Yesterday and Today.
- Timor Est - THE EXPLOSIVE POTENTIAL OF THE INDONESIAN WORKING CLASS.
- THE ITALIAN LEFT AND THE INTERNATIONAL (Part 6) - [ 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 ] The Communist Party and Parliamentarism
- ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS - [ 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 ] (Part 3) Emergence of the Proletarian Movement (1780-1815): London Corresponding Society - Mutinies - Luddism - First Trade Unions.
- Uk: Car workers Under Attack.
- BIODIVERSITY AND CAPITALISM (Part 1) [ 1 - 2 ]: Origins of agricolture - The development of diversity - Importance of diversity
- DEADLY EMBRACES.
- THE PARTY MEETING IN GENOA - 14th-16th May 1999: Course of the economic crisis - The International Workers Association - Origins of the trade-unions in Italy - The War in the Balkans - Work and Knowledge.
The tragedy, which Algeria has endured now for more than decade and which has already caused the deaths of thousands of proletarians, resembles a silent film without sub-titles where the action occurs without explanation. Who is killing who, and why are they killing? This is the painful leitmotif which the mass media and intellectuals of all persuasions are regularly serving up to a public which has become passive spectators; dazed, terrorised even, when confronted with so many wars, massacres, and famines – served up in gluttonous profusion just as they are sitting down to dinner!
The Berlin wall came down in 1989, but the number of global conflicts – which have never ceased despite the so-called victory of democracy in 1945 – has seen a brutal upsurge. The conflict between the USA and the USSR, or if you like between democracy and Stalinism, is no longer sufficient to justify the "cold war" to proletarians who are today witnessing a huge increase in the number of ’hot wars’, and who have been betrayed for years by their legally elected representatives.
As communists, we know the monster of capitalism has fallen victim to its own laws. The global economic crisis has driven it to the wall and is preparing the way for the resurrection of its traditional enemy the revolutionary proletariat; still harnessed at present to the yoke of counter-revolution. History is on the march, and our old mole of communism still isn’t out of puff. Unfortunately, it’s the bourgeoisie which has declared war first and is dealing out the heaviest blows; worsening proletarian standards of living throughout the world, spreading armed political conflicts and insidiously transforming the class war into conflicts which are ethnic, regionalist, racist, religious and tribal. And Algeria is just one example among many where this process is occurring.
The situation in Algeria today, at thirty years distance from the accomplishment of the national revolt, can be registered as one of the lessons of the counter-revolution which confirm the correctness of the theses of revolutionary marxism, from Marx-Engels up to our party. Lenin’s thesis is entirely correct which asserts that small countries with a relatively sparse population, having achieved national independence in the arena of capitalism, have little chance of escaping from the domination of the main large imperialists and obtaining a real independence. Even more correct is the thesis which reasserts that the ruling class which puts itself at the head of the bourgeois revolution in the colonial countries is reactionary from the outset, and immediately conscious of the mortal menace presented by the proletariat and the poor peasantry.
The communist party in such countries therefore places in the foreground the defence of proletarian interests as its main duty even when participating in the struggle for national independence, and never ceases to defend its programmatic and organisational independence, as recommended clearly by the theses of the 2nd Congress in 1921. The communist parties of the metropolis for their part should assist the communists in the colonies to preserve their independence by maintaining an intransigent attitude towards their own imperialist bourgeoisie. They should support and also criticise when necessary the revolutionary movement in the colonies, and continually work towards unity between proletarians in the colonies and the colonising state.
The French Communist Party, in all its Stalinist splendour, along with the CGT cops, are very careful not to follow such a path, preferring instead to impose on proletarians the duty of defending the "democratic" movement in Algeria and France against fascism. Consequently the Marxist tendency in Algeria has been liquidated and the Algerian masses definitively betrayed by the Evian Agreement, in which the French bourgeoisie transferred to its Algerian counterparts the task of organising anti-proletarian manoeuvres.
In 1999, setting out from marxist texts and numerous articles
from our press from the 50s to the 90s, the party aims to show how our
predictions for Algeria in 1962 were regrettably confirmed. «The
end result of this insurrection – abandoned to its own devices,
sold out by the French Left yoked to the interests of its national bourgeoisie,
and lacking support from a betrayed and disarmed proletariat – the
result of the long heroic struggle of the Algerian people, is nothing other
than an aborted bourgeois revolution. The revolution of a bourgeoisie which
has obtained a political success, but is incapable of rising to the elementary
social tasks deriving from it. (...) the Algerian bourgeoisie, associated
or not with France, is incapable of taking in hand this upheaval, unfit
to resolve even in the bourgeois way, the dreadful crisis in Algerian society;
it is incapable of giving land to the millions of people uprooted from
their villages, and just as incapable of providing salaried work. In Algeria,
one sees those contradictions pushed to extremes which, in the era of imperialism,
have shackled bourgeois revolutions from the start. (...) Can’t you see
the dreadful poverty which pushed the Algerians to fight? And this poverty
is always there; the Algerian bourgeoisie won’t be able to solve it and
millions of people, uprooted and without work won’t accept words as pay.
They constitute a formidable explosive force against which the Algerian
bourgeoisie is already deploying its forces of law and order. LET THEM
TREMBLE, AND ALL THE EULOGISERS OF PEACE: THERE WILL BE NO SOCIAL PEACE
IN INDEPENDANT ALGERIA!
The only advantage of independence is that the mortgage is paid off: although linked to France by treaties, the Algerian bourgeoisie will never again be able to head off social demands with an ’initial down payment’ of national independence, and questions can be posed on their correct terrain; the terrain of class struggle. Pushed into struggle by miserable circumstances, the Algerian masses will sooner or later break through the unity of the nation and ignite the class struggle in the whole of Africa. The African proletariat will then find the meeting point with the international proletariat, and as a result, the solution to all the problems of the Third World. As long as the domination of the bourgeoisie lasts, populations under their sway, whatever the colour of their skin, will never be able to emerge from the social crisis into which the irruption of capitalism has hurled them. Only the international dictatorship of the proletariat, freed from all contradictions and imperatives of the capitalist economy, will achieve that» ("Programme Communiste", no. 19, June 1962, and "Programma Comunista" of May 1962).
This is what our party proclaimed in 1962, and which we, as internationalist
communists, vigorously reassert in 1999 faced with massacres perpetrated
against the Algerian masses by bourgeois terrorism.
The national territory of Indonesia consists of an archipelago of 14,000 islands, ranging from large to minute, which are host to around 300 different ethnic groups by race, language, culture, history and level of social development. Despite this diversity of peoples, the anti-colonial revolution in this ex-Dutch colony managed to muster sufficient forces to form an independence movement which succeeded in nationalising western property, and defeating a series of independence movements fomented and armed by various imperialist powers. Rich in natural resources, with a soil and climate favourable to cultivation, and with a large labour force, Indonesia plunged headlong into the cycle of capitalist accumulation with all the dreadful extremes which accompany it: enrichment of the bourgeois class and extreme impoverishment of the industrial slaves, monstrous urbanisation and rural desolation, huge farms and ruination of the peasantry, and so on and so forth. Indispensable pivot of this painful subversion of the previous state of affairs was the dictatorial authority of Jakarta, whose functionaries issued in the main from the Javanese bourgeoisie.
Having exhausted its revolutionary "non-aligned" period, this state had to immediately settle accounts with a huge and concentrated proletariat, which had equipped itself with defensive organisations and joined a party claiming communist credentials of a Stalinist variety in large numbers, demonstrating its interest in the political life of the country and the wish to condition the choice of government.
The necessity of accessing global capital in order to develop
the national capital meant setting aside any utopian notions of "non-alignment"
and accepting the orders of imperialism, with the strongest Imperialist,
America, calling the shots. This transition involved a change of government,
a bloody repression of the workers’ organisations and unconditional surrender
to Western interests. The reinforcement of the State and anti-proletarian
operations, involving a year of massacres, was entrusted in 1965 to the
army, equipped and financed by the USA, and operating either openly or
exploiting recent and ancient ancestral tensions between the multitude
of ethnic groups in the population. The State was "entrusted to the management"
Suharto clan who, it is said, have siphoned off disproportional dividends over the last thirty years.
The form of government has been one of "guided democracy" with seats in the assembly reserved for the army, with parties selected by the Executive, and no responsibility taken for control of the police.
The military occupation of the Western half of the island of Timor got underway in 1975 immediately following its abandonment by the previous Portuguese colonisers, an undertaking which was undertaken with the explicit blessing of the United States as compensation to Indonesia for its subjection to the strategic interests and economics of the Dollar. Amongst the resources of the island, as well as tourism, there is oil, which is exploited by American and Australian companies.
The population of this small ex-colony consisted of 845,000 inhabitants within 14,870 sq km speaking numerous dialects of the local linguistic group, Tetum, as well as Portuguese. It did not accept the annexation and was subjected to what can only be referred to as an extermination by regular and irregular Indonesian forces: after 25 years of occupation a third of the population, 200,000, had been killed.
In 1998 came the downfall of the rigidly paternalistic dictatorship of the Suharto clan, brought to its knees by its inability to be sufficiently adaptable in the face of a severe economic crisis. Referred to in our press at the time, rioting broke out in February against the rise in the cost of living and the level of resulting impoverishment (rice is rationed in April) and culminated in May, when the American Secretary of State "advised" Suharto to step down; advice which in the space of a few hours was accepted. May 1998 also saw the army, both on its own account and utilising the "Islamic" lumpen proletariat, seeking to divert the anti-government revolt into a pogrom against the Chinese and Catholic minorities.
The new government, having sworn allegiance to the holy institutions of democracy and its electoral rites, hasn’t managed to even scratch the real power in the country, which is the omnipresent army, neither has it managed to exert the slightest influence on the still disastrous course of the economic crisis and the dire impoverishment of the city and rural proletariat. Demonstrations and social struggles have therefore continued as before. In June 1998, there was a new upsurge of demonstrations by the students and the poor of Jakarta. Included in their demands is the significantly anti-nationalist demand of independence for East Timor. In July there are renewed secessionist demonstrations in Irian (Western New Guinea) for the annexation of Western New Guinea to Papua new Guinea. Meanwhile in the Aceh region in the North West of Sumatra, the army continues repressive action against a third independence movement; action which in the last two years alone has resulted in 781 dead and 168 disappeared. In September and November there are more urban protests against the cost of living and provocations against the Chinese and Catholic communities.
In February 1999 the Habibie government, in what Jakarta politicians consider a rash move, yields to Portugal’s request for a referendum on East Timor to be called, and agrees to be bound by the decision even if the response entails independence.
In March peoples are put to flight and there is fighting in the Moluccan Islands between the indigenous population and immigrants from the Celebes with 200 dead. In May a further 34 people are killed in Aceh and there’s an demonstration calling for independence.
Celebrations in East Timor, following the outcome of the referendum approving secession by an overwhelming majority, is followed by the expected deployment of the Indonesian military against the civil population, independence fighters, and Christians: this already amounts at the time of writing (August 1999) to tens of thousands of dead.
Clearly the origin of all these episodes of real suffering isn’t peripheral but central; they are all refractions of the one major evil to be sought in the economic and social crisis of the Indonesian giant. Despite these conflicts assuming racial, ethnic, religious, autonomist and independendist guises, ultimately they are all expressions, in specific contexts, of the same crisis of capitalist overproduction. The fragmented form these struggles take merely serves to hide from the protagonists the real causes of their suffering and to divert them towards the achievement of partial objectives or nothing whatsoever. This is shown by the fact that it is often harassment and ill-treatment by the army, or the services in general, which provoke the population into fighting; an army which in Indonesia is the proprietor of banks, industries and illicit traffic and therefore acts on its own behalf as an economic power that has to maintain its prestige and get a return on its money.
After 25 years of blatantly ignoring the massacres in Timor, the imperialist powers suddenly seem to be experiencing a tugging at their heart-strings and have embarked on the umpteenth humanitarian mission. This time it is headed by the Australian bourgeoisie, which has staked a claim to the right to extract oil from Timorese waters, for which it has a regular contract... with Indonesia. Meanwhile, China, India and Japan are mysteriously silent confronted with all these movements of foreign navies in their territorial waters. It is evidently an inter-imperialist confrontation in which the role assigned in this drama to the poverty stricken populations of the small equatorial island of East Timor, whether they like it or not, is bound to be that of hostage and sacrificial victim.
But if giving up Timor might let the genie out of the bottle and lead to other secessions, what the Indonesian, and global, bourgeoisie really fear is that the proletariat in the main islands will revolt against a common oppression; against the real enemy constituted by the Indonesian possessing class and its state, whether democratic or whatever other form it takes.
If the social revolt was never really going to take off in the middle of the jungle or amidst the emerald waters of a coral lagoon, what is certain is that a reborn Indonesian workers’ and communist movement will never gather up the banners of bourgeois irredentism and the indivisibility of any country, unless it would make itself the successor of the dirty enterprises of General Wiranto. Only the victory of the proletariat will manage to be both avenger and liberator from so many and such cruel oppressions.
(From the September 1999 edition of Il Partito Comunista)
THE COMMUNIST PARTY AND PARLIAMENTARISM
The commission on the Parliamentary Question (which didn’t include any Italians) was chaired by Trotsky, and he would present an historical introduction to the subject. This would serve as the preface to the Theses on Parliamentarism drawn up by Bukharin and Lenin. The representative of the Communist Abstentionist Fraction (CAF) of the Italian Socialist Party requested that be allowed to present their counter-theses, and this was agreed. He was nominated as co-reporter to the congress and invited to participate at commission sessions in order to defend the CAF theses. The commission then proceeded to an exploratory debate which ended with the Lenin-Bukharin theses being approved with only two votes against (cast by the Swiss delegate and the IWW).
The debate was now taken up at congress. Bukharin began by presenting the theses he’d co-written with Lenin (the introduction by Trotsky being entitled "The new Era and New Parliamentarism"). The theses stated the differences between the era of peaceful development and the existing phase of class war. The peaceful period which preceded the 1st World War was characterised by a certain community of interests between proletariat and bourgeoisie in the developed capitalist countries, where, due to the politics of imperialism, the bourgeoisie had managed to pay higher wages to the workers. This period was characterised by the incorporation of the workers organisations into the machinery of the bourgeois State: a fact evidenced by the stance taken by the unions during the war. Likewise, the parliamentary fractions of the workers’ parties had been integrated into the parliamentary system. The opening of the period of capitalist decadence and civil war saw the communist parliamentary fractions become instruments of parliamentary destruction. Aspects of the old epoch still survived but were disappearing.
Bukharin went on to review the composition of the parliamentary fractions; reformists predominated in all of them and they were politically opposed to revolutionary parliamentarism. The reporter dwelled at length on the German Independent Socialist Party and its 82 member parliamentary fraction, which comprised around 20 Right, 40 centrist and 20 Left representatives. The politics of this parliamentary group were consequently extremely reformist. As regards the Italian Socialist Party affiliated to the 3rd International and "one of our best parties" Bukharin declared that 30% of its parliamentary group belonged to the right-wing Turatian tendency, 55% was centrist, and 15% were Left-wing. The French Socialist Party had 68 parliamentary deputies, 40 reformist, 26 centrist and 2 communist. Bukharin’s explanation for this state of affairs was that the parties weren’t sufficiently communist; on the contrary, they contained an extremely large number of opportunists.
Bukharin proceeded to tackle the problem of anti-parliamentarism and divided its supporters into two distinct groups. The first rejected all parliamentary participation under any circumstances (the IWW). They could only see the negative aspects of parliamentarism and had a false view of the political struggle. The second group, whose theses Bukharin dwelled on at greater length, was anti-parliamentary both on the basis of a weighing-up of the possibilities offered by taking part in parliamentary action (the Communist Abstentionist Fraction of the PSI) and because of its view that the communist parties needed to reinforce the revolutionary marxist method by extricating themselves from the machinery of bourgeois democracy. This second group asserted that it was materially impossible to utilise parliament for revolutionary purposes, but, according to Bukharin, they were unable to provide evidence for this contention. Bukharin argued that "before maintaining a priori that all revolutionary activity is impossible inside parliament, it is first necessary to prove it" and he added that examples of revolutionary parliamentarism existed. In this regard, he cited Liebknecht, the Bulgarian comrades, and the Bolsheviks. "If you have a party which is truly communist, you shouldn’t be afraid if sending representatives into the bourgeois parliament (...) If the parties affiliated to the 3rd international are real communist parties, cleansed of all opportunist and reformist elements, we can be certain that the old parliamentarism will give way to a truly revolutionary parliamentarism which is an infallible method for overturning the bourgeoisie, and the destruction of the State and the capitalist system".
A counter-report was presented by the representative of the Italian Abstentionist Fraction which affirmed that the anti-parliamentarism of the abstentionists didn’t involve putting principles into question. In principle we are all anti-parliamentarian, it declared, because we are against parliamentarism as a means of the emancipation of the proletariat, and as a political form of the proletarian state. Our anti-parliamentarism, in contrast with that of the anarchist and syndicalist conceptions, is closely connected with the Marxian criticism of bourgeois democracy. The Marxian movement had degenerated into a social-democratic movement and created a field of common action for narrow interests of a cooperative character of certain groups of workers, and for bourgeois democracy. It had created a different ideology which put aside violence and abandoned the proletarian dictatorship. The Russian revolution confirmed the Marxian theory. "But, the historical conditions under which the Russian revolution developed do not resemble the conditions under which the proletarian revolution in the democratic countries of Western Europe and America will develop. The situation in Russia reminds us of the situation in Germany in 1848, when there were two revolutions one after the other: the bourgeois democratic revolution and the proletarian revolution. The tactical experiences of the Russian revolution cannot be transplanted into countries with a bourgeois democracy of long standing, in which the revolutionary crisis will mean only the direct transition from this political regime to the dictatorship of the proletariat."
For Western Europe, the revolutionary problem makes it first of all necessary to go beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy, to prove the necessity of carrying the struggle on to another ground, that of direct revolutionary action for the conquest of power. A new technical organisation of the party is necessary i.e. a new historic formation.
The first bourgeois machinery that has to be destroyed is parliament. It is necessary to show the masses the entire duplicity of bourgeois democracy which acts as a means of direct defence for capitalism against the masses. The anarcho-syndicalist reaction, which denied that political action had any value, leads the proletariat onto a false path. We propose that the agitation for the proletarian dictatorship in those countries where the democratic regime has been developed a long time should be based on the boycott of the elections and of the bourgeois democratic organs. The great importance which is being given in practice to the electoral action contains a double danger: on the one hand it gives the impression of being essential action, and on the other hand it absorbs all the resources of the party and leads to the almost complete abandonment of action and of preparation in other domains of the movement. The party becomes a group of electoral committees entrusted only with the preparation and the mobilisation of electors.
As regards to the historical introduction to Lenin and Bukharin’s theses on parliamentarism, in which Trotsky stated that the 3rd International must return to the parliamentarism of the 1st International for the purpose of destroying parliament from within, the representative of the Abstentionist Fraction observed that "should the 3rd International accept the doctrine of the 1st International, it must on the contrary use quite different tactics and not participate in the bourgeois democracy, because of the great difference in the historic conditions". If we agree with the first part of the theses, we differ on the utilisation of the electoral campaign and of the parliamentary tribune as a means of mass action. We are not against parliamentarism because it is a legal means, like the press or freedom of assembly etc. Likewise we are not against "heads", because we will always need journalists, and propagandists and a centralised party, in which the "heads" will take on dangerous work without enjoying the advantageous benefits conferred on leaders in bourgeois society. The examples by the commission’s other reporter do not touch our theses: Liebknecht acted in the Reichstag in an epoch in which we recognise the possibility of parliamentary action. However, after all the numerous cases of social democratic treachery are put in the balance, it turns out most unfavourably for revolutionary parliamentarism. The question of the Bolsheviks in the Duma could likewise not be placed alongside the conditions in which we propose the abandonment of parliamentary tactics in other bourgeois countries. The representative of our fraction said that he intended: "to make use of the electoral campaigns for agitation and propaganda for the communist revolution, but this agitation will be the more efficient the more we support before the masses the boycott of bourgeois elections". In conclusion, in order to distinguish our abstentionist tactic from those who recommended withdrawing from the trade unions, the speaker would respond to the arguments brought forward by Lenin in his pamphlet Left-wing Communism-An Infantile Disorder. The trade union, even if corrupted, is still an organisation of the working masses. If the question of parliamentarism is secondary for the communist movement, this is not the case with the trade union question.
As to Lenin’s tactics, our representative declared: "I only want to say that a marxian movement in the western democratic countries demands much more direct tactics than those which were necessary for the Russian revolution". Furthermore, in response to Lenin’s accusation that the Italian abstentionists wished to postpone the problem of communist action in parliament because anti-parliamentarism requires the least effort, he replied that seeking to direct the greater part of the efforts of the communist movement towards grounds of action of greater importance than that of parliamentarism would certainly not be easier. But the tenfold efforts required to solve the problem of communist parliamentarism according to the theses would however draw resources of energy away from the real revolutionary movement.
The Abstentionist Fraction considered that the transference of power from the exploiters to the exploited implied a change in the representative apparatus. For bourgeois parliamentarism must be substituted the soviet system.
However the question of parliamentarism should not be the cause of a split in the communist movement and, therefore, the Abstentionist Fraction would submit to the Communist International’s decisions and not attempt to bring about the failure of its work.
Speeches followed by those who were against parliament on principle.
Lenin then took the floor to make a short polemical speech in which he stated that every revolutionary crisis was accompanied by a parliamentary crisis. Now, if is true that the struggle must be carried into a different field, for instance the Soviets, we know that these can’t be created artificially and may only be formed either during or immediately before the revolution. "Only when one is a member of parliament is it possible from the given historical point of view to fight bourgeois society and parliamentarism". The backward elements amongst the masses, who really believe that their interests are represented in parliament, must have the truth brought home to them by act and deed. In Russia the Constituent Assembly was convened in order to show backward workers that nothing could thereby be achieved, and confront them with Soviets as an accomplished fact in order to bring them to the conviction that the Soviets were their only weapon. Addressing the Abstentionist Fraction, Lenin asserted that to destroy parliament it had to be destroyed from within to prove to the masses how parliament was an instrument used by the bourgeoisie to deceive them. Moreover, according to Lenin, if all classes are prompted to participate in the parliamentary struggle, class interests and class will be reflected in parliament: "parliament represents the arena of class struggle".
Expounded with an incontestable dialectic power, Lenin’s proposals provoked serious worries, not so much because of fears about what the International might do under Lenin’s leadership, but because the proposals were open to misinterpretation, and could be seen as authorising an overly flexible tactical approach. The representative of the Left would underline this ambiguity in his reply to Lenin.
Lenin had cited Germany as the best proof that a communist group in parliament was possible, and he maintained that many parties were driven to contest the necessity of working in parliament because of their weakness.
Our representative remarked that that Lenin’s objections raised the general problem of the marxian tactics, and that the historical mission of communism "leads us to a new tactical position, i.e. to declining participation in parliament, which is no more a means of influencing events in a revolutionary sense". He also stated that he was convinced that the Communist International would not succeed in expediting a really revolutionary parliamentarian tactics.
Our representative rounded off his intervention by expressing the hope that when it came to voting for the theses of the Italian abstentionists, only those anti-parliamentarian comrades who accepted the marxian spirit of the assertions on which they were based, would vote for them.
Bukharin, who had been the first speaker, closed the debate with a reply to the anti-parliamentarians. At the voting, only seven votes were cast against the Lenin/Bukharin theses, and 80 votes for, and the latter were therefore approved by an overwhelming majority. Out of the seven votes against, at the express request of the abstentionist speaker who was concerned to avoid any confusion with the arguments of the revolutionary syndicalists, only 3 votes were registered in favour of the theses he had defended: the ones cast by the Swiss, Belgian, and Danish Communist parties.
The Lenin/Bukharin theses, approved by the congress, were divided into three parts. The first part explained that the modern conditions were of unbridled imperialism. In the preceding historical epoch parliament was an instrument of the developing capitalist system, and as such played a role that was in a certain sense progressive. and could be an arena in which to struggle for reforms and improvements on working-class living standards. In the modern imperialist epoch parliament had become as weapon of falsehood, deception and violence. The historical task of the working class was therefore to wrest the parliamentary apparatus from the hands of the ruling classes in order to destroy it. The time had come for a new tactic in parliament as a means to destroy parliamentarism in general. The communist party enters parliament to uproot the parliamentary and governmental apparatus from within, i.e. Liebknecht in Germany, the Bolsheviks in the Duma, the communists in Bulgaria.
The 2nd part of the theses denounced parliamentarism as a ’democratic’ form of the rule of the bourgeoisie. Parliamentarism can never be a form of proletarian government. Parliament cannot be won over to the side of the proletariat, but must be destroyed along with the bourgeois state machine. The same attitude must be taken to local government institutions. Consequently, communism denies the possibility of parliament being won to the proletarian cause, and sets itself the task of destroying parliamentarism. The Communist Part must stand exclusively for the revolutionary utilisation of parliament. Anti-parliamentarism as a principle is therefore is therefore a naive and childish position.
A certain combination of conditions may make withdrawal from parliament essential. The Bolsheviks left the Kerensky parliament in order to weaken it, undermine it and counterpoise it to the St. Petersburg Soviet which was about to take on the leadership of the October Revolution. It may also be essential to boycott elections. A boycott of elections or of parliament are permissible when conditions are ripe for an immediate move to armed struggle for power.
It was essential to keep in view the comparative unimportance of this question since the focal point of the struggle for state power lay outside parliament. For this reason the International therefore emphasised most strongly that it considered any split or attempt to split the communist party solely on this question to be a serious mistake.
The third part of the theses gave precise directives for developing revolutionary tactics in parliament. It was essential to monitor the quality of the members of the parliamentary fractions and to break with the social-democratic custom of putting forward only so-called ’experienced’ parliamentarians. As a rule they should put forward candidates who are workers. The parliamentary fractions would be organised by the Central Committees. The Central Committee of the party must have a permanent representative in the parliamentary fraction with the right of veto. There must be a thorough purge of the parliamentary fractions penetrated by reformists. The Communist deputies must also combine their legal work with illegal work if the CC decides, and their parliamentary immunity should be put at the service of the party. The deputies must subordinate their parliamentary work to the extra-parliamentary activity of their party; the deputy must bear in mind that they are agitators sent into the enemy camp to carry out party decisions.
Following this brief summary of the Lenin-Bukharin theses, we need to clarify that the parliamentary question didn’t assume a position of central importance (even if "illustrious" opportunist historians affirm the contrary) at the International’s 2nd Congress, and this can be shown merely by pointing to the weighty body of theses on questions of principle, on revolution, on the taking of power, on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, etc, etc. If the Bolsheviks considered parliamentarism as one of the criteria for establishing the revolutionary efficiency of the nascent parties, this is only because it was a parliamentarism with an anti-parliamentary agenda: on the one hand it aimed at overcoming the democratic prejudices that persisted inside the workers’ movement; on the other hand, it aimed at eliminating the opposite prejudice, of the anarcho-syndicalist, workerist variety, whose electoral abstentionism was founded on the basis of natural morality (rejection of "power", of leaders, scruples about purity etc), and identified the parliamentary struggle with politics in general, finally rejecting the political struggle in favour of a purely trade-unionist struggle. The Bolsheviks then also stood by the critical rejection of the cult of the sovereignty of the masses, that is of those who were affected by the same malady which had already infected the parties of the 2nd International. The Bolsheviks placed themselves on the same terrain as ourselves. We can equally say that, as far as the examination of the historical role of parliament is concerned, there was no difference between the positions as outlined in Trotsky’s introduction, the Lenin-Bukharin theses and those of the Italian abstentionists.
What were the areas of disagreement between ourselves and the Bolsheviks then? The difference is explained in points 6 and 7 of the theses on parliamentarism presented by the Italian Left: during a period when the conquest of power does not seem a possibility in the very near future, possibilities of propaganda, agitation and criticism could be offered by participation in elections and in parliamentary activity. This possibility existed still in those countries where the bourgeois revolution was still in course of progress* and where parliament kept its original character of an institution which was anti-feudal and therefore historically revolutionary (Russia in 1917, colonial countries). On the other hand, in those countries where the democratic regime achieved its formation a long time ago, and in the historical period which opened with the ending of the world war, with the victory of the October Revolution and the 3rd International, it wouldn’t be possible to use the parliamentary tribune for revolutionary ends. Our view (thesis no.11) was that the continuation of electoral action would prevent the necessary elimination of social democratic elements without which the Third International would fail in its historic role.
In conclusion, we draw the readers attention to the fact that
the only party which had actually practised revolutionary parliamentarism
and remained true to its spirit was the PCd’I led by the Left, and that
this was because the clear demarcations which had followed the scissions
at the Leghorn congress had effectively set up a barrier against the "parliamentarists
as a matter of principle". The elections which followed in 1921 would do
nothing to advance the movement towards revolution in Italy; as should
have occurred according to the 2nd Congress theses which predicted the
revolutionary effect of entering parliament. It would be left to the lack
of success of the movements during March 1921 in Germany and those of Autumn
1923 to tragically confirm the truth of what the Italian Left had asserted.
EMERGENCE OF THE PROLETARIAN MOVEMENT
In previous instalments of Origins and History of the English Working Class we have dealt with the various economic phases which affected England: the rise and decline of feudalism, landed and mercantile capital, and finally industrial capital. We saw that although the industrial phase begins in 1750 its wider social impact is not felt until around 1780, when there is a marked acceleration in the development and adoption of machinery for industrial use. This we can call the ’gestation’ phase as it fits well with the phases used by Marx and Engels: for whom capital up to 1825 was in its infancy, whilst the cyclical crises which began in that same year opened its youthful period which extended to 1848, in which year capital enters its mature phase.
"This revolution through which British industry has passed is the foundation of every aspect of modern English life, the driving force behind all social development." (Engels, The Position of England, The Eighteenth Century.)
Further on in the same article he comments: "The democratic party originated
at the same time as the industrial revolution. In 1769 J. Horne Tooke founded
the Society of the Bill of Rights, in which, for the first time since the
republic [of 1649-60], democratic principles were discussed again. As in
France, the democrats were exclusively men with a philosophical education,
but soon found that the upper and middle classes were opposed to them and
only the working class lent a ready ear to their principles. Amongst the
latter class they soon founded a party, which in 1794 was already fairly
strong and yet still only strong enough to act by fits and starts. From
1797 to 1816 it disappeared from view; in the turbulent years from 1816
to 1823 it was again very active but then subsided once more into inactivity
until the July revolution. From then on it has maintained its importance
alongside the old parties and in making steady progress, as we shall later
The most important effect of the eighteenth century for England was the creation of the proletariat by the industrial revolution. The new industry demanded a constantly available mass of workers for the countless new branches of production, and moreover workers such as had previously not existed. Up to 1780 England had few proletarians, a fact which emerges inevitably from the social condition of the nation as described above. Industry concentrated work in factories and towns; it became impossible to combine manufacturing and agricultural activity, and the new working class was reduced to complete dependence on its labour. What had hitherto been the exception became the rule and spread gradually outside the towns too. Small-scale farming was ousted by the large tenant farmers and thus a new class of agricultural labourers was created. The population of the towns trebled and quadrupled and almost the whole of this increase consisted solely of workers. The expansion of mining likewise required a large number of new workers, and these too lived solely from their daily wage." (Engels, ibid. p. 487)
This democratic movement from 1769 to 1780 was controlled by John Wilkes and represented a combination of City magnates and artisans. It represented the "lower orders", who had been stirred up by King George III’s attempts to dominate the government by placing his representatives in leading positions. Over the course of a number of disputes, the King’s influence would be rapidly diminished: there would be the loss of the 13 colonies and the resulting American Declaration of Independence, and a number of populist measures in London would consolidate the movement.
Early in 1780 Parliament passed a resolution "that the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished". Fear of what the King may do, particularly over the recruitment of catholic troops in Canada to fight the United States, increased the tension. If the monarchy started to undermine the anti-catholic legislation, for centuries in England the symbol of bourgeois democracy and national independence, it raised the spectre of monarchist absolutism (even if George III was in fact a bigoted protestant).
The spark to ignite this explosive situation was provided by a certain Lord Gordon, an insignificant M.P., who perceiving a plot behind the attempt to promote him to the post of Admiral of Scotland, led a small mob into Parliament attacking Lords and Bishops. After leaving Parliament they went on to sack a couple of Catholic chapels. What became known as the Gordon Riots lasted for almost two weeks before they were suppressed. Many catholic areas were ransacked, followed by attacks on those in authority who were thought to support the law. Prisons were attacked and set on fire – the Tower was virtually the only prison in London left untouched. The sky at night was red with the fires of thirty-six separate conflagrations according to the Annual Register. Authority in London had broken down and it was Wilkes himself who forced a terrified Lord Mayor to give permission to raise volunteers to fight his erst-while supporters. With a small body of troops, Wilkes personally defended the Bank of England. This act meant he was finished as the leader of the radical opposition.
The alliance that had formed around Wilkes split, with the merchants gravitating towards the new Tories whilst elements from the lower middle and working class went in a different direction. The reforms advocated by the Wilkes movement would be carried out by the Tory party under Pitt, which would increasingly limit the power of the monarchy. It would be some time before the passions of the "lower orders" would be aroused again, and unfortunately this would arise in the form of King and Country mobs against sympathisers of the French Revolution.
It was in the 1790s that the democratic movement reappeared with a reform movement in Scotland and the founding of the London Corresponding Society. The reform movement in Scotland convened a Convention in Edinburgh in December 1792. Nine months of agitation and direct contact with revolutionary France (War was declared on 1st February, 1793) led to arrests, mock trials and transportation to Australia. A further Convention was called in October 1793 at which delegates from England, including the London Corresponding Society attended. The leaders, English and Scottish, were arrested, treated to the usual kind of justice and transported. Few survived this punishment, difficult even for the young delinquents with which His Majesty’s Government was starting to populate Australia.
The continuing war with France, and the rejection by Parliament of the petitions for reform led to a weakening of the legal movement and conspiratorial organisations like the "United Scotsmen" arose. The State lost no time in preparing its internal front against the insurgents. It brought in German mercenaries, previously successfully used to put down mutinies, and also mounted troops issuing from the petty and middle bourgeoisie: the famous yeomen of old England. That these militarised bodies had specifically anti-worker functions is evidenced by what happened at Tranent in 1797 when a peaceful demonstration was cut to ribbons by cavalry. This repressive violence by the State was another factor that made England during the Industrial Revolution already a "modern" state, and in the vanguard of a world still struggling to emerge from the middle ages.
The coup de grace was dealt to the United Scotsmen by spies and
agent provocateurs, and the organisation dissolved in 1798.
London Corresponding Society
Elements which had formed the left-wing of the radical movement earlier now constituted the London Corresponding Society in 1792. Founded by a Scottish shoemaker, Thomas Hardy, it attracted intellectuals like John Thelwall (orator, poet and journalist) and former Wilkites like Horne Tooke. It was the first organisation of working people to start expressing their own interests as distinct from those of the bourgeoisie, and as such forms the preface of the history of the working class movement in Britain. Hardy was certainly the organisational spirit of the L.C.S., which was composed mainly of artisans and tradesmen (weavers, watchmakers, carpenters, shoemakers and cabinet-makers). It had at least three thousand members organised into "sections" of thirty people each, a weekly subscription and an internal democratic organisation with recallable delegates.
Its core programme was the call for adult male suffrage, but it also hoped parliamentary measures would alleviate suffering for the less well-off. Its main activities were printing of pamphlets and the organising of meetings and discussions, and even if legalistic in its outlook, it thoroughly alarmed the Government. It was the agitation among the working population of London and the Midlands which led to the Government arresting three of its leaders, Hardy, Thelwall and Tooke. They were acquitted at their first trial in October, 1794, and the same happened when they were tried on other occasions.
The L.C.S. enjoyed popularity for a few years, but internal and
external changes, combined with its legalistic methods caused it to go
into decline; the 1799 Corresponding Act dealt the final blow to a by now
moribund organisation. 1799 was also the year of the first Combination
Act, directed against any struggle with trade unionist objectives. It was
just the latest of a series of laws enacted since 1793, the year of the
declaration of War on France. Other laws forbade the administering of unlawful
oaths as well as making all newspapers not registered with the Government
illegal; which meant that publishers, printers and even casual possessors
of unlicensed sheets could be punished.
The massive expansion of the fleet of the Royal Navy drew in many thousands of new sailors, mostly recruited against their will, either by local levies or by being seized by press gangs. In April and May, 1797, the fleet at Spithead mutinied twice against intolerable conditions; it was a strike against low wages, often two years in arrears, poor food and brutal treatment. The strike spread to the North fleet. The admiral, along with the most hated officers, were sent ashore by the strikers. Concessions were made, pardons given to the leaders, and the strike was over as far as the Spithead fleet was concerned.
The North fleet though refused to accept the concessions and they
elected a leader, Parker, who adopted the title of "Admiral". A manifesto
was issued and red flags were hung from many of the riggings. After a few
days most of the fleet blockading Holland joined in the strike, which left
the Government in control of only two warships. The striking warships blockaded
London, interrupting trade and taking captives. The cutting of navigating
buoys by officers loyal to the Government put the warships in danger as
the ordinary seamen had no idea how to sail safely through shallow waters.
With internal conflict breaking out, one by one the ships surrendered and
the red flags, perhaps the first in the history of the workers’ movement,
were lowered one by one. Some of the leaders escaped in small boats, but
the leader, "Admiral" Parker, was hanged. These mutinies were the justification
of the repressive legislation from 1797 to 1800.
With the start of the new century, workers’ conditions declined rapidly because of the war, because of the increased application of machinery, and because of other economically unfavourable factors, above all in the textile trade where pay was more than halved between 1800 and 1818. The workers had two options, both of them dangerous: physical violence against the bosses and their businesses, by terrorising them and destroying their machines; or organisation along trade-union lines. The first major incidents of machine-breaking occurred in Somerset in 1802, with Luddism proper starting in Nottinghamshire in the Spring of 1811. The Luddites stayed active up to 1817 and achieved notable successes. Neither the transfer of 12,000 soldiers to Nottinghamshire – more troops than Wellington had under him in Spain – nor the passing of a law in 1812 which made destruction of machines an offence punishable by death (a law famously opposed by Lord Byron in the House of Lords) was able to halt the movement. And this was despite the law being applied, such as when 18 workmen were hanged at York in 1813. The bourgeoisie had their casualties as well, as in the case of the assassination of the hated Yorkshire entrepreneur, Horsfall, who had declared his wish to "spur his horse on until he was up to his saddle-straps in Luddite blood". On several occasions, the textile districts were in a state of alarm for extended periods and marches and counter-marches by the army and armed Luddites took place. The authorities were unable to penetrate the secret organisation of the Luddites with their spies, and it was known that soldiers were fraternising with the Luddites instead of hunting them down.
The period between 1799 and 1825 when union activity was outlawed was a time of rich experiences for the working class. The workers developed new tactics, combining illegal and legal methods, solidarity was strengthened, and their was a willingness to fight in the face of serious risks. Most importantly of all, the lesson was learned that the State, far from being neutral, is an instrument of the possessing class.
The Combination Act failed in its aim of destroying the workers’
movement, but when it was finally repealed in 1824, there was nevertheless
a huge explosion of union activity as it emerged from illegality.
First Trade Unions
The first associations of workers were trade clubs, and were composed of skilled workers. These were often composed of journeymen having completed an apprenticeship, artisans, and sometimes proletarianised members of the possessing classes. In the 18th century these clubs were very localised, often confined to one district or city. Only later would these clubs federate into trade-unions, a stage which would mark a significant step forward. But at the start of the 19th century these workers’ societies could still be characterised as confraternities, as brotherhoods: only members of the same trade were admitted often after complicated initiation ceremonies similar to those of masonry. The clubs would usually meet in pubs and there was generally a certain order to the proceedings; firstly there would be companionable beer drinking after a hard days work; apprentices would be initiated into full membership of the club; funds would be collected to be used in the eventuality of sickness or members’ funerals (the latter activities functioning as an excellent legal cover during a period when unions were illegal); and workers were found for employers who used the clubs for this purpose (a type of early labour exchange); finally, the clubs concerned themselves with matters pertaining to their particular craft (apprenticeship regulations, working conditions etc), and these latter activities often came to predominate, eventually transforming the clubs into bone fide trade unions. The clubs which, as we have seen, had more the characteristics of mutual aid societies, were initially not seen by the employers as particularly threatening, and were generally left alone. But when they started to join up at regional and national level, for reasons other than beer-drinking and arranging funerals, they became much more formidable and more likely to be repressed. It was generally allowed – subject to the uncertainty of eighteenth-century law and the capriciousness of its enforcement – that such unions were of doubtful legality. There were about forty Acts forbidding them in specific trades, and almost any judge would decide that a confederation of workmen to raise wages was illegal. But employers’ petitions to secure the regulation of wages by Parliament, or to enforce the wages decreed by justices under a Parliamentary Act, was another matter; and Parliament would for the most part receive without complaint petitions from these bodies.
The unions nevertheless continued to flourish at the end of the century because of the muddled nature of the repressive apparatus and the legal confusion which made the repression of the local struggles, whilst not impossible, often extremely late in the day; since it was little comfort to an employer if a worker was imprisoned, or given forced labour, once the damage was done. But in 1799, after a petition by master millwrights against a "combination of journeymen millwrights within the Metropolis and twenty-five miles around" a law was passed in 1799 to generally make all combinations of economic interests unlawful. This law was initiated by William Wilberforce, whose zeal for freeing slaves in America was equalled only by his enthusiasm for ensuring that workers in England were kept in their place.
Due to the Combination Act, and amendments in the following year, the period of 1800-1815 was generally a period of defeats for the early unions. Some industries were repressed more than others, particularly where the local magistrates were under the direct influence of the employers, such as the cotton trades and the mines in the North of England. The miners were a section undergoing continuous repression. In fact the Scottish miners were only released from bondage in 1755. About the conditions of cotton workers, Francis Place wrote: "the sufferings of persons employed in the cotton manufacture were beyond credibility; they were drawn into combinations, betrayed, prosecuted, convicted, sentenced, and monstrously severe punishments inflicted upon them; they were reduced to and kept in the most wretched state of existence.
It is therefore not surprising that in the second decade of the
19th century the North of England was a major arena of union battles. And
it goes without saying that the Miners and cotton spinners were the leaders
of this movement. These struggles would culminate in the great Lancashire
strike of 1818, in which the textile workers fought not only for higher
wages, but for factory legislation, and particularly for the regulation
of female and child labour. From Lancashire the movement spread to Scotland,
where the weavers, taught by their English brethren, formed trade organisations
and entered with zest into the struggle. With the end of the war with France,
renewed struggles were to break out on a much more extensive scale.
In the period leading up to the recent sell-off of BMW’s Rover Longbridge plant in Birmingham, the so-called left was busily at work befuddling the minds of militant workers by mounting campaigns for nationalisation and public ownership. Despite having a left-wing veneer, this campaign has certainly been no rallying of the troops for class action: rather it has involved little more than a call to Government departments to intervene and produce a few financial "sweeteners" for the successful bidder.
Eventually, amidst the popping of champagne bottles, BMW would agree to hand over the plant to the Phoenix consortium, headed by the pre-BMW manager of ROVER, John Towers: a consortium which includes an organisation called the Mayflower Corporation, whose directors include... former Prime-minister John Major! a fact brought to light with much relish by Private Eye, but not mentioned elsewhere. In the euphoric atmosphere it was announced that jobs "will be saved", and a treasury backed scheme would offer a quarter of the shares to the workforce (with others to car dealers!). The trade and industry secretary, the TGWU negotiator and the "good" capitalist, John Towers were heralded as the heroes of the hour.
Needless to say there was a catch: the Phoenix proposals also include a commitment to a massive ’restructuring’ involving an estimated 1,750 redundancies. And no doubt when BMW accepted the Phoenix bid, Towers’s proven record as a keen ’restructure’(in his previous job as chief executive of Concentric, he reduced the workforce by a quarter from 2,000 down to 1,500) was taken into account.
Meanwhile, in other sectors of the car industry, Ford’s forthcoming `slimming down’ of its European operations is affecting the 20,000 hourly paid workers employed in Ford’s 21 manufacturing sites in Britain. Several plant closures and heavy job losses are expected. At Dagenham, Ford’s huge plant in Essex which currently employs 8,000 workers, 1,500 jobs have already been cut from the car assembly plant and 700 workers have already accepted redundancy and early retirement offers in the latest cuts. Now has come the announcement that production of the Fiesta model will cease and be moved to more modern production facilities in Cologne. Redundancy notices have been handed to all workers over 50, and the plant will be converted to engine production. Strike action has been threatened at Dagenham and the company’s other UK plants if production of the Fiesta is halted.
At Nissan’s huge Sunderland car plant, with a workforce of 5,000 workers, a 30 per cent "cost reduction programme" is in force, which will involve further redundancies, and it has already cut its parts and material suppliers down from 1,200 to 600.
Honda has also announced job cuts, although it has said it hopes to achieve the cuts without redundancies.
A precarious and uncertain future therefore continues to be the lot of workers in the car industry.
In the face of these attacks, instead of encouraging the development of independent workers’ organisation against the strangle hold of the Labour Party and the Trade Union leadership, pseudo-socialist remedies for state control of the car industry are once again befuddling the minds of militants: "Public ownership is the only way to keep Rover together" and "Rover should be run by the people who know how everything works and how to make it better – Rover workers", are characteristic slogans (quoted from Car Bulletin, a Trotskyist rank-and-file publication). But in fact, what appears to be a rather radical and even socialist solution, is in fact thoroughly reactionary. This is for a number of reasons, but most importantly because it perpetuates the illusion that a bourgeois government has both the will, and the capability of improving the lot of working people.
This illusion is unfortunately widespread in the British Isles and has for virtually the whole of the twentieth century relied on the Labour Party’s Clause 4 which promised: "To secure for the producers by hand or brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production". The rather tepid and ambiguous Clause Four (note especially the "that may be possible") was drawn up in 1918 by Henderson and the Webbs, the architects and main proponents of Fabianism: a philosophy which was designed as a conscious means to avert revolution. Thus the 1922 manifesto finished with the headline ’AGAINST REVOLUTION’ and claimed: ’Labour’s programme is the best bulwark against violent upheaval and class wars’.
Despite this open anti-revolutionary objective, clause 4 has been used to pull the wool over workers eyes ever since, and also deployed to give credibility to the notion that left-wing elements within the Labour Party could eventually ’conquer’ it to a revolutionary position. Thus even outside the Labour Party, Trotskyist groups would feel it incumbent upon themselves to "fight for Clause 4" as a sign of "the Labour Party’s commitment to a minimal anti-capitalist position" (the SWP view).
The situation is now different. "New" Labour not so very long ago ditched clause 4 as it was confident that the Tories anti-strike and solidarity legislation would be able to keep the workers in check. The Labour Party doesn’t even bother to pretend to be socialist anymore and the notion of common ownership has now bee so totally abandoned that it can with impunity be substituted with the notion of "State intervention" and "State Aid", and none will even bat an eyelid! Thus the Labour government’s intervention in the Rover takeover bid boiled down to nothing more than simply approving a deal which involved bunging a few shares to the workers that stay on, and a bit of redundancy money to those who are for the chop.
But even if the defence of Clause 4 is no longer a rallying cry, you can be guaranteed that reinstating it will be! And thus will militant workers be led by the Trotskyists back onto the path of lobbying for nationalisation rather than sticking to their guns in the battle for the defence of living standards.
The unions, as ever hanging onto the Labour Party’s coattails, have
entirely harmonised their demands with the requirements of "New Labour".
All they feel they have to do to preserve their role as workers’ advocate
is simply to urge the government to cough up more State aid. Thus in the
period before the Rover sell-off, the general secretary wrote in the T
& G Workplace Record: "The government should show that it was prepared
to offer financial encouragement to potential buyers committed to keeping
the group together", and as for the union’s instructions to its members,
under the heading "What you can do", it makes depressing reading: Write
to the BMW chairman to express your disgust! Go into your local BMW or
Rover showroom and ask the manager to pass on your concerns to the company!
Write to your MP! In other words, union members are asked, as individuals
rather than a class, to appeal to the bourgeois establishment to take pity
on them. Are the employers supposed to feel so guilty they cave in? Was
it just moral nastiness that led them to sell of Rover in the
first place? Such an insipid campaign entirely fails to recognise that it is the thirst for greater profits, imposed on them by the very nature of capitalist society, that has led to BMW’s present sell-off.
But as most workers are drawn into struggle through immediate concerns i.e. losing jobs, wage-cuts etc. and are likely to be persuaded by the effectiveness of a policy in terms of the achievement of immediate goals, it is also worth looking at whether state control in the car industry has given any evidence of improving the standard of living and security of workers, even if there is no genuine socialist content to the policy. In order to do that, we need look no further than the history of the Longbridge plant.
In the late 60s and early 70s, the Labour Government would authorise the creation of one big British car company. The old British Motor Corporation merged with Standard-Triumph and Leyland to form the giant British Leyland Motor Corporation (BL). The Longbridge plant in Birmingham would be opened in this context and in 1974 was probably the most powerfully organised, as well as the largest in Britain. Within a few years of its formation, BL was in crisis, and the government would nationalise the company, buying a 95% stake share in the company at a cost of œ1.4 billion.
The years leading up to the nationalisation of Leyland took place in a climate where Britain’s share of world trade had plummeted from 16.5% in 1960 down to 10.8% in 1970. This downturn would produce a militant response from the working-class and during the latter part of the sixties, workers becoming increasingly politicised as they came up against an unholy alliance of Labour government, union leadership and bosses, which sought to limit industrial action and impose statutory wage freezes. Wave upon wave of unofficial strikes were unleashed and from 1964 to 1969 the number of strikes went up steadily from 1,456 to 3,116 per year.
During the period 1970 to 1974, there was a further escalation of militancy as Heath’s Conservative government introduced the Industrial Relations Act (an act which in fact drew heavily on the In Place of Strife proposals drawn up by the previous Labour government, seeking to introduce official ballots and enforce government intervention in intractable disputes). Huge protests and strikes broke out amongst the miners and in the Clydeside shipyards, and around the curtailing of the rights to engage in secondary industrial action (the Pentonville dockers and the Shrewsbury building workers). The total number of strike days had reached 10,980,000 in 1970, was up to 13,551,000 in 1971, and climbed to 23,909,000 in 1972 – the highest figures since the 1920s. Between 1972 and 1974 there were 200 occupations of shipyards, factories, offices and workshops.
The Heath government would respond by declaring a state of emergency no less than five times. Its’ heavy handed approach however was not working, and this was so evident to the ruling class that a section of the CBI would no longer accept Heath’s leadership. The ruling class went behind the Labour Party, appreciating it would have to ’lean to the Left’ to win votes from a confident working class in the forthcoming elections in 1974. The carrot of a Labour Government was duly dangled.
The Labour party, still equipped with Clause Four of its constitution expressing a commitment to establishing "the common ownership of the means of production", would thus declare itself as the most ardent advocate of nationalisation and workers democracy in the workplace; a move which it explained, tipping the wink to its middle class supporters, as designed to restore Britain in the world market as a major industrial power. The left-wing of the party was put in charge of forging this policy under the auspices of Tony Benn, and it was announced that the top twenty-five largest firms in the manufacturing sector would be taken into public ownership, and substantial holdings in the top 100 firms acquired by means of a National Enterprise Board (NEB).
Immediately before the election however the notion of taking the top twenty-five firms into public ownership was promptly ditched.
With the Labour party in power, the scheme would appear repackaged as an "explicit partnership to raise the quality of management" and boost manufacturing in the private sector. The National Enterprise Board was duly set up in November 1975, but its powers of compulsory acquisition were gone, and gone was its ability to increase its stake in private companies to 51%.
With the appointment of the businessman Sir Jack Ryder as chairman of the NEB, the transformation of the NEB was completed in the eyes of the most eloquent spokesman of industrial capital, the CBI, especially as Ryder announced his aim of providing "funds for private companies which could not obtain enough funds from private sources".
"Nationalisation" as a supposed step towards the "common ownership of the means of production" had become "State Aid" for private capitalists. And in the eyes of workers, all it had become was a scheme that might avoid redundancies.
But unfortunately the upshot of most State interventions resulted precisely in... job losses, and the NEB’s much vaunted "planning agreements" revealed themselves not as schemes to help companies avoid redundancies and look for new ways of employing workers, but rather as ways to use government cash to underline and reinforce the need for workers to make sacrifices. The Labour government thus managed to weave a massive web of illusion around the workforce and pass off what was basically an asset – stripping operation as... socialism! And it was a policy which went hand in hand with massive cuts in social spending: which between 1976-1978 came to a massive reduction, after allowing for inflation, of 9.5%.
Thus the NEB would grant £162 million to Chrysler to keep it afloat. The result? 8,000 workers out of a workforce of 25,000 were made redundant. Eventually in July, 1978, after two years of speed-ups and pressure on the workforce, it was sold to Peugeot without Chrysler having told the government, let alone the workforce.
But this was small-scale compared to the £1.4 billion with which the government bought a 95% share of British Leyland. There were, however, as with the Chrysler deal, strings attached. This huge grant was conditional on the recommendations of the Ryder Report, which advocated widespread "rationalisation" of work practices, with the aim of speeding up production and "slimming down" the workforce.
The Ryder report, which derived substantially from the findings of the Donovan Commission published in 1968, proposed to address that most worrying of problems for the bourgeoisie: shop floor organisation and unofficial strikes, and it involved, in essence, a scheme to systematically buy off a large section of the militants under the name of ’worker participation’. Its new slogan of "participation" was taken up with gusto by the NEB as it recommended a comprehensive scheme for British Leyland with stewards, convenors and officials in joint committees with management at almost every level of the company from the shop floor to national level – except that Ryder made it quite clear that management would retain the final say and full decision-making power. The stewards were thus drawn off the shop floor and drawn into an unequal "partnership" with management.
Thus in 1975, senior stewards accepted a three-tier system of participation accompanied by an announcement that 12,000 jobs had to go. Now instead of seven full-time stewards, Longbridge had more than fifty, and their enthusiasm for the new scheme was such that even the Financial Times would heap praise on them.
The convenor of the Longbridge plant, a member of the communist party and with a strong party section to back him up, would defend the stewards involvement in the Ryder plan as a "step towards workers’ control", and shop-floor opposition was dismissed as an unprincipled alliance of "money-militants", right-wingers and "Trots". Now that the company was nationalised, so the CP line went, the workforce had a duty to pull their weight and make a go of it. Unofficial strikes were clamped down on and "continuous production" became the gospel of the CP and management alike. Now that the workers were marching into a glorious socialist future, a privilege conferred on them by simply belonging to a nationalised industry, they had to knuckle under!
When in February 1977, 2,635 toolmakers throughout Leyland struck for a wage claim that in practice challenged phase two of the Labour Government’s Social Contract, enforcing wage restraint, the government threatened them with the sack. The Longbridg convenor and the CP joined forces with the bosses and the AEUW Executive (despite the latter declaring that the sackings would have the full backing of the union). The convenor would even stoop so low as to encourage workers to cross the toolmakers picket line. In August 1978, when the tool room in the company’s SU carburettor plant came out strike, both union officials and the leadership would line up with management once again.
At the end of 1977, the government appointed a tough new manager at
British Leyland, Michael Edwardes, who proposed 12,500 redundancies in
January 1978, and the closure of 13 plants. Mass meetings were held throughout
Longbridge which voted to oppose the plan, but soon the majority of senior
stewards and union officials decided to accept – indeed, at the official
presentation of the plan the Longbridge senior stewards gave Edwardes a
standing ovation! In September, receiving the full backing of the leadership
of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering workers, Edwardes
balloted the workers over the heads of the stewards and asked workers simply:
’Are you in
favour of the Leyland survival plan?’ The vote was ’yes’ by 7 to 1.
Now Edwards no longer needed participation, and he sacked the convenor. Despite some resistance to this move, support was muted and fizzled out, and Edwardes could extend his attacks to purging left-wingers at the Oxford Cowley plant.
In the early 80s, British Leyland was threatened by major changes in the motor industry as Japanese companies began to challenge the traditional three international market-leaders, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. By 1986, British Leyland were manufacturing cars which were in reality Hondas with Austin or Rover badges, and a new plant was built at Swindon as a joint venture supplying both with Honda-designed engines.
By now the British Firm (renamed Austin Rover) was just about breaking even, and in 1988 the firm was sold by the government to British Aerospace. New working practices, opposed vigorously on the shop-floor were pushed through and a new era of flexibility involving "teams" and "team leaders" was ushered in accompanied by the promise of "jobs for life".
In 1994, in classic asset-strippers fashion, Rover was sold to BMW for œ800 million, but despite investing œ2.5 billion, and receiving further help form the government, it made continuing losses, and is thought to have lost œ700 million last year. They received nothing but cooperation from every level of the unions, from shop stewards to general secretaries, and during the first Rover-induced crisis at BMW in October 1998, the T&GWUs National Automotive Officer Tony Woodley was the most enthusiastic backer of the company’s "Working Time" deal, which involved total flexibility and "banked hours".
At very best, state intervention has only caused a temporary reprieve, and kept workers in a state of insecurity until the next downturn in the capitalist economy. If a small number of workers have gained during such interventions, many more have been cast onto the dole queue, into lower paid jobs and into the hands of a Dickensian black economy.
This then is the destiny of entrusting common ownership to the bourgeois state! They’ll make sure that capital and property remains firmly in the hands of the bourgeoisie, even if sometimes capitalism’s contingent interests dictate that the State is the best manager, or owner, of certain sectors of capitalism at certain times and in certain places. All it needs is for state ownership to be portrayed as "a step towards a centralised socialist state" and a perfect means of disciplining workers presents itself. Workers can then be persuaded that by working within the state sector, they are defending a gain for the working class as a whole. Indeed, in Soviet Russia after the counter-revolution, this means of disciplining workers evolved into its most perfect form: by working in state industries, workers were urged to believe that they were defending socialism itself; despite the fact that within Russia all the categories of a capitalist economy remained, most notably money, and the workers remained workers, and the bourgeoisie, masked behind a totalitarian and centralised state form called Stalinism, remained the bourgeoisie, going about the task of industrialisation in a still essentially backward, rural economy.
The slogan of common ownership is meaningless unless linked to the realisation that it will only be accomplished after a workers revolution has overthrown the bourgeois state by force, fended off its restoration, and instituted a regime which has not only declared its communist ideology, but has put it into practice by abolishing money, wage labour and capital – and therefore also abolished the social categories "worker" and "capitalist" – and layed the basis for a rational management of human and natural resources on the basis of a common plan in a classless society. Such was the essence of the scheme outlined in Marx’s criticism of the German Social Democratic Party’s Gotha Programme and indeed implied in the rest of his work, and we remain the only party to stay true to its vision of its practical realisation – a programme which we only touch on here but deal with extensively elsewhere in the party press.
"Public ownership", "nationalisation" and "common ownership" are all slogans which represent a distortion of their one and only genuinely classist and communist counterpart – the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Until that has become a reality, or unless they are interpreted to mean that, they will always be prone to bourgeois interpretations which justify tying workers in struggle to the apron strings of their oppressors by means of appeals to the bourgeois labour parties, the government, and public opinion. All these slogans, in their wording, in fact imply that the State will take sectors of capitalist production into its hands and run them on behalf of all classes in society, in that they refer to the nation, the public, or the community. We call instead for the taking of the capitalist means of production into the hands of the working class with the goal of destroying capitalist production, and creating an economy which will be rational and dictated by need rather than by the market.
In order to keep on the road to this still distant but inevitable future goal, workers should reject the temptation to be sidetracked into campaigns for a centralised capitalism dressed up as socialism. Every time a group of workers, fighting to defend living standards and improve conditions, breaks free from the influence of the Labour Party, the union bosses, and the phoney workers parties, and manages to launch an intransigent and determined struggle to defend working class goals, a step has been made towards creating that necessary class consciousness and combativity which will eventually lead to the final battle for the downfall of capitalism.
Revolt by isolated sectors and industrial groups will not be sufficient
– what is needed is the welding together of militant groups of workers
into a united class organisation. This will be accomplished first economically
then politically, and so become a force in society. Then the road will
be open for the emancipation of the working class.
For anyone who can pluck up the courage to read the newspapers – apart from just flicking through the crime headlines and sports pages – they are bound to feel rather uneasy when bombarded with all the daily reports of impending catastrophes of various types. Certainly the bourgeoisie would prefer it if the newspapers kept quiet about all the various problems that arise in the course of its frantic pursuit of profits, but, as everyone knows, so-called globalisation has made sure that anything that happens in one part of the world is of interest everywhere else: and that, combined with the fact that the sale of news is itself a business, means that plenty of news still gets out; even if usually it is a bit late in the day and the facts are inevitably distorted. Since it is in the bourgeoisie’s interests to play everything down, we can safely assume that whatever bad news is reported about the environment, in reality, with few exceptions, it is a lot worse.
One of the most longstanding worries of our present epoch has been fear of a nuclear catastrophe, whether through war or an accident; another more recent concern is about global warming and the greenhouse effect radically transforming our planet. However, if you really turn your mind to it, it isn’t difficult to find plenty of other things to worry about; such as cheap fuel coming to an end, the population explosion, lack of water, AIDs, cancer, chemical and bacteriological war, and so on and so forth.
Not many people know what biodiversity means exactly, and even fewer grasp its significance as a potential source of calamity for the human race: a calamity as serious as it is unfortunately inevitable unless the necessary steps are taken to avoid it. The loss of biodiversity in agriculture is a time bomb that is slowly ticking away towards ecological and alimentary disaster; and when it finally explodes it will probably be too late. We are on the brink of an abyss.
Maize rust disease was first recorded in the Philippines in 1961; soon afterwards it was reported in Mexico. The first signs that it had got into the United States appeared in 1968. In the Spring of 1970 it hit the maize crop in Florida (although this wasn’t known until August... because of price rises on the Chicago stock exchange!). In the end, 15% of the harvest was lost, an enormous disaster.
The winter of 1972-72 in the Ukraine was particularly cold, and there wasn’t enough snow. In the following Spring it didn’t rain. More than 40 million hectares had been sown with a variety of high yield wheat which was susceptible to drought (Besostaja). It isn’t known for certain the full extent of the drought but it was serious; so much so that in July the Russians purchased 27 million tons of wheat, a fact entirely without precedent. However, it wasn’t so much the Russians who lost out as the poorer countries who depended on wheat imports: with cereal prices rising by 50% on the international markets, the cost of satisfying the hunger of Russian cattle meant starvation for millions of human beings.
In both cases it was genetic uniformity which was to blame. The most popular varieties, the proud product of modern genetic improvements, are potentially vulnerable to any number of environmental factors, and when they do become so affected, disaster inevitably follows because it is generally one, identical variety which is planted over vast areas.
In the period following the 2nd World War, research into the so-called High Yield varieties (HYVs) led to the so-called ’Green Revolution’. This resulted in a steady impoverishment of the genetic pool needed to ensure healthy crops and the extinction of a larger number of old varieties.
In the early 70s, this problem prompted a reawakening of interest within the big seed companies of the North in the genetic resources of the South: the South, rich in climates and micro-climates, and never having been affected by the glaciations which in the North reduced the process of diversification, was able to develop an exceptional variety of forms of life. Thus a new phenomenon has developed, that of research into new genes and genotypes, an enormous business ripe for exploitation and one of the new frontiers of profit that has now acquired international political importance. But not even this new focus, rich in potential successes and discoveries though it may be, can hope to find a permanent solution to the problem.
To see how we arrived at this present state of affairs, it might
help to get our bearings if we retrace our steps back to when biodiversity
existed in its natural state, that is, before human beings got their hands
ORIGINS OF AGRICULTURE
Humanity has always lived from hunting an gathering, or rather, almost always. Only in the last few thousand years has humanity gradually passed over to agriculture, and even then, not entirely. Only a few centuries ago a large part of the world’s population lived entirely from hunting and gathering. Even today, in a few inaccessible places, difficult to reach by jeep or helicopter, there still exist a few embattled ethnic groups immune to TV, Coca-Cola and double-entry book-keeping, in short: immune to civilisation.
What kind of life did these hunter-gatherers lead? Thanks to archaeology and the study of still undisturbed descendants of the hunter-gatherers in the last century, all are by now agreed that life wasn’t all that bad – they had culture (rituals attended the burial of the dead, they had a perfect knowledge of their immediate environment, they had a fund of techniques developed around the processing of food, and hunting, they had means of communicating this complex knowledge) and they had developed a social life.
Food was abundant and there was enough wild game and plant material to provide for the small population that dwelt in its midst (even the bushmen of south-West Africa spend on average only 9-12 hours per head, per week, providing themselves with food; and the same can be said for the Amazon Indians: the inventors of the hammock). Moreover, not much time needed to be spent on other essential tasks either.
The diet was extremely healthy and varied, and was derived from an extremely wide choice of plant species (3000-5000 in North America alone).
Famine didn’t occur (unless caused by the intervention of other human groups). Although this sounds incredible it was the case. The eco-systems which sustained them were stable, and the sources of food so numerous that it wasn’t possible to eradicate them all at once. Famines are an invention of agricultural societies, as indeed are most ’natural disasters’.
There was therefore little incentive to change this style of life, and this can be seen in the ethnic groups that have recently entered into contact with civilisation.
Why and how then did agriculture arise? The old hypothesis that one day, 10-12,000 years ago, somebody suddenly decided they were fed up with their varied but casual diet and invented agriculture is now discredited because agriculture seems to have arisen almost contemporaneously in widely separated parts of the world. What is far more likely is that a very gradual transition took place (with pauses, steps backward, and blind alleys) from hunting and gathering to stock-farming/cultivation.
What could have caused this transition? One might think it was something to do with hunger; since agriculture is much more productive per area unit, maybe it forced our ancestors to cultivate the land to feed an increasing population? This explanation doesn’t hold up, however, if one takes into account that a time of hunger isn’t conducive to initiating a lengthy process like cultivation, much less inventing it, especially so if it isn’t yet known that agriculture would be any more productive. Rather the tendency would be to eat all supplies, stock and seeds included.
Probably the first plants to be cultivated were ones which were especially precious or rare (medicinal, ritual, dyes, poisons) which were difficult to find, and necessary in small quantities. Later on, particular circumstances (like a reduction in game as a result of climatic change or over-population) might have caused an increased dependence on any plants cultivated around the village. And it was women who were probably the first cultivators. Eventually, a time arrived when the tribe instead of migrating in search of new, richer territories (maybe none existed in the vicinity, or they were surrounded by hostile tribes) stayed where it was and became more dependant on agriculture.
As sedentariness increased, so also did the population. Men no longer set off for long hunting expeditions, and more people were able to work the land and exploit its resources; men could also dedicate their energies to agriculture. Gradually, as well as bringing about an increase in the amount of land utilised, there was a corresponding improvement in technology. This in its turn meant a further increase in production and further demographic growth; a phenomenon that one can still see today.
The plants that exist today are not the same as the ones cultivated in those faraway times, and in fact they hardly resemble them at all. Today’s plants are domesticated, that is: transformed to suit man’s requirements.
Domestication principally consisted in making choices about which
seeds would be sown, and therefore which plants were worth perpetuating.
Thus it is that so-called ’selection’ takes place: a selection which has
now become directed rather than natural. Domestication is therefore a form
of evolution directed by man. What are the characteristics which governed
mankind’s choice of useful species? The first species to be domesticated
possessed traits which were highly important for the new alimentary technology:
the seeds were easily preserved and stored; there was a high level of starch
in the cereal seeds and a high protein content in the seeds of pulses.
There were also other characteristics:
non-dispersing seeds: if the seeds are easily detachable from the spikelet (ear), it means the amount of grain that can be harvested by man is reduced, even if this quality is advantageous to the plant in its wild state.
contemporaneity of maturation: another feature which is negative for the species in its wild state but advantageous in terms of agricultural yield.
contemporaneity of germination: the same as for the previous point.
Other important factors include indehiscent pods (beans etc), that is, pods which don’t open naturally (increasing the yield), as well as loss of defensive properties (spines, toxicity).
The more plants became modified, the more people devoted themselves to an increasingly productive agriculture. In consequence, they increasingly began to lose their hunting and gathering habits (never entirely abandoned however). As a result of this change, so the ecosystem within which these peoples worked changed.
Thus it came about that less and less plants came to make up man’s diet because the ones which had been improved were more productive, and therefore less wild plants were gathered. Today, in place of the many thousands of species which made up the diet of the gatherers, only around 130 species are cultivated, and out of these, 85% of food is derived from only 8 species – and out of these, rice, wheat and maize provide us with 50% of our food.
It must be emphasised, let’s be clear about it, that this domestication
of around 200-250 species over the last 10,000 years was an enormously
important conquest. Nowadays though we are losing a major part of the results
of this achievement, whilst wild foods are now virtually non-existent in
THE DEVELOPMENT OF DIVERSITY
Thus, with domestication, Man drove forward the evolution of cultivated plants; a difficult to define process with many twists and turns. There is a well-known story about a famous geneticist who asked an African farmer why he selected crooked sorghum plants for the following season’s planting; the answer came that if all the plants had been crooked it would have been easier to hang them on the roof of his hut. Aims have therefore been many and various, with some more important than others depending on the epoch. Plenty of other examples of this domestication exist. The coloured maizes of South America were important because the colours indicated other characteristics then considered useful; the cucurbits also served as musical instruments, as containers for liquids, feather holders, as well as for food. Sorghum in Africa was used to make brooms, to make molasses, for chewing, for making bread and beer, for construction, as a colorant etc, etc. In Peru there were different coloured varieties of cotton so it wasn’t necessary to dye it.
With the development of each food crop there came a parallel reduction in the impulse to domesticate other species. Nature’s diversity wasn’t lost, but it wasn’t made use of any more, and in time the knowledge of how to use it was forgotten. There was however a huge increase of diversity within the domesticated species; two villages separated by a mountain could develop two distinct types of bean, either because the habitats were different, or because tastes in food differed. Up to not so long ago, certain vegetables were produced only in certain places. Diversity was favoured by environments which were morphologically irregular, like hills and mountains.
Over the course of thousands of years of domestication, most crops therefore had to adapt themselves to the most varied conditions producing very varied genotypes. This is why many species are found in the most diverse situations. The apricot, for example, is found throughout the hot environment of the Mediterranean, but it is also to be found on the slopes of the Himalayas. Sorghum can be found typically in both the humid tropics and semi-arid zones. Rice is found in India at sea-level and up to 2000 metres above. The potato though possesses the greatest adaptability and can be found from below sea-level up to 3000 metres above, ranging from the Arctic circle to Africa.
These genotypes are all varieties, or cultivars, of the same species, and they differ the one from the other usually only in regard to a very limited number of characteristics. In general, there are two main factors at work behind this diversification: mutation (the casual appearance of new characteristics in an individual, followed by selection by man) and introgression (the appearance of new combinations of already existing genes, either as casuals or guided by man through hybridisation).
The ’oddities’ which interested Man were plants with new and useful features with regard to resistance to disease and insect pests, adaptation to extreme environments, quality and quantity of production, etc.
In order to gain genetic improvements through introgression, it is necessary to have present in a population of plants a wide genetic variability in order to obtain a large number of genetic variations from which to choose. For any given species this variability is highest in surroundings where it has existed for a long time, because it has had greater possibilities to produce new forms. These surroundings are obviously those in which the species originated.
At this point we have to talk of the biologist and geneticist Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov, a genius little understood outside geneticist circles, who travelled the world from 1916 to 1940, observing and collecting plant specimens. Respected during his lifetime, and still respected today, it took the stupidity of Stalinism to put him in a prison camp, where he died of hunger in 1943.
His most important discovery was that genetic variation, the diversity created by millions of years of natural evolution and thousands of years of agriculture, wasn’t equally distributed throughout the world. Vavilov drew up a map of the distribution of the diversity of each of the cultivated species which he had studied. He also hypothesised that the level of diversity was indicative of how long a species had been cultivated in a particular area: the longer the time there, the higher the level of diversity one could expect to encounter; the greater the number of uses a plant had, the more varieties and forms there would be. For example, there are different types of maize for pop-corn, for ceremonial and medicinal uses, and for roasting. The same goes for a species’ defences against insects, pathogens etc. Vavilov thought that by identifying the geographical centre of genetic diversity of a cultivated species, it would also be possible to identify the area where it originated – which in its turn, had to be in the zone where cultivation had had the time and opportunity to develop a large number of variants. Vavilov located eight such geographical centres, and in general, these were mountainous zones, or at any rate, areas containing a variety of habitats. Mountainous regions provided the ideal conditions for variation, in that there existed topographical variety with a range of climates and soil types. Mountains also formed excellent natural barriers against external incursions, and blocked the exchange of genes even at a local level.
Since the centres of origin weren’t just centres of one, but of numerous, species, Vavilov theorized that all cultivated species had originated in the eight centres of diversity he had identified.
Nowadays the centres of diversity are not identified with the
centres of origin. For a centre of origin to be considered as such, the
wild progenitors of the cultivated species must also be present, as well
as a certain level of variation. According to this interpretation, Harlan
identified only three centres of origin, which were also recognised as
centres of early agriculture. The other five centres which Vavilov had
identified became seen as secondary centres of diversity to which agriculture
had spread later on, and where the process of domestication continued.
With changes of habitat, the cultivated species had to undergo processes
of adaptation still more drastic than before. Thus has diversity travelled
on the great journey of agriculture which went on to conquer the world.
IMPORTANCE OF DIVERSITY
In ancient times, when agriculture was still proving its worth and expanding out of its original centres, an equilibrium came to be established between plants, insect pests and diseases; this was possible because the rate at which the species, and the eco-system of which they were a part, changed was extremely slow, and there was therefore plenty of time for a co-evolution to take place.
The primitive varieties were characterised by a marked genetic variability insects and diseases did indeed cause damage, but the damage was restricted by the diversity of genotypes, many of which possessed effective defences. Also fields were dispersed and often separated by forests, and therefore it was difficult for infestation to spread: cultivations might be damaged, but not devastated.
This situation would change with the spread of agriculture, and later on with the concentration of a few genotypes (sometimes only one) over vast areas.
A typical case is of what happened to the potato in Europe: although it was widespread in South America, it was only introduced to England and Spain in the 16th century. Slowly it spread, but still on the basis of those two initial introductions, and therefore on a genetically very restricted foundation. In Ireland it became the principal food. The arrival of Phytophtora infesters (potato blight) meant the destruction of the entire crop, and a famine which resulted in millions of dead and millions more emigrating to America. Genes of resistance existed but they were to be found in the Andes, and if not for them the potato would be unknown to us today.
Despite this, and many other similar lessons, the development of modern agriculture has followed other paths. The presence of different traits in the traditional varieties has helped to create new varieties adapted to particular situations, but obviously not to all situations. With the development of genetics which followed Mendel’s discoveries, and with the development of agricultural technology, it became possible to create ever more productive varieties adopting the technique of the ’pure line’ in seeding species, and ’clones’ in trees. In both cases, crops consisted of genetically identical individuals. Thus the fields would increasingly present a picture of genetic homogeneity (in place of what has been defined as "harmonious disorder"), planted with varieties which responded positively to input of fertilizers, cultivation and irrigation, and with biotic enemies held at bay with low cost treatments produced by the new chemical industries.
But all this was not enough to prevent further disasters: in 1870 the coffee plantations in Sri Lanka, India and East Africa were completely devastated by rust disease (turning England into a nation of tea drinkers). In the decades which followed further disastrous pathological events hit cotton, wheat (USA), rice (India), oats (USA), maize (USA) and wheat (USSR).
Every time, what was needed was resistance, and every time resistant varieties had to be tracked down in the centres of diversity; amongst the traditional varieties which had survived, or amongst the wild ancestors of the stricken crops. This resistance will always be needed to deal with the problem, because over time insects and diseases mutate and evolve resistances to pesticides.
In this century alone, examples of crops saved by traits derived from wild varieties are too numerous to mention. The diversity of the wild varieties has rendered them capable of surviving without assistance from man. If their resistance hadn’t allowed them to survive, they would have been extinct a long time ago. Therefore, as a source of resistance, the wild varieties represent an invaluable resource. In the words of Harlan: "the wild relatives stand between mankind and starvation".
And that’s the issue: the wild relatives of our crop plants, as
well as the old varieties, will always be needed. Therefore, the habitats
in which they still continue to grow and evolve are also needed. In this
lies the perennial importance of the diversity of plants: agriculture won’t
survive without diversity.
We received a letter from a reader asking us to explain our pointedly uncommunicative attitude towards other apparently similar political organisations. Our reply is set out below.
In your letter you raised a number of issues. Some of them are fundamental because they concern the very nature of the party itself and its way of dealing with historical challenges.
You observe that we never discuss the political programmes and activity of other organisations in our press, and ask why we do not consider it necessary to request `clarification’ from them about their positions and denounce them for opportunism.
Our response to you is that the Party hasn’t made a principle of not engaging in polemics and political criticism of opportunist organisations that refer to Marxism. Our party publications and texts in fact demonstrate this insofar as they all consist of denunciations of the various deviations from the correct line. Even though there is rarely any explicit mention of names, we don’t however rule out that occasionally our criticism may be more explicit, and go so far as to name names.
What the party does rule out however is polemic for polemics sake: as though polemics were some kind of competitive sport between communists to show which organisation was the `best prepared’, the most skilful at using `the sources’, and the one which writes with the most eloquent and incisive rhetoric. The revolutionary militia requires that all forces at its disposal engage in tasks which further the aims of the Party; and criticism for criticism’s sake is not one of them. Our view is that the aim of passing on the correct revolutionary doctrine to the working class is not advanced by engaging in exegeses of incoherent texts emanating from spurious, ephemeral and irrelevant organisations. Fundamentally flawed texts simply sow the seeds of confusion, and rather than focusing on them and picking holes in them, we consider it better to consign them to oblivion and set out our own position as clearly as possible.
The party is proud not to belong to any `revolutionary camp’ or `movement of the Communist Left’. The numerous little groups that orbit around it create a kind of distorting lens between the party and the working class. They either defend conceptions (whether in good or bad faith is irrelevant) which have already been defeated by the movement and are therefore, whatever they say, not revolutionary marxists (the I.C.C. for instance) or, worse still, they trace their origins to and find their raison d’être in a degeneration of the party’s positions, and make a virtue of both of `re-evaluating’ theses long accepted and agreed upon, and in voluntary departure from, and opposition to, the organisation and discipline of the party. As in electromagnetism, two similar but distinct charges repel each other, and the same can be said of our apparent relationship with these renegade groups. Only an irresistible, final and `fatal’ determinant can have provoked their desertion from the only communist party. Such a desertion is de facto, and considered by us as irreversible.
With degenerative phenomena such as these, study and polemic is
simply a waste of time, and amongst ourselves we refer to it as the "condemnation
It is true that applying this method can make it difficult for the reader, or a hypothetical militant who’s wading through all the various leftwing papers, to easily distinguish revolutionary from non-revolutionary positions. But Opportunism creates far greater difficulties, since in order to fulfil its confusionist role it has always been obliged to disguise itself with apparently identical lexicon, positions and theses to the party. Our belief is that if the party were to enter that discredited arena of `revolutionary debate’ where spiteful oratories between alleged `cousins’ are the order of the day, the party would inevitably get drawn in and only add to the confusion.
That is not the only reason we don’t want to get drawn in. As the texts of our current explain, the true revolutionary organisation is unlikely in any case to be recognised amongst the myriad swarm of other groups purely by rational means. This is because even the best prepared of militants cannot achieve complete knowledge of all aspects of the programme, because such knowledge only exists in the party collective as a whole; which is the conscious organ par excellence. In the majority of cases then, both the perception of the phenomena of opportunism and the recognition of the party doesn’t come about by rational means or by pure study but through class instinct, by observing the sound development of party activity in real situations, and by soaking up the atmosphere of communism and militancy which surrounds it. This is very different from the pettiness of the bourgeois and individualistic intriguing of the various little groups. As happened in Russia in 1917, hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, of proletarians will eventually choose the revolutionary road without having read a single word of Marx or Lenin.
The position of the working class today is much worse than it was on the eve of the 1st World War: it is completely absent from the historical scene. But getting lots of little groups together to create political hybridisations will certainly do nothing to achieve the `historical ionisation’ required to remedy the situation. Such a process will only come about as the fruit of the contradictions of capitalism and as a result of its effect on hundreds of millions of human beings. For this reason the party has to preserve its theoretical, political and organisational integrity: the proletariat will stand in need of a doctrine which is untainted, uncompromised and ridden of uncertainty if it wishes to launch an effective battle, with an intransigent party as its vanguard, to attain its historic goals.
We don’t then maintain relations with the so-called "revolutionary milieu". We are nevertheless quite often invited to "debate" our revolutionary positions with a view to the "formation of the party". These invitations are mainly issued by the ICC – who recently invited us to a kind of Zimmerwald conference against the Balkan War – and it demonstrates (like others who don’t have the courage to admit it) that they subscribe to a totally voluntarist method of increasing party membership.
Parties are not brought into being through gigantic efforts of revolutionary willpower. Parties have formed at key historical junctures, in varied and contrasting revolutionary climates. The key dates were 1848, 1864, 1889, 1919 and 1951, and we founded our party in the 1951 wave. We do not feel any particular need to be ’fertilised’ with ’new ideas’ or with rehashed old ones. We prefer continuing to `hone our weapons’ instead. Tomorrows’ world revolutionary party will not take on flesh and bone through a process of annexing small groups of bewildered individuals, but on the basis of correct theses, faithfully adhered to and sustained by impassioned propaganda. In this way will the party take shape and grow.
We would destroy the party’s identity if we were to form blocs
and sign joint declarations and accords. And we believe this to the extent
that we will continue doggedly applying the formula "Who isn’t with us
is against us" – even if the accusation of ’sectarian!’ is levelled against
us by those for whom grasping the essence of revolutionary dialectics will
forever remain an unattainable goal.
The latest Party general reunion was held in the pleasant surroundings of the Genoa section’s office between the 14th to 16th May. Representatives from all sections were present, whilst those absent informed us what had prevented them from attending, some for reasons of health.
The necessary time was set aside to check the ongoing events of the war in Kosovo against our predictions; which everyone agreed reject the optimism of the old pacifist, opportunist, and bourgeois hypotheses. We discussed the studies which need to be prioritised, and also publications and propaganda in the various countries where we maintain a presence. In particular we discussed our intervention in various anti-war demonstrations called by workers and trade-union oppositions; where only the perspective of the party can bring a correct vision of the situation, and inculcate a knowledge of the one and only correct class response. We decided on a series of public meetings and publications to address this subject.
We went on to review the results of various study groups within the party concerned respectively with: economic themes; the recent and past history of our communist movement; the question of workers’ struggles and organisations, past and present; the theory of knowledge and modern progress in physics; the agrarian question; the class struggles in Mexico and Algeria and China, and the marxist interpretation of the history of the Balkan peoples. A plan of publications, translations and reprintings was decided upon and jobs were assigned drafting texts for publication.
A report on the organisation’s financial situation was presented and discussed.
On Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, with most comrades having
arrived, we moved on to listening to the reports. We will give just a brief
account of them here, although they can be read in their entirety in our
theoretical publication Comunismo.
Course of the economic crisis
The task of ordering and commenting on economic statistics was the subject
of this 1st report.
Growth in capital production continues to gradually decline. There have been no significant indications that there will be one of those temporary reversals which have put a break on this tendency over the last 25 years; destined one day to bring about the profound crisis of low prices and violent deflation which will precede war.
This overall depressed state of the global economy is not altered
by the fact that there are signs of resistance to the crisis in some countries:
1) in the United states, a slowing up of the previously very steep decline in industrial production, after long expansion and growth
2)signs of recovery in Russia after a long crisis of capital
3)the halting of contraction, or even expansion, in some of the Asiatic countries hit by the crisis in 1997,
4) A gradualness in the slowing up of the strong growth in China.
Interpreted by the bourgeoisie as a sign of recovery, the recent growth, after a long drop in the prices of oil, metals, and agricultural and mineral production, is for now only the immediate and temporary effect of agreed cuts in production and suspensions or cessations of mining and agricultural activity – including the abandonment of the use of marginal land prompted by falling consumption – that may lead to lower market regulated prices of production.
Other economic data, apart from the key figures for industrial
production, indicate that the movement towards deflation is continuing;
a drastic slackening of growth in world trade generalised to all areas,
and a large drop in its physical volume, with an even larger drop in its
current monetary value (difficulties converting commodities into cash)
and the new wave of protectionist struggles is connected to this drop in
trade. The following observations were made:
1/ prices in decline (lower costs of production, lower wholesale and export prices)
2/ a large worldwide drop in prices of raw materials, and particularly a drop in the prices of foodstuffs (overproduction and still millions starve)
3/ a much reduced – even negative – inflation on prices of consumer goods in the big industrialisms and, surprisingly, this has also occurred just as rapidly in countries where currencies have been heavily devalued in the recent crises.
This data also highlights a phase of chronic over-production, saturation of the world market, and the senseless over accumulation of fixed capital in installations condemned to overproduce in order to continue to expand in an infernal merry-go-round powered by workers’ suffering.
The main feature of the present crises has been an acceleration of the process of decline which followed the 30 years of growth following the 2nd World War. This first became apparent at the end of the eighties in Japan and Russia, followed by the American and European recessions at the beginning of the nineties which came and went. But the underlying crisis has persisted, and bit by bit it has drawn in other areas of the world without releasing its grip on the zones already affected; now Europe is being drawn in and the crisis is knocking at the door of the world centre of capital, the United States.
For more than 40 years the party, guided by statistical data, has used historical facts to confirm its theses on the development and eventual collapse of capitalist society. The more overproduction – leading to a deflation crisis – there is, the more capital finds it necessary to destroy in order to accumulate further profit; and the more capital needs to destroy, the more the dominant class resorts to pulling the wool over the eyes of the proletariat with patriotic tub-thumping, and forms the imperialist fronts on which to line up a divided proletariat and resolve the crisis with the butchery of another imperialist war.
The 2nd part of the report considered some of the elements usually
considered as factors in the recent relatively vigorous growth in the U.S.A.
The International Workers Association
The report on the 1st International, a continuation from previous reports, considered the 1870-72 period, i.e. the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune. Avoiding a historicist approach, the emphasis was on drawing out the lessons to be learned by the proletariat from these events.
For us marxists, the 1870-71 war is the last war in Western Europe which can be considered progressive, involving as it did the bourgeoisie’s last push against the remnants of feudal and aristocratic power.
In the First Address on the War, Marx was emphatic that the German proletariat should fight only for as long as the war for Prussia remained defensive, and should oppose Bismarck from the moment he embarked on an invasion of France. It was a war in which Germany completed the unification it had begun in 1859. This particular outcome of the bourgeois revolution however was not carried out by the historically backward German bourgeoisie itself, but from above by Bismarck, who even if personally a representative of the aristocracy had been constrained by great historical forces to undertake the bourgeoisification of Germany.
The proletariat however could not remain indifferent to the outcome of the conflict considering that if France had won there would have been an entrenchment of Bonapartism and Germany wouldn’t have recovered for a long time. A German victory, on the other hand would have destroyed Bonapartism in France allowing greater freedom of movement to the French Workers and, moreover, it would have united the German proletariat, which was on the point of becoming one of the largest in Europe.
At the time of the battle of Sedan at the beginning of September, and Bismarck’s counter-offensive against Paris, the International called for opposition to the bourgeois war.
At Sedan, Louis Napoleon was taken prisoner and Paris surrounded by the Prussians. Meanwhile in Paris and other cities insurrections broke out. The French bourgeoisie however managed to confuse the proletariat by invoking the notion of national defence, and convincing the revolutionaries that they should support the newly formed republic.
The Prussians would lay siege to Paris for 131 days without daring to enter Red Paris. As for the Thiers government, no sorties were attempted against the Prussians: they inspired considerably less fear than the armed proletariat.
The Paris Commune of 1871 saw the proletariat finally take power, force the Republican government to take to flight and finally, propelled by events, to heroically attempt to consolidate its own communist power.
Marx’s analysis in The Civil War in France, and past party studies, were used to assess the limitations of that power and define the reasons for its defeat.
Above all the Commune was clearly too lenient on the defeated bourgeois class. Once the bourgeoisie had realised this, it would move onto the counter-offensive with the aim of taking back power – with the help of the Prussian "enemy". From a military point of view, the proletarian government didn’t move beyond a purely defensive position.
We saw however that the merits of this proletarian experiment were enormous despite the fact the revolutionary government was divided between Blanquists and Proudhonists, or rather non-marxist revolutionaries: what the Commune achieved in those three short months was a move towards the Dictatorship of the Proletariat predicted by Marx.
Members of the government received a salary equivalent to a worker’s wage and moreover their position was revocable at any moment. Conscription was abolished and replaced with the armed people. The Church, separated from the State, had its property expropriated. Factories had to reopen as centres of associated production without employers. The middle classes had their debts written off and were let off the previous three months rent. These are some examples of the Commune’s initiatives.
As is well known, the Commune was cut short by extremely harsh Franco-Prussian repression, with mass bombardments and bloody battles fought to the bitter end against those who refused to surrender. All the bourgeoisie’s pretensions of civilisation were laid bare as a sham. To paraphrase a comment Marx made at the time: What a glorious civilisation it is whose main problem is arranging how to get rid of the piles of dead bodies it leaves on the battlefield.
In conclusion, it was pointed out that even if the International,
from abroad, hadn’t managed to bring its influence to bear directly, in
fact the Commune was the fruit of seven years of its presence amongst the
Parisian proletariat, both in terms of practical struggles and the propagandising
of its programme of emancipation. The bourgeoisie of the time knew this;
to the extent that, in the months which followed the Commune, the governments
of Europe made a concerted effort to repress the International and destroy
every genuinely proletarian organisation. Karl Marx, the dreaded Red Terror
Doctor, was even accused of having organised the Commune himself, personally
plotting the insurrection behind the scenes. Though the fact remains that
his stirring speeches, printed in several languages, were distributed amongst
the European proletariat.
Origins of the trade-unions in Italy
The birth of the General Confederation of Labour (CGdL) was the subject examined in this ongoing study.
The general Secretariat of the revolutionary syndicalist organisation Resistenza, formed in 1902 with the aim of unifying the activity of the Federation of the Chambers of Labour (autonomous) and the craft federations (led by reformists) operated in a co-ordinating rather than a leadership role. In 1906, the craft federations therefore decided to form a national confederation. 500 delegates, representing 700 craft unions with an overall membership of 200,000 members, would attend the inaugural conference. The vote on the agenda saw the revolutionary syndicalists heavily outnumbered by the reformists, and the former responded by abandoning the conference without however creating their own organisation.
The CGdL, its leadership practising blatant class collaborationism, wanted to strengthen the Federations rather than the territorially based Chambers of Labour.
Their concept of the unions, rubber-stamped by the 7th Congress of the 2nd International, saw the leadership of the proletariat split into a union/party diarchy, with the former coordinating economic strikes and the latter the political movement. The union was supposed to approve strike initiatives promoted by the party. This symmetrical approach stands in stark contrast to our "transmission belt " view of the relationship between party and unions.
The CGdL would remain firmly under the influence of reformists
of an evolutionist and class coalitionist stamp.
The War in the Balkans
With the fall of the Berlin Wall the period of post-war reconstruction came to an end, and preparation for the 3rd world war began. In this perspective, the bourgeoisie must start lining up the proletariat on opposed fronts. The counter-revolutionary interest favours getting the proletariat lined up on a war front before the crisis prompts it to line itself up on a class front.
In a recessionary crisis, capitalism needs a third world war: a war which will have as its goals the destruction of capital and commodities, including labour power. It is only a secondary aim of the respective war fronts to emerge victor from the war with the largest share of the booty – mainly in the form of post-war reconstruction contracts.
Since the main aim of the war isn’t victory of one or other of the fronts, but the destruction of productive forces, the opposed fronts must be of comparable strength. That is one of the reasons the Balkan War represented a step towards the 3rd World War: it served to put different alliances to the test, to create new ones and, in short, to establish the broad outlines of the coalitions likely to emerge in the next war.
The conduct of the military operations in the Balkans have demonstrated an anti-proletarian understanding amongst the bourgeoisie: the bombardments have hit the workers’ quarters and factories, and driven the Serbian workers to rally around the nationalist banners and the Kosovan workers to seek refuge in camps held under tight police control; today as objects of barter, tomorrow as cannon fodder.
Without going into premature geopolitical analyses of the situation, it is certain that whilst the USA would tend, by means of a land attack extended to the whole of Serbia, to increase the level of attacks, a fragile accord with Serbia would leave open the prospect of a partition of Kosovo, and leave military and social tensions high in a situation of encroaching war. The latter would indicate that the United States intends to hinder the process of European unification, postponing the war whilst preparing the second front.
In the Balkan region, "reconstruction" and the revival of "civil"
production will not be possible until after the 3rd World War.
Work and Knowledge
The "core" of Das Kapital, and of historical materialism in general, lies in the analysis and overall consideration of Value/labour. What would it have served to proclaim Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – the battle cry of liberalism – without having understood the function and condition of workers’ labour? Absolutely nothing!
But why have so many bourgeois theoreticians conceded to Marx the merit of having provided the social sciences with a precious analytical method, but rejected the natural consequences of this method? It is simple: because they cannot accept that Marx went beyond restricting himself to the study, and became instead a prophet of the proletarian revolution. These gentlemen forget, incidentally, that the literal meaning of the word "prophet" signifies not somebody "who makes predictions" or worse, "horoscopes", but "one who keeps his feet on the edge of the abyss", and proclaims the truth!
According to them Marx, in his scientific work par excellence, Das Kapital, strayed off into polemical broadsides not appropriate in a scientific work: this is because "science" to them means just abstract study, with no practical consequences.
On the other hand, Dialectical materialism’s view is that there have never been any painless and purely cognitive theories: even knowledge about sexual reproduction can only be practical and carnal, under pain of the impossibility of being productive without it, determining a permanent cognitive outcome for individuals and the human species. But "Platonism", understood as a dualism between ideas and the material world, is very persistent, even though in fact such a view was never really supported by Plato himself.
What we want to emphasise then is that the essence of real wealth
is proletarian labour which, as capital, creates a dualistic social system:
a system which nevertheless postulates its own surpassing and transformation
into communist society.