"The military coup of 13 December 1981 has put an end to the most important prolonged combat between the world working class and capital for half a century. Never, since the historical resurgence of the proletariat struggle at the end of the 60s, has the working class taken its combativity, its solidarity and its self-organization so far. Never before has the class used so extensively the indispensible weapon of the struggle in the period of decadence -- the mass strike. Never had the class given the bourgeoisie such a fright, nor forced it to use so many methods of defense. Today, the proletariat in Poland has been gagged. Once again, it has shed its blood, and, in contrast to the sequel to 1970 and 1976, its exploitation has been multiplied tenfold, it has been reduced to near-famine; misery and terror is unleashed on it. This episode is thus concluded with a defeat for the working class. But it is important for the proletariat, now that force of arms and the combined strength of the whole bourgeoisie has obliged it to leave the stage in Poland, to draw as many lessons as it can from the experience it has just gone through. The class -- and its communist vanguard -- must be able to answer the question: ‘Where are we? What are the perspectives for the class struggle?'" (IR no29 ‘After the Repression in Poland')
Where are we?
In August 1980, the mass strike of the workers in Poland gave a reply to the questions posed but never resolved in the struggles of their class brothers in Western Europe:
-- the need to extend the struggle (Rotterdam dockers' strike, Autumn 1979)
-- the need for self-organization (British steel strike, Winter-Spring 80)
-- the attitude to state repression (Longwy/Denain Winter 79).
Their combat thus confirmed the end of the reflux in the class struggle that had marked the 1970s, already announced by the strikes of 1978-80 in Western Europe.
It showed the world proletariat the true capitalist nature of the so-called ‘socialist' states, thus killing a lie that had already lost much of its credibility, but retained certain vigor within the working class.
This combat was a concrete brake on imperialist tensions paralyzing the Russian military apparatus in Eastern Europe, and demonstrating to the whole world bourgeoisie the combativity of the proletariat in the heart of Europe.
Nonetheless, the workers in Poland remained isolated, and the call of their struggle was not answered. The question they could not answer by themselves was that of the generalization of the class struggle, which implied that workers in other countries take up the combat.
The defeat of the workers in Poland is not a ‘Polish' defeat, but a defeat for the whole world proletariat; it is an expression of the world proletariat's weakness. The mystifications that allowed the bourgeoisie to derail the class struggle and impose its repression are fundamentally the same as those faced by the workers in Western Europe: democracy, nationalism and unionism. They are the same as those that allowed the bourgeoisie to force a retreat on the struggles in Western Europe, and of which the defeat in Poland is a result.
The proletariat in Western Europe is at the heart of the capitalist world. It is the most experienced fraction of the world proletariat, and so has confronted the bourgeoisie's most perfected mystifications. If the struggle in Poland made it possible to understand the capitalist nature of the Eastern bloc countries only the struggle of the western proletariat will really be able to purge the illusions of democracy, nationalism and unionism -- which are a brake on the struggle everywhere -- from the consciousness of workers through-out the world.
After the strikes of 1978-80, there was a lull in Western Europe. The bourgeoisie's counteroffensive began at the end of the 70s, with the reorganization of its political apparatus (the left in opposition), the development of rank‑and-file unionism, and the campaigns of ideological disorientation. This whole strategy, orchestrated in a more or less organized and unified way at world level, produced a weakening of the workers' struggle in Western Europe.
Moreover, the absence of any clear workers' reaction to the direct participation of French and Italian contingents in the Lebanon, and of British troops in the Falklands conflict in the midst of a constant increase in military budgets, and with the deafening tramp of boots transmitted by the media, might lay doubt in the Western European proletariat's ability to assume it historic responsibilities and oppose the bourgeoisie's solution to the crisis of capitalism: generalized imperialist war.
The First and Second World Wars were made possible by the bourgeoisie's ability to profit from the weaknesses of the European proletariat, and to enroll it behind the bourgeoisie's own imperialist objectives.
Today, with the retreat of the world proletariat, concretized by the defeat in Poland, and accompanied by the beating of the drums of war, the specter of the 1930s and World War II returns to haunt the workers.
However, the balance sheet of the reflux in class struggle should not lead us to alarmist conclusions. The bourgeoisie has started a new offensive against the proletariat, but its conditions, reason, and nature demonstrate its limits.
Today, the situation is very different from what it was in the 30s. This is what we will try to show in the following section.
The differences between the 30s and today
1. The Proletariat today is not defeated.
The generation of proletarians that found itself confronted with the open crisis of capitalism that began in 1929, and was to lead to the war of 1939-45, had already lived through the crushing of the revolutionary wave of 1917-23. The world proletariat came out of this defeat with its combative potential profoundly affected, especially where the revolutionary perspective had stood out most forcibly: in Germany and Russia.
But even in those countries where the repression was less violent, as in the western democracies (France, Britain, the USA), the proletariat's combativity was profoundly affected by the ideological confusion brought about by the defeat of the revolution and the resulting collapse of the IIIrd International.
The defeat of the revolution was a defeat for the world proletariat, and the proletariat was weakened on a world level. This was the essential factor that was to allow the bourgeoisie to march the workers off to the Second World War.
This is not the situation today: the generation of proletarians that is now confronted with the open crisis of capital is not coming out of the defeat of a revolutionary wave. In the period following the Second World War, the bourgeoisie maintained its control over the proletariat much more through the illusions based on the relative prosperity arising out of the reconstruction rather than on direct oppression. Today, while the slow but inexorable aggravation of the crisis undermines these illusions, the potential combativity of this new generation of workers remains intact.
The working class may be confused by its lack of experience -- the result of 50 years of counter-revolution -- but it is not demoralized, and above all it has not been drawn into the defense of the state, which leads straight to war. From this point of view, the main precondition for the outbreak of a Third World War is missing.
2. The Bourgeoisie's room for maneuver has been reduced.
However, the difference between the present situation and that of the 30s doesn't only exist at the level of the historic conditions of the proletarian struggle.
History doesn't repeat itself: since it entered its period of decadence, capitalism has continued to transform itself. And while the causes of its open crisis are fundamentally the same, the characteristics of its development have changed. This reality expresses itself at the level of the terms of control which the bourgeoisie seeks to re-impose on the proletariat.
Today's developing economic crisis is getting worse, despite all the policies of state capitalism systematized since the 1930s. This is a clear demonstration of the real ineffectiveness of the policies of statification of the economy which, during the crisis of the 30s, gave the bourgeoisie sufficient breathing space to complete the mobilization of the proletariat for the war.
For a mystification to have any effect over the proletariat, it must be based on a reality. The ‘effectiveness' of state capitalist measures in the 1930s, which allowed the bourgeoisie temporarily to redress the economic situation, was above all a result of their newness. Economic illusions gave the bourgeoisie a foundation for political illusions and thus enabled it to defuse the workers' combativity. State capitalism hid behind the myth of the social state: National-socialism in Germany, the Popular Front in France or Spain, the Welfare State in the US or Britain. The social state is the political corollary of state capitalism on the economic level. Directed at the proletariat, it allowed the bourgeoisie to keep the working class in the shackles of the counter-revolution, behind the banner of democracy, right up to today.
Thanks to state capitalism, the bourgeoisie has been able to contain temporarily the most important manifestations of the economic crisis, and thanks to the Welfare State, it has been able to avoid the political crisis. But the crisis which is developing today in spite of the state's intensive intervention in economic life tends to wear out the illusion of the Welfare Stare and the illusion of democracy in general. The bourgeoisie is no longer really able to slow down the effects of the crisis, and so the whole basis of its control over the proletariat during the last decades is pushed more and more into a political crisis.
The capitalist economic crisis leaves the bourgeoisie no way out of a confrontation with the proletariat. Both classes are being pushed towards this confrontation because all the bourgeoisie's ideological weapons are being worn out by the economic bankruptcy of its system. During the 30s, the bourgeoisie could make it seem as if the bankruptcy of 1929 was only that of private capitalism, and so could preserve the most essential illusions: that the state stands above classes, that the working class has its place and can defend its interests there. Today the economic crisis demonstrates what revolutionaries have always proclaimed, that all this is nothing but an illusion.
In the practical reality of its existence, the proletariat is beginning to see the state for what it really is: an instrument of coercion at the service of one class -- the bourgeoisie. Thus, all the mystifications that the bourgeoisie has erected to hide the totalitarian reality of the state are starting to wear out.
3. An illustration of these differences: the question of unemployment.
The Crash of 1929 was to throw millions of workers into the most total destitution. The unemployment figures rose continuously from 1929-34. However, the application of state capitalist measures -- public works in the USA (eg the Tennessee Valley Authority), the development of the war economy in Germany and Britain, -- made it possible to limit them momentarily, without them ever falling to the pre-1929 level. But this also made it possible to reinforce the idea that there existed a real solution to the crisis of capital: the intervention of the state. Furthermore, the creation of unemployment benefit, and other forms of aid to the unemployed, which had not existed previously, made it possible to strengthen the workers' confidence in the state as their protector against uncontrolled private capitalism.
During the 30s, the bourgeoisie was thus able to defuse the social bomb of unemployment. Following the determined struggles of unemployed workers, notably 1930-32 in the USA, the state's policy made it possible to absorb the workers' combativity, and prepare their ideological enrolment behind the ‘left' democratic state, the defender of the workers against big business. In this way the bourgeoisie prepared the coming enrolment in the imperialist war.
Today, the situation is radically different. Unemployment is developing inexorably, without the bourgeoisie being able to take the slightest economic measure to slow it down, and in the absence of any political illusion to make it acceptable. In the developed countries, unemployment has now reached the level of the late 1930s. As the failure of the reflationary policies of the 1970s has shown no reflation in the future will be able to reabsorb the unemployed; on the contrary, faced with the aggravated competition on the world market, investments are much more aimed at increasing productivity than expanding production.
Moreover, unlike the 30s, the capitalist state can no longer base its control on its supposed generosity, through the creation of increased social protection for the unemployed; on the contrary, it is obliged to attack the ‘gains' of the Welfare State set up after the 1929 crisis, and perfected during the reconstruction period. The capitalist state can no longer afford the policies for mystifying the proletariat that have allowed it to ensure its domination up to now. In practice, the bourgeoisie is compelled to destroy the bases of its ideological control over the proletariat.
4. The Question of war.
One of the characteristics of the 1930s was the preparation of the Second World War, on the one hand through an increase in military program, and on the other hand through the development of localized conflicts on the periphery, such as the conflict between Japan and China, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the war in Spain, Nazi Germany's Auschluss in Austria.
From this point of view, are we in the same situation as that which preceded the Second World War?
However, the increase in the military programs in recent years in all countries, and especially in the most powerful, the most heavily armed at the outset, shows that, as in the 30s, the pressure of the crisis pushes the bourgeoisie further into growing inter-imperialist tensions. Each bloc accelerates the reinforcement of its military arsenal.
Moreover, certain conflicts at the periphery recall the ones which preceded the Second World War: the invasion of Afghanistan with the direct presence of 100,000 Russian soldiers the Israeli intervention in Lebanon to expel all soviet presence from the region, the different conflicts in Africa and Asia where the Russian bloc uses Cuban, Libyan or Vietnamese troops to fight its wars, and even the war between Iraq and Iran which has already produced more than 300,000 dead and wounded, where Russia plays no direct role, but whose aim is to restore the western bloc's military potential weakened in Iran and is a response to Russia's offensive in Afghanistan.
All these conflicts are the expression of real imperialist tensions which torture the world. However -- and here resides the whole difference between today and the 30s -- other open conflicts, like those in El Salvador and the Falklands, while they occur within the context of world imperialism, are not expressions of real inter-imperialist rivalries, whether local or global. These ‘wars' serve above all to feed the intensive propaganda campaigns which the bourgeoisie inflicts on the proletariat. And the sound of marching boots is amplified out of all proportion by the media, which bring the horrors of war to every home, sowing fears about a Third World War.
The events in Poland reveal the real aims of these campaigns. The strikes in Poland were the pretext for a hysterical propaganda in each bloc, Russia denouncing the West's ‘unacceptable interference', the USA and its allies shrieking about the menace of a Russian invasion. Was history going to repeat itself? Would Poland be at the origin of the 3rd World War as it was at that of the 2nd?
In reality, this warlike facade hid the fact that the two blocs were working hand in hand to beat the workers' struggle in Poland. The West gave the bourgeoisie in the East room for maneuver by supplying credits; to intimidate the Polish workers, the West lent credence to the danger of a Russian invasion, through its propaganda relayed over the BBC World Service and Radio Free Europe. In the West itself, the bourgeoisie did everything in its power to make the ‘problem' a specifically Polish one in order to isolate the proletariat. And by trumpeting that the mass strike in Poland created a danger of war, it hammered home the idea that the class struggle leads to imperialist war.
We can see what the bourgeoisie uses its warlike propaganda for: dividing and intimidating the proletariat. This concern is decisive for the bourgeoisie to the extent that the proletariat, in Western Europe especially, is not enrolled in the preparations for war.
This is the fundamental difference with the 1930s. In the 30s, the Russian and German proletariats, physically crushed, were unable to put up any opposition to the war. In the West, the anti-fascist campaigns succeeded in enrolling the workers behind the banner of democracy.
Today, the bourgeoisie has not got the workers under control in the very heart of capital's contradictions -- in Europe, which has already seen two world wars unleashed over its soil, and which is now the prize at stake in a hypothetical 3rd World War. This is expressed in the fact that conflicts remain on the periphery where weaker and more isolated fractions of the proletariat can more easily be mobilized behind the illusions of nationalism. But even in Israel, where the bourgeoisie has had an easy time playing on local and historical specificities, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify, in the eyes of the proletariat, the necessity of the war -- as we have seen from the resistance amongst the troops to the intervention in Lebanon.
The lack of any reaction from the proletariat in France and Britain to the dispatch of professional contingents to the Falklands or the Lebanon is certainly not a sign of the working class' strength, but neither does it prove that the proletariat supports these measures. In fact, we have only seen a real reaction from the proletariat to war during the war itself -- whether it be on the Marne front in 1917, on the Russian front, in Italy in 1943, or in Germany in 1945.
The proletariat's struggle against war develops out of its struggle against the attacks of the bourgeoisie at the economic level. Out of this struggle arises a consciousness of the necessity to fight against imperialist war. For it is at this level that the alternative between guns and butter is made concrete.
As long as the European proletariat -- the decisive fraction of the world proletariat -- has not been beaten on the terrain of the defense of its living standards, it cannot be mobilized for war, it cannot be made to sacrifice life itself.
The historic course today is not open for war. A course towards war, like that of the 30s, presupposes the prior crushing of the only force capable of preventing the unleashing of imperialist rivalries -- the proletariat. On the contrary, the present historic course is towards the development of class confrontations, giving rise to the perspective of revolution.
However, this doesn't mean that the course can't be overturned, that the revolution is inevitable, an already accomplished fact.
In the present situation, all the bourgeoisie's efforts are aimed at undoing the proletariat -- first at demobilizing it, from its own struggle then at mobilizing it for war. This is a permanent pressure exerted on the working class and it expresses itself in the advances, retreats, and detours followed by the class struggle.
The bourgeoisie is adapting its weapons for confronting the proletariat in today's conditions
1. For the bourgeoisie as well: the end of illusions.
During the 1970s, the bourgeoisie thought it was living through a repetition of the 30s, in the illusion that the same remedies could be applied mechanically to the same disease. The bourgeois states went into debt to finance the reflationary policies that were to put an end to the crisis, and above all were to delay and spread out the necessary frontal attack on the living conditions of the proletariat in the industrial centers of world capitalism. This was the essential condition for trying to strengthen the state's hold over the proletariat in the capitalist metropoles, where the exploited class is the most concentrated, and where most of the world's wealth is produced.
This economic policy had its corollary in the ideological attack on the proletariat after the first upsurge in response to the first signs of the crisis (May 68 in France, the Italian "hot autumn" of 1969, etc) is the policy that allowed the bourgeoisie to impose a retreat on the class struggle during the 70s: the "Programme Commun" in France, the Social Contract in Britain, Social Democracy in power in Northern Europe, and the Democrats in power with Carter as President in the USA. At the end of the 70s, the campaigns for ‘human rights' hid the same humanist themes that had made it possible in the 1930s to enroll the proletariat under the banner of anti-fascism. However, the failure of these policies of reflation, which were unable to soak up unemployment, and only accelerated inflation, put an end to the bourgeoisie's illusion that the proletariat could be controlled so easily. The 70s showed the bourgeoisie, firstly, that the proletariat is not as weak as it was in the 30s, and secondly, that the contradictions of capitalism have been sharpened throughout the period of decadence, to the point where the bourgeoisie today no longer has the same room for maneuver on the economic level. These two aspects are expressed on the political level, in the relationship between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
Because the ‘recipes' inherited from the 1930s no longer work either on the economic level or the political level; because, in these new conditions, the old forms of mystification and control are no longer enough to prevent the revolutionary class from developing a political consciousness, the bourgeoisie is faced with an urgent need to adapt if it is to maintain it its control over the proletariat. It is compelled to become more intelligent, to strengthen and homogenize its system of control. But in a general context where the ruling class is getting weaker, this strengthening is essentially a strengthening of the state -- which is rather like reinforcing a castle built on sand.
2. Unity of the bourgeoisie and ideological campaigns.
The need to confront the working class has become a prime preoccupation of the bourgeoisie, which thus tends to relegate its internal tensions, on the national and international level, to the background.
Confronted with the proletarian class, whose strength lies in its ability to unite, and to develop its political consciousness, the bourgeoisie is also forced by circumstances to be more united. At the same time as the economic crisis pushes the bourgeoisie towards an exacerbation of its inter-imperialist rivalries, the fact that all factions of the bourgeoisie are confronted with the same enemy -- the working class -- also pushes them to unite.
This is not a new phenomenon; history has already given us some clear examples:
-- faced with the Paris Commune, the warring French and German armies united to crush the Parisian insurrection;
-- faced with the victorious revolution in Russia, and the threat of one in Germany, the bourgeoisie put an end to the 1st World War, and united its efforts to crush the revolutionary wave.
This unity is also made possible by decades of decadence, of the concentration of power in the hands of the state. This is a reality which tends to become permanent, and which marks the whole international balance of forces between bourgeoisie and proletariat.
In recent years, since the failure of the classic 1930s style methods, this has appeared in the bourgeoisie's development of an international strategy, aimed not only at the reinforcement of its repressive arsenal, but above all at a more effective use of its ideological campaigns, through a stricter control over the mass media.
The bourgeoisie's ideological campaigns have developed internationally around two main, mutually dependent, themes -- war and pacifism. These campaigns might seem paradoxical in a period when the road to war is closed, and when the war campaigns around the ideology of human rights have ended in failure. However, precisely because the proletariat is not immediately confronted with the problem of war, these are not, in fact, real war campaigns; rather, they aim at hindering the development of the proletariat's class consciousness by hiding from it the revolutionary alternative.
The bourgeoisie is trying to make use of the same reaction of fear as it used during the anti-terrorist campaigns to gain acceptance for police control. The bourgeoisie's aim, in filling the newspapers and the TV screens with the horrors of war, is not an immediate mobilization of the working class in a war, but to immobilize the class' reaction, to austerity, and to thrust it into the arms of the ‘pacifist' left, while at the same time using the illusion of non-alignment to reinforce nationalist feeling.
These campaigns around the war thus have meaning and effectiveness only to the extent that there exists a left in opposition able to profit from them by means of a corresponding pacifism and neutralism.
3. The left in opposition.
With the decline of its economy, the bourgeoisie can no longer simultaneously keep the left in government and make the workers think of the same left as the defender of their interests.
The left of the bourgeoisie's political apparatus is the faction specifically destined to exercise the state's ideological control over the proletariat; it can only do so as long as the left attaches itself to the working class' political and trade union traditions. Unable to maintain the credibility of the left, and so of the state, with the left in government, the bourgeoisie has been forced to reorganize itself so as to put the left in opposition. At a time when the state must apply increasingly drastic anti-working class measures, the left must be in opposition if it is to continue to appear credible. Behind this question, the whole relationship of the proletariat to the state is at stake.
Increasingly, the crisis widens the gulf that separates the state from civil society. The working class especially is losing illusions in the Welfare State, and is becoming clearer as to the state's anti-proletarian role; the class is obliged to lose its democratic illusions. The bourgeoisie is trying to block this process of developing consciousness by identifying the state with the right and maintaining the illusory opposition of a ‘good', ‘left wing' state.
Because the effects of the crisis were still felt relatively weakly in the centers of capital during the 70s, the bourgeoisie could then use electoral campaigns and the democratic mystification to drown the proletariat in the population in general. Within the left, the electoral political parties played the determinant role, while the trade unions' job was essentially to keep the workers on the electoral terrain. The new upsurge in workers' combativity at the end of the 70s was to show that the electoral lie was no longer enough. The bourgeoisie had to confront the proletariat at the very roots of its struggle. The role of the trade unions has become preponderant. The ‘radicalization' of their language, and of rank-and-file union activity, aims to hinder, demoralize, delay, and to prevent the extension and self-organization of workers' strikes. Radical unionism is becoming the spearhead of the bourgeoisie's offensive against the workers, and we have seen its effectiveness against the workers' struggles of recent years.
This general strategy of the left in opposition, concretized in the central countries (USA, West Germany, Britain, Belgium, Holland) is not contradicted by the arrival of the left in power in certain countries.
The bourgeoisie is not a unified class; it is divided, and has difficulty in overcoming its internal tensions. These tensions appear within the state, and are expressed in the flexibility of the political apparatus. The division of labor imposed by the need to put the left in opposition implies a unification of the bourgeoisie behind the state, which comes up against the ideological weakness of certain sectors of the traditional right. The arrival of the left in power in France showed up this weakness, and surprised the world bourgeoisie. This slip-up on the part of the bourgeoisie, in the heart of industrial Europe considerably weakens its capacity to control the proletariat. The left in government must impose on the workers the austerity necessary for the national capital. In doing so, the left shows itself to be like the right, and so loses its power to mystify and control a fraction of the world proletariat which has distinguished itself historically by its political sense, and whose experience in the strikes of 1968 that marked the end of 50 years of counter-revolution has not been forgotten.
The arrival of the socialists in power in Greece, Sweden and Spain does not have the same importance, since the proletariat in these countries has a less central role to play. Moreover, the arrival of the left in power in these countries was not a surprise for the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie prepared for this situation because it could not do otherwise. The right's chronic weakness in these countries -- the weight of their fascist past in Spain and Greece, the right's inexperience in Sweden, where the social-democracy has monopolized power for decades -- is a congenital weakness.
Nevertheless, the right in these countries will be on hand to be called back into government in the context of the right in power/left in opposition line-up -- a lineup that will increasingly be imposed as a necessity in the face of the developing class struggle. Only through a period of convalescence in opposition will these right-wing factions be able to restructure themselves so that they can effectively assume government office in the future.
Because any development in the class struggle has international repercussions, the bourgeoisie must close ranks at an international level. We have seen, with the class struggle in Poland, how the bourgeoisie is capable of overcoming it imperialist divisions in order to face the proletariat with a united front, and to lend credibility to the myth of the left in opposition in its union form, through Solidarnosc. Solidarnosc's ‘life' in Poland, in the teeth of all the rigidity of the Stalinist political apparatus, was made possible by the union of all the forces of the world bourgeoisie against the workers.
The immediate aim of the bourgeoisie's present offensive is not to enroll the working class --because this is not possible today -- but to confront it and block the development of its unity, to fragment and demoralize it. The impact of such an offensive cannot be judged in the short term. However, we can already get an idea of its effectiveness from the retreat in the class struggle in 1981-82, concretized by the defeat in Poland, which itself increased the retreat and the confusion of the world proletariat.
However, because the world proletariat, and especially the proletariat in Western Europe, is not enrolled for war, its combative potential is still fundamentally intact. This is true despite the partial defeat in Poland, and despite ails the illusions which still weigh on the class. Because it compels the class to struggle, to abandon these illusions, the capitalist crisis is the best ally of the proletariat.
"What matters, is not what any particular proletarian thinks, or even the proletariat as a whole at a given moment in its history, but what it is historically obliged to do, in conformity with its being". (Marx, The Holy Family)
Up to now, the central fraction of the proletariat in the industrialized countries has been relatively lightly attacked by the rigors of austerity, compared to its class brothers in the peripheral countries. Capitalism's plunge into the crisis forces the bourgeoisie into an ever more severe attack on the living conditions of the proletariat in the world's greatest industrial concentration -- Western Europe.
Given the essential subjective precondition, the non-defeat of the proletariat and the fact that its combative potential remains intact, the accelerated deepening of the crisis is the necessary objective precondition for the opening of a revolutionary period. This crisis pushes the proletariat to generalize its strikes and its consciousness, and to put forward in practice the revolutionary perspective.
1. The question of unemployment and the generalization of the struggle.
It is now the question of unemployment which best concretizes the meaning of the crisis for the working class in the developed countries: 32 million unemployed in the OECD, ie the equivalent of the active populations of Germany, Holland and Belgium put together. Nor is there any improvement in sight; the worse of the crisis is still to come.
At first, the bourgeoisie was able to use the slow growth of unemployment to divide the workers. ‘Accept redundancies to save the business'; the description of the unemployed as privileged scroungers; ‘throw out the immigrants to save jobs': all these lies will be smashed to pieces by the accelerated development of unemployment.
Up to now, the bourgeoisie has been able to limit the impact of unemployment on working class combativity, firstly by paying unemployment benefits, and then by developing the illusion that unemployment was a necessary sacrifice to put an end to the crisis. This situation must come to an end with the inexorable deepening of the crisis, as the bourgeoisie is forced into ever heavier attacks on the living conditions of the unemployed, in common with the rest of the proletariat.
Unemployment affects the whole proletariat; irrespective of national, ethnic, or corporatist divisions, unemployment shows the workers what threatens them all, and so lays the base for the unity of the working class.
The problem of unemployment, in all the industrialized countries, is posed at an international level; it shows that the situation is the same everywhere, no matter what lies each national bourgeoisie uses.
The inevitable development of unemployment must push the proletariat to struggle. The workers are faced with the concrete choice between struggle and the slow death of unemployed misery. The queues of unemployed at the soup kitchen show unsparingly what capital is preparing for all of us. The proletarians will have to struggle, because their survival is at stake.
All the bourgeoisie's lies are wearing thin under the pressure of the crisis and the workers' resistance. The development of the crisis must weaken the bourgeoisie and strengthen the proletariat in the historic struggle that opposes them. The bourgeoisie's ability to face up to the proletariat is determined by the dynamic of this struggle.
Throughout the 70s, one could say that the workers showed more combativity than a real consciousness of their goals and the means of to attain them. This phenomenon was shown very clearly in Poland where the enormous combativity of the proletariat -- revealed in the massive character of its struggle and its ability to face up to the threat of repression -- came up against the most classic democratic illusions -- pluralism, unionism, nationalism.
It was these illusions that ended up exhausting the dynamic of the mass strike, of extension and self-organization.
The first months of the mass strike in Poland lit up the world scene with the force and rapidity of its dynamic. While this dynamic demonstrated the proletariat's vitality, it was also made possible by the local weakness of the bourgeoisie. This weakness is linked to specific aspects of the Eastern bloc countries, and is expressed in the rigidity of the political apparatus, which leaves little room for the opposition forces needed to mystify the proletariat. The bourgeoisie in the Russian bloc could only overcome this chronic weakness in order to confront the class struggle in Poland thanks to the aid of the world bourgeoisie, economic as much as political, which made it possible to ‘breath life' into the Solidarnosc variety of the rank-and-file unionist illusion.
In the same way, the development of the class struggle in France in May 68 was facilitated by the unpreparedness of a bourgeoisie which still thought the working class was as passive as it had known it over the previous 40 years.
Today, the proletariat of Western Europe is in a different situation; 15 years of economic crisis and class struggle have put the bourgeoisie on its guard. It has reorganized and adapted its political apparatus to confront the foreseeable development of the class struggle. The West European proletariat must confront the most experienced faction of the world bourgeoisie, the most perfected mystifications, and the most sophisticated apparatus of social control, of which the left in opposition trick is one of the most important elements.
2. Generalization of class consciousness and the union hurdle.
Since the resurgence of the class struggle in 1968, all the working class' most significant combats have gone beyond, to a greater or lesser extent, the union apparatus.
The unions are the spearhead of the ruling class apparatus of control over the working class. In every workplace, the unions oversee the workers on behalf of the state, in order to prevent the struggle from starting if possible, and to derail it if not. They are the bourgeoisie's forward troops on the front of the class struggle.
In 1917, the question of war played a central role in the development of the proletariat's consciousness; nonetheless, the unions question came to the forefront as soon as it was a matter of extending the revolution to Western Europe.
Today, with the road to war closed, the union question is central to the development of the proletariat's overall consciousness, because the unions are the first obstacle the workers confront at every point in their struggle.
No struggle can go beyond the national framework without going beyond the union apparatus and developing into a mass strike. The national question and the union question are intimately linked. The proletariat in Poland was unable to answer the question it posed, of the struggle's international generalization, because this question is linked to the ability to overcome the illusions of unionism, the left, and democracy. The working class in Poland could not answer this question alone, due to its specific situation and experience.
The proletariat of Western Europe, by contrast, because it is not in same isolated position, because it has accumulated decades of experience in confronting unions and the left, because today more than ever it is pushed to struggle by the crisis, because its combative potential remains intact, because it is not mobilized for war, finds itself in more favorable conditions than it has ever known for clarifying the real nature of the unions, the left and democracy.
The workers of Western Europe are the best placed to sweep away the obstacles placed before them and their class brothers in the rest of the planet -- obstacles aimed at preventing them from putting forward a revolutionary perspective in their struggles.
The proletariat of Western Europe is not in the same situation as in May 68, nor in that of Poland 1980. The dynamic of the mass strike cannot get under way without a movement that goes beyond the union apparatus; and this is made more difficult by the left in opposition and by rank-and-file unionism. In the struggle itself, the proletariat will have to learn the difficult lesson. This consciousness cannot be acquired at once, in one struggle; the road towards generalization will be marked by advances and retreats, and so also by moments of confusion, a sign that the class is breaking with its illusions.
However, the calm of these last two years is not due uniquely to the bourgeoisie's political offensive; it is also an inherent product of the difficulties in the process of development of proletarian consciousness. Up to now, since the resurgence of 1968, the consciousness that accompanied the combativity of the proletariat has been marked by confusions about the possibility of finding a way out of the crisis. These illusions cannot survive. While the whole activity of the bourgeoisie seeks to isolate struggles under union control in order to lead them into a dead end, all the proletariat's experience of its defeats, where these isolated strikes have won nothing, pushes it increasingly to take on the political aspects contained in the economic basis of its struggles. Because the problem is general, the proletariat is pushed to generalize its struggles and its consciousness.
The proletariat's ability to develop the mass strike and to put forward the revolutionary perspective in practice depends on its ability to clarify these questions, by confronting the trade unions and developing its own self-organization.
The revolutionary perspective is not just a theoretical, but is above all a practical question. In May 1968, the striking workers posed the question of revolution -- though obviously without being able to answer it in practice -- and so gave a perspective for the whole period to come. In the years that followed, the bourgeoisie did everything it could to hide the necessity, and above all the possibility, of the revolution.
The world working class' consciousness that the communist revolution is not only necessary, but above all possible, depends on the European proletariat's ability to struggle, and to show concretely that there is an alternative to capitalist barbarism.
3. The importance of the proletariat in Western Europe.
It was the crushing of the German proletariat that stopped the extension of the Russian revolution; it was the bourgeoisie's control over the European proletariat which made World War II possible; it was the reawakening of the class struggle in Europe which marked the end of the period of counter-revolution; it was the retreat of the European proletariat before the mystification of the left in power that determined the reflux of the 1970s; it was the exhaustion of this mystification that made possible the resurgence of the class struggle at the end the 70s; and it is the bourgeoisie's counter-offensive behind the left in opposition that is at the origin of the reflux of 1981-82.
Today more than ever, the role of the western European proletariat is crucial -- both on the level of the objective conditions within which its struggle develops (the obvious nature of the crisis as a crisis of overproduction which makes the revolution possible) and on the level of subjective conditions (its experience of the most sophisticated bourgeois mystifications).
The revolutionary perspective, the very future of humanity, depends on the coming struggles of the western European proletariat, on its capacity to draw the lessons from its defeats and its victories.
Rosa Luxemburg said: "The proletariat is the first class that comes to power after a series of defeats".
The defeat of the workers in Poland was one of those defeats that announce the future perspectives of the class struggle. It showed the strength of the enemy and led to a disorientation of the world proletariat. Nevertheless, the struggles that preceded it served to clarify for the whole world proletariat the nature of the Eastern bloc countries, to unmask the mystifications of Stalinism.
On a much larger scale, the struggle of the proletariat in Western Europe will provide a clarification for the entire world proletariat; it alone can give a direction, a perspective, a unity to all the struggles of the working class faced with the economic crisis, with war, with the barbarity of capital in all its forms.
Because the terrain for the development of struggles and of class consciousness is today an inexorable economic crisis and not an imperialist war; because the proletariat has not been through any historic defeats, the conditions have never been so favorable for the emergence of a revolutionary perspective.
More than ever, the future belongs to the proletariat, and, in this future, the workers at the heart of the capitalist world, in old Europe, have a vital role to play.
 In Germany, the Nazi state gained a ‘popular' image mainly by developing the war economy, which enable it to absorb a considerable amount of unemployment.