"Popular revolts" are no answer to world capitalism's dive into crisis and misery

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Throughout the world attacks against the working class have widened and deepened[1]. And it's always on the backs of the working class that the dominant class tries to minimise the effects of the historic decline of its own mode of production. In the "rich" countries, planned job losses in the near future are piling up, particularly in Germany and Britain. Some so-called "emergent" countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, are already in recession with all that this implies for the aggravation of the living conditions of the proletariat. As to the countries that are neither "rich" nor "emergent", their situation is even worse. The non-exploiting elements in these places are plunged into an endless misery.

These latter countries particularly have recently been the theatre of popular movements against the endless sacrifices demanded by capitalism and implemented by governments which are often gangrened by corruption, discredited and hated by the population. Such movements have taken place in Chile, Ecuador, Haiti, Iraq, Iran, Algeria and Lebanon. These frequently massive mobilisations are, in some countries, accompanied by the unleashing of violence and bloody repression. The widescale movement in Hong Kong, which has developed not in reaction to misery and corruption, but to the hardening of the state’s repressive arsenal - particularly regarding extraditions to mainland China - has recently witnessed a new level of repression: the police have started firing live ammunition at the demonstrators.

If the working class is present in these "popular revolts", it's never as an antagonistic class to capital but one drowned within the population. Far from favouring a future riposte from the working class and, with it, the only viable perspective of a struggle against the capitalist system, these popular, inter-classist revolts serve to reinforce the idea of "no future", which can only obscure such a perspective. They strengthen the difficulties experienced by the working class in mounting its own response to the more and more intolerable conditions that are the result of the bankruptcy of capitalism. Nevertheless, the contradictions of this system cannot be eliminated and will become ever deeper, pushing the world working class to confront all the difficulties that it is presently undergoing.

Exasperation faced with the plunge into yet more misery

After years of repeated attacks, it's often an innocuous price rise that "sparks off the explosion".

In Chile, it was the fare increase on the Metro which was the final straw: "The problem is not the 30 centimes" (increase), "it is the 30 years" (of attacks), according to a slogan from a demonstrator. Monthly wages are below 400 euros in this country; precarious working is very widespread; costs of basic necessities are disproportionally high and the health and education sectors are failing, while to retire is to be condemned to poverty.

In Ecuador, the movement was provoked by a sudden increase in fares. This follows a list of price increases in basic goods and services, the freezing of wages, massive redundancies, an obligation to give a day's work "free" to the state, the reduction of days off and other measures leading to precarious working and a deterioration of living conditions.

In Haiti, fuel shortages hit the population as a supplementary catastrophe, leading to a general state of paralysis in what has long been one of the poorest countries in the region.  

If the economic crisis in general is the main cause of the attacks against living conditions, they overlap in some countries such as Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, with the traumatising and dramatic consequences of imperialist tensions and the endless wars ravaging the Middle East.

In Lebanon, it was the imposition of a tax on WhatsApp calls which provoked the revolt in a country with the highest debt per person in the world. Each year the government imposes new taxes, a third of the population are unemployed and the infrastructure of the country is second-rate. In Iraq, where the movement broke out spontaneously following calls on social media, the protesters demanded jobs and functioning public services while expressing their rage against a ruling class that they accuse of being corrupt. In Iran, the hike in fuel prices comes on top of a situation of profound economic crisis, aggravated by US sanctions on the country.

The impotence of these movements; the repression and manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie

In Chile, attempts of struggle have been diverted onto the barren grounds of a nihilist violence which is characteristic of capitalist decomposition. Favoured by the state, we've also seen eruptions of lumpen elements in minority and irrational acts of violence. This climate of violence has been well-used by the state in order to justify its repression and intimidate the proletariat. The official figures are 19 dead but like official figures everywhere, they greatly underestimate the slaughter. As in the worst times of Pinochet, torture has made its reappearance. But the Chilean bourgeoisie realised that brutal repression wasn't enough to calm the growing discontent. So the Pinera government held its hands up, adopted a "humble" posture and said that it "understood" the "message of the people", that it would "provisionally" withdraw the increases and open the door to a "social consultation". That's to say that the attacks will be imposed by "negotiation" from a table of "dialogue" around which will sit the opposition parties, the unions, the bosses - all "representing the nation" together[2].

In Ecuador, transport associations have paralysed traffic and the indigenous movement, together with other diverse groups, have joined the demonstrations. The protests of self-employed drivers and small business people take place as expressions of the "citizens" and are dominated by nationalism. It's in this context that the initial mobilisation of workers against the attacks - in the south of Quito, Tulcan and in the Bolivar province - constitute a compass for action and reflection faced with the surge in the mobilisation of the petty bourgeoisie.

The Republic of Haiti is in a situation close to paralysis. Schools are closed, the main roads between the capital and the regions are cut off by roadblocks, and numerous businesses have closed. The movement is often accompanied by violence while criminal gangs (among the 76 armed gangs reported in the territory at least 3 are in the pay of the government, the rest are under the control of an old deputy and some opposition senators), engage in abuses, blocking roads and hi-jacking rare cars. On Sunday October 27, a vigilante opened fire on protesters, killing one; he was lynched and burnt alive. Official figures put the number of deaths at twenty over two months.

Algeria. A human tide has again taken to the streets of Algiers on the anniversary of the beginning of the war against French colonisation. The movement is similar to that recorded at the heights of the "Hirak", a protest movement which has been taking place in Algeria since February 22. It is massively opposed to the general election proposed by the government and organised for December 12 in order to elect a successor to Bouteflika, with the aim of "regenerating" the system.

Iraq. In several provinces of the south, protesters have attacked the institutions and buildings of the political parties and armed groups. Public workers, trade unionists, students and schoolchildren, have demonstrated and begun sit-ins. While, according to the latest official figures, the repression has caused the deaths of 239 people, the majority hit by live ammunition, mobilisations have continued in Baghdad and the south of the country. Since the beginnings of the outburst, protesters have maintained that they will refuse any political recuperation of their movement because they want to totally renew the political class. They also say that it's necessary to do away with the complicated system of awarding posts by faith or ethnicity, a process eaten away by clientism - and one steeped in corruption - that excludes the majority of the population and young people in particular. Just recently, there have been massive jubilant demonstrations and strike pickets have paralysed universities, schools and administration. Elsewhere, nocturnal violence has been directed at the headquarters of the political parties and the militias.

Lebanon. General popular anger has transcended communities, faiths and all the regions of the country. The withdrawal of the new tax on Whatsapp calls has not prevented the revolt from spreading to the whole of the country. The resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri was only a small part of the population's demands. They are demanding the departure of the whole of the political class who they judge as corrupt and incompetent while demanding a radical change of the system.

Iran. As soon as the price increases in fuel were announced, violent confrontations between protesters and the forces of order took place, leading to deaths on both sides but particularly numerous on the side of the former.

The trilogy of inter-classism, democratic demands, and blind violence

In all these inter-classist, popular revolts quoted above and according to the information that we have to hand, the proletariat has only shown itself as a class in a minority way here and there, including in a situation like Chile where the prime cause of the mobilisations was clearly the necessity for defence against the economic attacks.

Often, even exclusively, the "revolts" take their aim at the privileged, those in power who are judged responsible for all the ills overwhelming the populations. But in this way, they leave out the system of which the privileged are just the servants. To focus the struggle on the fight to replace corrupt politicians is obviously an impasse because, whatever the teams in power, whatever their levels of corruption, all of them can only defend the interests of the bourgeoisie and implement policies in the service of a capitalism in crisis. It is a much more dangerous impasse in that it's somewhat legitimised by democratic demands "for a clean system", whereas democracy is the privileged form of the power of the bourgeoisie for maintaining its class domination over society and the proletariat. It's significant in this regard that in Chile, after the ferocious repression and faced with an explosive situation that the bourgeoisie had underestimated, it then passed onto a new phase of its manoeuvres through a political attack by setting up classic democratic organisms of mystification and isolation, ending up in the plan for a "new constitution" which is presented as a victory for the protest movement.

Democratic demands dilute the proletariat into the whole of the population, blurring the consciousness of its historic combat, submitting it to the logic of capitalist domination and reducing it to political impotence.

Inter-classism and democracy are two methods which marry up and complement each other in a terribly efficient way against the autonomous struggle of the working class. This is much more the case over the last few decades, since with the collapse of the eastern bloc and the lying campaigns on the death of communism[3], the historic project of the proletariat has temporarily ceased to underlie its struggle. When the latter manages to impose itself, it will be against the current of the general phenomenon of the decomposition of society where each for themselves, the absence of perspectives, etc., acquire an accrued weight.

The rage and violence which often accompanies these popular revolts are far from expressing any sort of radicalism. That's very clear when it's carried out by lumpen elements, whether acting spontaneously or given the nod and wink by the bourgeoisie, and engaging in vandalism, pillages, arson, irrational and minority violence. But, more fundamentally, such violence is intrinsically contained in popular movements where the institutions of the state are not directly called into question. Having no perspective for the radical transformation of society, abolishing war, poverty, growing insecurity and the other calamities of a dying capitalism, movements that end up in this impasse can’t avoid spreading all the defects of a decomposing capitalist society.

The degenerating protest movement in Hong Kong constitutes a perfect example of this in the sense that, more and more deprived of any perspective - in fact it can't have any, confined as it is to the "democratic" terrain without calling capitalism into question - it has turned itself into a giant vendetta of the protesters faced with police violence, and then the cops reply, sometimes spontaneously, to the violence they face. This is so clear that some elements of the bourgeois press have commented on it: "nothing that Beijing has done has worked, not the withdrawal of the extradition law, or police repression, or the ban on wearing face-masks in public. Henceforth, the youth of Hong Kong are no longer moved by hope but by the desire to do battle in the absence of any other possible outcome"[4].

Some people imagine, or want us to think, that any violence in this society which is exercised against the forces of state repression should be supported because it's similar to the necessary class violence of the proletariat against capitalist oppression and exploitation[5]. This shows a real contempt for the working class and it's a gross lie. In fact the blind violence of these inter-classist movements has nothing to do with the class violence of the proletariat which is a liberating force for the suppression of exploitation of man by man. By contrast, the violence of capitalism is oppressive, and has the primary aim of defending class society. The violence the inter-classist movement carries with it, in the image of the petty-bourgeoisie, has no future of its own. This is a class that can only go nowhere by itself and must end up rallying behind either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat.

In fact the trilogy of "inter-classism, democratic demands, blind violence" is the trademark of the popular revolts which are hatching out all over the planet in reaction to the accelerated degradation of all the living conditions which affect the working class, other non-exploitative layers and the pauperised petty-bourgeoisie. The movements of the "gilets jaunes" that started in France a year ago squarely falls into this category of popular revolts[6]. Such movements only contribute to obscuring the real nature of class struggle in the eyes of the proletariat, reinforcing its present difficulties in seeing itself as a class of society, distinct from other classes and with its specific combat against exploitation and its historic mission of overthrowing capitalism.

It's the reason why the responsibilities of revolutionaries and the most conscious minorities within the working class is to work for the re-appropriation of its own methods, at the heart of which figures the mass struggle; general assemblies as places of discussion and decisions while defending themselves against sabotage by the unions and open to all sectors of the working class; extension to other sectors imposed against the manoeuvres of division and control practised by the unions and the left of capital [7]. Even if today these perspectives seem far away, and that is the case in most parts of the world, particularly where the working class is in the minority with a limited historical experience, these methods nevertheless constitute the only way forward, the only means of allowing the proletariat to recover its class identity and not get lost along the way.

Silvio. (17.11.2019)


[1]  Read our article "New recession: capitalism demands more sacrifices from the working class", https://en.internationalism.org/content/16738/new-recession-capital-dema...

[2]  For more information and analysis on Chile, see our article: https://en.internationalism.org/content/16762/dictatorshipdemocracy-alte...

[3]  We will come back soon in our press on the considerable impact of these lying campaigns on the class struggle and show what the state of the world really is today, in contrast to all the announcements about a new era of "peace and prosperity" at the beginning of the 1990s.

[4]  "The Hong-Kong protesters aren't driven by hope". The Atlantic.

[5]  From this point of view, it is illuminating to compare the recent revolts in Chile with the struggles of workers of the Argentinean Cordobazo in 1969 and we recommend this article: https://en.internationalism.org/content/16757/argentinean-cordobazo-may-...


Inter-classist unrest