International Communist Party Back to C.L. index - No. 14 - No. 17
"COMMUNIST LEFT" No.15-16 - Spring-summer 2002
– The Capitalist regime uses Terrorism and anti-terrorism to force the Proletariat into the Third Imperialist War.
– A “Peace Process” for Capitalism in Ireland.
ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS    - [ 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - ]  (Part 4)   The beginning of the 19th century:  Economy and subordinated classes - Political Unrest - The Radical Movement - First Unions of Industrial Workers - Utopian Reformism - Trade Union Legality.
BIODIVERSITY AND CAPITALISM   [ 1 - 2 ]: (Part 2) The rain forests.
THE ITALIAN LEFT AND THE INTERNATIONAL  (Part 7)    - [ 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 ] The Communist Party and Parliamentarism.
UK: A further integration of the Unions into the State
– Chaos and Disruption in the British Postal System.
Manchette (What Distinguishes Our Party).
Reunion Report - Genoa, 26-27 May 2001.

 
 
 
 



The Capitalist regime uses Terrorism and anti‑terrorism
to force the Proletariat into the Third Imperialist War

Following the terrifying massacres in the United States, the regime’s spokesmen, both Right and Left, are loudly proclaiming that the war which is about to happen, or rather the war which has already begun, is between the North and South, between us - the rich, and them - the poor. A war to protect our civilization, Capital’s civilization.

The incurable conflicts shaking capitalism are not really between States but are to be found inside capitalism, they are between the Rich, they are crises of over-production, of too much wealth produced and dumped on the market. It is not a simple battle between who has too much and who has too little. The present conflict is not a national or cultural battle, it is a class war, between the most modern classes in the most modern countries: a war between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The world is not divided into rich and poor countries, but between an international propertied bourgeois class and an international dispossessed working class, who are going to have to fight an all-out war, in the North as well as in the South.

The often terrible sufferings which subjected peoples like the Palestinians, Algerians, Chechens, Kurds and hundreds of others have to endure is almost invariably the consequence of a clash between their imperial protectors; they are wars by proxy. Palestinian and Jewish proletarians are forced to cut each other to pieces in a game which encompasses far more than a few kilometers of stony desert (seen by many of them as a prison, a place which holds them hostage, since many would willingly get out if only they could), a game which drives them into poverty, terror, division and hatred. The Palestinian and Jewish bourgeoisies may be accomplices in all this but the strings are pulled from Wall Street, London, Paris, Rome, Riyadh, etc.

The deep economic crisis – according to statistics the worst since 1960 – which now even has the leading capitalist country America in its grip with ensuing stock market crashes, is increasingly pushing the various states into a confrontation. The tension between the colossal, contemptible egos of the rich classes is growing inexorably and a power struggle is being fought out between Europe, Japan and the United States; between the various components of the cowardly European bourgeoisie about to adopt a single currency; and between the Europeans, Japanese, Americans and the great imperialisms which are emerging in Asia.

Faced with this crisis and this inter-imperialist conflict, for too long constrained within the limits of commercial disputes, capitalism must at a given moment seek a military resolution. The general war will be between the imperialist powers, between the biggest imperialist powers, just as happened during the First and Second World Wars. It is War which lurks behind the diplomatic hypocrisies, military alliances and declarations of solidarity. Militarism is the true face of capitalism, and particularly of the capitalist democracies.

Whoever hijacked the Boeings it was certainly the right moment in terms of propping up Capitalism, just as the choice of targets – a military building and buildings full of workers – will make it much easier to weld together the opposed classes of American society. Bearded priests are playing their part in tricking the disinherited masses of the poor countries by channeling their class rebellion into nationalism and religious fanaticism.

But the working class in the North of the World has nothing to gain from supporting this war either. Rather than safeguarding its miserable, non-existent privileges as citizens of the rich West, all it can really expect from the war is death and increasing poverty; as they should already know from the experience of two terrible world wars and two no less terrible post-war periods.

In Italy too everybody has leaped to attention at the order from above, everybody, parties, journalists and corrupt trade unions. "War has been declared" they say "we must respond. Against whom? You’ll be told later, but one thing is for certain, soon it will be you proletarians who will have to fight it"! In Great Britain the New Labour government immediately backed the American war effort both diplomatically and militarily whilst at the same time unleashing a few of its ’Left-wing’ backbenchers to provide an official anti-war opposition.

To the bourgeois war – which is first and foremost a war against the workers struggle and a reaction against communism – the proletariat opposes the principle of international working-class solidarity. Workers have to oppose this war but neither cursing it nor relying on pressure of public opinion is enough; what is needed is to oppose bourgeois power with the power of a mobilized working class.

But without their party the workers are but putty in the hands of the bourgeois sorcerers and opportunists who hypnotize them with their imbecile, warmongering rhetoric, encouraging a racist, religious and chauvinist perspective. To prevent the war what is needed is a defensive class organization which is large, well-trained and combative. And a communist party is needed to lead it as well, because only in a revolutionary war between classes for the overthrow of the infamous capitalist regime, which feeds off the exploitation of wage labour, will the proletariat be able to prevent the further survival of its ancient enemy.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



A "Peace Process" for Capitalism in Ireland

The "peace process" in Ireland has now been underway for three years. It moves forward slowly like an old car which periodically grinds to a halt, then starts up again accompanied by much backfiring; the road it travels is constantly undermined by threats from Westminster that it will refuse to grant powers to the Stormont Government, and threats from the IRA that it will refuse to dismantle their huge arms dumps. Every so often sectarian violence is reignited; in fact the worst massacre in all the 30 years of civil war occurred soon after the start of the formal peace process. Behind the homegrown nationalists and unionists, we find the representatives of British and American imperialism waiting in the wings. The United States is home to 40 million people of Irish origin, and the way they vote, generally ably manipulated and organised at both the local and nation level, is a key feature of the electoral circus. For decades large cities such as Boston and Chicago have been under the control of the Kennedys and Daleys, major vote collectors for presidential candidates too, while the republicans, the various Reagans and Nixons, hoping to cull some of the traditionally democrat Irish vote, never fail to reveal their Irish origins at opportune moments. The Irish vote is ably manipulated in the U.K. as well (the Irish traditionally vote Labour), with issues pertaining to Northern Ireland: the cost of maintaining a large number of troops in Northern Ireland, and the payment of subsidies to what is the poorest province of the Kingdom, figuring high on the election agenda.

Not even Robinson Crusoe invests the word ’Friday’ with such significance as Good Friday 1998: for this was the day the British lion and the American bald-headed eagle sat down at the table with two moderate politicians; Trimble for the unionists and Hume for the nationalists. Indeed this meeting was perceived to be of such importance that Hume and Trimble would become the happy recipients of that much sought-after award, the Nobel Peace Prize; thereby joining the exclusive ranks of such noted pacifists as Begin and Kissinger. The bigger the imperialism, the more often it wins wars, the more wars that it wins, the more often it makes peace and thus the Americans have won this award 16 times, the British 11 times and the French 3 times. And what better name to give this award than NOBEL, after the inventor of dynamite. Bourgeois cynicism is limitless.

The two medal winners represent a political change in the province. Hume, of the SDLP, ironically referred to as the Semi-Detached Labour Party due to its popularity amongst suburban middle-class catholics, was able bring Sinn Fein ’on board’ and convert it to the shibboleth of constitutional government by pointing to the increase in the catholic vote (taking into account the higher birth rate in catholic families), to the prospect of an equitable distribution of state and council jobs, and mainly to the lack of success of 30 years of violence. Trimble instead had to take account of the situation in the unionist camp. Since its birth, Unionism had always represented the local branch of the Conservative Party, until it break away from them and then split three ways. If unionist multi-class politics was crisis ridden, and its bourgeois element could no longer call the shots because it was too weak, there was no option but to come to a deal with the old adversary, British Labourism.

For many years both sides had mixed the holy water of religious bigotry with the Devil of violence to defuse any possible proletarian upsurge, but the monster of sectarian violence had been created in the created in the process and was now proving to be an impediment to capitalist development. Meanwhile, IRA and protestant paramilitary violence had never managed to entirely eradicate proletarian expressions (even if these took on a distorted form), such as the Ulster Workers Council in the 1970s, who took up a lone position against everyone else, including the unions, in a massive and total general strike which lasted a week.

Unionism and nationalism in Ireland received their baptism of fire in response to the act of Union of 1800, which erased any remaining vestiges of independence, and attained their maturity in the 1916 Easter Rising, and the civil war in the early 1920s. Much to the chagrin of many nationalist historians, it was in fact the protestant bourgeoisie who supported the French revolution, and thus issued the call for independence at the end of the 18th Century. With the revolt crushed, Britain could reign supreme. In this context it is worth mentioning the famous Spithead rebellion, and considering it in the light of the fact that most of the main protagonists of this mass mutiny in the Solent were Irishmen pressed into naval service; a mutiny which saw the red flag being raised for the first time as the banner of the proletariat. A missed encounter with history if ever there was one.

During the civil war in the 1920s, the protestant bourgeoisie however supported the union, and being stronger than the catholic and nationalist one, due to its strong links with Britain which was still the world’s leading imperialism, it was enabled to carve out its province in the north.

The weakness of the southern bourgeoisie was due to several reasons: the civil war had badly damaged the limited industrial structure, parts of which had fallen into the hands of the workers, and what did exist was mainly connected with agriculture, devoted to brewing beer, distilling whiskey, and butter and cheese making. In the North, the bourgeoisie, with its economic base in linen weaving and shipbuilding, could dominate the one, unionist, party while the southern bourgeoisie saw theirs split into two: the pro- and anti- peace agreement parties who would go on to fight each other in a further civil war.

The southern proletariat was weak too. It could make its presence felt locally running abandoned industries, it could even form militias, but, apart from a certain trade-union and military presence, it lacked any political perspective. The small Communist Party called for nationalisation of heavy industry "to the benefit of all the people", as well as nationalisation of transport and banks, "confiscation of the large ranches and estates [to be redistributed] amongst landless farmers and agricultural labourers" and the municipalization of all public services". Only the Party’s tenth point talks of "universal arming of workers in town and country". All this in a country where three centuries of British imperialism had let an unrestrained capitalism have full rein in production relations. This was a second lost opportunity, as at the time of the civil war the Communist International had not yet gone down the slippery slope, weaving from one tactic to another, to opportunism.

The joint weakness of the two classes in the south can be seen in the first census after partition. In the south 678,000 worked in agriculture, producing 33% of the GDP, and only 155,000 in industry and construction, with 18% of GDP, while in the north the respective figures are agriculture 149,000 and industry and construction 131,000. The southern economy stagnated: 1926 = 100, 1930 (maximum) = 112, 1933 (minimum) = 102 and in 1939 = 124. For the UK we have 100, 111, 107, 138 respectively for the same years.

This slow growth was due to several factors: the UK would imposed tariff barriers against Irish goods while prohibition in the U.S. almost destroyed whiskey distilling and beer brewing. As Ireland was still largely linked commercially to these two markets, its bourgeoisie was a compradour one, or as the more resolute nationalists called it, of money-changers; an operation that was relatively easy as the Irish punt was at parity with the U.K. pound until it entered the euro area a few years ago. The fact that the two currencies were so tightly linked also meant that the two economies were linked closely.

The post-war period saw continuing economic stagnation. The GDP took 25 years to double, but 20 years (1972-1992) to double again. But in just 11 years (1987-1998) the GDP doubled and now annual growth rates have been 8 - 10% for a decade. This rapid improvement was partly due to entry in the EEC in 1973 (towed along behind the U.K.) which offered subsidies amounting to 5% of the GDP, but in large part was the result of massive foreign investment, attracted by a very low corporation tax of 10% and various incentives. In terms of investment from abroad, Ireland at 20.2% of GDP is second only to Sweden at 25.1%.
 

The latest industrial census (1996) shows that 40% of the manufacturing workforce is in foreign owned plants and produces 66% of manufactures. The investment has been made in high value-added orientated production (i.e. luxury and designer goods). Ireland exports 82% of the GDP (against 49% for the Netherlands and 62% for Belgium - two other dwarf states). Furthermore, perfidious Albion supplies 34% of imports and buys 24% of exports and wicked Uncle Sam is responsible for another 11% and 15% respectively.

This increase in production made the labour force in employment grow by 43% in the 1990s against a miserable 14% in the USA, the land of promise. Another index of capitalist development is found in the population statistics. The fall in population, beginning with the famine in the 1840s, bottomed out in the 1960s, turning around in the 80s and 90s. Now there is a substantial return of emigrants to Ireland. This has meant that the balance of payments, for ever in the red, except for the two war years, 1943/1944, (the difference being made up by the remittances of emigrant workers, largely in the UK), has been in the black since 1985 and the ex parte ratio: imports now stand at 4:3. To sum up: Ireland now imports capital and exports goods rather than a supply of labour.

In Northern Ireland, the bourgeoisie, linked by the Union to the UK has progressively lost ground with the closure of old industries and even new ones, such as synthetic fibres and car production. Looking at the figures: in 1999 the pro capita GDP was $22,000 in the UK and $25,000 in Ireland, but seeing that pro capita GDP in northern Ireland is just 83% of the UK average (i.e. $18,000) the ratio S. Ireland/ N. Ireland is now 100:73. This vast difference could not fail to upset old multi-class party setups. The difference is widening too: in 2000 Ireland held the 5th highest pro capita GDP in the OECD, up from 19th in 1996, while the UK stagnated.

Irish writers have made a major contribution to modern literature. We have only to think of Joyce, Beckett, Wilde and Shaw, all of whom followed the well-beaten path to exile of their fellow countrymen. For the first time "Ireland is the sow which eats its farrow". But in the green field sites of the Emerald Isle it is not the sow which is out hunting, but the toothless lion of England, made all the more dangerous as now it can only eat humans, along with its American bald eagle ally; bald not due to old-age but cropped like a vulture so as to be evermore able to "pull the eyes from the head" and devour the liver of the promethean proletariat.

The Irish nationalists of the true Easter, the real Good Friday, of 1916, wished to see an uncrowned golden harp on a green field as the flag of the free nation. But the banner today is that of the American greenback and the UK gold sovereign.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Origins and History of the English Workers Movement
(Part 4)  [ 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - ]
 
 

THE BEGINNING OF THE 19th CENTURY








Economy and subordinated classes

Before dealing with the class struggles that broke out in 1815 following the ending of the Napoleonic wars, it is worth briefly recalling the phase of development which capitalism had reached by this time. A clear synthesis of these aspects can be found in the introduction to the English edition of "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific": "We divide the history of industrial production since the Middle Ages into three periods: (1) handicraft, small master craftsmen with a few journeymen and apprentices, where each labourer produces the complete articles; (2) manufacture, where greater numbers of workmen, grouped in one large establishment, produce the complete article on the principle division of labour, each workman performing only one partial operation, so that the product is complete only after having passed successively through the hands of all; (3) modern industry, where the product is produced by machinery driven by power, and where the work of the labourer is limited to superintending and correcting the performances of the mechanical agent."

Each one of these periods is the product of the one which came before, and they can be respectively identified in our narration with:(1) landed capital (2) mercantile capital (3) industrial capital. The stage we are concerned with here is the infancy of industrial capital, modern industrialism, when it still represented the highest development of the manufacturing period, which would eventually be eclipsed by the introduction of modern machinery. It is in the passage from one to the other that the modern proletariat was formed.

We’ll leave it to Engels to outline the essential features of this transition: "Whilst in France the hurricane of the Revolution swept over the land, in England a quieter, but not on that account less tremendous, revolution was going on. Steam and the new toolmaking machinery were transforming manufacture into modern industry, and then revolutionising the whole foundation of bourgeois society. The sluggish march of development of the manufacturing period into a veritable storm and stress period of production. With constantly increasing swiftness the splitting-up of society into large capitalists and non-possessing proletarians went on. Between these, instead of the former stable middle class, an unstable mass of artisans and small shop keepers, the most fluctuating portion of the population, now led to a precarious situation. The new mode of production was, as yet, only at the beginning of its ascent; as yet it was the normal, regular method of production - the only one possible under existing conditions. Nevertheless, even then it was producing crying social abuses - the herding together of a homeless population in the worst quarters of the large towns; the loosening of all traditional moral bonds, of patriarchal subordination, of family relations; overwork, especially of women and children, to a frightful extent; complete demoralization of the working-class, suddenly flung together into altogether new conditions, from the country into the town, from agriculture into modern industry, from stable conditions of existence into insecure ones that changed from day to day."

Engel’s description mainly concerns mainly with what was happening in the towns affected by the growth of the industrial revolution. But in 1815, most Englishmen still worked on the land or in trades connected with agriculture. The next generation would see rapid changes, and by 1830 half the population were already working in the industrial sector. Large urban populations were gathering in the north-west of England, in South Wales, and between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. During the first thirty years of the century Birmingham and Sheffield doubled in size, and so did Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, and Glasgow. London, in 1815, above the million mark would number 1,274,000 five years later. The survivors of the 30,000 British men who fought in the battle of Waterloo returned to a country that was fast changing its very appearance, and whose wealth was rapidly increasing by reason of new methods of manufacture and transport. But still the factory areas were a small part of the whole, and most English towns were picturesque country towns, set in a countryside of unspoilt beauty. The villages, to which most of them came home, were still the main focus of life for most Englishmen, and had almost completed their eighteenth-century transformation. The countryside was now drained, ditched, hedged, and enclosed to an extent that would have amazed their grandfathers. Nearly all the old open fields had been enclosed; and the common and waste lands had been enclosed nearly as much as they were ever to be. This meant that agriculture had become more efficient. Improved methods of tilling, of rotation of crops, and of stock-breeding were becoming widespread, even if they were not yet universally adopted by farmers.

More of the land was now in the hands of wealthy men, who let it to tenant-farmers, whilst many of the smallholders had become landless, agricultural labourers or else had drifted into the new towns. Cottagers had in most cases lost their old common rights and had to be satisfied with a far more meagre diet. Recourse to traditional methods of relieving hunger, such as poaching, was officially countered by sentences of seven years transportation. Famine was a spectre which hovered daily over countless hearths.

For those with land the situation was less serious. With the ending of the war, the Corn Laws were passed which established a minimum price for cereals, and put restrictions on imports, thus providing temporary respite to the declining numbers of farmers with small and medium-sized holdings, both landowners and tenants. Still, the principal beneficiaries were the big landowners who promptly raised their rents, whilst those who belonged to the poor classes of city and countryside, workers and labourers, were the ones who suffered the most.

Despite this, and contrary to what one might expect, revolts in the countryside were prevented by the measure called the ’Speenhamland system’. By this measure, which was the latest development in a system of poor relief laws dating back to the Poor Laws of Elizabeth I, the poor would be kept alive, even if only just above starvation level, with local taxes raised at the Parish level. With this system in place, the richer farmers and manufacturers were able to cut wages and have the Parish rate payer subsidise the resulting lower wages from public funds. Not many years would pass though before the English proletariat would find out that things could get a lot worse than the Speenhamland system.
 

Political Unrest

Towards the end of the war, the state of unrest amongst the workers led to an explosion of meetings and demonstrations. The trade-union struggle fused with the struggle for parliamentary reform. Hunt and Cobbett fraternised with the trade union leaders, and the organised workmen formed the bulk of their audiences or readers. The female workers formed Female Reform Associations, at whose meetings not only the thoughts and utterances of Cobbett were repeated, but also the particular demands of the world of Labour found expression. On July 5, 1818, the Female Reform Association of Blackburn held a mass meeting of working people of both sexes, in which a woman was the chief speaker. The meeting carried the following characteristic resolution: ’By means of the improvement of machinery, the means of producing most articles of agriculture and manufacture have been increased in an astonishing degree; it necessarily follows that the industrious labourer ought to have a greater quantity of produce than he had previous to those improvements; instead of which, by means of taxation and restrictive laws he is reduced to wretchedness. Borough-mongering and tyranny must be exterminated. If this is not done, thousands of our countrymen must starve in the midst of plenty. No man can have a right to enjoy another man’s labour without his consent. And we do contemplate with horror the many placemen and pensioners, whilst at the same time we live in poverty, slavery, and misery. We protest against those unjust and unnatural regulations - the Corn Laws and the Combination Acts. We demand Universal Suffrage, annual Parliaments, and the ballot’.

A week later the men of Birmingham assembled in public meeting, and, as protest against borough-mongering and the restricted franchise, "elected" Major Cartwright and Sir Charles Wolseley to Parliament.

The culminating point of these demonstrations was Peterloo (August 16, 1819). Neither repression nor betrayal had managed to put a stop to the growth of the movement. In London, Birmingham and elsewhere great assemblies were held followed by preparations for a mass demonstration in Lancashire at St Peters Field near Manchester. In all the surrounding towns and villages, careful preparations were made. On August 16, groups with bands and banners, with many women amongst them, converged on the site of the demonstration in perfect order; the discipline being far more terrifying to the authorities than any previous disorder. As the orator was getting ready to speak a division of Hussars and the Manchester yeomanry launched their attack on the crowd. It seems that whilst the soldiers were restricted to obeying the orders received from their officers, the yeomanry, more directly representative of the bourgeoisie, hurled themselves against the unarmed crowd with exceptional ferocity: soon there would be 11 dead and around 400 wounded, and thus would the scene of this tragedy at St. Peters Field become known as Peterloo, after the battle of Waterloo.

Seeking to justify the massacre, the Government would say that the assembly was a riot and probable precursor to a revolution. The leaders were condemned to long prison sentences and the government would exploit the situation to pass the so-called Six Acts, raising the level of legalized repression to the maximum.

In Scotland, however, the agitation went on at an accelerating pace. English radicals from the South and trade union leaders from Lancashire and Yorkshire won the ear of the Scottish working men and trades-people, particularly of Paisley, Glasgow, and Carlisle, and formed unions in most of the manufacturing districts. "The devil seems to have come among us unchained," wrote Sir Walter Scott at that time to one of his correspondents, "and bellowing for his prey. In Glasgow, Volunteers drill by day and the radicals by night, and nothing but positive military force keeps the people under." The workmen had formed societies, and were led by the cleverest and most impertinent fellows, "bell-wethers in every form of mischief." In March, 1820, a proclamation posted on the walls of many houses in the commercial and manufacturing centres, called upon the people to close their factories and workshops, and to desist from work until Universal Suffrage was granted. The proclamation, which the authorities considered as "highly seditious and treasonable," was signed by "The Committee for Organisation of a Provisional Government". Around 60,000 workers, many miners amongst them, stopped work. Both sides in the conflict thought that it marked the prelude to an armed insurrection, but no order to launch an insurrection was ever issued. Nevertheless, after having been tricked into taking premature action by the ever-present agent provocateur, a small detachment of strikers would launch an attack on a detachment of Hussars at Bonnymuir; the insurgents were defeated, many of them were wounded, and nineteen taken prisoner. Numerous arrests in other parts of the country soon put an end to the rising. Many were brought to trial for high treason and found guilty, and three suffered the death penalty.

The State would emerge victorious in these first battles against the workers. The proletariat still had a lot to learn about how to organize and fight, even if these early struggles were fought passionately and with admirable determination. The bourgeoisie on the other hand had learnt quickly to deploy its forces with maximum efficiency, astutely coordinating the use of police and agent provocateurs, the army, voluntary bodies (early forerunners of fascist squadrism) and anti-worker legislation.
 

The Radical Movement

With the quiet collapse of the London Corresponding Society it was a number of years before new ideologies and doctrines would concern themselves with the unfolding social changes. In 1805, Charles Hall’s book "Effects of Civilisation" was published, and although little known at the time, Spence and many Owenites seem to have been influenced by it.

Hall’s book is evidently based on personal observation of the effects of the industrial revolution in particular, and private property in general, but it also shows distinct traces of wide reading in economic and socialist literature, particularly Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, and Godwin. The author is a determined opponent of manufacture, trade, and commerce, and regards agriculture as the most useful and beneficial occupation. He elaborates the doctrine of the antagonistic interests between the capitalist and working class, a doctrine found in embryo in Adam Smith’s "Wealth of Nations", but developed to a revolutionary stage by Hall, who was the first socialist to make a statistical attempt at demonstrating the enormous injustice of profit, which he regarded as a wholly illegitimate deduction from the produce of labour and the natural reward of labour. Hall’s position in the history of socialism is an intermediary one between natural law or ethical socialism and proletarian or revolutionary socialism. It is the first interpretation of the voice of rising labour.

This book points out that developing civilisation is leading on the one hand to the flourishing of science, knowledge, trade and manufacture while on the other, the large majority of the population is poor, or sinking into poverty, and therefore excluded from enjoying its advantages. The division of society into rich and poor is the most striking mark of civilisation. Industrialisation had provoked a spiritual and material worsening of the of the life of the poor: drawing them off the land meant there was a scarcity of agricultural produce which further depressed the condition of the poor.

His criticism of economists is that they usually look at the effects of production rather than its effects on the structure and welfare of society. He condemns the so-called contract of labour as a sham, since the poor have only the choice between starvation and slavery. The interests of Capital and Labour, of the non-producers and the producers, are absolutely opposed to each other. "The situation of the rich and the poor, like the algebraic terms plus and minus, are in direct opposition to, and destructive of each other."

Hall showed with various precise calculations that 8/10ths of the population (those that work and produce) receive one-eighth of the wealth while those who don’t produce receive seven-eighths. In short, even at the beginning of the 19th century, a working man laboured seven days for the capitalist and one day for himself and his family.

Since, according to Hall, all these ills derived from an unequal distribution of the land, the solution would be nationalisation and redistribution of the land. But the real significance of his work is to be found in his criticism of the system of production. In old age, Hall would bear this out in a letter to Spence in which he admitted that his scheme was worth little since it left capital and wage labour untouched. The capitalist system was so complicated and injurious an arrangement that it could not be mended, but must be completely abolished.

Around 1812, there was a revival in the radical movement, notably with the rise of the Hampden Clubs. The first club was formed in that year in Westminster by rich reformers. While initially confined to the wealthy, increasing numbers of working people would join, abandoning sporadic revolts which had led to executions and oppressive laws in search of more legal methods. The demands for reforms were broadened out to embrace Universal Suffrage and the abolition of the Corn Laws and Combination Acts. But even if a large number of workers were taking part in this movement, it can’t really be considered an integral part of the proletarian movement as such.

Another sign of revival was the formation by Thomas Spence, a utopian socialist, of an association known later as the Spencean Philanthropists. This association, which included many former members of the L.C.S., was active in spreading their demands for a "revolution of property" which would involve restoring land to the people as the only means of relieving the distress caused by the war. With the people in possession of the land, they thought, this would lead to an increased need for industrial goods leading to an increase in production. The exploitation of the industrial workers was not however addressed by scheme, making it ultimately a utopian and unrealistic solution.

The Spenceans became very involved organising popular demonstrations for political and social reform. They were the organisers of the meetings at Spa Fields of November and December, 1816, which led to rioting and three members of the association being tried for high treason. These three were acquitted when the chief witness for the Crown was exposed as a spy during cross-examination. In March, 1817, Parliament passed an Act suppressing the Association because of its declared goal of confiscation and redistribution of land and the repudiation of the national debt. Along with this went the renewal of the Corresponding Act of 1799 prohibiting communication between political societies.

The only member of the society who remained active in politics was Arthur Thistlewood. After the Peterloo Massacre, he abandoned peaceful methods and turned to conspiratorial activities. With associates who would later be revealed as Government spies, he organised the Cato Street conspiracy to assassinate cabinet members as a prelude to insurrection. The plan would inevitably come to nothing and four of the leaders would be hung at Newgate on May 1st, 1820; a date which would later become significant in the workers’ calendar.

The end of this phase saw the transformation of utopian socialism into a movement for the reform of industrial capitalism and agitation for cooperativism; both intended as an alternative to the brutal effects of the new system of production. The main school was that led by Robert Owen, a subject we will treat it in greater depth later on.
 

First Unions of Industrial Workers

As noted earlier with regards to the trade clubs of workers engaged in manufacture composed mainly of skilled workers, that is artisans rather than workers in the modern sense of the word, the Government and employers had been unable to suppress them as they became such a necessary fact of English life at the end of the 17th century. But the new proletarians, that is the workers in industrial concerns who had nothing but their labour power (unlike the journeymen who possessed their tools), also now started to form associations to express their needs and demands. As these workers were unskilled, their associations accepted all those engaged in the process as wage-earners. Thus we see trade unions in the modern sense of the word being formed, even if they tended to lead a clandestine existence due to persecutions from the bourgeois power.

The early days of the trade-unions were particularly difficult times, and struggles often ended up in defeat. Their organizational weakness and the need for secrecy led them to drastic measures in order to protect the interests of their members. Engels, in his definitive book on the situation of the working class in England in 1844, makes the following observations:

"Secret coalitions had, it is true, previously existed but could never achieve great results. In Glasgow as Symons relates, a general strike of weavers had taken place in 1812, which was brought about by a secret association. It was repeated in 1822, and on this occasion vitriol was thrown into the faces of two working-men who had not join the association, and were therefore regarded by the members as traitors to their class. Both the assaulted lost the use of their eyes in consequence of the injury. So, too, in 1818, the association of Scottish miners was powerful enough to carry on a general strike. These associations required their members to take an oath of fidelity and secrecy, had regular lists, treasurers, book-keepers, and local branches. But the secrecy with which everything was conducted crippled their growth. When, on the other hand, the working-men received in 1824 the right to free association, these combinations were very soon spread over all England and attained great power."

Referring further on to the activity and internal organisation of such unions he takes as an example the Glasgow weavers:

"It appears from the proceedings that the Cotton-Spinners Union, which existed here from the year 1816, possessed rare organisation and power. The members were bound by an oath to adhere to the decision of the majority, and had during every turnout a secret committee which was unknown to the mass of the members, and controlled the funds of the Union absolutely. This committee fixed a price upon the heads of knobsticks and obnoxious manufacturers and upon incendiarisms in mills. A mill was thus set on fire in which female knobsticks were employed in spinning in place of men..."

The struggle over wages and conditions in this period had all the hall-marks of a fierce guerrilla war. At the same time legal protection was indispensable, and in order to protect funds for the maintenance of working people against the costs of death, disablement and old age, unions took the form of Friendly and Burial Societies. Even if a proportion of these funds were genuinely used for the declared aims, a good part also served to fund strikes and agitations. Realising this, there were frequent attempts by the ruling class to withdraw this legal cover, as they considered that those who organised to protect themselves from their greed were dangerous revolutionaries, if not just plain criminals.

In 1818, following the strike in Lancashire, the first attempt was made to transcend the boundaries of factory and category of work and unite various unions in a more comprehensive General Union of Trades. The strikes in Lancashire in the cotton industry which had taken place earlier had set as their object the "equalisation" of wages, that is bringing up the rest of the factories and enterprises to those of the best paid. Asking for wages to have the same purchasing power as they had had in 1810 seemed a realizable objective since there had been an upturn in the economy in the intervening years. The largely unorganised spinning-jenny spinners were the first to go into action but they returned to work on the basis of a compromise. The power-loom workers were next (the first action by this new section of workers), and their strike was broken by importing scabs from Burton-on-Trent, which led to the use of troops, and consequent riots and arrests. Later in the same year there was a further waves of strikes (brickmakers, joiners, dyers) who had all their demands met without incurring resistance from the employers. Meanwhile, the hand-loom weavers were busy organizing a regional conference with the aim of uniting the forces of the different categories of workers. The initiative extended to the bordering counties, and received financial support from numerous craft associations, from London included.

Enthusiasm for the success of such joint struggles would lead to the first body aimed at bringing all categories of worker together: the General Union of Trades (or the Philanthropic Hercules as it was called for official purposes). Delegates were sent to London made contact with the workers in the shipyards, then the best organized in the city, who had expressed interest in the project.

But the initiative was before its time; it would flounder along with the great union struggles it inspired whilst the employers regained control of the situation (this was the period of the Peterloo massacre of August 1819).

The idea of a general Union was nevertheless kept going by the shipyard workers in London, which no doubt also provided the basis for the Metropolitan Trades Committee of 1831. In London another "Philanthropic Hercules" was established, along the same lines as the Manchester one, in 1819. At the same time a trade unionist newspaper, ’the Gorgon’, became an expression of this tendency and so set itself apart from all the radical papers of the time. In the years which followed, the best energies of the movement became concentrated on attempts at achieving factory reform via legislation, aided by the organising ability of Robert Owen and other politicians such as the elder Peel.
 

Utopian Reformism

We’ll rejoin Engels again at this point (from "Socialism: utopianism and Scientific"). During this period "there came forward as a reformer a manufacturer twenty-nine years old - a man of almost sublime, childlike simplicity of character, and at the same time one of the few born leaders of men. Robert Owen had adopted the teaching of the materialistic philosophers: that man’s character is the product, on the one hand, of heredity, on the other, of the environment of the individual during the lifetime, and especially during his period of development. In the industrial revolution most of his class saw only chaos and confusion, and the opportunity of fishing in these troubled waters and making large fortunes quickly. He saw in it the opportunity of putting into practice his favourite theory, and so bringing order out of chaos. He had already tried it with success, as superintendent of more than five hundred men in a Manchester factory. From 1800 to 1829, he directed the great cotton mill at New Lanark, in Scotland, as managing partner, along the same lines, but with greater freedom of action and with success that made him a European reputation. A population, originally consisting of the most diverse and, for the most part, very demoralised, a population that gradually grew to 2,500, he turned into a model colony, in which drunkenness, police, magistrates, lawsuits, poor laws, charity, were unknown. And all this simply by placing the people in conditions worthy of human beings, and especially by carefully bringing up the rising generation. He was the founder of infant schools, and introduced them first at New Lanark. At the age of two the children came to school, where they enjoyed themselves so much that they could scarcely be got home again. Whilst his competitors worked their people thirteen or fourteen hours per day, in New Lanark the working-day was only ten and a half hours. When a crisis in cotton stopped work for four months, his workers received their full wages all the time. And with all this the business more than doubled in value, and to the last yielded large profits to its proprietors (...)

Owen’s Communism was based upon this purely business foundation, the outcome, so to say, of commercial calculation. Throughout, it maintained this practical character. Thus, in 1823, Owen proposed the relief of the distress in Ireland by Communist colonies, and drew up complete estimates of costs of founding them, yearly expenditure, and probable revenue. And in his definitive plan for the future, the technical working-out of details is managed with such a practical knowledge - ground plan, front and side and bird’s eye-views all included - that the Owen method of social reform once accepted, there is from the practical point of view little is to be said against the actual arrangement of details."

But when Owen, from being a much acclaimed philanthropist, went on to theorize Communist utopias, he would discover for himself how the ruling class treats those who cast doubt on the very foundations of its existence.

"Banished from official society, with a conspiracy of silence against him in the press, ruined by his unsuccessful Communist experiments in America, in which he sacrificed all his fortune, he turned directly to working in their midst for thirty years. Every social movement, every real advance in England on behalf of the workers links itself on the name of Robert Owen. He forced through in 1819, after five years fighting, the first law limiting the hours of labour of women and children in factories. He was president of the first Congress at which all the Trades Unions of England united in a single great trade association. He introduced as transition measures to the complete communistic organisation of society, on the one hand, cooperative societies for retail trade and production. These have since that time, at least, given practical proof that the merchant and the manufacturer are socially quite unnecessary. On the other hand, he introduced labour bazaars for the exchange of the products of labour through the medium of labour-notes, whose unit was a single hour of work; institutions necessarily doomed to failure, but completely anticipating Proudhon’s bank of exchange of a much later period, and differing entirely from this in that it did not claim to be the panacea for all social ills, but only a first step towards a much more radical revolution of society.

The Utopian’s mode of thought has for a long time governed the socialist ideas of the nineteenth century, and still governs some of them. Until very recently all French and English Socialists did homage to it. The earlier German Communism, including that of Weitling, was of the same school. To all these Socialism is the expression of absolute truth, reason and justice, and has only to be discovered to conquer all the world by virtue of its own power(...)

Hence, from this nothing could come but a kind of eclectic, average Socialism, which, as a matter of fact, has up to the present time dominated the minds of most of the socialist workers in France and England. Hence, a mish-mash allowing of the most manifold shades of opinion; a mish-mash of such critical statements, economic theories, pictures of future society by the founders of different sects, as excite a minimum of opposition; a mish-mash which is the more easily brewed the more the definitive sharp edges of the individual constituents are rubbed down in the stream of debate, like rounded pebbles in a brook."

Following the industrial proletariat’s initial attempts at organising and fighting, from legal organisations through to rebellion, they suffered a series of defeats suffered which induced many of the workers to pursue new methods of improving its living and working conditions. This was the period when Owen’s reformism would receive a major following.

Owenism was unable however to resolve the problems faced by the working class, and it would be unable to withstand the harrowing critique of capitalism in its vigorous, youthful phase. The cooperative movement would be undermined by Ricardian economics and the devastation it wrought on the utopian dreams of workers owning their own produce, and by the new trade cycles provoking class struggles which tore down the visions of social peace. English utopianism was largely finished off by capitalism’s expansion before it could be faced by the Marxist critique.
 

Trade Union Legality

Faced with a period of capitalist expansion and lacking the means of ending the terrible exploitation of this new mode of production, trade unionism seemed to be the only practical way forward for this period, as a means of class organisation. The craft unions gathered strength and vitality, even though bound by the need for secrecy, and convinced even the radicals that calling for the repeal of the Combination Acts was a necessary inclusion in their programme.

The 1824-25 protests would support the parliamentary action of Francis Place and the other radicals. Place and his Benthamite and economist supporters mostly held the view that the effect of this far-reaching legalization would be not to stimulate, but to discourage, Trade Union action; for as devout believers in the idea that wages were ruled by the inexorable laws of Political Economy, and that Trade Union action was powerless to effect them save within a narrowly restricted field, they held that freedom to combine would teach the workers the futility of kicking against the pricks, and induce them rather to collaborate with the employers in increasing the "wages fund" - which depended on the employers’ profits - than to wage a useless war against capitalism.

Place did not mean by this that working-class combinations would disappear; for he was a firm believer in the utility of small Trade Clubs of skilled journeymen for regulating the conditions of labour. What he did mean was that the broader more inclusive unions would disappear, and that workers would recognise the underlying community of interest between Capital and Labour.

Actually the repealing Act of 1824 was speedily followed by a great outburst of strikes. The Trade Clubs and Trade Unions, which had hitherto often disguised themselves as Friendly Societies in order to evade the ban on the law, came out into the open, with publicly issued codes of rules and public appeals for members; and almost at once there were strikes, or threats to strike, over a large part of the industrial districts.

This was in reality due not so much to the removal of the legal ban as to the economic situation. In 1824 the growth of trade was already reaching the dimensions of a great speculative boom, involving huge investment both at home and abroad, a rapid inflation of credit, and the making of great fortunes on the Stock Exchange and by industrial speculation.

As with Owen’s utopian scheme, the bourgeois reformists’ plans to conquer and make safe this new class were being shaken to pieces. It would take many decades before these ideas would begin to dominate the infamous aristocracy of labour. The 1820s was the decade in which the working class acquired the essential weapons in its struggle against the enemy, and the knowledge of who its enemy was. The second half of the decade would witness the biggest and hardest-fought strikes ever seen, and side by side with the union struggles "King Ludd" would reappear in the manufacturing centres, and "Captain Swing" would devastate the countryside by fire.

This was the working class which inspired Marx’s famous speech in April, 1856: "This antagonism between modern industry and science on the one hand, modern misery and dissolution on the other hand; this antagonism between the productive powers and the social relations of our epoch is a fact, palpable, overwhelming, and not to be contraverted. Some parties may wail over it; others may wish to be rid of modern arts, in order to get rid of modern conflicts. Or they may imagine that so signal a progress in industry wants to be completed by a signal a regress in politics. On our part, we do not mistake the shape of the shrewd spirit that continues to mark all these contradictions. We know that to work well the new-fangled forces of society, they only needed to be mastered by new-fangled men - and such are the working men. They are as much the invention of modern time as machinery itself... The English working men are the first-born sons of modern industry. They will then, certainly, not be the last in aiding the social revolution produced by that industry, a revolution, which means the emancipation of their own class all over the world, which is as universal as capital-rule and wages-slavery. I know the heroic struggles of the English working class have gone through since the middle of the last century - struggles less glorious, because they are shrouded in obscurity, and burked by the middle-class historian." (Coll. Works, Vol. 14, p. 656).

The years that followed would be marked by the working class’s attempts to provide itself with its own political leadership, the subjective factor of the class struggle, the party.
 

(Part 4)  [ 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - ]

 
 
 
 
 
 


Biodiversity and Capitalism (Part 2) [ 1 - 2 ]







The history of agriculture in the post-war period is for the most part a history of what has rather pompously come to be known as ’The Green Revolution’. The seed companies and international organizations have over the course of decades produced new genotypes of the main cultivated species; pure strains capable of producing extremely high yields, in the presence of other factors of production (fertilizers, water, pesticides).

Between 1940 and 1960 international selection centres were established in Mexico and the Philippines with the aim of increasing food production as quickly as possible. The high-yield varieties would supposedly pave the way to a revolution of increased returns in the third-world countries. But lurking behind the hypocritical humanitarian aim of eliminating hunger was the wish to eliminate the risks of political instability which hunger gives rise to. China had had to be surrendered to "the communists"; Great Britain was fighting communism in Malaysia; there was an unstable situation in the Philippines; France was about to be kicked out of Indo-China; rural uprisings were breaking out in USA backed Korea and so on. Even if the Americans were quite happy to supply troops, arms and finances they nevertheless understood that a fair bit of the discontent was the result of hunger.

The scientists in the research centres dedicated themselves to increasing agricultural productivity through the selection and distribution of high yield varieties, particularly cereals. The principal biological mechanism employed to further this aim was through the insertion of dwarfist traits, by means of which part of the biomass could be shifted to the seeds. The production of nitrogenous fertilizers was made possible by technology which had been developed during the 2nd World War to produce bombs. The new varieties were highly responsive to fertilizers and could utilise the increased fertility to boost the yield. The use of new seeds and fertilizers led to a growth in output of anywhere between 10% to 100%. In short, millions of hectares were given over to the cultivation of the new crops.

But even if the Green Revolution did cause an increase in food production, hunger still remained; in fact, thanks also to the population explosion, the planet’s inhabitants continued to suffer from this ancient evil, which is as old as class society itself, more than ever before. A series of studies by the International Labour Office showed that hunger and malnutrition increased much more rapidly precisely in those areas blessed by the Green Revolution. Soon enough it became apparent that the new seed products weren’t "neutral". They systematically grew better in the fields of the rich proprietors than in the fields of the poor peasants. For a high output to be obtained, fertilizers and irrigation were needed. These provided nutriment not just to the crops but to the arable weeds too, making herbicides necessary as well. Insects were attracted to the uniformity of these new varieties and quickly adapted to them; thus insecticides were needed as well. Those peasant farmers who couldn’t afford these products were simply swept away resulting often in profound changes of social composition over wide areas.

In fact the expression ’High-yield variety’ isn’t particularly appropriate because it implies that the new seeds produce high yields through the possession of some innate quality. Instead, the distinctive characteristic of these seeds is that they respond well to specific factors of production such as fertilizers, irrigation etc. It would be better instead to call them "High response varieties". In any case, in the absence of these additional productive factors the new seeds produce less than the indigenous varieties. In fact, in terms of overall vegetal biomass, the varieties associated with the Green Revolution may even reduce the overall crop yield. This is not insignificant when you consider that in the Third World, in economies which depend only partially on the market, all of the crop is generally used in some way or another: as well as the grain, a crop can produce animal fodder, fuel, building materials, craft materials, etc, etc.

Anyway, the Green Revolution responded to the problems of hunger and the hardships of the countryside with an increase in production, something which, among other things, could be distinguished by its capacity to enrich layers of the local and international bourgeoisie; nothing however was done to increase employment, or bring about agricultural reform. A technical solution was offered to solve a social and political problem.

The real and enduring consequence of introducing the high yield varieties has been the driving out or marginalisation of the old varieties, everywhere, even in the centres of diversity, with the consequent disappearance of much diversity, and the endangering of what remains.

Harlan tells us about a type of wheat he collected in Turkey in1948. It was small, stunted, with small seeds, sensitive to the cold and to various diseases. It was not suitable for bread-making, and no-one attached any importance to it for 15 years until the striped rust epidemic exploded: then it was seen that this wheat, which wasn’t even dignified with a name, was resistant to 4 types of striped rust, 35 types of common rust, 10 types of dwarf rust and showed good resistance to white mildew. From then on Harlan’s miserable wheat has been used in all the USA’s improvement programmes and has prevented enormous damage.

Testimonies to the importance of the old germplasm are provided by a multitude of similar stories about other species on which the lives of millions depend, such as barley, rice, millet, sorghum and potato, and the same can be said about other species such as fruits, peas, okra, sugar-beet and so on and so forth.

The new seeds are part of a process of transformation of agriculture which foresees greater technical input, greater access to the world market and a concentration on the production of genotypes which are most adapted to the world market; thus, loss of diversity and transformation of agricultural societies (with a corresponding loss of social and cultural diversity). Agriculture is becoming more and more controlled by industry, by the capitalists and their scientists, and less and less by farmers.

As regards diversity, the phenomenon by which less and less genotypes are cultivated, and ones which are obsolete and less profitable are forgotten about and therefore lost for ever, is called genetic erosion. This can also affect entire groups of species as well, as in the case of pulses: where a monoculture is widespread, proteinic supplements (pulses) are no longer produced, thereby impoverishing the diets of peoples which live directly off the land’s produce (a horrifying example from the recent past has been the cultivation of maize in certain areas of the Po valley).

The new agriculture certainly isn’t bothered about destroying natural habitats: dams, cementification, roads, extension of pastureland at the expense of natural forests, desertification, deforestation, these are all phenomena caused directly or indirectly by man, and which all share the common characteristic of causing the destruction of environments needed for the survival of precious and unrepeatable genotypes. But diversity’s worst enemy of all, because of the genetic substitution it performs, is agriculture itself. Which are the species whose diversity is most in peril? They are the ones going through programmes of genetic improvement in order to produce new varieties, and these, in general, are also the ones which are of most importance for the human race.

To get an idea of the genetic uniformity of the principal crops, we need only glance at the situation in the USA as depicted in this table:
 

Species Principal 
Varieries
% of entire 
crop
Peanut 9 95
Sugar-beet 2 42
Cotton 3 53
Beans 3 76
Wheat 9 50
Maize (corn, forage and silomaize) 6 71
Millet 3 100
Potato 4 72
Sweet potato 1 69
Pea 2 96
Rice 4 65
Soya 6 56

Making the situation worse is the fact that generally the most widely used cultivars have a very restricted genetic base, and one which is for the most part shared between them. In other words, often we are dealing with cultivars which have little to distinguish themselves from each other, which have one or more parents in common and whose only distinguishing features are largely of a technical nature (ripening time, number of ears, resistance to environmental factors, dwarfism etc). Thus the different varieties aren’t so varied after all.

The first farmers brought about a reduction in the number of species used (compared to the gatherers) but over the millennia agriculture would increase diversity within these species.

We are destroying that diversity without producing anything in exchange except capitalist wealth; a wealth which can’t solve humanity’s problems. A huge part of the diversity which has been created over millions of years of plant evolution, and thousands of years of agriculture, has been destroyed just in order to produce this miserable profit.
 

THE RAIN FORESTS

Although nobody knows for certain exactly how many species of animals and plants there are it has been estimated that there are about 13 or 14 million, of which only about 13% has been recorded scientifically.

Most of these species, probably about two thirds of them, live in the tropics and mainly in the tropical forests. In these environments a much greater variety and diversity of forms of life may be found than in the temperate zones. Panama, for instance, a tiny state in Central America, has greater variety of species by far than is found in the whole of Europe. A famous naturalist has written that on one small, extinct volcano in the Philippines, he discovered more species of trees than are to be found in the whole of the United States. How are differences on this scale possible? We have seen already that in the tropics the process of diversification has been uninterrupted for millions of years. Moreover, optimum temperatures and humidity have favoured the existence, the sustenance and the evolution of an incredible number of species. Each one occupies a precisely delineated space, and has acquired a high degree of specialization: this indicates too that the animals and plants which are living together are also interdependent on each other. The disappearance of just one species of bird could involve the disappearance of a number of species of trees and shrubs which depend on it for seed dispersal; the disappearance of one species of plant can sound the death knell for many of those species of insects, spiders and mammals which have specialised to feed on that plant; and in their turn, these creatures will never again, for example, be able to function as inadvertent transporters of pollen for other species, and so on and so forth.

Of course, species have become extinct in all preceding ages, and it is a process which will always continue: species which don’t adapt to new climatic situations disappear, others which are more flexible adapt. But in these cases the mutations take place over relatively long periods of time and many species have the chance to adapt, and to be selected by the new environment; any new spaces which open up in the system are filled with various new species. It is a very fascinating and complex subject which we can only trace here in its broadest outlines; and anyway we still only know very little about tropical diversity. But that isn’t really a problem, it just means that there’s some incredibly interesting work for the naturalists of the future to carry out. The problem is that the land occupied by forests is getting smaller and smaller, and at a frightening rate which is greater than the capacity of nature to adapt itself to the changes. It is the bulldozers, the chain-saws and the burning which is the problem.

The loss of forests is considerable and is one of those phenomena of environmental damage best known to the ’public’. Figures for the five year period 1991 -1995 show that the average rate of deforestation was 11.27 million hectares per annum; as a point of reference, Italy is around 30 million hectares, including mountains (and so over a period of five years, almost twice the area of Italy was lost). In fact, the actual rate of loss of biodiversity is considerably greater than this: The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) consider an area deforested if the tree cover is reduced to less than ten per cent. Therefore, if a forest is cleaned out of the precious timber species it contains, technically deforestation hasn’t taken place; biodiversity has nevertheless received a mortal blow. The same goes if a forest is razed to the ground and some forest plantation is set up in its place, obviously with just one or very few timber species, there will be life in that woodland certainly, but it will inevitably be a much simplified system, if only because within a few decades it will be razed to the ground again. Moreover, reforestation and the creation of protected areas affect mainly the countries of the rich North, where the diversity is far less.

The history of agriculture is a history of deforestation. Mankind has always cut down trees in order to farm, to build houses and ships, for firewood, for metalwork etc. and, let’s be clear about this, there have also been ecological disasters in the past. But it used to be a matter of an activity proportionate to the population and to the level of development which production had reached. With the arrival of colonialism, this activity was greatly accelerated. Everything which was needed in Europe began to be cultivated in the lands where the colonial powers had achieved complete domination: and in order to farm, the trees had to be removed from the land. Cuba was one immense forest in Columbus’s time, now it imports wood due to the sugar cane which has replaced the local flora. It’s more or less the same story in the case of cocoa, coffee, bananas etc. Every time large areas of forest were destroyed, large numbers of people, sometimes imported like the Africans to America, were forced to live on the plantations.

When the plantation economy fails, and this has occurred even in recent times, these people lose their one source of sustenance and return to the forest: not as hunter-gatherers, as they have long since lost all knowledge necessary for that way of life, but as permanent or itinerant peasant farmers. Typifying this situation is slash and burn agriculture, which consists in exploiting a patch of deforested land for a number of years, then passing on somewhere else when the land’s fertility has been exhausted, something which doesn’t take that long. But the peasant farmers are not really to blame. The real beneficiaries of this phenomenon that is unraveling before our eyes are firstly the logging companies, and then the cattle breeders, who in countries like Brazil produce low quality meat for hamburgers in our fast-food chains. And the various governments which have come and gone have encouraged these tendencies, euphemistically describing them as ’improvements’.

It is not necessary to dwell at length on the importance of the forests in the tropical belt. Suffice to say the tropical forests contain the major part of existing species, and include the progenitors of most of our cultivated species (India-rubber, cocoa, cassava, coffee, cashew nuts, vanilla, pineapples, pomegranates; highly prized wood; important medicinal and pharmaceutical plants). Furthermore, they have a fundamental effect with respect to oxygen production, on erosion, on the greenhouse effect. To defend them is to defend humanity from ecological disasters.

Another often neglected aspect concerns the occupants of these threatened areas; that which we might refer to as cultural diversity. In Thailand, the inhabitants of just one forest village eat 295 different types of plants, and use 119 as medicines. The World Health Organisation has calculated that 3000 species of plants are used by tribal peoples for birth control alone. But this resource is fast disappearing as well: the combined forces of physical extermination (massacres that are happening still) and cultural extermination (the so-called ’civilizing’ of the so-called ’primitives’) is wiping out these peoples, their languages, their knowledge, which we presume to consider backward and inferior, but which is instead an integral part of human biodiversity.

* * *

The world constructed by the bourgeoisie is characterized by a push towards uniformity and standardization, towards MacDonaldisation. Transportation and communications have made it very easy to move germplasm around, but far from enriching diversity this has in fact reduced it, insofar as every genotype which is highly valued has expelled or sometimes even eliminated a large number of other varieties. The high-yield wheats are like a chain of Benetton or Lacoste stores: to begin with they seem a definite improvement providing more choice, but little by little people begin to dress the same everywhere and the traditional tailors disappear. The bourgeoisie, which apparently is aware of the problem and is trying to deal with it, is in fact absolutely incapable of resolving the situation; not through lack of awareness, but because the economic forces which govern it render it impossible. It would be pointless to list all the initiatives which are supposed to protect the germplasm, but suffice to say they just serve to smooth the way for the rich North to get its hands on the genetic resources of the poor South for the same old reason, the only reason: to serve the great God profit. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, the bourgeoisie is incapable of controlling the forces it has summoned up. Only a classless society can benefit from the socio-economic conditions which will allow the open wounds of class society to heal over. Only such a society which will be able to boast real knowledge, and real science.

[ 1 - 2 ]

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



THE ITALIAN LEFT AND THE INTERNATIONAL
(Part 7)    - [ 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 ]
 
 

THE COMMUNIST PARTY AND PARLIAMENTARISM
(continued)









In an article from Il Soviet of 5.9.1920 written after the 2nd Congress of the 3rd International and entitled "The abstentionist fraction and the Moscow Congress", the Left explained yet again its one and only divergence with the Bolsheviks.

"The resolutions of the Moscow congress agree fully with what our fraction has always upheld on the necessity of creating a truly communist Party, and on the functions and constitution of this party and its relations with the 3rd international. They also fully agree with what we have always asserted regarding the Soviet question, implicitly dispensing summary justice to the resolution, opposed by us but backed by the PSI, of constituting them right-away; a resolution which was reduced after the National Council of Milan to the minimum expression of local (mono-comunale) experimental Soviets, and in its turn tacitly allowed to die a death. The single divergence is on the parliamentary question.

The thesis voted for in Moscow reasserts as premise the fundamental concept that parliamentarism is a system of bourgeois government, which cannot constitute the form of the proletarian State, which cannot be conquered from within but must be smashed along with all the other similar and local organs in order to be substituted by central and local soviets etc. This evaluation of parliamentarism responds exactly to what has always been maintained on the subject by our fraction, who have doggedly insisted on it in order that it be accepted by the majority of the party as well. At the Bologna Congress the difference between us and the winning majority on this cardinal point was that we called on all those who didn’t accept this scheme to leave the party, and that was what we were really voting for; the majority confined itself to making a verbal agreement on the matter, and voted for those who didn’t accept the programme to remain in the party. We were with Moscow in word and deed, the others... well, they didn’t practice what they preached.

The Moscow thesis correctly points out that the fundamental method of struggle against the political power of the bourgeoisie is that of mass action becoming armed struggle (just as we have always said) and subordinates parliamentary action to the aims of extra-parliamentary action, considering the parliamentary tribune as one of the bases, or a legal position which the party, which directs the actions of the masses or the armed struggle, must constitute behind the fighting proletariat. This is profoundly different and opposed to what has been done, both before and after Bologna, by the PSI, whose epicentre has only ever remained that of parliamentary action, which dominates and drives forward its political struggle. Illegal action was and remains unknown (before Bologna it was strongly repudiated and it still is by many members): and yet it is one of the cornerstones of the Moscow thesis, and constitutes no small part of that extra-parliamentary action to which parliamentary action should be linked in a subordinate capacity in order to utilize parliamentary immunity. With its aims restricted in this way, parliamentary action, in itself, is not nearly so important, and the question of the use of parliament is restricted within much narrower confines. It is true that communists have always viewed the question in this way, and nor could they do otherwise, seeing that their initial premise is that parliamentarism is a system of bourgeois government; but the PSI, the social democrats, and even many so-called maximalists don’t see it like that.

Our bitter and determined struggle within the PSI, which led us to feel we needed to form an abstentionist Fraction in order to act with greater energy and unity of purpose, was, and is, inspired by the conviction that the proletarian struggle for the conquest of power takes place outside parliament; and it is a struggle which is trying to carry party activity along towards its true destination. Obliging the party to restrict parliamentary activity within the limitations required by Moscow and to agree to discuss the parliamentary question from the standpoint from which we have always considered it, that is to say: how and up to what point can the parliamentary role be utilized in pursuit of revolutionary aims, is a great victory for us. We have never declared that the political struggle can be characterized as a matter of aptitude towards parliamentarism, nor have we supported an absolute and ingenuous negation of parliamentary participation. In the programme presented at Bologna we clearly distinguished the pre-Revolutionary period, in which parliament is used to carry out a work of criticism and propaganda, from the revolutionary period, the present one, in which the proletariat rises up to overthrow the bourgeois state; an action to which no effective contribution can be brought by way of parliament. Future experience, when on the basis of the Moscow resolutions all the member parties of the 3rd International, rendered truly communist and rid of their various encumbrances, have adopted the parliamentary tactic, will tell if our view was right or wrong.

The Moscow theses don’t rule out that leaving parliament, boycotting parliament or boycotting elections may happen; they simply say that this should happen when there is a situation which allows an immediate passage to the armed struggle.

Without going into a detailed examination of these various actions and the considerable differences between them; without considering the not easily surmountable difficulty of how to evaluate the circumstances for their implementation as expressed in the theses, we draw attention to the fact that the active boycotting of elections which we propose (intervening in them without candidates with a view to propagandizing with greater effectiveness the bourgeois nature of parliamentarism, its ineptitude compared to the proletarian dictatorship, and the necessity of overthrowing it) is definitely to be found amongst those actions recommended by the Moscow theses.

There is maybe a different evaluation of when a boycott should be used. I say "maybe" because we were certain that the majority wasn’t behind us and so were aware that our claim was premature, not in the historical sense but in the sense of its acceptance and its consequent implementation. We didn’t call for a boycott, nor do we do it now, for the laughable reason of appearing more revolutionary.

All tendencies have always started like this: they begin with just one person or a few people and grow and develop if they respond to a real need and future necessity. Just because a tendency in a given period of its development only has a small following doesn’t mean its ideas are immature. If we reasoned thus all new ideas would be immature. When at the Bologna Congress we called on the party to call itself Communist, to consecrate a radical change of direction, there were only few of us then and we knew it.

It was the same when we argued the incompatibility of having centrists and right-wingers in the party. We will see at the next Congress, following the deliberations in Moscow, what progress our tendency has made in a year. And the same for abstentionism. To have supported and to still support abstentionism has, and will, serve to exercise a powerful devaluation of the function of parliamentarism especially amongst the maximalists; supporting abstentionism inspires in the party and the masses the growing conviction that the proletarian movement’s centre of gravity is outside the bourgeois parliament and prepares it for the hour when this will have to be swept away once and for all.

That we don’t consider abstentionism as representing the central fulcrum of communist action can be gauged from the fact that we have never wanted to split the party over it nor have we wanted to ally ourselves with those anti-parliamentarists whom, merely through the fact of being such, don’t rigidly subscribe to the communist programme. In the motion voted for by the Fraction at the Florence conference we said amongst other things, that: "The fraction resolves to consecrate all its energies to the constitution in Italy of the Communist Party, as a section of the 3rd international, affirming that in this party, as at the heart of the International itself, the Fraction will uphold the incompatibility of participating in elections to bourgeois organizations etc". The clear upshot of this resolution is our fundamental proposition of the need to form a communist party, indispensable organ in the proletariat’s political struggle; a party with a positive programme of action, and not one based on negative differentiations such as abstentionism. This proposition of ours, corroborated by the Moscow resolutions, obliges us to engage in the most energetic activity now that it is finally and definitively entering into its implementation phase. We will continue to work in order to try and become a majority in the International, which, it is understood, will absolutely not detract from our observing the most rigorous, disciplined, and unconditional respect towards its resolutions, even those which don’t correspond to our most deeply held convictions. An iron discipline is the main strength of those communist parties which are truly such both in name and in deed".

  - [ 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 ]

 
 
 
 
 
 



UK: A Further Integration of the Unions into the State
 

When seeking election in 1997, Blair’s New Labour was adamant that it would not relax the Tories anti-strike legislation. We characterise the Thatcherite anti-union laws as anti-strike, in the sense that they were primarily aimed at the workers’ ability to engage in strikes, and threatened the unions with fines to make them responsible for the "actions of their members". Some fines were enforced, such as against the National graphical association over the printers’ resistance to strike-breaking, and because of the miners strike of 1984-5 (Scargill tried to spirit away funds outside the country - as if the banking system couldn’t trace them). But it was a marvellous excuse for the trade union leaders: what else could we do - we have to obey the law!

There would be no going back to "the bad old days" of uncontrolled strikes, the Labour Party insisted. Although the trade unions are funders of the Labour Party, they would not be allowed to reverse the balance which Thatcher had decisively shifted against unofficial strikes, particularly after the "winter of discontent" which had destabilised the previous Labour Government of Callaghan in 1978/9. In fact the Trade Union leaders didn’t want the Tories anti-union legislation reversing either - the last thing they want to see is outbursts of unofficial strikes, and movements outside their control.

The last Tory Government extended "employment rights" in 1996 by increasing the scope for Tribunals, to which those with complaints could go. The required minimum period of employment was reduced from two years to one, in order to make a complaint, and so reduce the likelihood of industrial action over dismissed workers. This was a boon for the union leaders, who would say to members that those dismissed might be able to get their jobs back, or compensation, if the workers concerned can win at a Tribunal; a process which can take six months or more, by which time the issues have been forgotten about. This avenue of Tribunals is to prevent the old workers remedy; industrial action, eg strikes, demonstrations and disruptions. It takes away from the workers the power to defend their own fellow workers. As always, the unions want to appear keen to help their members as individuals but not the working class as a whole.

The much heralded Labour Government’s redressing of the balance, and the returning of rights to workers, has started to come through. The much vaunted "National Minimum Wage" {NMW) has been in effect for a short time. Representations from employers’ organisations had previously ranted on about the damaging effect the NMW would have on the economy: the destruction of jobs, and pressure to raise the wages of those on higher levels. Actually the reverse has tended to happen. While the NMW was set at less that £4 per hour it became not so much the minimum, but rather the bench-mark, the norm for the lowest paid. Workers now taken on for the least skilled jobs are often paid less than they would have been a few years ago. What had been the going rate for the lower paid (about £5 per hour) is now reserved for those who supervise or are responsible for the new intakes on the NMW. It has tended to reduce the real levels of wages, and generally speaking the employers are rather happy with the new system. Now the bosses who pay the least can bask in the glow of being "responsible employers".

New Trade Union Recognition Rights

Now the Employment Relations Act (ERA) 1999, referred to as the Fairness at Work legislation, is in operation. It has been declared to be "the most significant legislative advance for working people and their trade unions for more than 20 years. It shifts the balance of legal rights at the workplace" according to a pamphlet on employment rights. It has shifted the balance in favour of the (state registered) trade unions, but not for the interests of the workers.

Of course the employers’ organisation the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) had stated concerns that this was a Trojan Horse, a way of freeing the tight restraint under which the workers are held tightly bound, and herald a return to unending waves of strikes. Their fears have proved to be unfounded. The new legal systems are in place, and the workers are far from storming the bastions of power!

About half of the ERA 1999 is taken with the procedure for unions seeking recognition. Fundamental to the procedure is the setting up of a Central Arbitration Committee (CAC): to oversee the recognition of unions. The union or unions identify the "bargaining unit" they have members in and request recognition. For the CAC to grant recognition the union must already have a "certificate of independence". To be "independent" a certification Officer must be satisfied that the trade union is independent of the employers (such as not being a "staff association"). Thus the state stands potentially as a guarantor of trade unions being sufficiently "independent" of individual employers, but not of the bourgeoisie as a whole. The state wants industrial pay bargaining to at least appear to be effective, and the union leaders not to be in the pay of individual industrialists. But should any union leader be naive enough to think he can be really effective, he will soon be put in his place.

The rest of the new law is taken up with rights to grievance procedures, ballots and strikes, training, and so on.

The Historical Trajectory of the Unions in Britain

The following is a concise account of the development and integration of the trade unions firstly into bourgeois society, and finally into the state. It has of course been a rather uneven process, so there will have been overlaps in all this.

1) The first permanent unions - the skilled unions were the first ones to survive the original continuous offensives of the employers from the beginning of the 19th century. The leaders of the skilled men were then courted by the bourgeoisie as the representatives of the "labour aristocracy". It was this group of union leaders that formed the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the 1860s, and earned the scathing remark by Karl Marx that it was "an honour not to be called an English trade union leader". The deference of these leaders for the interests of the ruling class led to the first legal protection of the unions as organisation: the Trade Union Act 1871. The previous "criminal" nature of union activities was at last removed.

2) The "new unions" - the upsurge of class struggle and union formation in the 1880s centred on the organisation of the dockers, gas workers and so on. This earned the name of new unions, in that they were more general in nature and combined the unskilled workers in determined struggle. It was this movement which gave great hopes to Engels, after such desolate decades of struggle against the bourgeoisified TUC. Within a couple of decades these troublesome new unions were incorporated into the mainstream of the TUC.

3) The Start of State Incorporation - the National Insurance Act (NIA) 1911 incorporated most of the union insurance benefits into the state system. This was done on the basis of contributions, from workers, employers, and the state, to provide a more comprehensive sickness, unemployment, and retirement benefit system. The system the unions had developed became largely redundant, except for strike pay (when it was actually paid out) and some minor benefits, and convalescent homes.

The centralising of the union affairs into the hands of its executive bodies meant that the influence of the mass of workers was removed. Union branches could not call out the workers on strike, and so became union fee collection points, and talking shops. At the same time the Trade Councils (local representative bodies of the union branches) were stripped of any rights to call strikes in their own right by the TUC. The stage was set for the wave of patriotism which swept the union leaders at the outbreak of war in 1914 - there was no one within the unions as bodies which could oppose them. They were laws unto themselves, protected in any case by the state registration system begun in 1871.

4) The start of Unofficial Movements - the start of the incorporation of union affairs into the state (the NIA 1911) saw the first upsurge of unofficial strikes in 1911, those outside of and against the unions’ control. This is the origin of the term "unofficial", which can be applied to a multitude of situations. It has also become the main feature of the working class in the UK ever since. Few workers have left the unions, there having been attempts at "break-away unions", but these were ruthlessly broken by the combined actions of the employers and the official unions. the only exception to that was the "great Northern Gaol Break" of dockers in the northern ports out of the Transport & General Workers Union (TGWU) into the Stevedores and Dockers Union, which we have dealt with elsewhere. That "switch" of unions became a cover for independent organisation of dockers for some decades, until that was destroyed by containerisation.

The patriotic cooperation of the union bosses, the term is quite appropriate as they act as if they personally own the unions anyway, led to another aspect of the unofficial movement - shop floor organisations. The shop stewards, called because they represented the wokers at the factory floor level, in each department, or shop, hence the name, had no direct connection with the union as a body. They weren’t answerable to the union branches, nor to the union officials, but originally answerable to, and replaceable by, the mass of workers. The shop stewards movement, and it could be called a movement at that time, was a result of the class struggle itself. This form of shop stewards movement was largely stamped out by the bosses, industrial and union, in the 1920s and 1930s. Since this period the (official) unions have become pillars of support of capitalism. They are so integrated that they are indistinguishable from any other part of capitalism.

5) The Shop Stewards Function - the shop stewards made their appearance during and after the second world war, in a reversed role to its appearance during the first world war. From 1940 onwards, the shop stewards were no longer a movement, but an officially sanctioned apparatus for ensuring production was kept moving. They became "trouble-shooters", called in when problems arose and workers were refusing to cooperate, or there were problems in production.

One way in which Britain fought the war 1939-45 was the use of bonus payments, the famous payments by results. Even with the disruption because of the "blitz", production levels shot up. The allies out produced the axis by bonus schemes (Britain) and conveyor belt production (USA and USSR), rather than slave labour production (Germany and Japan) and corporatism (Italy). For the operation of such bonus systems, the shop stewards were made for the job. They were there to smooth out difficulties, arrange compromises, do deals, and many would then slide over to the Management side by becoming foremen, time and motion experts, and other rabble.

After the war the bonus system was such an essential part of the wage rates, and the incentive to keep production up, that the shop stewards were the official system for smoothing out difficulties and enforcing agreements. The shop stewards role became defined and regulated by national agreements, rule books, and so on. That is why the Government commissioned Donovan Report declared them to be more of a help than a hindrance, a lubricant in the production system. And during bitter disputes they got caught between both sides - snarled at by the bosses, industrial and union, with workers hurling insults, and material objects, at them. That is what usually constitutes an unofficial strike.

The unofficial strike movements reflected the basic economic power of the workers. From time to time the shop stewards either willingly (usually as individual political militants) or unwillingly (to keep their shop stewards positions) played roles in strikes, and were a distorted representation of the economic power of the workers in struggle.

It was only a question of time before the ruling class decided that the shop floor representation system was not able to withstand the determination of workers to be involved in struggles. The change was helped by the Thatcherite union "reforms", which were used as a way of introducing changes allegedly to defend the corporate structure and finances of the unions.

6) Changed role of Shop Stewards / Union Reps - changes in the role of the shop stewards had been on the way in some sectors since the 1970s. Its purpose was to remove the link between the workers at the base and the shop stewards. The stewards would no longer be "responsible" to the workers who voted them in, but to the trade unions who they now represented. Their role would then be to confront the militancy of the workers, rather than to react to it. One of the first to signify this new role was the introduction of shop stewards on the docks as part of decasualisation. The shop stewards were responsible to the unions and not the men. They were there to prevent strikes, not placate the workers. In more and more work places union reps (representatives) replaced the old-style shop stewards. They were nominated by the workers, but bound by the discipline of the union. The previous practice of workers walking out of the workplace, holding a meeting and voting for a strike was now out - the union officials had to be notified of trouble, and issues deferred until discussions with the bosses take place, and then the workers can meet under the heaviest pressure not to strike, or take any other form of action.

It has been the combined weight of recession (high levels of unemployment and the de-industrialisation of whole areas) as well as the changed relationship of shop floor representation which has deadened unofficial actions for the moment. What will replace it is still to be seen. But what is clear is that the "eternal optimism" that the unions could still be changed from within has finally drawn to a close.

Changed Nature of Trade Union Recognition

The new statutory "right" to recognition has two fundamental features: the ’strength’ of trade union membership is no longer a factor (there just has to be a vote), and the negotiations in the bargaining unit is between union officials and bosses, without the need for any votes amongst the workers on the shop floor. With "check off" deduction of union fees by the employer, there will no longer be much need for union branches - in fact as little contact as possible with the workers will be needed. If some workers get sacked (they toddle off down to a Tribunal) others are taken on, and the union fees still get deducted - no problem! No wonder the union bosses are happy and smiling about the new union rights: notice that there is no talk of "workers rights".

The employers are largely happy about the new trade union recognition system. Strikes are unlikely to take place because the unions won’t allow meetings until they can control the situation. The Triumvirate of the state, bosses and unions are combining to ensure that there is no outbreak of that old "English disease", troublesome strikes.

For the workers the final illusions of the usefulness of the union machinery must be coming to an end. At the moment there is a constant procession of individuals looking for solutions for their problems. There isn’t the slightest pretence that their grievances will be addressed. There is at yet no alternative forms emerging.

The sectional, industrial confining of struggles by channelling issues back through the trade union apparatus, such as dealing with issues industry by industry, is no longer a valid perspective for even partially addressing problems. The breaking down of sectional interests, by workers combining as workers, not as employees, in their areas, not by concerns, will be the beginning of the rebirth of (economical) class politics. Class organisation, workers combined as workers, is the need for tomorrow, as of today, as it was needed yesterday. Divisions amongst the workers must be overcome, whether some workers leave the existing unions (if in the future they can do that) and others stay. The form that class organisation takes is not important in itself, but that it begins, consolidates, and extends is the vital issue. If some workers break away from the unions, in order to conduct struggles, then we will defend that right - but not in the sense of defending their isolation from the rest of the workers. The unifying economically of the workers, inside and outside of the existing unions, is the need for today, and for tomorrow. It is the start of the process leading to our emancipation!
 
 
 
 
 



Chaos and Disruption in the British Postal System

The U.K. postal system is now the largest "unreformed" bastion of state enterprise. The historical role of state enterprises has always been to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie as a whole. There have always been attempts at turning them into private businesses where possible, and when these collapse state-run operations are considered. This is the whole basis of the private-public sector debates.

The strategy of the Blair Government has been to create a state-sponsored "Watch-dog" (Postcomm), which puts the economic pressure on the postal service by preventing increases in the price of the mail delivery. Its role is allegedly to look after the interests of the ’consumer’. The purpose of this was to force the management of Royal Mail to further the attacks upon all the workers employed by Royal Mail. These same attacks led to increasing numbers of strikes, virtually all unofficial, as well as chaos within the postal system.

Unofficial strikes in the postal service in 2001 constituted 62,000 working days ’lost’, a significant part of the national total of working days ’lost’ by strikes during this period. With a total workforce of approximately 200,000, divided between the sorting, delivery, parcel section and post office counter staff, this is still a large state controlled enterprise, employing a really significant section of workers.

Warnings were being advanced from all sides that with the introduction of electronic forms of communication, the need for a postal system was not assured. The postal workers had better watch out otherwise machines would replace them the threat went. Competition from other country’s postal systems may mean that junk mail distribution would go to countries like the United States or Holland, where a cheaper rate is offered. To "keep" jobs means worse conditions are to be expected. Not only are they to be "competitive" as far as the sorting of ’junk mail’ is concerned, the delivery workers are also to become a leaflet distribution service as well.

There has already been a restructuring of Royal Mail (the state enterprise), which has now had a holding company named Consignia. Incredible sums of money were spent on corporate advertising (all of which the workers are paying a high price for). Big "debates" took place within the ruling class, which filtered down to the trendy left, about the future of the postal service. Should it stay in state hands, be fully privatised, or some sort of hybrid (to keep all sides happy). But no matter what the final form the future post system takes, private or public, the attacks will continue upon the conditions of the postal workers.

The reorganisation of Royal Mail

Basically there were four sections to the old Royal Mail: Post Office Counters, Royal Mail Sorting (including the overnight transport by road and rail), Royal Mail Delivery and Parcelforce. While it was still making a profit (and paying a good chunk of it to the Government) there wasn’t a problem. With the pressure to keep the postage prices down, the only way for the management of the postal system was to cheapen costs. That inevitably means taking it out on the workers. The lines of attack have been as follows:

Post Office Counters - the numbers of Post Offices, where postage stamps etc can be bought, council tax and utility bills paid in, state benefits paid out, various licences and passports renewed, have been steadily declining over the years. Suggestions about closing down the countryside post offices has led to opposition from people concerned about the Government finishing off of the only places that they have contact with the outside world.

Royal Mail Sorting - sorting offices are now being concentrated in larger units, almost county wide in organisation. The work-force at the sorting offices had always been a permanent establishment, with casuals being brought in at specific periods, such as the lead up to Christmas, or for holiday cover. Now casual workers are becoming a regular feature of the sorting offices. The work-force is increasingly becoming a three-tier one, with a smaller permanent staff, those on short-term contracts (usually three months) and casuals (often day to day).

Management tries to get around any "problems" which arise by moving the mail to be sorted to other areas. The natural and instinctive reaction of other workers is to "black", that is refuse to touch, this transferred mail. Those workers who are required to start processing this "strike-bound" mail consequently refuse leading them to be threatened, then suspended, so a strike breaks out over those workers being suspended. The reaction of the workers is unofficial, instinctive and immediate. Despite being a separate strike issue, it is in effect a spreading of the original strike. This moving around of mail to avoid a strike leads to the strike being spread.

Mail has been frequently moved around between sorting centres to utilise ’spare capacity’. It is far from unusual for local mail to be sent from South East England to Edinburgh to be sorted and returned - what should have been a few miles journey had turned into an 800 mile round trip. All this has actually led to increases in costs. The cost for wages had increased by £65 million and transport costs had grown by £17 million, which in total was almost double what had been invested in new technology.

In June the postal industry’s regulator, Postcomm, issued a consultation document advocated the opening up the mail system to other businesses that have distribution networks. The purpose of this was to scrap the postal system’s own transport system by using other distribution systems, such as those of supermarkets.

Royal Mail Delivery - the delivering of the mail has always been a labour intensive operation. Prospects for privatising, or replacing, the delivery service seemed improbable for the government, so more direct ways increasing the exploitation of the delivery workers have been devised. The traditional way was for delivery postal workers would take bags of post out with them and so organise their own time and schedules. This has now been short circuited by the arrangement of regular drop off points where postal vans deliver bags of mail to locked containers rather than delivery workers returning to the sorting office for more. This will inevitably lead to a reduction in the number of "posties" [postal delivery workers] employed.

Parcelforce - plans were well advanced to end the Parcelforce operation, which is a subsidiary of Royal Mail. The parcel delivery side has been a financial liability for years, so the plan involves hiving it off into self-employed operations in the near future. Something like 12,000 employees are likely to be involved in this process.

In order to prepare for this, financial restructuring was planned. This involves the asset base of the parcel operation being "written off", which is done by a rather neat way of converting profits into apparent losses. This happens by "writing off" assets from the balance sheet by deducting this same amount from the profits made, thereby converting tasty profits into apparent losses. For private businesses this is then transformed into losses, which are tax deductible, and all the accountants smile at the foresight and responsible attitudes of management. But for Consignia, this was to lead to a torrent of hysterical abuse from the media.

An example of unofficial strikes in the postal system

The events of the latter part of May last year are very instructive about how this process operates. On the 18th May trouble broke out at the Watford sorting office. Changes to sorting workers’ shift patterns, with some sorting staff being moved on to nights, were imposed. This provoked a walk out by the postal workers. Areas of London were immediately affected as a direct result of the stoppage.

Mail, which had not been sorted, was sent to the main sorting office in Liverpool, which deals with the sorting and delivery for a part of South Lancashire. Management hoped by this move to introduce the letters, etc, into the postal system and short circuit the Watford ’problem’. This provoked an immediate unofficial strike, with the sorting workers going on strike, before it could be put into the hands of the Communication Workers Union (CWU). Unsorted mail, whether originally from Watford or now from Liverpool, was then moved on to Chester (serving Cheshire and North Wales) and Preston (dealing with areas of Northern Lancashire). This provoked strikes in these two areas over this ’blacked’ mail. The robust actions of Management further spread the dispute.

In the meantime the original dispute at Watford had been settled and the sorting workers returned to work. Shortly afterwards they heard that first Liverpool and then Chester and Preston had walked out in support of their original strike. This led to the Watford workers walking out in solidarity to their Northern fellow workers - this is clearly an example of solidarity in support of solidarity!

The importance of this strike (by now a strike wave, threatening to become national in scope) was that it was escalating during the run up to the General Election. The media began to scream that democracy itself was in danger! The free delivery of electoral statements, as well as postal votes, were likely to disrupted by the postal strike. The General election had already been deferred because of the foot and mouth outbreaks in the countryside, and could not be deferred again. Still the postal workers were not inclined to cave in to the demands of the state and its defenders. The strikes were finally quietly settled, after all the shouting and hysterics.

The Consequences of "reorganising" the Postal Service

Postwatch (an unofficial consumer’s watchdog) has recently stated that approximately one million items of mail disappear within the postal system every week. Whether these include all the items returned to the sender with labels on, stating "addressee gone away", etc., for no apparent reason, is not known. It is one form of resistance to management’s reign of terror that mail gets "lost", dumped, damaged in machinery, or just returned. Later more direct expressions of class struggle are bound to arise.

By the Autumn the pressure was on the postal system to deal with its problems, or the state monopoly for the delivery system could end. In October a moratorium on industrial actions was signed between Consignia and the UCW.

November turned out to be a particularly stormy month for Consignia. It was announced that the second delivery of the day was may be scrapped, with customers who expected an early delivery should either pay extra for the privilege, or pick up the mail themselves. The CWU was quick in declaring that it would welcome any discussions about improving services, providing that their concern about jobs were recognised. Then there were reports about a threatened strike by postal workers in Hampshire because workers there were not inclined to tuck in their shirts, even though their contracts of employment state that they should be "tucked in" to the trousers. Whether this distain for tucking in shirts is a recognised fashion statement, or a sign of discontent, in not clear. The CWU was quick off the mark in calling for the wording of the contract of employment to be changed so that it reads shirts "may be" tucked in instead of "should". It is clearly apparent that the CWU is more determined in defending untucked shirts, rather than the postal workers from being bullied and harassed by management.

On 26th November an editorial in The Times croaked out the opinion that this was the time to privatise the Post Office. Only this "freedom" from state control would enable the management of Consignia to implement the necessary changes. After being for many years profitable, The Times stated that in the previous year an operating loss of £3 million had been incurred. In fact the previous financial year (2000) there had been an operating profit of £385 million, the year before that (1999) the operating profit had been £608 million. Forty per cent of the profit surplus, reduced from the previous eighty per cent, went to the national Treasury. The timing of this comment was unfortunate - because later that day the latest financial returns were published, which showed a new total loss £281 million in the previous six months (which included the "writing off" of Parcelforce assets, along with the closure of nearly 550 Post Offices). The announcement of these large losses started off a media campaign against Consignia management.

Immediate measures would need to be taken said Consignia to remedy this large "loss" - the second daily delivery would have to go, along with 20,000 employees, ten per cent of the total work-force. The media turned on Consignia’s management with an unusual ferocity. The expected cancellation of the second delivery was itself cancelled, while the projected redundancies were themselves withdrawn, and instead to be discussed with the CWU. The media’s perception of Consignia’s management now changed, from being the "saviours" of the postal service, they were now cast as overpaid nonentities. Perhaps the dismissals should start at the very top was the unanimous opinion of the press.

Calls for privatisation have since then been rather muted. The plans for the expected reduction of tens of thousands of postal workers’ jobs are still to be put into effect.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


WHAT DISTINGUISHES OUR PARTY

What distinguishes our party: the line running from Marx to Lenin to the foundation of the III International and the birth of the Communist Party of Italy at Leghorn (Livorno) 1921, and from there to the struggle of the Italian Communist Left against the degeneration in Moscow and to the rejection of popular fronts and coalitions of resistance groups; the tough work of restoring the revolutionary doctrine and the party organ, in contact with the working class, outside the realm of personalized politics and electoralist manoevrings.

Ever since our party, the International Communist Party, was formed in 1952, the "What Distinguishes Our Party" has been prominently displayed in all of its publications, newspapers, reviews, and texts. This short manchette (2), included in our press for fifty years, continues to be useful in defining "Who we are, and what we want". Indeed anyone who has happened to have one of our publications pass through their hands, even if just the once, would have been made aware of our invariant programme just by reading this brief resumé.

An attentive, or indeed malicious reader, (and we have plenty of both) might wonder why the manchette has suddenly changed after so many years of stubborn "petrification" and think perhaps there’s something behind it all.

The International Communist Party back in 1952 was an organization largely confined behind the Italian frontiers and the manchette, excellent summary though it was, was formulated for Italian readers. When party sections started forming in other countries, slight variations arose in how it was translated into other languages - French, English, German, Spanish - even though substantially the same concepts were preserved. These variations aimed to highlight revolutionary, and counter-revolutionary, developments that were of particular relevance to the local reader, and also consisted of attempts at improving the way the manchette was formulated.

Today, our political organization is still weak in numerical terms, but it has nevertheless spread to other countries, and is known about even where it doesn’t have any members. This is what has prompted the current changes: our revolutionary programme is unique, rising above the various local idioms, our banner is unique, and the watchword by which we mark ourselves out is unique.

* * *

Marx represents the doctrine of revolutionary communism as a whole and Lenin is its accredited restorer, especially so after the social-democratic betrayal of 1914/1918.

The III International was constituted with the aim of restoring the revolutionary doctrine and translating it into practice.

The birth of the Partito Comunista d’Italia is an indispensable reference point in defining who we are. The party today is more directly and inextricably linked with Livorno, 1921, than it is with the Russian revolution and the International. In short: we derive from the Italian "Sinistra Comunista" (Communist Left).

For similar reasons we need to distinguish the extremely consistent struggle conducted by the Italian Communist Left against the degeneration in Moscow, from the generic anti-Stalinist opposition towards it.

The Italian and French versions have borrowed from the others a condemnation of Popular Fronts; formerly not included because the tactical policies of the Popular Fronts were, after all, already condemned insofar as they were social-democratic rather than revolutionary. Nevertheless, above all in view of the Spanish experience - where not just Stalinists and socialists but also so-called revolutionaries (Trotskyists, anarchists etc) joined the Popular Front - we thought it appropriate to reconfirm our opposition to, and condemnation of, that dual strategy method which professes to reconcile revolutionary and class goals with frontist, democratic, and populist demands and agitations. Finally, it was precisely the Spanish Popular Front that helped the partisan coalitions take their first faltering steps, and provided them with prior theoretical justification.

Apart from that, the original manchette has been translated literally from the Italian into the other languages.

In conclusion, our watchwords have only been changed very slightly with a view to making them more homogeneous in the various tongues, and in order to all the better proclaim that which we have always, and will continue, to proclaim.
 


(2) Manchette is a French printers’ term (meaning literally cuff) and we use it to refer to the left-hand block of the masthead. The masthead of the publication is the place where the name of the publication, and other details go, on the top of the front page of newspapers etc.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


General Party Meeting at Genoa
26-27 May 2001

We held our regular party reunion in Genoa during 26 and 27 May attended by an ample representation of our sections.

As always the Saturday morning session was dedicated to a unitary outline of the work that tied in different contributions of the work of the party, in a continual process of recapitulation of the programmatic work. This involves both maintenance of and training in the use of these doctrinal weapons, along with their verification in their interpretation of current events.

This of necessity takes place in a fraternal party environment that embraces the entire capabilities of each in a continuous process that is above individuals and generations of militants.

Here we give a first concise version of these reports, which develops in different directions from our bastion of the original Marxist science.

The complete text of these reports will be published in the next issue of Comunismo.
 

The Complex Dialectic between Party and Class

The first report presented an extended examination of how Marxism approaches the dialectical relationship between party and class, with extensive references to theses and writings of the Left spanning the period from the 1920s right through to the theses of 1965.

The distinction between party and class movement goes back to the beginnings of the communist Marxist movement. The party is the consciousness of the class, it understands for it as well as foreseeing the future. In the party, which spans generations, a wealth of doctrine has accumulated, which it would be impossible to find in individual members of the class.

The class movement instead is determined by material, economic necessity, by being constantly forced to defend itself. This uneliminatable anti-bosses movement arises from the sufferings of individual workers, and of the class as a whole, hence their organising into trade unions.

The function of the party is that of opposing the influence of the parties of the enemy class, on individual members of the class and on its organizations. This intervention of the party is not confined to an educational role regarding the masses, as we are aware that the party will stay a minority of the class up to and including the fight for, and winning, the revolution.

The party develops its difficult doctrinal propaganda towards individual workers with the goal of recruitment of militants, but it understands that the class as a whole will be forced to go on to the ground of the revolution, not for having itself knowing why, but for the pressing necessities of its immediate struggles.

The revolution will take place, from the point of view of the workers, not out of belief of necessity for the final goal, but as a coherent continuation of the defensive actions, with the methods indicated by the communists.

The reporter then introduced a chart that represents this process, known as the reversal of the praxis.

On the vertical towards the top there is the action of material determinations that move in the sequence, both for individuals and the class: physiological needs - immediate interests - will - action - consciousness.

On the horizontal from the right to the left is the intervention, first on individuals then in due course on the class, of the influence of conservation, which is realized on all planes, of consciousness, of will and of active forces.

Also for the counter-revolutionary parties come first action, then will, finally science.

On the oblique plane lies the mechanics of the historical formation of the party, the synthesis of centuries-old as well as of present-day interests, of struggles, and of class will.

Finally, on the horizontal from left to right, the intervention of the revolutionary party, turned to the class and its individual members, that equally develops on the three planes of the propaganda of the doctrine, of the tactical choices, and of the direction of the action.

For the party only praxis is reverted, as activity and will derive from the doctrine.
 

Genetic Manipulation

The second report examined the conflict over the techniques of the manipulation of the living, object of big expectations on the part of the bourgeoisie, with an expectation of profits in mind, naturally, and not really for the benefit of humanity.

Apart from the impressive publicity campaign they all involve themselves in, from the media to politicians, from governmental institutions to researchers, all of them on the payroll of the big pharmaceutical, chemicals and seed-production multinationals, the report confirmed that the hypocritical enthusiasm for the anticipated miracles of science has been aroused from none other than the expectation of lucrative business.

The advantages for humans, if there are any, are incidental while modern biotechnology involves, beyond some already ascertained damages, notable risks for the six billion beings of our kind. But for the gentlemen of profit we are only a market place in which to get rich.

The report described the principal of these innovative techniques, and their effects on the environment, on health, and on agriculture.

The result is that the manufacturing firms don’t have any scruples of any kind (and none is expected) when they launch and market any new products, without being in the least interested in any negative consequences.

This is made possible through obliging, toothless legislation, as well as barely legal activities, through which they seek to impose their commodities.

By now there are many examples of the cynical deeds of the multinationals.

An organic society, which is communist, would recommend a moratorium of many decades in the use of almost all these new techniques, waiting instead for reliable results and information for such experimentation.

But for the bourgeoisie this is a struggle that it conducts against all mankind, in its desperate attempt at survival by maintaining acceptable profit levels.

Which, despite one infamy after another, cannot but fatally decline, thus announcing the death of this system of production.

In the sacred name of profit, at any cost, overcoming all obstacles that present themselves,

The left-wing intelligentsia, well aware of these dangers, as a rule keeps silent, happy with the handouts they get in various ways from the bourgeoisie.

Those who do speak denounce dangers, but as the sole remedy they ask for the slowing down of its pace, as if the economically anarchical bourgeois were able to control themselves in front of perspectives of rich profits. Or they suggest Arcadian alternatives, visionary and cowardly, easily crushed by even superficial criticisms.

The report ended recalling that the revolutionary proletariat, and therefore its party, is not against science and progress; we have at the centre of our programme the attainment of a harmonious relationship among men, and between men and nature.

For this purpose we won’t hesitate to build and to destroy. We will know how to, according to human needs, "progress" (and "regress") technology. We will know how to protect or alter nature, insofar as it will be necessary or wise to do so.

The modern myth of "development" will have no purpose, as this only means exponential accumulation of profit; the very word of "profit" will not be needed in a society which will base its options on the results they will have, not on business dividends, but on the life of the people who will live in the centuries and millennia to come.
 

Characteristics of the Proletarian State

A third report by a young comrade illustrated by a robust outline a study of the formulation of the characteristics of the future proletarian State, which won’t be a national state.

The report began with the birth, evolution and fall of the political superstructure of the precapitalist systems, and then passed to the French revolution and on to the birth of the modern national State, which is bourgeois.

In the revolts of the 1848 the proletariat, once constituted as a separate class against Capital, and constituted into a party and which tried to accomplish the crushing of bourgeois order, but without a precise plan and a theoretical outlook.

The Paris Commune of the 1871 was the first example of a proletarian state in its embryonic form, but only with the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 was the first vast proletarian state constituted.

The future socialist revolution will use the instrument of the proletarian State, with its definite characteristics and for its purposes, which will result in its of withering away as a political organism, that is when communist society is established.
 

Union Activity

For the last session on Saturday an account of the union activity of the party was given, particularly among the train drivers organized in the CoMU and the public sector workers in the RdB.

About the first, whose congress at Rimini had just ended, the character of a craft union was confirmed.

Although subjected to heavy pressure by the quite unfavourable external environment, this union keeps its autonomy from both the bosses and the State, and does not betray the resoluteness of its members (the base) to fight.

Among the public sector workers the force is instead notably small, and "rank and file" unions lack such a "base"; they at times have difficulty in merely giving themselves an out and out union type perspective.

In the absence of a push from the workers (the base) to which to respond, the leadership, of all kinds of political affiliations from Rifondazione to Autonomia, however not proletarian, only succeed in not just averting struggles, but even to prevent combines at the base being created and sustained.

An indicative example of this attitude is the calling, absurd due to the present force relationships, of a "general strike" on July 20, for the adhesion to the interclassist demonstration of the Genoa Global Forum. The particular attitudes of this mob are therefore imposed on the workers movement. To characterize it politically, they say, is to impose an ideological "left wing" conditioning to the newborn unions, transforming them into mere appendages of the parties which control them.

It is not by chance that the workers were invited to strike and are sent to demonstrate in Genoa without any of its own platform of demands, but with the sole watchword of an incomprehensible, but certainly reactionary, "anti-globalisation".
 

"New Economy" and class Perspectives

We started the Sunday morning session with a report on the present-day myths of the "new economy".

If anxiety is the feeling, which overwhelms the middle class (which has been described as "the anxious class"), then patience can characterize the proletariat, the last class in history, which has the task of putting an end to class society.

The so-called new economy tries to reinvent itself, but it can’t ever demolish the law of the tendency of declining rate of profit; the middle class therefore gets excited and run amok in all directions, proposing various alliances, as always, oscillating obscenely between populism and liberalism.

We prophesied a long time ago that the economic carnage of the middle classes will open the road for the seizure of the power on the part of the proletariat. But this is on the condition that the workers won’t believe that they will only have to watch, or go along with these middle classes; above all they can’t avoid forming economic organisms for the defense of wages, as an elementary condition for reuniting with its historic and formal Party.

They all like to rely on the great possibilities of the economy based on information technology, communications and other virtual "means"; but when it comes to big figures they must admit that it is not sufficient to subdue the spectre of "communism", even after they have talked big about wiping it out of history.

Certainly, fake socialism, which opportunists have presented as "real", has now collapsed, as also has the "Russia myth" collapsed, an event we foresaw as far back as 70 years ago.

Capital can’t do without the labour of workers, even when, statistically speaking, it appears that office workers are displacing shop floor workers.

This is the situation in the metropolitan countries, extensively deceived by crumbs and by "superfluous" commodities; but meanwhile for the proletarians, on the world scale, the situation is increasingly bad.

They speak (and it sounds like a threat) of two billion outcasts, condemned to poverty, by the unfair conditions of globalization development.

Not a word, of course, about the imperialism of the East and of the West, according to Lenin’s teachings, which is for them an obsolete concept, that they would like to erase forever.

But we, being patient, develop our work.
 

The Proletariat in Germany under the Nazis

The last report recalled how the Marxist party always considered the central European area, and especially Germany and its proletariat, as the strategic hinge of the revolutionary struggle for world power, and its commitment for the defense of the integrity of this section of the world working class.

After having been betrayed by its leaders, both social-democratic and stalinist, massacred first by the hitlerites, then by allied "liberators", the German proletarians have since then suffered the constantly repeated accusation of complicity with its Nazi executioners.

The work aims at corroborating three theorems of the party’s theoretical analysis, already expressed before and during the Second World War, and fully confirmed from the following historic development:

1. The imperialisms that defeated Nazism have eventually realized their plans on a world scale;

2. Such plans could only have been realized thanks to the physical extermination of the German and Russian working classes in the course of the war, a plan of real "final solution" towards the communist Revolution, which in those two countries had dared to "assault the Heavens";

3. The German working class was the first victim of Nazi violence, a work of antiproletarian repression that continued with the military occupation, both from the west and from the east.

The speaker then made reference to, and read excerpts from, party texts on the German question from 1918 to 1993.