Council had to pass a resolution condemning the use of members of the ASRS railway workers union (one of them a branch secretary) as blacklegs on the Belfast quays! Joseph Maddison, president of the Ironfounders Society, alarmed about the state of strike funds, then came to Belfast with an ultimatum. Either the men would accept a one-shilling-a-week increase or forego strike pay. Then the coal men were sent back to work by their union on the basis of an agreement which the strikers did not even support, and which the employers had not even given them in writing.

"Whatever the terms of the settlement, the tactical consequences of the coal men's return were disastrous. For the first time a group of strikers had accepted a piecemeal settlement. Now the dockers and carters were bound to ask should they not attempt to get back while they could. The carters, in particular, had refused generous terms offered at the end of June...precisely because neither offer included the dockers. Larkin and the other leaders had always emphasised the importance of solidarity; Larkin in particular had stressed the value of the sympathetic strike. The strikers had come to understand the principle of "one out, all out" and its corollary "one back, all back". Now the strike leaders, under pressure from the British leaders, had abandoned that principle. More extraordinary and misleading was the attempt to dress up the settlement as a victory (...) Larkin claimed that the coal men were to go back to work next morning with full recognition of their organisation ‘and their demand as to wages conceded‘ (...)The Belfast Evening Telegraph the following day accurately described Larkin's claim as ‘absolutely wrong'." (P. 95).

And Gray continues:

"The same day, Friday 26 July, the mood of false euphoria over the settlement, which was encouraged by all the labour leaders, was given an added boost by a massive demonstration organised by the Trades Council. This showed that the coal settlement was made at a time when there was unprecedented support for the strike movement from all sections of the working class in Belfast. James O'Connor Kessack, a correspondent for Forward, the Glasgow socialist paper, described sitting enthralled in the top of a tram on the Shankill Road as the huge demonstration, two or three miles long, wound past. James Sexton later claimed that 200,000 took part (...) The procession went through the main working-class areas of the city, and in doing so crossed all those sectarian dividing lines that normally so disfigured the life of the city" (P. 96).

Infact, from the onset, the coal men rebelled against the trade union settlement, repeatedly coming out on wildcat strikes and refusing to carry coal to establishments where strikes were still going on.

Belfast and St. Petersburg

Larkin had come over from Liverpool in January 1907 to unionise the unskilled workers of Belfast. According to one popular legend, it was he who instigated the whole class movement there. This is completely untrue. But there is no doubting the devotion of Larkin to the cause of the proletariat, or the positive role he played during the events in Belfast. The fact that even he could be caught up, at certain moments, in the growing logic of trade union containment of workers radicalisation, only goes to show the degree to which this instrument of the class struggle - independently of the will of those involved - was becoming inadequate to the needs of the new period.

Already at the beginning of July, one of the bourgeois newspapers, the Northern Whig, had written that "we are on the eve of an experience something akin to that which has paralysed Russian cities during the past couple of years." (P. 72) This comparison with the mass strikes of 1905 in Russia is very fitting. Both developments were the product of the aggravation of the contradictions of world capitalism, the ripening of the epoch of world war and world revolution. There was also a parallel between Belfast and Russia at the immediate material level: in both cases a very modern and concentrated proletariat working particularly long hours for very low wages. But in Belfast, this extremely miserable situation was not yet typical of the class as a whole in the rest of the United Kingdom, but essentially a product of the local sectarian division within the class. Moreover, as part of the oldest industrial working class in the world, that of Great Britain, the proletariat in Belfast was much more under the weight of trade union traditions than its counterparts in Moscow or Petersburg. We can thus understand that, unlike Russia, there were no workers councils formed in Northern Ireland at the time, and that there were rarely more than a few thousand workers on strike at one go during the summer of discontent.

Nevertheless, the movement in Belfast was an expression of the development of the mass strike as the new form of proletarian struggle in the new epoch of capitalist decline. The most important contribution of 1907 was at the level of public mass meetings as a means of unification of the class.

Religious Sectarianism against the Working Class

Towards the end of July, with the working class, isolated in Belfast, being grounded down in a war of attrition, and being left in the lurch by the very trade unions, the recognition of which it was trying to impose, something happened which took everybody by surprise. July 19 constable William Barrett of the Belfast police refused to sit beside a blackleg driving a motor wagon - and was promptly suspended from duty. On Saturday July 27, over half of the police force of Belfast marched to an illegal solidarity meeting for Barrett at Musgrave Street Barracks - and were joined by thousands of elated strikers.

Of course it was a victory for the workers. The very nature of their movement, its massive and public character, the meetings and demonstrations, the helplessness of the security forces as the workers took control of the streets, the unprecedented situation of unity and not strife between the different working class districts - all of this isolated, disoriented and demoralised the police, turning their own wives and children against them.

But this victory gave rise to a new situation with unprecedented dangers for the proletariat. For one thing it created a vacuum which the workers themselves would have to fill through the establishment of a workers militia. But the masses were too euphoric and their leaders too inexperienced to think of such measures. In the meanwhile, the mob began to creep out of its crevices. For another thing, the alleged breakdown in public order was now used by the British government to justify the military occupation of the whole city, while disguising from the British working class that this move was directly aimed against the proletariat of Belfast.

It is obvious that the ruling class has no interest in a mutiny of its own forces of police repression. But once this mutiny had begun, questions have to be asked about the way it was handled by the British Government. When the question of the police revolt was brought up in parliament in Westminster, the issued was completely played down, and presented as having already been resolved - thus being allowed to simmer on. We cannot exclude that the bourgeoisie, once it was confronted with the unpleasant reality of the mutiny, deliberately allowed the crisis to take its course. At all events, on the dawn of August 1, nine men-of war-ships from the Second Division of the Atlantic Fleet of his majesties government appeared on the shores of Belfast Lough. Four additional regiments of troops were rushed into the city - in all 9,000 troops and 1,000 special police. The next day, the dismissal of Barrett was officially confirmed, six other constables suspended, and 203 others transferred to other parts of the country. Even the local bourgeois press spoke of a "reign of terror".

The workers responded by carrying Barrett on their shoulders from one police barracks to another in a mass demonstration, passing from Protestant to Catholic districts. It was as if they sensed that, with the military occupation of the city, the danger of sectarian violence was back again.

Allegedly sent to restore public order, the army immediately moved to smash the domination of the streets by the carters pickets and their working class supporters. Protestant and Catholic working class districts were equally heavily occupied. By August 8, the army had gained control of the streets. This was the occasion for the Irish nationalist politicians from the Catholic "community", who had been lying low during the strikes, hardly concealing their hostility towards them, to resume their sectarian propaganda.

In face of mounting tensions, the workers movement now made a fatal error. Determined to take the struggle against religious sectarianism to a higher level, it decided to forsake the strict class terrain which had characterised the movement until then, inviting the (bourgeois) political leaders of both communities to address a mass rally August 10. It was the same illusion which is fostered today by the idea that long term peace can be established between the religious communities when the arsons on both sides, the likes of Paisley and Adams, come together to form a government.

The result was that Tom Sloan, the Protestant parliamentary representative invited to speak, stood down at the last moment - leaving the meeting dangerously "unbalanced". As for the Catholic speaker, Joe Devlin, he delivered an inflammatory nationalist speech. He seemed out to provoke a Catholic riot against the army. The Loyalist propaganda, for its part, thankfully seized on this meeting as "proof" that the strike movement had from the beginning been a Catholic nationalist plot.

The next day, the police arrested two drunks fighting on the streets in one of the Catholic districts. Thousands of rioters proceeded to attack the barracks where they were being detained. This was the opportunity the army was waiting for. It invaded the district with 2,600 soldiers and 500 special police forces supported by cavalry, setting the whole district ablaze. The following day, the Gordon Highlanders, traditionally seen as particular friends of the Protestant "community", were set in march through the Shankill Road to the Falls Road. In other words they were seen to be coming straight from the Protestant heartlands of the city to attack its main Catholic ghetto. At 7.25 the riot act was read. Immediately, the soldiers fired up the Falls Road, leaving dead and wounded. The next day, the army withdrew from the area. But not before having driven a wedge between Catholic and Protestant workers. As Gray writes: "All over the city, workers resented the appearance of the Army as a strike breaking force, but otherwise viewed it with very conflicting emotions. Only in nationalist areas was it viewed clearly as a foreign army of occupation. That tendency was exacerbated by the overwhelming level of military force applied to the Falls and one not experienced elsewhere." (P. 144)

At a mass meeting the next day, Larkin declared: "The Lord Mayor invoked the aid of the military with the deliberate intention of sowing seed of dissention among the dockers. The masters rejoiced at the rioting, because it gave them the opportunity of asserting that this was a party struggle. But the cause they were fighting was the cause of the workers against the employers, and Protestants and Catholics were banded together regardless of religion or politics."

That same night, the strikers put up posters all over the city, declaring: "Men of Belfast - don't be misled. The employers of Belfast and the authorities are trying to make the disturbances a party matter, for they know that if they can get the Protestants and Catholics to fight they can beat the workers." (P. 146).

Despite these appeals, this violence spelled the end of the mass meetings with their huge working class, non sectarian crowds which were the backbone of the strike movement - which from then on was doomed to defeat.

Religion and Capitalist Competition

Among the attentive readers of these lines, there may be some who - at least until reaching the tragic end of our narrative - have been asking themselves: Is there not something wrong here? Is this remarkable workers struggle really supposed to have taken place in Belfast? The same Belfast which, over the last century and a half, has consistently been the main bastion in all of western Europe of religious violence and bigotry?

What these events illustrate, is that there is not one Belfast, not one capitalist reality, but two - just as there are two main classes in bourgeois society, each the carrier of a different social principle. The great contribution of capitalism to the advancement of humanity was the creation, for the first time, of a single world economy. In doing so, it liquidated, or at last shook up and connected to the world, all the narrow and parochial communities with their superstition and bigotry, which pre-capitalist class society had brought forth. But it did not do so without reproducing this narrowness and bigotry at a higher level. Yes, capitalism did create a world economy. But it created it on the basis of a world market, on the principle of competition. As such it pitted each plant, each company, each nation state, but also each community and religious group against all the others.

The history of Ireland illustrates well this dialectic. Through a series of "plantations", the English ruling classes attempted repeatedly to eliminate the indigenous population by removing it from the soil. All of these plantations failed, because they were an expropriation to the benefit of a tiny aristocracy which needed the local rural population to work the land for it. The only "successful" plantation was that of Ulster, because there, the pauperised indigenous peasantry was replaced, (although not entirely) not only by absentee landlords, but by a new and hardly less pauperised population brought over in particular from Scotland.

But the success of this operation was inseparably linked to the triumph of the bourgeois revolution in England itself. This revolution was fought out in the name of Puritanism against feudal Catholicism. Its shining shield and sword, Oliver Cromwell, already prepared the way for what was to come. During his military campaign in Ireland, Cromwell committed atrocities on a new scale and of a new quality, leaving behind him a heritage of religious hatred. In England itself, the "Glorious Revolution" ended in a compromise between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, and in the ferocious repression of the lower classes which had taken the biblical millennialism of the revolutionary period literally. Although these layers of the urban and rural poor lost their revolutionary zeal, becoming narrow minded and bigoted, they retained their suspicion towards the "Establishment" and their hatred of Catholicism. The new bourgeois order in Britain was thus doubly happy to get rid of them. This was achieved by sending them to Ulster, where they could be pitted against the Irish Catholic poor (just as, in North America, the puritan communities and sects were originally used to oust and then eliminate the indigenous population).

The industrial revolution in Northern Ireland thus took place in this pre-existing context, and soon reproduced the situation of the countryside in the cities. There, segregated residential patterns had already been established by the mid nineteenth century. From then on, any attempt of one of the two religious groups to spread its settlement beyond its own area was regularly answered by pogroms and house wrecking from the other side. And if, in Belfast in particular, Catholic districts such as the Falls or the Ardoyne were veritable ghettos, the Protestant workers districts such as the Shankill were no less poverty stricken. Daily life on both sides was organised and completely dominated by religion and the clergy, so that ever those employers who were opposed to religious sectarianism, or had grasped that in the long term it would prove economically counter-productive, were more or less obliged to abide by its rules of segregation. The result, from 1832 on, was sectarian rioting at least every decade. The last outbreak of major community violence of this kind before the 1907 summer of discontent had been in 1901.

This violence in turn was used to mobilise the population behind the different competing fractions of the ruling class. The loyalist bourgeoisie taught the "Protestant workers" that their "prosperity" depended on the link with Britain, which they claimed the Irish Catholic bourgeoisie wanted to sever. But in reality, the goal of the latter part of the ruling class at the time was "Home Rule". This meant that the Irish bourgeoisie wanted to participate, as junior partner, in the exploitation of the British Empire.

This is the history and the pre-history of Belfast in the epoch of the rise of capitalism - its local history. And at this level, the city on the Lagan has been one of the most horrific and sordid spots on the face of the earth.

But there is another Belfast, that of the working class, the class of international solidarity. Belfast was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, a great industrial city and seaport, the fastest growing city in the British Isles. Harland and Wolff, with 12,000 employees, was the largest shipyard in the world. A second shipyard, Workman and Clark, with 7,000 workers, was known locally as the "wee yard". The largest Linen Mill and the largest rope factory in the world were also located in Belfast (see chapter one of Gray's book).

Lacking in socialist education, the working class for half a century had been trapped in religious views of the world. But we have seen how the proletarian struggle liberated the workers from this trap, pitting them against world capitalism. We have seen how their exploiters threatened to transfer production to Britain or even to Germany. We have seen how the ruling class was ready to bring in strike breakers from all over Europe. We have seen how the workers learnt to unite in struggle and to consciously and systematically combat the divisions within their ranks. And we have seen how, in this process, the workers began to develop a socialist perspective, and, in so doing, to throw off the dead weight of religion.

Of course it was only a beginning, and the struggles of 1907 ended in defeat. The lessons of 1907 lay buried for decades under the debris of sectarian violence. But the proletarian Belfast, once it asserted itself, never fully disappeared. It re-asserted itself in 1919, during the world wide revolutionary wave of workers struggles, and among the unemployed in the 1930s. Then, as very recently with the postal workers demonstration of 2006, the workers of the Protestant and Catholic districts of Belfast stood together as proletarians.

This is the lesson of 1907, a perspective for how to respond to religious or community division. A perspective for Belfast, for Baghdad, for Beirut, for Bombay, for the whole of humanity, as part of an international struggle of the only class capable of world wide solidarity.

Ted D, September 2007.

Geographical: 

Earthquake in Peru: Capital profits from the destruction

This statement of position about the recent earthquake in Peru was sent to us by a contact in that country. It breathes with indignation about the consequences of this event for the workers and the poor in general, while the reaction of the bourgeoisie has shown all its hypocrisy and cupidity. We fully share the view that capitalism is responsible for these consequences and that only the destruction of this system can allow us to live a truly human life.


 

"It's another test that God above has sent us" (Alan Garcia Perez, president of Peru)

It is perfectly obvious that the bourgeoisie is profiting from this "divine test". In recent months, the Peruvian bourgeoisie has had to deal with millions of militant workers fighting for their demands. These struggles, especially in the mining sector, have shown a high level of proletarian solidarity[1].

In the last ten days, using the regional governments, the provincial bourgeoisie, which has its own particular interests although they are basically identical to those of the national bourgeoisie, had been threatening to paralyse a number of regions. Even certain sectors of the police were threatening to go on strike if their trade union wasn't recognised, and the doctors of ESSALUD (social security) had stopped work since Wednesday morning. Alan Garcia's manoeuvre against the Chilean bourgeoisie[2] had long ceased to have any impact except in the subservient press and the words of intellectuals at the command of the state. A new wave of struggles was threatening to explode on various fronts.

Last Wednesday at 18.40, there was a quake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale about 60 km from Pisco, which is about two hours from Lima. Hundreds of thousands of inhabitants lost everything in 70 seconds, especially in Pisco, Chincha and Ica. These towns were completely destroyed. In Lima, the capital, the shock wave caused considerable damage. The main areas hit were in the north of Lima and in the department of Ica.

The state apparatus seemed to be in total disarray. For hours it did nothing. Neglecting his famous sense of style, President Garcia posed in his office in shirt sleeves, alongside the acolytes he was about to send off to evaluate the scale of the disaster. Nobody could get there by land, since the Panamerican highway was impassable in several places, but a few journalists managed to get to Chincha, Pisco and Ica, the main devastated cities, and immediately began to broadcast their reports. In Ica, the church of My Lord of Luren collapsed, crushing dozens of worshippers in its rubble. In Tambo de Mora (the port of Chincha), the prison walls caved in and 600 prisoners escaped. On Thursday morning, the death toll was already 500, with over a thousand injured. The same day, president Alan Garcia made his appearance, accompanied by the Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo, the army minister Alan Wagner and the president of the Congress Gonzales Posada. During the electoral campaign, the latter had committed himself to reconstructing Ica's airport, a promise which was of course not kept: as a result, aid, which could only have come by air, has still not been able to reach this city.

The first signs of discontent began to be expressed in the population. A few examples of this filtered through despite the chaotic state of information and the grip of the media, showing the real underlying reasons for the disaster: poverty. In the areas of the cities where the main devastation had taken place, the population had built their houses out of mud, and obviously without the least protection against earthquakes. On top of this, many other houses were extremely old and worn and could not resist the quake.

Here is an illustrative example: in Pisco, a town which has a port nearby and a seaside resort for millionaires, Paracas, the impact of the catastrophe was very uneven. The solid buildings and beach villas of the rich stood up to the quake, even though the town of Pisco and the port were totally destroyed. Nature makes no distinctions and accords no privileges; it's the division of society into classes which perpetuates them. It is the poverty provoked by capitalist society which has led to so much destruction, since the poor can never live in solid houses, built with good quality materials and according to plans that take the demands of earthquake zones into account. But the ignominy of capitalism doesn't stop there. The bourgeoisie is already rubbing its hands, thinking about the benefits it can draw from the reconstruction of the country.

The army, which has hundreds of expert building engineers and the heavy materials needed for the job, is for the moment staying in the barracks because financial speculation on the building work has already begun. The various factions of the bourgeoisie are arguing over the contracts. The most significant example was provided by the alliance between the journalist Cecilia Valenzuela and the La Positiva insurance company which wants to reconstruct the region.

Air tickets for this zone have already increased by 400% and Alan Garcia has done no more than protest on the TV, since everyone has to kneel before the rules of the free market. The Credit Bank, headed by Dioniso Romero, has opened an account to hold aid funds for the region, a new source of revenue for a bank which wants to show that it is the best performer in the country, that it has business sense written into its genes. Spanish Cooperation has also made its appearance, as well as Firemen Without Frontiers, in fact the whole edifice of social aid, while central, regional and local government is leaving reconstruction in the hands of private enterprise. But the workers already know that the state, under capitalism, can only be the state of the capitalists.

The UN has already sent a million dollars and the Interamerican Development Bank, which lent 80 million dollars to the Wong corporation with the approval of Fujimori, has only sent 200,000 dollars. The coffers of Caritas have only been opened after some delay. Business has to go on: this is the essential lesson that the local bourgeoisie has drawn from this tragedy.

What we have to draw from it is that while the colossal power of nature can cause a great deal of suffering, the real destructive power resides in the social relations which dominate the lives of millions of human beings. These relations condemn them to live in misery, in the worst possible housing. It is only the disappearance of these bourgeois social relations, the disappearance of capitalism on a world scale, which can allow the whole population of the planet to live decent and human lives. This is the only way we can survive into the future,

H, Lima, 17.8.07


[1] Concerning these struggles, the same comrade has already contributed two articles to our website: https://en.internationalism.org/wr/305/miners-strike-peru, and (in Spanish) https://es.internationalism.org/ccionline/2007/peru_luchas.htm .

[2] The Peruvian state had published a map displaying its claims on territorial waters. The Chilean bourgeoisie took the ball in its court and immediately sent its army to carry out manoeuvres in the north of Chile, on the frontier with Peru. We can see once again that nationalist demands by states are just manoeuvres aimed at prolonging their power at the expense of millions of workers who can be sent to fight against their class brothers in another country. The enemy of the Peruvian workers is the Peruvian bourgeoisie, just as the Chilean bourgeoisie is the enemy of the Chilean proletariat.

Geographical: 

Class struggles in Peru

A comrade from Lima who is corresponding and discussing regularly with our organisation has already sent us an article on the miners’ strike in Peru last April and has now sent us an update with further news of the teachers’ strike there and of workers’ struggles in Chile. We warmly welcome his efforts. It’s vitally important to rapidly circulate information, experiences, lessons regarding the workers’ struggles developing across the world. The contributions by this comrade are an example which we can only encourage. The article that follows is based on a number of texts written by the comrade. It was written before the terrible earthquake which “benefited” the Peruvian bourgeoisie by breaking the dynamic of the social struggles that had been spreading throughout the country (see this article   where the same comrade describes the way the Peruvian bourgeoisie tried to take advantage of the misery caused by the quake).

The social situation in South America is more and more marked by the development of workers’ struggles. In Chile over the past year there have been numerous strikes in the copper mines, which provide 40% of world copper production. This indicates the importance of this sector in a country where the working class is seeing a very brutal deterioration in living and working conditions. It’s difficult to obtain precise information about these movements because there is a media black-out. But we do know that the unions have organised the division between the workers of the state enterprise CODELCO and the workers of the soustratantes, who earn a third of the wage for the same work. The same goes for divisions between strikers and workers still at their jobs. The strike lasted 38 days up till July and ended with promises of improvements in contracts for the ….workers, without any real change in their status, which was their main demand.

The strike in the mines in Peru

In Peru, in April, a strike beginning in the Chinese enterprise Shougang extended to all the mining centres in the country. The unions have played their reactionary role to the full; in the country’s most important mine, Yanacocha (a gold mine near Cajamarca in the north of the country, producing between hundred and a thousand million dollars worth of gold each year), the unions entered into private talks with the bosses and didn’t resume the strike.

In Chimbote, where there was also a strong movement among peasants and the unemployed, the Sider Peru enterprise was totally paralysed. The miners’ wives demonstrated alongside them as well as a large part of the town’s population. In Ilo and Cerro de Pasco, the roads were blocked. In the latter 15 miners were arrested, accused of throwing stones at the regional government’s headquarters. The bourgeois press rushed to declare that the strike had been a failure. They quoted the minister of this sector, Pinilla, who said that only 5700 miners were on strike when the real figure was more like 120,000.

In the mountains around Lima, the miners of Casapalca locked up the mine’s bosses who had threatened to sack them for abandoning their posts. The minister declared the strike to be illegal because they had only given four days warning instead of the five required by law. He threatened to sack all the workers who continued the strike.

Students from the University of San Marcos de Lima expressed solidarity with the miners and brought food to their “collective kitchens”, a practice which was common to all the strikes in Peru, whether by teachers, nurses or miners. Sharing food with strikers’ families also made it possible to exchange experience and collectively analyse the struggle on a day-to-day basis.

It is very significant that this unlimited national strike took place after 20 years of social peace in this sector. 

Teachers’ struggles in Peru

On 19th June,  a leader of the teachers’ trade union, Huaynalaya, called for a national strike, and this call had an echo across the country. Huaynalaya was seen by the press as being in opposition to the majority of the teachers’ union, the SUTEP, which has a somewhat pro-Chinese orientation along with the “Red Motherland” party (Patria Roja, a party of the left wing of the bourgeoisie).

On 5 July the union joined the strike anyway.  Previously, influential journalists had been denigrating the movement. The position of the press could hardly have been clearer. The teachers were described as being responsible for their own intellectual shortcomings and were accused of “cultivating strikes”, depriving the children and teenagers of the nation of precious days of their studies. It has to be said that this argument is a bit contradictory. How can these days of studies be so precious when the people doing the teaching are so incompetent? Basically the press was afraid that the pupils would come out onto the streets to support the teachers as they had done in 1977, an experience which gave rise to a new generation of militants, many of whom turned to armed struggle.

The Minster of Education himself told the journalist Palacios that there were only 5000 strikers out of the 250,000 teachers employed by his ministry. Later on he had to admit he had made a “mistake”. The mobilisations spread across the country: to Juliaca, Puno, Ucayali, Ayacucho and Huanuco. The teachers were also supported by the population as had been the case two months before during the miners’ strikes. However there was very little coordination among the most combative sectors, capable of drawing a balance sheet of these experiences. The unions remained in control and were a real obstacle to the movement of the workers.

Reflections on the current struggles

The current struggles in Peru, which have covered the whole country, are the fruit of a confluence of events which have their origins in two sources of discontent. On the one hand, regional demands, in particular in Pucalipa where the town was taken over and isolated for over 15 days, and, on the other hand, the strike of the SUTEP which began on 19th June by teachers opposed to the orientations of the Patria Roja party, and later joined by the whole of the union, bringing in the majority of the 320,000 teachers of Peru from 5 July onwards.

This mobilisation, mixed up with regional demands, which were very varied and generally highly localist, gave rise to a huge mass reaction across the country. The number of injuries and arrests remains unknown, and occupations or burnings of local headquarters, as well as confrontations with the police, took place in all areas. On 9 July, the minister admitted that there were still 75 unresolved conflicts, which means that there were no doubt a good deal more.

The current struggles, despite the violence they have unleashed, don’t contain the perspective of an autonomous struggle of the proletariat, fighting for its own objectives and its own programme. The proletariat at the moment is dominated by the interests of the local bourgeoisie and its numerous petty bourgeois allies (intellectuals, journalists…). The proletarians who intervene in these movements need to create nuclei that can draw the lessons and facilitate the autonomy of the struggle, which is the only path that will enable the working class to get rid of the capitalist system and all its misery, death and destruction.

Lima 9.7.07       

Geographical: 

Recent and ongoing: 

ICConline, October 2007

Icconline, October 2007.

EKS leaflet: The Agenda of the Turkish Bourgeoisie: War, Terror, Chaos and Barbarism

We are publishing below the text of a leaflet that we have just received from the comrades of the EKS in Turkey, taking position against the threat of war on the border with Iraq.


Once again, the upsetting news of more workers' children being sacrifices for the  brutal war in the South East came. The bourgeoisie and their media started screaming for more blood and chaos as always. As a result, people are now looking for "terrorists" in the street. But why did this happen?

Because the bourgeois state is in a state of crisis which hasn't been openly apparent for a long time. The economic reason at the bottom if this is the fact that the workers in Turkey have no more blood for the bourgeoisie to suck and if that isn't enough, as in the Turkish Airlines yesterday and more strongly in Türk Telekom and Novamed strikes today, they are beginning to resist. Increasing international debts and capital which is becoming more and more fictitious is getting more fragile on the "money market" as it is loaded on workers' backs. The bourgeoisie is pumping racism to continue this situation, thus Kurdish workers are exploited for a cheaper price and Turkish workers are left to miserably degenerate in the streets. The political consequence of this situation is the battle cries we always hear which aren't a solution to anything. The ideological walls of the bourgeois state are cracking every day. The more the outrage workers live in becomes questionable, the more capital will push society into degeneration, decay and decomposition and loses it's social validity which gave it it's meaning in the first place. The response of the bourgeois politicians to the latest massacre is the following.

For the nationalist wing of the bourgeoisie, the issue is, as always, the "conspiracy" organized by the United States. According to them, if the Turkish Armed Forces invade Iraq, "terror will be eradicated". In reality, only three years has passed since the United States itself wanted working class boys from Turkey to go fight other workers in Iraq, however the Turkish bourgeoisie was unable to do this because of their inability to convince workers to go to war and because of their incapability and weakness. The truth is that the Turkish bourgeoisie has always aligned itself with the United States and the Turkish Armed Forces are standing ready to kill workers in Lebanon and Afghanistan if necessary. Thus, contrary to the lie the nationalist wing of the bourgeoisie is trying to make workers believe, there is no conflicting interests between them and American imperialism, quite the contrary there is common interests and the Turkish Armed forces are armed executioners of this alliance. What is more is that not only will any massacre to be done in Northern Iraq will cause more soldiers to die and more "civilians" to be forced into concentration camps and massacred in battlefields, but also it will be countered with more bombs exploding in major cities.

The Islamic and liberal wing of the bourgeoisie is unreliably approving the war with as always. Of course the fact that they have doubts about how the "operation" will take place is only an expression of them trying to get the permission they are trying to get from the United States. For this, they have no other choice but to wait "patiently" to have a compromise with Barzani and Talabani and to massacre the workers in the living sites they'll point to.

As for the left wing of the bourgeoisie, they aren't doing anything other than whining from their high rostrums. Of course they are not interested in hunger, misery, poverty and death of workers. They are bending their rhetoric more and more in front of their masters to protect their position. In short, they prove the pointlessness of the parliaments to us again.

As a result, workers in Turkey too are pulled in the dead end of the the cycle of more war, destruction, terror and chaos that is awaiting the Middle East by the bourgeoisie who neither cares about their lives nor their deaths. Because capitalism can only postpone the execution of  it's unsolvable crisis by dragging humanity into more destruction.

The response of the proletariat keeps enlightening the way forward as we saw in the Telekom strike. A single strike which has been going on for only several days was enough to make the bourgeoisie tremble. Only if workers enter into solidarity with their class to spread those struggles and if workers say no to war internationally can the capitalist massacre be stopped. The way to stop the war and the massacres is not to deepen and widen them but to build class solidarity across borders which reaches every military battlefront. The enemy is not class brothers and sisters in other countries but the capitalists right here, sitting in their warm houses!

Geographical: 

Political currents and reference: 

Recent and ongoing: 

Philippines: a microcosm of the class struggle world wide in MEPZA

We are publishing below extracts of an account sent to us by the comrades of the Internasyonalismo group of workers' movements that have taken place over the last few years in the MEPZA[1] industrial zone. Although only a few hundred workers were involved in the events described here, they reveal in microcosm the problems confronting not only the 40,000 workers in MEPZA but by millions of workers world wide, from the maqiladora on the US-Mexican frontier to the factories in China's "special economic zones".

"Company A is a Japanese-owned manufacturing company operating inside MEPZA. At present, it has more than 1,000 workforce the majority of whom are women.

In 2004 the Company, which was then operating under a different name, informed its workers, at first through individual memo, that the Company was already under a new owner and consequently, it will change its name to ‘Company A'.

The workers were then told to submit their individual resignation letter effective immediately and that they would be paid off their last salaries and benefits. But the Company assured them that they would be automatically absorbed and continue their jobs as newly hired workers under ‘Company A' (which means that their length of service will start from zero).

A group of workers questioned the scheme implemented by the Company. On the one hand, the group contended that the scheme is just a mere changing of Company's name and should not automatically cut-off their length of service and to start again from zero because the Company, still under the same Management, was not able to show them any proof, written or otherwise, of buy-out and or changed ownership.

On the other hand, the group also reasoned out that granting there was really a buy-out and ‘Company A' was a new Company, the Labor Code of the Philippine State explicitly requires the old Company to pay the length of service of the affected workers (which is one month salary per year of service) upon termination of their services prior to their transfer or absorption by the new Company.

Some of the workers were in touch with the Partido ng Manggagawa (Labor Party), which advised them to organize a union in the company with a view to engaging negotiations with management on the basis of the Philippines Labor Code.

When a general meeting of employees was called by the Company, members of the group argued openly against the "buy-out-automatic absorption" scheme which prompted the Management of the Company, after the said meeting, to call individually those members of the group who have spoken for a closed door meeting and were separately asked if they have formed an organization or a union which was flatly denied by said members. Sensing potential opposition, the Company fast-tracked the implementation of the said scheme and it has succeeded. 

Generally the workers reacted to the scheme introduced by the Company but because of the "automatic absorption", they were reluctant to struggle because it was not yet the end of their jobs after all. Also generally the MEPZA workers have negative sentiments with regards to unions and unionism in general not only because attempts in the past by labor federations to organize unions inside MEPZA were unsuccessful, but because unionism in general was useless  in the defense of workers' jobs especially at present with the contractualization scheme introduced by the capitalists in order to survive its crisis.

Some of the workers from the original group resigned from the Company while others remain in their jobs to this day.

Early in 2007, rumors of a plan by the ‘Company A' management to change the Company's name again circulated among its workers. The remaining members of the group described a generalized feeling against this plan among their co-workers and a willingness to stage a strike.

‘Company A' Management denied that there was any plan to change the Company's name and claimed that this was only a rumor created by the Mass Media. With the Company's denial the combative sentiments of the workers have fizzled out for the time being.

========

‘Company B' is a family corporation owned by Cebu-based capitalists engaged in food processing with Visayas and Mindanao Islands as its market. It has a present workforce of more or less 80 regular workers and more than 200 contractual workers.

In 2004 the Company reduced the working days of its regular workers particularly in the Canning Department (about 60 of them) from six days to three days a week. The reason according to the Company was that the volume of their import of beef from Australia was reduced by the Philippine State because the Company did not meet the manufacturing standard set by the State. The Company, though, assured the affected workers that the scheme was temporary as they were working out their deficiency to recover the normal volume of imported beef.

This assurance proved to be a hollow relief to the affected workers. It was already hard for them to make do with their six days salary and still more so with three days! To compensate for the three days that they were out of the production, the Company offered to reassign them in the construction of additional buildings within the Company premises. From three days working inside the air-conditioned Canning Department they spent the remaining three days laboring outside under the scorching heat of the sun! And worst, after three days in the department, and there were still available raw materials (beef), they still continued working outside and the contractual workers took over the remaining three days in the department. And this so-called temporary arrangement lasted for over a year.

Sensing that a return to their six days work in the Canning Department was nowhere in sight due to the continued hiring of contractual workers, eight of the affected workers decided, in this same year, to file a labor case in the NLRC[2] but after the time-consuming legal processes, and a year of waiting, they were informed not by the NLRC but by the Company that the case was dismissed.

In 2005 the regular workers who had filed the NLRC case decided to try to form a Union.

After hurdling the legal processes of organizing, the minority workers from the canning department, who formed the Union, was able to convince other regular workers and garnered a majority votes among the regular workforce of the Company during the Certification Election.

The Union then entered into a round of bargaining with the Company for an agreement with regards to wages and benefits that lasted for a year and finally concluded a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the Company last May 2007.

With the CBA existing and initially implemented, the Company then revised its Company Rules and Regulations (CRR) and putting in place provisions for strict penalties for violations committed by the workers and simplified the Company's lay-off procedures.

At the first wave of the implementation of the CRR, some members and an elected Union officer were suspended and one delegate was sacked. When the officers complained, they were told by the Company to channel their complaint to the grievance hearings as part of the provisions of their CBA. Grudgingly, the Union officers submitted their complaint to the long-drawn grievance process while the affected workers, especially the sacked official, had to scavenging for any jobs they could get to feed themselves and their families."

Those workers who had joined the union expressed a good deal of skepticism that this would lead to anything, and especially not the reinstatement of the sacked worker. Feeling that if they did nothing but wait tamely for "due legal process" they would merely invite further lay-offs and repression, they began to put pressure on the union to call a strike. The union, however, was reluctant to act: "Firstly, the Union was bound to the CBA and to the Labor Code of the Philippine State and basing on the latter, the issue of the sacked officer was inadequate grounds for a strike and staging it would be illegal.

Secondly, even if the union will decide to go beyond the bounds of the CBA and the Law in staging the strike, still, it will contend with the numbers for it to be effective. Union membership was only 40 regular workers and being a in Union itself has an isolating effect from non-union workers. Non-unionized regular workers (about 40 of them) said that the issue at hand was only the concern of the unionized workers while the contractual workers (more than 200) contended that it was only for the unionized and regular workers. These divided sentiments have been maintained and reinforced by the Company in the formulation and implementation of its policies towards the workers".

Conclusion

What lessons can we draw from these events?

First of all we must say that the class instinct of the most militant workers was absolutely correct. Against intimidation and victimization of individual workers (especially those singled out as leaders and "trouble-makers") by the bosses, there is only one protection: a collective reaction of solidarity. This collective reaction does not happen by spontaneous combustion, it is a conscious effort, a real expression of class consciousness: this was understood by the ‘Company A' workers who organized several discussion meetings with their colleagues before confronting the management.

Why then was the formation of a union branch such a failure?

One thing comes through clearly from this account: no matter how honest and combative its individual militants (such as the laid off worker at ‘Company B'), it is the very purpose of the union that renders it not only useless but downright damaging to the workers' interests. The union orientation, as we can see from this account, is one of negotiation within the legal framework of the capitalist state by relying on the state's own labor laws. In other words, the workers are supposed to rely on the legal protection offered by the bosses' state... against the bosses. This comes down to fighting with one hand tied behind your back, since when they find the law inconvenient the bosses simply rewrite it - whether on a small scale in the ‘Company B' factory where new rules and regulations immediately reduced to nothing any advantages the workers thought they might have gained from the CBA; or on a larger scale, by changing the law as the Thatcher government did in Britain when it outlawed sympathy strikes.

As the Internasyonalismo comrades point out, not only were union legal tactics shown to be useless in defending workers' conditions, the union itself was worse than useless: far from uniting the workers it introduced a new division among them. At the ‘Company B' factory, not only were the workers now divided between contractual and regular workers, the regular workers themselves were now divided between unionized and non-unionized. At the back of this division lies a long-standing distrust for the unions among Filipino workers, a distrust grounded in the fact that the unions (generally tied to one or other of the leftist political parties) simply use their members as cannon-fodder in their own struggles for influence within the bourgeois political system. This situation dates back at the very least to the end of World War II, when rival unions were formed to dragoon workers into support for this or that imperialist camp (pro-Chinese, pro-USSR, or pro-US).

How are we to confront this situation? How can the workers build up their collective strength in order to defend themselves against the capitalist class?

We have to be clear that there is no such thing as a "Left Communist tactic" which works, against a "Trade Union tactic" which does not. The question is not one of tactics but of politics. Union politics means tying the workers to the legal framework of the bourgeois state, communist politics means encouraging everything that can develop the workers' confidence in themselves, their sense of solidarity as members of one class, with the same interests, and their ability to organize themselves in struggle.

The context of the events in MEPZA is not untypical. On the contrary, the tendency towards precarious working, towards dividing workers between regular and contractual, to splitting up large companies into smaller work teams or outsourcing work to a multitude of small contractors - all this is an integral part of capitalism today, and it serves capitalism both from the narrow economic and political perspective and from the broader political perspective of its struggle against the working class.

Consequently, the first struggle the workers have to wage is against atomization, against division, for the integration of as many workers as possible into the fight. This is above all a political struggle, since it means developing our understanding of the general political and economic context within which the fight takes place as well as the organizational methods with which it must be waged; it means learning the lesson from other workers' struggles around the world as to how to organize, how to judge the balance of class forces, how to avoid the bourgeoisie's provocations when these can only lead to defeat, how to extend the struggle as widely as possible when it is undertaken.

How are the workers to make this judgment for themselves? This can only be done if the workers are able to act collectively: if they can meet together, debate together, and determine their action together. It is necessary for all the workers together to hold general assemblies where decisions can be taken. The decision may not always be to start or to continue the struggle, it may be that the workers consider that the time is not ripe or that they do not have sufficient strength - but the very fact of making these decisions together as a collective body will strengthen their class consciousness and their confidence in themselves. Clearly, in conditions of repression like in the Philippines, organizing the assembly will not be an easy matter - but we can rely on the ingenuity of the workers to consider how it can be done.

The working class is the first in history to be both an exploited class and a revolutionary class. Because it owns nothing, its only strength in this society is its consciousness and its organization.

Revolutionaries cannot make the class struggle happen by sheer willpower: if the workers themselves are not ready to struggle, then they cannot be forced to do so. You cannot replace the workers' will to struggle with artificial campaigns, on the contrary these can only divide the revolutionaries from the workers and the workers among themselves. But if revolutionaries cannot "create" the class struggle, we can and must prepare for the massive struggles to come. We can and must help to prepare the conditions for the struggle to be as powerful and as self-aware as possible when it does break out.

It is to answer this necessity of the class struggle that the ICC has always encouraged, pushed for, and taken part in where possible, the formation of workers' discussion groups and struggle committees bringing together workers from different workplaces and different companies. Such groups are not permanent organizations - they come and go depending on the needs of the struggle. But they can provide a means for the most combative workers to overcome their isolation, develop their reflection, and their understanding of the situation confronting them. They are a means of preparing for the mass struggle to come.

ICC, 15/10/2007



[1] MEPZA - Mactan Export Processing Zone. Comprising of hundreds of companies mostly foreign-own and for export. MEPZA has an estimated total workforce of more than 40,000. Given the political conditions in the Philippines, we have not revealed the names of the companies at which the events described here took place.

[2] NLRC - National Labor Relations Commission

Geographical: 

Political currents and reference: 

Recent and ongoing: 

ICConline, November 2007

ICConline, November 2007.

In defence of the Russian Revolution, internationalism is not negotiable

Ninety years on from 1917 we are publishing an extract of correspondence on the degeneration of the Russian revolution. An essential part of our defence of the Russian revolution is to draw a clear class line between the revolution and the Stalinist counter-revolution which abandoned the internationalism that the Bolsheviks had based themselves on. This line has already been drawn in blood by the counter-revolution through the massacre of Bolsheviks in the Stalinist camps.

We are publishing here only an extract of the much longer correspondence from our reader, sent to us at the end of last year, which tries to take position on the ICC's basic positions to provide a basis for discussion, taking up the issues that we felt were most important to reply to.


Dear Comrades

Please find below my comments and observations on the Basic Positions defended by the ICC:

The International Communist Current defends the following political positions:

* Since the First World War, capitalism has been a decadent social system. It has twice plunged humanity into a barbaric cycle of crisis, world war, reconstruction and new crisis. In the 1980s, it entered into the final phase of this decadence, the phase of decomposition. There is only one alternative offered by this irreversible historical decline: socialism or barbarism, world communist revolution or the destruction of humanity.

I agree that capitalism has been decadent since the turn of the 20th century and this placed the possibility and need for world socialist revolution on the agenda. I agree that capitalism cannot go on for ever and in the absence of revolution it has started to enter decomposition which starts to erode the materialist basis for proletarian revolution. I agree with the urgent need for world proletarian revolution.

I do not understand nor necessarily agree that decomposition is in some way linked with the collapse of the regimes in eastern Europe and Russia in 1989-91. How? Why? Also, you are opposed to ‘stalinism', but at the same time you see the collapse of ‘stalinism' as representing a major defeat for the working class, from which its combativity is only just re-emerging. How can the collapse of something you regard as anti working class represent a defeat for the working class?

* The Paris Commune of 1971 was the first attempt by the proletariat to carry out this revolution, in a period when the conditions for it were not yet ripe. Once these conditions had been provided by the onset of capitalist decadence, the October revolution in 1917 in Russia was the first step towards an authentic world communist revolution in an international revolutionary wave which put an end to the imperialist war and went on for several years after that. The failure of this revolutionary wave, particularly in Germany in 1919-23, condemned the revolution in Russia to isolation and to a rapid degeneration. Stalinism was not the product of the Russian revolution, but its gravedigger.

I agree the Paris Commune was the first proletarian revolution and that it established a workers' state, the form and content of which was highly valuable and instructive. I agree the 1917 Revolution was the second major attempt at a proletarian revolution. I agree the failure of the revolutionary wave condemned the regime in Russia to isolation.

I disagree with the statement after ‘isolation'. The regime was the product of the 1917 proletarian revolution and the circumstances in which it found itself. There were three broad choices: the ultra left revolutionary catastrophist variant whereby an isolated proletarian bastion would be overwhelmed by internal and external factors; the rightist accommodation whereby capitalism would be encouraged rather than suppressed in Russia, given the conditions for socialism were ‘premature'; a ‘centrist' policy whereby the proletarian party and leadership ‘did what it could' to establish and defend a proletarian state and economy in almost impossible circumstances. What would you have done? What should the regime have done? Give up via choices one and two?

I agree the result was the creation of a ruling and privileged caste which became divorced from the masses and in effect became a ruling class. But I believe this was born from a proletarian core leadership which was determined to try and build what it could of a socialist state and economy in the absence of world revolution, or at least revolution in the ‘advanced' capitalist countries. Socialism in one country is of course not sustainable long term, hence the accommodation of successive leaderships to world capitalism through the adoption of capitalist economic policies and methods, which ultimately undermined whatever socialist bases had been created and ultimately led to their rapid collapse.

It seems to me that if you support the 1917 Revolution as proletarian, you have to have a view as to what the post 1917 regime should have done given the reality of the situation and the fact that it was born of the proletarian revolution. If, at a certain point, you would (with the benefit of hindsight) withdraw support for the regime (when?), you must be able to identify what alternatively the regime should have done to merit continued support.

* The statified regimes which arose in the USSR, eastern Europe, China, Cuba etc and were called ‘socialist' or ‘communist' were just a particularly brutal form of the universal tendency towards state capitalism, itself a major characteristic of the period of decadence.

Not sure I can agree. My interpretation is that they were the product of the 1917 revolution and the attempt to build socialism in Russia in the 1930s via collectivisation and industrialisation. I am not sure I even hold they reverted to capitalism as such. From the mid 1950s, all the regimes increasingly adopted capitalist methods and economic policies which undermined the state ownership of productive resources and led ultimately to the collapse and sweeping away of those regimes 1989-91.

To equate them with the tendency towards state capitalism in the ‘advanced' capitalist countries seems to be comparing apples with pears. They would not have collapsed so easily and completely in 1989-91 if they were simply a different version of what prevails in the West.

* Since the beginning of the 20th century, all wars are imperialist wars... The working class can only respond to them through its international solidarity and by struggling against the bourgeoisie in all countries.

* All the nationalist ideologies - ‘national independence', ‘the right of nations to self-determination' etc - whatever their pretext, ethnic, historical or religious, are a real poison for the workers. By calling on them to take the side of one or another faction of the bourgeoisie, they divide workers and lead them to massacre each other in the interests and wars of their exploiters.

Totally agree with both. We are members of a world working class and have no interest whatsoever with the killing of fellow workers anywhere, let alone on behalf of our class enemies in the bourgeoisie....

I hope this letter is useful in setting out ‘where I am coming from' and that it may provide a basis for further discussion and clarity.

All best wishes, A


Our reply

Dear Comrade A,

We were very glad to get the recent two letters you sent responding clearly and honestly to our basic positions in the attempt to develop a political discussion between us. We are very glad that you see the ICC and the tradition of the Communist Left as a reference point for revolutionary politics today. This reply is intended to continue this process even though we won't be able to take up all the points you make. We were struck in both letters by your clear denunciation of nationalism in concert with our own intransigence on this question.  You agree for example in your November letter with our editorial in IR 127: 'imperialism is the natural policy carried out by a national state or organisation that functions as a national state. ...The more the workers are sucked into nationalism, the more they lose their ability to act as a class'. And again in your commentary on our basic positions from December you totally agree with the following point: 'All the nationalist ideologies - 'national independence', ' the right of nations to self determination' etc - whatever their pretext, ethnic, historical or religious, are a real poison for the workers. By calling on them to take the side of one or another faction of the bourgeoisie, they divide workers and lead them to massacre each other in the interests and wars of their exploiters'. As you say on this point: we are members of a world working class and have no interest whatsoever with the killing of fellow workers anywhere let alone on behalf of our class enemies in the bourgeoisie.

We were therefore surprised to see that you disagreed with the formulation in the section in the basic principles on the Russian Revolution to the effect that the isolation of the revolution led to its rapid degeneration and that Stalinism was not the product of the Russian Revolution but its grave digger. You believe instead that the Stalinist regime was in continuity with October, and despite all its weaknesses did what it could to preserve its gains in almost impossible circumstances; there was no other realistic alternative. But 'socialism in one country', the banner of Stalinism, was only one more variety of 'all the nationalist ideologies' that you join us in denouncing in our basic positions. It buried the internationalist promise of the October Revolution and led the workers, on the basis of this variety of nationalism, into the fratricide of World War 2 - 'the great patriotic war' according to Stalin.

We think there is an important contradiction here that needs explanation.  There is surely a deep inconsistency between defending internationalism intransigently on the one hand and on the other hand taking the poison of nationalism when it is served up with a 'socialist' sweetener. The October revolution was conceived by the Bolsheviks and the Marxist left as a product of an international ripeness of the conditions for a proletarian revolution. The Russian bastion of 1917 could only therefore be a stepping stone to the world revolution. This position was entirely consistent with the revolutionary marxist claim since 1847 (Engels: Principles of Communism) that socialism as a new mode of production and society was impossible in a single country and was only possible after the defeat of capitalism on a world scale. In contrast, the increasing sabotage of the world revolution by the Stalinist regime in the twenties (Germany 1923, Britain 1926, China 1928, etc) helped turn the Communist International into the spearhead of Russian national and imperialist interests. In the thirties this counter revolutionary process was completed when Russia joined the League of Nations and entered into the inter-imperialist manoeuvring that led to the massacres in Spain and those of 1939-45.What else could be done in this situation?

You say in your December letter that you very much welcome  the continuity between  the ICC and 'left fractions which detached themselves from the degenerating Third International in the years 1920-30, in particular the German, Dutch and Italian Lefts' as it says in our basic positions. But these lefts were the most intransigents opponents of Stalinism. They were part of the internationalist oppositions to the counter-revolutionary nationalist orientation policy in the International and its constituent parties. These oppositions were eventually expelled and often physically liquidated by the Stalinist regime. Rather than preserving this real proletarian core of the revolution, patriotic Stalinism obliterated it, especially its most dedicated internationalist fighters - and had to - since all trace of internationalism had to be removed in the nationalist march to imperialist war. Certainly at a certain stage after the Russian revolution, the world revolutionary upsurge went into reverse and the internationalists became more and more isolated - an isolation that lasted for decades. But surely we can't therefore identify with the counter-revolution because at the time it was more 'realistic' than revolution. Internationalism is not one of several options but the only one in all circumstances - favourable and unfavourable - for the working class because it alone defines its common interests as a class and its perspective of communism. In a historic sense, internationalism is the only realistic option. In pointing out what we see as the inconsistencies in your commentaries on the ICC basic principles we aren't point-scoring but making the effort with you to arrive at a revolutionary, internationalist coherence. We hoping to continue the discussion at our forthcoming Public Forum... WR, 3/11/07.

Life of the ICC: 

History of the workers' movement: 

The murder of Jean Charles de Menezes shows police are licensed to kill

So, the Metropolitan Police have been convicted of breaching health and safety laws! And once again the British bourgeoisie are making use of Jean Charles de Menezes, the electrician from Brazil who was shot on 22nd July 2005. The shooting of one poor man on his way to work has served the state well - first to follow up the fear of terrorism by spreading further terror in the wake of the London bombings two years ago. Now the verdict has been the occasion for hours and pages of media hype about how the police are protecting us from terrorism.

The verdict is, of course, meaningless. The police force is fined, but it will not be strapped for cash. Quite the reverse, after all the reminders we have about how much we need them to protect us from terrorism, they will get as much money as they need. But an innocent man has been killed and Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, must "accept responsibility" according to Stockwell MP Kate Hoey and various opposition politicians, meaning he should resign. This brings us to another use being made of this case - while the British state is strengthening itself, for instance with more armed police, more draconian detention powers for terrorist suspects, it is making sure of its democratic credentials by showing that every part of the state, even the police, can be called to account. Whether one Commissioner is replaced by another or not will not make a jot of difference to the police or the state.

Whatever the media and politicians may tell us, the police cannot protect us from terrorism any more than any other part of the state. Their job is to maintain the peace within the capitalist system, to defend capitalism. And what is the cause of terrorism? Most of it is related to or inspired by various conflicts going on around the world, and in Britain today that would be mainly the so-called ‘war on terror'. And the nature of these conflicts is imperialist, they are conflicts caused as each nation tries to expand at the expense of its rivals. This is the nature of capitalism. To defend capitalism the role of the police and state is to maintain the very conditions that give rise to terrorism. Only when the working class is able to destroy the bourgeois state and start to put an end to capitalism will we be safe. Alex 3.11.07

Recent and ongoing: 

ICConline, December 2007

ICConline, December 2007

Che Guevara: Myth and Reality

A few months ago, we received two messages about Che Guevara form a comrade called E.K. We are publishing the letter we sent to him in April, and using this opportunity to complete and elaborate on our responses to certain questions. We are making this correspondence public because, as EK himself said, "we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of his death in combat." Our aim isn't to join in the celebrations, but on the contrary, to try to understand if Che Guevara was really a revolutionary and if the working class and its younger generations should claim his legacy or not.

 

Some extracts from EK's message

According to comrade EK, Che Guevara was an authentic fighter for the cause of oppressed peoples. In fact, for him, "Che's internationalism is without question. He is the model of the international combatant and of solidarity between peoples". He was supposedly one of the few revolutionaries who dared to criticize the USSR: "During the second conference of Afro-Asian solidarity, Che didn't beat around the bush in his criticisms of the conservative and exploitative positions of the USSR" Finally, in his first letter, EK reveals his vision of the proletariat and the role of revolutionaries: "As for the historic agent of society's transformation, there's no reason, it seems, to reduce the concept of the proletariat only to workers, the absolute negation of humanity's condition. (...)The task of intellectuals is to introduce to the proletariat the consciousness of its situation by eminently political means."

Following our response, comrade EK quickly sent us a second message in which he wished to differentiate himself from all those who transform Che into an icon, endlessly reproducing his image on T-shirts and poster: "The mythification of Che through the duplication of his image tends to deify his life and his deeds." But above all, he reaffirms in the message that "since he was following distinct objectives, the Che would logically have been led to depart from the social-imperialist model of the USSR. The CIA and the KGB even cooperated to get rid of him during the attempted revolution in Bolivia." The comrade concludes, "Ernesto Che Guevara paid for his integrity with his life. To pay homage to him is to read his texts: to perpetuate his memory, is to continue his struggle, is to support his values. As the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of his death come to a close, it is time to re-invigorate his thought and to re-enliven his ideas."

Our reply to EK

We thank you for your message from early April. Forgive our late reply. We wish to make a critique of what you wrote to us. This critique doesn't signify an end to our correspondence. On the contrary we remain willing to respond to your questions and your points of view. We would like to respond to what you say about Che Guevara by seriously and sincerely studying what really were, as you ask, "his values", "his ideas", and "his struggle".

Is Che Guevara an example for today's revolutionary youth?

In this month of October, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara, killed by the Bolivian army, framed by the CIA.

Since 1967 "the Che" has become the eternal symbol of "romantic revolutionary youth": He died young, gun in his hands, fighting against American imperialism, the great "defender of the poor masses of Latin America." Everyone has that image in his mind, of Che and his red-starred beret with a sad and distant look on his face.

His well-known travel diaries greatly contributed to popularizing the story of this rebel, who came from a slightly bohemian family from Argentina, who threw himself into an adventurous voyage on his motorcycle on the roads of South America, using his medical skills to help the poor... He lived in Guatemala at a moment (1956) when the United States fomented yet another coup d'Etat against a government that didn't suit it. This permanent chokehold by America on Latin American will feed Guevara's lifelong, implacable hatred of the former. Later on, he joins Castro's group of Cubans in Mexico, refugees there after an aborted attempt at overthrowing the Cuban dictator, Batista, who had long been supported by the United States. After a series of adventures, this group settles in the mountains of Cuba until Batista's defeat in January 1959. The basic ideology of this group is nationalism, "Marxism" being but a convenient cover for an exacerbated anti-Yankee "resistance", even if some elements, including Guevara himself, considered themselves "Marxists." The Cuban Communist Party, which in its time supported Batista by the way, sent one of its leaders, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, to Castro in 1958, only a few months before the latter's victory.

This guerrilla group was in no way an expression of a peasant revolt, and even less of the working class. It was a military expression of a fraction of the bourgeoisie seeking to overthrow another fraction and take its place. There was no "popular uprising" when the Castroist guerrillas took power. They arrived, as is often the case in Latin America, and replaced one military clique with another one. The exploited layers and the poor, enlisted or not by the putschists, don't play a major role, except to cheer the new masters in power. Against the rather feeble resistance by Batista's troops, Guevara seemed like an intrepid guerrillero, whose determination and growing charisma threatened to overshadow his master Fidel. After the victory over Batista, Fidel Castro puts Che in charge of the "revolutionary tribunals", a bloody masquerade in the best tradition of settling scores between fractions of the bourgeoisie, particularly in Latin America. Che Guevara takes his role seriously, with conviction and with zeal, putting in place a "popular" justice where Batista's torturers are judged, but also everyday folks based on simple denunciations. Later on at the UN, in response to Latin American representatives, those kind-hearted "democrats" who were offended by his methods, Che says: "We shot, we still shoot and we will continue to shoot as long as is necessary." These practices have nothing to do with some clumsy defence of revolutionary justice. They are, let's say it again, the typical methods of a fraction of the bourgeoisies that has taken the upper hand over another fraction by armed force.

One may idolise the austere "hero" of the Sierra Maestra, the "guerrilla leader" who died a few years later in the mountains of Bolivia, but in reality, he played the role of doing the dirty work of placing in power a regime that is communist in name only.

Che Guevara: internationalist?

You tell us: "Che's internationalism is without question," and "during the second conference of Afro-Asian solidarity, Che didn't beat around the bush in his criticisms of the conservative and exploitative positions of the USSR" and finally, "Che would logically have been led to depart from the social-imperialist model of the USSR."

Castro's nationalist regime quickly clothed itself with the qualifier "communist", in other words, the regime rallied to the imperialist camp headed by the USSR. Cuba's proximity to America's coastline could obviously only worry the leader of the Western bloc. The Stalinisation of the island, with an important presence of military and civilian personnel and the secret services of Eastern bloc states, would reach its apogee in 1962 with the missile crisis.

During this process, Che Guevara, now minister of industry (1960-61), in order to solidify the new alliance with the "socialist camp", is sent by Castro to the countries of that camp, where he lavished the USSR with praise: "this country that so loves peace", "where freedom of thought reigns", "the mother of liberty"... He also praises the "extraordinary" North Korea or Mao's China where "everyone is full of enthusiasm, everyone is working overtime" and so forth for all the countries of the East: "the accomplishments of the socialist countries are extraordinary. There's no possible comparison between their systems of life, their systems of development and those of the capitalist countries." We will return to Guevara's supposed lack of love for the USSR. But, contrary to what you affirm, Che never uttered the slightest principled doubts about the Stalinist system. For him, the USSR and its bloc were the "socialist and progressive" camp, and his own fight slotted well into that of the Russian bloc against the Western bloc. His slogan "Create one, two, several Vietnams", is not an "internationalist" slogan but a nationalist one favourable to the Russian bloc! His real criterion wasn't really social change, but hatred against the leader of the other bloc, the United States.

Basically, after World War II, the world found itself divided into two antagonistic blocs, one led by America, the other by the USSR. "National liberation" proved itself to be a perfect ideological mystification used to justify the military mobilisation of populations. Neither the working class nor the other exploited classes had anything to gain from these wars. They were simply used by the different bourgeois fractions and their imperialist sponsors. The division of the world into two blocs after the Yalta accords meant that any exit from one bloc would result in the entry into the opposing bloc. And Cuba is the perfect example of this: this country went from the corrupt Batista dictatorship, directly under Washington's thumb, controlled by its secret services and every sort of mafia, into the Stalinist bloc. Cuba's history is the tragic epitome of the "struggles for national liberation" of the last half-century.

Before saying when and how Guevara supposedly distanced himself from the USSR, it is necessary to be sure of the nature of the USSR and its bloc. Behind the defence of Che as a revolutionary is the idea that the USSR, whether we like it or not, despite its faults, was the "socialist and progressive bloc." This is the greatest lie of the 20th century. There definitely was a proletarian revolution in Russia, but it was defeated. The Stalinist counter-revolution gave itself a slogan: "the construction of socialism in a single country", a fundamentally un-marxist slogan. For Marxism, "the workers have no country"! It's this genuine internationalism that served as a compass to the entire global revolutionary wave that began in 1917, and to all the revolutionaries of the era, from Lenin and the Bolsheviks to Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacists. The aberrant adoption of this "theory" of a "socialist motherland" to defend resulted in the systematic usage of bourgeois methods: terror and state capitalism, the most ferocious and totalitarian expression of capitalist exploitation!

Did Che "depart from the social-imperialist model of the USSR"?

The origin of Che's critiques of the USSR was the missile crisis of1962. For the USSR, its domination of Cuba was a godsend. Finally, it could return the favour to the United States, who threatened the USSR directly from countries close to it, like Turkey. The USSR began to install nuclear missile bases only a few miles from American coastlines. The United States responded by putting in place a total embargo of the island, forcing the Russian ships to return home. Khrushchev, the master of the Kremlin at the time, was finally forced to remove his missiles. For a few days in October 1962, the imperialist confrontations between those who presented themselves as the "free world" and those who presented themselves as the "socialist and progressive world" almost pulled mankind to the brink of extinction. Khrushchev was then considered by the Castroist leadership as lacking the "balls" to attack the United States. In an excess of patriotic hysteria, where the Castroist slogan "fatherland or death" takes it most sinister meanings, they are prepared to sacrifice the people (they'll say that it's the people who are willing to sacrifice themselves) on the altar of atomic war. In this perverse delirium, Guevara could only be in the forefront. He writes: "They are right (the countries of the OAS) to be fearful of 'Cuban subversion', it is the frightful example of a people willing to pulverize itself with atomic weapons so that its ashes will serve as cement for building a new society, and who, when an agreement is reached on the removal of the atomic rockets without it being consulted, doesn't sigh in relief, doesn't receive the truce with gratitude. It throws itself into the arena to [...] affirm [...] its decision to fight, even alone, against all the dangers and against the atomic threat of Yankee imperialism". This "hero" decided that the Cuban people are willing to extinguish itself for the fatherland... Thus, at the origin of the critique of the USSR is not a loss of faith in the virtues of "Soviet communism" (Stalinist capitalism in reality); on the contrary, Che's complaint is that the system didn't go to its logical conclusion of military confrontation. And the talks in Algiers on which you base your claim that Che departed "from the social-imperialist model of the USSR", don't change the fact of Guevara's attachment to Stalinist positions. On the contrary! During those famous talks, he questions the "mercantilism" in the relations between the countries of the Eastern bloc but he still calls them socialist, and "friendly peoples": "the socialist countries are, to a certain extent, accomplices in imperialist exploitation [...]. [They] have a moral duty to end their tacit complicity with the exploiter countries of the West". Beyond its radical appearance, such a critique is thus that of someone within the Stalinist system. Worse still, it emanates from a leader who participated with all his energy in the instalment of state capitalism in Cuba! Anyway, after that, Guevara will no longer officially offer the slightest critique of the USSR.

Che Guevara, at the moment he was assassinated by the CIA and the Bolivian army in 1967, was the victim not only of American imperialism, but also of the Kremlin's new political orientation of "peaceful coexistence" with the Western bloc. We won't go into the reasons that propelled the USSR and its bloc to take this "turn". But this "turn" has nothing whatsoever to do with some "betrayal" of the peoples who wished to "liberate themselves" from imperialism, nor of the proletariat. The politics of the Stalinist bourgeoisie often changed in accord with its class interests. The Cuban missile affair showed the leaders of Stalinist imperialism that they lacked the means to defy the U.S in its own backyard and that they needed to be prudent in Latin America. This was a point that Guevara and a fraction of the Cuban leadership refused to understand, to the point of becoming a nuisance not only to the USSR, but also to their own Cuban friends. From that moment, Che Guevara's destiny was sealed: after the disastrous adventure in Congo, he ends up alone in Bolivia, with a handful of comrades in arms, abandoned by the Bolivian CP which, in the end, lined up with Moscow. For the more "Muscovite" factions, the adherents of the "foco" (the Guevara-inspired guerrilla "theory" of revolution) were a bunch of petty bourgeois adventurers, "cut off from the masses". And for the factions of the CPs who favoured armed struggle, who critically supported every other movement, the "officials" of the CPs were coffee-shop revolutionaries, privileged bureaucrats who were also "cut off from the masses." For us left communists, these are two forms of the same counter-revolution, two variants of the same great lie, that the Stalinist counter-revolution was in continuity with the October revolution, and that the USSR was communist.

What was Che Guevara's vision of the working class?

For you, the intellectual's task is "to introduce to the proletariat the consciousness of its situation..." You seem to echo Che Guevara's vision of the "revolutionary elite". But doesn't this position of Che's in reality hide a profound contempt of the working class? What do his lyrical flights about "the new man in the Cuban revolution" really reveal?

Revolutionary proletarian unity has a concrete expression: class solidarity. It is this spontaneous solidarity during the organisation of the struggle, created through mutual aid and fraternity, that feeds the revolutionary proletariat's capacities for dedication and devotion. But this "devotion" from the mouth of Guevara, in the best of cases, sounds like a quasi-mystical call to supreme martyrdom (one must recognize that he was always prone to sacrifice, and undoubtedly was willing to become a "martyr" for the imperialist cause that he and the "wilful" people of Cuba defended at the moment of the missile crisis)... Beyond his own "exemplary" behaviour, is his vision of "sacrifice" and "heroism" (just like the nationalist idealism exalted and spread by the Stalinists of the "Resistance" during the Second World War) that would be imposed from above, for the needs of the state, under the whip of a "lider maximo". This vision rests on the petty bourgeois intellectual's contempt for the "proletarian mass" which is looked upon from high above, which supposedly needs to be "educated" so that it can understand the "benefits of the revolution". "The mass..." declares Guevara condescendingly, "is not, as is claimed, the sum of elements of the same type...which acts like a flock of sheep. It is true that it follows its leaders, basically Fidel Castro, without hesitation...." "Viewed superficially, it might appear that those who speak of the subordination of the individual to the state are right. The mass carries out with matchless enthusiasm and discipline the tasks set by the government, whether in the field of the economy, culture, defence, sports... The initiative generally comes from Fidel, or from the revolutionary leadership, and is explained to the people, who make it their own" (Socialism and Man in Cuba, 1965).

In fact, when you tell us that "there's no need to reduce the concept of the proletariat only to workers," your reasoning surely involuntarily draws its roots in this contemptuous vision of the working class. In fact, one of the common characteristics of the different mutations of Stalinism (from Maoism to Castroism), is their distrust and their disdain of the working class, making a mythical poor peasantry the "agents of the revolution" led by intellectuals who "introduce" consciousness into the brains of the masses. At best, for these neo-Stalinists, the working class was useful in terms of providing them with some historical reference, pawns for their revolution. One never finds, in the writing of these pseudo-revolutionaries, the slightest reference to a working class organising itself in the organs of class power: the soviets. These clones of Stalinism no longer need to disguise their state capitalist ideology or talk about workers' councils and other expressions of proletarian life in the Russian revolution. All we have left is the state led by "enlightened" people. And the masses, who are sometimes allowed to show some "initiative", are recruited into "committees for the defence of the revolution" and other organs of social surveillance.

In Cuba, one of the major organs for controlling the working class were, once again and unsurprisingly, the unions. The Cuban unions (CTC) were already American-style unions, perfectly integrated into "free-market capitalism" and in its corruption. These were quickly transformed by the Cuban leadership, in 1960, into Stalinist unions, on a bureaucratic and statist model. The first decision of the Castroist regime was to charge the unions with he task of keeping the workers in line and to enforce the ban on strikes in the companies. And here again, this attack against the working class will be justified by anti-Americanism and the "defence of the Cuban people". Taking advantage at the time of a strike against wage decreases at some American companies in Cuba, the Castroist leaders stigmatise the strikers as wreckers and use the opportunity to declare a "strike on the strike" from the mouth of the new Castroist head of the CTC.

In the past few weeks we have seen debates about the life and works of Che. On one side, the side of the apostles of "the death of communism", the right-wing fractions of the bourgeoisie, with the help of some historians, are always ready to tell us about the "anti-democratic" role, his role as executioner-in-chief, as the head of the "revolutionary" tribunals at the beginning of the Castro era. They rail against each other on the question of whether the executions were "excessive", if a "bloodbath" occurred, if the justice was "moderate" or "arbitrary". For us, as we said earlier, he simply played his necessary role in the process of putting a new regime into power, one as bourgeois and repressive as the previous one. On the other side, we have been battered with lies and semi-truths about his glory. One only has to see how the Ligue Communiste Revolutionaire which, with its desire to replace the PCF and to become the leading "anti-capitalist" party in France, today has embraced "the Che" and exploits his "young and rebellious" image.

Dear comrade EK, this is the reality: in all these youths who wear Che T-shirts, there is surely a generous and sincere heart, wishing to fight against the horrors and injustices of this world. But if Che is being put forward as an icon, it is in order to sterilise the enthusiasm that feeds revolutionary passion. Che is just one in a long line of nationalist and Stalinist leaders, more dashing than the others maybe, but still a representative of that tropical mutation of the Stalinist counter-revolution that is Castroism.

Despite our differences, comrade EK, the discussion obviously remains open.... we warmly encourage you to continue to discuss with us.

International Communist Current,

November 2007.

Life of the ICC: 

Geographical: 

Political currents and reference: 

People: 

Workers’ struggles in Dubai: an example of courage and solidarity

In mid-November, as the workers of Dubai went back to work after a massive and spontaneous revolt, the press and the TV was headlining the story of the nephew of Dubai's king Abdallah, Al Walid Ibn Talal, who had just bought an Airbus A380 for his personal use.

Not a word about this massive strike movement! Not a word about this open rebellion by hundreds of thousands of super-exploited workers! Once again the bourgeoisie clamped a blackout on its international media.

Against the inhuman exploitation of the bourgeoisie....

Dubai has, over the last few years, become an immense building site, in which vast skyscrapers, each one more unbelievable than the one before, have sprung up like mushrooms. This Emirate is one of the bourgeoisie's symbols of the ‘economic miracle' of the East and the Middle East. But behind this shop window lays a very different reality: not the reality presented to tourists and businessmen, but the reality of the working class which has to sweat blood and tears for these ‘architectural dreams'.

Out of the million inhabitants of the Emirate, more than 80% are workers of foreign origin, the majority Indian but also Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and, recently, Chinese. It seems that they are cheaper than Arab workers! They keep the building sites going 24/7 for practically nothing. They earn the equivalent of 100-150 euros a month. They build these prestigious towers and palaces but they live in cabins, several to a room and parked out in the desert. They are taken to work in cattle trucks they call buses. All this without medical care or pensions... and to prevent any danger of resistance, the employers hang on to their passports, just in case. Naturally, no account is taken of the workers' families who have to stay back at home. The workers can only see them every 2 or 3 years because it is so difficult to find the money for the trip.

But you can't treat human beings like this indefinitely and get away with it.

....the massive struggle of the proletariat

In the summer of 2006, the workers of Dubai already showed their ability to enter massively and collectively into struggle. Despite the repression which followed, they have today again dared to stand up against their exploiters and torturers. Through these struggles, they have shown their courage, their extraordinary fighting spirit, uniting against this life of misery and slavery. Like their class brothers in Egypt, they have braved the established power despite the risks involved. Because in the Emirates, strikes are forbidden and punishment is immediate: withdrawal of work-permits and a life-time ban on working there.

And yet, fed up with not having been paid for several months, "On Saturday 27th October, over 4,000 building workers came out onto the street, blocked the roads leading to the industrial zone of Jebel Ali, and threw stones at police vehicles. They demanded more buses to take them to work, less overcrowded lodgings and wages that would allow them to live in dignity" (Courrier International, 2.11.07). Recognising themselves in this massive struggle, thousands of workers from other enterprises joined the strikers.

Unsurprisingly, the bourgeoisie and its state responded violently. The anti-riot squad used water-cannon to disperse the demonstrators and threw many of them into police vans. "Denouncing this ‘barbaric behaviour', the minister of Labour told them to chose between going back to work and the abrogation of their contracts, deportation and a loss of compensation" (http://www.lemaroc.org/economie/article_8622.html ). Despite this police repression, and the government's threats, the strike movement continued to spread to three other zones in Dubai. According to a line in Associated Press on 5 November, there were up to 400,000 workers on strike!

The threats of punishment and repression were issued on the pretext that police vehicles had been damaged, something quite unacceptable for bourgeois order! But who was responsible for the worst of the violence? The answer is clear: those who turn the lives of hundreds of thousands of worker into a veritable hell.

What is the perspective for such struggles?

In Dubai, the proletariat has shown its strength and determination. The bourgeoisie was actually forced to take a temporary step back, putting aside its purely repressive tactics. Thus, after announcing the expulsion of the 4,000 Asian workers who initiated the movement, "the tone was rather one of appeasement on the following Wednesday" (AFP). The massive scale of this struggle had "made the Dubai government bend somewhat, ordering the ministers and the enterprises to review wages and install a minimum wage"....officially of course. In reality, the bourgeoisie will continue with its attacks. The sanctions against the ringleaders seem to have been maintained. And there is no doubt that the bourgeoisie will keep a tight grip over this and try to maintain the ferocious levels of exploitation it imposes in Dubai.

Nevertheless, the ruling class has had to take account of the rise in militancy amongst this section of the working class, despite its lack of experience in the struggle. This is why it is tying another string to its bow: as well as repression, it is also seeking to use more ideological means. The first attempt at this, however, has been rather ludicrous and ineffective. Faced with the multiplication of conflicts in the last two years, "the authorities have created a commission in the police force which has the job of dealing with questions from the workers, and have given the workers a freephone number to use for complaints, most of them relating to the non-payment of wages". Make your complaints directly to the forces of repression - you could hardly be more provocative! Rather more adroit than this is the government's efforts to form a trade union in the enterprises in order to control future struggles ‘from the inside'.

The question is not so much the perspective for the struggle in a mini-state like Dubai, but the fact that this struggle is part of a much wider movement: the international struggle of the working class. "The workers have no country" said Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. The present struggles of the proletariat are part of the same chain of struggles against capitalist exploitation. From India to Dubai, via Egypt, the Middle East, the African continent or Latin America, to the countries of Europe and North America, the workers' struggle is on the rise. The international development of the class struggle is a massive encouragement for workers wherever the movement breaks out. In particular, the emergence of massive movements like the ones in Dubai, Bangladesh or Egypt must act as a stimulus for the workers of the most advanced countries, while the latter must assume a particular responsibility in announcing the perspective of a struggle against the whole system of exploitation, sharing their accumulated historical experience, showing in practice how to take the struggle in hand and explaining why we cannot count on the unions and the left to do that for us.

The bourgeoisie and its media do all they can to stifle the news of workers' struggles around the world to prevent this sharing of experience, this development of consciousness. The struggles in Dubai are the proof that everywhere the working class is suffering the devastating effects of the world economic crisis, and that everywhere it is sharpening its weapons of consciousness and solidarity in response. Map, 18th November 2007.

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Correspondence on the oil workers' struggles in Venezuela

We are publishing our response to a letter sent by a reader from Brazil (T), who asks our opinion about an article he received, from which we are publishing some extracts, and which covers the struggles and mobilizations of the oil workers against the state oil company "Petroleos de Venezuela" (PDVSA) last September, demanding better wages and contractual benefits. The comrade also asks for our commentary about the reduction in the working day, which is proposed by President Chavez in the constitutional reforms that will be voted upon on December 2.

Letter from Comrade T

Hello comrades,

I'm forwarding an article I received from a comrade in Venezuela, so that you can send me your thoughts. I'm also asking you for details on Chavez' proposed reduction of the working day, because that has sparked a lot of discussion over here.
Regards,
T


Venezuelan Oil Workers Clash with Police Over Collective Contract

September 30th 2007, by Kiraz Janicke - Venezuelanalysis.com

Caracas, September 29, 2007, (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela's Energy Minister and president of the state owned oil company PDVSA, Rafael Ramirez, assured that the collective contract for oil workers, which has been under negotiation since April, would be finalised in the next two weeks after clashes between oil workers and police in Anzoátegui state on Thursday left several people injured.

Some 150 workers from the oil refinery of Puerto La Cruz, together with workers from the Jose Industrial Complex were marching to the offices of the Venezuelan Oil Corporation (CVP) in Urbaneja municipality to present a document to Ramirez, who was meeting with a negotiating commission of the United Oil Workers Federation of Venezuela (FUTPV), when they were intercepted by Immediate Response Group - Police Force of Anzoátegui.

In the resulting clashes, which lasted three hours, 40 workers were arrested and three were injured, including Richard Querecuto, who was shot in the left shoulder...With news of the police repression 4,000 workers from Petroanzoátegui, Petrocedeño, and the project San Cristóbal immediately stopped work.

...in a statement in solidarity with the oil workers of Anzoátegui, repudiating the police violence, the Federation of Workers UNT-Zulia said, "We consider that this situation has been generated by the intransigence of the state company PDVSA that has drawn out the discussion over the contract for months, offered conditions below the aspirations of the workers and arbitrarily imposed a junta [the FUTPV negotiating commission] to discuss the contract without having been elected by the workers."

C-CURA is calling for a change in the negotiating commission and for immediate elections within FUTPV, otherwise they say they will "radicalize" their actions. However, similar calls by C-CURA and Fedepetrol for radical actions and a general stoppage to "paralyze" the oil industry at "zero hour" on August 6 mobilized less than 1,500 workers throughout the country.

After widespread coverage and promotion of "zero hour" in the opposition private media, the dispute took on a political dimension, with other sectors of oil workers and urban poor subsequently rallying in "defense" of PDVSA.

The statement by the Federation of Workers UNT-Zulia said yesterday, "We think that some of these situations [in the oil industry] are a result of a manouvre by sectors of the rightwing within Chavismo [Chavez supporters], aimed at generating situations of conflict in the country to propagate destabilisation of the process of constitutional reform."

However, the workers in Anzoátegui rejected this claim with a banner which read,
"We are not violent protesters [guarimberos], we are oil workers." (A guarimba is an orchestrated protest aimed at provoking violence to achieve political aims.)

The oil workers in Anzoátegui have announced that they will continue their protests in the streets and remain in a state of alert, despite the promises from Ramirez for the finalization of an improved collective contract within the next two weeks.


Our Reply

Dear comrade T,

We greet the arrival of your letter, to which we are responding briefly and we will try to speak with you about the situation of the class struggle in Venezuela.

About the struggle of the oil workers

The article that you were sent describes part of what took place in a struggle which, between last September and October, was carried out by the workers of the state oil company PDVSA, the most important in the country, who laid off several injured workers (one of whom was pregnant) along with some arrested workers. The struggle owed to a delay of more than 8 months in the discussion over the collective contract that regulates the wages and benefits of the workers. The workers struck and demonstrated in the facilities of PDVSA in the state of Anzoategui, in eastern Venezuela, and Zulia, south of Lake Maracaibo in the west. The company, in a shady deal with the unions, which were mostly controlled by pro Chavez tendencies, delayed the discussion of the wage clauses. The workers struggle put pressure on several union bosses, such as those of C-CURA (the Unitary Autonomous Revolutionary Classist Current) of the UNT (Unitary Union of Workers), or those of FEDEPETROL (Federation of oil, chemical, and related workers of Venezuela), who were forced to "radicalize" against PDVSA and the government, so as not to be unmasked in front of the workers.

In the end, the unions and PDVSA obtained approval of a miserable wage increase of 12,000 bolivars per day, which had been rejected by the workers, who had demanded an increase of 30,000. Because of this, the monthly salary of an oil worker rose to approximately 1,320,000 Bolivars (equivalent to $610, according to the official exchange rate, and as low as $300, if we use the unofficial exchange rate, which is calculated by defining the real price of various products and services).

To give you a reference point, this salary is equivalent to a bit more than the cost of a basket of basic goods for a family of 5 (as of Oct 2007), which comes to 1 million Bolivars. Even adding the 'bonos' [unclear - either treasury bonds, or vouchers] which oil workers receive, they don't make enough to lead a dignified life; to the low salaries, we must factor in both the continual increase of the price of goods (around 25% annually)[1] and the shortages, which according to the Central Bank of Venezuela are 30% with respect to basic products. And the oil workers are some of the best paid in the country!!

Without a doubt, we think this struggle has had a political and moral victory for the oil workers and the Venezuelan proletariat as a whole:

  • In the first place, the oil workers have brought the struggle back up onto their own class terrain; after having been one of the sectors hit hardest by the bourgeoisie, to being the center of the polarization between Chavistas and the opposition, who permitted the state to lay off 20,000 PDVSA employees in 2003 (at least half of whom were low-ranked workers or employees), without any sort of compensation. This struggle has a major significance at times when the Chavistas and opposition are trying to reinforce political polarization, through the campaigns for or against the constitutional reform proposed by Chavez. The workers, at least during these mobilizations, have placed themselves in the terrain of their own demands, despite the weight of the bourgeoisie's efforts to force any workers' or social struggle onto the terrain of the polarization.
  • The struggle has made obvious the bourgeois, anti-worker character of the Chavez government: just as with all of the preceding governments (to which Chavismo assigns all of the social ills), the Chavez government also responds with repression, tear-gas bombs, lead, and jail against the workers who "dare" to fight for a dignified life. An important fact: the oil workers of Puerto La Cruz, in the east of the country, some of whom were sympathizers of Chavismo, have denounced the high wages of the "socialist" bosses of PDVSA who earn more than 50 times the basic monthly salary (much higher than the wages of the industry bosses during preceding governments), while they deny raises to the workers which would allow them to cover at least the basic basket of goods (the exploitation of their labor power being the primary source of the salaries and kickbacks of the upper state bureaucrats and of the profits of various sectors of the national bourgeoisie; we factor this in).
  • These struggles, which were preceded by others last May in which the oil workers mobilized to obtain the reinstatement of more than 1000 workers of the recently nationalized oil companies whom the "socialist" government of Chavez had tried to throw to the street, are genuine and important expression of workers' solidarity, in which the families of the affected workers also participated.
  • As we've said, the workers found themselves unsatisfied with this agreement. There is a feeling of discontent, which could awaken at any moment.


It is important to add that the reaction of the oil workers is beginning to develop with a certain force in other sectors. The doctors, teachers, and some other sectors of public service workers have started mobilizations for wage demands; they have created assemblies where, apart from demanding wage increases, they have denounced the high level of deterioration of public services. In a recent assembly of doctors in Caracas, who were part of the Health Ministry, they identified themselves as "medical proletarians".

Its important to say that those who are for and against the government have tried to divide and polarize the movement, succeeding in many cases. Moreover the government mobilizes its organizations (bolivarian circles, communal councils, the social ombudsman, and armed groups when necessary) to intimidate and even physically assault the workers.

Another aspect which is no less important, is that the impoverished masses (many of whom are sympathizers of the government) express their indignation almost daily, protesting the housing shortage, the crime, the lack of services, etc., and ultimately the shortage of products such as milk, sugar, cooking oil, etc. In some cases, they have been repressed. This situation is in contrast to the high officials of the regime (called the "boliburguesia", or bolivarian bourgeoisie), who are strutting their opulence[2] with the most open frankness; they have made massive investments in armaments, which will be unleashed against the proletarians and the impoverished masses sooner rather than later; and they've invested major resources from the oil rent into developing the Venezuelan state's imperialist policy in the region.

This is the real face of "21st century socialism" promoted by Chavez and lauded by the Left, leftists, and "altermundialistas" [other-world-ists, supporters of the WSF], who seem to "drool" during their discussions on TeleSur, and who are sustained by the exploitation of the working masses, as is the entire bourgeois regime. The one difference is the "revolutionary" drivel, in the hope of confusing the proletarians inside and outside of Venezuela.

About the "reduction" of the working day

The "reduction" of the working day from 8 to 6 hours per day is considered in the constitutional reforms proposed by Chavez, along with other work-related "benefits", such as social security for the workers of the informal economy (which as in the rest of Latin America covers more than 50% of the labor force). These proposals, rather than seeking a real increase in the workers' quality of life, are the "cock-and-bull story", the big lie, with the hope of obtaining the support of the workers for the official proposal to reform the constitution.

The establishment has not said how this reduction in the working day will be realized; but many speculate that the un-worked hours will be utilized for political "formation" (indoctrination) or in so-called "socialist emulation" which the Fidelista cuban bourgeoisie invented so that the state could exploit the workers, with no pay. Furthermore, one of the objectives of the bourgeoisie (whether Chavista or not) is to discover how to charge taxes on the informal workers; by offering them the benefits of social security (which don't offer any real protection to the workers), the state will have greater control over them and will be able to impose taxes on them.

The principal objective of the constitutional reform (saturated with a big dose of hypocrisy, like every constitution in the world), is to strengthen the legal framework for greater state control over society, for more militarization, to legally justify the repression of the social movements, and to permit unlimited reelection of Chavez as president of the republic, among other things.

We can not lose sight of the fact that the Chavez government is a bourgeois government, in which the necessities and priorities of Capital prevail; in this sense, we can not be gullible (which we do not believe is your case), with respect to the Chavez government's search for the "greatest amount of social happiness", as the reformed text of the constitution puts it. It is precisely this deceitful propaganda that the Chavista movement pushes through their PR campaigns on the internal and international level, so that the workers of Venezuela and other countries will think that in Venezuela there is a real improvement in the living conditions of the workers and the population; this is the big lie sustained at the base by Chavista propaganda.

The capitalist crisis inexorably obligates every bourgeoisie, whether of the Right, the Center, or the Left, to attack the living conditions of the working class. In all of the countries where they have reduced the working day (France, Germany, etc.; including Venezuela, where at the beginning of the '90s they reduced the work day from 44 to 40 hours per week), this measure has not resulted in an improvement of the living conditions of the working class; completely to the contrary, the wages and social benefits have worsened, and precarious work has increased.

The intensification of the capitalist crisis will force the working class of Venezuela to fight against the state, as the oil, health, and education workers have done. In this way, positioned on its class terrain, the proletariat will be able to leave the trap of the political polarization which has kept its hands tied, and take part in the struggle of the world proletariat for the construction of real socialism.

Hoping we've responded to your questions.

The ICC, 19-11-07.



[1] Venezuela has the highest inflation in the region, with an annual average of 20% during the last three years.

[2] During a recent episode of "Alo, Presidente!", a Sunday program which stars Chavez, he saw that it was necessary to criticize those "revolutionaries" who live only for Hummers (which cost hundreds of millions of Bolivars) and 18-year-aged Whiskey. What Chavez did not say is that he has given use of the high oil profits to himself, his family, and his close friends. The "Bolivarian Revolution", which arose under the flag of fighting corruption, bathes in the waters of corruption.

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