Against the European Union referendum !
The working class can only defend its conditions with class organisation and class struggle !
For months the working class in the UK has been subjected to an ideological onslaught on the future of “their” country. In an effort to keep his own party’s MPs and supporters in line, Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate membership in a reformed European Union and put the issue to the electorate. He got very little in the way of concessions from the EU, but decided to proceed with the referendum.
The slogging match that ensued has revealed deep divisions within the ruling class, making a mockery of the claim that the British economy has been out-performing the other 27 countries in the EU. Those in favour of leaving (Brexiters) claim that migrants moving from other EU countries into the UK are taking advantage of the country’s “generous” benefits system, while those in favour of remaining have agreed that benefit cuts are required “to solve the problem”. In general, there appears to be a consensus that “uncontrolled immigration” is putting strain on jobs, housing and services.
In reality the run-down of services goes back four decades to the economic crisis of the late seventies and the response of the then Labour government. Thatcherite free marketers carried on the project, using mass unemployment to discipline the working class and make people grateful for any work that was on offer, however bad the conditions. Large swathes of industrial production were moved abroad and the mini-booms of the Major and Blair era were largely based on non-productive sectors such as financial services, together with credit expansion and rising house prices. Public and private debt mounted and job creation focused on “flexible” labour, i.e. low wages, rotten conditions and no trade union protection. The latest manifestation of this has been “zero-hour contracts”.
The crisis of capitalism is world-wide
The economic crisis is not, as the Leave campaign would have us believe, the result of “Brussels bureaucrats” or “over-regulation” or even the weakness of the Euro. No, it is inseparable from the ongoing global crisis of capitalism. Every country in the world is affected, even those that have until recently enjoyed rapid growth, such as the so-called BRIC countries. Brazil is now a financial basket-case, Russia will suffer negative growth this year, and while official growth rates in India and China appear high, investment is falling rapidly – a clear sign that capitalists in those countries expect lower profits. The Brexiters’ claim that Britain would have great opportunities to trade with the rest of the world, if only it threw off the shackles of the EU, is therefore complete baloney.
It is no exaggeration to say that the referendum has been turned from one about the European Union into one pitting British people against foreign immigrants. This has stirred emotions to the point that a Labour MP was murdered by a fascist who shouted “Britain first” before shooting and stabbing her.
Brexiters likewise claim that British capitalism’s problems can be resolved by cutting the number of workers arriving from abroad and putting “Britain first”. They say that EU immigrants (though in fact most immigrants come from outside the EU) are driving down wages, driving up unemployment and putting pressure on healthcare and education. However, the Remainers will not rebut this with the simple truth, which is that all capitalists of all countries always aim to drive wages down to the minimum by whatever means. Because that is the very nature of capitalism: to extract the maximum profit from waged labour and under-cut the competition to win market share. This will not change whether Britain is in or out of the EU. Instead, the Remainers piously claim that immigration is a “price worth paying” for being in the single market.
The only way workers can defend themselves is by uniting their struggles as a class. We have seen some powerful examples of this in other EU countries. In France there has been resolute resistance to attacks on workers living conditions in recent weeks. And our Party has reported on the determined struggles by workers in the Italian logistics sector against both the bosses and the state-enrolled trade unions. The essential lesson is that if you don’t fight against the bosses’ attacks as a class everybody suffers: capitalists do not care whether you are British, Polish, Irish or Romanian: all they see in you is an opportunity to make profit, to be tossed aside when profits fall.
The fragmentation of the working class can only be overcome by class-wide forms of organisation, uniting workers on the shop-floor, in offices and services, and not allowing their struggles to be diverted by the Labour Party / Trade Union officials. The working class can only protect its interests by means of its own class organisation and its own struggles – by opposing the attacks wherever they originate.
A lot of the argument in the referendum has revolved around the bourgeois idea of “popular sovereignty” or “the sovereignty of parliament”. The main argument of the Brexiters is “we need to take back control”. The main argument of the Remainers is “we have greater control by being at the EU negotiating table”. But the reality is that there is no “we” – the idea of popular sovereignty is a fiction to masquerade the reality, that there are only opposing class interests. Which is why, whatever the outcome of the referendum, this so-called “exercise in popular sovereignty”, little will change and attacks on the working class will continue as capitalism’s debt crisis worsens.
The workers have no country of their own – they cannot lose what they have never had. Every capitalist State represents the interests of the ruling class against the working class. Workers can only exercise “sovereignty” as an international class, through the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Tottering Framework of Global Capitalism
In 1960 the United Kingdom was involved in the development of a “free trade” alternative to the “centralising” Common Market, which led to the formation of the European Free Trade Association [EFTA]. EFTA was originally composed of seven countries: Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, to be followed later by Finland in 1961, Iceland in 1970 and Liechtenstein in 1991.
The attempts by the UK to enter the European Economic Community in 1961 and 1967 were vetoed by France, under the Presidency of De Gaulle. De Gaulle’s resignation in 1969 removed this particular obstacle.
The Edward Heath Government of 1970-4 soon turned into one of crisis and internal turmoil, having Inherited industrial strikes and wage claims from the previous Wilson Governments (1964-70). The unprecedented use of a State of Emergency on the docks and then in the mining industry had not been seen on this scale since the post-first world war period. The tri-partite wages and prices agreement (Government, Confederation of British Industries and the Trade Union Congress), then statutory freezes, were soon in tatters. The miners were determined to join the dockers in clawing their way up the “wages league”.
The consequences of the Yom Kippur war in the Middle East, with the oil producers in that part of the world limiting oil production and so forcing up oil prices, further compounded the industrial problems facing the Heath Government. It considered introducing petrol rationing (petrol ration books were issued) and industries were confined to operating a three-day week.
With London distancing itself from Washington, and North Sea oil about to come on-stream, Germany was keen to overcome French vetoes and open the way for the UK’s membership. In 1973, following negotiations, the United Kingdom decided it would join the now renamed European Community, along with Denmark and Ireland.
To set the seal on the economic processes that underpinned the historic decision to join the EC, and to resolve the clashes between the various English political currents, a popular referendum was held in June 1975. This was won by an overwhelming margin by those who wanted to remain in the EC, marginalizing the pro-exit camp, which, irony of ironies, was most intense in the Conservative Party. During the closing stages of the February 1974 General Election Enoch Powell, now a prominent opponent of the EC, called for a vote for Labour because of Wilson’s pledge to renegotiate membership terms and hold a referendum on remaining a member. The outcome of the 1974 election meant that Heath’s Government lost its majority, with the Liberals under Jeremy Thorpe holding the balance of power – the terms of the political “horse-trading” for a coalition with the Liberals was Heath accepting proportional representation for General Elections. It was Margaret Thatcher’s firm opposition to this voting system (on the basis that the Tories might never again gain a majority of MPs at General Elections) which led to the end of these talks, and the fall of the Heath Government.
But the United Kingdom’s membership within the ‘European System’ has been beset by a constant lack of agreement between, and within, the various UK parties on fundamental positions. All a ploy, one might say, in order to emerge from negotiations with more favourable conditions vis-à-vis the obligations which the treaties and regulations imposed. Certainly something the United Kingdom has been rather good at over the last 40 years.
The EU, with all its weaknesses and divisions, has formed a pole of political and military stability In Europe, an open market which, its bourgeois supporters hoped, was bound to guarantee, even if under the watchful eye of the strongest and best equipped, an almost unlimited catchment area for its own goods and a barrier to those from outside. To begin with it was even envisaged that there would be regulation of the capital market, though not in order to bring a minimum of rationality to it but to control the ferocious competition.
Naturally such a colossal task was in vain, beset by a hundred and one obstacles and stumbling blocks. Thus there came about, among the 24 members as there were then, an ensemble of rules and exceptions, inclusions and exclusions, and of partial acceptances of the agreements and treaties. This was particularly the case for the United Kingdom; a ‘member’ so important that the ‘exceptions to the rule’ it managed to negotiate were accepted without too much hair-splitting.
But from around 2000, up until the general crisis in the financial sector of the capitalist system in 2008, the emerging supranational European apparatus showed how intrinsically weak and illusory it was; incapable, and it could not be otherwise, of shaping a policy which all could unite around, or at least agree on. The objective fractures between the member states appeared irresolvable.
And the way things have proceeded since then, on a dispersed, or rather unilateral basis, has naturally operated in the interests of the strongest. Germany, rigorous and decisive towards other countries, and the custodian of the rules governing the other countries’ banking systems, has had no qualms about violating the financial ‘rules’ when it comes to its own banking institutions, and ‘amending’ them to suit its national interests.
The UK has kept its own national currency, maintaining the right to a looser economic policy than the one enforced in the Eurozone; but the need to devalue against other currencies was avoided. The EU contract is too strict for many of its member states, but represents a veritable straitjacket for the states whose capital-finance sector is more developed. Even with all the various concessions made, the cohabitation of Germany and the UK in the same organization became more and more untenable.
An instrument, a casus belli, had to be found to escape from the cage, or at least widen the gap between its bars. Maybe a referendum like the one in 1975, or the one in Denmark in 1992 which rejected the Maastricht Treaty might do; or the pretext could be the differences in foreign policy. Eventually, prompted by what on the face of it were internal matters for the party of government, the chance arose to break out in a ‘democratic way’, much to the jubilation of the anti-EU petty bourgeoisie, who managed to garner a mass of ‘protest votes’, against who knows what, but certainly not against ‘class rule’.
Speaking of which we should mention some vile literature which has been spread about which has the nerve to define itself as ‘left-wing’. This stuff shamelessly declares that the votes cast for Brexit in the poorest districts inhabited by the proletariat and lumpen-proletariat mark a ‘progressive’ event in class terms, since it is a protest by the lowest strata of the population against their desperate living conditions. Certainly such a protest is justified, but this vote can’t be seen as marking a resurgent class consciousness; in fact quite the contrary!
Also the referendum certainly wasn’t an ‘accident’ as some have claimed; the rulers didn’t make a ‘mistake’; and it certainly doesn’t mark some kind of re-awakening of those hit by the Thatcher era ‘reforms’, or by Blair’s ‘refinements’ of them. The vote could have gone the other way, but the historical arrow still points in the same direction: if ‘remain’ had been the verdict of the ballot boxes, the British state would have eventually found another pretext to get out.
It is easy, after the mass of rubbish and nauseating propaganda both before and after the referendum, to blame everything on the clearly oligarchic, closeted procedures of a non-elected executive ‘committee’ which is free from any democratic popular control and engulfed by a no-holds-barred laissez-faire ideology. It is true: the ‘thinking brain’ of the EU is financial and not political. Yet if the European parliament is composed of a despicable bunch of idlers, worse even than the national parliaments (which is saying something), a structure without any objective power, these national parliaments, and also national governments, have themselves all handed control of the State machine over to the financial system – that is, to an all-pervasive and anonymous command structure representing the last form to be generated in the historical trajectory of Capital.
Similarly, this same anonymous business committee, supranational in substance if not in form, uses measures that are ever more laborious and inefficient in its attempt to reduce the violent impact of the crises. This superstructure, which is politico-economic, voluntarist and ideological, is imposed on the workings of the states and the governments.
Equally anti-historical and impotent is the idea that the UK, having finally freed itself from the fetters of the EU, can now recover from the social crisis which followed Thatcher and Blair’s laissez-faire cure, using its new found freedom to realign sterling’s foreign exchange rates, and take back its political, economical, commercial and fiscal autonomy etc, etc. All these are self-serving falsehoods in that they wrongly blame all of the social disasters tormenting the lower classes on the economic policies imposed by the EU: now that they are free of the EU, lackey of the banks, high finance and German treachery they claim, the national future is full of possibilities for recovery and wealth generation.
With the destruction of a large part of the social body, society’s dynamic is evolving towards the destruction of any illusions about progress happening under social democracy. But this won’t be due to the fact that the European Union’s umbrella is no longer there to offer its protection: we have to constantly bear in mind that this Union is a bourgeois, capitalist and financial construction which is objectively and inevitably anti-proletarian.
The frightening negative reactions that have been predicted, the economic and financial tragedies threatened by a section of the pro-Europe bourgeoisie will certainly come about, but not because the cosy ‘community home’ – a veritable nest of vipers for big-capitalist lobbyists – has been abandoned, but because all these problems were already present in the asphyxiating and rotten economic-financial capitalist system, which is global, European and British.
Already there have been tremors in the property market on which part of fictitious capital rests. If on the one hand an unruly deregulation of the capital market could give the City an advantage over its continental equivalents, on the other hand, despite the ‘competitive devaluation’ in which English capital is desperately placing its hopes, the future of trade and industry are in difficulty in the face of ruthless competition.
The British economy is supported by financial instruments based on property and is founded on an enormous family indebtedness – private not public debt! – which characterizes a major systemic fragility affecting Great Britain. A potential crack in this crucial sector, coming on top of the extreme fragility of the entire banking system of Europe, could be fatal.
Everywhere financial capital predominates over productive capital. And if in relation to the worn-out EU the names of the ‘important players’, the financiers, fund managers, governors of the central banks, of the various boards, etc, hold no interest for us, equally in the case of the various states the particular parties, heads of governments, professional politicians we also consider irrelevant. To speak of a ‘People’s Europe’ counterpoised to a Europe of the financial and capitalist elite, which should react and win back a violated democracy, is a foolish and reactionary aim and expresses a petty-bourgeois position.
The current situation – which had been building up for some time before it was consummated in the democratic orgy of the ‘should we stay or should we go’ referendum, but which has not yet concluded in Britain’s formal departure – is a sign that the community’s entire structure is crumbling: in fact it is bound to become unsustainable in the face of the encroaching capitalist crisis, which as it progresses will disrupt all of the economic, commercial, political and military certainties which were established in the wake of the Second World War.
by the workers defending their standard of living today
can they prepare to destroy the global power of capitalism tomorrow!
Each May Day is the day on which workers throughout the world, overcoming the barriers of nation, race and religion, confirm that they are joined together as one class, are united by the same interests, and are fighting the same battle to free themselves from exploitation and poverty.
Each May Day finds proletarians everywhere in a situation which has been getting worse and worse for years due to the crisis of world capitalism.
Bourgeois propaganda is keen to exaggerate the small signs of recovery in industrial production emerging in the United States and has announced that the crisis is over, when in fact it is only just beginning; already it is spreading and deepening and now it is hitting China. All the financial measures carried out by the United States, Japan, China and Europe to ‘kick start’ production will only result in a new financial bubble that will burst in a few months’ time, and which will be much worse than the one in 2008, which made the comatose state of the capitalist economy abundantly clear in the middle of a major crisis of over-production.
This crisis, which has been forecast and expected by revolutionary Marxism as an inevitable consequence of the capitalist system of production, has already thrown tens of millions of proletarians out of work throughout the world, pushed down wages, and resulted in the dismantling of the so-called ‘Welfare State’. And competition between workers will keep on making the situation worse if the class proves unable to prevent it by mobilising against it, by means of reorganisation and class struggle.
The economic crisis is also intensifying the clashes between imperialist states, great and small, who are competing to: acquire new markets where they can sell off their surplus production; to control the areas rich in the raw materials needed to reproduce capital; and to position themselves strategically in anticipation of the third world war. The war to control the sources of oil, which the ’terrorists’ are fighting, financed by the opposing imperialist centres, has devastated the entire Middle East, and in particular, Iraq, Syria and Libya, and has forced tens of thousands of refugees to abandon their homes fearing for their lives. The contest between the old and the new imperialist powers is also spreading to Africa.
Europe has seen war return to its eastern borders. A few years ago national and religious divisions served as the pretext for the partition of Yugoslavia. Today, the fragility of the Ukrainian state has allowed the United States to interpose itself between Germany and Russia and provoke bloody clashes, which yet again seek to divide the proletariat and harness it to the interests of the various bourgeois States.
In the Far East the arms race embarked upon by bourgeois and capitalist China, which is committed to gaining control of an area commensurate with its economic power by shattering the equilibrium established at the end of the second imperialist war, is bringing it into conflict with the neighbouring states of Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam; and in open defiance of the United States, which dominates the surrounding seas with its atomic fleets.
The bourgeois myths of progressive disarmament and of peaceful coexistence between states, which have somehow survived two deadly world wars, are belied by the continual increase in armaments production, including atomic weapons, and by the increasingly violent clashes between the imperial juggernauts, even if for now they are being conducted as proxy wars between mercenary and irregular forces, such as the Islamic State militias.
The small States are the first to pay the price of this power politics; however, the proletariat in these countries, and internationally, mustn’t allow itself to get drawn into the defence of national interests, as for example the ‘left-wing’ government is attempting to do in Greece, by stoking up patriotism and resistance to the economic aggression of Germany, or as the Chavist government is attempting to do in Venezuela, against United States imperialism. And when a war is already taking place the proletariat shouldn’t feel it has to line up on one of the two opposing bourgeois fronts as is happening, for example, in Palestine, where the only revolutionary perspective is that of a single working-class State opposed to both the Israeli and the Arabic bourgeoisie, who have been using proletarians as cannon fodder for decades, although mainly Palestinian proletarians for sure.
Only with its own party, founded on a sound theory of its own, which encompasses a comprehensive vision of the world which we call Marxism, will the working class be able to repel these opportunist influences and the corrupting ideologies of the enemy classes; only then will it be a class that can fight for its own interests. This party is the revolutionary and internationalist Communist Party, which from the very outset rejected all the bourgeoisie’s false principles, above all democracy, in the knowledge that the engine of history is powered not by opinions, but by class struggle.
The bourgeoisie will never relinquish its miserable privileges unless forced to do so. It prefers war, so it is up to the global proletariat to take up the challenge: by engaging in an economic war to defend wages, organised in genuine class trade unions, against the economic war of the bourgeoisie to defend its profits; by engaging in the revolutionary class war against the wars between bourgeois national states, and organised and led by its own united and disciplined international communist party.
We don’t know how long the death throes of the capitalist beast will last, but what we do know, drawing largely on the lessons of the past century, is that the organs of the revolution, that is Party and trade union, must have prepared themselves well before the revolutionary crisis breaks out, in order to be recognised and utilised by the class. Working to form the political and defensive organs of the working class today, in the midst of the enduring counter-revolution is already communism, is already revolution.
This party already exists in embryonic form today, as the International Communist Party
The false alternative for the proletariat in Greece
The proletariat in Greece – against the manoeuvres of the bourgeois State, as well as the phony workers parties and trade unions, who want to divide it between those supporting and opposing the European Union and the Euro – should reject the populist and demagogic referendum and mobilise itself to reconstitute its own class organisations, in the united defence of its immediate and future interests.
Neither siding with the monsters of nationalism, nor with the international piracy of the ruling class, will help to relieve the Greek proletariat of its dramatic condition. Both the “Europe of the Peoples” and the alternative of a closed patriotic autarchy are fantastical illusions that cannot save it from this system of exploitation and misery.
All of the parliamentary parties spouting off about “democracy” and “the will of the people” are working with all of their power to impede the reorganisation of the proletariat as a class that struggles for its own exclusive interests, which are objectively opposed to those of other classes.
The Greek proletariat should reject any faith in the governing front of Syriza and all of its demagogic promises! Abstain from the vote!
The Greek proletariat must demand that the unions start a determined struggle, by all methods, for the defence of its own living and working conditions, for adequate wages and pensions that can provide for a dignified life, for the general reduction of working hours, for full wages for those laid off and unemployed, and for the defence of collective national work contracts. For the general strike against the starvation of the working class! Against the capitalist sharks both in Europe and in Greece! And against their servants in the political parties and trade unions!
The imperialist states and the European Union will not change their politics – they are incapable of changing their politics. They will continue to defend their profits and their revenues by all means at their disposal, bleeding dry the entire working class of all nations. There is only one way to change this state of affairs, and that is to overthrow the regime of Capital with the international communist revolution.
“Workers of the world, unite!”
These two articles on the situation in Syria and the Middle East,
which were originally published in our press in
November-December 2014, need to be considered in the light of
significant developments since then. Among these there are the aerial
bombardments of Syria by Russia, which rather than pursuing the
declared objectives of the American coalition – replacing Bashar
al-Assad and destroying ISIS – has followed its own agenda: keeping
Assad in power and bombarding not only ISIS strongholds but other
anti-Assad rebel groups. Indeed, this sealing of the Russia-Assad
alliance prompted a “surprise visit” by Assad to Moscow in
And there has been the mass exodus of migrants into Europe, mainly fleeing the war in Syria.
The bombings and chemical warfare in this civil war, all conducted in the interests of the various local, national and imperialist interests operating in the area, have created a tragedy of epic proportions: the lack of an independent expression of working class interests at the political and trade union levels has surely never been so keenly felt as at the present time in Syria.
A leaflet we distributed on the migrant crisis appears in the 2nd number of our new English publication, The Communist Party. This can be found on our website, along with other relevant material in other languages.
“Islamic State” creature of the imperialisms
In Iraq, there is a war going on between the Shi’a and Sunni communities, that is, between the two most important bourgeois clans. According to official estimates, 4,500 people died in 941 terrorist attacks in 2012 alone.
The political system installed by the United States in 2003 has rendered the country hostage to its ethnic and religious divisions. The government is directed by the authoritarian Shi’a Prime Minister Nuri al-maliki, a member of the Shi’a Islamic party, Dawaa, which is strongly influenced by Iran. The presence in the government of a Kurdish vice president allows this significant ethnic minority to maintain its autonomy in the region of Iraqi Kurdistan, obtained thanks to the American occupier. The regime is still under the control of Washington, whose double-dealing diplomacy continues as before.
The United States is the main supplier of arms to Iraq: the government’s attempt to turn to Russia in 2012 failed due to American pressure. The war in Syria has aggravated tensions inside the country because the Sunni minority has lined up with the rebel forces, thus not only against Assad but also against Iran and the Shi’a power in Iraq.
The disastrous political and economic situation in Iraq is a fundamental cause of the chaos in the Middle East. Iraq, bled dry and in debt, is in ruins. The roads, hospitals, the transport system, are all to be reconstructed with oil revenues. But the political tensions at the heart of the government, the hostility between the oil and finance ministries, means any decisions are delayed. Legislative action hasn’t managed to resolve anything, and the oil law, which was supposed to regulate relations between the central State and the autonomous Kurdish region, is still under discussion five years later. Baghdad gathers the oil revenues and distributes them to the provinces according to their population density; thus Kurdistan only gets 17%. The Prime Minister, by favouring the Shi’a part of the bourgeoisie, just serves to aggravate the discontent of the Sunni part, and of the disinherited in general.
On 24 February 2013 in Fallujah, protests by Sunni Muslims against the government were harshly repressed and some of the demonstrators were killed by the soldiers, who had opened fire on a stone-throwing crowd.
Autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan has established itself as the indispensable ally of the United States in Iraq and throughout the region. Its government represents the keystone of the new Iraqi political system. In fact the rivalry between Barzani and Talabani (the latter occupying the office of President of Iraq until last July, when he relinquished it to another Kurdish politician) serves the interests of American imperialism, allowing its diplomats to manoeuvre between Iraqi Shi’as and Sunnis. The political institutions of autonomous Kurdistan are firmly in the clutches of President Masoud Barzani, head of the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) while the vice-presidency rests with the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan).
Furthermore Talibani, head of the PUK, and other Kurds have been given important posts in the administration, the secret services and in the Kurdish army. Barzani’s arrogance and demands for independence are increasing as he exploits the increasingly acute divisions between Shi’as and Sunnis, which the war in Syria has only accentuated.
The assault in Kirkuk serves as a reminder that the nationalist Kurds are still active. Kirkuk, with its multiethnic Arab, Kurdish and Turkish population, is outside the perimeter of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan but the Peshmerga are present there. The Iraqi president Al-Maliki is relying on Arab nationalism to counter Kurdish nationalism in the city, and in September 2012 he installed a military command which provoked clashes between Peshmerga and Iraqi soldiers.
In 2014, adding to the social and political chaos generated by the continuous clashes between various militias and by the daily bombings, bands of Islamic terrorists formed during the Syrian conflict arrived and sided with the “resistance” of the various religious and nationalist groups, such as the Ba’ath party supporters, who were already active in the region.
For years now Syria has been one of the focal points of the struggle between global and regional imperialist bourgeoisies; but rather than the major states intervening directly with their armies, they prefer to use mercenaries, who are armed materially and ideologically as the need arises.
The so-called Islamic State, which emerged from the desert and mountain wastelands of Syria, falls into this category. The group has a lot of money which it obtains by robbing large banks, selling oil, given that it controls a number of oil wells, and power plants, and from the ransoming of kidnap victims; but it also receives financial help from some of the Sunni states in the Persian Gulf and from Turkey. It is equipped with small arms and heavy weaponry, and with tanks and armoured cars taken from the Iraqi army, mainly after the capture of the great arsenal in Mossul in north Iraq.
These guerrilla fighters, who are also recruited in the West, have found support in Iraq from ex-soldiers of Saddam Hussein’s army and from militants in the Baath Party, as well as from amongst the Sunni bourgeoisie and from the many desperadoes and rejects who have multiplied in this country after the victorious invasion of “democracy”.
The decomposition of Iraq’s central state reached a point where the insurgents were able to cut through the territory like a hot knife through butter, seizing possession of most of the northern part of the country in just a few days, striking terror into the population in the process, and only halting at the gates of Baghdad, the doorway to the southern regions, in order to concentrate their attacks on the oil-rich Kurdish zone.
It’s a case of one gang of brigands fighting against another, one lot in the name of radical Islam, the other lot in the name of the anti-terrorist crusade to defend the civil population. In actual fact this no holds barred struggle is a contest to see who can get their hands on “the black gold”.
After dismissing the legitimate, although contested, head of government, Al-Maliki, from office last August, once he started to prove obstructive, the United States and Iran, in an unprecedented joint action, replaced him with another Shi’a, Haïdan al-Abadi, who is also a member of the Al-Dawaa party, but one who has studied in Great Britain and seems to offer greater guarantees of overcoming the country’s political crisis.
Will this al-Abadi manage to hold the Iraqi state together by yielding to some compromise or other between the various religious and political factions? Or will he move towards partitioning the country into three regions, Sunni, Kurdish, and Shi’a, the solution the United States prefers apparently, and probably Iran as well, although it is strongly opposed by Turkey?
On 11 August Robert Fisk wrote in The Independent that the real reason for the intervention of the USA in Iraqi Kurdistan, allegedly to save the indigenous population from the invasion of the Islamic State Guerrillas, was actually to protect the interests of the multinational oil companies who are operating in the area. He stated that of the 143 billion barrels of crude oil reserves in Iraq, at least 43.5 billion of them are to be found in Kurdistan, not to mention the natural gas reserves. Mobil, Exxon, Chevron and Total, all of them multinational oil companies with a major presence in Kurdistan, pocket 20% of the total profits. The journalist remarks that the income from oil extraction in this case is particularly high because the cost of extraction is amongst the lowest in the world: 4 dollars a barrel, whereas for the last four years it has been sold at 110 dollars a barrel! Indeed, the oil that is the most costly to extract tends to dictate the market price.
The Kurdistan government, the journalist continues, sells the oil to Turkey which in its turn, without the agreement of the central government in Baghdad, then sells it on. A Turkish company has constructed a pipeline which skirts the Syrian border and links the refinery at Tak Tak, near Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, also the outlet for the pipeline running from Baku in Aserbajan, and from here onto the international market.
For the arms industries in the United States, Russia, France, Germany, England and Italy, the conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Gaza are veritable manna from heaven.
But in this chaotic situation what has become of the Iraqi workers? It seems that years and years of repression and bloody terror have got the better of their trade union organisations, and today most of them will need to start from scratch in a country which is still ravaged by war.
The Iraqi workers can expect neither the imperialist countries, nor its own bourgeoisie, which is murderous and corrupt, to bring peace to the country. Only the revival of international proletarian struggle, established on a sound class basis, can resolve this tragic situation, which exists not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East. Once again the protagonists of this revival, along with the proletarians in those regions, will have to be their brothers in the western countries, in Europe, the Balkans, and in Israel.
The dramatic battles to gain control of Kobane – a city in the north of Syria adjoining the Turkish border mainly inhabited by Kurds and other ethnic minorities – are between the Syrian Kurds and the jihadists of Islamic State. They have placed on the agenda the national aspirations of the Kurds and their demand for ethnic recognition, and they are represented by a multitude of parties, the most important of which are: in Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), still considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union. Their branch in Syria is the Democratic Union Party (PYD). In Iraq there is Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP) and Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) (Talabani was president until July 2014). All of them are in competition with one another.
Kurdish demands for independence emerged during the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, when the victorious powers, in the Treaty of Sevres of 1920, promised an independent Kurdish State. The promises were not kept, and the territory was divided between the new states of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Persia. These four countries, in perpetual conflict with one another, have utilised the national and ethnic ambitions of the Kurdish parties within their territories to subsidise an enervating guerrilla war on each others’ soil (Iran-Iraq, Iraq-Turkey, Syria-Turkey) or, during times of reconciliation, have all allied against them.
The Kurds are not a united, homogeneous people. Out of the 35 million or so Kurds around half of them are to be found in Turkey, and many others in Germany, France and Great Britain. In Syria there are between 1 and 2 million, making up around 10% of the population. Around 4-6 million Kurds have established themselves in the north of Iraq, and around 7 million live in Iran.
They speak different dialects and have different religions. Most of the Kurds are Sunni, but some are Sufi, Shi’a (in Iran) or Yazidi. They are divided also by their geographical origin and their history is marked by numerous tribal conflicts; in fact they have never managed to unite in a centralised political sense. The Kurdish princes under the Ottomans fought seperately against the Sultan. Since then the differences between the various sheikhs and the different Kurdish parties have continually been exploited by the States within whose borders they live: some tribes participated in the massacre of the Armenians contrived by the Young Turks in 1915, others fought the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria on behalf of Hafez al Assad.
Kurdish revolts, repressions and betrayals, internal struggles and reconciliation, continued over the decades and are re-emerging today against the tragic background of a Middle East where the great imperialist powers (the USA, Russia and China) and the regional powers (Turkey, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, the Iraqi State being currently in total disarray) are all at each others throats.
Today it is the Kurds in Syria who are in a critical situation, with those in Iraqi Kurdistan receiving the protection of the United States, and also of Turkey. In Syria the Kurds live mainly in the north and north-east of the country. At the beginning of the seventies the Syrian government thought they could Arabize the territories along its border with Iran and Iraq, inhabited mainly by Kurdish and Christian minorities. This region, which is highly fertile and rich in oil, had known independence movements during the French mandate as well. But when Hafez al Assad assumed power in 1971 he put an end to the forced arabization and sought an alliance with the Kurds against the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Kurds accepted to the extent that in 1982 they took part in the bloody repression of the revolts organised by the latter. Hafez’s bodyguard was often composed of Kurds, and of Christians, towards whom he extended the same policy of protection. The Kurds of Syria didn’t enjoy any political or cultural rights but they weren’t officially persecuted, at least as long as they refrained from advancing any political demands.
The PKK, founded in 1974, got rid of any internal opposition (an armed repression that led to massacres that included women and children) before commencing its guerrilla war against the Turkish State. Its funding was obtained by drugs trafficking, arms dealing, bank robberies, and extorting money from Kurds both at home and abroad, and it also received material and financial support from Syria. This party was therefore tolerated there and its troops were allowed to train in Syria and in Lebanon, sometimes alongside the Palestinians of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). The head of the PKK, Öcalan, with the Turkish army after him, was able to take refuge in Syria from 1979 and 1988. The PKK also collaborated with the Alaouite regime in order to contain the influence of the other Kurdish parties. Between 1980 and 1990 numerous Syrian Kurds went off to fight in Iraqi Kurdistan after it was attacked by the Turkish army. But in 1998, during a period of rapprochement between Turkey and Syria, Damascus began to persecute the PKK militants and expelled Öcalan, who took refuge in Italy, and then in Kenya where he was arrested and then handed over to Turkey in 1999.
The formation of an autonomous Kurdish region within Iraqi territory in 2003, supported by the United States, provoked clashes between Arabs and Kurds in Syria.
In October 2011 the Kurdish parties in Syria, with the exception of the PYD-PKK, founded the Syrian Kurdish National Council, which aligned itself with the part of the Arab population opposed to Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile the militants of the PYD-PKK didn’t participate in the demonstrations against Syrian government and in certain cases tried to prevent them.
In March 2011 Bashar al-Assad, seeking reconciliation with the Kurds, published a decree which granted identity cards to 300,000 stateless Kurds, freed some Kurdish political prisoners, agreed to a possible return of exiles and withdrew from the country’s Kurdish regions. Thus three unconnected Kurdish enclaves were formed along the Turkish frontier: the region of Afrin to the north-east of Aleppo, some small territories which spread into Turkish Kurdistan parallel with the Turkish city of Urfa and in which Kobane is also to be found, and finally the region of Djezireh, caught between the Iraqi and Turkish borders. In actual fact Assad’s tactic was to divide the regime’s opponents, and to cock a snook at Turkey by leaving some of the border provinces under Kurdish control.
In July 2012, at Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani of the KDP reconciled and reunited the various Syrian Kurdish parties, including the PYD-PKK. The latter agreed to participate in the joint management of the cities and of the population of the Syrian Kurdish areas, but refused to merge their military wing with the Syrian Kurdish Peshmerga, who wanted to join forces with the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Within the FSA there is a Kurdish battalion whose members are opposed to the PYD who they accuse of supporting Assad. There are frequent armed clashes, followed by truces, between the militiamen of the Kurdish People’s Protection Force, the military wing of the PYD, and the FSA.
And yet the attacks by the Jihadists against the Kurds have fostered a mood of reconciliation amongst the Kurdish parties. A number of factors divide the Kurds from the Jihadists: the latter consider the Kurds as bad Muslims owing to the number of Kurdish Sufis and Yasidis (Kurdish Zoroastrians), and their liberated women who don’t wear the veil, and they are against Kurdish autonomy. Today the PYD-PKK, even if detested by many Syrian Kurds, is in the front line against the jihadists of Islamic State and the al Nusra Front, another jihadist group operating in Syria.
Islamic State intervened in the civil war in Syria and then invaded Iraq, gaining control of large swathes of territory and pushing forward to the gates of Baghdad and Mosul. It enjoys the support of the Sunni bourgeoisie: Sheikhs, Baathist notables and partisans and ex-officers of Saddam Hussein’s army, who after the dictator’s fall were driven to rebel against the vexatious and repressive measures of the Iraqi government led by a Shi’a prime minister.
The Peshmerga, of Iraqi Kurdistan, have refused to support the Iraqi army and profited from its rout by the troops of Islamic State in June 2013 by occupying the city of Kirkuk, which they had been laying claim to for some time. In August, Islamic State advanced on Iraqi Kurdistan, which then appealed for international assistance. The United States responded very quickly by forming a coalition of 22 countries. And thanks to the aerial attacks of the Americans and their allies the advance of Islamic State was halted.
The Islamic State army, well equipped and well organised by professional officers (Baathists, Chechens) but with no air force, is currently attacking one of the three Kurdish regions in Syria which adjoin the Turkish border. The current bastion is Kobane, part of which, despite the resistance of the Kurdish guerrillas, is already under the control of the jihadists.
To slow the advance of Islamic State, the countries of the coalition, brought together under the United States, are engaging in aerial bombing missions, launched from their bases in Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq. But there will be “no boots on the ground’ since that could allegedly trigger a more serious conflict: the Syrian Kurdish militias with their small arms will have to be sufficient. The Turkish army is massed on the frontier but refuses to intervene, leaving the Kurdish combatants to defend the badly armed city of Kobane from the assault by the jihadists, who are armed with heavy weaponry, on their own.
It seems most of the city’s 40,000 inhabitants have now fled. By taking Kobane the jihadists would gain control of the 900 kilometre road which skirts the Turko-Syrian border. The Kurds in Iraq and Turkey can only get to Kobane by passing through Turkey because the road to Iraq is controlled by Islamic State and Sunni tribes who are hostile to Baghdad.
Many Kurdish PKK fighters set out from their base in the Quandil mountains, in the north of Kurdistan, and headed for Turkey. Here they were arrested by the Turkish army and imprisoned in a gymnasium close to the Syrian border, where over a hundred of them went on hunger strike. Turkey permitted the passage of supply convoys but not weapons or combatants.
And Iraqi Kurdistan doesn’t seem that interested in the Kobane tragedy either. This is due to its close business links with Turkey, which is investing heavily in construction and the oil “stolen” from the Iraqi state (or what’s left of it), thanks to the complicity of the KDP and the PUK, which are dividing up the government of Iraqi Kurdistan and its huge reserves of oil amongst themselves. The KDP and the PUK might not see the PKK being crushed as altogether a bad thing!
The inertia of the Turkish State, despite being a member of NATO and an ally of the United States, is to be explained by the fact that it wants the westerners to bring down the Assad regime but would rather have the black flag of ISIS flying over Kobane than the banner of the PYD-PKK.
Turkish President Erdoğan has stated that Turkey refuses to intervene because both the PKK and ISIS represent a danger to the country, with ISIS opposing not only the Assad regime but also the PYD, a section of the PKK which has been fighting the Turkish government since 1984. He has nevertheless offered political and material support to the Syrian opposition abroad and allowed some of the rebel groups to run arms and fighters through Turkish territory, whilst also turning a blind eye to the thousands of Jihadist recruits also passing through Turkey to get to Syria. In fact the greater part of the arms, equipment and supplies destined for Islamic State and the other Islamist groups fighting Assad has been routed across the Turkish border. In fact Islamic State would be geographically encircled were it not for Turkish Anatolia.
But Erdoğan and his Islamist party, the AKP, considered, like the Muslim Brotherhood, as apostates by Islamic State, have shown they can use the stick as well as the carrot: at the beginning of 2014 the Turkish air-force bombed a jihadist convoy heading towards a city held by the rebels, and in early Spring the Turkish government cut, and then stopped off the flow of water entirely, of the Euphrates in its descent toward Syria, causing the electric turbines in the Tichrin dam, in an area controlled by Islamic State, to shut down. Turkey maybe hopes that Islamic State, once it has disposed of the PKK, will also free it of Assad. Or maybe, once Kobane has fallen and the PKK-PYD have been disposed of, they can get rid of Assad by sending their troops into Syria.
It seems the United States have already renounced the possibility of an intervention by their troops in Syria as it would be vetoed by Russia and China. This, however, could just be a means of exerting pressure on Russia over the vexed question of Ukraine. And the United States are also in discussion with Iran, with whom they want closer ties; but Teheran is against an intervention by land troops because it could undermine its influence in the region which, through Hamas, extends from Syria through Lebanon to Palestine.
As to providing the PKK troops defending Kobane with more effective weapons, everyone (the entire bourgeoisie, that is) has agreed not to. All that remains is to sweeten the pill: on the one hand the media describe an unequal battle in which the Iraqi and Syrian population is terrorised and martyred, with the women reduced to slavery and violated by the Jihadists who are not afraid to exhibit their macabre excesses on the internet, and thus provide a justification and explanation for the “humanitarian” interventions of the western countries; on the other hand the various diplomats make cautious and querulous declarations about “not wanting to aggravate the conflict” by sending in heavy weaponry or intervening with troops on the ground! But we know well from studying the history of warfare that international diplomacy doesn’t have many scruples about abandoning badly armed soldiers to hold back armies while diplomatic negotiations run their course! We recall, for example, the battles fought, with no hope of success, by the young French recruits at Dien Bien Phu in 1954!
Thus the Kurds in Kobane have been abandoned by everybody. In Belgium, France and Germany Kurds have held protests under the black flags of the PKK. In Turkey demonstrations in numerous cities, some very violent, have been harshly repressed and the number of protestors killed there is already in double figures. Curfews have been imposed by the Erdoğan government in six of the country’s provinces where Kurds are in the majority. From prison Öcalan has called on his followers to prepare for war. The PKK has announced that if the Kurds in Kobane are massacred it would end the ceasefire declared in March 2013, after decades of guerrilla warfare, and resume the armed struggle. On 13 October, after three days of attacks by the PKK on the security forces in the south-east of Turkey, Turkish planes bombed their positions.
Once again the Kurdish people are being used as cannon fodder in a covert war between the regional and global bourgeoisies. The Kurdish proletariat has everything to lose from this war. It can expect nothing from the Kurdish governments and parties, bourgeois and collaborationist as they are, except terror, attacks on their living conditions, and a general lack of humanity in their methods. It should join instead with proletariats elsewhere, overcoming religious and ethnic differences in order to wage a common struggle against capitalism, against its wars of plunder and against the terrorist monsters they generate.
But to struggle for communist society means to struggle against all forms of oppression. With the abolition of classes there will disappear not only class oppression, but also the oppression of women by men, and the oppression of one people by another people and of minorities.
Communism is not “the night in which all cows are grey”. For a long time, alongside one or more common languages shared by the human species (languages that will evolve and change with a tendency to merge), all of the different peoples will continue to speak their own languages and, along with a propensity towards international brotherhood, there will continue to be a great diversity of cultures, costumes and sensibilities.
The Kurdish proletariat has nothing to expect from the Kurdish governments and parties, who are bourgeois and collaborationist; nothing but terror, attacks against their working conditions and a general lack of humanity in the methods they use. Only class struggle, only union organisation led but the International Communist Party will allow the workers of the world to see through the present chaos, and to act before police truncheons and the military force of the State are used against them.
THESES ON THE NATIONAL AND COLONIAL QUESTION ADOPTED BY THE SECOND COMINTERN CONGRESS
28 July 1920 Protokoll,ii, p. 224
1. An abstract or formal conception of equality in general, and national equality in particular, is characteristic of the very nature of bourgeois democracy. Under a show of the equality of the human personality in general, bourgeois democracy proclaims the formal equality in law of the property owners and the proletarian, of exploiters and exploited, thereby deeply deceiving the oppressed classes. The idea of equality, which is itself a reflection of the conditions of commodity production, is turned by the bourgeoisie, using the pretext of the alleged absolute equality of the human personality, into an instrument for combating the abolition of classes. The true meaning of the demand for equality resides solely in the demand for the abolition of classes.
2. As the conscious expression of the proletarian class struggle to shake off the yoke of the bourgeoisie, the communist party, in accordance with its chief task—which is to fight bourgeois democracy and expose its falseness and hypocrisy— should not advance abstract and formal principles on the national question, but should undertake first of all a precise analysis of the given environment, historical and above all economic; secondly, it should specifically distinguish the interests of the oppressed classes, of the workers and the exploited, from the general concept of so-called national interests, which signify in fact the interests of the ruling class; thirdly, it should as precisely distinguish the oppressed, dependent nations, unequal in rights, from the oppressing, exploiting nations with full rights, to offset the bourgeois-democratic lies which conceal the colonial and financial enslavement of the vast majority of the world’s population by a small minority of the wealthiest and most advanced capitalist countries that is characteristic of the epoch of finance-capital and imperialism.
3. The imperialist war of 1914 demonstrated with the greatest clarity to all enslaved nations and oppressed classes of the entire world the falseness of bourgeois-democratic phraseology. Both sides used phrases about national liberation and the right of national self determination to make good their case, but the Treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest on one side, and the Treaties of Versailles and St. Germany on the other, showed that the victorious bourgeoisie quite ruthlessly determine ‘national’ frontiers in accordance with their economic interests. Even ‘national’ frontiers are objects of barter for the bourgeoisie. The so-called ‘League of Nations’ is nothing but the insurance contract by which the victors in the war mutually guarantee each other’s spoils. For the bourgeoisie, the desire to re-establish national unity, to ‘reunite with the ceded parts of the country’, is nothing but an attempt of the defeated to assemble forces for new wars. The reunification of nations artificially torn apart is also in accordance with the interests of the proletariat; but the proletariat can attain genuine national freedom and unity only by means of revolutionary struggle and after the downfall of the bourgeoisie. The League of Nations and the entire post-war policy of the imperialist states disclose this truth even more sharply and clearly, everywhere intensifying the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat of the advanced countries and of the labouring classes in the colonies and dependent countries, accelerating the destruction of petty-bourgeois national illusions about the possibility of peaceful coexistence and the equality of nations under capitalism.
4. From these principles it follows that the entire policy of the Communist International on the national and colonial question must be based primarily on bringing together the proletariat and working classes of all nations and countries for the common revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the landlords and the bourgeoisie. For only such united action will ensure victory over capitalism, without which it is impossible to abolish national oppression and inequality of rights.
5. The world political situation has now placed the proletarian dictatorship on the order of the day, and all events in world politics are necessarily concentrated on one central point, the struggle of the world bourgeoisie against the Russian Soviet Republic, which is rallying around itself both the soviet movements among the advanced workers in all countries, and all the national liberation movements in the colonies and among oppressed peoples, convinced by bitter experience that there is no salvation for them except in union with the revolutionary proletariat and in the victory of the Soviet power over world imperialism.
6. At the present time, therefore, we should not restrict ourselves to a mere recognition or declaration of the need to bring the working people of various countries closer together; our policy must be to bring into being a close alliance of all national and colonial liberation movements with Soviet Russia; the forms taken by this alliance will be determined by the stage of development reached by the communist movement among the proletariat of each country or by the revolutionary liberation movement in the undeveloped countries and among the backward nationalities.
7. Federation is a transitional form towards the complete unification of the working people of all nations. Experience has already shown the expediency of federation, both in the relations of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic with other Soviet Republics (the Hungarian, Finnish, and Latvian in the past, the Azerbaijan and Ukrainian at the present time), as also within the RSFSR itself in regard to the nationalities which had neither independent political existence nor self-government (for example the Bashkir and Tatar autonomous republics of the RSFSR, which were established in1919 and 1920).
8. On this question it is the task of the Communist International not only to promote further development in this direction, but also to study and examine the experiences of these federations which have arisen on the basis of the Soviet system and the Soviet movement. While recognising federation as a transitional form to complete union, efforts must be made to bring about an ever closer federal association, consideration being given to the following: first, it is impossible for the Soviet republics, surrounded by the imperialist states of the entire world, which are far stronger from the military point of view, to hold out unless they are closely allied with other Soviet republics; secondly, the necessity for a close economic association among the Soviet republics, without which it is impossible to restore the productive forces destroyed by imperialism or to ensure the welfare of the working people; thirdly, the movement towards the creation of a unified world economy on a common plan controlled by the proletariat of all nations. This tendency has already become clearly manifest under capitalism, and socialism will without any doubt carry forward and complete its development.
In regard to relations within States, the Communist International’s
national policy cannot confine itself to the bare and formal
recognition of the equality of nations, expressed in words only and
involving no practical obligations, to which bourgeois
democracies—even if they call themselves ‘socialist’—
Offences against the equality of nations and violations of the guaranteed rights of nationalist minorities, repeatedly committed by all capitalist States despite their ‘democratic’ constitution, must be inflexibly exposed in all the propaganda and agitation carried on by the communist parties, both inside and outside parliament. But that is not enough. It is also necessary: first, to make clear all the time that only the Soviet system is able to ensure real equality for the nations because it unites first the proletarians, and then all the masses of the working people, in the struggle against the bourgeoisie; secondly, communist parties must give direct support to the revolutionary movements among the dependent nations and those without equal rights (e.g. in Ireland, and among the American Negroes), and in the colonies.
Without this last particularly important condition the struggle against the oppression of the dependent nations and colonies, and the recognition of their right to secede as separate States, remains a deceitful pretence, as it is in the parties of the Second International.
To acknowledge internationalism in words only, while in fact
adulterating it in all propaganda, agitation, and practical work
with petty-bourgeois nationalism and pacifism, is a common
characteristic not only of the parties of the Second International,
but also among those which have left the International. This
phenomenon even occurs not infrequently among parties which now call
themselves Communist. The fight against this evil, against deeply
rooted petty-bourgeois national prejudices which make their
appearance in every possible form, such as race hatred, stirring up
national antagonisms, anti-semitism, must be brought into the
foreground the more vigorously, the more urgent it becomes to
transform the dictatorship of the proletariat from a national
dictatorship (i.e. a dictatorship existing in one country alone, and
incapable of conducting an independent world policy) into an
international dictatorship (i.e. a dictatorship of the proletariat
in at least a few advanced countries, which is capable of exercising
decisive influence in the political affairs of the entire world).
Petty-bourgeois nationalism calls the mere recognition of the
equality of nations internationalism, and (disregarding the purely
verbal nature of such recognition) considers national egoism
inviolable. Proletarian internationalism on the other hand demands:
1) Subordination of the interests of the proletarian struggle in one
country to the interests of the struggle on a world scale; 2) that
the nation which achieves victory over the bourgeoisie shall display
the readiness and the capacity to make the greatest national
sacrifice in order to overthrow international capitalism.
That is why, in the States where capitalism is fully developed and which have workers’ parties which really are the vanguard of the proletariat, the struggle against the petty-bourgeois pacifist distortions of the idea and policy of internationalism is the primary and most important task.
In regard to the more backward States and nations, primarily feudal
or patriarchal or patriarchal-peasant in character, the following
considerations must be kept especially in mind:
a) All Communist Parties must support by action the revolutionary liberation movements in these countries. The form which this support shall take should be discussed with the communist party of the country in question, if there is one. This obligation refers in the first place to the active support of the workers in that country on which the backward country is financially, or as a colony, dependent.
b) It is essential to struggle against the reactionary and medieval influence of the clergy, the Christian missions, and similar elements.
c) It is necessary to struggle against the pan-Islamic and pan-Asiatic movements and similar tendencies, which are trying to combine the liberation struggle against European and American imperialism with the strengthening of the power of Turkish and Japanese imperialism and of the nobility, the large landlords, the clergy, etc.
d) It is particularly important to support the peasant movement in the backward countries against the landlords and all forms and survivals of feudalism. Above all, efforts must be made to give the peasant movement as revolutionary a character as possible, organizing the peasants and all the exploited wherever possible in soviets, and thus establish as close a tie as possible between the west European communist proletariat and the revolutionary peasant movement in the East, in the colonies and in the backward countries.
e) A resolute struggle must be waged against the attempt to clothe the revolutionary liberation movements in the backward countries that are not really communist in communist colours. The Communist International has the duty of supporting the revolutionary movement in the colonies and backward countries only with the object of rallying the constituent elements of the future proletarian parties—which will be truly communist and not only in name—in all the backward countries and educating them to a consciousness of their special task, namely, that of fighting against the bourgeois-democratic trend in their own nation. The Communist International should collaborate provisionally with the revolutionary movement of the colonies and backward countries, and even form an alliance with it, but it must not amalgamate with it; it must unconditionally maintain the independence of the proletarian movement, even if it is only in an embryonic stage.
f) It is essential constantly to expose and to explain to the widest masses of the working people everywhere, and particularly in the backward, countries, the deception practised by the imperialist powers with the help of the privileged classes in the oppressed countries in creating ostensibly politically independent states which are in reality completely dependent on them economically, financially and militarily. A glaring example of the deception practised on the working classes of an oppressed nation by the combined efforts of Entente imperialism and the bourgeoisie of that same nation is offered by the Zionists’ Palestine venture (and by Zionism as a whole, which, under the pretence of creating a Jewish state in Palestine in fact surrenders the Arab working people of Palestine, where the Jewish workers form only a small minority, to exploitation by England). In present international conditions there is no salvation for dependent and weak nations except as an alliance of Soviet Republics.
12. The centuries-old enslavement of the colonial and weak peoples by the great imperialist powers has left behind among the working masses of the enslaved countries not only feelings of bitterness but also feelings of distrust of the oppressing nations as a whole, including the proletariat of these nations. The despicable treachery to socialism committed by the majority of the official leaders of that proletariat in the years 1914- 1919, when the social-patriots concealed behind the slogan of ‘defence of the fatherland’ the defence of the ‘right’ of ‘their’ bourgeoisie to enslave the colonies and plunder the financially dependent countries—such treachery could only strengthen that quite natural distrust. Since this distrust and national prejudice can only be eradicated after the destruction of imperialism in the advanced countries and after the radical transformation of the entire foundations of economic life in the backward countries, the removal of these prejudices can proceed only very slowly. From this it follows that it is the duty of the class-conscious communist proletariat of all countries to be especially cautious and particularly attentive to the national feelings, in themselves out of date, in countries and peoples that have been long enslaved; it is also their duty to make concessions in order to remove this distrust and prejudice the more quickly. Unless the proletariat, and all the working masses of all countries and nations of the entire world, themselves strive towards alliance, and unite as one, the victory over capitalism cannot be pursued to a completely successful end.
and the national question
"Prometeo" no.4, April 15, 1924
Presentation in “Comunismo” n.12, 1983
At the 5th Congress of the Communist International (June- July 1924) the national and colonial question was again placed on the agenda. The theses of the 2nd Congress and of Baku, despite their theoretical and practical clarity, had not proved adequate to prevent: 1/ the French and English Communist Parties from displaying serious resistance to promoting and adequately supporting the nationalist movements in India and Indonesia, 2/ the Egyptian and Turkish communist parties from lending their support in a way which was entirely subordinate to their bourgeoisies and governments, and 3/ above all in Germany, and with the total complicity of the International itself, they had not managed to prevent serious confusion arising between the struggle for communism and that of bourgeois nationalism struggle against the Versailles Treaty. What is more, other questions overlapped with the re-emergence of Greater Russian chauvinism and nationalism, in the guise of the incipient Stalinism, against which the dying Lenin led his last battle from the terribly isolated position in which the Left of the CPSU already found itself. The necessity of taking up all the main questions of principle again, and deriving from these in the clearest way possible rules of practical action in the various geo-historical areas within which the Communist International was called upon to act, was clearly posed. But by now the official chairman of the Executive of the C.I. was already resorting to that infamous method which would later become the distinguishing mark of Stalinism: instead of clarifying the norms of practical action in the light of principles a hunt began for someone to blame for incompetence and ineptitude. A representative of the Italian left took part in the discussions and emphasised the two key cornerstones of the national question which risked getting forgotten in the rush to allocate blame: first of all, the theoretical basis for the resolution of national problems is already contained in the Manifesto and it consists in the victory of communism on a global scale; and, in the second place, the national and colonial question must be posed from the very instant the metropolitan proletariat embarks on its struggle against imperialism, since it is not a case of problems which belong to two successive phases, but of problems which are strictly interdependent.
The text we are republishing here was written precisely in view of the debate about to take place at the 5th Congress, and it was originally published in our journal of the time (Prometeo, April 1924). What stands out is the clear contrast between the method subscribed to in the text and the one in vogue in the International at this time. To deal with practical questions from the point of view of principle was considered within the C.I. to be totally pointless, and, in the best of cases, supporters of this method were ridiculed or pointed out as representatives of a tendency which favoured “inactivity”, a tendency which loved theoretical dissertations since it was hostile to practical action. Here we see expressed the particularly persistent notion of the inherent opposition of theory to practical action.
It was precisely in order to prevent such bad practices, whose dire consequences the Left had already accurately predicted, that the text we are republishing here was written. It is an admirable example of that unique method, unbounded by time and space, which is an identifying feature of the Communist Party.
The article begins with a powerful theoretical introduction in which it is recalled how the Marxist method is opposed to every type of opportunism precisely because its tactical norms are directly linked via the dialectical method to its theoretical principles: only thus, a feature of our tradition alone, do theory and action not stand in contradiction with one another. Opportunism on the other hand has always signified absence of principles, and you only arrive at such an absence by devaluing ends (“the end is nothing, the movement is everything”). Since opportunism is able to do without principles it ends up by theorising that the rules of practical action can be concocted on an ad hoc basis; which, with communist principles repudiated, is as good as theorising that one can only act on the basis of the ideological principles of the bourgeoisie in all their myriad manifestations. In response to the old and by now very predictable criticism that we oppose this method with a set of dogmas, and thus relapse into metaphysics and the condoning of a method which is anti-scientific, we respond today, as the article did back then, that we do not deny that the examination of the general historical situation is in continual development and that our conclusions can always be elaborated better, but we also say that we wouldn’t be able to exist as a Party (with no Party everything would be ruled out: no party, no Communism) if the historical experience incarnated in its Party which the proletariat already possesses didn’t allow us to construct a programme and a set of rules of practical conduct, which cannot be done without precise and pre-arranged schemes. To the inevitable accusations of schematism we reply that we are happy to leave the eclecticism, ‘manoeuvrism’, the oscillations to right and left and the political in-fighting to all the other so-called communist movements and parties. We have no hesitation in replying that it is precisely our schematic method which not only allows us to exist as a single, compact and unitary party, but allows the proletariat itself to exist as a historical class. The proof of this is the way in which this method was comprehensively applied in a historical situation which had got notably worse from the point of view of the class’s potentiality, that is, from the time of the meeting of the 5th Congress of the C.I. in Moscow already heading toward definitive degeneration. And when applied to the present class struggles in Palestine, it has allowed us not only to correctly interpret the historical evolution of this area, but also to represent the only truly revolutionary course open to the martyred proletariat of those countries, one which is opposed to all the nationalist pipe-dreams, all the more pernicious insofar as they claim to be revolutionary or even in the line of our own tradition of the Communist Left.
COMMUNISM AND THE NATIONAL QUESTION
Debates about the proletarian, communist and revolutionary method often revolve around the issue of ‘principles’ and of a so-called dualism between these principles and action, between theory and practice. It isn’t often that we manage to reach a clear understanding on this matter; and yet until we do, every critical and polemical development will turn into pointless confusion.
Opportunism, old and new, likes to shift the emphasis of the Marxist thesis which denies that innate eternal ideas underpin human conduct, and often talks about actions to be taken without considering the limiting factors which might hamper them, of policies without fixed principles. Bernstein’s classic revisionism, which cleverly superimposed itself onto the proletarian movement by claiming to have left Marx’s revolutionary doctrine intact, proclaimed “the end is nothing, the movement is everything”. To declare that the end is nothing, as we will soon see, implies you can do without principles because for Marxist communism principles are the ends, that is, points of arrival towards which action is directed… And the opposition of the two terms shouldn’t seem paradoxical.
After setting aside the vision of a great final objective and consigning the movement’s doctrine to the attic, opportunist reformism only talks about existing problems which can be resolved empirically one at a time, in the immediate future.
However, regarding the new variations of this falsification, which certainly hasn’t stopped reinventing itself and reappearing under new guises, we were entitled to enquire, and are still entitled to enquire, what indicator should we then use, having done way with all standing rules and guidance, to guide our choice between the various forms of action? Who is the ‘subject’ in whose interest the action is to be taken? And opportunism (embodiment and exponent of simple ‘labourism’ as replacement for the doctrine and general praxis of proletarian revolution) replied that its day to day tasks were inspired by workers’ interests, meaning by that the interests, taken one by one, of particular groups and professional categories, considering the satisfaction of these easier, closer to hand and quicker.
The solutions to the questions of what action to take are thus no longer inspired by the proletarian movement and its historical journey, but are concocted one at a time and restricted to small sections of the working class, on very small sections of its journey. By acting this way revisionism frees itself from any link to principles, but, in its more or less extreme forms, still boasts nevertheless of operating in the true spirit of Marxism, which according to them equates with a movement which is extremely open-minded and eclectic.
The struggle against these deviations will continue to be a very important aspect of the proletarian movement as it continues to acquire further important experiences. There have been frequent warnings and criticisms of this revisionist way of presenting and resolving problems, and yet it will find new and more devious ways to try and influence proletarian action. We will not make a general rebuttal of it here, but just in regard to a particular problem, which will render our position more intelligible.
Several times we on the Marxist Left have unmasked the vulgar trickery of opportunism. Its alleged aversion to principles, stupidly referred to as dogmas, was simply reduced to a blind, obstinate observance of principles typical of the counter-revolutionary ideology of the bourgeoisie. The positive, practical, open-minded people within the proletarian movement revealed themselves at the supreme moment as the most enthusiastic supporters of bourgeois ideas, to which they tried to subordinate the proletarian movement, and the workers’ economic interests.
The theoretical critique which highlights this characteristic fact is one which proceeds side by side with the political unmasking of socialist opportunism as a form of bourgeois action, and of its leaders as agents of capitalism within the proletarian ranks.
At the start of the world war, the spectacular bankruptcy of the opportunist International defended itself theoretically with arguments which, in the realm of theory as well as in socialist propaganda, appeared as surprises, as unexpected revelations, as sensational “discoveries”. Those who had stated that socialism had no doctrinal or programmatic principles suddenly asserted that socialism no longer even retained that distinction, of being the movement without principles, but had to be subordinated to the unconditional acceptance of certain theses, up to then never explicitly stated, indeed always viewed as extraneous to socialist thought and which at the polemical level had been demolished by it once and for all. Socialism was reduced to being a ‘sub-school’ of the bourgeois left movement, affiliated to the ideology of so-called democracy, which was presented all of a sudden not as Marxism considered it in its most elementary statements, that is, as the political doctrine appropriate to the interests of the bourgeois class, but as something advanced and progressive with respect to the dominant capitalist polity. The traitors in the International then tried to trip us up by “discovering” some principles, by which they claimed proletarian action was inevitably determined and doomed to follow; to which they said all immediate interests, including those of the individual groups so dear to their hearts, had to be inexorably sacrificed. Three of these principles in particular were especially touted: the principles of democratic liberty, the defensive war, and nationality.
Up to this time the opportunists had deliberately feigned a theoretical orthodoxy and were always talking to the masses about class struggle, socialisation of the means of production and abolition of the exploitation of labour: which is why the sudden discovery of the new principles was bound to take the proletariat by surprise and undermine its class consciousness and revolutionary ideology, sabotaging the possibility of mobilising it ideologically in a classist direction, just as, in a corresponding way, the passing of the leading officials of the great workers’ organisations into an alliance with the bourgeoisie was bound to result in the sudden removal of any platform of reorganisation of the world working class on the basis of socialist action.
Then we learnt (and only very few militant socialists knew how to articulate their indignation and protest, and less still were able to) that the socialist proletariat had to do without principles if they were principles derived from the classist doctrine, but bow to them, as though holy writ, if they were the principles of bourgeois ideology, namely, those fundamental ideas of religion into which the ruling classes tends to transform their prevailing interests. The betrayal of the substance of the Marxist critique could hardly have been more blatant.
To give a small idea of how far this brazen superimposition of irrelevant and antithetical elements onto the socialist doctrine’s most obvious formulations went, we will cite just one example. For our part we naturally invoked the well-known passage from the Communist Manifesto, according to which the proletariat has no country, and can only consider itself to have formed a nation, in a very different sense to that of the bourgeoisie, when it has seized political power. so, one of the socialist party’s best-known propagandists, the old party’s “technician” of propaganda himself, Paoloni, came back with this response: that conquering political power consisted in conquering … democratic suffrage; and wherever the proletariat enjoyed the right to vote it had a country and national rights! This proposition, which we won’t dignify with a reply, shows how those who were entrusted with the job of making Marxist propaganda in the Second International were either incredibly stupid or incredibly shameless.
In the pages of this journal we have expressed the Marxist critique of the bourgeois “principles” of democracy and liberty and will continue to try and express even better. We do not take bourgeois liberal philosophy and its equality under the law seriously. Its theoretical demolition needs to be accompanied, according to the communist conception, by a proletarian political programme which liquidates any illusion that it is possible to apply liberal and libertarian methods to achieve the revolutionary aim: the suppression of society’s division into classes. The allegedly equal rights of all citizens under the bourgeois state is nothing but a translation of the economic principle of “free competition”, and the parity, in the market- place, of the buyers and sellers of commodities: a levelling which merely signifies the consolidation of the best conditions under which capitalist exploitation and oppression can be installed and maintained.
Directly related to this critique, an essential of socialist thinking, is the demonstration that in time of war it is wrong to invoke, as a guide to proletarian and socialist policy, the greater or lesser degrees of “democratic freedom” achieved by the countries in conflict as this would mean relying purely on bourgeois and anti-proletarian criteria. We will therefore dwell no further on the first of the aforementioned three principles.
The other two principles derive from the same theoretical distortion: all the talk of just and unjust wars, according to whether they are defensive or aggressive, or have the objective of giving a country’s inhabitants the government the majority allegedly wants, presupposes the belief that a principle of democracy has been established in relations between states, like those between individuals.
Such principles are the ones the bourgeoisie proclaims with the precise aim of creating among the masses an ideology favourable to its rule, since it can’t confess to the ruthless egotism which really lies behind it. Whereas in the internal life of the capitalist state elective democracy is in fact equivalent to a legal ratification or a constitutional ruling, although not constituting, from our point of view, any effective guarantee to the proletariat that in the decisive moments of the class struggle it won’t find itself up against the armed State machine; in international relations there are no sanctions or conventions which correspond with a formal application of the principles deriving from democratic theory.
For the capitalist regime the establishment of democracy at a State level was a necessity intrinsic to its development: but the same cannot be said of any of the formulas deduced from democratic for international relations, and banned by ideologists who support universal peace based on arbitration, on the settling of borders based on nationality and so on. The latter is an argument which seems to fit in with the game of the opportunists, who depict the capitalist classes as opposed to these political demands which they, after borrowing them from purely bourgeois theoreticians, wish to have accredited by the proletariat. But the argument is constantly blowing up in their faces.
Indeed it is absurd to think that a bourgeois State would modify its international policy just because the socialist proletariat, after having lain down its arms in the name of the ‘Holy Alliance’ and abandoned its own struggle and independence, had left it an even freer hand to act in the interests of self-preservation. In the second place the criminal game of the social traitors is proving to be even more blatant: they have countered the so-called “utopianism” of the revolutionary programmes with the need to set immediate and tangible aims, of sticking to what is actually possible; all of a sudden they are coming up with objectives, with a view to subordinating the proletarian movement’s policy to them, which are not only not classist or socialist, but are proving to be entirely unrealistic and illusory; they lend credence to ideas which the bourgeoisie themselves would never apply but which it is in their interests to have the proletariat believe. The policy of the opportunists does not therefore aim to drive situations forward in their real practical development, albeit in small steps, but reveals itself as nothing less than the ideological mobilisation of the masses in the interests of the bourgeoisie and the counter-revolution.
As regards the nationality principle, it isn’t difficult to show that it has never been other than a slogan to agitate the masses, and, in the best hypothesis, an illusion cherished by some petty bourgeois intellectual strata. If for capitalism to develop the formation large State units was necessary, none however were formed through the observance of the famous national principle, which besides is very difficult to define in practice. A writer called Vilfredo Pareto, who was certainly no revolutionary, wrote an article in 1918 in which he criticised the “so-called principle of nationality” and showed how impossible it is to find a satisfactory definition, and how of the many criteria which it appears can be used to specify it (Ethnic, linguistic, religious, historical, etc.) not one of them is exhaustive, and in fact all of them lead to conclusions which contradict one another. Pareto also makes the obvious observation, which we frequently made during our war-time polemics as well, that plebiscites are certainly no sure-fire way of resolving national problems, since one would have to establish beforehand the boundaries of the territory to which a majority vote would apply, and the nature of the powers which would organise and control it; thus ending up in a vicious circle…
There is no need to go back over all of the polemics of nine years ago here. Easy it was then for us internationalists to show how the famous principles invoked by the social-warmongers lent themselves to being applied in an entirely contradictory way. Every State at war can find some way of contriving a situation that is defensive: maybe the aggressor is the one whose territory ends up being “trampled underfoot by the foreign invader”; in any case a revolutionary attitude on the part of the socialist movement would lead to analogous consequences in the case of both offensive and defensive military action, since the one can simply be converted into the other. As to the nationalist questions and those of irredentism, they are so complex and there are so many of them that they could be used to justify the formation of alliances very different to the ones during the world war.
The famous list of principles when applied then contradicted each other. We asked the social patriots whether they recognised the right of a more democratic people to attack and subjugate a less democratic one; whether in order to liberate ‘unredeemed’ regions they would countenance military aggression, and so on.
And these logical contradictions would translate into the possibility, once those fallacious theses were accepted, of justifying socialist support for any war, as indeed would happen, with the same arguments used to support the tactics of socialist betrayal in all countries, which were in the most desperate circumstances, with the workers on both sides dragged off to confront each other on the war front.
It was just as easy to predict that the victorious bourgeois governments, whichever of them happened to win, wouldn’t dream for one minute of applying, in peacetime, those policies which, according to the social nationalists, had not only provided a reason for the proletariat to support the war, but the guarantee that the war would lead to those outcomes, which the workers had been duped into believing by their unworthy leaders.
The critique and rebuttal of social-nationalist deviations is therefore nothing new: less obvious is the issue, which appeared particularly pressing at the time of the founding of the Third International, of the positive resolution of the national question from the communist point of view. It is a problem which cannot be said to have been entirely resolved by the theses of the 2nd Congress (1920) to the extent that the imminent 5th Congress will have to concern itself with it as well.
Obviously the Communist International is not about to borrow theories and slogans from the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie to help it resolve its own political and tactical problems. The Communist International has reinstated the revolutionary values of the Marxist doctrine and Marxist method and drawn inspiration from its programme and tactics.
How then do we arrive, on such a basis, at a solution to such problems as, for example, the national question? We would like to recall the latter’s most basic features here. The revisionists used to talk about examining contingent situations on a case by case basis, with no regard for principles or general aims. They therefore reached purely bourgeois conclusions, no longer sticking to Marxist criteria, which highlight the play of social-economic factors and conflicting class interests, in their evaluation of situations. It could be said that the correct communist line is to ensure that when analysing a situation one remains strictly faithful to the Marxist method of critique of the facts, arriving at conclusions naturally from there, without any need for preconceived ideas. But in our opinion such a response still harbours opportunist dangers, because of its indeterminacy. On the other hand it could be said instead that we, in order to conduct a more Marxist and classist examination of the contingent facts, should add the observance of principles and general formulas arrived at by an almost mechanical overturning of bourgeois formulas: we willingly admit that this would be to err on the side of oversimplification and a misjudged radicalism. Certain simple formulas are indispensable for the agitation and propaganda of our party, and they are, in any case, less dangerous than excessive elasticity and unscrupulousness. But these formulas are points of arrival, outcomes, not the points of departure from which to examine those questions which arise from time to time and have to be tackled by the party’s supreme critical and deliberative organs, in order that their conclusions can be placed at the disposal of the mass of militants in clear and explicit terms. Thus it could be said, for example, of the slogan “against all wars”, that during an important historical phase it served as a excellent way of distinguishing genuine revolutionaries from the opportunists quibbling over the differences between one war and another which lead to the justification of each bourgeoisie’s policy; but as a statement of doctrine the slogan is clearly inadequate, and this is because, for all its formal radicalism, which brusquely overturns the opportunist position, it could lend itself to being conflated with another bourgeois ideological position: that of Tolstoyan pacifism. And thus we would end up contradicting our fundamental postulate on the use of armed violence.
The Marxistically exact way of answering such questions is neither of the two responses we briefly mentioned. It would be worth the party of the revolutionary proletariat specifying this more precisely, even if brilliant examples already exist, such as the admirable edifice of the Marxist-Leninist critique of the bourgeoisie’s democratic doctrines, and the definition of our programme with respect to the question of the State.
To give a brief idea of what we consider the best solution to be, we can say that we absolutely reject the following thesis: that Marxist politics should be content to simply examine one situation after another (using a very specific method, of course) without the need for other elements. Whenever we have studied the economic factors and growth of class conflicts as they appear in relation to any given problem, we have done something that is indispensable but we still haven’t taken everything into account. There are certain other criteria that need to be considered which may be referred to as revolutionary ‘principles’; although it needs to be made clear that such ideas do not consist of immanent or a priori ideas, ‘discovered’ deeply inscribed on some stone tablet somewhere. We could if we wanted to dispense with the word ‘principles’ and refer instead to programmatic postulates: it is always possible to put things better, and in fact we should also bear in mind the linguistic requirements of an international movement, our terminology.
To these criteria we add an additional consideration which sums up the revolutionary power of Marxism. We cannot, nor should we feel compelled to, resolve the question of, say, the English dockers or the workers in Finland, merely with the facts derived from studying, using the historical-determinist method, the situation of the former as a category of workers or the latter as a nation considered within the temporal and spatial limitations imposed by the immediate context of the problem. There is a higher interest guiding our revolutionary movement with which these partial interests cannot conflict, if the historical process as a whole is to be taken into consideration; but it is an interest which does not appear to be directly indicated by, or to directly arise from, the individual problems concerning proletarian groups in particular situations and at particular times. This general interest, in a word, is that of the Proletarian Revolution, i.e. the interest of the proletariat considered as a world class endowed with unity as to its historical task and aiming at a revolutionary objective: the overthrow of the bourgeois order. Subject to this supreme aim we can and must still resolve individual problems.
The manner of co-ordinating the separate solutions with this general aim is embodied in certain postulates accepted by the party which are presented as linchpins of its programme and tactical methods. These postulates are not immutable revealed dogmas but are in their turn the outcome of a general and systematic examination of the situation of the whole of human society in the present historical period, in which an exact account is taken of all the facts that fall within our experience. We do not deny that this examination is continually developing and that the conclusions can always be elaborated better, but one thing is certain: we would not be able to exist as world party if the historical experience which the proletariat possesses already did not allow us to construct a programme and a set of rules of political conduct as the basis of our critique.
Without this we would not exist; neither us as a party, or the proletariat as a historical class in possession of a conscious doctrine and a fighting organisation. If gaps in our conclusions become apparent, or partial revisions are envisaged in the future, it would be a mistake to make up for it by failing to define our postulates and principles, which certainly appear as a ‘curb’ on the actions which subsequent situations in the various different countries might suggest as possibilities. A much less serious mistake would be to attempt to set matters right by ‘completing’ our definitive formulae even if a bit arbitrarily. This is because the clarity and the precision, as well as the maximum possible continuity, of such formulae for agitation and action are indispensable conditions for the strengthening of the revolutionary movement. To this declaration, which might seem a bit reckless, we add, without wishing to dwell further on a serious question which many might see as excessively abstract, that it seems to us that the facts which the history of the class struggle up to the Great War and the Russian Revolution have provided us with allow the world communist party to fill all the gaps with satisfactory solutions: which certainly doesn’t mean to say there is nothing left for us to learn in the future, or from the continuous confirmation of our conclusions in the political application of same. The refusal to make an urgent priority of the ‘codification’ of the programme and the tactical and organisational rules of the International can mean for us today nothing other than a threat of an opportunist nature, due to which our action would run the risk tomorrow of taking refuge in bourgeois rules and principles, which are certainly completely wrong and catastrophic as far as our ‘freedom’ of action is concerned.
We conclude that a Marxist solution to the problems our movement is facing consists of these elements: the set of conclusions which comprise our general vision of the historical process, which is directed toward the realisation of the final, general revolutionary victory; and the Marxist study of the facts that fall within the remit of its research.
This set of conclusions is the dialectical offspring of an examination of the facts, and specifically an examination of all of the socio-historical facts available to us up until now: it shouldn’t, as far as the revolutionary party is concerned, be characterised as dogmatic, but rather as having that enhanced degree of historical ‘permanence’ which distinguishes us from all the opportunists, and which, in more banal terms, is also embodied in that doctrinal and tactical coherence of ours, even monotonously if you will, which serves to distinguish us from the traitors and renegades of the revolutionary cause.
We will now consider the national question, more than anything by way of exemplification of the method we have indicated. The examination of this question and the description of the facts in which it is summed up are contained in the theses of the 2nd Congress, which rightly refer back to the general evaluation of the situation of global capitalism, and the imperialist phase it is going through.
This combination of facts must be examined whilst bearing in mind the general balance sheet of the revolutionary struggle. One fundamental fact is that the global proletariat now possesses a stronghold in the first workers’ state, Russia, as well as its army in the communist parties of all countries; capitalism has its fortifications in the big states and above all in those which won the world war, a small group of which controls global policy. These states are struggling with the consequences of the general breakdown of the bourgeois economy produced by the great imperialist war, and against the revolutionary forces which aim to overthrow them and take power.
In their struggle against the general disequilibrium of the capitalist economy, one of the most important counter-revolutionary resources the great bourgeois states can count on is their influence over two groups of countries: on the one hand their overseas colonies, on the other the smaller countries of the white race with backward economies. The Great War, presented as the historical movement which would lead to the emancipation of the minor peoples and the liberation of national minorities, has spectacularly given the lie to this ideology, in which the socialists of the 2nd International believed in or pretended to believe, by subjugating all of the smaller countries to the great powers. The new states of central Europe are just vassals of England or France, while the United States and Japan are increasingly consolidating their hegemony on the weaker states of their respective continents.
Without a doubt the capacity to resist the proletarian revolution is concentrated in the power of the few large capitalist states; with these overthrown, the rest would collapse in the face of the victorious proletariat. If in the colonies and the backward countries there are social and political movements directed against the large states, and bourgeois and semi-bourgeois classes and parties take part in them, the success of these movements, from the point of view of the development of the world situation, is certainly a revolutionary factor since it contributes to the fall of the principal fortresses of capitalism, whereas if under the bourgeoisies of the great states there might still be a survival of bourgeois power in the small states, this would be swept away after the proletariat had taken power in the more advanced states, even if locally the proletarian and communist movements were still weak and in their formative stages.
A parallel and simultaneous development of proletarian power and of the relations of class and party in each country is not a revolutionary criterion but harks back to the opportunist conception of alleged simultaneity of the revolution, in the name of which even the Russian Revolution was denied a proletarian character. The communists do not believe at all that the struggle develops in each country according to a set pattern; they take account of the differences which become apparent through a study of the national and colonial problems, only they co-ordinate the solution with the interests of the one movement to overthrow global capitalism.
The Communist International’s political thesis on how the global communist proletariat, and its first state, should direct the rebellious movement of the colonies and of the lesser peoples against the metropolises of capitalism, appears, therefore, as the outcome of a vast examination of the situation, and of an evaluation of the revolutionary process which is totally in keeping with our Marxist programme. This serves to sharply distinguish it from the bourgeois-opportunist proposition according to which the resolution of national problems has to be ‘prioritised’ before it is possible to talk of class struggle, the consequence of which is that the national principle can be used to justify class collaboration, both in the backward countries and those of advanced capitalism, whenever national integrity and liberty is reckoned to be in danger. The communist method is not so trivial as to say: communists must oppose the nationalist tendency everywhere and at all times. This would be meaningless and would be merely a “metaphysical” negation of the bourgeois criterion. The Communist method counters it “dialectically”, that is, in order to evaluate and resolve the national question it sets out from the class factors. Support for the colonial movements, for example, smacks much less of class collaboration, when – at the same time as recommending the autonomous and independent development of the communist party in the colonies, so it is to ready to surpass its momentary allies, with an independent work of ideological and organisational formation – support for the rebellious movements in the colonies is above all required from the communist parties of the metropolises. And such tactics smack so little of collaboration that they have been condemned by the bourgeoisie, as anti-national, defeatist and traitorous.
Thesis 9 [see preceding ‘Theses on the National and Colonial Question’] states that without these conditions in place, the fight against colonial and national oppression remains a deceitful pretence, as it was in the 2nd International; and thesis 11, section ‘e’, asserts that “a resolute struggle must be waged against the attempt to clothe the irredentist national revolutionary liberation movements in the backward countries which are not genuinely communist in communist colours”. That is enough to corroborate the accuracy of our interpretation.
The need to destabilise the colonies derives from a strictly Marxist examination of capitalism’s situation, insofar as the oppression and exploitation of coloured workers becomes a means of exacerbating the oppression and exploitation of the proletariat in the metropolises. Here the radical difference between our criteria and those of the reformists is again very clear. The latter in fact attempt to show that the colonies are a source of wealth also for the workers in the metropolises, by offering an outlet for products, and draw from this other reasons for class collaboration often having the bare-faced cheek to maintain that their very principle of nationality could be violated by the ‘spread of bourgeois civilization’ and by accelerating the evolution of capitalism. And here we have a perfect example of reactionary distortion of Marxism, which comes down to granting capitalism ever longer postponements of the moment of its demise and the revolutionary attack, by attributing to it a longer and longer historical role, which is something we contest.
Communists utilise forces whose aim is to break the patronage of the great States over the backward and colonial countries, because they consider it possible to overturn these fortresses of the bourgeoisie and to entrust to the socialist proletariat of the more advanced countries the historical task of driving the process of modernisation of the economy of the backward countries forward at an accelerated pace; not by exploiting them, but by pressing for the emancipation of the local workers from both internal and foreign exploitation.
That, in broad strokes, is the correct position the C.I. has taken as regards the question under consideration. But it is very important to see how these conclusions were arrived at in order to avoid the temptation to get embroiled in outdated bourgeois slogans about national liberty and national equality, soundly denounced in the first of the theses [see preceding ‘Theses on the National and Colonial Question’] we referred to as derived from the capitalist concept of the equality of citizens of all classes. Because in these new (in a way) conclusions of revolutionary Marxism, the danger of exaggerations and deviations can sometimes appear.
To give another example: we deny, on the grounds indicated, that any policy of rapprochement in Germany between the communist movement and the nationalist and patriotic movement is justifiable.
The pressure exerted on Germany by the States of the Entente, even in the acute and vexatious forms it has taken of late, does not mean that Germany can be seen in the same light as a small country with an undeveloped capitalism. Germany remains a very large country, extremely well equipped from a capitalist point of view, and one in which the proletariat is socially and politically extremely advanced. To confuse the conditions there with those mentioned earlier is therefore absurd. Without going into a more detailed examination of this serious question, which can be carried out in a less summary way some other time, for us that is enough.
But the fact that within the alignment of political forces in Germany the big bourgeoisie doesn’t have a marked nationalist stance, but, due to its counter-revolutionary actions, is inclined to ally with the bourgeoisies of the Entente to the detriment of the German proletariat; while the nationalist movement is fuelled by layers of the discontented petty bourgeoisie who are also being economically bled dry as this solution gathers pace, that isn’t enough to make us change our evaluation either. The problem a revolution installed in Berlin would face can only be understood by relating it on the one hand, and this is comforting, to Moscow, but on the other hand to Paris and London. The main forces on which we need to depend to counter the capitalist entente between German and the Allies are, not just the Soviet State, but also, in the front line, the alliance of the German proletariat with their counterparts in the Western countries. This is a factor which is so important for the global development of the revolution that it is a very serious mistake to compromise it, at a time when revolutionary activity in England and France is hitting problems, by turning the question of the German revolution, even in part, into a question of national liberation, even if on a level that excludes the collaboration of the big bourgeoisie. The very disproportion in the maturity of the German Communist Party when compared with those in France and England makes it inadvisable to adopt this mistaken position, which aims to counter the anti-patriotism of the German big bourgeoisie with a nationalist programme of proletarian revolution. The aid of the German petty bourgeoisie (which it is certainly better to utilise with other tactics than those of “national bolshevism” and by focussing on the ruinous economic situation of the intermediate classes) would be totally annulled in a situation in which Paris and London felt they had an entirely free hand to cross into Germany and intervene directly: which can only be prevented with an internationalist approach to the question of the German revolution. Maybe it is in France that we should be more worried about the attitude of the petty bourgeois strata, which would be at the mercy of the local bourgeoisie if German nationalism intensified: meanwhile something analogous might be said regarding England, where labourism, now in government, is so blatantly nationalist, on account of and in the interests of the British bourgeoisie.
This all goes to show how forgetting the original principles which lie behind communist political solutions can lead to them being applied when the conditions that prompted them are absent, under the pretext that any more complicated expedient can always be used if necessary. We cannot avoid considering as a phenomenon analogous to the actions of national-socialism the fact that comrade Radek, in support of the tactic he was advocating at an international meeting, “discovered” that the gesture of the nationalist who sacrificed himself in the struggle against the French in the Ruhr should be extolled by communists in the name of the principle (new to us and unprecedented), that above and beyond parties one should support anyone who sacrifices themselves for their ideals.
It is deplorable to reduce the task of the great proletariat of Germany to that of national emancipation when what we expect from this proletariat and its revolutionary party is that it manages to achieve victory not for itself, but to defend the existence of Soviet Russia and its socialist economic evolution, and to unleash against the fortresses of western capitalism the torrent of the world revolution, arousing the workers of other countries who have been temporarily immobilised by bourgeois reaction’s latest counter-revolutionary retchings.
The national disequilibria between the major advanced States are factors we have studied and examined as much as any other: in opposition to the social nationalists we flatly deny that these can be resolved by any other means than the class war against all the major bourgeois States: and the patriotic and nationalist survivals in this camp are considered by us as reactionary manifestations which must not be allowed to gain a foothold in the revolutionary parties of the proletariat; which are called upon, in these countries, to make the most of an inheritance rich in genuine and authentic communist possibilities, and to take on the task of most advanced vanguard in the world revolution.
The Labor Movement in the United States of America
from no. 36)
Presented at the September 2007 party general meeting in Genoa
Trade union activity resumes
We saw how the early 1830s were characterized by renewed trade union activity, partly owing to a general worsening in working class living standards. A large number of banks seemed to pop up from nowhere following the destruction of the Central Bank by Andrew Jackson; banks which flooded the country with paper money and triggered a serious inflationary spiral. We recall that the North had always been the stronghold of the pro-centralization “federalist” party, which advocated strong federal government and the creation of a powerful Union Bank; objectives which, especially to begin with, served commercial and later industrial interests in the North. The interests of the South were instead better represented by the “democratic” party, which supported decentralization and maximum autonomy for the individual states, fearful that the central government could end up in the hands of a financial oligarchy. In addition this party defended the interests of agriculture against those of other economic sectors and small enterprises against the large. These objectives were shared not only by the farming population in the South, but also by a large part of the popular masses in the North, composed in the main of small-holders and artisans.
Between 1834 and 1836 the general price index rose by 25%, and prime necessities much higher. In 1836 a bushel of wheat cost $12 compared to $5 two years earlier. Rents rose from $25 to $40 over the same period. Furthermore, the jobs of skilled workers were being threatened by an inexorable and ever-growing division of labor. Added to which the employers, emboldened by the crisis, became increasingly strict in the workplace, blatantly ignoring the wage levels set by the professional associations.
The hatters in Baltimore and the carpenters in New York were the first to react. In 1833 they launched an agitation which ten years earlier would have been a purely local affair, whereas now that the Working Men had managed to link up the working class in different areas and different professions, it had a much wider impact. The skilled workers in both cities, by now well on the road to building bona fide trade unions of their own, put their hands in their pockets. The tailors and building workers of New York contributed $300 to the carpenters’ strike fund and the printers met to discuss the possibility of going out in sympathy. In the same city, a month after these unprecedented events, the General Trades Union (GTU) was formed, the first city-wide confederation of skilled workers, precursor of the future trades’ councils and the Italian Camere del Lavoro. The example was followed in Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and Washington, before crossing the Appalachians and spreading to the workers of Louisville, Cincinnati and other cities in the Midwest.
This trade union phase of the working class movement was more restricted geographically than the political phase which preceded it, but its influence was more deeply felt among broader sections of the urban proletariat. None of the trade unions admitted women yet and only those in Philadelphia allowed unskilled workers to join, but all of them experienced growth as workers from the most difficult and worst paid trades joined up. Thus more privileged workers such as jewelers and goldsmiths joined unions on a par with those working at the loom and established bonds of solidarity. In 1835 the General Trades Union of Philadelphia numbered no fewer than 53 sections, three times more than the old Mechanics’ Union, and one more than its counterpart in New York. It is estimated that across the entire country between a fifth and third of all workers joined these federations, the highest figure before the Civil War.
Struggles were particularly fierce in the sectors where women predominated. Female wage labor was concentrated in only a few sectors of production such as textiles. Despite the fact they were easier to blackmail than men, women often proved to be far more militant and courageous; and even if their bitter struggles often ended in defeat, they managed to win a fair few battles as well. In certain cases they received solidarity from the male workers’ associations, in Philadelphia for instance, but in general male workers, white male workers, that is, were not in favor of women entering the trades for reasons analogous to those behind their ostracism of black workers, slave or free. The New York tailors addressed the 1,600 strong Tailoresses’ Society with the disparaging comment that “the physical characteristics of women and their moral sensibilities” meant they were more suited to domestic activities. The National Trades Union, an assembly of town-based trade unionists which met annually between 1834 and 1836, prepared a report on female labor in 1836. Although it supported the unionization of all female workers, the report’s outlook was gloomy, predicting a future in which women’s labor and mechanization would “render male labor superfluous”. The brutal conclusion was that the employment of women “must be gradually eliminated”. Faced with opposition from a still immature male labor movement, along with objective difficulties in the labor market (the work of women was in general less physical and there was a high turnover rate, not least because women sooner or later tended to get married and leave the factory, which also resulted in a lack of deeply rooted traditions of struggle) opportunities for the unionization of women were obviously severely restricted.
Male trade unionism had a better time of it. In fact, is difficult in fact to think of a better advertisement for workers’ associations than the strikes of 1835. These awakened the combativeness of workers in trades with no previous tradition of struggle, and which joined the GTU. The existing trade unions gained an influx of new members, ranging from poor immigrants to evangelical Christians, and started to co-ordinate their activities across different cities. Printers, shoemakers and carpenters held national meetings to agree on the regulation of apprenticeships, to fix uniform wage rates and to adopt membership cards that allowed migrant workers the possibility of transferring their union membership across different localities.
Few improvements were gained, however, as most of their attention and energy was absorbed by the struggle to keep up with inflation, which gave rise to a wave of strikes: in 1836 the New York workers stopped working on at least ten occasions and the Philadelphia workers went out on strike even more often. These strikes were made possible by GTU funds and by extraordinary expressions of solidarity by the individual trade unions. Even if the local trade union remained the principal weapon of solidarity and struggle, efforts to build national organizations continued. But the improvement of canal and railroad transportation made it easier for employers to attack the local trade unions through blacklists and the shipment of scabs from one area to another. The workers understood well enough that if wages were lower in one part of the country the bosses would be compelled by the laws of competition to reduce wages elsewhere. Workers in some trades were successful in their attempts to build larger national trade union networks, but none of these would last for long. One of them was the National Trades Union, referred to above.
The strike wave of 1836 triggered the inevitable response from employers. In New York and Philadelphia the employers formed their own associations, which set themselves the task of defeating strikes and destroying the unions. The bosses in New York were particularly successful in their campaign, receiving the backing of judges and the police. The owner of a stone-cutting firm in New York won a suit for damages against striking workers; clothes dealers got twenty workers jailed for conspiracy, the honorable judge declaring that “this isn’t simply a conflict between workers and entrepreneurs, but a struggle on which depends the entire harmony of the union”. While judges plied their dirty trade in the courthouses, battles were being fought in the streets: swarms of policemen were sent in to repress striking dockworkers who were calling for wage increases; when, after long and repeated clashes, the strikes still continued, the city’s mayor did not hesitate to send in the militia, forcing the workers back to work at gunpoint. It was a similar story in Philadelphia, where the unsuccessful attempts to repress longshoremen prompted the mayor to have the union leaders arrested and thrown into jail. In both cities there was a very decisive response from the workers with a demonstration of at least 30,000 workers in New York, which was an entirely new phenomenon. In Philadelphia it was immediately decided to allow longshoremen to join the GTU, who up to then had been excluded because they were unskilled.
In fact these were not the first occasions that the employers had called on the judiciary, police and militia to intervene. In 1829 construction workers on the Chesapeake-Ohio canal were arrested after they went on strike, and then shortly after released. And we have already mentioned the shoemakers of Geneva in New York State, who were arrested for conspiracy in 1833 and slung into jail. Only in 1842 did the Supreme Court of Massachusetts declare that these old conspiracy laws, of English origin, did not apply to the trade unions.
At this point it is worth recording the significance of the militia. In colonial America the militia was based on the tradition of the fyrd, an institution of the European Anglo-Saxon tribes which imposed military service on all free men. It was employed against Native Americans in the period when British regular forces were not yet in place. During the American Revolution, the militia, known as the minutemen, made up the bulk of the American military forces and it also functioned as a reserve force from which regular soldiers could be recruited. The militia would carry out a similar role during the War of 1812 against the British and during the American Civil War, after which it would fall into disuse. But in most of the States volunteer units were formed, drawing on the better off strata (i.e. from those who could afford to pay for a uniform) and these were placed under the control of the State governor. In the 1870s and 1880s these units would be become known as the National Guard, and the State governors would use them to repress workers’ strikes; indeed we will see how this corps, under their new name, would be used ever more frequently by the bourgeoisie as an instrument of repression.
Meanwhile intellectuals and political radicals were rather worried by the turn of events: despite the undeniable gains made in the period between 1828 and 1836, they feared that the strike wave of “might degenerate” into an endless cycle of strikes, which would distract attention away from the “higher” aims of “social reconstruction”, that is putting a brake on the “competitive frenzy” (their definition of capitalism) and building alternatives to bourgeois institutions. In the summer of 1836 radicals started to warn about the dissipation of energy and “waste of resources” that trade union struggles represented. The crisis meant they had an attentive audience.
The crisis of 1837 dealt a tremendous blow to trade union activity. Production virtually ground to a halt and thousands upon thousands of workers were cast into the ranks of the unemployed. By January 1838 there were 50,000 unemployed in New York alone, with an additional 200,000 defined as “in utter and hopeless distress with no means of surviving the winter but those provided by charity”. It was the same story in Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and other manufacturing cities.
With a third of the working class unemployed and most of the others working only part-time, the trade unions of the 1830s would disappear, one after the other. This included the National Trades Union and its associated labor newspapers. Of course this process was accelerated by an offensive on the part of the employers, who saw an opportunity to smash the workers’ movement. So, notwithstanding a few magnificent cases of intransigent resistance, the bosses would win the day, and by 1839 wage cuts ranging from 30 per cent to 50 percent had been forced on the workers.
In these circumstances alternatives to direct action against the bosses would gain a hearing not only among the radical petty bourgeoisie but also among workers. Some claimed that the only solution lay in prayer and spiritual comfort; others that the workers could still elevate themselves mentally, despite what the factory system was doing to their body and spirit.
Some saw the origins of the people’s suffering in the nature of capitalism: a few capitalists had taken control of the means of production and used this control not for the welfare of the people, but for their own profits. Whenever these profits stopped, they shut down production, throwing thousands out of work, and misery would spread throughout the land. The solution, according to this school of thought, lay in a new social order that would abolish all types of slavery and oppression by restoring control over productive forces to the people. Only such a society could usher in an era of universal freedom, peace and harmony in place of war, discord and suffering. To achieve the new social order all that was necessary was for the rich and powerful to endorse the scheme and support it financially; all could then participate in the building of the new communal co-operative society. These were the visions of the Utopian Socialists, in particular the American disciples of two great European thinkers, Robert Owen and Charles Fourier.
We have already covered this phase of proletarian history on numerous occasions since, and a masterly critique can be found in the early writings of Marx and Engels, so we won’t dwell on it here. But suffice to mention that the influence of the Owenite movement in America can be traced back to 1825, when it was greeted with much enthusiasm and a certain degree of success. Numerous colonies were immediately established in several States but these soon failed, and none of them survived beyond 1828. Owen returned to America in 1845 on a speaking tour, and that was about it.
But whereas Owen intended to abolish private property so that technical progress could be exploited in the workers’ interests rather than serving only to increase employers’ profits, Fourier intended to preserve it, preaching a return to the land and condemning industrial production as the worst of all evils. The ideas of Fourier, who never set foot in America, were supported there by his disciple Albert Brisbane. In 1843 several colonies known as phalanxes or phalanges were founded, but all of which, with a couple of exceptions, closed down by the end of the year. Despite the failure of the utopian colonies the influence of utopianism as an ideology continued to exert a certain influence over the working class. What had nevertheless become clear was that a new social system couldn’t be introduced from scratch, bit by bit, and powered only by the force of conviction.
Producers’ (rather than consumers’) co-operatives first appeared in various cities in the early 1830s. They would soon be swept away in the impending crisis but the firm conviction remained among many workers that the only way to improve their lives was through new forms of production and distribution, and this would pave the way for a revival of the co-operative movement in the 40s and 50s. In the minds of the theorists like Blanc in Europe, co-operativism would slowly supplant, by force of example, the bourgeois economic system; but as far as the workers were concerned its value lay instead in the degree to which it resolved their immediate problems.
As in the case of the utopians, we have also already criticized (with particular reference to the history of the English labor movement) the co-operative phase that the working class passed through at a certain, primitive, stage in its development, a critique that need not be repeated here. Like the utopian colonies, In America the co-operative movement met with failure as well. This was particularly true of the producers’ co-operatives, whose weak point was their chronic lack of capital, which held back investment and rendered them less able to resist the ruthless competition of individual producers, who didn’t hesitate to sell below cost to wear down their resistance.
The consumers’ co-operative movement arose a bit later, at the height of the crisis, but only really took off in 1845, when the Working Men’s Protective Union was founded in Boston. This initiative, soon taken as a model for hundreds of other similar associations, had as its principal aim the acquisition of the necessities of life at lower prices for its members, who also benefited from sickness provision and old-age insurance. These co-operatives fared better than the others, lasting up to the outbreak of the war; but in the end they too were undermined by the same forces which had brought the others to their knees. Some of the movement’s theoreticians would express their disgust at the “meanness” of the workers, who only seemed interested in saving a few dollars.
The second great evangelical revival of 1840-43, which gained a broad following within the proletariat, symbolized the idealistic vulnerability of the workers. Huge numbers of “missionaries” traveled through town and countryside to ensnare people experiencing difficult times, partly with inspirational words, but also with the sweet smell of hot soup. The prophets of the new word convinced poverty-stricken workers that Christ had brought hard times to punish the sins of the world, but that he was preparing better times ahead and salvation for those who mended their ways; and the churches filled up.
Naturally abstinence from alcohol was requirement. But sobriety was not a monopoly of the religious movements; trade union activists had also been advocating it over the previous decade. Certainly the knowledge of the negative effects of alcohol, the pressure exercised by the employers who wanted a sober workforce and the enforced frugality of the economic crisis all favored the condemnation of alcohol. The most important of the organizations promoting temperance was the Washington Temperance Society, founded in 1840, which would eventually boast a membership of 3 million, chiefly drawn from the proletariat. Even if these figures are exaggerated we are talking about two to three times more proletarians than were in trade unions at the height of the struggle seven years previously. The Washingtonians also carried out mutual aid and benefit activities, and yet, above all in the North, they had raised liquor to the rank of the workers’ number one enemy, worse even than the greedy banks and exploiting bosses.
Another important reformer was George Henry Evans, former supporter of Skidmore, who elaborated a program of agrarian reform. The plan of the Agrarians or National Reformers, as they were known, essentially consisted of dividing up public land into 160 acre plots and distributing them to every family that requested one. The territories would then be enriched by urban centers equipped with structures useful to the community, supporting both leisure activities and the local economy. In these centers exchange would take place directly without mediation. National Reform was for the antebellum generation what co-operativism was for the generation before. Evans believed that thanks to the vast expanses of land available in the West, the proletariat could escape the destiny of the worker in Europe, where the land was completely under the control of a few privileged landowners. Land reform would bring so much prosperity in its wake that society as a whole could be changed. “And all this,” he concluded,” can be obtained by a simple vote, if the workingmen throughout the country will unite”. Even though the movement, composed of proletarians who wanted to become small farmers, contained utopian aspects, it had links with the labor movement: the rich, bourgeoisie and landowners couldn’t join and were recognized as enemies. Thus the National Reform Association (NRA) formed in 1844, was not a trade union organization but rather a reformist initiative, even if the boundary between it and trade unionism was often blurred. Its supporters recognized the right to strike, even if they did not consider it a weapon that was useful to them in obtaining their particular aim. In any case this movement would still constitute the most important element within the labor movement in the 15 or so years before the Civil War. The structure of the NRA was akin to a modern party, with local sections and due-paying members, periodic conferences, and its own press. The Association also took root in the Midwest, full as it was of subsistence farmers and workers of peasant extraction, where its influence was felt mainly in the cities it took to issuing rallying cries on behalf of co-operation and the ten-hour day.
Despite profound differences between them, Owenites, Associationists (Fourierists) and Land Reformers were all agreed on one thing: the workers would be able to resolve their problems only after they had realized their programs. The first two movements would even publicly condemn the efforts of workers to obtain a shorter working day, arguing that “a mere shortening of hours of labor” would only convert them “from twelve and fourteen to ten hour slaves”. And the same went for wages. Since it was the system itself that was to blame for everything, the mass of the workers had first to understand that nothing short of the abolition of capitalism made sense. Evans took a slightly different position: his movement supported the struggles on behalf of the workers’ claims but at the same time tried to convince them that nothing would last unless land reform was achieved.
These ideas did not just remain on paper. The utopians joined workers’ organizations and took part in their meetings, with the aim of convincing workers that the attempt to obtain a better standard of living in the present society was a waste of their energy. Hopes for a better future lay elsewhere. Impassioned orators often succeeded in making converts, sometimes even managing to carry entire trade union organizations into the co-operativist and reformist camps.
The latter, reformists or utopians, failed to understand something which for Marx was immediately obvious: the capitalist “evil” they were trying to exorcise was actually historically favorable, insofar as it laid the material foundations for the advent of communist society. It wasn’t a matter of “creating” communism through a sheer act of will, irrespective of the existing political and economic forces, but rather a case, using the class’s movement for material survival in the face of its daily difficulties as leverage, of refining the weapons needed to conquer political power, that being the essential instrument required for “the Reversal of Praxis”, in order to “free” society from the bottlenecks of capitalism.
Economic revival in the 1840s
With the economic revival in 1844, evangelists and temperance leagues lost their hold over the workers. But something of it remained within the class, a moralistic approach to the social question. In the small towns a kind of Christian Laborism took hold, in the big cities it took various forms including Nativism, that is, the assertion of the superiority of Americans born in American (although, blacks and the real Native Americans of the country were, needless to say, not included in this exclusive club). This was the new spirit of the times, which would smooth the path to the ideology of “Free Labor”. There were few major battles in these years and what struggles there were tended to focus on the length of the working day.
The country’s pace of development was quickening. Between 1840 and 1860 the numbers of workers in manufacturing sector doubled, while the value of what they produced in the same companies quadrupled. The railway network increased tenfold and there was a similar growth in the population of the urban centers. By now no-one could seriously believe that capitalist development could be arrested. The workers’ movement would slowly begin to pick up again. The big difference compared with ten years previously was that the initiative no longer lay in the hands of the apprentices, the small craftsmen, and the skilled workers in small semi-industrialized enterprises, but with the working class in the factories, who now started to make their voice heard. Meanwhile, many from the class which had sent De Tocqueville into such raptures, the small farmers, were now facing ruin and starvation, and had little option but to head for the nearest city to offer their labor power for sale. Without embarking on the long and hazardous journey to the West, the workers were unable to escape their class and be anything other than workers for life: the American proletariat was becoming permanent.
In New England at the start of the period, labor in the first large factories was primarily female, as were the Female Labor Reform Associations, which emerged from 1845 along with numerous journals. These were organizations of a cultural and political nature, whose scope was to work in favor of female labor at a number of levels; and if required they also functioned admirably as trade union organizers. Another aspect characterizing the working class of New England was that it had not benefited from the improvements that had been conceded elsewhere on working hours; the great majority of its members still worked from 12 to 14 hours per day. Even those who had enjoyed a reduction had been driven back, with the crisis, to working “from dawn to dusk”.
It must be immediately stated that in the period in question, the movement for the reduction of the working day aimed primarily at the imposition of new limits by statutory means. If in 1840 President Van Buren had conceded the 10 hour day to federal employees, obtaining it in private enterprises would prove considerably more difficult. The strategy principally involved the attempt to organize mass pressure on legislators, in order to oppose the control that corporate bosses had over them. Thus commenced activity based on petitions and of support, granted or denied, to parliamentarians depending on their attitude regarding the reduction of working hours in the factories.
The principal outcome of the mobilization was the birth in 1844 of a combative organization named the New England Workingmen’s Association. Founded on the activism of propagandists devoted to the cause, it was soon won over by Fourierists, which meant that little was achieved on either the trade union or legal level. Fortunately the decline of the utopians was already well under way, and by the end of 1845 the Association was again in the hands of the workers whose primary objective was the reduction of working hours. The results, however, were slow to come, and within the movement it was attempted to make use of direct struggle with the weapon of the strike, a course of action which was followed above all by textile workers. But the movement’s weakness was such that at the end of 1846 it devoted itself solely to petitions.
This instrument was not totally ineffective. Although the first States to grant the 10 hours were New Hampshire (1847), Maine and Pennsylvania (1848), the gain remained more symbolic than anything else, in that the law allowed, at the strong insistence of the bosses’ organizations, local bargaining to determine overtime rates. In practice the worker was forced to sign a contract requiring him to work more than 10 hours; those who did not sign were not engaged and ended up on the blacklist. In practice, therefore, it changed nothing, but from the historical perspective it was certainly an achievement, because there was strong working class resistance to the contracts, even if at the end of the day, the bosses won almost everywhere.
The New England Workingmen’s Association once again fell into the hands of the utopians, and in 1848 it closed its doors. The Female Labor Reform Associations succumbed to the same fate. There were further tough fights in Pennsylvania, but in the course of the 1850s, although many States formally granted the 10 hours, the laws were always ineffective, either because contracts allowed for exceptions, or because they simply did not include penalties for failure to implement them. The movement for the 10 hour day was not however without consequences, and a general reduction of working hours occurred: while in 1830 the average working day in America was 12 and a half hours, 30 years later it had fallen to 11 hours. This was no small gain and it was not conceded through the benign attitudes of the bosses but achieved by the workers using all the means at their disposal, in a situation of extreme objective weakness.
The issue of the working day also affected the South: in 1853, in Georgia alone, a law was approved that limited the “dawn to dusk” working day by granting the customary meal breaks, which is to say 10-11 hours. This was, however, an exception, with no similar law being approved anywhere else in the South until after the Civil War.
The usefulness of the latest genetics studies in looking at the prehistory of Britain, which confirms the methods of Marx
A recent edition of Nature (19th March 2015) published an article on the results of recent genetic studies under the title; “The fine-scale genetic structure of the British population”. We don’t intend to deal with the methodology of these genetic studies themselves and larger scale conclusions drawn from the DNA samples provided by individuals who can be regarded as representatives of regional populations in Britain. To be clear, Britain is being used to describe the whole island often referred to as Great Britain – the land mass composing England, Wales and mainland Scotland. The results of this article also overflow into the Orkneys and Northern Ireland.
The introduction to this genetic study “reveals a a rich and detailed pattern of genetic differentiation with remarkable concordance between genetic clusters and geography. The regional genetic differentiation and differing patterns of shared ancestry with 6,209 individuals from across Europe carry clear signals of historical demographic events. We estimate the genetic contribution to southeastern England from Anglo-Saxon migrations to be under half, and identify the regions not carrying genetic material from these migrations. We suggest significant pre-Roman but post-Mesolithic movement into eastern England from continental Europe, and show that in non-Saxon parts of the United Kingdom, there exist genetically differentiated subgroups rather than a general ‘Celtic’ population".
The genetic study was undertaken (and justified as far as bourgeois society is concerned) in investigating the medical implications of such studies. By tracing genetic change through time, and generations, the profitability for the medicine enterprises funding such studies is the direct motive of such work. It would be surprising if developments in medical fields do not result from such work, but the primary purposes as far as capitalist firms are concerned is profit – the bottom line.
It is the scientific “spin off” of this study which interests us Marxists
“The genetic composition of human populations varies throughout the world, as a result of the interplay between population movement, admixture, natural selection and genetic drift. Characterizing such geographical population structure provides insights into demographic history...”.
Science under capitalism frequently specialises, which is useful in that it spreads out into different aspects of the subjects, but also fragments the overall picture of the subjects under examination. Specialisms do tend to have a life of their own and need to demonstrate a useful academic role within the overall framework of academic learning. The slotting in, so to speak, of all the different information into an overall picture of events becomes a task which is more suitable for Marxists, as we have no particular specialism to defend, and expand upon. Also Marxism is the only approach which can bring in all the different dimensions of the subject into the overall historical picture.
Before the results of scientific studies, and also the later examinations of people such as genetics became available there was a restricted amount of information about the human population in prehistory. Prehistory is defined as that period before history, and history is regarded as that period for which written records are available. We make the observation that written records arose out of property (both land and merchandise) and so are expressions of class society, and even when previous myths and legends are recorded they are expressed through the prism of the interests of the ruling elites.
Marx used the material then available to examine ancient history, which would later be called prehistory, in his Ethnological Notebooks. Engels used some of this material in his authorative The Origins of the Family, Private property and the State, and one of the primary purposes of this work was to educate the young socialist parties. The message was clear: at an earlier time there was no property or a state, and in the future under socialism there would also be no property and no state.
The bourgeoisie naturally pours scorn upon such a perspective. For them the whole purpose of society and human endeavours is to sustain property and the state, that is their own society. Archaeology was initially a play-thing of the rich – Schliemann did much butchery to the site of Troy (he ‘discovered’ a place which was already known to the local population) just to justify the stories of Homer. Next, ancient Greece was to receive the Schliemann “treatment”. After that a more orderly approach was to prevail, shown by the work of Arthur Evans in Crete. Much ruined by earthquakes ‘Minoan’ Crete was reconstructed as best as Evans could do at the time. Then the race was on to strip out the ancient world to fill up the museums for the cities of the growing Imperialist powers. Imperialist powers used (clothed themselves in) these ancient traditions to justify their own ‘civilising’ roles.
Archaeology was becoming a battle-ground for political and ideological struggles, that was everything from academic to personal. It was not for nothing that Sir Mortimer Wheeler declared: archaeology is not a science – it is a vendetta.
Many universities and foundations were then involved in excavating ancient sites and deciphering ancient scripts. The time-scales of ancient civilisations were stretching further back in time. Very quickly the “biblical time-scale” was slotted into the wider history of the Middle East, and more rational explanations provided for the various Hebrew myths and legends.
picture on the development of civilisations went further back in
time. The rise and fall of the various empires showed a series of
cycles, demonstrating a steady but irregular advancement of human
society, for which there was little comfort for those who still
clung on to their religious prejudices. The new dominant viewpoint
became the diffusionist model. Civilisation began in the Middle
East and was transmitted outwards by the civilised, by trade and
conquest, so it was taken out the further reaches of other
continents. The furthest outposts of North Western Europe would by
all accounts have been a relatively late developments. Monuments
such as Stone Henge had to be of a late date, and if not a viewing
platform for Egyptian priests, then the only other candidates must
be Minoan travellers. The prospect of such works being the product
of indigenous peoples was too disturbing to be contemplated. The
island of Britain could only have had a backward, undeveloped
population, with Ireland being considered a “wild island on the
fringes of Europe”. This arrogant view-point was soon to be
relegated to the rubbish bin, where it belonged.
The revolution in science and its application to history
The nuclear age, from the mid-1940s onwards, led to the latest scientific methods being available to be applied to archaeological items. Carbon 14 dating (even with its margins of error) started to cause concern. The first readings were shrugged off as being unreliable, but as they proved to be consistent they could not be ignored. The diffusionist model which had been applied to the British Isles was soon shattered. Colin Renfrew repeatedly pointed out that a “yawning millennium” was opening up, that the Bronze Age Monuments, amongst others, could not be a simple appendage of the Middle East civilisations. Time-scales were being extended back “into the mists of time”. Prehistory, previously the threshold to civilisation, was developing into an expanding discipline, with almost a life of its own.was more
The imprecision of C14 dating was soon to be supplemented with tree ring dating (dendrochronology), which has now given a remarkable precision back to about ten thousand years ago. In the absence of DNA samples from skeletons, strontium isotope readings amongst others have given indications of the areas where living beings, both humans and animals, have grown up. Patterns of prehistoric developments, and the movements of individuals can be traced. For instance the recent find of the “Amesbury Archer”, and his companion / relative, who were buried near and contemporaneously with the early stage of Stone Henge, both grew up in the area of the Western side of the Alps.
A remarkable window into prehistory was created with the find of a mummified body in 1991 in the Eastern Alps from the period of the changes from the Neolithic to the Copper Age. The mummified body, now called Oetzi, has so far provided only a limited amount of information about prehistoric movements of peoples. Mitochondrial DNA (female line) was the first to be extracted. The female DNA results has located Oetzi’s ancestry to the K-1 subhaplogroup, which has been further sub-divided into K-1a, K-1b and K-1c. The letter K denotes the descendants of a single female, who’s off-spring (or at least some of them) moved into Europe at approximately the same time as the “Neolithic revolution”
The presumption that the original people of K’s descendants were part of the “farming revolution” presupposes that the developments of those earlier times were like the more modern forms of colonisation rather than developments in food production, or collection, which would exist at the same time. Not everyone was converted into a farming way of life.
The nuclear DNA (a combination of the DNA from the father and mother) has proved not to be robust enough to survive over this period of time (more than 5,000 years). Oetzi’s Y chromosome, inherited through the paternal line, falls within a rare European haplogroup and sub-group known as G-L91, and in 2013 several dozen people living today have been identified in the South Tyrol. Prior to these discoveries in Austria, comparisons with other Euopean, North African and Arabian peninsula DNA showed the nearest results to be found amongst modern residents in Corsica and Sardinia.
It should not be forgotten that in the European / Mediterranean context humans were sailors before they were farmers.
A further dimension to this picture has been provided by the recent results of the genetic testing of controlled groups of residents of the United Kingdom, as now published in Nature. As one of the leaders of the research said:
“Historical records, archaeology, linguistics – all of those records tell us about the elites. It’s said that history is written by the winners... Genetics complements that and is very different. It tells us what is happening to the masses... the ordinary folk”.
The samples used in the genetic study
“To investigate fine-scale population structure in the UK, and to provide well-characterized controls for disease studies, we assembled a sample, the People of the British Isles (PoBI) collection, as previously described”. The analysis used 2,039 PoBI samples from rural areas within the UK, who all had all their four grandparents born within 80 km of each other. From these samples access to the DNA of the grandparents were available, with an average birth-date of 1885. The results point to the DNA of the rural areas before the later large-scale population movements of the 20th century.
Consequently comparisons were made against over 6,000 samples from 10 countries in continental Europe genotyped in the Wellcome Trust’s disease control studies. The limited number of samples in this group needed to use the recently developed fine-scale population structure to “look for more subtle effects”. For more details on this the reader should consult the article, and the methods applied.
The first section (Figure 1) shows a map for 17 clusters, along with a “tree” showing how the resulting clusters are related at less fine levels of this hierarchy. The results between the genetic clusters show a “striking” match with geographical areas, being very localised and non-overlapping. There had been no reference to the location of the samples during their processing.. The researchers found nothing surprising and regarded this as confirmation of the methods used.
“ Our approach can separate groups in close proximity, such as in Cornwall and Devon in southwest England, where the genetic clusters closely match the modern county boundaries, or in Orkney, off the north coast of Scotland”.
What is described as the coarsest level of genetic differentiation (the dividing into two clusters) separates the samples in Orkney from all the others.
Next the Welsh samples separate from the other non-Orkney samples. There was a further separation between North and South Wales.
Then there is a separation of the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland from the rest of England, and a separation in Cornwall from the rest of England.
There is a large single cluster (about half of the samples) that covers most of central and southern England and runs up the east coast.
[The above results will have an extra relevance when we add in results of our studies on the prehistory of the British Isles, which will follow this work. The population of the Orkneys were regarded as an older population even at the time of the Roman attempted conquest of Scotland. Cornwall appears to have had a separate development, not only geographically from Devon, but also a different economic activity as well.]
Comparing UK clusters in relation to Europe
“Genetic differences between UK clusters might in part reflect their relative isolation from each other, and in part differing patterns of migration and admixture from populations outside the UK”.
As far as the UK samples are concerned they retain the term cluster (17 in number) – for the samples from mainland Europe the term group is used.(51 in number). “For each UK cluster we estimated an ‘ancestry profile’ which characterizes the ancestry of the cluster as a mixture of the ancestry of the 51 European groups”.
“The bar charts in Fig. 2 show that some European groups feature substantially in the ancestry profiles of all UK clusters”. The bar charts should be consulted to see their influence on UK clusters. These European groups are from Western Germany, Belgium (what is now the Flemish area), North West and Southern France, Denmark, Spain, Norway and Sweden. Only significant influences (at least 2.5% of the contribution to ‘ancestry profiles’) are taken into account in the bar-charts. Mostly these relate to post-Roman Empire invasions and settlements. None of these movements appear to have obliterated previous populations. In general the results have no surprises as they conform to the historical record of movement of peoples.
References are also made to population movements in remote prehistory, when Britain was still attached to the European mainland. From 9600 until 7500BC movements could take place through a land bridge sometimes referred to as Doggerland. From then on movements had to take place by sea.
Ireland was constituted as a separate island by the raising sea-level by 8000 BC. Except from Ulster Ireland has not figured in any way from this research, which is very unfortunate. Ow Ireland would fit in to an overall picture would have been useful.
Returning to the UK clusters comments are made about the differentiation between the results. The genetic differentiation in “the UK is not related in a simple way to geographical distance. Examples of fine-scale differentiation include the separation of: islands within Orkney; Devon from Cornwall; and the Welsh/English borders from surrounding areas”. Further: “The edges between clusters follow natural geographical boundaries in some instances, for example, between Devon and Cornwall (boundaries the Tamar Estuary and Bodmin Moor), and Orkney is separated by sea from Scotland”.
“After the Saxon migrations, the language, place names, cereal crops and pottery styles all changed from that of the existing (Romano-British) population to those of the Saxon migrants. There has been ongoing historical and archaeological controversy about the extent to which the Saxons replaced the existing Romano-British populations... We estimate the proportion of Saxon ancestry in Cent./S England as very likely to be under 50%, and most likely in the range of 10-40%”.
This explodes the notion of a “celtic genocide’ by the invading Saxons. The post-Roman society was transformed by the Saxon invaders into a new independent society (see our conclusion as the end of this article) overthrowing the old roman rule. The mythical King Arthur, Celtic kingdom, Knights of the Round Table were all fostered by the later Tudor dynasty, who were of Welsh descent, to justify the new ruling bourgeois (mercantile) order.
“A more general conclusion of our analyses is that while many of the historical migration events leave signals in our data, they have had a smaller effect on the genetic composition of UK populations than has sometimes been argued. In particular, we see no clear genetic evidence of the Danish Viking occupation and control of a large part of England, either in separate UK clusters in that region, or in estimated ancestry profiles, suggesting a relatively limited input of DNA from the Danish Vikings and subsequent mixing with nearby regions...”.
This last observation ignores a real attempted bout of genocide carried out by William I in putting down resistance at York. This former Danish area was destroyed in “the harrying of the North” where a two year long campaign of death and destruction, in which starvation was used as a weapon of war. This was an clear message to the Anglo-Saxon population by the new Norman rulers. You are a conquered people, and we will deal with you as we like. Your land has been taken from you, and you are reduced to vassalage. About a century later the Normans also tried to do this also to Ireland. Both of these were carried out with Papal approval.
analysis, now backed up by evidence in genetics, dismantles two
nationalist myths which are widespread both in Britain and in
Ireland, which deny our materialist view of history.
1. The chauvinistic idea of an Anglo-Saxon superiority: England has always been, and even more now, a mixture of peoples.
2. The idea of a Celtic nation / race: Celtic peoples are as diverse as are their British counterparts
It has been the changes in the productive force of societies which are the key to human development
Our conclusions: The research we have reviewed chimes in perfectly with what is written in Factors of Race and Nation, the section on the Germans and the barbarian mode of production. For example in this passage:
"Given the relatively small number of conquerors and their tradition of communist labour, the new organisation of agriculture in these lands left large areas undivided – not just forests and pastures, but also arable land, with German forms of law prevailing over Roman forms, or combining with them. This enabled the formation, among previously nomadic peoples, of a fixed territorial administration; and the birth, over the course of four or five centuries, of Germanic states, whose power extended over the former provinces of the Roman Empire and across Italy itself. The most remarkable of these was that of the Franks, who raised Europe’s bulwark against Moorish invasion and who, while giving way to the pressure of the Normans at the other extremity, allowed populations to continue to live on the territories where they had established themselves, even if this led to complex ethnic mix between Germans, Romans and, in the Frankish kingdom, aboriginal Celts. This recent jumble of ethnic peoples with heterogeneous traditions, languages and institutions meant that these Germanic states could not yet constitute nations; but they were indeed states by virtue of their solid frontiers and unified military forces."
For England, simply replace "Franks" with "Anglo-Saxons". England had been abandoned by the Romans in 410 AD, by which time the influx of Anglo-Saxons was underway. In the century that followed they introduced the Germanic, i.e. feudal, mode of production, which proved superior to what they found there, slave-estates owned by Romanised Anglo-Celts:"The Frankish peasants who had fallen upon this utterly desirable, fertile land and its favourable climate drew more benefit from it than was obtained by gangs of slaves. In this respect, they were part of a powerful rebirth of productive forces that arose from the coming together of all these idle arms and the rich land despised by the wealthy Romans, who had become like the mythical Croesus." (Factors)
All of this confirms the Marxist approach of understanding history the emergence of nations in terms of social-economic developments rather than the official histories of nation states and the deeds of "Great Men". Let alone romantic views of the superiority of "pure" national cultures.
The DNA research goes some way towards proving empirically what Marxist analysis had already demonstrated theoretically.
118 TO 121
successful party general meeting
25-26 January 2014
The Party’s January meeting took place in Florence in our spacious local offices. As far as the logistical arrangements were concerned, everything went very well, with comrades sticking to agreed arrival and departure plans, etc, etc, as anticipated. A broad cross-section of almost all of our groups, from Italy and elsewhere, young and old, were thus able to actively participate in all the sessions, easily follow the numerous reports, and assist with on-the-spot summaries translated into Spanish and English.
But the reason our reduced forces can physically produce so much is due not so much to organizational efficiency but to our communist party way of working. Indeed, as we know, the purpose of the general meetings is to work together. There are no decisions to be taken; no lines to be established, since these were fixed over a century and a half ago; and no positions to be affirmed, apart from those already contained in our texts and theses. We are therefore, happily, freed from the waste of time all that would necessarily entail and can focus on dispassionately rediscovering what we already know, formally defining it in an ever more rigorous way, and comparing the facts of the past with the latest events in this decaying bourgeois world beyond which we can catch a glimpse of the inevitable communist society, which the party is fighting for, and of which it is the living anticipation.
very busy party meeting in Genoa
24-25 May 2014
Our regular party meeting took place in its usual, orderly way with great commitment shown by all of those who attended. Proceedings were conducted using our distinctive method of working, devoid of rivalry between individuals and groups and competing theses, which we are proud to say represents an entirely different approach to that of present day bourgeois society. We believe this is possible not just because our current team of militants is small, and its sphere of influence very restricted; on the contrary, we are certain that in the future it will also inform the global communist party, fighting its enemies in the civil wars to come.
But the best demonstration of the superiority of the party’s working methods lies in the work it has done. We therefore, for the benefit of absent members and readers, give a brief summary of that work here, full presentations of which can be found in our review Comunismo, and some of which have been translated into other languages.
General party meeting in Turin
20-21 September 2014
The party general meeting was held on this occasion in a Turin restaurant from the 19th to the 21st September, with a large turnout which included representatives from most of our groups.
Once again we were both proud and happy with the way work progressed, viewing it as further confirmation of the effectiveness of the communist model of internal party relations, which shuns both amorphous and individualist ’assemblyism’ and the dictatorship of majorities over minorities; which sets out to be a real working structure, observing discipline in a spontaneous and natural way, and in which its internal mechanisms, its general rhythms and the course it follows all form a united whole.
Certainly we do not proclaim ourselves to be the party of the working class on account of our present number of followers or the express approval of workers and proletarians, which is what a democrat would be looking for, but, first of all, because the party is firmly grounded in authentic Marxism, whose orthodoxy the Left defended against later degenerations; a Marxism which has demonstrated, over a long historical period of testing and experimentation, that it is the only doctrine and social science which can fully explain the facts of past class struggles, whose historic course it fully anticipated; and secondly, because we lay claim to a coherent approach to tactics, which derives from that theory, and which we are constantly presenting to the class during its struggles. These positions and indicators which the party sets before the class are today the only ones that actually correspond to the requirements of its battle, surrounded by its enemies on all sides, and to the necessary future course of its emancipation.
of the party’s general meeting in Florence
24-25 January 2015
The long counter-revolutionary historical cycle, which commenced with the defeat of the revolution in Europe, Russia and China in the mid 1920s, and which took the interchangeable forms of Stalinism, fascism and democracy; and which then became firmly entrenched here during long decades of non-war, during a short-lived but virulent productive euphoria, followed by slow, relentless decline; these conditions, highly unfavourable to our small party, nevertheless gave it the possibility of maintaining an uninterrupted continuity in its positions, existence and work over a period of time unequalled in the history of revolutionary parties.
This difficult undertaking of many generations of communists, to prepare the embryonic party destined to lead the pending international revival, drew lessons from the defeats of the past and proceeded to restore Marxism to its uncorrupted state, recapitulating what had gone before and inserting into its unchanging doctrinal framework the latest events, which, over the course of the last century, have severely disrupted the persistently restless global capitalist system, bound by its own immutable laws.
Over many decades, the results of this ongoing work have accumulated in the columns of our press, and they now form a legacy – all intricately connected even if dispersed across countless yellowing volumes, in various critical studies and in various languages – which is the party, and without which the party does not exist.
And this is why the movement never forgets the connection between its past work and today’s, supporting today’s work on the solid foundation of yesterday’s. It is known that we like to engage in dialogue with our dead comrades. For this reason and at a timely moment the party came up with the means – the "Indices of the Party’s work", initially stencilled and distributed to every section – so we could improve access to this vast mass of material, which, while it may appear to be jumbled and disconnected at first glance, is entirely coherent. This fundamental task is one to which the movement continues to dedicate its attention.
The party’s general meetings also serve that purpose, of reminding us of what has already been done, of connecting our present with our past. And that is precisely what we also aimed to do at this general meeting, with almost all of our groups represented.
Friday afternoon and Saturday morning there was the general planning
meeting, and on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning we listened to
several reports, all of which were very interesting and extremely
important; in fact all of them are really attacks on the fortress of
capital; all from various different angles but all part of one
unique plan to destroy it.
Course of the economic crisis in the realm of production and finance
- The successive forms of production in the Marxist theory
- The military question
- The party’s activity in the Trade Unions
- The national question and the history of Ireland
- Origins of the labour movement in Italy
- History of the labour movement in Venezuela
- The concept of dictatorship before Marx
- History of India and the arrival of capitalism
- The arming of the States and ongoing conflicts
- The labour movement in the USA
of the economic crisis in the realm of production and finance
We summed up the course of the economic crisis from the post-war period to the present basing it on the report published in Il Programma Comunista, 1957, which included the table ’Percentage distribution of world industrial production’. 18 years later, in 1975, we published an updated version of it in Il Partito Comunista with a commentary on its significance. Eventually in 1991, another16 years having passed, we republished it in our Course of the World Economy with figures updated to the year 1985. Finally now, 13 more years of grim social counter-revolution having elapsed, years which have nevertheless also been ones of irresistible and extremely revolutionary development, and envelopment, of the world by capitalism, we are analysing this latest stage, to see how the balance has shifted between the different powers. The world has certainly changed a lot in that time.
Our aim is to provide an overall view of the course of imperialism since the major crisis in 1974-5 and to explain the development of the crisis of over-production into which world capitalism plunged from the middle of 2008.
Two fundamental contradictions are strangling capitalism: the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and the impossibility of finding an equilibrium between production, which manifests as a massive accumulation of commodities, and the market. The intersecting of these two contradictions leads to periodic crises of over-production; crises which illustrate the paucity of the capitalist mode of production, which can no longer allow free development of the productive forces. The law of value, fundamental for the accumulation of capital, has become an obstacle to the development of the vital forces of humanity.
It is a contradiction that can only be resolved by the communist revolution, which will abolish the relations of production based on the law of value, capital and wage labour along with the law of value itself, and move on manage production on a social basis, the foundations of which have been laid by capitalism itself.
The fall in the rate of profit translates into a slowing down of accumulation and consequently production. That doesn’t mean to say that growth is arrested or that production diminishes, but that from one cycle to another its rate of growth in percentage terms, relative to its mass, falls, tending toward zero growth.
Every cycle has for its point of departure the maximum reached before the crisis, there is then a decline in production for a few years, the seriousness of which varies according to its depth and duration, its point of arrival is then the new maximum reached after production picks up again, immediately before the next recession. Thus capitalism is forever passing from one cycle to another and from one crisis of over-production to the next.
A table of average annual percentage increases in industrial production was displayed showing cycles of capital accumulation between1900 to 2007. The first cycle begins in 1900, marking the coming of age of the era of imperialism, and finishes in 1913, on the eve of war. The second cycle runs from 1913 to 1929, when a new maximum of industrial production is reached, just before the Great Depression. The third, short period, is from 1929 to 1937, marking the new maximum reached before the Second World War. The fourth cycle we calculate as running from 1937 to 1973, in which the year the cycle of strong and virtually recession-free accumulation comes to an end.
The average annual rate of industrial growth corresponds with the classification of the capitalisms by age. The rate in Great Britain, where industrial capitalism first appeared, is very low. Following it in chronological order are France, Germany, the United States, Italy, Russia, Japan, China and finally South Korea. The rhythm of growth in the older capitalist countries is slower.
By reading across the table, rather than vertically, the considerable slowing of the pace of growth from one cycle to the next can be clearly seen.
The levels of growth during the 1950-73 cycle show the rejuvenation of capital, or rather of its productive apparatus, due to the war.
1973 signals a break, the ending of the cycle of euphoric, almost uninterrupted, accumulation. This frenzied accumulation created the illusion that continual progress was possible on the scientific, technical and the social level, and the working class as well would fall for it as well, swallowing the various myths and superstitions put about by the petty bourgeoisie.
The 34 year-long cycle running from1973 to 2007 is characterized therefore by a clear slowing down in the rate of capitalist accumulation, with growth tending to zero.
Russia, after the disintegration of its state and its empire and the extremely deep recession in the 90s, is to be found at the bottom of the list with an average annual decline of 1.2%! The United States, on the other hand, did better than the other old imperialisms with a rate of growth of 2.4%. China, in first place, does much better at 11%, although less than its previous 12.7%.
To chart the course of capitalism as a whole we then calculated an index of world industrial production, with the aim of comparing the relative strength of the major industrial and imperialist centres. The index is based on the production of electricity.
The global figures clearly show a reduction in average growth, going down from 8.3% in the 1950-73 cycle, to 3.5% in the 1973-2007 one; and this despite the spectacular development of capitalism in Asia and in particular in China over the last 34 years. The slow-down is undeniable. What is directly evidenced here is a decrease in the rate of growth of production, which is a mathematical indicator of the decrease in the average rate of profit, it being the profit, from each capitalist cycle, which is reinvested in order to render possible the growth of production.
The old global imperialist centres, namely the United States, Europe and Japan have been losing ground in relative terms. China meanwhile has been gaining ground, in particular between the years 2000 and 2007 and at a pace comparable with the old industrialized countries in the early years of their growth.
There is no doubt about the growing significance, within the 2000-2007 cycle, of many other large countries which have now fully entered the capitalist maelstrom, like Brazil, India and a number of countries in south and east Asia such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, etc, etc.
The world’s economic centre of gravity has shifted, as Engels predicted, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
In 1973 there was a significant hiatus.
The more the productive forces are developed the quicker capitalism spreads into new regions. The rapid accumulation of capital results in the proletarianization of peasant farmers and artisans, something happening now at a much faster rate than in the past. As a consequence the global society of the bourgeoisie is aging very rapidly and we are fast approaching its demise and the necessary transition to communist society.
Still using the production of electricity as our point of reference we produced another table showing the industrial strength of the main countries set against their respective populations, in percentages. Dividing the former by the latter we have the “relative industrial intensity”, which indicates how far the capitalist form has developed in a country compared to the global average.
Reading across horizontally we note the inexorable decline of the old capitalisms, whereas consistent growth is to be noted in the countries with young capitalisms, above all in China.
Great Britain, still weighing in at 7% in the ’60s, had fallen to 2% by 2007. France, at 3.8%, is down to 2.8%. And Germany, with its 6.1% in 1973, is only 3.2%. Russia at 9.2% in 1989 is down to 5.1% and the decline continues. The great American power, responsible for 40% of global electricity production in 1960, sees its portion reduced by around half, to 21.7%, which is nevertheless an enormous figure which no other country has reached. China is the only one which comes near, having gone from 2.7% in 1973 to 8.9% in 2000, and then in only 7 years it almost doubled its load!
The Chinese bourgeoisie knows full well that the time will come when Chinese industry has the capacity to produce more arms than the United States.
What it forgets, like every other bourgeoisie in the world, is the crisis! For Chinese capitalism is now on the brink of a terrible crisis of over-production, the scale of which will dwarf anything China, or anywhere else, has experienced before. It is possible that the regime could even collapse in the face of this overwhelming crisis, as did the Union falsely dubbed as ’Soviet’ back in 1991. Or the crisis may pave the way for a third world war.
The two most powerful countries today are, therefore, the United States, and China. Europe is next in the ranking at 12.2%, but it isn’t politically or militarily united, divided as it is into a multitude of states with diverging interests. In fourth position is Japan (5.7%), then Russia (5.1%), followed by India (4.0%).
We know that a large part of the world’s population is concentrated in China (20.8%) and India (17.8%). The population of Europe and the United States is about the same with respectively 5.4% and 4.8%. Russia and Japan are on a par at 2.2% and 2.0%.
Per capita production of electricity, that is, kilowatt-hours divided by population, is an absolute rather than a relative “industrial intensity index”, and it shows that in no country does the figure ever go down: history may move forwards quickly or slowly, but it is only ever in one direction and, temporary catastrophes aside, the cultural-social-material-technical apparatus is a permanent acquisition. In short, the old, decaying capitalisms are not, and never will be, less virulently capitalistic that they were before: the horrible capitalist civilization may be slowing down, but it is not going into reverse gear. And this gives revolutionaries an advantage.
The old metropolises are going into decline relatively speaking, even though they are still global leaders in terms of industrial intensity. The United States, whose intensity in 1960 was three times that of the Europeans, is now only double it; thus although it is still way ahead of the others, its relative decline is confirmed. Each of the capitalisms, after having reached a maximum, after having accumulated at a faster rate than the global average, then drops below the average, and, in relative terms, regresses. This regression of the old capitalisms expresses the useful spread of capitalism to the entire planet, which is certainly the necessary premise for the communist revolution.
At the other extreme we have China and India, presenting a qualitative intensity that is very weak, indicating that broad sectors of society in these countries are still at the pre-capitalist stage. It is nevertheless important to take note of the difference between China at 77 and India at 23. Despite their weak industrial intensity, this doesn’t detract from the fact that these states have huge resources, both actual and potential, at their disposal, along with the capacity to mobilize much more energy than France, Germany or even Russia can ever hope to do.
Over the pasOver the past 34 years, following the international crisis in 1974, the global situation has therefore changed enormously. Up to the end of the 1980s the world was divided between the Western Bloc – Japan and Europe behind the United States – and the Russian bloc. In the 1970s China didn’t carry much weight and only overtook Italy in 1973. Then the Russian bloc fell apart. China represents 16% of global industrial production whereas Russia only 5.1%. All of the states will end up siding with either the United States or China.
of the forms of production in the Marxist theory
The reports on the Marxist doctrine of the modes of production are not a history course, understood as a cold analysis of events whose underlying connectedness is deemed unknowable, but a death knell for capitalism – insofar as it is merely a transitory system of social relations – and at the same time an announcement of the historical necessity of communism, which will reconnect the species to the natural organic unity of its origins.
The comrade commenced by describing the way in which the powerful doctrine of communism approaches things. Any social relation presents particular characteristics which stem from it being part of one production rather than of another. One form of production is therefore defined with respect to the others; and with this approach alone is it possible to grasp the aspect that is of interest to Marxism: the dynamic behind the transitions, in which one can trace both the road that leads from primitive communism to higher communism, and the persistence of communistic elements within the various class societies which constitute a historic memory of mankind’s original state of being and an announcement of the reign of liberty to come.
This classification allows us to get to the point where we can trace a schema of the successive forms of production, applicable throughout the world and throughout history, from which it emerges that the march of humanity as a whole has had a historical trajectory determined by precise conditions, which some people have traversed from beginning to end only to arrive at the most monstrous stage of all, capitalism, which, with its tendency to create a world market, already implies in itself that the mode of production that comes after it must necessarily be one which embraces humanity as a whole.
In order to represent this grand design to a generation of workers who are used to hearing non-stop praise for the present society, the speaker went on to provide some references to past work by the party on the subject.
As mentioned in the previous report, in this journey across the millennia we will be guided by Marx’s Grundrisse, and in particular by the chapter ‘Forms which Precede Capitalist Production’. This great historical course we do not read as a “natural” tendency for the idea for the idea of individual liberty to progressively unfold; on the contrary we witness a violent separation of the conditions of work from the worker, culminating in today’s society, which will remain until – under communism – the two poles are reconnected.
When the human species separated itself from the rest of the animal kingdom, production and exchange no longer took place between isolated individuals, because the first communities were characterized by a general commonality. Engels in his the Family, Private Property and the State perfectly describes the passage from the state of savagery through to civilization, via barbarism.
The development of the forces of production is accompanied by an ever greater division of labour, bringing with it the first division into social classes. There now arises the need for an instrument to sanction the rule of the exploiters, the State, whose class nature was confirmed by Lenin in State and Revolution.
In the transition phase from one form to another violence always performs the very important role of “history’s midwife”. But violence per se is not sufficient to explain the dialectical leaps that literally force the species to bring about such changes in social relations.
The monogamous family, the most recent of a number of relational forms that have existed between men and women, corresponds to capitalism. Characterized for millennia by a natural organic unity, these relations change with the changes in the mode of production: they are themselves transitory. And just as the monogamous proprietorial family will perish along with capitalism, so will the exploitation of women by men also disappear.
The Forces of production are "the physical labour power of man, the tools and instruments he makes use of in order to apply it, the fertility of cultivated land, the machines that add mechanical and physical energy to the physical power of man (...) The Relations of Production (...) are the necessary reciprocal relations into which men enter in the social production of their existence. The freedom to, or prohibition from, occupying land to cultivate it, using tools, machines or manufactured goods, or to have the products of labour for consumption, (...) are relations of production. If we put the accent on the legal aspect rather than the economic, we can equally refer to relations of production as property relations" (from Factors of Nation and Race in Marxist Theory).
On these foundations there arise gigantic Superstructures which, in class societies, place the mechanism of immediate reproduction of the species at the service of the ruling class, transfiguring it in order to prevent the class that is ruled from comprehending that fact. And among these superstructures a role of primary importance is held by the class State. The structure, superstructure and the relations between have their own reflection in thought, such that "the ideas of the dominant class in every epoch are the dominant ideas".
Marxism is a doctrine of revolutions and counter-revolutions, a theory which analyses, as regards what interests us here, the complex dynamics of the passage from one mode of production to another. “At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production (…) with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundations the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed” (Marx, Preface to A Critique of Political Economy).
The development of wealth is transformed into its opposite. This inversion turns the oppressed class, bearer of the new way of regulating the reproduction of the species, into the gravedigger charged with burying the old society. The modern proletariat is the only class that can give birth to communism from the womb of capitalism, and end the reign of necessity.
The speaker went on to describe the main features of primitive communism, characterized by an absence of class antagonisms and coercive superstructures, and in which there is an immediate unity of production and distribution.
In the Neolithic age, the development of agriculture and the introduction of new techniques of manufacture such as weaving and the production of pottery and copperware, alongside an intensification of animal husbandry, allow a food surplus to be set aside. This brings about the growth of permanent dwellings, their concentration in villages and towns, and the establishment of connections between them.
Marxist theory subdivides primitive communism into two great epochs, savagery and barbarism, each divided into three more stages. The Primary Form of production ceases with the middle stage of barbarism when, at the cost of much spilt blood, the division of society into classes is gradually established, thus giving rise to the Secondary Form.
In the early stages of communism there is no property, only the po, only the possession on the part of the community – not of the single individual or the family – of the natural conditions of its own reproduction. Given the low level of the productive forces the natural ties of blood are the determining factors within this society. We must therefore turn out attention to the evolution of the family from matriarchal to patriarchal, and from group marriage to monogamy; a process which played a major part in the dissolution of the primary form. The family must be treated like a relation of production determined by the sub-structure.
The more the productive forces develop the more blood ties become reduced in importance. The ending of the matriarchy sanctioned the submission of women, who are now bound to the organic conditions of production on a par with slaves. The first division of labour is born, even if this doesn’t mean there was no division of tasks or hierarchy under communism. itive communities know no antagonisms or conflicts of interest. They are however subjected to antagonistic relations with other communities which break out into violent conflict whenever the multiplication of human beings puts the organic exchange with nature under strain: the triumph of one community entails the destruction of the other.
It is precisely war, which becomes an endemic scourge during the period of humankind’s infancy, which will destroy the primary form. In the era of the dissolution of primitive communism, defeated tribes are more often than not enslaved, their organic conditions of reproduction becoming little better than those of animals.
The final phase of natural communism will see a huge increase in the productive forces and social upheavals capable of imposing the extension, and then the destruction, of the natural community. When property relations start to create divisions between the members of the community we have arrived at the phase of the violent destruction of lower communism.
The study then proceeded to an analysis the Asiatic variant, the first of the modes of production characterized by the division into opposed classes. The practice of agriculture and the domestication and rearing of animals, the urban revolution and the formation of the first city-states, etc., pave the way for an impetuous advance in the forces of production, at the same time destroying the old relations within which they had peacefully grown. Thus the ancient unity of productive forces and relations of production would be broken up, inaugurating the fetishism in which social relations are hidden behind things. Of mankind’s infancy there still remains in the memory the myth of a golden age, as well as certain marginal survivals in social relations.
Every society of a certain spatial and demographic consistency must have gone through an Asiatic phase: the ties of consanguinity and community, collective property as the means of production (the land), the institutions for taking decisions based on tribal assemblies, etc; these do not disappear over night. Especially in the eastern Mediterranean private property soon replaces community ties and the class of proprietors constructs a political power, a State; elsewhere, in Asia and America, the Asiatic variant on the contrary survives for millennia, and comes crashing down only under the blows of European colonialism.
Agriculture and the raising of livestock, which is collective to begin with, becomes progressively based on, and gives rise to, property in land and herds. Society loses the possibility of developing harmoniously and takes on the features of a war to defend the particular privileges of the classes into which it is divided. At the same time the contrast between town and country, so typical of class society, is born.
The surplus product, which increases due to improved agricultural techniques, allows the division of labour to develop further, making it possible for a part of society to dedicate itself to activities not directly linked to material production. Whilst, on the one hand, this process represents a major advance, on the other hand it becomes the economic basis of class domination and submission, destroying the ancient human harmony that will arise again only under higher communism.
Commercial activity arises from the requirement for exchange within a productive structure that has become separated into different branches and to allow these to expand. As the separation between the various spheres of production increases pure quality, use value, is transformed into pure quantity, exchange value. We have arrived at the stage where products are produced with a view to exchanging them. The developing mercantile sector was what prompted the invention of money, and, later on, the lending of it.
What distinguishes the Asian variant of the second form of production is the presence of a strong central authority, which has general responsibility for overseeing public works (organization of the water supply, defence, collection of tributes, etc.) and the small self-sufficient villages in the countryside. The State ensures the protection of the farmers from the invasions of nomadic peoples, who tend to convert farmland back into pasture.
The village is founded on the combination of agriculture with domestic industry and the individual either works independently on the parcel of land periodically assigned to him by the community, or as part of a collective organization to cultivate the soil.
As society moves towards mercantile production, relations between the centre and the periphery increasingly come to be mediated by money and less and less by the direct administration of land and livestock or the direct control of labour and the central administration ends up merely as a collector of taxes and customs duties.
The Asian variant is static and “historyless” because it is so resistant to change; the elements required to break it up are simply not there; being the closest to primitive communism it has retained much of its organic nature.
The evolutionThe evolution of society is reflected in familial type relations. As relations of private property in land and livestock come to supplant primitive blood ties, so the owner of the means of labour comes to own the producers; in the patriarchate, a form of the property-owning family community, its members become domestic slaves. The condition of women becomes the mirror of the condition of the producers.
Following German unification, brought about by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the national question was still unresolved in Italy and many other European countries within the Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires.
According to our theory, the function that crises, and especially wars, perform is accelerating the process of capitalist centralization by forming ever larger economic, productive and financial entities. o-Turkish War of 1877-78 was a part of this process, by taking up the two most important questions left unresolved by the Crimean War of 1854-55: Russian expansion towards the Mediterranean and Asia, and the carving up of the European territories of the decadent Ottoman Empire.
Revolts in Bosnia, Herzegovina and Bulgaria, which were seeking independence from the Ottoman Empire, were harshly repressed, while Russia tried to take back territory lost in the preceding war. England, via Constantinople and the Black Sea, funnelled the enormous quantity of commodities produced by its powerful industrial base through to Persia, India and Asia. Russia entered into alliances with the Balkan states, all subjected in one way or another to the Ottoman Empire.
On 27 April 1877 Russian troops crossed Rumania, getting to within 2 kilometres of Constantinople. The English fleet protected the city. The peace treaty entailed a major redrawing of borders in the Balkans. Russia, in the face of England’s opposition, did not manage to get to the Mediterranean but obtained Bessarabia, part of Armenia, and important fortresses in the Caucasus. Serbia, Montenegro and Romania were independent. Eastern Rumelia obtainedadministrative independence. England took Cyprus. This “Balkan powder keg” would explode in the First World War.
The rapid development of European capitalism required an increased supply of both food and raw materials for industry, both to be found in neighbouring Africa. In less than 30 years the latter would be completely divided up between the European powers, with Ethiopia and Liberia the sole exceptions.
But expectations of an easy conquest would come up against the reality of stiff resistance from the armies of the more developed African states, which engaged the Europeans in prolonged revolts, some of which, like Algeria’s struggle with France, went on for decades. All these wars were “asymmetrical” insofar as they were fought between modern European armies and African forces armed mainly with traditional weaponry. The Europeans suffered several defeats, the most important being Isandlwana (1879), where the British were defeated by the Zulus, and Adowa (1896) where the Italians were defeated by the Ethiopians.
In 1884 a conference of the European states in Berlin was held to plan future conquests. It was feared that if a war broke out between the European countries over the African colonies, it might trigger proletarian revolts or even revolution in the mother countries.
The British Empire was the largest in the whole of human history: the
Subject territories were 94 times the size of the mother country, representing an enormous mass of extremely low cost labour power and cheap raw materials. In Africa, English colonization spread from the far South toward the far North, with a view to achieving territorial continuity spanning the length of the continent.
In the old Cape Colony there lived the Bantu tribe, predominantly pastoral semi-nomads but with an established military organization, together with other small non-migratory tribes, engaged in a backward agriculture; the Boers (“farmers”), descendants of the first colonizers, with a modern agriculture employing local labour; and the British, who were engaged in commerce, industry and administration.
The discovery of diamonds in the Orange River in 1867 attracted around 40,000, mainly English, prospectors. The mining cartel feared the Zulus would sell the mining concessions to the competition and called for a military solution. The first great battle took place on 22 January 1879. Only 50 of the English survived. The English counter-offensive routed the opposition: 12 cannons and 2 machine guns exterminated the Zulus.
The occupation of Egypt, part of the Ottoman Empire, is a clear example of economic, followed by military and colonial, domination. After the financial crash of 1893 the British government, through the Rothschild bankers, persuaded the Egyptian Viceroy to sell his share of the Suez Canal. The French and English then formed an “Egyptian Debt Commission” to protect their investments: taxes were increased and a part of the army was mobilized. A number of rebellions by the Egyptians followed.
The English fleet then commenced a heavy bombardment of Alexandria using its powerful new naval cannons, which allowed forces to disembark in the city. The English occupied the city of Ishmâ’ilya, on the Canal, using reinforcements from India. Egypt, though still nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, would remain under British administration until 1956.
A feature of these wars was the use of machine guns; mainly of American manufacture, and becoming progressively lighter, these weapons could be mounted on tripods and manoeuvred by just one gunner.
The colonialism of the Italian bourgeoisie in Africa is an example of how a corrupt and contemptible class was capable of using against the indigenous populations the same violence it used in the home country against the proletariat.
The Italian government intended was to open a campaign of colonial penetration into the only part of Africa not yet occupied. After the acquisition of a small strip of land in the bay of Assab (in present-day Eritrea), the plan would be frustrated by popular revolts in Italy against the grist tax, and by the protests of the European powers. Italy hadn’t yet completed its unification but was already pressing for colonial expansion.
In 1882 the Rome government occupied the port of Mitsiwa, situated further up the Red Sea on the Eritrean coast. The rapid penetration towards the fertile high plateaus brought protests from the emperor of Ethiopia, an ancient and powerful empire of a feudal type formed of several federated kingdoms. On 26 January a column of 548 Italian soldiers was annihilated near Dogali. Crispi, the prime minister, decides to send in a contingent of 20,000 men. The Emperor Menelik, with money previously received from the Italians, acquires modern arms and munitions, some of Italian manufacture.
Menelik with 100,000 men, fire-arms, canons and machine guns attacks the Italian forces stationed in widely dispersed forts and outposts, but agrees to let the soldiers to leave in exchange for peace. The demand is rejected several times by the Italian government. The Italian troops are concentrated around Adigrat whilst the Ethiopian troops are gathered in the Adowa basin. Confusion reigns in the Italian command and in the government in Rome, the latter deciding to replace the field commander without letting the outgoing one know.
An attack by Menelik on all fronts, exploiting his far superior knowledge of the local terrain, resulted in a crushing defeat for the Italians who were either captured or killed. There is no plan of retreat. The Italian losses are serious: 7,000 dead, 3,000 taken prisoner, 1,500 wounded, plus all the artillery and equipment. The release of the prisoners costs the Italian government 5 million lira, which raises the money through public subscriptions.
Underlying the Second Anglo-Boer (or South African) War, were the interests of English capitalists in the gold mines. Discovered in the Transvaal in 1886, they had attracted an enormous number of new, mainly English, colonists, whereas the Boers were predominantly modern agriculturalists and stock raisers.
The Cape governor, Cecil Rhodes, a multi-millionaire and biggest producer of diamonds in South Africa, pressed for the Transvaal and the Orange Free State to be annexed by the British Empire. In 1895, with the secret support of London, he organized an attempted insurrection and invasion of the Transvaal using mercenary troops, the Jameson Raid, which was a resounding failure.
The Boers in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State attacked anticipating the arrival of English reinforcements. Their troops were recruited on a voluntary basis and had to provide their own equipment and support themselves. They were expert horsemen, good with guns and would form the so-called ’commandos’, units of around a thousand mounted infantrymen. There was no precise military hierarchy or binding rules. The State provided up-to-date artillery, as well as superior rifles (many of which were supplied by Germany) and there were around 90,000 volunteers in all.
To the initial batch of 22,000 English troops there was added a continual flow of reinforcements from the best English divisions, including those based in India, Iron discipline prevailed. The well-established tactic, which anticipated a preliminary heavy bombardment, followed by an attack by the infantry drawn up in close formation and a final cavalry charge, proved ineffective here and the English command had to modify it. The first Boer offensive took place on 12 October 1899. 21,000 Boers, divided into 4 groups, successfully laid siege to the English outposts. After this success they took up a defensive position, despite the situation being strategically in their favour.
With their new reinforcements the English attacked, but were heavily defeated. With their perfect knowledge of the land, the battle tactics of the Boer commandos proved very effective, countering the English frontal attack, with the powerful new Mauser repeating rifles, from their position in long trenches protected by barbed wire.
The new British commander adopted a change of strategy: instead of liberating the besieged positions he passed through the Orange Free State and headed for the enemy capital. The Boer commandos fell back to defend it in a disorganized fashion. A first English attack was repelled but their 20 Maxim machine guns would wreak havoc in the Boer camp; the Boers made an unconditional surrender. British losses from fever and dysentery were even higher, caused by drinking river water infected by the bodies of the dead.
The mopping up of the remaining pockets of guerrilla resistance in Orange took just two weeks, 4,300 out of the 6,000 Boers surrendering while the remainder fled to safe areas where they regrouped for future guerrilla attacks. Finally, at the battle of Bergendal, the Boers were defeated and 2,000 of them took refuge in Mozambique.
But 30,000 Boers were still under arms and determined to fight, especially after the British resorted to the tactic of destroying their harvests and burning their farms. The Boer commandos quickly reorganized and launched major attacks on the British rearguard which had pushed too far north.
The British command implemented the tactic of harsh, rapid repression. Mobile columns combed the areas occupied by the guerrillas, requisitioning harvests and livestock and deporting women and children as well. Enormous concentration camps were built for Boer civilians where illness and malnutrition were rife.
Finally, in 1902, the Boers surrendered once and for all. The two Boer republics ceased to exist and were annexed by the British Empire.
The figures seem incredible: over 500,000 English soldiers deployed, 8,000 dying in combat and 13,000 through illness. Around 100,000 Boers in arms, 4,000 dying in combat, 6,000 through illness, with 24,000 prisoners deported overseas. 28,000 Boer civilians perished in the 58 concentration camps, 22,000 of whom were children. 30,000 farms were burnt down.
The Boers lost the war mainly because their army lacked a clear command structure, a legacy of their social structure and economy adapted to the needs of independent farmers and stock-breeders in a vast territory. But their guerrilla tactics obliged the British to invest much for little return.
The Boer Wars mirror the struggle between two forms of capitalism: the more modern English one based on industry versus the Boer one based on extensive agriculture and they signal with the rise of the factories and the new cities the transformation of these farmers into merchants and manufacturers, in other words, the birth of modern South Africa.
An account of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5 was then presented.
The long economic crisis had broken out in 1873 like a violent epidemic and infected all the most important economies of the time.
Alexander II, the reforming Tsar, had abolished serfdom in 1861, from which emerged millions of small and impoverished independent farmers. About as many again who had not been included in the redistribution of the land became pure proletarians, and provided the labour power for Russia’s mighty capitalist development. The railway network grew from 1,500 Km in 1860 to 31,500 Km in 1892. This allowed the coal fields to be linked up with the iron mining districts of southern Russia creating a powerful metallurgical industry.
The new productive capability supported Tsarism’s need to expand in a territorial sense. As Engels wrote: “in order to maintain absolutist government inside the country, Tsarism needed not only to be invincible in international relations, but to obtain continual victories, it had to compensate the unconditional submission of its subjects with the chauvinistic intoxication of victory, with ever new conquests”. After ceding Alaska to the United States, which was militarily indefensible against England, it sought to expand in three different directions: Constantinople and the Mediterranean; India and Persia; and the Far East, where it would come up against Japan.
Japan was also emerging from its long feudal period after the “Revolution from on high” of 1867-68, when the centuries old dualism of power between the military command, become hereditary and entrusted to the Shogun, and the quasi-symbolic role of the Emperor, had been suppressed. The young Japanese bourgeoisie, originally concentrated in trade and commerce, had taken hold of the economic direction of the country and needed to modernize its social and political structures. Some Shoguns, in a vain attempt to maintain the country’s isolation, had even forbidden the construction of modern ocean-going vessels.
The Emperor became a symbol of modernity. The Prussian system was taken as the model both for the new constitution and for the organization of the army, now by forced conscription, and for the formation of the General Staff.
In Japan, too, the power of modern industry was evident in the development of the railway network; in 1871 only 26 Km of railway track had been laid, by 1895 this had risen to 4,151; and the 38 Km of telegraph lines around in 1871 had become 52,704 by 1895. In 1871 Japan possessed a merchant marine of 86 ships; by 1895 this had become 717, of which 87 were ocean-going.
To better defend Japan from foreign attacks the strategy of the “line of advantage” was adopted, which involved expanding its borders overseas and creating a buffer zone on the continent. The first territory brought to heel in pursuit of this strategy was the Korean peninsula. Korea was an independent kingdom but a vassal and tributary of the Chinese empire, both of them bogged down in serious political crises. In 1876 Japan imposed commercial treaties on Korea and compelled it to open up some of its ports.
In 1894 the great peasant uprising known as the Donghak Rebellion broke out and advanced on the Korean royal palace. China despatched 2,300 soldiers and Japan 8,000. After the suppression of the rebellion the government of Japan nominated a pro-Japanese government. Following Chinese protests, war broke out, which was easily won by the small but strong and well organized army of Japan against the large but inefficient Chinese army. Korea, passing under Japanese control, ceded the Liaodong peninsular, including the fortress of Port Arthur, along with Taiwan and the Pescadore islands.
The European powers, concerned by the manoeuvrings of the Japanese, entered into agreements to oppose their expansion and obtained access to new ports and military bases in the area. Japan was forced to return the Liaotung peninsula to Korea, which was immediately leased to the Russians, who built an important naval base at Port Arthur.
Following the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1903, the Japanese set about arresting Russian expansion and the penetration of European goods into that part of Asia.
The Japanese continued to arm themselves and to organize a great naval fleet but the Russians had convinced themselves that little Japan would never dare to defy mighty Russia.
The Japanese however launched a sudden attack on the Russian fleet docked at Port Arthur. During a sortie to break the Japanese blockade the Russian admiral was blown up by a mine and the counter-offensive was abandoned. Japanese strategy envisaged launching attacks from land and sea. The extremely bitter land battles resulted in major losses to the Japanese for small gains.
The attempt by the Russian fleet to break through the blockade and rejoin the fleet in Vladivostok was a failure: the fierce battle was fierce, some ships returned to port, others were hit by mines, and others sought refuge in Korean ports.
After taking the hill overlooking Port Arthur, the Japanese turned the captured Russian howitzers on the port’s defences and sunk the remaining ships. The Russians offered their surrender to the Japanese. The Japanese had obtained the much sought-after and definitive victory on land, although total victory at sea was still not theirs.
Following the loss of the Pacific Fleet the Tsarist court decided to make ready, with all possible speed, a great fleet to go to the assistance of those left in Port Arthur, an enterprise which was deemed costly and nigh on impossible. The fleet left St Petersburg on 10 October 1904. Meanwhile the fall of Port Arthur had rendered the expedition pointless, but it was decided to press on in order to join up with the Vladivostok fleet.
The fleet was spotted by Japanese patrollers slipping through the Tsushima Strait between Korea and Japan. Only 2 small ships would eventually reach Vladivostok; the entire Russian Baltic fleet was lost: 22 ships sunk, 6 sequestered in neutral ports and 6 surrendering. 4,500 mariners lost their lives. The Japanese lost three small ships and 400 mariners.
The massive quantity of shipping and manpower involved in this war, the complex military strategies operating simultaneously on several fronts, and the massive loss of men and materiel is an anticipation of the First World War which would break out 9 years later.
Tsarism, after its defeat at the hands of an external enemy it had severely underestimated, now had to face the enemy within: the revolution of the proletariat and the poor peasants which commenced with the Bloody Sunday of 22 January 1905. The mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin on 27 June would mark the start of a massive revolutionary movement.
Lenin explains how financial capital dominates industrial capital in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In the United Kingdom the most developed capitalism in Europe was to be found. In 1913, English overseas investments, mainly in the countries of the British Empire, were up to 4 billion pounds; while exports of English industrial had products plummeted. ’The City’ was the most important financial centre in the world. Over the same period Germany assumed primacy as the main industrial producer in Europe, while the United States became the biggest producer at the global level.
In old Europe they were years of relative calm between States, without any major wars, years of great industrial development and of euphoria for the ruling class, as they lived it up during “La Belle Époque”; but they were also years when the proletariat was massively exploited and forced to emigrate to distant lands in their millions.
To understand our reading of the complex tangle of diplomatic accords between the great powers, which had as their aim the carving up of the colonial territories and markets, we must, on the one hand, take into account Marx’s warning that the capitalists, “false brothers”, are in continuous ferocious competition between themselves, but always in agreement and standing shoulder to shoulder when it comes to combating proletarian struggles and proletarian organisations. On the other, as Lenin put it, “In the capitalist world (...) the ’inter-imperialist’ alliances are nothing more than a ’breathing space’ between one war and (…) the peace alliances which prepare for wars and at the same time are generated by them”.
The speaker then went on to list the public and secret diplomatic accords of those years.
The international situation changed rapidly with the Revolution of the Young Turks, who would obtain important democratic and constitutional concessions. Austria feared independence movements would break out in the Balkans. The small Balkan States claimed compensation and damages from the Ottoman Empire. Bulgaria, supported by Austria, declared itself independent from the Ottoman Empire and the following day Austria declared its rule would extend over Bosnia and Herzegovina. The strongest protests come from Serbia, which regarded these provinces as part of a State that would unite all Serbs. This was strongly opposed by Austria. Serbia also made moves to obtain an outlet to the Mediterranean via the port of Salonika, then still under Ottoman rule. Italy supported the Austrian move, counting on being handsomely recompensed.
In the followIn the following year Austria would reach an agreement with the Ottoman Empire, with an indemnification of 2.5 million Turkish lira, to annex the two provinces. This agreement was recognized by all of the powers except Serbia, which mobilized its troops.
party’s activity in the Trade Unions
At every general meeting there is a summary and explanation of the activity Party comrades have carried out in the trade union sphere; activity which is of the utmost importance insofar as it constitutes the main connecting link between the party’s theoretical activity and the proletarian class. y’s trade union, or ’syndical’, activity has a number of different aspects: 1) a purely theoretical aspect, i.e., study and description of the various movements, and their clashes with the enemy classes and their organizations on the economic battlefield. We therefore focus our attention on the main strikes, both at the national and international level; on the agreements reached at the company, category and general level; and on the actions of the unions and their internal struggles, both of the regime unions and those which place themselves on class terrain.
2) then there is the activity of spreading propaganda, promoting the party’s line on the trade unions by intervening in working class actions with targeted leaflets which aim to provide both the correct guidelines as regards the particular struggle concerned, and to situate it within the general context of the ongoing class war under capitalism, by highlighting the link between particular demands and the general demands of the working class.
3) Finally there is our activity inside the trade unions, wherever it is possible, with the aim of winning them over to the communist trade union line, considered by us to be the one most conducive to developing and maintaining the class character of organizations dedicated to workers’ struggle. From this derives the party policy of only carrying such activity in those unions it considers conquerable to the class line, and not in ones we hold to be definitively subjected to the capitalist regime. This evaluation of each trade union organization is guided both by studying them and by engaging in practical activity within them; and over a sufficient period of time such that class battles of a certain degree of intensity would have occurred, enabling the various organizations to show their mettle.
the January 2014 General Meeting in Florence
there was presented an analysis
of an important agreement, valid for workers in the private sector
in Italy, which was concluded between the main employers’
organization and the Cgil, Cisl, Uil and Ugl, all of them regime
unions. This agreement, referred to as the Testo
Unico sulla Rappresentanza
Act on Representation),
modifies a previous one from 1993 which deals with the same subject:
- it defines those unions it considers to be ’representative’, that is, the unions the employers are prepared to negotiate with;
- it guarantees an easier life within the companies for those unions, insofar as they are the only ones allowed to be part of the Rappresentanze Sindacali Unitarie (Unitary Tra (Unitary Trade Union Bargaining Units), one of the two organizations at the company level that represent the workers (the other being the Rappresentanza Sindacale Aziendale – Company Trade Union Bargaining Unit), and thus enjoy a series of trade union rights within the enterprise;
- it restricts the freedom to strike by forbidding it, on pain of economic and disciplinary sanctions, when it is directed against agreements signed by the majority of representatives from the “representative” unions. is a case of a contract between both sides and not of a law, the trade unions who don’t sign remain free to call strikes, but their activity is hampered by the fact they are excluded from the RSU and from having trade union rights within the company.
The right of the unions who haven’t signed the Testo Unico to have their own section within the company is not affected because they can still form an RSA. This is what the SI Cobas, for instance, did within many of the co-operatives in the logistics sector. But if a trade union which hasn’t signed the Testo Unico wants to have its RSA recognized it will have to fight, a lot harder than before, both against the company and against the trade unions in the RSU.
What we are essentially dealing with here is an agreement which is orientated towards preventing the rebirth of the class union, and defending the regime’s trade unionism.
We have therefore criticized the erroneous position taken by the trade unions on this agreement, in particular by the FIOM, the main union in the metal-working sector, in the biggest of the pro-regime confederations in Italy, the CGIL, and also by some of the rank-and-file (base) unions.
As regards the base unions – which arose at the beginning of the 1980s in response to the increasingly anti-worker character of the CGIL – we highlighted some of their erroneous positions and explained the communist line on this important question of the trade union struggle.
At the subsequent reunion in Genoa in May 2014, the report referred to trade union activity carried out in the four month period since our previous meeting, and covered the different aspects mentioned above.
Brief referenBrief reference was made to our analysis, since published in our press, of three struggles of international importance: those of the Chilean dockers; of the workers’ revolt in Bosnia; and of the epic five-month strike of the miners in the South Africa platinum belt.
then summed up our propaganda work, which involved the leafleting
workers’ actions with material designed to promote the relevance
of our trade union line to the particular actions concerned. We
- four demonstrations in Italy of logistics workers organized by the SI Cobas;
- May Day demonstrations in Milan, Turin, Pordenone, Paris, Liverpool, London and in Venezuela;
- and strikes by workers in the Electrolux group, Piaggio Aeronautica, and the ABB. We dwelt in particular on the struggle at Electrolux, due to the immense amount of time and energy we devoted to making almost daily interventions in what turned out to be a very long battle.
The report concluded with a description and commentary on our activity within two organizations specifically formed to advance the workers’ struggle: the FLEC – a co-ordination of trade unions from single companies which has been formed across two Venezuelan districts – and the SI Cobas, the most combative of the base unions in Italy.
As regards the FLEC, our comrades drafted a proposal for a Constitutive Manifesto in which are declared the fundamental assumptions of a class trade union about capitalism, a series of FLEC Principles and a Platform of Struggle to be distributed to workers and delegate members and fought for in the constituent meetings of the federation. ds thAs regards the SI Cobas there was a report on the activity of the union’s Turin section, paying particular attention to an important strike organized at the CAAT, the general agriculture and food markets.
The report at the Party meeting in September 2014, in Turin, picked up from where the previous meeting left off. A presentation of our political activity during an all-out strike called by some workers in the SI Cobas; during the public sector workers’ general strike on June 19 organized by the Unione Sindacale di Base; and during the national demonstration of the SI Cobas in Piacenza, in support of the struggle against the retaliatory sackings in the City’s IKEA warehouse.
We were then informed about activity carried out inside the SI Cobas’s Turin branch and by our comrades in Venezuela, within the FLEC.
At this year’s general meeting in January in Florence we described the bourgeois government’s new offensive against the workers in Italy, the labour reform known as the Jobs Act, and how the various trade union organizations, both regime and base unions, have reacted to it.
We intervened in the general strikes, both the ones called by the base unions and by the CGIL, and promoted our line on the struggle, criticizing both the openly anti-worker action of the regime unions as well as the sectarian stance taken by the leaders of the base unions, who organizing separate strikes for each of their variously acronymed trade unions, each in competition with the others, thereby divide and damage the working class struggle. The unique exception being the SI Cobas, which has organized the mobilization of workers independently from whichever trade union acronym may have promoted such and such a strike.
In conclusionIn conclusion a summary was given of a very thorough analysis that has been made of the important 35-day strike at the Terni steelworks, which involved 3,000 workers; which even if it did end in bitter defeat is still something we can learn from, giving full confirmation of the correctness of the party’s recommendations as regards trade union action.
national question and the history of Ireland
We have been making a new study of the “Irish Question”, enquiring into the distant origins of the country’s tortured history and examining the modern labour movement there, commencing with a review of the writings and statements of Marx and Engels on the subject.
The first writings we looked at were drafts of a proposed Ireland which Engels dedicated himself to between 1869 and 1870, of which he only managed to complete the first chapter, ’Natural Conditions’, and part of the second, ’Ancient Ireland’, which covered the physical characteristics of the island and its history up to the defeat of the Viking invaders at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
Setting out from observations on the island’s geological make-up and its lack of coal, relative to the abundant coal deposits to be found in England, Engels concludes: “It is obvious that Ireland’s misfortune is of ancient origin; it begins directly after the carboniferous strata were deposited. A country whose coal deposits are eroded, placed near a larger country rich in coal, is condemned by nature to remain for a long time the farming country for the larger country when the latter is industrialized. That sentence, pronounced millions of years ago, was carried out in this century”.
Conversely Engels refers to the land’s natural fertility. Even the climate, in terms of temperature and rainfall, is more conducive to tillage than in England. This belies the myth spread about by the Irish landlords and English bourgeoisie that Ireland wasn’t suitable for tillage, but only for cattle-rearing, and thus to provide meat and dairy products to England, whilst the Irish, starved of bread, are supposed to emigrate to make way for cattle and sheep.
The second chapter of this regrettably incomplete History deals with Irish origins. From the 5th Century Patrick set about his work of converting pagans to Christianity and founding monasteries; it would be Irish missionaries who would convert Anglo-Saxons, British Scots and Picts, Swiss, Germans, Franks; and Ireland was considered a nursery of learning throughout Europe.
At the end of the eighth century the country was still divided into a multitude of fiefdoms.
The Norsemen passed from raiding and pillaging to establishing themselves in fortified harbour-towns, and even to temporary conquest of the whole island in the middle of the ninth Century, which was made a great deal easier by the quarrelling of the Irish princes among themselves. Invasions and battles continued with varying success up until a major defeat of the concentrated force of the invading Norsemen in 1014. After their defeat at Clontarf the Norse raids became less frequent and less dangerous, and after a couple of generations the Dublin Norsemen were assimilated by the native population.
Here unfortunately Engels’ History comes to an end, but for an account of subsequent events we can rely on the draft conspectus of a Speech on the Irish Question delivered by Marx on December 16, 1867 to the German Workers’ Educational Association in London.
The first English conquest of less than half of Ireland goes back to the year 1172. Marx notes: “Mixing of English common colonists with Irish, and of Anglo-Norman nobles with Irish chiefs”.
But there was much worse in store for Ireland during the Elizabethan era, when a plan was hatched to exterminate the natives, take their land and settle English colonists in their place. However, the English succeeded only in planting a landowning aristocracy on the confiscated land.
It would take the destructive force of the English revolutionary bourgeoisie to bring about the violent submission of the Irish people. In 1649 and 1652, the complete conquest of the island was accompanied by bloodshed, devastation, depopulation of entire counties, removal of their inhabitants to other regions, sale of many Irish into slavery in the West Indies and replanting of the land with new colonies of English Puritans.
Heavy taxes were imposed on the export of Irish woollen goods to foreign countries, and also on the export of manufactured goods to England. This depopulated her cities and threw the people back on the land. The Penal Code would discriminate against and persecute Catholics, who were forbidden from owning property in land, and this reinforced religious sentiments and enhanced the standing of the Church among the population.
Marx goes on to record in his notes that the English incomers, who founded new towns, were absorbed into the Irish people and Catholicized. There is no English colony (except Ulster Scotch) but there are English landowners.
After the English surrender to the American “rebels” in 1777, and then after the revolution in France, “The British cabinet [is] forced to make concessions to the Nationalist (English) party in Ireland”.
In 1798 the peasants were not yet ripe to support a rebellion of the Belfast Republicans.
The 1800 Act of Union, as far as the English parliament was concerned, closed the struggle between the Anglo-Irish and English. As the Act came into effect it resulted in the gradual extinction of Irish manufactures “except for coffin-makers”, and the Irish were once again forced back to the countryside and into agriculture.
Rents on land rose enormously. “Rapacious and indolent proprietors letting it to monopolising landjobbers, to be relet by intermediate oppressors, for five times their value, among the wretched starvers on potatoes and water”. There was a massive increase in the export of Irish corn to England. “Middlemen accumulated fortunes that they would not invest in the improvement of land, and could not, under the system which prostrated manufactures, invest in machinery, etc. All their accumulations were sent therefore to England for investment”.
Between1846-7 the potato blight caused over a million deaths from hunger and consequent diseases; between1847-55, over 1.6 million left the country. There was an exodus of the young and a substitution of pasturage for crop farming. The Repeal of the Corn Laws saw the price of Irish corn fall, spelling new disaster for Ireland. Eviction en masse of insolvent tenants by crowbar brigades. Drastic reduction in agricultural production between 1850 and 1866.
There followed a major flow of labour towards the industrial cities of England and Scotland, with men, women and children in a state of near starvation. The reduction in the human population coincided with a corresponding increase in cattle, sheep and pigs.
From 1851 to 1861 the process of consolidation of farms was in full swing: there was a massive reduction in farms under 15 acres while the number of larger farms increased.
The speaker tThe speaker then went on to discuss some other documents produced by our teachers, no longer about the history of Ireland but regarding the attitude of communists towards the political movements which were inflaming it at the time.
first is a “Confidential Communication” from Marx in March 1870
to the General Council of the International Workingmen’s
Association, paragraphs 4 and 5 of which were read out at the
meeting, and in which it is stated:
1. Although revolutionary initiative will probably come from elsewhere, England alone can serve as the lever for a serious economic revolution. It is the only country where there are no more peasants and where land property is concentrated in a few hands and the majority of the population consists of wage labourers. Because of its domination on the world market a revolution in Great Britain must immediately affect the whole world.
2. From this it follows it is best that the General Council remain in Great Britain, in the happy position of having its hand directly on this great lever of proletarian revolution, and provide English proletarians with the spirit of generalization and revolutionary fervour that they lack.
3. The only point where one can hit official England really hard is Ireland.
4. In Ireland the economic struggle is concentrated exclusively against landed property and is at the same time national. The power of the landlords in Ireland is maintained solely by the English army…
5. The moment the forced union between the two countries ends, a social revolution will immediately break out in Ireland.
6. It suits the bourgeoisie to divide its wage-earners into two hostile camps in competition with one another.
The consequence of this was that the International Working Men’s Association should hope that a great blow to be struck in Ireland would encourage the social revolution in England: “to transform the present forced union qual and free confederation if possible, into complete separation if need be”.
Another question considered by the General Council (at a meeting on May14, 1872) directly regards the party. Here we should bear in mind that the Association was formed, and functioned, as we know, on a federal basis, and was thus, necessarily, an immature expression of the class party. Engels records that some English delegates had called for the request by some Irish members to form their own section be rejected, insofar as it contradicted the anti-national principles of the Association. While these Irish workers’ sections were declaring themselves for the republic and for the liberation of Ireland from foreign domination, the International was supposed neither to set itself the aim of changing governmental forms, nor concern itself with the liberty of nations.
Engels intervened in the debate stating that the real purport of the motion was to bring the Irish sections under the jurisdiction of the British Federal Council, a thing to which the Irish sections would never consent. The General Council could not deny the Irish workers what the Association had conceded to the French, Germans, Italians or Poles. The Irish, to all intents and purposes, formed a distinct nationality of their own. After centuries of English oppression and conquest, for as long as that oppression existed, it was an insult to Irish working men to ask them to submit to a British Federal Council. It would be like asking the Polish workers to acknowledge the supremacy of a Russian Federal Council or Alsatian and Danish sections to submit to a Federal Council in Berlin. Rather than being anything to do with internationalism this would be but a justification and perpetuation of the dominion of one nation over another.
There exist times and places in which, to overcome the nationalisms, it is not enough, indeed it is counter-productive, to simply negate them.
We hardly need recall that the question of national sections was no longer posed, or shouldn’t have been, in the Third International; all the more reason why it will not be posed in the future world communist party, whose members will join up not as Germans, Irishmen or Englishmen, but as undifferentiated communists, each striving to overcome, ’to repudiate’, their particular upbringing in the nodes of this society.
The party takes into account the complexities arising from bourgeois and pre-bourgeois survivals from the past, the order in which these classes appeared and the dynamic of the social conflicts they inevitably give rise to, but it isn’t part of them, nor does it attempt to thwart them, and in terms of its doctrine, its internal organization and in the social struggle the party maintains its separateness and opposition to them, even when they may be considered progressive. And, as clearly evidenced by the political line they took on such matters, Marx and Engels were also convinced of this.
To conclude we heard a number of quotations on this theme from the works of our two founding fathers.
At the subsequent general meeting, another comrade cast light on a later phase in the history of the labour movement in Ireland, covering the rise of the trade unions and the first independent workers’ party on the island.
In 1871 sections of the First International were formed, notably in Belfast, Cork and Dublin. It would soon attract many supporters and participate in workers’ struggles, earning itself the condemnation of the Catholic Church.
Following the decline of the International, largely due to the active victimization of its members, the next significant movement in Ireland was the Irish land war of 1879-82, directed against landlordism, and the parallel movement for land nationalization. The oppressive Coercion Bill of 1881, introduced by the Liberal government, meant this party’s allegedly pro-Ireland, pro-worker stance was no longer credible and this would stimulate the radical and socialist movement in England to independent expression, giving rise to the Democratic Federation founded in the same year. A delegation of the DF was invited to Ireland by the Land League and would speak on joint platforms across the country. After the DF had formally adopted socialism, changing its name to the Social Democratic Federation in 1884, it would split a few months later and the majority of its Executive would resign, leaving to form the Socialist League.
The latter would form branches in Dublin but cease to exist in the early 90s due to the encroaching domination of anarchist influences. Towards the end of the 80s, many socialists, influenced to a greater or lesser degree by Marxism, would direct their energies toward the broader workers’ movement, actively inspiring the organization of non-specialized workers and their recruitment into the Gasworkers’ Union, whose victorious strike in England in 1889 had given this sector of the proletariat a massive boost.
In February, 1891, Engels gave the Gasworkers’ Union credit for giving impetus to the labour movement in Ireland, noting that they were also organizing the agricultural labourers, that they had the most powerful organization in Ireland, and that they were putting up their own candidates in the upcoming elections. The Second Congress of what had now become the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers of Great Britain and Ireland, would be held in Dublin in May, and Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling would attend. The Congress adopted a decision on the participation of the Union in the forthcoming International Socialist Workers’ Congress in Brussels and Eleanor and William Thorne were elected as its delegates.
In her speech at the Brussels Congress Eleanor made special reference to the 25,000 members of the union in Ireland, and reported that: “no words were more enthusiastically cheered at a huge demonstration in Phoenix Park than ‘Let Ireland be free, but let it be an Ireland of free workers; it matters little to the men and women of Ireland if they are exploited by Nationalist or Orangemen; the agricultural labourer sees his enemy in the landlord, as the industrial worker sees his in the capitalist”. In conclusion, Eleanor Marx affirmed that the rise of the unskilled workers indicated that there was at last a genuine working class movement again, and that this augured well for the formation of a genuine working class party, distinct from other political parties.
After the first Irish Trade Union Congress in 1894 important sections of the Independent Labour Party were formed in Belfast and Dublin. But the party soon became increasingly imbued with Fabianism, and the Dublin Section (whose members included its secretary Adolphus Shields, who had been very active in the Gas Workers’ Union) broke away and embarked on a search for greater theoretical clarity. It was this group, the Dublin Socialist Society, which offered James Connolly, a Scot of Irish descent living in Edinburgh, an appointment as an organizer for the society, inviting him to Dublin in the spring of 1896. It was not long before Connolly had convinced the society’s members to disband the society and reform as a new working-class party, the Irish Socialist Republican Party.
In his first public statement on behalf of the new party, Connolly stated: “The struggle for Irish freedom has two aspects: it is national and it is social. Its national ideal can never be realized until Ireland stands forth before the world a nation free and independent. It is social and economic, because no matter what the form of government may be, as long as one class owns as their private property the land and the instruments of labour, from which all mankind derive their substance, that class will always have it in their power to plunder and enslave the remainder of their fellow creatures”.
A programme was adopted which was modelled on that of the Social Democratic Federation and called for the “Establishment of an Irish Socialist Republic”.
In the same year the party launched a campaign against the Boer War, whose purpose Connolly would identify as that of “enabling an unscrupulous gang of capitalists to get into their hands the immense riches of the diamond fields”.
A widening of the franchise which resulted from the Irish Local Government Act in 1899 also saw increased participation by workers in the elections and labour electoral associations would spring up to put forward candidates. Connolly would be horrified at the speed with which the candidates succumbed to corruption and failed to back workers’ demands of any significance once elected. At the subsequent election, the labour electoral associations suffered total defeat, and into the vacuum would step the Fabians, seeking to provide justification for working class participation within the electoral process under the banner of “municipal socialism”.
On the international level, the split between the reformist elements, like the Fabians, and the intransigent revolutionaries would come to a head at the Congress of the Socialist International which assembled in Paris in 1900. The matter of the Socialist deputy Millerand, who had entered a government which included General Galliffet, “butcher of the Commune” urgently needed to be addressed. Two delegates from the I.S.R.P were present at the Congress, and only Ireland and Bulgaria voted unanimously against Kautsky’s equivocal position.
And yet the IAnd yet the I.S.R.P. distinguished its position from that of Rosa Luxemburg, who accepted the annexation and the partition of Poland in the name of international workers’ solidarity.
of the labour movement in Italy
After relating the rise and development of the Partito Socialista Rivoluzionario di Romagna (Revolutionary Socialist Party of Romagna), its participation in the 1882 elections, and the entry of the first socialists into the bourgeois parliament, where a genuine policy of revolutionary parliamentarianism was conducted mainly by Andrea Costa, we paused to consider the mechanisms set up by the left-leaning governments to repress all forms of proletarian organization: indiscriminate arrests, sequestration and suppression of newspapers, violent repression of all street protests and demonstrations, etc. We concluded by looking at the birth of the second proletarian party, the Partito Operaio Italiano, (Italian Workers’ Party).
In 1883-84 the peasant masses of the Po Valley, prompted by centuries of poverty and by a recent aggravation of their already precarious situation, entered into the fray with a series of massive strikes which would later influence the development of the labour and socialist movement in Italy. A mass movement of the agrarian proletariat had been brought into being, and one which was conscious both of its own strength and of the need to embark on the path of uncompromising class struggle.
The first mass strikes erupted in March 1882. Thousands of farm labourers demonstrated with the call for “bread and work”. The 1.80 lira offer made by the landowners was rejected. Two companies of soldiers were then brought in and the strike was violently crushed. Already weak with hunger, many of the demonstrators were then arrested and imprisoned for up to three months.
Partial strikes and riots nevertheless continued, and organizational work would bear fruit in two large associations which were formed in 1884, bringing together thousands of farm labourers. Police repression was swift and 168 arrests were made, including of the movement’s leaders; meanwhile large contingents of infantry, bersaglieri and carabinieri were brought up. The united landowners, with the bayonets of the king’s troops protecting them, could now shut down the strike.
In May 1886 general elections took place. In Romagna the 1882 alliance between the democratic left and the socialists was re-affirmed.
The stance taken by the Workers’ Party, of absolute separation, infuriated radical democracy, which launched against it a vicious and slanderous campaign, even accusing it of being a tool of the police. A violent polemic opened between radicals and workerists.
This episode served to dispel any illusion that it would be possible to walk part of the way with radical democracy, in order to conquer the democratic liberties that both of them were interested in obtaining. Yes, the various bourgeois factions and fractions do fight among themselves, but, when faced with the proletariat—who they recognize as not just any old adversary but one that embodies the negation of the capitalist regime—they form a united front, with the State adopting the instruments of violent repression, and radical democracy the methods of slander and calumny.
It was during this same period that the Italian government embarked on its colonial policy. On January 17, 1885, a small expeditionary corps set sail from Naples in order to, in the words of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: “go to the Red Sea in search of the keys to the Mediterranean”. On February 5 the Italian soldiers disembarked at Mitsiwa. However the Italian soldiers found themselves faced not just with “a few pirates”, as they had been led to believe, but ten thousand warriors, who at Dogali, on 25 January 1887 would massacre them.
In the Chamber of Deputies, the small extreme left nucleus, with Andrea Costa indisputably the most combative among them, had vigorously opposed the government’s colonial policy ever since May 1885 when it had first come up for discussion. He would express the absolute aversion of Italian socialists and proletarians to any intervention in Africa and on several occasions demand the troops be recalled. Costa’s watchword was “né un uomo né un soldo” - not a single man, not a single penny. After the Dogali disaster the extreme left would fight in vain to prevent reinforcements from being sent.
The third congress of the Italian Workers’ Party (IWP) was convened at Pavia on 18 and 19 September 1887. Costa intervened on behalf of the revolutionary socialists and Luigi Molinari for the anarchists. The workerists declared that their programme consisted of “defining the class struggle”, above all in the economic sphere, but Andrea Costa’s call for the two parties to unite was ignored once again. The IWP wanted to reassert its distance both from the socialists and the anarchists. A change was made to the party’s statutes and programme that widened its restrictive membership qualification, which had hitherto allowed only wage earners to join, extending it to include independent workers, but the “worker exclusivism” of the party was newly reasserted by its denial of membership to non-proletarians, even to those who accepted the party’s programme and principles.
Taking up the issues of women’s and children’s labour, the workerists refused to place any faith in legislative solutions, stating that these problems could only be resolved by class struggle.
Meanwhile, a new initiative was being taken by Turati, with Lazzari’s agreement, which gave rise to the birth of the Lega Socialista Milanese (Milan Socialist League) which aimed to regroup the socialists by excluding the anarchists.
The Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) was going through a serious crisis prompted by its repeated attempts to find common ground not only with the workerists and anarchists, but also with radical democrats and left Mazzinians. This tactic rather than strengthening the party in fact continually weakened it.
At its meeting in Forlì on 30 June 1889, the RSP decided to attend two international congresses, the “possibilist” and the “Marxist” ones, which were due to take place in Paris in the following month. The revolutionary socialists declared that what divided the congresses was of no interest to them and their delegation would attend both. The delegates were briefed to act in favour of the unification of the two congresses and for the reconstitution of the International. The Workers’ Party, on the other hand, only sent its representative to the “Possibilist” congress, whereas Turati gave Costa a mandate to represent the Milan Socialist League as well.
The International Workers’ Congress (“Marxist”) began on 14 July 1889; the Socialist Workers’ Congress (“Possibilist”) on the day after. The agenda of the two congresses was practically the same, and focussed mainly on social legislation. The Marxist congress attracted the most delegates, including many of international socialism’s eminent personalities (Lavrov, Guesde, Vaillant, Aveling, De Paepe, Liebknecht, Bebel, Bernstein, Zetkin, etc.).
Costa was elected to the chair of both congresses and in accordance with his mandate worked to bring the assemblies together, but without success.
Both congresses resolved to render the international links permanent by maintaining ongoing relations between the parties in the various countries. The “Marxists” proposed that on the first of May 1890, workers should abstain from work in defence of the eight hour working day. From the “Marxist” congress would arise the Second International, whereas the international of the “Possibilists” was dead in the water.
The Italian delegates returned from Paris bolstered with the sensation that the workers’ movement was now a major force. Great was their admiration for German social-democracy, which appeared as the model all socialist parties should follow. Thus, on the occasion of the Halle Congress, in October 1890, an enthusiastic address was sent to the German social-democrats.
Meanwhile in Italy three congresses were in gestation: that of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Workers’ Party and the anarchists.
It seemed that the decline of the RSP might be halted when in 1889 Il Sole dell’Avvenire, the organ of the revolutionary socialists, reappeared for the third time, this time with an appeal entitled “The need to reorganize the Italian Revolutionary Socialist Party”. But the congress of the RSP wasn’t in fact convoked to reorganize the party, but with the much more modest aim of improving its organization in preparation for the November 1890 general elections.
The anarchists, who weren’t invited because they were abstentionists, made a violent attack on “legalitarian and parliamentary socialism” and started to prepare for their own congress, to be held in Switzerland.
But the RSP congress, devoted entirely to the forthcoming elections, pleased neither the Workers’ Party nor the Milan socialists, who refused to take part. Even Turati and Labriola declared against it.
In a long letter, Turati alerted socialists to the perils of “potential alliances with allegedly like-minded parties”. In electoral contests, declared Turati, there must be a “clear distinction between the programmes, each one issued under its party name and stating its ideals, so that lack of clarity, which is all too entrenched in public life already and which makes it far too easy for personal ambition to prevail, shall be dispelled from our ranks and not end up contaminating us as well”.
The response of Antonio Labriola was much more perfunctory: “I am sorry to have to respond with a firm and explicit no. I have never approved of the idea of this Congress which is dedicated solely to the aim of putting up candidates”. A few days before, on 13 October, he had written to Turati: “The obsession with becoming a deputy, with the generic votes of democrats of every sort, is not compatible with class struggle or with the genuine proletarian movement”.
On November 1st, in Milan, the fifth and last congress of the Italian Workers’ Party was held, and it was the first one not to be attended by the anarchists, who had participated in, and disrupted, every previous one. Another key question, which had already been debated at the Paris congresses, was the founding of the Chambers of Labour, or Labour Exchanges. The original one, in Milan, was in the process of formation and others were getting off the ground in Turin, Florence and Piacenza, etc.
Proceeding then to discuss the eight hour agitation and May Day, the congress adopted the Paris resolutions and, regarding the organization of peasant farmers and women, a motion was passed to improve their organization and to launch a more vigorous propaganda campaign.
This would be the last congress of the Workers’ Party which, like the Revolutionary Socialist Party, was clearly in decline. The economistic and corporative ideology of a party which limited itself to economic but not political resistance would die a natural death.
Between January 4 and 6, near Lugano, the anarchists would hold their congress and attempt to form a Revolutionary Anarchist Socialist Party, but it was a case of a very strange party indeed from the moment that central organs were deemed unnecessary and each section or group was given unlimited autonomy. Indeed, the individual members were free to decide whether or not they wanted to apply the congress resolutions, passed by the majority, or not. The programme was limited to a general indication of theoretical principles and of the practical means the party proposed to adopt. As regards the former, nothing new with respect to the theses of the old anarchist international. The means were to include “propaganda in whatever form” and “participation in all workers’ movements”, a step forward if one considers that previously the anarchists had even condemned strikes as a useless method of “legal” struggle.
With these three congresses, therefore, all of them held within the space of three months, not a single step was taken to form a national socialist party; something which had been everyone’s express intention and had now become indispensable.
Instead the one in Genoa in 1892 was the first national socialist congress to be held in Italy. Intended originally as a workers’ congress, it was converted into a socialist one due to a split that occurred: on one side the new party which would arise as an independent party with a life of its own, on the other the anarchist movement and intransigent corporative workerism.
It is no accident that the two extremist wings of the workers’ movement, anarchism and workerism, with their seemingly irreconcilable ideologies, joined together to oppose the new socialist party and to form, ephemeral though it was, the Italian Workers’ Party mark 2.
The separation from the anarchists was a historical necessity, which had already become apparent at the international congress held in Brussels in the previous year.
Turati, representing Italy at that congress, expressed in an article in Critica Sociale on 10 September 1891 the reasons for the split, which likewise was carried out in Italy in the following year. Turati demonstrated that the separation from the anarchists was a necessity because the two schools were incompatible. As regards what anarchism and socialism had in common, the most that could be said was that they both made a negative critique of capitalism, “but the two schools are essentially different as regards their conception of social evolution, their objectives and, above all, their conflicting methods of action”.
The other problem the socialists were faced with was workerism. In Critica Sociale on 16 August 1892 Turati wrote: “In the Italian working class – party in formation – that fermentation process is still underway which we find in the early history of all workers’ parties. It hasn’t yet got over its childhood maladies (…) Hence there still predominates that tendency, kept alive among many of our workers (...) to stand aloof, to dig in on so-called economic terrain and christen this eunuch tactic with the fateful name “class struggle” (…) The great and definitive summarizing statement of Marx’s work: “Workers of the world unite!”, and the International’s great epigraph: “the emancipation of the workers must be the work of the workers themselves” is translated thus: “Let us cut ourselves off from intelligence, independence and culture and look to the blue-collar workers, not to principles (…) and let us form a workers’ party of the illiterate”.
The 16 July edition of Critica Sociale would announce that a circular on the convocation of the national congress had been sent out entitled “Organizational congress of the Italian working class”. Any workers club or association which wanted to attend had to accept certain principles: constitution of the workers’ party, independent of all other parties; organizing to demand the placing of capital and land in the hands of the community of workers; conquest of the public powers, as another means of emancipating labour.
Ultimately there was enough to place the party in the camp of socialism, but at the same time it was so generic as to be all things to all men. But the movement without a programmatic base, confined within the factory walls and with a consciousness that was corporative rather than class based, not only wouldn’t grow of its own accord but as time passed it would wither away, until even its primitive impulse to fight was extinguished.
On the morning of 14 August those attending the congress converged on Genoa from all over Italy. The biggest names in Italian socialism were present and all the political currents under whose direction the workers clubs and societies had formed were represented: workerists, revolutionary socialists, anarchists, evolutionists, social-democrats, and republican collectivists.
The split from the anarchists, even if not explicitly spelled out, was already taken for granted. But even without the anarchists everyone knew the congress would be a far from quiet affair. In fact arguments broke out right from the start. Firstly the anarchists, lining up with the workerists, demanded that the members of the presidency should be authentic workers. Prampolini responded to the anarchists, thus: “For years and years now, from when the socialist party was just beginning to establish itself in Italy, we have constantly been squabbling amongst ourselves, in the press, at meetings, in the public squares and at the congresses. I won’t say that bad faith exists on one side or the other, because it doesn’t. You are as honest as we are, but it is indisputable that this struggle exists, and it goes on every hour of every day, and this is because we are essentially two different parties; we are pursuing two absolutely opposed paths; amongst us there is no community of interests (…) If we are going to pursue two different paths, let’s do it as good friends would; you go your way, and we’ll go ours, let us part without rancour (…) Tomorrow you assemble at another venue, and we will do the same and believe me it is the only way we can settle this”.
The organizing committee decided to dissolve the congress, but seeing that the minority had no intention of abandoning it, it was left to the majority to do so. On the evening of the same day, Turati met up with a small group of congress attendees in a trattoria. It was decided to invite all members of the congress who accepted participation in elections (this was the formula for separation from the anarchists) to meet at another venue on the following day.
There were some who strongly protested at the way the split had come about and the judgement of a small group which had arrogated to itself the right to decide in the name of the majority. It was clearly a coup de main. But the majority would never have been able to overcome the obstructionism of the anarcho-workerists, and it above all demonstrates that even then socialists, as had always been the case with communists, didn’t feel constrained by democratic forms and Turati did well, under the circumstances, to confront everyone with a fait accompli.
Turati’s salutary act of strength completed the final separation of the socialists from the anarchists, which by this time was historically due and was irrevocable. Thus an old conflict was brought to an end once and for all, and with it the fruitless contest between the two theories which, 13 years after Andrea Costa’s letter “To my Roman friends”, was still paralyzing the socialist movement.
But the socialists’ battle was not yet over. Turati proposed, in the name of a group of comrades, to make substantial changes to the projected programme, removing typical notions of the democratic-bourgeois-republican-radical variety, such as the natural equality of man, popular sovereignty, etc. Moreover the party statutes even removed the condition which restricted membership to workers.
In response to criticisms Turati’s telling response was: “The party which accepts pretty much anyone is an old illusion (…) There is only one terrain in which a party can be planted and really take root: the grounds of conviction. You fear the ignorance of the masses: let us then instruct them. It is not on a party’s feet that the programme must be modelled but on its head. We needn’t fear that the head will hamper the motion of the feet: rather it will guide them”.
Clearly at the start of its life the socialist party had many limitations, and these will be treated in more detail in the full account of the report, to be published in Comunismo.
History of the labour movement in Venezuela
A study of the history of the trade unions in Venezuela is now underway.
The working class of colonial Venezuela – before national independence – consisted of wage labourers in manufacture and on the land, with slave labour prevalent in the latter sector.
But even though in this period there were no trade union organizations but only clandestine Christian-inspired confraternities, signs of workers’ militancy can already be detected. These confraternities, linked to craft guilds, were constituted on a professional rather than a class basis.
After independence was won, following a bloody war with Spain in 1824, the Republic came into being. In the years that followed there was a revival of the guilds, which transformed themselves into associations of bosses of the rising manufactures, while the confraternities took on the character of mutual aid societies, formed for the most part by wage earners.
The war of independence ruined many small rural producers and craftsmen who were deprived of their means of production, which ended up in the hands of landed proprietors, merchants and money lenders. These also acquired ownership of the sources of raw materials and of the manufacturing companies, and it was here that ruined artisans, workers and apprentices from the old workshops, along with numerous impoverished peasants, ended up working.
Between 1859 and 1863 there was a civil war known as the Federal Revolution, in which the oligarchy was opposed by the liberals and there were peasant insurrections against the big landowners. The victorious liberals would put an end to slavery.
In 1885 the railway workers got organized and during this second half of the century, with increasing imports and exports, the Dockers were roused into action as well and the first generations of proletarians in the gold mines were established.
Also during the second half of the 19th century socialist ideas began to take hold. We know that after the May Day struggle in Chicago in 1886 some organizations in Venezuela took up the cause of the 8 hour day. In the middle of 1893 there was the so-called “First meeting of the socialist workers of Venezuela” at the Caffê Caracas, at which 14 German-speaking workers, who had taken refuge in Venezuela after the defeat of the Paris Commune, decided to found the Venezuelan section of the Second International. They nominated a delegate to the 3rd International Workers’ Congress in Zurich which took place in August 1893. On 28 October 1896 a “Workers’ Congress” met in Caracas, which declared the necessity of constituting a workers’ party.
The formal creation of trade unions was only permitted by the government after the death of General Juan Vicente Gomez (17 December 1935), but the existence of organs of economic struggle predated this: already in the first decade of the 20th century Venezuelan workers had united under the cover of charitable and mutual aid societies, particularly in the burgeoning oil industry.
At the beginning of the last century Venezuela’s economy was focused on the export of agricultural products. In 1907 there was a strike in the principal port, La Guaira. In 1909 the Association of the Workers and Artisans of the Federal District was formed, which published the paper Workers’ Unity and similar organizations began to sprout up all over the country. The typographers approved their articles of association in 1909. In 1911 there was strike in a cigarette factory in Valencia; in 1914 the first strike in a strategic sector of national scope, the telegraph operators. In 1919 and 1920 in Caracas the shoemakers, the printers, the tramwaymen, the telephone workers and the workers in the Aroa copper mines went out on strike.
During these years anarcho-syndicalism exerted a certain influence, receiving the backing of Spanish workers, mainly militants of the General Confederation of Labour (founded in Spain in 1910) and Italians. However this influence soon began to wane. We can nevertheless state that in the early years of the Venezuelan trade union movement there was no clear ideological reference point, as had occurred in other countries in the region where social-democratic and anarchist influences was evident.
The discovery of oil introduced significant changes to the economic life of the country. From the 1920s the Venezuelan economy began to move away from agricultural exports such as coffee and cocoa and to focus on oil-based activities along with the consequent profits. Henceforth the Venezuelan economy would become integrated into Europe’s international capitalist circuit, mainly England’s, and thus become tied in to the general division of labour generated by capitalist development.
The oil industry requires a marked division of labour and major technological input. From the ranks of the peasants labour began to flow into the oil companies, which by 1925 was already employing ten thousand workers.
This was the background to the first oil workers’ strike in 1922, directed against the inhuman conditions to which they were subjected, such as working 12 hours per day, including Sundays, and living in fenced off shacks under heavy surveillance. A demand was put forward for a 50% wage increase, from 5 to 10 bolivares a day, and for a working day of 8 hours for the entire working class. The strike lasted 9 days.
The workers, protected by their Mutualist societies, workers’ clubs and cultural centres, with which they sought to circumvent the Gomez government’s persecution of trade unions, got together at night in their huts to hold discussions. First of all they fought for decent housing, water and sanitary services; then came the wage demands.
From 1936 onwards, after the 27 year dictatorship came to an end, it was possible to put forward demands in an open and generalized way. The working day was 12 hours a day in the majority of industries, but up to 14 or even 16 in others. Laws to protect workers didn’t exist, or trade union rights, much less the right to strike. Throughout Venezuela an intense organizational activity got underway, which soon led to a series of economic strikes.
Unlike in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, the trade unions which began to form in Venezuela at the beginning of the last century were not openly subordinated to any political party. In the pre-1936 period, partly due to their clandestine nature, there was a degree of confusion as to the distinction between party and trade union, and some trade union sections eventually came to resemble sections of a party. After 1936 unions became legal, but the years of leading a clandestine or semi-clandestine existence under the dictatorship, along with the continued presence of militants who had fought in the earlier struggles, would see these organizational traits maintained.
The industrialization of Venezuela is accomplished in the years 1940-45, and is characterized by an extensive use of manpower to compensate for the lack of technology and machinery. In 1944 the government gives financial aid to non-oil sectors of production to encourage the production of the raw materials for the nation’s industry. This in its turn encourages the growth of the working class.
But the latter is still strongly influenced by petty bourgeois politics, a political immaturity determined by the fact that the working masses are mainly composed of peasants recently arrived from the countryside in the cities and centres of production, bringing with them an attachment to property and an individualist outlook. This would facilitate the maintaining of the working class’s political and trade union direction under the leadership of the “tropical” version of social-democracy, which would use various stratagems to mobilize the workers against their own real interests and to divert them from their true aims.
From 1960, after the return of democratic government, there is a development and consolidation of the main trade unions. All of them guarantee the bourgeoisie social control of the workers. The struggles and divisions within the main trade unions in Venezuela are for the most part just a reflection of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, with “communists” (revisionists and opportunists of various Stalinist currents) counter posed to “anti-communists” (democrats and social-democrats influenced by the policies of North America and the multinationals).
In the major strikes between 1970 and 1998 the main protagonists are the steelworkers and workers employed by the Corporacion Venezoiana de Guayana, the textile workers, the workers in the law courts, and the health workers and teachers.
As a consequence of the global crisis at the end of the 70s, and the fall in the price of oil in the 80s and 90s, the right-wing parties (mainly the AD and the COPEI) began to lose their over the social movement and their political influence was reduced. But the discontent which had accumulated amongst the masses was not channelled by the organizations of the reformist left.
In 1989 there was the “Caracazo”, a generalized and spontaneous revolt. In 1992 two attempted coups d’etat by the Bolivian Army Movement didn’t manage to take power, but nevertheless showed the new way of replacing government personnel the bourgeoisie was starting to adopt.
In Venezuela the workers’ movement has followed the same historical course as its European counterpart, passing through the phases of prohibition, tolerance, and submission. The trade union organizations would end up subjugated to the requirements of the bourgeois State same as in the rest of the capitalist world.
All of the parties that control the trade union leadership in Venezuela, ranging from the bourgeois democratic, social democratic, social Christian and reformist left parties, to the Stalinist, Trotskyist, Maoist and guerrilla-backed parties; all of them, without exception, have raised the banner of inter-classism. This approach manifests itself in practice as class collaboration within the trade unions, with all the main union trade unions incorporating non-wage earners, namely, peasants, self-employed lorry drivers, unauthorized traders, and other expressions of small proprietorship. These groupings, even though also victims of capitalist oppression, do not belong within the trade unions and their federations, which should only organize wage earners.
From its earliest days the workers’ struggle in Venezuela has had an orientation which is both anti-employer and anti-imperialist imposed on it. This has been justified, on the one hand, by the sizeable presence of the multinational companies, on the other in opposition to the open subjection of the bourgeois national governments to imperialism. This was the line taken by the bourgeois-democrat, social democrat and Stalinist parties which, with the tacit consent of the various military governments, introduced it into the trade union movement, bringing about its submission to the notions of defence of the nation and national economy, of peaceful resolution of labour disputes, and of collaboration with the bosses.
The bosses have promoted secessionist unions, mainly in the public sector, when difficulties have arisen around managing agreements, and in response to trade union demands and struggles.
In Venezuela, in many social and industrial sectors (oil, education and health) workers are gathered together in trade union centres, federations and base unions. At the beginning of the 1980s these started losing members because of the reduction in the number of workers employed. However the main cause was the official unions’ success in demobilizing the labour movement in the middle of an economic crisis, which the bourgeoisie sought to remedy with low wages and sackings. Thus, although some new “alternative” unions appeared, the main union structures continue to appear as “representatives” of the wage labour masses against the bosses and the government.
Episodes of genuine class struggle, wildcat strikes with no notice given and no minimum service offered, have occurred when groups of workers have freed themselves from union control, but these have been isolated and short lived. The party was not present in these struggles.
In 1998 elections Hugo Chavez was elected, after which the phase of the AD-COPEI two-party system was definitively abandoned; already defunct in any case as it no longer guaranteed the bourgeoisie social control of wage labour.
In 1999 “Chavismo” convoked a Constituent Assembly, charged with drawing up a new constitution, and promoting a “Bolivarian revolution”, the new façade behind which the bourgeois class dictatorship would continue its rule.
A front of parties opposed to Chavez, consisting mainly of those groups that had lost their privileges and quota of power during the two-party period, started to take shape.
Chavismo and its allies (the “Patriotic Pole”) have met resistance in the union centrals controlled by AD and COPEI, and mainly from the CTV, which at the time was the largest organization and included the largest number of federations and unions. At first Chavismo was critical of the union centrals, which were accused of being antidemocratic, corrupt and aligned with the positions of the opposition front.
On 5 April 2003 a new union central was created, formed by the Bolivarian Workers Force (FBT), Union Autonomy (AS) and the Carabobo Classist and Democratic Union Bloc. On 1 and 2 August 2003 the founding congress of the Workers Union of Venezuela (UNT) was held, a completely artificial central with close links to the government.
Thus the new landscape of union centrals existing in Venezuela is: CTV, UNT, CODESA, CUTV, ASI and CGT.
These are all regime unions; all practice class collaboration with the bosses. The differences between them are due to some belonging to the party front opposed to Chavismo, while others have lined up in defence of the Chavist government and its “21st century socialism”.
All of these union organizations and political currents, despite almost always referring to themselves “classist”, in practice prostrate themselves before bourgeois law, defence of the country, the firm and the national economy; and engage in conciliatory dialogue with the bosses. Some of these centrals, like the CBST, call themselves “anti-imperialist”, but remain staunch advocates of parliamentary democracy and free enterprise.
As a rule all union centrals or organizations are linked to specific political movements, which quarrel over parliamentary and government posts. The result of all this is relative social peace and continuing capitalist exploitation. In Venezuela there are a lot of trade unions but not many members. The number of trade union organizations has more than doubled since the end of 2001, when 2,974 organizations were registered to hold meetings by the bosses’ National Electoral Council, and the figure now stands at 6,200. However, while the number of trade unions is rising, the level of unionisation has fallen from 40% in 1974 to 11% today. Still, the activists in the sectors that can officially join trade unions in the industrial centres represent 25% of the economically active population, which is around 3.5 million, of whom 2.3 million work in the public sector.
Workers’ control and co-management have been proposed in the case of the so-called “salvaged companies”, that is, bankrupt companies expropriated by the government and handed over to the workers or jointly managed with them. These expropriations, billed by the government as first steps towards socialism, are actually just a way of supporting bankrupt capitalists. Beyond the productive success of these firms, as well as the change of management, entrusted to the workers, it is still commodities being produced to be sold on the market. The firm makes a profit by exploiting its workers. This is what the Chavists call “21st century Socialism”.
Given a situation where firms are going bankrupt and workers being kicked out onto the streets, some of the opportunist movements, principally those of Trotskyist inspiration, have launched the slogan of ‘salvage companies by restructuring and nationalizing them’. The bourgeois government of Chavismo, favoured at the time by an increase in the price of oil, launched a “bail-out” policy and support package for the bankrupt capitalists, favouring, after some hesitation, the expropriations, which it described as socialist. It is with this demagoguery that the illusion of “workers’ control” and co-management was sold to the workers.
Even in its Chavist manifestation the bourgeois government has continued to perfect its repressive apparatus by means of plots, terrorist attacks and threatened coups d’etat. What is more, over the past 15 years, the legal system has been modified, by refining laws and decrees and equipping itself with repressive bodies and secret services, to facilitate the repression not only of strikes but also of the most timid and conservative protests. This entire machinery has been used against the workers and its trade union leaders whenever the government deemed it necessary.
After street clashes, revolts, and the opposition’s barricades, with elements from the discontented middle classes ever ready to thrust themselves to the fore, the government established additional ’security areas’, concentrated mainly around the industrial zones, in which all crises of public order (that is, workers’ protests) are met with a rapid response by the forces of repression. When the workers have refused to bow before these restrictions the government has not hesitated to use violent repression against them. The workers’ fronts and co-ordinations which have arisen at the local level are a response to the requirements of self-defence. But due to weaknesses inherent in the current situation, class positions, when expressed, are often accompanied by legalistic and nationalistic illusions, influenced by the warring bourgeois gangs.
For the past 15 years the bourgeoisie has achieved social control of the workers by using the opportunist illusion of Chavist “21st century Socialism”, by diverting the energy of workers into defending bourgeois and anti-proletarian causes. The trade unions have helped to confirm this deception. The Trade union movement has been divided over the false opposition of capitalism versus (Chavist) socialism and thus the leaders of the central trade unions, like the national fronts between parties, have maintained control of the movement, although without being able to count on a real capacity to mobilize.
Although the present unions in Venezuela are regime unions, allied with the bosses and the government, there are many trade unions at the company level which are not controlled by the trade union leaders and federations and the parties which control them. There have also emerged co-ordinations of these company level trade unions, known in Venezuela as “base trade unions”, and these have tended to conduct their struggles and agitations on the periphery of the trade union centres and federations. It is a process in its early stages and opportunist positions have frequently been adopted.
Nevertheless, the mobilization of the workers in Venezuela, even if under false “socialist” and “revolutionary” banners, has evidenced once again the gigantic energy and power that resides within the working class. Today this energy is being turned by the bourgeoisie to its own account in order to conserve capitalism. But when the time is right for a revival of the class struggle the wage-earners will form themselves into organizations of economic struggle outside and against the present trade unions, and function once again as transmission belt for the policy of the revolutionary communist party.
Concepts of dictatorship before Marx
The concept of revolutionary dictatorship is born at the time of the French Revolution. The theory remains at a rudimentary level, its highest expression represented by Babeuf and Filippo Buonarroti, but its practice is more advanced, prompted by the necessity of defending the revolution from its internal and external enemies.
During the eighteenth-century Enlightenment we find little or nothing regarding such ideas, which is not surprising given the social structure of the time, in France was very advanced with respect to most of the other countries in Europe, but not on a par with England, where the birth of industrial capitalism was then underway.
The Enlightenment (Illuminismo), in itself a very vague term given that it embraces a number of very different positions, nevertheless definitely constitutes the ideological preparation for the French Revolution, which like all revolutions happened out of necessity, but which had discovered in the Enlightenment, and in Rousseau in particular, often unconsciously modified, an ideology and theoretical weapon the revolutionaries could use.
But the influence of others, in particular Diderot, was no less important.
As regards the concept of the right to rebel against the ruling power, already St Augustine in his Confessions talks of a contractual principle which even the monarch must adhere to, and of the people’s right to rebel if that should not be the case. In the eleventh century the German jurist Manegold of Lautenbach spoke of a pact between king and people binding for both parties. Imperial authority is thus a function entrusted to the sovereign by the people, and the oath of allegiance counts for nothing if the sovereign breaks the pact. In the following century even Thomas Aquinas, in De regimine principum, writes that the people have the right to remove a tyrant who doesn’t honour agreements and does not fulfil his function.
In the sixteenth century Calvin, exponent of Protestant reform, realized a theocratic government in Geneva, and theorized obedience to the constituted authority. The French Calvinists, forced into a bitter struggle against the Catholic monarchs, ended up theorizing armed resistance as their right. The Genevan theologian Teodoro di Beza, in his De Iure Magistratuum in subditos of 1574, reaffirmed the principle of popular sovereignty, of the government’s contract, and of the right of an oppressed minority to rebel against tyrants. One of the various ’Huguenot Libels’ of the French protestants, the Vindaciae contra tyrannos of 1579 written by Philippe Duplessis-Mornay, was inspired by the usual biblical examples to justify the right to resist and to kill the tyrant; which is why they were called ’monarcomachs’.
These ideas influenced the English Puritans and permeated the English Revolution of 1640. The English jurist John Selden wrote at the time: “To know what obedience is owed to the prince, look to the contract between him and the people (…) When the contract is broken, and there is no longer an arbiter to judge, it will be up to arms to decide”.
During the Enlightenment, and not just in France, we find a lot of interesting material being written about materialism, atheism and communism.
Morelly, Mably and Rousseau all made critiques of private property, seen as the origin of all evil, although the political solution they arrived at as a result of their reflections lay in an enlightened despotism, that is, in a sovereign who would realize the new ideas.
We should mention that up to the 1760s there was no real prospect of any change at all, and the vision of the enlightenment and utopian thinkers was restricted by the society within which they lived. Their greatness lies in having posed the question in a society which was becoming increasingly less feudal, more and more mercantile, and with power becoming increasingly centralized within the royal absolutism.
A vague nod toward something we can more easily refer to the concept of revolutionary dictatorship we can see in Morelly. In the second part of his most famous work, the Code of Nature, we read: “If the situation isn’t such that a man is always disposed to yield to the most reasonable advice and remonstrances, our hypothesis doesn’t in fact exclude that a strict authority may overcome this initial aversion, obliging him to begin with to take on duties the practice of which, and the evidence of their utility, will then make them easier to accept”.
In Rousseau’s On the Origin of the Inequality of Mankind of 1754, we find a critique of private property which was too strong for the revolutionaries of ’80 and ’93, but not for Babeuf.
What will be particularly important in the elaboration of republican and Jacobin ideology however is the concept of “natural law”, which undergoes a remarkable transformation. Rousseau engages in a controversy over the doctrine of natural law as defended by Hobbes, Locke, Puffendorf and Grotius, which he considers to be a simple justification of existing power relations. The “social contract” which had been talked about up to then was just a delusion: “The rich man, thus urged by necessity, conceived at length the profoundest plan that ever entered the mind of man: this was to employ in his favour the forces of those who attacked him, to make allies of his adversaries, to inspire them with different maxims, and to give them other institutions as favourable to himself as the law of nature was unfavourable”. And then: “the popular insurrection that ends in the strangulation or deposition of a sultan is as lawful an act as those by which he disposed, the day before, of the lives and fortunes of his subjects. As he was maintained by force alone, it is force alone that overthrows him”.
As a matter of fact Rousseau’s ideal, given the impossibility of a return to primitive communism, was a society of craftsmen and small farmers.
Natural equality, considered as one of man’s natural indefeasible rights, becomes transformed into legal and political equality, thus sanctifying actual inequality, which acquires force and stability. The State is thus seen as an instrument used by a privileged class against another class, with the aim of maintaining existing privileges.
For us communists, law equates with force. That was the case for Rousseau as well in the society which he observed, but he believed a different society possible, one which would be based on the “law of nature” and the “rights of man”, in which “morality” would have an autonomy and pre-eminence over the social and economic structure, and in itself would create and inform a society guided by the “general will”.
This was the tragic illusion of the Jacobins. The new bourgeois class took stock of its needs, and abandoned the ideologies and institutions that had now served their purpose, exchanging them for other more functional ones adapted to their need to exert full control over the state apparatus.
On dictatorship we read: “The orderliness and slowness of conventional practice require a space of time that sometimes circumstances don’t allow; thousands of cases may crop up unforeseen by the legislator; and it is necessary to foresee that not everything can be foreseen. One should not therefore consolidate the political institutions to the point of not being able to suspend them”.
It is the Jacobins who will transform the practice, and to a lesser degree the idea, of the classical dictatorship. It is therefore in the fire of the revolution and war that the new, powerful weapon is forged: the revolutionary dictatorship.
Denis Diderot played an important part in the French Revolution and in the shaping of its ideology as well, although the Jacobins were very mistrustful of the Encyclopaedists, who they considered to be atheists and materialists and even inspirers of the more moderate political positions, from the constitutional monarchists to the Girondins.
However, beyond Diderot’s materialism, which we can describe as dialectical, and his declared atheism, he was never a supporter of enlightened despotism.
In the Apology of the Abbé Galiani written in 1770, Diderot showed that bourgeois liberty didn’t solve every problem, or guarantee public contentment. Replying to the Abbé Morellet, who put the sacred right of property before human rights, Diderot wrote: “Maybe the sense of humanity is no more sacred than the right of property, which is shattered in peacetime, in war in an infinite number of circumstances, and which the lord abbé preaches should be respected to the extent we die for it, kill each other for it, and starve to death?”. Diderot evidences his greatness in this passage, accepting and supporting the importance and necessity of capitalist development, but also managing to hint at the limits of an economic and social system then still in its infancy.
In 1776 Diderot started to consider revolution as the only solution. Another fundamental event was the American Revolution, a practical demonstration of the possibility of even a large State becoming a democratic republic. Now even Montesquieu and Rousseau could be seen from a different point of view, and used as the basis for a revolutionary conception.
Among the French revolutionaries the first to talk of the need for a revolutionary dictatorship was certainly Marat. Such a view, on the other hand, was not held by the enragés, or among the exagerés or Hébertists. Among the enragés we find an undeniable class instinct which cannot really be defined as Jacobin, although they attended the club, because they didn’t agree with the idea of an alliance between the petty and middling bourgeoisie, to which the Jacobins in large part belonged, and the sans-culottes, that is the urban lower classes composed of craftsmen, and their dependents, and to a lesser but important degree the wage labourers from those same craft workshops.
The enragés were united with the Jacobins in not wanting to eliminate private property, but wanted a society composed of independent craftsmen and small peasant proprietors. They bemoaned the fact that the old aristocracy had been replaced with the new aristocracy of wealth and, like Hébert, called for the requisitioning of everything that could be used to appease the people’s hunger and for all the speculators and engrossers who were trying to corner the market to be sent to the guillotine. Although having no sympathy with the monarchist past, like all sans-culottes they saw in the old regulations, in the corporatist organization, and in the common rights the only way of safeguarding the existence of the greater part of the population.
Jacques Roux, the Parisian priest, wrote: “Liberty is nothing but a vain fantasy when one class of men can starve the other with impunity, when the rich, by means of a monopoly, exercises the right of life and death over their fellows. The Republic is nothing but a vain fantasy when the counter-revolution is materializing, day after day, through the prices of essential necessities, which three quarters of the population can only afford by shedding blood, sweat and tears”.
On moving to Paris, Marat, born in Switzerland of a Sardinian emigré, got in contact with the encyclopaedists. Between 1765 and 1776 he lived in London, and the living conditions he witnessed in the poor districts caused him to reject the myth of English democracy, then enjoying much favour among Voltaire and a lot of the other enlightenment thinkers. Back in 1790 Marat, essentially an outsider even among the Jacobins, was probably the only person talking about a republic and the need for a revolutionary dictatorship. On September 25, 1792 the Girondins accused the Paris deputies of wanting a dictatorship. Danton and Robespierre protected themselves by distancing themselves from Marat, who replied: “I believe I am the first political writer and maybe the only one after the Revolution who proposed a military tribunal, a dictatorship, triumvirs, as the only means of eliminating traitors and conspirators”.
The history of India and the establishment of capitalism
The comrade introduced the first report on India’s history with a reassertion of the principal features of our materialist and dialectical method, which bases the analysis of any historical period principally on the geophysical, social and economic conditions within which human beings find themselves, and on other cardinal factors such as the level attained by the relations of production and the intensity of the struggle between the classes. For we communists it is a matter of tracing out the historical sequence of the social forms of production. And this is the method we also apply to the history of India with a view to arriving at a better understanding of present day Indian capitalism, denouncing the enemies of its numerically powerful proletariat and unmasking its numerous false friends.
The rhythmic progression of social forms and economic relations within the Indian sub-continent is described by Marx, ranging from the primary form, primitive communism, through to the present mode of capitalist production, passing through the Asiatic mode of production.
The Asiatic variant of the second mode of production is deeply affected by the climatic and geographical conditions of the area within which it is found. If in the continent of Europe rainwater irrigates the land in sufficient quantities or can be contained in small reservoirs in case of drought, in Asia or in North Africa, where rainfall is insufficient or irregular, agriculture is only possible thanks to a rational distribution of water via an efficient system of irrigation on a grand scale, which is achievable only by highly centralized and disciplined communities of men working together. The keystone in the development of the Asiatic variant will therefore be a State that incorporates and absorbs everything and within which community relations are concentrated.
For many centuries the lack of written material meant the study of ancient India was full of gaps, and 80% of the extant documentation about the pre-Islamic era derived exclusively from the oral tradition. Only after 1900, thanks mainly to archaeological discoveries, were the numerous lessons passed down the centuries either confirmed or denied.
The first settled society in the Neolithic era is the Mehrgarh community, a people which begins its sedentary life by establishing reciprocal relations between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists, who tend to become progressively more urbanized. The forms of distribution are still collective because conditioned by the main productive force, the community.
For the first urban civilization we must move to the Indus Valley. From 4000 BC the Dravidians, a people likely originating from the Middle East, penetrated into the sub-continent from the West and settled in the Indus and Ganges Basins, eventually spreading to all of central India. The Indus Valley civilization would develop in a way comparable to the coeval civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. It would reach full maturity between 2500 and 2000 BC and then enter a period of decline in the seventeenth century BC, disappearing entirely in the sixteenth.
The Indus Valley civilization was literate and practised the domestication of animals but not of the horse. Copper and bronze, but not iron, were worked, and earthenware pottery was made. Agriculture, based on the cultivation of wheat and barley and the production of cotton, reached a high level of development but was restricted to the river basins. Its economic base was purely agrarian and trade relations with the contemporary Mesopotamian civilization were intense.
This stateless society, without private property in the means of production or a law of value operating within it, undoubtedly organized its social life in a harmonious, we might say communistic, way, with a division of labour between farmers, priests and warriors. The transition from nomadic hunting and gathering to settled agriculture and stock raising did not immediately give rise to opposed classes, in fact it strengthened the power of communal labour, thanks to the extremely favourable natural environment.
The reasons for this civilization’s collapse are generally ascribed to the subcontinent’s invasion by the people known as Aryans or Indo-Aryans, part of the wave of invasions that commenced around 1700 BC. They were nomadic and belonged to the Indo-Iranic group. Among the Aryans the horse was very important; they had a nomadic economic base and spoke an Indo-European language which was oral, not written.
In the period when the Rig Veda was written down, Aryan society remained essentially tribal and pre-urban, characterized by a gradual evolution from pastoralism and nomadism to a sedentary life based mainly on agriculture. Property in land still didn’t exist. And yet the growth in the social importance of the priests, the Brahmins, ensured that donations to them became ever less voluntary.
The spread of urban civilization up the Ganges valley from the sixth century BC was the most visible expression of series of profound social and economic changes. The process of finally adopting a sedentary lifestyle goes hand in hand with the prevalence of agriculture. It was an agriculture that allowed the rural population a higher standard of living that they can expect today, even if for some time the world of farming had come to be dominated by a class of well-to-do landed proprietors.
Meanwhile an increase in the colonization of uncultivated land contributed to the marginalization of the aboriginal tribal peoples who still lived off the spontaneous fruits of the land and from hunting. There thus emerged social groups denominated outcasts, pariahs or untouchables.
In the cities from the sixth to fifth centuries BC the handicrafts developed, a system of small pre-modern industries. This intense economic development marked a progressive transition from a tribal society to one clearly divided into classes. In the city the spread of the craft industries accompanied that of the guilds, whose members lived in specific districts and were united by strict ties of kinship; economic collaborations that gradually brought the caste system into existence.
The differentiation of the economy and consequently the progressive sub-division of the tribes into castes summoned various States into existence, ranging in type from monarchist to republican. Towards the end of the fourth century the process led to the creation of the first pan-Indian empire, that of the Maurya, which at its maximum extent included not only most of the sub-continent but part of Afghanistan as well. Despite the splendours of the Maurya Empire, which lasted from 321 to 185 BC, it was fragile due to its vast size, subjecting it to internal tensions because of the co-existence of many ethnic groups within it and major social imbalances. In 233 BC the territories to the south of the River Narmada seceded from Mauryan control and the rest of empire was divided up.
There followed a long period of political fragmentation, which only ended many centuries later with the ascent of the Gupta Empire (319 AD), characterized by the expansion of urban civilization, differentiation of social structures and the emergence of new specializations in the realm of production. However, due to the caste system preventing social mobility, and the fact that the urban classes, which can be defined as pre-bourgeois, remaining a minority on the sub-continent, the economic prosperity and the influence of the new classes of merchants, artisans and bankers left the political power of the warlords and priests intact.
While in the European version of the second mode of production a minority managed to gain possession of the collective land, in the Asiatic version the concentration of landed property in the central unit prevented the village communities and the caste of merchant usurers, then on the rise, from taking possession of the land. Craft industry was still intimately bound up with agriculture and hadn’t become independent from it.
In post-Maurya India, the urban classes didn’t conquer any significant political influence.
The later Gupta Empire, in existence from 240 to 550 AD, included at its maximum extent most of northern India, present eastern Pakistan and Bangladesh. Power was strongly centralized and equipped with an efficient system of administration. Among the super-structural features of the Gupta age we find the gradual emergence of Hinduism and the decline of Buddhism, due principally to the decline of those intermediate urban classes linked to long-distance trade and associated economic activities.
At the beginning of the sixth century there began a new phase in the history of India destined to endure for almost seven hundred years. The period presents a series of political and cultural peculiarities similar to those found in Europe in the Early Middle Ages: affecting the economy and the society of most of the subcontinent there was a radical contraction of the urban world, a reduction in long-distance trade (except in southern India) and the emergence of an economy which was almost exclusively rural, where political control lay in the hands of local magnates. The essential difference is that whereas the feudal barons in Europe remained almost always independent from the control of the central political power, the Brahmins, and in general the legatees to whom grants of land were conferred in India, were almost always accountable to the monarch who was master of the land.
Marx was at pains to emphasize that the feudal system of mediaeval Europe, despite the similarities, cannot be equated with the Indian system: serfdom, a characteristic of feudalism, wasn’t that important in India; furthermore in India the feudal lords didn’t have the role of protectors of the peasantry. Engels is emphatic that “the absence of landed property is truly the key to the orient as a whole: in this lies its political and religious history”.
The product in excess of the local community’s consumption goes to the supreme central authority, which is the guarantor, in its vital centralizing role, of all the general conditions of existence. The indissoluble union between agriculture and domestic handicrafts constitutes a stable, self-sufficient system, enclosed and insular. The cities remain appendages of the countryside.
This subdivision of labour between castes and craft guilds, hereditary by tradition and specialization, will become enshrined in State law.
Invasions by the eftalites and of other peoples from central Asia inaugurated a new cycle of political fragmentation in India which was destined to last until the beginning of the twelfth century. At the end of the eighth century there emerged a multiplicity of new states of various sizes in the north of India. Political power passed from the old aristocratic families, descended from functionaries and vassals of the Gupta Empire, to professional warriors of uncertain social and ethnic origin.
At the beginning of the new millennium the Indian monarchs had to face a new adversary: the Afghan Turk, Amir Mahmud, the Muslim lord of Ghazna. The Indians had come into contact with Arabic and Turkish Muslims before. In 711, about 80 years after the death of the Prophet and contemporary with the invasion of Visigothic Spain by Tariq, another Muslim condottiere, the Arab Muhammed Bin Qasim, swept through the plains of Makran and into the Sindh in present-day Pakistan, bringing the conquest to close in 712. Subsequently the Arab governors of the Sindh, after completing the conquest of the Indus Valley, launched a series of raids and attempted invasions of the rest of India. The Indian princes however proved strong enough to ward off the invaders.
The Islamic dominions straddling the millennium were subdivided into various potentates, the furthest east of them established by the Samanid dynasty, which controlled a vast area stretching from Eastern Iran to Jordan with Bukhara as its capital. After further campaigns the Muslims seized part of the Kabul Valley and from there launched a series of incursions into the Punjab, eventually seizing Peshawar and the surrounding area and defeating a confederation of some of the most powerful Indian princes in 991. Incorporated into the empire were a large part of the territories between Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea as well as most of the Iranian plateau.
But in 1030 the empire rapidly fell apart, and for the next 150 years the Indian princes could dedicate themselves to their principal activity, fighting among themselves.
In 1192 a powerful Turkish army annihilated the Indian forces and the immense vistas of the Ganges plain opened up before the victor.
Islam had arrived in India before the military conquest and many conversions had preceded it. The creation of states ruled by Islamic dynasties would disperse it more widely but the inhabitants of the subcontinent were never entirely converted to Islam. Conversion was favoured by the economic support given to internal colonization by the new Muslim rulers, with an interest in tilling virgin land and bringing the land abandoned over the previous centuries back under cultivation. The native peoples of the regions encompassed by the empire, previously classified as ’untouchables’ and outside the caste system, and now colonized and become sedentary, were encouraged to convert to Islam.
The third chapter of the report described the period of the Sultanate in more detail.
The Delhi Sultanate existed from 1206 to 1555 in the territory corresponding to a large portion of the northern part of the subcontinent, and was governed by a series of Pashtun and Turkish dynasties. The Turkish conquerors, given their small number, were concentrated in the urban centres, collecting taxes through intermediaries who were often the representatives of the old pre-Islamic ruling classes, or occasionally members of the peasant class who had acquired significant power at the village level.
A major threat to the survival of the sultanate came when the Mongol peoples, under their leader Genghis Khan, raided the Punjab in 1221. The Mongol invasion wouldn’t just take in India but devastated a large part of the then existing civilized world. Their incursions continued throughout the thirteenth century, launching successful attacks on Eastern Europe, conquering all of China, attacking Vietnam and Japan and, finally, annexing Persia and Mesopotamia.
The efforts of the sultans to construct a powerful war machine would not be in vain. After years of fighting the Mongols with varying degrees of success in 1292 the Mongols were soundly defeated.
After having conquered most of northern India, the sultans were often tempted by the idea of driving their armies through the Vindhya Mountains, a mountain range separating the Ganges Plain to the north and Deccan plateau to the south. If it might have been relatively easy to conquer these territories, holding on to them would have been another matter, necessarily involving the creation of new provinces as well as the disposition and financing of troops which, given the distance from Delhi, wouldn’t have hesitated to question the authority of the sultan or even to openly rebel.
The penetration of the Delhi troops proceeded bit by bit, eventually reaching Cape Comorin on the extreme southern tip of the peninsula. These long-distance raids aimed not so much to conquer but rather to loot and pillage and, where possible, impose tributary relations. During this period much of India thus found itself under the direct control or under the high sovereignty of the lords of Delhi.
This scenario threw open the portals of India to the devastating march of another great Turkish warrior chief, the dreaded Amir Timir, known in European literature as Tamerlane who, after ascending to the throne of Samarkand in 1369, launched a series of incursions which would devastate Persia, Anatolia, Afghanistan, Mesopotamia and southern Russia. In 1397 the vanguards of this invasion force penetrated deep into the Punjab, and in 1398 Tamerlane himself assumed command of operations in India. Outside Delhi on 17 December of the same year, 90,000 of his cavalrymen clashed with the sultan’s forces, composed of 10,000 cavalrymen, 40,000 infantry and 120 armoured elephants. The battle ended with the complete defeat of the Sultanate’s forces and Delhi was occupied and destroyed. When, some months later, the Turks abandoned the sub-continent for ever, northern India was plunged into chaos.
We find ourselves now in the concluding phase of the Middle Ages, and not just in India but in most of the civilized world; a phase characterized by strong demographic and economic depression caused by a pandemic of plagues and by a major agricultural recession. In 1330 the plague spread beyond the Chinese province of Hubei and in the next twenty five years would affect most of the rest of the world, transported along land and sea routes by merchants and armies. In Europe the plague appeared around 1346 and would wreak havoc there until 1353, the year in which it completed its devastation of China. The demographic slump caused by the plague caused a general decline in economic activity and in long distance trade, which underwent a further contraction following the loss of Mongol hegemony over Asia which, after its initial devastations, had created a sort of enormous, united empire, through which it was relatively easy to travel and move goods from the Mediterranean to China, both by land and by the maritime routes which extended along the coasts of China to the Persian Gulf passing through India.
But even before the spread of the disease the symptoms of a grave agrarian crisis had been evident for some time. The cause shouldn’t be sought in climatic change, which had been the case before, but in the increasing exploitation of the land already under cultivation, and the consequent depletion of its nutritive elements. The areas hardest hit were those where agriculture had been practised longest and most intensely. This explains the reduction in wealth which occurred between the middle of the 14th and the beginning of the 16th centuries in some key areas such as the Nile Valley and the Tigris and Euphrates basin, the latter zone not having been as severely affected by the plague. The recession which occurred across the Ganges plain is probably ascribable to this same agricultural crisis as well. The only solution, given the technological limitations of the time, was to put virgin lands under the plough, and this was possible in Europe, where the demographic catastrophe among the nomadic populations, who had been scourged by the plague, had freed up vast tracts of cultivatable land, the vast expanses of the Ukraine being one striking example.
The beginning of the 16th century saw a new player participating in the affairs of the Deccan peninsular: Portugal. In May 1498 a large fleet headed by Vasco de Gama would dock in the port of Calicut, capital of the small state of Malabar. For some decades, although encountering some resistance, the Portuguese prevailed over all their naval adversaries and controlled many of the ocean routes. Wanting to procure a safe base for their fleet they conquered the city of Goa, which became their main military centre in 1510. Almost to the exclusion of all else the Portuguese were interested in spices and war horses, whereas for other wares they would impose a 5% tax on the Asiatic merchants. Attempts to monopolize these trades would soon meet with failure, due mainly to their limited military resources.
In response to the anti-centralist claims of the aristocracy the governor of Lahore would call on the prince of Kabul, known as Babur (Tiger) for help. The latter, a descendent of Tamerlane, looked on the Delhi Sultanate as his legitimate inheritance. Despite the Sultanate army’s numerical superiority it would be completely annihilated. The following year Babur defeated another powerful army which had been deployed by an alliance of the main Rajput tribes. The battle of Panipat is considered to mark the founding date of the Moghul Empire, so called because Babur also claimed to be a descendant of Genghis Khan (“moghul” deriving from the Arabic word for “mongol”).
The arming of the States
Our school predicts that the only way capitalism will be able to survive the global economic crisis of over-production is by having another world war. The international proletariat must prepare for war too, but not for a fratricidal war between proletarians fighting against each other on behalf of their respective states, but for the class war, a war fought by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie and its lackeys.
It is also important, therefore, to gain a better understanding and knowledge of our enemy from the point of view of its military potential, of its strategies and alliances.
Along with the analysis of the data relating to the global economy which was examined in another report, there was a presentation of some data relating to trends in global military spending.
The economic crisis has caused a reduction in global military spending. In the post-war period this reached a peak in 1988 but declined after the collapse of the USSR, reaching a low in 1998. After that it rose, reaching a new peak thirteen years later in 2011. Military expenditure has been declining since then, albeit very slowly. In 2013 it had risen to 1,739 billion, up from 1,701 billion in 2011. This stagnation in arms spending at a global level can be attributed to the consequences of the economic crisis, which has forced some of the European states and above all the United States to tackle mounting state deficits.
Some states have reduced their expenditure quite substantially while others have increased it, resulting in the slight overall rise. By analysing the expenditure of the 15 states that spend most on arms we can see that over the last year the United States, France, Japan, Great Britain, Germany, India, Brazil, Italy, Australia and Canada have all reduced their expenditure, whereas China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Turkey have increased it.
It was noted that the United States alone represents 37% of global military spending, China 11% and Russia 5%; thus just three countries already spend 53% of the total. A further 15 states are required to take the percentage of global arms spending up to the 80% mark.
Looking back over the past 25 years we can see that if spending by North and Central America, as a percentage of the global total, has remained fairly stable, spending by South America, the Middle East and Africa has doubled, whereas spending by Asia has trebled.
It is also interesting to observe trends in the arms trade. The 15 biggest exporters supply 95% of the market. In 2013 Russia, although experiencing a slight decline relative to the previous two years, overtook the United States, victim of a sharp decline in its foreign trade, and has thus become the top exporter. These figures go some way to explaining why Washington is so insistent that the countries belonging to NATO should increase their military budgets.
The biggest importer by a long way is the Indian colossus followed, according to the figures!, by the United Arab Emirates, which is a mere dot on the map. In third place we find China, which mostly produces its own arms but still needs to acquire certain types of weaponry abroad. In fourth place we find another financial power in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, whereas Pakistan, which up to 2010 ranked just behind its Indian neighbour, has dropped to fifth place.
This ongoing research, which we will report in much greater detail, will also bring up to date the recent evolution in the balance of military power between the various states and the various areas subject to imperialist influence.
The Labour Movement in the USA
The latest chapter in this ongoing study was presented to the meeting, taking up the story from where it left off at the beginning of the last century. The United States economy, by now completely recovered from the Great Depression of the ’90s, now began a long period of expansion which would only draw to a close after the economic boom of the First World War years. As big capital drove forward this epoch-making advance during what became known as the ’Progressive Era’; a newly formed working class, which was in a state of constant flux, was amassing in the cities as a result of the successive waves of immigrants arriving from Europe.
Big capital strove to attain its usual objectives: stability of the financial system, predictability of market trends, elimination of the damaging effects of competition and a reduction in the number of labour disputes. Thus major reforms, above all at the federal level, would end up being supported, and even being drafted and managed by, the politically most ’enlightened’ exponents of big industrial and financial capital.
The process was accelerated once it was recognized that the United States, sooner or later, would have to enter the First World War; which would consecrate the country as the main economic and military power. The central power took on the task of regularizing relations with the working class, both with the part regimented in the yellow unions–both those in and outside the AFL–and the more combative elements which the AFL neither represented nor wanted to represent, and among whom the IWW had found the most fertile ground.
As regards the proletariat the new development, which was very relevant because it had been announced by the events of the previous decades, was the complete de facto incorporation of the AFL and the reactionary, aristocratic trade unions into the state structure.
The upshot was that during this period of growth and massive profits the bourgeoisie managed to contain the class struggle, by making marginal concessions, but with the bosses’ ’iron heel’ still firmly in place. The one outcome was the recognition of the collaborationist unions, something which however only brought advantages to the leading cliques, that is, a strata of well-paid functionaries situated between the bourgeoisie and the working class who knew, much better than any sheriff, how to divide the class and sap its energy in any number of ways. In substance, if not in form, it all prefigured the corporatism of the absolutist regimes which would become established a few years after the war in some European countries, and the state/trade union relations that were set up in all countries after the Second World War.