Special Report on the 15M movement in Spain

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jk1921
Special Report on the 15M movement in Spain
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Special Report on the 15M movement in Spain. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

jk1921
Media Blackout?

I am curious about the precise nature of the media blackout regarding this movement. Is it really an internationally orchestrated blackout or is it more that the bourgeois media does not have the conceptual tools to understand the movement and its importance? Of course, they will report on a riot anywhere (explaining in part the more thorough coverage of Greece, where things seem much more under the control of the left of capital). Is the difference in coverage the result of some Machiavellian "blackout" or it more a question of the bourgeois media not having a clue and only recognizing those events it can grasp through the dominant ideology, i.e. all protests are either peaceful marches or violent riots? Elements of both?

Will talk of an internationally orchestrated blackout fuel negative notions about "conspiracy theories"? Are we saying the bourgeoisie recognizes events that tend towards the proletarian class terrain and can translate that into immediate action, even before the working class itself does?

baboon
Particularly before the

Particularly before the working does, in my opinion jk, that's what the unions are all about as one important development of state capitalism.

 

I think that we've seen enough examples of the "positive news" blackout to say that this is the result of a conscious understanding of the bourgeoisie. Practically, everyone involved in such an expression doesn't have to understand or agree with the line, it's enough that the structures are in place for the management of news. The higher echelons of the media structures are perfectly integrated into the national interest and will thus represent them as a matter of course - as well as the interests of the bourgeoisie overall. To enact an overt conspiracy over news management would show a weakness in that state capitalist structure, just as, on the other side of the coin, blatent Big Brother propaganda is counter-productive in the face of an undefeated working class (but the democracies are quite capable of recourse to such crudities in the face of counter-revolution, witness their propaganda during the Second World War and its aftermath, including the camps).

 

There can be tensions between media conglomerates such as Murdoch and the BBC, but that doesn't lessen their continuous and joint anti-working class narrative from a bourgeois perspective . And the high levels of these organisations, as well as the culture they imbue, will certainly be aware of the potential danger of the working class and structure their news management thus.

They will be aware of the danger of the extension of class militancy and action (as well as aware of the danger of revolutionary minorities even in the abstract) and when such struggle gets underway will cleverly do everything they can to manage the news in a way that is constructive for the ruling class. The case of the BBC showing the miners' attacking the police at Orgreave and the police responding was in fact the opposite of the truth and it took the corporation twenty-five years to apologise for the "error".

 

This also underlines the importance that we've seen throughout of communiction by mobile phone and the internet as the official media tends to become more and more mistrusted.

jk1921
Thanks for the helpful

Thanks for the helpful comments, Baboon.

baboon
You're very welcome jk. It's

You're very welcome jk. It's an interesting point and if I can point to another example:

 

A couple of weeks ago, Vince Cable, the Coalition's Business Secretary, gave a speech to the GMB union conference (I started a thread on this on libcom). I read the whole speech and Cable started denouncing the banks and bankers and railing against "unfairness" within the capitalist system as he saw it. The next 75% of the speech was a paen of praise to the trade unions, explicitly for keeping the workers in check, for their responsibility, for their role at all levels of the state involved in the disbursing of funds, subsidies and allocations and for their international role in defending the interests of British national capital, particularly in relation to selling the productivity and flexibility of the working class in this country. Then, Cable gave over about 2% of the speech to saying that if strikes became extensive he would be under pressure to enact some sort of legislation. 

What were the stories of this speech of the entire mainstream British media? Not "Cable praises the unions for controlling the working class", not "Cable salutes the statist role of the unions", or "British unions defend the national interest". That was the overwhelming emphasis of his  speech but the stories were all the same: "Cable attacks the unions". How did this suppression of the truth of Cable's assessment of the role of the unions and the extension of this lie about "attacking the unions" come about?

 Firstly, the bourgeoisie are a class of pathological liars and this is bound to effect the media that it owns lock, stock and barrel. The line of the bourgeoisie is not that the unions are against the working class and therefore its cannot, particularly in a time of rising class tensions, say that the unions are part of the attack on the working class. It wants workers to identify with the unions because the ruling class knows how vital they have been and will be in the coming period. That's why the story of Cable's speech was automatically twisted in the way that it was within minutes and without a second thought.

 

jk1921
I guess it says something

I guess it says something about the U.S. then that there actually is a significant faction of the bourgeoisie that really does want to destroy the unions. Of course, that is one of the functions of state capitalism: to keep those factions of the bourgeoisie that are less capable of recognizing the overall interests of the national capital in check, but it isn't working out that way at the moment in the U.S. Is there a tension between growing decomposition (and its effects on the bourgeoisie) and the bourgeoisie's continuing ability to act in such a consciously Machiavellian frame as you describe Baboon?

baboon
Yes, I think that there is jk

Yes, I think that there is jk but there is also a tendency for the bourgeoisie, or clearer elements of it, to become sharper faced with decomposition, crisis and class struggle.  So it's a somewhat contradictory situation in that whatever the bourgeoisie does withing the development of an insoluble crisis will be problematic for it, ie, there must be problems and difficulties for the ruling class faced with the economic crisis and the effects of decomposition.

 

I accept that there are very real differences between  national states, the US and Britain in this case. The latter for example a "coalition" government being a seemingly intelligent set-up with the unions and the left primed for an opposition force. Even here though there are problems for the unions as recent speeches from "militant" union leaders have admitted weaknesses in their organisations in representing the working class and their too-close relationship with the discredited Labour Party. But there is a certain harmony within the bourgeoisie with no faction calling for the unions to be outlawed and crushed. Cables' warning above of more (totally unneeded) legislation against the unions it aimed to get workers to identify with them in the longer term as well as increasing the repressive arm of the state. This anti-union process, anti-working class really (but if the unions go down after the class is crushed who cares - they are no longer needed) seems to have been much more magnified in the US but with the unions and left still playing an oppositional role.

 

I think that the "classic" line-up of the bourgeoisie of the left in opposition is still valid but on the electoral level made more problematic by the development of the crisis and the weaknesses and difficulties that that arouses in the various sections of the bourgeoisie suffering from factionalisation, unpredictability and irrationality - you could call it a crisis of state  capitalism (decomposition in a word). Regarding the US, Internationalism has been running a series of quite deep articles but this is an international phenomenom.

 

Some thoughts however on not underestimating the coherence and intelligence of the US bourgeoisie.

 

As far as I understand it, the ICC analyses the election of a Democratic administration as primarily based upon the need to adjust its imperialist policies (from "go it alone" to at least some semblance of "cooperation"). I think that this is a partial analysis and underestimates the real concerns. Firstly the Republican administration was quite capable of adapting and adjusting the policies of US imperialism, it had the structures in place, it was already doing so in the face of necessity and it was marginalising some of its "wilder" components away from the limelight. This capacity is also shown in the seamless transition at an imperialist level from Bush (before him Clinton) to the Obama administration. Obama's present proposals for troop reductions and talks with the Taleban in Afghanistan in no way contradict this because the first is in continuity with ex-secretary Gates and Pentagon policy and while the latter may have disagreement with timescales of troop reductions they will still leave, at worst, 70,000 US pairs of boots on the ground with, if Iraq is anything to go by, an equal number of mercenaries. And in the present debates it looks like a significant section of the GOP would go further in troop reductions than the administration.

 

For me Obama's election wasn't about imperialistm alone or even in the main, but of reinvigorating democracy at home in response to what I'd call the "New Orleans effect". Even before the New Orleans outrage, the poor, the blacks, minorities were becoming more and more estranged and excluded from the political game and clearly not part of the rich white man's political process, disenchanted and cynical with all the inherent dangers that this posed in the ruling class over the longer term. The New Orleans flood simply underlined and reinforced the alienation of the masses from bourgeois politics and the development of the economic crisis (Enron collapsed in 2001 and gave plenty of warning to those elements of the bourgeoisie that were cute enough to pick it up) posed an even more explosive element into the mix in that the working class would be drawn directly into this rejection of bourgeois politics. I think that the response of the US bourgeoisie was a masterstroke and a testimony to its intelligence, breathing real life into a dying body of democracy, electoralism, etc. The political debates within the Democratic Party of an intelligent (wronged) white woman and the amiable and passionate black hope was bourgeois political cunning at its best (worst?). And the result was the nuclear option - the election of a black president, Obama was not only a major victory for US democracy but reinforced those illusions around the world. It blew Republicanism apart - what could it come up with against such a raising of the stakes? Sarah Palin and her ilk? That just reinforces the strength of Obama's victory.

I don't underestimate the difficulties and weaknesses within the bourgeoisie from its insoluble crisis, a crisis which much tear some of its elements apart and certainly bring forth some irrational responses. But, in many cases it can also use these irrational responses and we shouldn't underestimate the strength of the bourgeoisie either.

 

jk1921
Baboon, I would agree that

Baboon, I would agree that the U.S. bourgeoisie is much more united on the imperialist level than they are at the domestic level. In fact, the Republicans' recent noisy criticisms of Obama's Libya policy seem to be more motivated by domestic factors than any really coherent alternative imperialist orientation. I think the U.S. bourgeoisie did need to revitalize its imperialist image after 8 years of cowboy Bush, but you are right that there was little difference in actual policy, more so just the garb in which it was presented to the world and the populace. Its true that Obama's election was a masterstroke at the time; but using the "nuclear option," as you call it, has left the U.S. bourgeoisie with few arrows in its quiver. Who comes after the historic black President? Mitt Romney? What a letdown! Somehow the prospect of the first Mormon President doesn't seem quite the accomplishment as the first Black President, unless maybe you are in Utah! But you are right, we should not underestimate the ability of the bourgeoisie to find a political route out of this conundrum. Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, could fit the bill as the anti-Obama for about 47 percent of the population.

About the unions: we need to develop our analysis of the decline of the unions over the last 30 years--a process that has been most acute in the U.S. How does this relate to the attacks on the class itself? Do attacks on the class go hand and hand with the attacks on the unions, since, as you say, once the class is weakened the unions are not so necessary anymore? Or are these attacks a real mistake, depriving the bourgeoisie of the ultimate rampart against the workers' strugle? I think the latter has been the ICC's analysis, the former might be closer to what the ICT would say?

baboon
I think that the US

I think that the US bourgeoisie has a whole arsenal of weaponry left to use against the working class but "nuclear option" is probably not a good phrase to describe the rapprochement between the two factions of the Democratic Party represented by Obama and Clinton - marriage made in Hell would be closer.

 

On the unions, a clarification of what I said about the state not needing unions once the workers are defeated, when what I meant was "fighting" unions (for want of a better word), that are flexible enough to go along with and subvert any struggle from within. Even in the depths of the counter-revolution the bourgeoisie, even in totalitarian countries, still used the unions but, in general throughout the industrial world at this time, they were more overtly cops on the shop-floor, enforcing production norms, discipline, informers, etc. Such set ups are totally inadequate for the bourgeoisie today and can contribute to the spread and organisation of class struggle as is happening in China today.

I don't really see any major industrial country today that doesn't have a more or less strong trade union apparatus - obviously there are specifics, but this would be the general rule faced with an undefeated working class.

 

Following from the latter, and relevant to the organisation of the bourgeoisie: they are a doomed class and their economy and strength is built on sand. But they are quite capable of taking on the working class with the potential to defeating it. The bourgeoisie are not falling apart and one possible, likely even, development we should look out for with the deepening of crisis and struggle, is actions of transnational unity against the working class.

 

As far as I know, they can speak for themselves, but I don't see a great deal of difference between the ICC and ICT on the union question.

Hawkeye
US capitalism in crisis

Responding to Baboon's comment of 25-6-11 in which he said that  'the bourgeoise are not falling apart (...) look out for actions of transnational unity against the working class', according to the Trotskyist 'Workers Revolutionary Party' on        25-6-11,  ''US capitalism (...) is teetering on the brink of collapse'  and that the US ruling class is forced by the imperialist crisis to consider that the only way to resolve its debt to China will be through overthrowing its Communist Party regime and restoring capitalism, and that China, major owner of US bonds, is in a position to collapse the US economy, and is now the number one enemy, hence Clinton's visit to the Philippines.

Crisanto
China as "number 1 enemy"?

Hawkeye wrote:

US ruling class is forced by the imperialist crisis to consider that the only way to resolve its debt to China will be through overthrowing its Communist Party regime and restoring capitalism, and that China, major owner of US bonds, is in a position to collapse the US economy, and is now the number one enemy, hence Clinton's visit to the Philippines.

If that kind of analysis is simply link to Clinton's visit in the Philippines recentrly declaring US complete support for the Philippines in its conflict with China in the Spratly Islands I think we should study more and closely monitor. Leftists here in the Philippines particulary the maoists are also claiming that US imperialism is planning to shift the war zone in South-east Asia and insinuating that the latter will sooner abandon Iraq and Afghanistan for this. 

There are many questions that should be answered in this latest warmongering of US against China using the "support for the Philippines" against Chinese imperialism. I'm not sure if this Chinese imperialism as "number 1 enemy" is also related with the US statement weeks ago warning the expansion of the former in Africa.

Hawkeye
Response to internasyonalista

In your comment of June 26, 2011, you quoted 'me', but I was only pointing out what I had read on a website.  I have made some comments under the pen-name Red Fred on the LLCO website, criticising some comments, also concerning Greece. I do not belong to the WRP nor the LLCO nor to any other political organisation, but see a range of websites.

Crisanto
Reply to Hawkeye

 Yes I understand comrade. I'm just replying to the statement itself and not on you. 

baboon
Capitalism can't be

Capitalism can't be "restored" to China when it's already there.

There are major tensions between the US and China but there doesn't seem to be any perspective of war yet.

The US could devalue the dollar through various mechanisms and thus go some way to resolving its debt to China. Such a move would, in the longer term, increase imperialist tensions and deepen the crisis overall.

 

On the unions (and China)

Massive strikes, riots and upheavals in the main industrial centre of Chinese reported yesterday (over the last months). Here we have self-organisation and extension of the working class leading a major social movement. I think that this is somewhat underestimated in general. The director of the China Labour Bulletin, in the Guardian today, calls for more malleable, more class-oriented trade unions:  "But with no real trade union that can articulate those demands [of the working class in China], workers are left with little option but to take to the streets. There follows an appeal for "constructive engagement" of the trade unions in the west with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions in order to make a "genuinely representative trade union". It goes on: "If the ACFTU can show it can better serve the party's interest (ensuring  economic growth and social stability) by standing up for the rights of workers, the party will certainly take note".

KT
China

This really needs a separate thread but....

I agree with what Baboon has written about the movement in China, although it's hard to judge the scale of self-activity/extension. The current wave of unrest follows some major strikes in major firms last year (including China's Honda plant.)

What's undoubtedly true is the constant pressure from western institutions on the Chinese CP to gets its social control act together. This is what lies behind all the guff about 'human rights'. In Feb this year (can't be precise because of a paywall) the bosses' paper The Financial Times called for 'truly independent unions' to channel discontent and, equally important in the paper's view, to ensure continuity and quality of production. The fact that China is by no means the cheapest place to hire labour these days doesn't overally concern western capitalists: what does worry them is when orders are lost or sabotaged.

For its part, Britain's TUC (Trades Union Congress) has been doing its bit for global capital, making two extensive trips to China (2004 & 2007) and hosting one visit by an All China Federation of TU group in 2005, in order to meet with party top brass, ACFTU officials (the head of the state union is a politbureau member) and one 'free' trade union. The last trip was facilitated by the same UK ambasadorial team in China that arranged UK Prime Minister David Cameron's recent sales sortie with 50 'top UK businessmen.' The TUC initiative is part of a concerted effort by the International Labor Organisation (ILO) to keep Chinese capitalism working.

jk1921
So the Western bourgeoisie

So the Western bourgeoisie calls for building up the union movement in China in order to blunt developing unrest (regardless of the fact that this might make Chinese labour more expensive), while at the same parts of the Western bourgeoisie seek to destroy their own trade union appartus in order to make domestic labour as cheap as possible? Its interesting that the examples of "western capitalist" above are from the UK and not the US! Does the Chinese proletariat today have features similar to the Russian proletariat circa 1905-1917?

 

 

 

KT
In the Spain thread more on China!! Can site admins split this?

Not going to attempt an answer to JK's last question! But on certain other aspects...

Re wages: Generally speaking, wage rises in China have, up until very recently, been more than matched by hikes in productivity (exploitation), although they have contributed to the rise in inflation which is worrying the Chinese state, hence it's more recent attempt to 'slow down' the economy. Chinese 'growth rates' have indeed fallen in the last 18 months, though how much of this is attributable to the state's own fiscal tightening, and how much to the global financial/debt crisis and the general saturation of the world market that underlies it is debatable.

Also, there is, despite the vast population, a general shortage of labour (and indeed 'management') that is trained to the standard required by modern capitalist production (in 2005, a McKinsey study found that fewer than 10 per cent of Chinese graduates were of sufficient calibre to be hired by inward investing foreign capital as engineers, managers or skilled support staff). Relocating to areas of cheaper labour (Vietnam, Indonesia) does not solve this problem for the high-end capitalists (producers of cars, computers, etc), though it may appeal to those in less skilled areas (clothing, for example).

These are some reasons why, hithertoo, wages per se haven't been the main problem for 'investors' - particularly given the low starting base as compared with labour costs in the west (which doesn't mean there aren't grumbles from both 'foreign investors' and the Chinese state about rising wage rates.)

But no: maintaining the productivity hike curve, the continuity and quality of production, and the training and discipline of future factory fodder is just as if not more important than wages in China today: that and the now-urgent need to prevent the unpoliced explosion of class struggle! Hence the on-going attempt to persuade the Chinese state to adopt and promote 'free' trade unions (as part of a general 'democratization' of the Chinese state apparatus). Whether this can achieved without shaking apart the foundations of the Chinese state has been a major concern for the bourgeoisie, east and west, for many years. And it should be said that some western firms investing in China have themselves until recently been resisting the idea of western-style unions - perhaps recent events will clarify the issue for them!

It's not the same in, say, America, where after decades of scientifically managed production (policed and enforced by an established union machinery), productivity hikes are harder to come by and skilled labour is not scarce. Couple this with the differing situations of the respective states (China with an enormous trade surplus - the US with burdgeoining debt) then a direct attack on US wages (take-home pay and the social wage) and a dismantling of whole areas of local and federal state expenditure appears as more necessary to maintain the extraction of surplus value. (I won't go into the issue of the dollar's role - though it's important - nor of the US's military might).

Which returns us to the present orientation of parts of the US bourgeoisie - including the apparent direct attack on trade unions. To me, this tendency certainly appears as an aspect of the state 'shooting itself in the foot', of a short-term, short sightedness, part of a growing political incoherence as analysed by the comrades of Internationalism. Yet I also agree with Baboon and JK: the US bourgeoisie isn't stupid. Historically it has been the greatest promoter of unionism (1930s New Deal; 1945 onwards - the imposition of trade unions in Germany and Japan; 1980s: help to Solidarnosc in Poland, etc, etc). Today, it's true, the global situation isn't the same. But could the very appearence of attacking trade unionism actually serve as an attempt by the US state to push the proletariat towards these institutions? Or, as the Inter comrades note, towards the formation of a populist 'left-wing' version of the Tea Party (though has there yet been much sign of this?)

In all events, I hope an on-going discussion will clarify things further with the ultimate aim of providing an even more precise orientation/intervention. PS: As always, any opinions here are mine, not necessarily shared by the ICC. 

 

 

jk1921
Wow, this is a good

Wow, this is a good discussion. I think the U.S. bourgeoisie is having a very difficult time getting that "left-wing" Tea Party going. The U.S. working-class has been so "deconstructed" over the last 30 years, except in a few sectors--in particular the public sector, that its not even clear if this can happen. The energy on the bourgeois left around Wisconsin has largely died out; the unions were simply unable to go beyond stale legalism--law suits, recall campaigns, etc., so the American bourgeoise has not been able to captialize on Wisconsin, as its main factions would have liked, to build that left alternative. I think the U.S. bourgeoisie is very split on this, there is a highly ideological faction centered in the Republican/Tea Party movement that just doesn't care anymore and wants to smash the unions regardless of the consequences, there is a faction that thinks the working-class is so destroyed it doesn't need unions anymore (Wisconsin was an aberration) and then there are the more far-sighted and still Machiavellian factions that see the need to try to build that left apparatus to contain struggles, lest they radicalize in unforseen ways (As Wisconsin threatened to do in its early stages).

How does this compare to China and the Western bourgeoisie's attitude towards the Chinese state? And to bring it back to topic, how does all this relate to the events in Spain? The common thread here would seem to be the campaigns around "democracy" or "real democracy" on the part of the bourgeoisie, which of course came out of the uprisingings in the Middle East. Is there a section of the proletariat better place to resist the siren calls of "true democracy", etc. and lead the way forward for the class on the global level, i.e. my question about parallels between today and Russia 1905-1917?

baboon
China

A bit more on class struggle in China and the question of extension/self-organisation. I agree with KT about the difficulty of quantifying the particular levels of class struggle and think that this is a general problem which is referred to in several subjects on this forum. Given this difficulty I think that it's important that the overall analysis of an undefeated working class and the subterranean maturation of consciousness is useful to hold onto - as KT himself does in relation to the union question on a thread on libcom.

I would say that even from the very limited reports on class struggle in China from the bourgeois press over the last couple of years that we can very clearly deduce the extension of the struggle, ie, going from province to province, from the industrial centres and back again - as it has in force this last month or so. This movement of extension has also taken in social and political questions, one of these being the epidemic of lead poisoning in children. A third of children in China are apparantly affected by serious lead poisoning and this had led to meetings, protests, riots and strikes over this issue. The authorities in places have denied medical treatment for children belonging to anyone who "makes a fuss". This particular scourge of capitalism affecting working class children is by no means confined to China with figures indicating that 1 in 10 children between one and six years old in the UK, ie, 400,000 children, have a blood-lead level above the level of concern.

As to the question of self-organisation in struggles going on in China, particular examples will be the last thing that the bourgeoisie tells us but there were one or two elements that I saw in reports that would indicate this. Whatever, I can't believe that isn't significant expressions of this given the extent of strikes and given what we know about class struggles in the old eastern bloc, Hungary, Poland, East Germany for example, when workers are faced with trade unions openly integrated into the state and when the latter's main response is repression.

I don't think that it's 1905 or 1917 in China, but there seems to me to be clear expressions of the  mass strike.

jk1921
One third of children in

One third of children in China have lead poisoning? And we were complaining about melamine in our pet food! I agree that it is not 1905--1917 today; however there do appear to be certain similarities to the situation of the Chinese proletariat today as the Russian proletariat of that period. Of course, an historical period can never be "repeated," but there do appear to be certain similarities. Of course, looking at certain aspects of the U.S. proletariat today, one could make the same argument: high rates of exploitation, little integration into the official trade unions, little integration into the official political parties/democracy, etc. One might say the potential for mass struggle is there, i.e. early Wisconsin. But one has to keep the historical view in mind, the situation in the U.S. today is coming after 30 years of vicious attacks and reorganization of production, etc.