"The theoretical conclusions of the communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.
They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes." (Communist Manifesto)
1. Years of Truth
"In the ‘60s, the bourgeoisie gave us misery in exchange for crumbs, in the ‘70s, they gave us more misery in exchange for promises; with the ‘80s we are in for still more misery in exchange for....... misery!" Accion Proletaria
1. The present state of the capitalist crisis is pushing the two fundamental historic classes -- the proletariat and the bourgeoisie -- towards a fight to the death, a fight stripped of all ambiguity, a fight to impose their respective historic alternatives: Revolution or War, Communism or Barbarism.
2. The bourgeoisie has seen the bankruptcy of all the plans for economic ‘recovery' that it tried out in a thousand different ways during the ‘70s. Each failure is another proof that its only way out is a third imperialist world war.
On the other hand, the continued and undefeated resistance of the proletariat (whose highest expression is the struggle in Poland) forces the bourgeoisie to face up to the ‘social question'; that is to say, the whole axis of its economic and political drive towards war can only be a strategy for confronting and defeating the proletariat.
3) For the proletariat, the perspective of a draw up a balance sheet of the proletariat's ‘solution' to the crisis within capitalism, experience in its developing struggle, which disorientated and slowed down its struggle during the ‘70s, is giving way to the bitter reality of a radical, absolute, and permanent decline in its standard of living. Increasingly, the misery imposed by capitalism ceases to be a merely quantitative phenomenon. The proletariat now faces the qualitative reality of degradation, humiliation and insecurity in every aspect of its existence.
The proletariat is learning that purely economic struggles and confrontations that remain partial and limited, end up having no effect on the bourgeoisie, and that the relative and momentary crumbs won in the great battles of 1965-73 have disappeared without trace over the last five years, giving way to an unprecedented and unrestrained decline in its living conditions. All this points to one and only one perspective: a generalized confrontation with capital with a perspective of revolution.
4) These overall historic conditions form the starting point of our evaluation of the present state of the class struggle. The question posed in this report is: how do the proletariat and the bourgeoisie respond to their historic crossing of the ways? From here, we go on to analyze the strategy and weapons used by the bourgeoisie and its strong and weak points.
2. The response of the bourgeoisie
5) At the 3rd ICC Congress we pointed to the reality of the world bourgeoisie's political -crisis and analyzed in detail its characteristics. Its origins -- which we can now determine with greater hindsight -- lie in the inadequacy of the bourgeoisie's policies in the face of the rise of the class struggle beginning in ‘78, and in the overall situation that we have defined in the previous section.
This political crisis has given rise to a complete reorientation of bourgeois strategy in particular towards the proletariat. This reorientation of its apparatus and political activity has allowed the bourgeoisie to act more coherently and to undertake a more systematic, concentrated and effective campaign against the proletariat. In the short term, the bourgeoisie is strengthened, though, as we shall see later, this strategy will weaken it in the long term.
6) As we pointed out at the 3rd Congress, the main axis of this reorientation has been the left's passage into the opposition, and consequently, the right's accession to power. But before analyzing this axis in detail, we aim to examine the ideological framework that characterizes bourgeois policies as a whole in the present period.
Capitalist domination rests on two foundations. One is that of repression and terror, while the other, which hides and reinforces the first is that of ideological mystification. This second foundation always relies on a material basis which gives it its credibility. While it contains a whole series of mystifications fed from capitalism's deepest roots (democracy, human rights), bourgeois ideology as a whole -- that is to say, all those mystifications and ‘alternatives' that maintain its domination -- must adapt itself to the different conjunctures imposed by the crisis, the class struggle and inter-imperialist conflict. If it fails to do this it risks losing all its credibility and, therefore, its grip on the proletariat.
During the ‘70s, this ideological framework revolved around the illusion that the workers, by making a whole series of sacrifices and accepting policies of increasing austerity, could get out of the crises and win back their lost ‘prosperity'. Through the myth of a national and negotiated solution to the crisis, which was incarnated in the perspective of the left in power, and whose ever-present ideology was ‘the advance of progressive forces towards social change' the bourgeoisie was able to maintain its domination, momentarily restraining and paralyzing the workers' struggles, making them swallow ever stronger doses of austerity, and rebuilding its national unity around these plans.
The 3rd Congress registered the crisis of this ideological orientation, pointing out the overall objective conditions which have broken it up. At the same time it noted the renewal of the proletarian struggle, which was developing as both cause and effect of this weakening of bourgeois domination. Had the bourgeoisie maintained the same political and ideological orientations of the previous phase, the dangerous vacuum appearing within its system of social control would have deepened further. The last two years have born witness, through a series of ideological and political crises, the process whereby the bourgeoisie has reorientated its strategy and ideology.
The bourgeoisie has openly recognized the seriousness of the crisis. It now presents us with the terrifying spectacle of the catastrophes and dangers that menace the ‘national community' and speaks straightforwardly of the perspective of war. This is the new language of ‘truth' and ‘sincerity'.
Given this somber, demoralizing and futureless perspective, where the ‘national community' is supposed to be under threat from all kinds of shadowy, undefinable forces - ‘terrorism', ‘imperialist encroachment', ‘totalitarianism' etc -- there is supposedly no other remedy than to accept the most terrible sacrifices, and to swallow the policies of ‘blood, sweat and tears', to save the ‘little we have'.
The bourgeoisie is trying to recreate its national unity by means of this ‘sincerity', which aims at the complete demoralization of the working class. In this way, the bourgeoisie adapts to the chaos and decomposition of its own social system, trying to drag the proletariat down with it. Faced with the enormous responsibilities imposed by this moment in history, the workers have tended to adopt a concerned, reflective stance. The bourgeoisie is trying to take advantage of this mood and transform it into demoralization, apathy, and despair.
Naturally, the final aim of this ideological orientation can only be the defeat of the proletariat, its unconditional submission to the drive towards war. And it can only be applied through a huge campaign of division and exhaustion carried out by the left and the unions from their base in the opposition.
7) In decadent capitalism, the state, whether ‘democratic' or ‘dictatorial', is transformed into a monstrous totalitarian apparatus which stretches its tentacles into the whole of social life, and submits the proletariat to an absolute and systematic occupation. In the countries of ‘democratic' totalitarianism this occupation is the specific function of the parties of the left (Stalinists, social democrats, and their leftist hangers-on).
As we pointed out at the 3rd Congress, the orientation of the left in power which predominated during the ‘70s resulted in a tremendous erosion of its apparatus. This weakened its hold on the proletariat and reduced its ability to fulfil its specific function within he bourgeois state -- that is to say to straitjacket the proletariat. All this has produced a profound crisis within this apparatus, which has been driven to take up a position where it can effectively carry out its role -- in other words, in opposition.
In fact, it is only in opposition (or rather, liberated from all direct governmental responsibility) that the left and the unions can devote themselves without any ambiguity to their specific role of stifling any attempts at workers' struggle, and hemming the workers in behind capitalism's plans for national solidarity and war.
But the left's passage into opposition is not simply a change of tactic to restore its control over the workers; it is also the best way of integrating this bourgeois faction in to capitalisms overall strategy, which is basically to demoralize and defeat the proletariat in order to open up the road to war.
A. Because it is only within a general orientation of ‘opposition' that the left and the unions are able to imprison the workers in tactics based on defensiveness and desperation:
-- isolated, corporatist struggles atomizing the workers in all kinds of divisions by factory, by trade etc.
-- humiliating and exhausting actions: hunger strikes, sit-ins, petitions to the authorities and public personalities.
-- reducing solidarity to individualist and moralist forms that systematically lead to a feeling of impotence and division.
-- deliberately fomenting in the workers a distrust in their own self-activity and self-organization, leading them to trust in the ‘mediation' of all types of institutions, organisms and ‘progressive' personalities.
B. Because only from the opposition can the left and the unions make credible their alternative of sharing out misery by accepting the imperatives of the national economy. This permeates all their approaches to the struggle.
The left and the unions adapt themselves to the instinctive consciousness of the workers who know that in the present situation there's little possibility of winning immediate demands. To avoid the necessary leap of the workers to a higher level of massive struggles, the left and unions attempt to transform that consciousness into a defeatist vision: facing the crisis the only thing to be done is to share out the misery amongst everybody. This vision is 100%consistent with the strategy of isolating and wasting away struggles. It is the best way of leading workers towards the logic of national solidarity. Within the framework of a ‘threatened national community', workers should accept the greatest sacrifices as long as they receive a ‘just and equal' treatment. In order to obtain it, they have to struggle against all the parties and bosses who are not for ‘solidarity', who are ‘anti-democratic' and ‘anti-patriotic', etc.
Paraphrasing Marx, the whole aim of the left and the unions is to ensure that workers don't see in their misery anything except misery, to prevent them seeing that their present misery is preparing the basis for definitively abolishing this misery.
C. Because only from the opposition can the left drown workers in the ideology of demoralization and nihilism that permeates the plans of the bourgeoisie as a whole. From within that perspective, the left,
-- turns reality on its head by presenting its passage to the opposition as resulting from the coming to power of the right. It implies that this is the result of a defeat of the workers and of a failure of the expectations of ‘social change' and ‘radical reforms' prevalent in the ‘70s. Everywhere it asserts that society is becoming ‘more right-wing', and workers too.
-- attempts to ‘prove' that workers are ‘defeated' and becoming more ‘right-wing', using as proofs the present maturation of workers' consciousness, with its apparent apathy and refusa1 to struggle under unfavourable conditions. In this way, the left tries to demoralize and later defeat the workers.
-- deliberately offers no ways out of the present situation except the very demoralizing ones of accepting misery, sacrifices for the nation, and struggling defensively for old myths that nobody believes in anymore, such as ‘socialism', ‘democracy', etc. All this essentially obeys the need to demoralize and discourage workers, to make them suffer the barbarous misery that the bourgeoisie imposes.
In reality the role the left in opposition is similar to that of a ‘workers' lawyer who says that he's doing everything possible for them but claims that ‘times aren't so good', ‘the enemy is powerful', and since ‘the client doesn't co-operate', there's not much he can do.
D. Because it is only from the opposition that the left and the unions can presently unfold a whole panoply of broad, flexible tactics for confronting and dispersing the workers' struggles. The experience of these last years show us this variety of tactics used by the left and unions:
-- accepting the generalization of the class struggle, including some of its violent reactions, but at the same time totally strangling their self-organization (as was the case in Longwy-Denain);
-- allowing a local and short-lived development of self-organization and generalization of the class struggle, but maintaining a firm control on the national scale (British steel strike);
-- establishing a ‘cordon sanitaire' around a radical and self-organized struggle, in order to totally block its generalization (Rotterdam);
-- sharing out roles of ‘moderates', and ‘radicals' between two factions of a trade union (New York subway), between two unions (as in France or Spain) or between the Stalinist party and the unions (Fiat, Italy), with the aim of retaining overall control over the workers;
-- anticipating workers' discontent through fake struggles that at times can achieve a massive and spectacular character (Sweden);
-- impeding the maturation of workers struggles by provoking premature clashes under unfavourable conditions.
This broad rainbow of tactics also allows the left and the unions to better conceal themselves in front of the workers. These tactics allow them to dilute their responsibilities, to wash their faces from time to time, to present themselves not as a unified and monolithic apparatus, but as a ‘living, democratic, organ', where all sorts of tendencies can co-exist. This makes the denouncing of the unions and the left a more difficult and complex task.
In a general way, we can conclude that the turn of the left towards the opposition means a short term reinforcement of their control of the class, which allows them to develop a tactic of attrition, isolation and demoralization of the workers' struggles. This tactic flows from the general strategy of the bourgeoisie aimed at the demoralization and defeat of the proletariat.
But, in the longer term, in contrast to the ‘30s, such a turn does not mean that the left has the capacity to lock the working class inside a bourgeois perspective dressed up as a ‘worker's alternative', or to carry out physical shackling of the proletariat, its subordination to a naked and asphyxiating control without any political justification.
8) The perspective of the left in opposition is complemented by two other elements of the present global strategy of the bourgeoisie:
A. The systematic reinforcement of repression and state terror;
B. The ideological campaigns of pro-war and nationalist hysteria.
A. All the states in the world are quantitatively and qualitatively developing the instruments of their repressive and terroristic apparatus (police, courts, army, propaganda). The goal of all this is:
-- to create a mechanism which can be combined with the tactics of attrition and dispersion favored by the left and the unions;
-- to prevent the generalized confrontations that are maturing today. This massive reinforcement of the state's terrorist arsenal is justified and supported wholeheartedly by the left which:
-- participates without hesitation in the anti-terrorist campaigns and ceaselessly calls for the repressive reinforcement of the state;
-- demands more repression and more police under the excuse of anti-fascism and anti-racism (Belgium);
-- never tires of demanding the insatiable increase of military budgets in the name of ‘the defense of national sovereignty'.
Its protests against repressive acts never question this reinforcement of the state. The left limits itself to uttering pious moanings against the most explicit and extreme aspects and criticizes (in the name of social peace and the national interest) the unthinking, excessively partisan or too provocative use of repression.
In reality, in spite of their formal separation and their apparent antagonism, the trade union and left apparatus and the police apparatus complement each other in front of the class struggle. Repression is unleashed on the workers once they have been isolated and disarmed by the practices of the left and the unions; at the same time, by being directed selectively to the more radical sectors of the workers, repression pushes the majority of the workers towards accepting the methods and defeatist alternatives of the left and the unions.
8. On top of the fundamental ideological orientations that we mentioned in point 6, the bourgeoisie has attempted to develop hysterical pro-war and nationalist campaigns which aim to politically weaken the class and to mobilize it along with the rest of the population behind its plans for sacrifice and war.
The deep exhaustion of the old mystifications (anti-fascism, anti-terrorism, democracy, national defense, etc.) means that these campaigns have in general had little success. Rather than taking a coherent and systematic form, they have been based largely on the exploitation of particular events;
-- the case of the hostages was utilized in the USA in order to prop up the campaign of a national solidarity;
-- the acts carried out by the extreme right, in France, Italy and Belgium have resulted in anti-fascist campaigns;
-- the threat of invasion by Russia has been used in Poland as a ,justification for social peace;
-- anti-terrorism in Spain and Italy;
-- the general elections in Germany were the springboard for a gigantic campaign of war preparations under the guise of pacificism.
The balance-sheet of these campaigns is not positive for the bourgeoisie:
-- at least in the immediate, they have not had an impact on the proletariat;
-- their mystifications have been exposed and the bourgeoisie's prestige has decreased due to the internal contradictions of the events involved (i.e, the earthquake in Italy or the Arregui case in Spain vis-a-vis the anti-terrorist hysteria);
-- these campaigns have mainly attempted to foment an atmosphere of insecurity, confusion and demoralization. They have not been as successful as part of a coherent political strategy for the ideological mobilization of the class the bourgeoisie is far from having such a strategy today.
9) Throughout this section we have analyzed in detail the bourgeoisie's response to its present historical dilemma. The question we must ask ourselves is: does that answer mean a strengthening of the bourgeoisie vis-a-vis the proletariat? Can such a response defeat the proletarian resurgence which began in 1978?
For us, the whole orientation of the politics of the bourgeoisie over the last three years have led to a short term strengthening of the ruling class; but it also expresses a position of weakness leading to an effective weakening in the long term.
We are now going to develop this apparently contradictory thesis.
In the short term, this orientation allows the bourgeoisie:
A. to use coherently and without compromise all of its social and political forces:
-- the right, in power, organizes a frontal attack against the class without any risk of losing prestige or contradicting its basis of support in society;
-- the left, placed in opposition, can dedicate itself, without any handicaps, to demobilizing the workers, and exhausting their struggles, thus aiding capitalism's attacks, and creating a climate of demoralization and impotence in order to prepare defeat in the future;
B. to concentrate coherently and cohesively all its forces and instruments against the proletariat. Today, in spite of the internal conflicts of capital and its weaknesses and anachronisms, we are seeing a systematic and combined offensive of the whole of its forces against the workers. There is a degree of coordination, a capacity for working together, and a unity of strategy never seen in the past amongst the bourgeois forces. Left and right, bosses and unions, repressive bodies and the media, church and secular institutions, etc., coordinate their efforts in the same anti-proletarian direction. They know how to converge from their various, divergent and contradictory positions to a single front line defending the bourgeois order. This means a higher level of bourgeois action against the working class in contrast with the previous period, when the bourgeoisie used repression without really linking it to mystifications or used mystifications without openly employing repression;
C. to develop a strategy of isolating and exhausting flare-ups of class struggle, of drowning them in the general climate of demoralization, with the aim of facilitating the total, final defeat of the proletariat and opening up a definitive course towards war.
This reorientation of the bourgeois state apparatus is having a certain immediate effectiveness. It has, up to a point, managed to contain the development of class antagonisms in the main proletarian concentrations, giving the state a spectacular facade of force and power. Now, even if we must not underestimate at all the force of the bourgeoisie and must denounce in detail and to the maximum degree its campaigns and maneuvers, such denunciations would be useless if they weren't informed by a clear vision of the weakness and fragility, the profound contradictions, underlying the power of the bourgeoisie today.
We must not forget that all this reorientation has taken place with the aim of confronting the proletarian reemergence since 1978; in other words, that the starting point of this reorientation is a position of weakness and surprise on the part of the bourgeoisie. As the battles in Poland show, the present situation continues to be determined by the inability of the bourgeoisie to subordinate the proletariat and crush class antagonisms. At the present level of the capitalist crisis, such an incapacity is a grave danger for bourgeois power, because it weakens it economically and politically, deepening its contradictions and increasing its inability to drag society towards its ‘solution' to the crisis -- world war.
Therefore, the present coherence and strength of bourgeois political strategy must be essentially interpreted as the last resort, the supreme effort of the bourgeois state to avoid a generalized class confrontation.
This must not lead us to underestimate the force of the bourgeoisie, because the possibilities opened up by its recent political reorientation are certainly not exhausted, and the working class is going to go through a hard period during which the danger of being crushed by the present concentration and combination of bourgeois resources will be ever-present. But, at the same time, we cannot ignore that the decisive word is still with the proletariat. As long as the class is capable of deepening the breach opened by the massive struggles in Poland, it will be able to overcome the weight of the tremendous concentration of enemy forces facing it, and open up a process of breaking up the bourgeois front. In this process, all the aspects that today appear as strong points of capitalism will be transformed into marks of its weakness.
As we mentioned at the beginning, the present strategy of the bourgeoisie recognizes openly the breakdown of its social system, the fact that it really has nothing to offer except war. This admittance can have the immediate and dangerous effect of demoralizing the proletariat and trapping it in the barbarism imposed on it by capital. But if the proletariat manages to broaden its struggles to break the chain of isolation and attrition, the very sincerity by the bourgeoisie will create an enormous vacuum. This would allow workers to develop a revolutionary alternative because they would have clear confirmation of the chaos of the bourgeoisie's system.
"When the bourgeoisie admits that its system is bankrupt, that it has nothing else to offer except imperialist butchery, it is contributing to the creation of the conditions which can allow the proletariat to find the path of its historic alternative to the capitalist system"
The left in opposition is showing its momentary capacity to stop workers' struggles and it could succeed in exhausting and sinking the immense combativity of the proletariat. But, at the same time, such a political orientation is dangerous because it has no illusory perspectives to offer the proletariat. Thus, this whole orientation can end up showing the essential character of the left and the unions as 'oppositional' appendages to capitalism's policy of war and misery, as mere instruments for the physical straight jacketing and policing of the proletariat.
Equally, the reinforcement of repression and bourgeois state terror can sow within the proletariat a momentary climate of fear and impotence, but in the long run this reinforcement shows its class character and thus the need to confront it violently without pacifist, democratic or legalist illusions.
Finally, the campaigns of nationalist and warlike hysteria launched by capital can intoxicate the proletariat with chauvinist and inter-classist poisons, but the weakness of their ideological bases and the capitalist contradictions that underlie them can lead to the contrary result: they become additional factors forcing the proletariat to clarify its revolutionary alternative and deepen its class autonomy.
The tendency for the left to go into opposition, and the reinforcement of the repressive apparatus, express a process of formal reinforcement of the bourgeois state that hides a more profound real weakening.
In the final analysis, the present facade of cohesion and strength the bourgeois front has the clay feet of a profound incapacity to transcend its internal contradictions and channel the whole of society towards bourgeois alternatives. Everything that today lurks in the darkness can be brutally exposed to the light of day if the proletariat develops a front line of massive class combats. Far from being a simple hypothesis or the faraway echo of old historical experiences, this is a real possibility clearly announced by the Polish mass strikes:
"It is not only in the struggles of the proletariat that the events in Poland prefigure what will increasingly become the general situation of all the industrialized countries. The internal convulsions of the ruling class that we can see in Poland today, including their more exaggerated aspects, are an indication of subterranean developments going on throughout bourgeois society. Since August the ruling circles in Poland have been in a state of genuine panic. In government circles, for the past five months, ministerial portfolios have been constantly changing hands. It has even got to the point that a government ministry has been entrusted to a Catholic. But the convulsions have been strongest in the most important force within the ruling class: the party."
3. The response of the proletariat
10. Once we have examined the strategy of the bourgeoisie, let's make a balance-sheet of the response that the working class is giving in the present historical situation. In order to do this we have to ask ourselves the following three questions:
1) Is it becoming aware of the historic responsibilities it bears in the present situation?
2) To what extent do its most recent struggles express that awareness? Do they constitute a step forward towards the revolution?
3) What lessons and perspectives are to be drawn from those struggles?
To answer these three questions is the intention of the present section.
11. "When it is a question of making a precise study of the strikes, combinations and other forms in which the proletarians carry out before our eyes their organization as a class, some are gripped by a real panic, and the others exhibit a transcendental disdain."
The process through which the working class matures its understanding of the historical situation and of the tasks that it faces is not at all simple nor self-evident.
The thought and will of the working class are expressed exclusively through its mass struggles against the bourgeois order; and when looking at these struggles we need to have an approach that captures their objective dynamic if we are to understand their true historical meaning. There is always a brutal discrepancy between the objective impact of the struggles and the subjective representations that workers make them.
The present situation expresses, in an extreme manner, this difficulty of grasping the real direction of workers' struggles. Our Third Congress announced a new period of proletarian resurgence after 1978, but remarked that such a resurgence would follow a contradictory, slow and painful course, expressed by a series of sudden explosions and not by a progressive, cumulative, and gradual movement. The struggles of 1979/80, and especially the Polish strikes, have confirmed that prediction completely. However, seeing the ascendant dynamic of the movement and appreciating its steps forward has become very difficult for the class and for its revolutionary groups.
This has become quite clear in respect of the struggles in Poland. Many revolutionary groups have expressed a transcendental disdain towards them. They see only the surface appearances, which are conveniently deformed by the bourgeoisie: workers receiving communion, Polish flags, Walesa, etc. Our organization has had to carry out a determined struggle against such ways of looking at the Polish events, because they express a conception of the development of the class struggle and class consciousness which has pernicious consequences in the present situation.
Let's say once and for all, that the proletariat is the class that concentrates all the inhumanity of bourgeois society. It suffers from a profound dispossession and alienation. Therefore, its existence manifests in an extreme and sharp way a fundamental blemish of bourgeois society: the separation between being and consciousness, the discrepancy, or even the opposition, between the objective reality of social acts and the subjective representation made of them by their protagonists. The working class is no stranger to this phenomenon, and this discrepancy will exist until the final triumph of its movement for liberation.
The working class does not react to such a discrepancy by creating a ‘new culture', or by elaborating a ‘new science', but by overcoming the separation between being and consciousness in the course of the struggle itself. It gives rise to a conscious movement which, over and above all the subjective representations that can be made of it, tends to overthrow the objective conditions that give rise to this discrepancy in the first place (capitalist exploitation, class divisions, etc).
Thus, when we analyze in depth the Polish events, we see that the proletariat in that country, in spite of its weaknesses, has expressed in the struggle a clear understanding of the fundamental needs of the present historical situation:
A. It's capacity to generalize its struggle, must to maintain a massive pressure, backed by force, against the state, while at the same time avoiding premature or unfavourable confrontations, expresses its active grasp of the present historic moment and of the responsibilities faced by our class.
B. Its will towards self-organization and of the unity shows that it has understood clearly the class confrontations that await it.
C. Its class struggle response to the appeals of the bourgeoisie to be responsible towards the national economy, express how the class senses the irreconcilable opposition that exists between class interests and national interests.
It is not a question of glorifying this comprehension, which is still more or less instinctive, but of recognizing its reality and using it as a point of departure for the action of communist minorities of the proletariat and for the development of new struggles.
Now, the question that is posed immediately is: has the rest of the world proletariat grasped the ‘message' of its Polish brothers? Can we affirm with certainty that the whole of the world proletariat is preparing itself to answer the demands of this crucial historical conjuncture?
At first sight, it seems as if the of battles in Longwy-Denain, the British steel strike, Rotterdam, and above all Poland have not had any immediate effect. After these struggles nobody has seen the expected wave of international class struggle. Does this mean that our 3rd Congress' announcement of a new cycle of class struggle was false? Not at all! The analysis of the historical conditions that we have made in the first part of this report, and the balance sheet of the struggles we are going to go through, clearly confirm such a perspective. However what we must clarify is the concrete path that the class is moving along towards that perspective.
Longwy-Denain, British steel strike, Rotterdam, etc. have been the first attempts, the first signposts, of that new wave. Together they constitute a sort of reconnaissance of the terrain. The immediate outcome of this has generally been a failure, but it has taught the class the tremendous road it has to traverse, the ferocious concentration of forces that it faces, the weakness of the resources that it has available. It has shown that the problems posed are greater than the problems solved. All this has made the class stand back and embark on a subterranean process of maturation.
In appearance Poland has aggravated this falling back of the western proletariat. Although it has answered many of the problems that were posed in Longwy-Denain, the British steel strike, it has also sharply clarified the tremendous scope that proletarian struggles have today, the enormous preconditions they must fulfill to struggle with a minimum possibility of victory. All that tends to perpetuate the tense calm we are living today.
Nevertheless, in spite of all this, we must clearly establish the enormous impact that the struggle of the Polish proletariat has had on its class brothers in the rest of the world. This has been proven by the magnificent call of the Fiat workers: Gdansk-Turin, same combat; the struggles that have continued in Rumania, Hungary, Russia, Czechoslovakia, among the Berlin railway workers, etc. The struggle Polish workers have awakened enormous expectations amongst the workers of Germany, Spain, France, etc.
The present state of class consciousness can be summarized as follows: workers instinctively realize that the historical situation is very grave, that every struggle is critically important. They realize the truth that each struggle is forced to confront the concentrated and combined force of all the weapons the enemy has at its disposal. All this leads to a certain paralysis -- to a process of reflection which gives rise to doubts and even disorientation.
This difficult process of maturation contains great dangers. For its part the bourgeoisie acts in a decisive manner, seeking to isolate and exhaust each outburst of struggle, presenting what is a process of maturation as a defeat and a sign of demoralization. This danger exists! But we would be abdicating our responsibility in the face of this danger if we failed to see the objective dynamic struggle which is developing, and did not intervene resolutely with the aim of transforming all the anxieties, the apparent apathy, and the searchings of today into the beginnings of struggles which will accelerate and strengthen the immense process of ripening class struggle.
12) At the 3rd International Congress, on the basis of the as yet embryonic experience of the struggles by miners in America, of steel workers in Germany, of workers in Iran and Longwy/Denain ... we took the risk, on the basis of a concrete, global, analysis of seeing in these struggles the start of a new wave of proletarian struggle which would bring an end to the relative reflux of 1973-78. Today we can categorically confirm that such a start has been made:
-- September 1979: Rotterdam strike.
-- January-April 1980: steel strike in Britain.
-- March-April 1980: social revolts in Syria, Korea, Algeria and Holland.
-- May 1980: strikes in the New York metro and at Gorky and Toggliatigrad in the imperialist metropoles.
-- July-August 1980: mass strikes in Poland.
-- after Poland strikes at Fiat, in Berlin, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Hungary, Russia, In appearance Poland has aggravated this Bulgaria ...
-- October-November 1980: wave of relatively large strikes in Portugal and Ireland.
-- starting in December 1980: gigantic workers' and peasants' movements in Peru.
Poland is at the epicenter of this development of the class struggle. The struggles which preceded those in Poland had some positive aspects, but they lacked many things on an overall level:
-- Longwy/Denain raised the question of class violence and the need for generalization, but there was no self-organization.
-- the steel workers in Britain developed self-organization and generalized the fight at a local level, but failed to do so on a national level.
-- in Korea, the semi-insurrectional movement was crushed with a total absence of coordination and self-organization.
-- in Brazil and Rotterdam self-organization triumphed but there was no generalization.
What the class movement in Poland did was to unify all the partial tendencies of these struggles in a single large mass strike which in turn provided the answer -- or the beginnings of an answer -- to all the questions raised by earlier struggles.
Poland is the most important class movement not only since the proletarian resurgence of 1978, but since the crushing of the revolutionary wave of 1917-26. It places the whole of the present, cycle of the class struggle at a higher level, simply by crystallizing all the tendencies which emerged during the previous struggles. Clearly, the lessons of Poland will take time to be assimilated by workers in other countries, and some time and work will be needed before they crystallize into struggles at a higher level. But this cannot hide the immense step forward which has been taken by the proletariat in Poland and the necessity to generalize the lessons of Poland to the whole working class.
4. Fundamental perspectives for the future struggles
13) The lessons of the mass strike in Poland, in the light of the class positions based on the historical struggle of the proletariat, provide us with the basic characteristics which must be met by struggles in the future if they are to attain the higher level which is demanded by the historical situation, which Poland has in a fundamental way helped to bring about.
14) The proletarian revolt against the bourgeois order opens up an immense process of self-organization and self-activity of working class whose unitary and centralized expression are general assemblies and elected and revocable strike committees.
These organizations are the minimum precondition for the unification of the whole class movement at a given stage of its development; while they provide a foundation for the development of a more advanced class movement, they also create problems for the evolution of this movement, because of their association with a particular stage of struggle.
These limitations make them vulnerable to the activities of the bourgeoisie, which does not abandon the terrain of working class organization but, of the contrary, attempts, through its unions and oppositional forces, to attack the proletarian movement from within, and divests these organizations of all working class content, while at the same time maintaining the form and the name in order to trick the workers better. This makes working class organs, as long as the revolution has not triumphed, a battle-ground between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie (represented by the unions and the left).
However this reality, a product of the totalitarian character of decadent capitalism, must not lead us to consider working class organs as mere forms without a content or as hybrid organizations without a definite class character. And above all this must not lead us to the much more serious error of comparing them with organisms created by the unions to suppress proletarian self-organization (Intersyndicales in France, or ‘strike committees' in Britain) or with the various other types of unionist organisms.
The organs which emanate from mass strikes express the will of the working class to
-- constitute itself as an organized force against capital;
-- unify and centralize its self-activity and self-organization;
-- take complete control of its struggle.
This, despite all the temporary limitations of their composition and form, and the penetration which they suffer from bourgeois forces, places them in a camp which is diametrically opposed to all quasi-unionist forms of organization.
15) Generalization. In the present period, class solidarity, the generalization of struggles, has a more profound significance for the proletariat than it had in the ‘60s and '70s.
In these years, the working class launched itself into broad movements characterized by solidarity and self-organization. But conditions in this period still allowed partial struggles to be relatively successful. This was because they either won temporary gains, or they temporarily pushed back the bourgeoisie. Within this framework, generalization, whatever its potential, was only understood in a limited way, as simply ‘support', or as the idea that ‘if they win, we'll be able to win too'.
These ideas, while being a basic starting point for all working class struggles, are inadequate in the face of the present situation. In present conditions class solidarity can only be conceived of in the sense of joining the struggle, extending the confrontation, with the aim of constituting a social force which can successfully confront the bourgeois state and open up the way to revolution. In the present situation, class solidarity becomes a question of life or death: any struggle, by any sector of the working class, is inevitably an expression of the struggle which must be taken up by the whole working class.
16) Demand struggles and revolutionary struggle. One of the problems which makes it very difficult for struggles to break out at the moment, is the impossibility, which is becoming increasingly obvious, of winning economic gains which last for more than a few months. This is clearly apparent in Poland: the gigantic mass strike has won satisfaction on only a few points in the Gdansk agreement.
Does this mean, that economic struggle is useless and that it must abandoned in favor of an abstract ‘political struggle' or a no less ethereal simultaneous general strike on the appointed day?
Not at all! Demand struggles are the profound basis of the revolutionary struggle of the working class because the working class is both an exploited class and the revolutionary class in capitalist society -- because its immediate interest in resisting exploitation coincides with its historical interest in the abolition of exploitation.
Because of this, as we have seen in Poland, mass political struggle (the strikes in August) are prepared for by a wave of partial, economic struggles (the strikes in July) and then give way again to a new series of economic struggles.
The revolutionary potential of the demand struggles of the proletariat lies in the fact that they express a logic diametrically opposed to that which regulates capitalist society. The logic capitalism demands that the workers subordinate their interests and needs to those of commodity production and the national interest. Workers oppose this with the logic of their human needs, and this is the underlying basis of communism: To each according to his needs, from each according to his capabilities.
"The workers must declare that as human beings, they cannot adapt themselves to existing conditions, but that the conditions must adapt themselves to them as human beings." (Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England)
The political struggle of the proletariat doesn't mean abandoning or ‘transcending' the economic struggle. The political struggle must take as a point of departure the basic logic contained in the economic struggle, leading it onto the only terrain where it can realize its whole potentiality: the terrain of a general confrontation between classes, of a war to the death against the bourgeois state. Therefore, the political struggle is not a supposed ‘political reform of the state', or a better transition program, nor is it waiting for a D-day when there will be a political general strike. It means the comprehension by the workers that the inexorable deepening of the crisis, the fate of humanity, depends exclusively on the relation of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, whose interests and objectives are radically opposed. From that standpoint, the ‘political' problem of the working class is how to constitute itself into a social force capable of destroying the bourgeois state.
The metaphysical question of ‘economic struggle or political struggle' disappears when seen in this manner. The issue faced by each immediate struggle is not its immediate results but above all, its contribution to altering the relation of forces between the classes in favor of the proletariat. The issue is not a possible temporary victory which would vanish in a few days, but the capacity to express and answer problems that belong to the whole of the class. In that sense defensive struggles acquire all their importance:
"These strikes, at first skirmishes, sometimes result in weighty struggles; They decide nothing, it is true, but they are the strongest proof that the decisive battle between proletariat and bourgeoisie is approaching. They are the military school of the working man in which they prepare themselves for the great struggle which cannot be avoided; they are the pronunciamentos of single branches of industry that these too have joined the labor movement."
17) Internationalism. At the 3rd Congress) we were pointing out that the "objective internationalisation of struggles" implicit in the proletarian resurgence of 1978 was its "first and main" characteristic. Such internationalization was based on the fact that "we're heading towards equalization in misery of the workers in all enterprises, countries and regions". The dynamic of the events since then confirms such an analysis, but it also opens up perspectives that we must clarify and deepen. The maturation of the new cycle of workers' struggles is not a product of a sum of national processes; it follows a directly international dynamic.
Thus the continuation of Longwy-Denain is not to be found in France, apart from the effects it may have had on the French proletariat, but in Rotterdam, or the British steel strike. The mass strike in Poland is, as we have demonstrated, the synthesis of the struggles in Longwy-Denain, Rotterdam, Brazil, British steel strike, Korea, Russia, etc. The Polish workers knew for example about the strikes in Gorky and Togliattigrad and took them into account in their struggle. But, and this is more important, the problems that had been posed in the later dynamic of the Polish strikes (control over the states repressive apparatus, of the means of communication, continuation of the confrontations) express problems of the class movement that can be resolved only if the proletarian struggle is generalized on the international scale.
All this requires that the working class conceives internationalism less as a question of simple mutual support and more as the self-awareness of a world class, with common interests and a common enemy, and above all, with a historic responsibility towards the dilemma ‘war or revolution'.
18) The struggle against war. If there's something that the experience of the last three years shows with crushing evidence, it is that the proletariat is the only social force capable of opposing the capitalist tendency towards war.
The struggle of the proletariat destabilized that pro-Yankee bastion, Iran, sinking its army (the fifth strongest in the world), The Russian bloc was unable to take advantage of this event, which constituted a frontal assault on the whole war machine of world capitalism. In 1980 the struggle of the Polish proletariat has brutally destabilized a pro-Russian bastion and the American bloc was also unable to exploit the situation, except in its propaganda.
What's more, 1980, which began with a very serious step towards war with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, ended, after the Polish events, in a relative limitation of inter-imperialist conflicts. We now saw the phenomenon of inter-imperialist cooperation between the two blocs to confront the common enemy: the proletariat. All this shows us the decisive force that the proletariat can wield against capitalism's war plans. Such a force is not one of ‘moral pressure' to ‘force both blocs to live in peace'. With or without class struggle the inter-imperialist tensions continue to deepen because their source is the insoluble contradictions of capitalism. The effect of the proletarian struggle is that it destabilizes capitalism's plans, that it aggravates its inner contradictions, altering the relation of forces towards the revolution, and in so doing, it blocks the historic tendency linked to capitalism's very existence, the tendency towards war.
The experience of local wars such as those in Iran-Iraq, or the one between Peru and Ecuador, shows us that though at the historic level the proletarian alternative is to impede the course towards war, at the level of local wars this alternative is expressed by a workers' struggle based on the principle of revolutionary defeatism: massive desertions, fraternization of troops of both sides, turning the guns towards one's own officers and capitalists, transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war.
Local wars like those between Peru-Ecuador or Iran-Iraq are also police operations within the bloc and attempts of the national capitals involved to provide out lets for their sharp internal class contradictions. In that sense, they aren't steps towards war but more products of capitalism's contradictions. Thus in spite of their possible immediate success in reconstituting national unity, they weaken capitalism later on by provoking a higher and more violent aggravation of class antagonisms.
19) The struggle against repression. At the 3rd Congress we insisted that, faced with a level of repression that will become ever more systematic; and ferocious, the defense of the workers did not reside in ‘democratic guarantees' nor in armed groups that would militarily prepare the class, but in massive and violent struggle.
The experience of the mass strike in Poland has absolutely confirmed this prognosis, allowing us to make it more precise with regard to the historic experience of the proletariat.
"The Polish workers have neutralized state repression not by ‘pacificism' but because from the start they have taken all the measures of force needed to disarm repression at its root. By occupying factories day and night through massive picketing, by maintaining mobilizations in the workers' neighborhoods against any police provocation, by everywhere preparing measures of mass workers' self-defense and above all by extending and unifying the strikes throughout the country, a step which gives meaning to all the rest."
The Polish experience clarifies what we mean by proletarian violence and by struggle against the repressive apparatus of capitalism. The working class can't ever fall into legalism and docility, but this doesn't mean that its struggle consists of looking for confrontations at any price, or of creating heroes or spilling blood, or resorting to ‘exemplary punishments'. Both these alternatives are radically false: legalism is the cynical hypocrisy of capitalism, and is a mere cover for the latter, namely its real practice: a blind, inhuman and irrational violence.
The class struggle is situated on another terrain, which is both social and political: the terrain where the class, through mass struggles, becomes a revolutionary force capable of:
-- exerting upon capitalism and its state an increasingly asphyxiating pressure;
-- isolating them politically;
-- multiplying the internal contradictions within their own repressive apparatus; dividing, dispersing and finally neutralizing this apparatus.
"The whole secret and the whole force of certainty of the victory of the proletarian revolution resides in the fact that, in the long run, no government in the world can withstand a conscious popular mass, if their struggle extends itself incessantly and continues to grow in magnitude. Massacres and the brutal superiority of the government are but an apparent superiority over the masses."
Naturally this historic tendency of the class struggle does not constitute an infallible formula to resolve the problem of repression, including that of insurrection, in ‘the most peaceful possible way', but it remains a basic orientation for all the stages of the proletarian confrontation with capital. Therefore we aren't for any idea of the spontaneous collapse of the state through the pressure of the mass strike, but for two totally different things:
A. That an explosion of mass strikes weakens and momentarily paralyses the repression of the capitalist state;
B. That the terrain of mass struggle and the imposition of the immense social force that goes with it, is what the class must maintain, in order to use it as a springboard for higher confrontations.
At a higher level of confrontation - the insurrection - it would be very dangerous to assume a simple spontaneous collapse of the state. It's important to recognized that the state, once faced with a decisive situation, will muster forces even from its weakness, it will re-adapt, re-orient and re-organize itself, generally around ‘proletarian' forces (like, for example, the Mensheviks in Russia), and will attempt to bloodily crush the class movement. Therefore if the latter wants to pass on to a superior revolutionary level, it must prepare itself for the total destruction of the bourgeois state through insurrection, which is, according to Marx, an art which requires conscious and minute preparation on the part of the class. But such an art can only be realized through the mass mobilization and organization of the class.
20) The proletariat and other oppressed strata.
"Movements of social revolt against the existing order contribute to a process which leads to the growing isolation of the state and at the same time create the social conditions in which the proletariat can develop its own forms of struggle, and emerge as the only force in society able to provide an alternative to capitalism."
This affirmation serves as the basis to continue and deepen the question of the relation between the proletariat and other oppressed strata.
The mass strike of the proletariat creates a climate of rebellion, direct action and questioning of the bourgeois order, and in different degrees the various sectors of the oppressed non-exploiting strata are affected by this climate. This does not mean, of course, that these strata have to wait until the proletariat jumps onto the scene before they can follow. Nobody is pretending to ‘give lessons' about the actions of these desperate strata or oppose what is an inevitable process, or, on the other hand, consider them as the basis for a supposed re-awakening of the proletariat. What is important is to recognize them as a maturation of the contradictions of capitalism, to encourage them in their revolt against an increasingly inhuman existence, and give them a perspective of uniting with the proletarian struggle.
4. The perspective of the revolution
21) A clear conclusion emerges today: we are living in a decisive epoch in which the class confrontations that will decide the fate of humanity are being prepared. As we remarked in section II, one of the main weapons of the bourgeoisie in the present situation is to drown the proletariat in a total lack of perspective, making it believe that there's no way out of this world of catastrophes and barbarism that capitalism imposes on us. This lack of perspective is not only a product of its ideological action, but above all of the immediate material action of capitalism's left and union apparatuses, which have the task of isolating and exhausting the struggle.
The massive struggles that are being prepared must have a clear consciousness of the situation they will confront: they aren't going to gain any immediate satisfaction. Their real effect will be to throw into sharp relief the latent chaos of the capitalist economy, which will result in a gigantic destabilization of its political, economic and social structure. Of course, within that destabilization, the workers will be protected by the favorable relation of forces they have imposed and will be able to obtain many immediate demands. However, the price of this will be the aggravation of capitalist chaos to its extremes. If, at this point, the class gets lost in a myriad of local and partial actions, even if very radical, in the end the class will be swallowed up by the very chaos of the bourgeois order. Capitalism, which operates on a centralized world level, would recover control after this epidemic. Faced with the future massive mobilizations of our class, one of the main lines of defense of capitalism will be precisely the action of the left and the unions, which will try to imprison these explosions in a multitude of radical but chaotic actions through self-management, federalism, populism, etc.
The answer to this problem is not at all that workers should abandon their healthy, merciless economic struggles, but that they should concentrate them around the revolutionary attack against the bourgeois state, to destroy it and construct on its ruins the dictatorship of the workers' councils, which is the only possible basis for realizing the immense historical possibilities of this epoch.
Consequently, one of the fundamental needs of the present situation is that the perspective of revolution takes clearer and more concrete shape in the concerns and consciousness of the workers. The revolutionary alternative is the vital orientation which gives life and strength to future class battles. Revolutionaries must actively contribute to this with their analyses and with their defense of the historic experiences of the proletariat.
22) But another imperative need of the present situation, directly linked to what has been said above, is the development of the communist forces of the class to a higher level. They must converge towards the Party of the world revolution.
The first stage of the present historic resurgence of the proletariat (in the ‘60s and ‘70s) resulted in the development of a whole series of communist nuclei capable of programmatically re-appropriating the historic experiences of the proletariat. They also re-connected the threads with the past workers' organizations, threads cut by 50 years of counter-revolution. Now it is important to understand that, in connection with the new stage in the class resurgence that work must equally pass onto a superior stage. In the course of future battles, the working class must create the revolutionary forces around the internationalist communist poles that have already been consolidated, which will concentrate their energies, and strengthen their movement towards the communist revolution and its world Party.
 Editorial in Accion Proletaria 28
 International Review 23, ‘International Class Struggle'
 International Review 24, ‘The international dimension of the workers' struggles in Poland'
 Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy
 Accion Proletaria 33, ‘Poland at the center of the world situation'
 Rosa Luxemburg, ‘In the Revolutionary Hour' (not in English)
 International Review 23, ‘International Class Struggle'