International class struggle: Workers' struggles in South Korea and South Africa
The world proletariat's increasing mobilization
Contrary to the propaganda of the ruling class, the recent workers' struggles in South Korea and South Africa are not essentially different from those waged by workers in other countries and particularly in the most industrialized countries. Despite their specificities - military dictatorship in South Korea, ‘apartheid' regime in South Africa - these are moments in one and the same combat in the struggle of the world working class against capitalist exploitation.
South Korea, a country whose ‘exceptional' economic performance has been made so much of by the ‘experts', a country which has been pointed to as a model for the less developed world, has during the summer been through its greatest social explosions since the war. Its ten million proletarians, on whose back the national capital, but also Japanese and American capital, have built the ‘Korean miracle' by imposing on them some of the worst working conditions in the world, have given a masterful slap in the face to the myth of the ‘passive', ‘resigned' Asian workers, who are exploited to death and ‘happy' to be so. Through an unprecedented movement of strikes which, beginning from the main working class concentrations - coal mines, shipyards, car plants - spread like wildfire to all sectors of the class, the Korean workers have shown that in Japanese capital's sphere of influence, as in the rest of the world, the working class is learning to constitute itself into a social force, the only one capable of confronting decadent capitalism in crisis and opening up a real perspective. In the long run, these battles prefigure the mobilization of the Japanese proletariat.
South Africa has also been through the biggest class mobilization in its history. More than a quarter of a million miners were on strike for three weeks. At the same time 10,000 postal workers were out; 60,000 workers in the metallurgical sector have been involved in strike movements since July; 15,000 petrochemical workers are threatening to come out.
We can't here go into all the aspects of these struggles. We refer readers to the various organs of our territorial press for further coverage.
The most important thing to do here is to denounce the ideology which seeks to enclose these struggles in a framework which emasculates their class content, which hides what unites them to the combat of the entire world working class.
The bourgeoisie always resorts to the same strategy: it emphasizes what is specific about the conditions of the workers' struggle in a particular enterprise, sector, or country in order to isolate it, to derail it onto a false terrain and smother it. One of the most spectacular examples of this was Poland 1980, where the workers' struggle against exploitation was presented to the whole world as a struggle for the right to go to mass, while more locally it was imprisoned in the struggle for the Solidarnosc trade union's right to exist.
In South Korea capitalist barbarism has taken the form of a particularly violent military dictatorship; in South Africa, the form of racism and apartheid. The American bourgeoisie is currently engaged in getting rid of the most anachronistic elements of these regimes, not in order to lighten the living conditions of the working class, but on the contrary in order to create institutions capable of containing and controlling the class struggle developing in these countries, as in the rest of the world, under the effects of the world economic crisis.
The workers' strikes in South Korea didn't break out with the aim of installing a western-style ‘democratic' bourgeois regime, any more than the South African workers have been struggling for a form of capitalism less cruel towards the black proletarians. These struggles emerged from the start as direct reactions against capitalist exploitation, for wages increases, for the general improvement of living and working conditions. If it had been otherwise, they wouldn't have taken the form of strikes for class demands, but would have remained in the suicidal, inter-classist framework of petitions and demonstrations organized by the so-called ‘democratic' parties of the bourgeois ‘opposition'.
This doesn't mean these struggles haven't attacked the dictatorial and racist forms of capitalist exploitation. On the contrary, they are the only struggles which can impose limits on the barbarism of the local ruling class.
All factions of the bourgeoisie, with the liberals and democrats at the forefront, have said how shocked they are by these strikes, and have called on the proletarians of these countries to be careful not to put their ‘egoistic' class interests above the interests of the ‘nation'.
Kim Young Sam, one of the main Korean democratic opposition leaders again and again called on workers to "show moderation in their demands so as not to threaten the success of the South Korean economy." In South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, the leader of the NUM, the new ‘democratic' union which has just sabotaged the miners' strike, explained his call for a return to work by referring to the need to respect the legality of the nation.
These appeals, these maneuvers are in reality nothing but a means to disarm the exploited class, to destroy its struggles by derailing them onto the terrain of its exploiters.
No, the struggles of the proletarians in South Korea and South Africa are not examples of cooperation between the exploited and the exploiters for a utopian ‘humanization' of capitalist barbarism. They are moments in the world-wide combat of the working class against capital and its world-wide barbarism. And this is because:
* The causes which have provoked these struggles are the same: the economic crisis of world capitalism leads to an intensification in the peripheries as anywhere else; if there is a difference it's only because in these countries the aggravation of the crisis generally takes on an even more violent character;
* the very forms these struggles take - their tendency to extend to different sectors of the working class, across the barriers of profession, sector or race - are the same which have manifested themselves in all the important workers' struggles in western Europe over the last few years;
* finally because like the struggles of other workers all over the world, they have to be fought on two fronts: against their declared enemies - the governments and their armed military and police apparati, but also against those enemies disguised as ‘friends', the unions and the so-called ‘opposition' parties who work to sabotage the struggle from the inside.
The main danger for the workers of these countries is to become prisoners of the confusion created by all the ‘democratic' propaganda, which is all the more dangerous in that it is aimed at a proletariat which is only beginning to gain experience of the policing role of these ‘democratic' institutions.
All this underlines the responsibility of workers in countries with a long ‘democratic' tradition, workers who are seeing through these institutions more and more clearly, are deserting them - the parties and above all the trade unions - in their millions, and who are more and more learning to fight not only outside them, but against them, as has been shown in the last few years by the workers of Belgium, France, and, most recently, Italy.