Since the summer of 2022 the intervention of revolutionaries in the struggle of the working class has become a more concrete prospect because, after three to four decades of a deep retreat of the combativity and the consciousness in the class, the proletariat has finally raised its head again. This resurgence of the struggles, which started with the “Summer of Discontent” in the UK, was followed by strikes, demonstrations and workers’ protests in various other countries, including the USA.
The International Communist Party, which publishes Il Partito Comunista, one of the organisations of the Communist Left, has written about its intervention in some of the workers’ struggles in the past year in the US, among which was a strike of 600 municipal workers at the water treatment plant in Portland Oregon that started on Friday 3 February 2023. This strike was greeted with expressions of solidarity from other municipal workers, some of whom also joined the picket lines. During this strike Il Partito published one article and distributed three leaflets in which it denounced capitalism as a dictatorial system of exploitation and drew the lesson that: “It is only through the uniting of arms above sectors and borders that the working class can truly struggle to end its exploitative condition under capitalism”.
In the present conditions of an international and historically significant resurgence of the struggles after decades of disorientation and fragmentation, to engage in the struggle is in itself already a victory. That’s why it is certainly important to signal that, as Il Partito did, in response to intimidation, criminalisation and threats by the bourgeoisie, the municipal workers in Portland were able to develop their unity and solidarity.
But revolutionaries cannot stop there. In the intervention with the press, leaflets or otherwise they have to put forward concrete perspectives such as calling for workers to extend the struggle beyond their own sector, by sending delegations to other workplaces and offices. As one of our recent articles underlines, already today workers should “fight together, acting in a unified way and avoiding getting bogged down in local struggles, within one's own company or sector”.
But to do so, to strengthen the struggle, the main question revolutionaries must state clearly to the workers is who is on the side of the workers and who is against them. And on this question, the IPC diffuses a mystifying fog.
Opportunism on the trade union question …
For the Communist Left, trade unionism as such, and thus not only the union leadership but also the rank and file structures of the unions, have become a weapon of the bourgeoisie against the working class. Trade unionism, which is by definition an ideology that keeps the struggle within the confines of the economic laws of capitalism, has become anachronistic in the century of wars and revolutions, as the revolutionaries of the First World War and the revolutionary wave that began in 1917 clearly demonstrated. The new conditions of the present era require that the struggles go beyond the particularity of the workplace, the region and the nation and take on a massive and political character. While unions are no longer of any use for workers’ struggles, they have been taken over by the bourgeoisie and used to counter the tendency towards the extension and self-organisation of struggles. In such a period, defending the trade unionist method of struggle as an authentic means of promoting the combativity of the working class is nothing less than a concession to bourgeois ideology, a form of opportunism.
Faced with the problem of the forms of organisation needed for the defence of the living conditions of the working class, whether it calls them class unions, networks or coordinations, Il Partito defends an opportunist position that it justifies as follows: it acknowledges that, “since the end of the nineteenth century, the progressive submission of the trade unions to bourgeois ideology, to the nation and to the capitalist states” has been a real tendency. But it does not explain how it is possible that all trade unions were integrated in the bourgeois state in the first decades of the 20th century. For Il Partito this seems to be pure coincidence, since it does not argue that the objective conditions have fundamentally changed since then. In contrast, it claims that the economic attacks on the workers “will lead to the rebirth of new trade unions freed from bourgeois conditioning” and “directed by the communist party”. These unions will even be “a powerful and indispensable instrument for the revolutionary overthrow of bourgeois power”.
In other words: after the betrayal of the old unions, new working class unions will emerge and, in good Bordigist tradition, it is assumed that, directed by a proper revolutionary party, they will fulfil a revolutionary role. But here it is necessary to wake Il Partito out of its dream, for the conditions of the working class struggle have completely changed since the beginning of the 20th century. This means that the struggle can no longer “be prepared in advance on the organisational level [for] the proletarian struggle tends to go beyond the strictly economic category and becomes a social struggle, directly confronting the state, politicising itself and demanding the mass participation of the class. (…) The success of a strike no longer depends on financial funds collected by the workers, but fundamentally on their ability to extend the struggle”.
And because of this new content, trade unions no longer meet the needs of the proletarian struggle, and even being directed by a revolutionary party would not change this fact. The attempt of Il Partito to defend the existence of permanent organs of struggle, during open expressions of struggle as well as in periods of absence of any struggle, will inevitably lead to failure. A rebirth of unions as real working class organisations is only possible in the imagination of Il Partito, for whom the role of the party in the struggle is not only decisive, but even seems able to summon the supernatural power to adapt the unions to the real needs of the workers’ struggle.
… leads workers onto the wrong track
The first leaflet that was distributed at a demonstration on Saturday 28 January was called “Portland municipal workers: Fighting for freedom to strike”, a “freedom” attacked by the proclamation of the state of emergency by the municipality.
With the demand for the “freedom to strike” this leaflet immediately put the workers on the wrong track. In the 19th century, when the unions were still unitary organisations of the working class whose role was to improve working and living conditions inside capitalism, such a demand was undoubtedly valid. But today, when the unions have become part of the capitalist state, workers have nothing to gain from supporting a campaign to defend the right to strike. For such a struggle is in reality a fight for the rights of the union to control the workers’ struggles. The working class doesn’t need to fight for the legalisation of its own strikes, because in the conditions of totalitarian state capitalism any strike likely to create a real balance of power against the bourgeoisie is by definition illegal. The purpose of this campaign for the freedom to strike is mainly to guarantee that the struggles remain confined within the narrow legal limits of bourgeois politics and trade union control. When the bourgeoisie grants the right to strike its purpose is only to reduce the workers’ struggle to ineffectual protest in order to put pressure on one of the “negotiating partners".
After the strike of the municipal workers in Portland the comrades of Il Partito, in the spring of this year, “promoted, together with other trade union militants, a coordination they have called the Class Struggle Action Network (CSAN), aimed at uniting workers’ struggles”. This CSAN intervened for instance in the nurses’ strike in late June. But what is actually the nature of the CSAN? What might be the perspective of such a Network, “aimed at uniting workers’ struggles”?
This CSAN has not emerged in reaction to a particular need of the workers to take the struggle into their own hands, to send massive delegations to other workers, to organise general assemblies open to all workers or to draw lessons in order to prepare new struggles. No, nothing of that kind; the Network has been created completely outside the concrete dynamic of the struggle by the comrades of Il Partito “inspired by the same principles and methods on which the Coordinamento Lavoratorie Lavoratrici Autoconvocati was formed in Italy”  in the mid-1980s. And on the website of this Network one can read, not by accident, an article by Il Partito, which makes clear that the aim is to work “Towards the Rebirth of the Working Class Trade Union”.
As we argued above, trade unions are today instruments of the bourgeois state and any rebirth as working class organisations is impossible. Thus, Il Partito’s policy can only lock combative workers into a totally vain and discouraging struggle. In this context CSAN will suffer the same fate as any artificially created organ: either to remain an appendix of Il Partito or to become a radical expression of bourgeois trade unionism. But most likely it will disappear after Il Partito has tried to keep it artificially alive. Then it can bury this stillborn child in silence, without the need to draw further lessons from this experience.
In the strike of the municipal workers “comrades participated in the picket lines, helping the workers to strengthen them”. The report of the intervention in the nurses’ strike only speaks of the intervention of the CSAN organising “participants for picket-line solidarity”. This gives the impression that there was no intervention of Il Partito, distinct and separate from the Network. Thus the comrades of Il Partito participated on an individual basis in the picket lines in February as well as in June. But why? Because workers cannot take on this task? Or were the comrades participating as delegates from other workplaces? The answer to these questions is not present in the articles of Il Partito. Fundamentally, behind Il Partito’s intervention, we must point out a great ambiguity about the role of the revolutionary vanguard of the class.
The responsibility of revolutionaries
In the first place, the task of the political organisation of the class is not to help the class to strengthen the picket line, to collect money in order to financially support a strike, or to fulfil other practical tasks for the striking workers. The workers are quite capable of doing these things on their own, without anyone taking their place. A communist organisation has another task, which is not technical, or material, but essentially political. The working class struggle needs to be strengthened by the organised political intervention of the revolutionary organisation.
In line with this orientation, that of being an active political factor in the development of the consciousness and autonomous action of the working class, communist organisations must put forward an analysis of the conditions of the class struggle, lucidly and with a clear method, while being able to denounce and fight against these enemies of the working class – the trade unions. Il Partito, which irresponsibly justifies the possibility of rehabilitating trade unionism or fighting through the unions, despite decades of the limitation and sabotage of struggles by these organs, can in this way only weaken the workers’ class combat. Not only does this kind of opportunism sow confusion, it can only lead workers into a dead-end.
 See the leaflet: As in Britain, France and other countries, workers in the United States are fighting back against the attacks of the bourgeoisieStrikes and demonstrations in the United States, Spain, Greece, France... How can we develop and unite our struggles?
 The first “Class Unionist” newsletter of the CSAN of October already makes report of the “CSAN Organizing Collective September monthly meeting [which] itself shall operate on a model of democratic centralism”.