"The UK is rocked by a historic strike" (Le Parisien, August 2022)
"Pension reform in France: historic mobilisation" (Midi libre, January 2023)
"Historic strike in German transport for better wages" (Euronews, March 2023)
"Canada: "a historic strike by civil servants for a wage increase" (France 24, April 2023)
"United States: historic strike in the automotive sector" (France Info, September 2023)
"Iceland: historic strike against pay inequality" (Tf1, October 2023)
"In Bangladesh, a historic strike by textile workers" (Libération, November 2023)
"In Sweden, a historic inter-professional strike movement" (Libération, November 2023)
"Historic public services strike in Quebec" (Le Monde, December 2023)
The headlines leave no doubt: since July 2022, something is happening within the working class. The workers have returned to the path of proletarian struggle, at an international level. And this is indeed a "historic" event.
The ICC described this as a "rupture". We believe that this is a promising new dynamic for the future. Why is this so?
How can we understand the significance of the current resumption of the struggle?
In January 2022, while the Covid health crisis had not yet finished, we wrote in an international leaflet : “In all countries, in all sectors, the working class is facing an unbearable degradation of its living and working conditions. All governments, whether of the right or the left, traditional or populist, are imposing one attack after the other as the world economic crisis goes from bad to worse. Despite the fear generated by an oppressive health crisis, the working class is beginning to react. In recent months, in the USA, in Iran, in Italy, in Korea, in Spain, France and Britain, struggles have broken out. These are not massive movements: the strikes and demonstrations are still weak and dispersed. Even so, the ruling class is keeping a wary eye on them, conscious of the widespread, rumbling anger. How are we to face up to the attacks of the ruling class? Are we to remain isolated and divided, everyone in ‘their own’ firm or sector? That’s a guarantee of powerlessness. So how can we develop a united, massive struggle?”
If we chose to produce and distribute this leaflet as early as the first month of 2022, it's because we were aware of the current potential of our class. In June, barely 5 months later, the UK's "Summer of Anger" broke out, the biggest wave of strikes in the country since 1979 and its "Winter of Discontent" a movement that heralded a whole series of "historic" struggles around the world. At the time of writing, this strike wave is spreading to Quebec.
To understand the depth of the process underway, and what is at stake, we need to adopt a historical approach, the same one that enabled us to detect this famous "rupture" as early as August 2022.
In August 1914, capitalism announced its entry into decadence in the most shattering and barbaric way imaginable: the First World War broke out. For four appalling years, in the name of the Fatherland, millions of proletarians had to slaughter each other in the trenches, while those left behind - men, women and children - toiled night and day to "support the war effort". The guns spit bullets, the factories spit guns. Everywhere, capitalism was gobbling up metal and lives.
Faced with these unbearable conditions, the workers rose up. Fraternisation at the front, strikes at the back. In Russia, the momentum became revolutionary: the October insurrection. The proletariat's seizure of power was a cry of hope heard by exploited people the world over. The revolutionary wave spread to Germany. It was this spread that put an end to the war: the bourgeoisies, terrified by this red epidemic, preferred to put an end to the carnage and unite against their common enemy: the working class. Here, the proletariat demonstrated its strength, its ability to organise en masse, to take the reins of society into its own hands and to offer the whole of humanity a prospect other than that promised by capitalism. On the one hand exploitation and war, on the other international solidarity and peace. On one side death, on the other life. If this victory was possible, it was because the class and its revolutionary organisations had accumulated a long experience over decades of political struggle since the first workers' strikes in the 1830s.
In Germany, in 1919, 1921 and 1923, attempted insurrections were put down in bloodshed (by the social democrats then in power!). Defeated in Germany, the revolutionary wave was broken and the proletariat found itself isolated in Russia. This defeat was obviously a tragedy, but above all it was an inexhaustible source of lessons for the future (how to deal with a strong, organised bourgeoisie, its democracy, its left; how to organise in permanent general assemblies; what role the party had and what relationship it had with the class, with the workers' assemblies and councils...).
Since communism was only possible on a world scale, the isolation of the revolution in Russia inevitably meant degeneration. Thus, from "within", the situation would rot until the triumph of the counter-revolution. The tragedy was that this defeat also made it possible to fraudulently identify the revolution with Stalinism, which falsely presented itself as the heir to the revolution when in reality it was murdering it. Only a handful would see Stalinism as a counter-revolution. Others would either defend or reject it, but all of them would carry the lie of a ‘continuity’ between Marx, Lenin and Stalin, thus destroying the invaluable lessons of the revolution.
The proletariat was defeated on an international scale. It became incapable of reacting to the new ravages of the economic crisis: galloping inflation in Germany in the 1920s, the 1929 crash in the United States, mass unemployment everywhere. The bourgeoisie could unleash its monsters and march towards a new world war. Nazism, Francoism, fascism, anti-fascism... on both sides of the border, governments mobilised, accusing "the enemy" of being a barbarian. During these dark decades, internationalist revolutionaries were hunted down, deported and murdered. The survivors gave up, terrified or morally crushed. Still others, disorientated and victims of the "Stalinism = Bolshevism" lie, rejected all the lessons of the revolutionary wave and, for some, even the theory of the working class as a revolutionary class. It was "midnight in the century" . Only a handful stayed the course, clinging to a deep understanding of what the working class is, what its struggle for revolution is, what the role of proletarian organisations is - embodying the historical dimension, continuity, memory and ongoing theoretical effort of the revolutionary class. This current is called the Communist Left.
At the end of the Second World War, major strikes in northern Italy, and to a lesser extent in France, gave reason to believe that the working class was about to awaken. Churchill and Roosevelt also believed it; drawing lessons from the end of the First World War and the revolutionary wave, they "preventively" bombed all the working-class districts of defeated Germany to guard against any risk of an uprising: Dresden, Hamburg, Cologne... all these cities were razed to the ground with incendiary bombs, killing hundreds of thousands. But in reality, this generation was far too marked by the counter-revolution and its ideological crushing since the 1920s. The bourgeoisie could continue to ask the exploited to sacrifice themselves without risking a reaction: it had to rebuild and increase production rates. The French Communist Party ordered us to "roll up our sleeves".
It was against this backdrop that the biggest strike in history broke out: May 68 in France. Almost all the Communist Left ignored the significance of this event, completely failing to understand the profound change in the historical situation. A very small group of the Communist Left, apparently marginalised in Venezuela, took a completely different approach. From 1967, Internationalismo understood that something was changing in the situation. On the one hand, its members noticed a slight upsurge in strikes and found people around the world interested in discussing the revolution. There were also the reactions to the war in Vietnam which, while being distorted for pacifist purposes, show that the passivity and acceptance of previous decades were beginning to fade. On the other hand, they understood that the economic crisis was making a comeback with the devaluation of the pound and the re-emergence of mass unemployment. So much so that in January 1968 they wrote: "We are not prophets, and we do not pretend to guess when and how future events will unfold. But what we are sure of and aware of concerning the process in which capitalism is currently immersed is that it cannot be stopped (...) and that it is leading directly to crisis. And we are also sure that the opposite process of development of the combativity of the class, which we are now experiencing in general, will lead the working class to a bloody and direct struggle for the destruction of the bourgeois state". (Internacionalismo n° 8). Five months later, the general strike of May 68 in France provided a resounding confirmation of these predictions. It was clearly not yet time for "a direct struggle for the destruction of the bourgeois state", but for a historic revival of the world proletariat, stirred up by the first manifestations of the open crisis of capitalism after the most profound counter-revolution in history. These predictions were not an expression of clairvoyance, but simply the result of Internacionalismo's remarkable mastery of marxism and the confidence that, even at the worst moments of the counter-revolution, this group had retained in the revolutionary capacities of the class. There were four elements at the heart of Internacionalismo's approach, four elements which would enable it to anticipate May '68 and then, in the very heat of the moment, to understand the historical break that this strike engendered, i.e. the end of the counter-revolution and the return of the proletarian struggle to the international stage. These four elements were a profound understanding of:
1) the historical role of the proletariat as a revolutionary class;
2) the seriousness of the economic crisis and its impact on the class as a spur to action;
3) the ongoing development of consciousness within the class, which can be seen in the questions raised in the discussions of minorities seeking revolutionary positions;
4) the international dimension of this general dynamic, economic crisis and class struggle.
In the background of all this, Internacionalismo had the idea that a new generation was emerging, a generation that had not suffered the counter-revolution, a generation that was confronting the return of the economic crisis while having kept all its potential for reflection and struggle, a generation capable of bringing to the forefront the return of the proletariat in struggle. And that's what May '68 was, paving the way for a whole series of struggles at the international level. What's more, the whole social atmosphere was changing: after the years of defeat , workers were thirsty to discuss, elaborate and "remake the world", particularly the youth. The word "revolution" was everywhere. Texts by Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg and the Communist Left were circulating and provoking endless debate. The working class was trying to reappropriate its past and its experiences. Against this effort, a whole host of currents - Stalinism, Maoism, Trotskyism, Castroism, modernism, etc. - were working to pervert the lessons of 1917. The great lie of Stalinism = Communism was exploited in all its forms.
The first wave of struggles was undoubtedly the most spectacular: the hot autumn in Italy in 1969, the violent uprising in Cordoba in Argentina the same year and the huge strike in Poland in 1970, major movements in Spain and Great Britain in 1972... In Spain in particular, workers began to organise themselves through mass assemblies, a process that culminated in Vitoria in 1976. The international dimension of the wave carried its echoes as far as Israel (1969) and Egypt (1972) and, later, through the uprisings in the townships of South Africa, which were led by struggle committees (the "Civics"). Throughout this period, Internacionalismo worked to bring together revolutionary forces. A small group based in Toulouse and publishing a newspaper called Révolution Internationale joined this process. Together, they formed in 1975 what is still today the International Communist Current, our organisation. Our articles proclaimed "Welcome to the crisis!" because, in the words of Marx, we must not "see in misery only misery" but on the contrary "the revolutionary, subversive side that will overthrow the old society" (The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847).
After a brief pause in the mid-1970s, a second wave of strikes began to spread: strikes by Iranian oil workers and steelworkers in France in 1978, the "Winter of Discontent" in Great Britain, dockworkers in Rotterdam (led by an independent strike committee), and steelworkers in Brazil in 1979 (who also challenged union control). This wave of struggles culminated in the mass strike in Poland in 1980, led by an independent inter-factory strike committee (the MKS), certainly the most important episode in the class struggle since 1968. Although the severe repression of the Polish workers put a stop to this wave, it wasn't long before a new movement took place with the struggles in Belgium in 1983 and 1986, the general strike in Denmark in 1985, the miners' strike in England in 1984-85, the struggles of railway workers and health workers in France in 1986 and 1988, and the movement of education workers in Italy in 1987. The struggles in France and Italy in particular - like the mass strike in Poland - show a real capacity for self-organisation with general assemblies and strike committees.
It's not just a list of strikes. This movement of waves of struggles was not going round in circles, but making real advances in class consciousness. As we wrote in April 1988, in an article entitled "20 years after May 1968": "A simple comparison on the characteristics of the struggles of 20 years ago with those of today will allow us to see the extent of the evolution which has slowly taken place in the working class. Its own experience, added to the catastrophic evolution of the capitalist system, has enabled it to acquire a much more lucid view of the reality of its struggle. This has been expressed by;
- a loss of illusions in the political forces if the left of capital and first and foremost in the unions, towards which illusions have given way to distrust and, increasingly, an open hostility;
- the growing tendency to abandon ineffective forms of mobilisation, the dead-ends which the unions have used so many times to bury the combativity of the workers, such as days of action, token demonstrations, long and isolated strikes …
But the experience of these 20 years of struggle hasn’t only produced negative lessons for the working class (what should not be done). It has also produced lessons on what is to be done:the attempt to extend the struggle (especially Belgium ’86);
- the attempt by workers to take the struggle into their own hands, by organizing general assemblies and election, revocable strike committees (France ’86, Italy ’87 in particular)."
It was this strength of the working class that prevented the Cold War from turning into the Third World War. While the bourgeoisies were welded into two blocs ready to do battle, the workers did not want to sacrifice their lives, by the millions, in the name of the Fatherland. This was also shown by the Vietnam war: faced with the losses of the American army (58,281 soldiers), the protest swelled in the United States and forced the American bourgeoisie to withdraw from the conflict in 1973. The ruling class could not mobilise the exploited of every country into an open confrontation. Unlike in the 1930s, the proletariat was not defeated.
In reality, the 1980s were already beginning to reveal the difficulties the working class was having in developing its struggle further, in carrying forward its revolutionary project:
- The mass strike in Poland in 1980 was extraordinary in terms of its scale and the ability of the workers to organise themselves in the struggle. But it also showed that in the East, illusions in Western democracy were immense. Worse still, in the face of the repression that was falling on the strikers, the solidarity of the proletariat in the West was reduced to platonic declarations, incapable of seeing that on both sides of the Iron Curtain it was in fact one and the same struggle of the working class against capitalism. This was the first indication of the proletariat's inability to politicise its struggle, to further develop its revolutionary consciousness.
- In 1981, US President Ronald Reagan sacked 11,000 air traffic controllers on the grounds that their strike was illegal. This ability of the American bourgeoisie to put down a strike using the weapon of repression showed where the balance of power stood.
- The repression in Poland and the strike in the United States acted as a real blow to the international proletariat for almost two years.
- In 1984, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher went much further. At the time, Britain's working class was reputed to be the most militant in the world, setting a record for the number of strike days year after year. The Iron Lady provoked the miners; hand in hand with the unions, she isolated them from the rest of their class brothers; for a year, they fought alone, until they were exhausted (Thatcher and her government had prepared their coup by secretly accumulating stocks of coal); the demonstrations were put down in bloodshed (three dead, 20,000 injured, 11,300 arrested). It would take the British proletariat 40 years to recover from this blow, and it would remain sluggish and submissive until the summer of 2022 (we'll come back to this later). Above all, this defeat showed that the proletariat had not managed to understand the trap, to break through the union sabotage and division. The politicisation of struggles remained largely insufficient, which represented a growing handicap.
One little sentence from our 1988 article, which we have already quoted, sums up the crucial problem of the proletariat at the time: "Perhaps it is less easy to talk about revolution in 1988 than in 1968". At the time, we ourselves did not sufficiently understand the full significance of this observation, we were merely sensing it. In fact, the generation that had accomplished its task by putting an end to the counter-revolution in May 1968 could not also develop the revolutionary project of the proletariat.
This lack of perspective was beginning to affect the whole of society: nihilism and drug-addiction were spreading everywhere. It's no coincidence that it was around this time that two little words contained in a song by the punk band The Sex Pistols were being spray-painted on the walls of London: No future.
It was in this context, as the limits of the '68 generation and the rotting of society began to emerge, that a terrible blow was dealt to our class: the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989-91 unleashed a deafening campaign on the "death of communism". The great lie "Stalinism = Communism" was once again exploited to the full; all the abominable crimes of this regime, which was in reality capitalist, were attributed to the working class and "its" system. Worse still, it was trumpeted day and night: "This is where the workers' struggle leads, to barbarism and bankruptcy! This is where the dream of revolution leads: to a nightmare! The result was terrible: the workers were ashamed of their struggle, of their class, of their history. Deprived of perspective, they denied themselves and lost their class memory. All the lessons and achievements of the great social movements of the past fell into the limbo of oblivion. This historic change in the world situation plunged humanity into a new phase of capitalist decline: the phase of decomposition.
Decomposition is not a fleeting, superficial moment; it is a profound dynamic that dominates society. Decomposition is the last phase of decadent capitalism, a phase of agony that will end in the death of humanity or revolution. It is the fruit of the years 1970-1980, during which neither the bourgeoisie nor the proletariat was able to impose its perspective: war for one, revolution for the other. Decomposition expresses this historical deadlock between the classes:
1. The bourgeoisie did not inflict a decisive historic defeat on the working class that would have enabled it to mobilise for a new world war.
2. The working class, despite 20 years of struggle which prevented the march to war, and which saw important developments in class consciousness, has not been able to develop the perspective of revolution, to pose its own political alternative to the crisis of the system.
As a result, deprived of any way out but still sinking into economic crisis, decadent capitalism has begun to rot on its feet. This putrefaction is affecting society at every level, with the absence of prospects and a future acting like a veritable poison: a rise in individualism, irrationality, violence, self-destruction and so on. Fear and hatred gradually took over. Drug cartels developed in South America, racism was everywhere… Thought was marked by an inability to think ahead, by a short-sighted and narrow vision; the politics of the bourgeoisie was itself increasingly limited to the piecemeal. This daily wash inevitably permeates the proletarians, especially as they no longer believe in the future of the revolution, are ashamed of their past and no longer feel themselves to be a class. Atomised, reduced to individual citizens, they bear the full brunt of the rotting of society. The most serious problem is surely the amnesia about the gains and advances of the 1968-1989 period.
To drive the point home, the economic policy of the ruling class deliberately attacks any sense of class identity, both by breaking up the old industrial centres of working-class resistance and by introducing much more atomised forms of work, such as the so-called "gig economy", where workers are regularly treated as "self-employed".
For a whole section of working-class youth, the consequence is catastrophic: a tendency to form gangs in urban centres, which express both a lack of any economic prospects and a desperate search for an alternative community, leading to the creation of murderous divisions between young people, based on rivalries between different neighbourhoods and different conditions, on competition for control of the local drug economy, or on racial or religious differences.
While the '68 generation suffered this setback, the generation entering adulthood in 1990 - with the lie of "the death of communism" and the dynamic of social decomposition - seemed lost to the class struggle.
In 1999, at a WTO (World Trade Organisation) conference in Seattle, a new political movement came to the fore: anti-globalisation. 40,000 demonstrators, the vast majority of them young people, rose up against the development of a capitalist society that was commodifying the entire planet. At the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001, they numbered 300,000.
What does the emergence of this trend reveal? In 1990, US President George Bush senior promised a "new world order" of "peace and prosperity", but the reality of the decade was quite different: the Gulf War in 1991, the war in Yugoslavia in 1993, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the crisis and collapse of the "Asian Tigers" in 1997, and rising unemployment, job insecurity and "flexibility" everywhere. In short, capitalism continued to sink into decadence. This inevitably prompted the working class and all sections of society to worry, question and reflect. Each in its own corner. The emergence of the anti-globalisation movement was the result of this dynamic: a "citizens’" protest against "globalisation", calling for "fair" global capitalism. It is an aspiration for another world, but on a non-working class, non-revolutionary terrain, on the bourgeois terrain of belief in democracy.
The years 2000-2010 were to see a succession of attempts at struggle, all of which were to come up against this decisive weakness linked to the loss of class identity.
On 15 February 2003, the world's largest recorded demonstration (to this day) took place. 3 million people in Rome, 1 million in Barcelona, 2 million in London, etc. The aim was to protest against the looming war in Iraq – a conflict which would actually break out in March. On the pretext of fighting terrorism, it would last 8 years and kill 1.2 million people. In reaction, there is the revulsion against war, whereas the successive wars of the 1990s had not aroused any resistance. But above all, it was a movement based on civic and pacifist values; it was not the working class that was fighting against the warlike intentions of their states, but a mass of citizens demanding that their governments adopt a policy of peace.
In May-June 2003, a series of demonstrations broke out in France against a reform of the pension system. A strike broke out in the national education sector, and the threat of a "general strike" loomed large. In the end, however, it did not happen, and the teachers remained isolated. This sectoral confinement was obviously the result of a deliberate policy of division on the part of the unions, but the sabotage succeeded because it was based on a major weakness in the class: teachers saw themselves as separate, not as workers, not as members of the working class. For the moment, the very notion of the working class was still lost in limbo, rejected, outdated and shameful.
In 2006, students in France mobilised en masse against a special precarious contract for young people: the CPE. The movement demonstrated a paradox: the class was still thinking about the issue, but it didn’t know it. The students rediscovered a genuinely working-class form of struggle: general assemblies. They were open to workers, the unemployed and retired people, and the interventions of older people were applauded. The slogan used in the marches became: "Young lardons, old croutons, all the same salad". This was the emergence of working-class solidarity between the generations, and the understanding that everyone was affected, and that everyone had to pull together. This movement, which went beyond the trade union framework, contained the "risk" (for the bourgeoisie) of drawing employees and workers down a similarly "uncontrolled" path. The government withdrew its bill. This victory marked a step forward in the efforts made by the working class since the early 2000s to emerge from the doldrums of the 1990s. In the heat of the struggle, we published and distributed a supplement in France with the headline "Welcome to the new generations of the working class". And indeed, this movement showed the emergence of a new generation that has experienced neither the loss of momentum of the struggles of the 1980s and sometimes their repression, nor directly the great lie "Stalinism = Communism", "revolution = barbarism", a new generation hit by the development of the crisis and precariousness, a new generation ready to refuse the sacrifices imposed and to fight. But this generation also grew up in the 1990s, and what marks it most is the apparent absence of the working class, the disappearance of its project and its experience. This new generation had to "reinvent" itself; as a result, it was taking up the methods of struggle of the proletariat but - and the "but" is a big one - in a non-conscious way, by instinct, by diluting itself in the mass of "citizens". It's a bit like in Molière's play where Monsieur Jourdain makes prose without knowing it. This explains why, once the movement had disappeared, it left no apparent traces: no groups, no newspapers, no books... The protagonists themselves seemed to forget very quickly what they had experienced.
The "movement of the squares" (the so-called Arab Spring, Occupy, etc) that swept the world a few years later was to be a flagrant demonstration of these contradictory forces, of this momentum and these profound and historic weaknesses. Combativity developed, as did reflection, but without reference to the working class and its history, without a sense of belonging to the proletariat, without a class identity.
On 15 September 2008, the biggest bankruptcy in history, that of the investment bank Lehman Brothers, triggered a wave of international panic; it was the so-called "subprime" crisis. Millions of workers lost their meagre investments and pensions, and austerity plans plunged entire populations into misery. Immediately, the propaganda steamroller was set in motion: it was not the capitalist system that was once again showing its limitations, but the crooked and greedy bankers who were the cause of all the ills. The proof is that some countries are doing well, notably the BRICS and China in particular. The very form that this crisis is taking, a "credit crunch" involving a massive loss of savings for millions of workers, made it even more difficult to respond on a class basis, since the impact seems to be affecting individual households rather than an associated class. Which is precisely the Achilles heel of the proletariat since 1990: forgetting that it exists and that it is even the main force in society.
In 2010, the French bourgeoisie seized on this context of great confusion in the class to orchestrate, with its unions, a series of fourteen days of action which ended in victory for the government (the adoption of yet another pension reform), exhaustion and demoralisation. By limiting the struggle to union marches, with no life or discussion in the processions, the bourgeoisie succeeded in exploiting the great political weaknesses of the workers to erase even further the main positive lesson of the anti-CPE movement of 2006: general assemblies as the lifeblood of the struggle.
On 17 December 2010, in Tunisia, a young itinerant fruit and vegetable seller saw his meagre goods requisitioned by the police, who beat him up. In despair, he set himself on fire. What followed was a veritable cry of anger and indignation that shook the whole country and crossed borders. The appalling poverty and repression throughout the Maghreb pushed people to revolt. The masses gathered, first in Tahrir Square in Egypt. The workers who were fighting found themselves diluted in the crowd, in the midst of all the other non-working classes in society. “Mubarak out", "Gaddafi out", and so on. The protagonists demanded democracy and the sharing of wealth. The widespread anger led to these illusory, bourgeois slogans.
In 2011, in Spain, a whole generation of underprivileged people, forced to stay at home with their parents, took inspiration from what is now known as the "Arab Spring" and invaded Madrid's main square. The slogan was: "From Tahrir Square to the Puerta del Sol". The "Indignados" movement was born and spread throughout the country. Although it brought together all strata of society, as in North Africa, here the working class was in the majority. So the gatherings took the form of assemblies to debate and organise. When we took part, we noticed a kind of internationalist impetus in the many eager acknowledgments of the numerous expressions of solidarity from all corners of the world; the slogan "world revolution" was taken seriously, there was a recognition that "the system is obsolete" and a strong desire to discuss the possibility of a new form of social organisation.
In the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom, this "movement of the squares" took on the name "Occupy". The participants spoke of their suffering as a result of the precariousness and flexibility that made it almost impossible to have real, stable colleagues or the slightest social life. This destructuring and relentless exploitation individualises, isolates and atomises. The Occupy protagonists were delighted to be able to get together and form a community, to be able to talk and even live as part of a collective. So there's already a kind of regression here compared to the Indignados, because it's less a question of fighting than of being together. But above all, Occupy was born in the United States, the country of workers' repression under Reagan, the country that symbolised the victory of capitalism over "communism", the country that championed the replacement of the working class by self-employed individuals, freelancers and so on. This movement was therefore extremely marked by the loss of class identity, by the erasure of all the accumulated but repressed working-class experience. Occupy focused on the theory of the 1% (the minority who own the wealth... in fact the bourgeoisie) to demand more democracy and a better distribution of goods. In other words, dangerous wishful thinking for a better, fairer, more humane capitalism. Moreover, the stronghold of the movement was set up in Wall Street, the New York stock exchange (Occupy Wall Street), to symbolise that the enemy is crooked finance.
But in the end, this weakness also marked the Indignados: the tendency to see themselves as "citizens" rather than proletarians made the whole movement vulnerable to democratic ideology, which ended up allowing bourgeois parties like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain to present themselves as the true heirs of these revolts. "Democracia Real Ya" (Real Democracy Now!) became the watchword of the movement.
In the end, the ebb of this "movement of the squares" further deepened the general retreat of class consciousness. In Egypt, illusions about democracy paved the way for the restoration of the same kind of authoritarian governance that was the initial catalyst for the "Arab Spring"; in Israel, where mass demonstrations once launched the internationalist slogan: "Netanyahu, Mubarak, Assad, same enemy", the brutal militarist policies of the Netanyahu government are now taking over again; in Spain, many young people who had taken part in the movement are embroiled in the absolute impasse of Catalan or Spanish nationalism. In the United States, the focus on the 1% is fuelling populist sentiment against "the elites", "the Establishment"...
The period 2003-2011 thus represents a whole series of efforts by our class to fight against the continuing deterioration of living and working conditions under capitalism in crisis, but, deprived of class identity, it ended up (temporarily) in a greater slump. And the worsening decomposition in the 2010s would make these difficulties even greater: development of populism, with all the irrationality and hatred that this bourgeois political current contains, proliferation on an international scale of terrorist attacks, seizure of power over whole regions by drug traffickers in South America, by warlords in the Middle East, Africa and the Caucasus, huge waves of migrants fleeing the horror of hunger, war, barbarism, desertification linked to global warming... the Mediterranean is becoming a watery graveyard.
This rotten and deadly dynamic tends to reinforce nationalism and to rely on the "protection" of the state, to be influenced by the false critiques of the system offered by populism (and, for a minority, by jihadism), to adhere to "identity politics"... The lack of class identity is aggravated by the tendency towards fragmentation into racial, sexual and other identities, which in turn reinforces exclusion and division, whereas only the proletariat fighting for its own interests can be truly inclusive.
In short, capitalist society is rotting on its feet.
But the current situation is not just one of decay. Other forces are at work: as decadence sinks in, the economic crisis worsens and with it the need to fight; the horror of everyday life constantly raises questions in the minds of workers; the struggles of recent years have begun to bring some answers and these experiences are digging their furrow without us realising it. In the words of Marx: "We recognise our old friend, our old mole who knows so well how to work underground, only to appear suddenly".
In 2019, a social movement developed in France against a new “pension reform” (sic). Even more than the fighting spirit, which is very high, what attracts our attention is the trend towards solidarity between the generations that is being expressed in the processions: many blue-collar workers in their sixties - and therefore not directly affected by the reform - are striking and demonstrating to ensure that younger employees do not suffer this government attack. The intergenerational solidarity that was very much in evidence in 2006 seems to be re-emerging. We heard demonstrators chanting "The working class exists", singing "We're here, we're here for the honour of the workers and for a better world", and defending the idea of "class war". Even if it's a minority, the idea is back in the air, something that hasn't happened for 30 years!
In 2020 and 2021, during the Covid pandemic and its many confinements, we note the existence of strikes in the United States, Iran, Italy, Korea, Spain and France which, even if they are scattered, testify to the depth of anger, since it is particularly difficult to fight in these times of state-led campaigns in the name of "health for all".
That's why, in January 2022, when inflation made a comeback after almost 30 years of lull on this economic front, we decided to write an international leaflet:
"Prices are soaring, particularly for basic necessities: food, energy, transport... the concrete reality is more and more people struggling to feed themselves, to find accommodation, to keep warm, to travel."
And it is in this leaflet that we announce: "In every country, in every sector, the working class is suffering an unbearable deterioration in its living and working conditions (...) Attacks are raining down under the weight of the worsening global economic crisis. (...) Despite the fear of an oppressive health crisis, the working class is beginning to react (...) Admittedly, these are not massive movements: strikes and demonstrations are still too few and far between. But the bourgeoisie is watching them like a hawk, aware of the scale of the anger that is growing. (...) So how can we develop a united and massive struggle?"
The outbreak of war in Ukraine a month later caused alarm; the class feared that the conflict would spread and degenerate. But, at the same time, the war considerably worsened inflation. Added to the disastrous effects of Brexit, it is the United Kingdom that is hardest hit.
Faced with this unbearable deterioration in living and working conditions, strikes broke out in the UK in a wide range of sectors (health, education, transport, etc.): it was what the media called "The Summer of Anger", in reference to "The Winter of Discontent" in 1979 (which remains the most massive movement of any country after that of May 1968 in France)!
By drawing this parallel between these two major movements, separated by 43 years, journalists are saying much more than they realise. Because behind this expression of “anger” lies an extremely profound movement. Two expressions will run from picket line to picket line: “Enough is enough” and “We are workers”. In other words, if British workers are standing up to inflation, it’s not just because their situation is unsustainable. The crisis is a necessary whip, but not sufficient in itself. It is also because awareness has matured in the heads of the workers, that the mole which has been digging for decades is now poking out a little piece of its snout. Taking up the method of our ancestors in Internationalismo, which enabled them to anticipate the coming of May 1968 and then to understand its historical significance, we have been able since August 2022 to point out in our international leaflet that the awakening of the British proletariat has a global and historical significance; that’s why our leaflet concludes with: “The massive strikes in the UK are a call to action for proletarians everywhere”. The fact that the proletariat which founded the First International with the French proletariat in 1864 in London, which was the most combative of the 1970-80 decade, which suffered a major defeat at the hands of Thatcher in 1984-85 and which since then had not been able to react, announces that now “enough is enough” reveals what is maturing in the depths of our class: the proletariat is beginning to recover its class identity, to feel more confident, to feel itself a social and collective force.
Especially as these strikes are taking place at a time when the war in Ukraine and all its patriotic rhetoric are raging. As we said in our leaflet at the end of August 2022:
“The importance of this movement is not just the fact that it is putting an end to a long period of passivity. These struggles are developing at a time when the world is confronted with a large-scale imperialist war, a war which pits Russia against Ukraine on the ground but which has a global impact with, in particular, a mobilisation of NATO member countries. A commitment in weapons but also at the economic, diplomatic and ideological levels. In the Western countries, the governments are calling for sacrifices to ‘defend freedom and democracy’. In concrete terms, this means that the proletarians of these countries must tighten their belts even more to ‘show their solidarity with Ukraine’ - in fact with the Ukrainian bourgeoisie and the ruling class of the Western countries (...) Governments are now calling for ‘sacrifices to fight inflation’. This is a sinister joke when all they are doing is making it worse by escalating their spending on war. This is the future that capitalism and its competing national bourgeoisies are promising: more wars, more exploitation, more destruction, more misery. Furthermore, this is what the workers’ strikes in Britain point to, even if the workers are not always fully conscious of it: the refusal to sacrifice more and more for the interests of the ruling class, the refusal to sacrifice for the national economy and for the war effort, the refusal to accept the logic of this system which leads humanity towards catastrophe and, ultimately, to its destruction.”
While strikes were continuing in the UK, affecting more and more sectors, a major social movement was taking place in France against... pension reform. The same characteristics were apparent on both sides of the Channel: in France, too, the demonstrators emphasised that they belonged to the workers' camp, and the slogan "Enough is enough" was taken up in the form of "ça suffit”. Obviously, the proletariat in France brought to this international dynamic its habit of taking to the streets en masse, which contrasted with the scattered pickets imposed by the unions in the United Kingdom. Even more significant of the contribution made by this episode of struggle to the global international process was the slogan that flourished everywhere in the processions: “You give us 64, we’ll give you 68” (the government wanted to push back the legal retirement age to 64, and the demonstrators countered with their desire to re-enact May 68). Apart from the excellent pun (the inventiveness of the working class in struggle), this immediately popular slogan indicates that the proletariat, by beginning to recognise itself as a class, by beginning to recover its class identity, is also beginning to remember, to reactivate its dormant memory. We were surprised, moreover, to see references to the 2006 movement against the CPE. We published and distributed a new leaflet immediately, going back over the chronology of the movement and its lessons (the importance of open and sovereign general assemblies, i.e. really organised and run by the assembly and not by the unions). When they saw the title, the demonstrators came to ask us for the paper and some, after reading it, thanked us when they saw us again on the pavement.
So it's not just the "break with the past" factor that explains the ability of the current new generation to lead the whole proletariat into the struggle. On the contrary, the notion of continuity is perhaps even more important. So we were right to write in 2020: "The gains of the struggles of the 1968-89 period have not been lost, even if they may have been forgotten by many workers (and revolutionaries): the fight for self-organisation and the extension of struggles; the beginnings of an understanding of the anti-worker role of the unions and the parties of the capitalist left; resistance to being dragooned into war; distrust towards the electoral and parliamentary game, etc. Future struggles will have to be based on the critical assimilation of these gains, taking them further, and certainly not denying or forgetting them." (The Responsibilities of revolutionaries in the current period: the different facets of fraction-like work (International Review 164, 2020).
The experience accumulated by previous generations since '68, and even since the beginning of the workers' movement, has not been erased but buried in a dormant memory; reclaiming class identity means that it can be reactivated, and that the working class can set out to reclaim its own history.
In concrete terms, the generations who lived through '68 and the confrontation with the unions in the 70s and 80s are still alive today, and can tell their stories and pass them on. The "lost" generation of the 90s will also be able to contribute. The young people from the 2006 and 2011 assemblies will finally be able to understand what they did, the meaning of their self-organisation, and tell the new generation about it. On the one hand, this new generation of the 2020s has not suffered the defeats of the 1980s (under Thatcher and Reagan), nor the lie of 1990 about the death of communism and the end of the class struggle, nor the years of darkness that followed; on the other hand, it has grown up in a permanent economic crisis and a world in perdition, which is why it carries within it an undiminished fighting spirit. This new generation can draw all the others along behind it, while having to listen to them and learn from their experiences, their victories and their defeats. The past, the present and the future can once again come together. This is the full potential of the current and future movements, this is what lies behind the notion of "rupture": a new dynamic that breaks with the apathy and amnesia that have dominated since 1990, a new dynamic that reappropriates the history of the workers' movement in a critical way to take it much further. The strikes that are developing today are the fruit of the subterranean maturation of previous decades, and can in turn lead to a much greater maturation.
And obviously, those who represent this historical continuity and memory, the revolutionary organisations, have a huge role to play in this process.
Faced with the devastating effects of decomposition, the proletariat will have to politicise its struggles
Since 2020 and the Covid pandemic, the decomposition of capitalism has accelerated across the planet. All the crises of this decadent system - health, economic, climate, social and war crises - are intertwining to form a devastating vortex . This dynamic threatens to drag all humanity to its doom.
The working class is therefore faced with a major challenge, that of developing its revolutionary project and putting forward its perspective, that of communism, in this context of generalised rot. To do this, it must be able to resist all the centrifugal forces that are relentlessly exerting pressure on it; it must be able to resist the social fragmentation that encourages racism, confrontation between rival gangs, withdrawal and fear; it must be able to resist the siren calls of nationalism and war (supposedly humanitarian, anti-terrorist, "resistance", etc. - the bourgeoisies always accuse the enemy of barbarity to justify their own). Resisting all this rot which is gradually eating away at the whole of society, and succeeding in developing its struggle and its prospects, necessarily implies that the whole working class must raise its level of consciousness and organisation, succeed in politicising its struggles, and create places for debate, for working out and taking control of strikes by the workers themselves.
So what do all these strikes, described by the media as "historic", tell us about the current dynamic and the ability of our class to continue its efforts, despite being surrounded by a world in perdition?
Social fragmentation versus workers’ solidarity
The solidarity that has been expressed in all the strikes and social movements since 2022 shows that the working class, when it fights back, not only manages to resist this social putrefaction, but also initiates the beginnings of an antidote, the promise of another possible perspective: proletarian fraternity. Its struggle is the antithesis of the war of all against all towards which decomposition is pushing.
On the picket lines and in the processions of demonstrators, in France and Iceland, the most common expressions are "We're all in the same boat" and "We have to fight together".
Even in the United States, a country plagued by violence, drugs, and racial division, the working class has been able to put forward the question of workers' solidarity between sectors and between generations. The evidence emerging from this summer's "historic" strike, the heart of which was the car workers, even shows that the process continues to progress and deepen:
- "We have to say that enough is enough! Not just us, but the entire working class of this country has to say, at some point, enough is enough (...) We've all had enough: temps have had enough, long-tenured employees like me have had enough... because these temps are our children, our neighbours, our friends" (Littlejohn, skilled trades maintenance manager at Ford's Buffalo stamping plant in the United States).
- "All these groups are not simply separate movements, but a collective rallying cry: we are a city of workers - blue-collar and white-collar, union and non-union, immigrant and native-born" (Los Angeles Times).
- "The Stellantis complex in Toledo, Ohio, was abuzz with cheers and horns at the start of the strike" (The Wall Street Journal).
- "Horns honk in support of strikers outside the carmaker's plant in Wayne, Michigan" (The Guardian).
This solidarity is explicitly based on the idea that "we are all workers"!
What a contrast to the attempted anti-immigrant pogroms that took place in Dublin (Ireland) and Romans-sur-Isère (France)! In both cases, following a fatal stabbing, a section of the population blamed the murders on immigration and demanded revenge, taking to the streets to lynch people. These are not isolated and insignificant incidents; on the contrary, they herald the general drift of society. Brawls between gangs of young people, attacks, murders committed by unbalanced individuals and nihilistic riots are multiplying and will only increase again and again.
The forces of decomposition will gradually drive social fragmentation; the working class will find itself in the midst of growing hatred. To resist these fetid winds, it will have to continue its efforts to develop its struggle and its consciousness. The instinct for solidarity will not be enough; the working class will also have to work towards unity, in other words, towards taking conscious control of its links and its organisation in the struggle. This will inevitably mean confronting the unions and their permanent sabotage of division. So here we come back to the need to re-appropriate the lessons of the struggles of the 1970s and 1980s.
War versus internationalism
The crossing of the Atlantic by the cry "Enough is enough" reveals the profoundly international nature of our class and its struggle. The strikes in the United States are the direct result of the strikes in the United Kingdom. So here too we were right when we wrote in the spring of 2023: "English being, moreover, the language of world communication, the influence of these movements necessarily surpasses the possible impact of struggles in France or Germany, for example. In this sense, the British proletariat shows the way not only to the European workers, who will have to be in the vanguard of the rise of the class struggle, but also to the world proletariat, and in particular to the American proletariat." (Report on the class struggle to the 25th ICC Congress, International Review 170, 2023).
During the strike by the Big Three (Ford, Chrysler, General Motors) in the United States, the feeling of being an international class began to emerge. In addition to this explicit reference to the UK strikes, the workers tried to unify the struggle on both sides of the American-Canadian border. The bourgeoisie was not mistaken: it understood the danger of such a dynamic and the Canadian government immediately signed an agreement with the unions to put a premature stop to this vestige of common struggle and thus prevent any possibility of unification.
During the movement in France too, there were expressions of international solidarity. As we wrote in our April 2023 leaflet : "Proletarians are beginning to reach out to each other across borders, as we saw with the strike by workers in a Belgian refinery in solidarity with workers in France, or the strike by the ‘Mobilier national’ in France, before the (postponed) visit of Charles III to Versailles, in solidarity with ’the English workers who have been on strike for weeks for wage increases’". Through these still very embryonic expressions of solidarity, workers began to recognise themselves as an international class: "We're all in the same boat!"
In fact, the return of working-class combativity since the summer of 2022 has an international dimension that is perhaps even stronger than in the 1960s/70s/80s. Why is this so?
- This is because "globalisation", this extremely tightly woven global economic fabric, gives the economic crisis an equally immediate global dimension.
- Because there are no longer any areas that are 'resisting' the economic crisis, China and Germany are now also being hit, unlike in 2008 (which says a lot about the seriousness of this ongoing open crisis).
- Because the proletariat faces the same deteriorating living conditions everywhere.
- Last but not least, because the links between proletarians in different countries have become much closer (economic collaboration via multinationals, intense international migration, globalised information, etc.).
In China, "growth" continues to slow and unemployment to soar. Official Chinese government figures show that a quarter of young people are unemployed! In response, struggles are developing: "Hit by the drop in orders, factories employing very large numbers of workers are relocating and laying off workers. Strikes against unpaid wages and demonstrations against dismissals without compensation multiplied". Such strikes in a country where the working class is under the ideological and repressive blanket of "communism" are particularly significant of the scale of the anger that is brewing. With the probable collapse of the property construction sector just around the corner, we'll have to keep an eye on the possible reactions of the workers.
For the time being, in the rest of Asia, it is above all in South Korea that the proletariat has returned to strike action, with a major general strike last July.
This profoundly international dimension of the class struggle, this beginning of an understanding that striking workers are all fighting for the same interests whatever side of the border they are on, represents the exact opposite of the intrinsically imperialist nature of capitalism. The opposition between two poles is developing before our eyes: one made up of international solidarity, the other made up of increasingly barbaric and murderous wars.
That said, the working class is still a long way from being strong enough, conscious and organised enough, to stand up explicitly against war, or even against the effects of the war economy:
- In Western Europe and North America, for the time being, the two major wars underway do not seem to be substantially affecting workers' combativity. Strikes in the United Kingdom began just after the start of the war in Ukraine, the car industry strike in the United States continued despite the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, and other strikes have since developed in Canada, Iceland and Sweden ... But the fact remains that workers have not yet managed to incorporate into their struggle - in their slogans and their debates - the link between inflation, the blows dealt by the bourgeoisie and the war. This difficulty is due to the workers' lack of self-confidence, their lack of awareness of the strength they represent as a class; to stand up against the war and its consequences appears to be far too great a challenge, overwhelming, out of reach. Achieving this link depends on a higher degree of consciousness. It took the international proletariat three years to make this link in the face of the First World War. In the 1968-1989 period, the proletariat was unable to make this link, which was one of the factors inhibiting its ability to develop its politicisation. So, after 30 years of hindsight, we shouldn't expect the proletariat to take this fundamental step straight away. It is a profoundly political step, which will mark a crucial break with bourgeois ideology. It is a step that requires an understanding that capitalism is military barbarism, that permanent war is not something accidental but a characteristic of decadent capitalism.
- In Eastern Europe, on the other hand, the war has had an absolutely disastrous impact; there has been no opposition - not even pacifist demonstrations - to the war. Although the conflict has already claimed 500,000 lives (250,000 on each side), and young people in Russia and Ukraine are fleeing the mobilisation to save their skins, there has been no collective protest. The only way out is for individuals to desert and go into hiding. This absence of class reaction confirms that while 1989 was a blow against the whole proletariat at world level, the workers of the Stalinist countries were hit even harder. The extreme weakness of the Eastern European working class is the tip of the iceberg of the weakness of the working class in the countries of the whole of the former USSR. The threat of war hanging over the countries of ex-Yugoslavia is partly permitted by this profound weakness of the proletariat living there.
- As for China, it is difficult to assess precisely where the working class in that country stands in relation to the war. We need to keep a close eye on the situation and how it develops. The scale of the coming economic crisis will have a major impact on the dynamics of the proletariat. Having said that, as in Eastern Europe, Stalinism (dead or alive) will continue to play its role against our class. When you have to study the (distorted) ideas of Karl Marx at school, you can only be disgusted with marxism.
In fact, each war - which will inevitably break out - will pose different problems for the world proletariat. The war in Ukraine does not pose the same problems as the war in Gaza, which does not pose the same problems as the looming war in Taiwan. For example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is creating a rotten situation of hatred in the central countries between the Jewish and Muslim communities, which allows the bourgeoisie to create a huge hype of division.
But in the West as in the East, in the North as in the South, we can nevertheless recognise that, generally speaking, the process of developing consciousness on the question of war will be very difficult, and there is no guarantee that the proletariat will succeed in carrying it through. As we pointed out 33 years ago: "Contrary to the past, the development of a new revolutionary wave will not come from a war but from the worsening of the economic crisis (...) working class mobilization, the starting point for large-scale class combats, will come from economic attacks. In the same way, at the level of consciousness, the aggravation of the crisis will be a fundamental factor in revealing the historical dead-end of the capitalist mode of production. But on this same level of consciousness, the question of war is once again destined to play a part of the first order:
- by highlighting the fundamental consequences of this historical dead-end: the destruction of humanity,
- by constituting the only objective consequence of the crisis, decadence and decomposition that the proletariat can today set a limit to (unlike any of the other manifestations of decomposition), to the extent that in the central countries it is not at present enrolled under the flags of nationalism." ("Militarism and decomposition", International Review 64, 1991)
Here again, we can see the extent to which the proletariat's ability to politicise its struggles will be the key to the future.
Populist irrationality versus revolutionary consciousness
The worsening of decomposition is putting a whole series of obstacles in the path of the working class towards revolution. In addition to social fragmentation, war and chaos, populism will flourish.
Javier Milei has just been elected President of Argentina. The 23rd world power finds itself with a man at the head of its state who declares that the earth is flat! He holds his meetings with a chainsaw in his hand. In short, he makes Trump look like a man of science. Beyond the anecdote, this shows the extent to which decomposition is advancing and engulfing ever larger sections of the ruling class in its irrationality and rot:
- In the United States, Trump is the favourite for the next presidential election.
- In France, for the first time, the possibility of the far right coming to power is becoming credible, and even highly probable.
- Italy is led by the Meloni government.
- In Holland, the victory of Geert Wilde, a self-confessed Islamophobe and Eurosceptic , came as a surprise to all the experts.
- In Germany, populism is also on the rise, fuelled above all by hate speech in the face of massive waves of refugees.
So far, all this putrefaction has not prevented the working class from developing its struggles and its consciousness. But we must keep our minds and eyes wide open to follow developments and assess the weight of populism on the rational thinking that the proletariat must develop to carry through its revolutionary project.
This decisive step in the politicisation of struggles was missing in the 1980s. Today, it is in the much more difficult context of decomposition that the proletariat must succeed in achieving it, otherwise capitalism will sweep all humanity into barbarism, chaos and, ultimately, death.
The victorious outcome of a revolution is possible. It's not just decomposition that's progressing, but also the objective conditions for revolution: an increasingly devastating world economic crisis that's pushing us towards struggle; a working class that's ever more numerous, concentrated and linked on an international scale; an accumulation of historic working-class experience.
As we slide deeper into decadence, the need for world revolution becomes ever more apparent!
To achieve this, the current efforts of our class will have to continue, in particular the reappropriation of the lessons of the past (the waves of struggle of the 1970s-80s, the revolutionary wave of the 1910s-20s). The current generation that is rising up belongs to a whole chain that links us to the first struggles, the first fights of our class since the 1830s!
Eventually, we will also have to break the great lie that has hung over us since the counter-revolution, namely that Stalinism = Communism.
It is in the heat of the struggles to come, in the political struggle against trade union sabotage, against the sophisticated traps of the great democracies, by managing to come together in assemblies, in committees, in circles to debate and decide, that our class will learn all these necessary lessons. For, as Rosa Luxemburg wrote in a letter to Mehring: "Socialism is not, precisely, a bread and butter problem, but a movement of culture, a great and powerful conception of the world." (Rosa Luxemburg, letter to Franz Mehring).
Yes, this path will be difficult, rugged and uncertain, but there is no other way.
 As Shakespeare put it in Richard III.
 Title of a book by the journalist and revolutionary Victor Serge.
 Read "The acceleration of capitalist decomposition openly raises the question of the destruction of humanity", International Review 169, 2023.
 Since "L'été de la rupture en 2022", we've written 7 different leaflets, with over 130,000 copies distributed in France alone.