After Gaza, the Israeli armed forces then moved on to Lebanon. They used the pretext of the kidnapping of a few soldiers, despite the fact that kidnappings and assassinations in the Arab and Palestinian territories, whether covert or otherwise, have always been one of the Israeli army’s specialities since the birth of the Israeli State! But it is the civilian population of Lebanon, of all religious persuasions, which is being massacred; and no voice of authority in the West, whether diplomatic, political or trade-unionist, has spoken out to demand that there be an unconditional cessation of the killings. Whilst the number of victims grows as each hour passes, there is just waffle and yet more waffle from the diplomatic money-grubbers.
After a month of fighting there are an estimated 900 Lebanese casualties. These are mainly civilians, along with a few Hezbollah fighters who used the civilians they claim to be protecting as a human shield. And that figure doesn’t include the wounded and the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the bombings. There are 50 dead on the Israeli side, mainly soldiers: Israeli cities bombarded by Hezbollah have shown they have made better preparations to protect civilians.
The UNO puppet-show, with its mock soldiers, is already over there covering up the sound of exploding bombs and the cries of the wounded with its hypocritical sermons; sermons which serve as an alibi for the democratic farce, poisoning the minds of all who listen to them.
The United States announces that they have set out on a war against “international terrorism” in the Middle East personified in Gaza by Hamas, in Lebanon by Hezbollah and by who knows who in Iraq. In Gaza and Lebanon instead of applying force directly they are using Israel.
For over a century the Middle East has been a key strategic region both militarily and economically. Military control of the area means control of the Mediterranean and the routes into Asia. Economically it is important insofar as it represents the most energy rich zone on the entire planet. English imperialism (later to be replaced by American imperialism) had already understood this at the beginning of the 19th century. Later on, his Britannic majesty’s “international terrorist”, Lawrence of Arabia, would be used to undermine Arab unity: the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 would complete the carving up of the region. This was very unfortunate for the countries which make up the Middle East and the people who live there, constantly getting smashed to pieces by the imperialist countries! Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon have become the theatre of massacres, inter-religious wars and perpetual bombardment.
Iran is designated as the regional power which is menacing the historical ambitions of the great powers; and hiding behind Iran (although clearly operating in both camps) there is the battered Arab bourgeoisie. Iran has recently dared to defy “international opinion” by refusing to renounce its nuclear programme, and the UNO Security Council – a dislocated puppet which for decades now has fobbed us off with the same old rubbish about how it is ’a force for mediation’ – must now take on the role of supreme judge, and drag Iran before its farcical Court of Justice. But Iran, accused of being the main instigator of “terrorists” in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon – “terrorists” who have the gall to rebel against the masters of the world – is assured of the “moral” support of Russia and China; who are always keen to tinker around with the balance of forces in the Middle East and shuffle the cards around a bit. Syria, which for decades has pulled the political strings in the Lebanon and provided Hezbollah with Iranian aid, has now been taken under Iran’s wing.
But us communists know that Iran wouldn’t have been so audacious unless it was assured of support from the likes of Russia, and China: the latter an unbridled dragon economy with a particularly voracious thirst for raw materials.
In its July 1st editorial, entitled ’State of Terror’, the “very conservative” Wall Street Journal openly called for intervention in Syria and Iran: «There will be no resolution in Lebanon or the Gaza strip until the governments of Syria and Iran understand that there is a price to be paid...»; and later on it states: «The White House has suggested that Syria and Iran is to blame for this week’s events, but stronger words and deeds than this are required»! Why then are Mr Bush and his “lets get tooled up and go in” cronies hesitating?
Lebanon, like many of the small States created by the victorious imperialist powers after the 1st World War, is an artificial State. It has no national history and was created by the great powers to prevent a concentration in the area of States which could become potential competitors. Under the auspices of its “great pal”, the French, Lebanon was born out of the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire with the aim of preventing the formation of a greater Syria with extensive maritime access. It was named after Mount Lebanon, whose name in its turn was derived from the Arabic word laban meaning "white cheese" referring to the prominent mountain peaks dominating the country. When the new State was first created, Christians formed a majority and the idea was to place a Christian country in the midst of the Arab masses.
Later on a similar thing would happen when the Jewish State of Israel was formed. To inaugurate this phase the Palestinian masses are driven off their land by the Jewish “terrorists” and grouped together in refugee camps by the “friendly” Arab bourgeoisies. Here they would be regularly subjected to repression, massacres, and driven from one camp to the other by the Arab governments. From Jordan they would move to Lebanon, where they would gather in the South and around Beirut along with other proletariats in the region (Arab, Christian and Asiatic). The creation of a pseudo-Palestinian State in Gaza and the West Bank, split up into numerous Bantustans, hasn’t however brought an end to their ’eternal refugee’ status. The ill treatment meted out to them by the Israeli troops since 1948 has pushed them into the arms of groups like the PLO, Hamas and finally Hezbollah. The latter organisation, assisted by mercenaries despatched from Iran, was formed in 1982 following the horrible massacres which were perpetrated against unarmed proletarians in the Lebanese Sabra and Chatila camps; after their so-called PLO “defenders” had abandoned them to their fate.
Lebanon is a bastion in the Mediterranean and situated where the Iraqi and Saudi Arabian oil pipelines terminate, the former in Tripoli, the latter in Saida. Also, just before this year’s G8 summit, the USA inaugurated the new pipeline running from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, via Turkey. After Iraq, after Palestine, now the great imperialist powers need to see what Lebanon can ’bring to the negotiating table’, and, using civil war and systematic destruction of the infrastructure and the civilian population, negotiate with them and the various regional powers (Iran, Syria) on the basis of the relations of force which on the ground each big imperialism and minor power can deploy (control of a city, a mountain, a port, an oil refinery, a “spectacular” massacre of civilians scandalous according to the criteria if the mediators, etc.,). If the United States appears as the main instigator of this apparent chaos, operating through its Israeli henchman, all the other imperialist powers present in the region are also intriguing by infiltrating their secret services, deploying their diplomats and non-governmental organisations, and making “donations” of goods or money to this or that side, clan or gang... just like in Algeria, in Afghanistan and in other countries which are the unfortunate objects of the insatiable appetite of the great imperialist powers. They are all there: the United States, Russia and China, and Europe of course – a force more apparent than real – and then there is Japan, and all the other small, ambitious countries which like to pose as prudent diplomats in order not to upset any of the big boys.
The USA controls Egypt and Saudi Arabia which both possess American bases and are equipped with an enormous military arsenal provided by Germany, France and Great Britain. Clearly they are Israel’s masters, a country which they literally allow “to survive” in both a financial and material sense and which they regularly provide with heavy military equipment. Israel is a mercenary State (with therefore no need for American bases within its borders) on which weighs the grim duty of being the executioner of the disinherited Arab masses.
But with the adversaries hiding behind their murderous puppet armies, and the designated enemy just the murderous puppet armies of the other side, what a phoney war this is. As communists we know that the real target of the USA, Israel and the other world bourgeoisies (including the Arab ones, along with the organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah, who kill more civilians than soldiers) is the oppressed masses of the whole of the Middle East; the Palestinians, Lebanese, Iraqi, and so on; they are the real enemy and represent the real peril for the bourgeoisie and imperialism. Sheer desperation has pushed the peoples and proletarians of the Middle East into the arms of extremists such as Hamas, Hezbollah, (and before them, the PLO) all of whom represent the bourgeoisie and all of whom are prepared to betray their followers at the drop of a hat, as clearly evidenced by the succession of horrible massacres of Middle Eastern proletarians which have occurred over recent decades. It doesn’t surprise us that in his recent speech the Israeli prime-minister, Ehud Olmert, congratulated the Arab countries for supporting Israel’s attack on the Lebanon. In particular he was thankful “for the unprecedented international support and the help of the Arab countries who, for the first time in a situation of military confrontation between us and an Arab country, have taken up a position against an Arab organisation”! He referred to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, but there are plenty of other governments and Arab organisations which could have gone on the list.
And until the drug addicted proletariat in the Western metropolises rediscovers its party and the path of class revolution; until it imposes its will on the bourgeoisie, these massacres and these nameless wars will continue.
As we have stated before in our press, we are currently still in the preparatory phase for a Third World War, and with war and peace alternating at an ever greater pace, it is a phase when each State will be forced to choose between one of the camps. This is what we wrote in 1981: «The Middle East peace plans prepare the way for the war alignments. The so-called peace plans of one or the other of the imperialist camps are nothing other than expedients by which one or the other seeks to seeks to improve their position ready for a future war which they know to be both inevitable and imminent».
August 5, 2006
The 17,000 employees of the Teheran bus companies, un-distracted by the famous "blasphemous cartoon" controversy, have been fighting an extremely difficult battle against their employers and the State for two months now. These workers are employees of the public transport company, the Teheran and District Bus Company (Sherkat e Vahed) which operates in the capital and surrounding area. In a country where the threshold of poverty is officially set by the government at 270 euros, most of these workers get a wage of around 200 euros and only about 15% of them 270 euros.
1978 was the year in which the poverty-stricken Iranian masses (the disinherited mostazafin) rose up in revolt, the Shah was expelled and the Islamic Republic was installed with the ensuing ferocious repression of the proletarian movement. The Iranian population has doubled since then, and now stands at 69.8 million inhabitants, more than half of whom are under 17 years old and 70% under 35. This youthfulness of this proletariat constitutes a strongly revolutionary factor.
After the terrible war with Iraq ended in 1988, at a cost of more than a million dead, the flight to the cities from the countryside was massively accelerated. Masses of huge barrack-like dwellings shot up everywhere to house the immigrants from the provinces. Teheran became a huge conglomeration of 12 million inhabitants.
In short, the typically capitalist process of proletarianisation and abandonment of the land, almost completed in the West, is still underway in the rest of the world. It has been calculated that in 2005 the world’s urban population overtook the rural population. According to one UNO estimate 175,000 people migrate to the cities every day. Fifty years ago there were only 86 cities with more than a million inhabitants, now there are more than 400.
On the basis of these simple statistics, who are the ones really ignoring the lessons of history, they who predict a social explosion in the metropolitan centres of profit and revenue, and the necessity for an entirely new form of distribution of the population in a post-mercantile age, with a truly global plan, or the ones who, in this massively expanding world slum, blather on about development and democracy?
Over the last few years the working class in Iran has suffered a severe attack on its working and living conditions. According to official figures the level of unemployment has risen to 20% of the working population and now stands at 16 million, with a million more young people entering the labour market every year.
Youth unemployment is linked to another statistic which speaks volumes about the benefits supposedly bestowed on the masses by Islamic moral rigour: tragically, Iran has one of the highest rates of heroin addiction in the world; currently 1.2 million according to the official figures – which undoubtedly aim to minimise the extent of this plague.
As to job security, in Iran, same as in the West, ’flexibility’ is the order of the day. Permanent contracts are being substituted for short-term posts of a few months duration. World of Islam, or just plain world of capitalism? One of the methods most frequently used by the bosses to step up their exploitation of the Iranian working class is delaying the payment of wages. More than a million workers on the minimum wage (270 euros) are kept waiting for their pay for periods of between three and six months; and some up to two years. Even unemployment benefits and pensions are paid in arrears.
Although the legal minimum working age in Iran is fifteen years old, it is nevertheless estimated that around 380,000 children between 10 and 14 years old are employed in permanent work, and another 370,000 in seasonal work. In 2002-3 the government introduced a law which exempted businesses with less than 10 employees from the 1990 Labour Code. This has allowed children to be exploited even more.
The Iranian bourgeois regime regiment the workers by means of the Khane-ye Kargar (House of Workers) system. This is a kind of State trade-union which in every firm with more than 35 employees is headed by a Shora-ye Eslami (Islamic Council of Labour). These organisations were created following the violent repression of the labour movement in 1984. Although officially set up to look after the workers’ interests their real function is that of an out-and-out factory police force.
In 2003 an amendment to the 1990 Labour Code allowed trade-unions independent of the State to be formed without the permission of the authorities. Excluded from this provision however are the ’strategic’ businesses, such as Khodro, the Middle East’s main car manufacturing firm which employs 34,000 workers, and the petrochemical sector. In the sectors where workers do have the right to organise, any rights on paper are negated in practice, and those workers who do try to organise are subjected to various forms of repression, most commonly dismissal.
Strikes are illegal, but workers can, again in theory, take action in the workplace by means of Go Slows, Work to Rules and so on. In the public sector, however, every kind of strike is strictly prohibited.
Naturally, faced with these worsening conditions, the workers haven’t taken it lying down. Strikes, pickets and demonstrations are occurring virtually every day. We will comment on some of the more significant examples. In January 2004 the police shot into a crowd of 1,500 strikers at the Khatoonabad copper mines, killing four and wounding several others. In March and June of the same year, 200,000 teachers, a third of the total, were led out on strike by an independent union, whose president, Mahmoud Beheshti Langarudi, spokesman for Ali-Asghar Zati, and other members from the Mazandaran province, were arrested in retaliation. In October, a strike which started in the Textile Company of Kurdistan factory in the industrial city of Sanandaj, spread rapidly to other textile factories in the city (Shaho and Shinbaf), and was successful in obtaining back-pay. In December-January, another 16 day strike in the same factory led to the formation of a Workers’ struggle committee, which was immediately met with threats, sackings and arrests. In 2005, in reaction to the new minimum wage, set by the Government at 270 euros, thousands of workers from various cities (Tehran, Karaj, Demavand, Kermanshah, Abadan, Isfehan, Kashan, Sandandaj) and particular factories and workplaces (Filiver of Teheran, Khodro, Manshah petrochemicals, naval shipyards at Sadra di Behshahr) signed a petition for it to be raised to 460 euros. On May 1st of last year, for the first time in many factories workers imposed stoppages lasting several hours and demonstrations took place in several cities under the auspices of a "Committee for the formation of free trade-unions". In November, following a two month long strike, the workers of the Textile Company of Kurdistan in Sanandaj obtained back-pay and the reinstatement of 36 sacked workers.
Since 2003 the tramdrivers and workers at the Teheran and District Bus Company have been organising themselves within a new independent trade-union called the Trade Union of the Workers of the Teheran and District Bus Company (Sherkat-e Vahed, Sandikaye kargarane sherkate vahed). It has been formed on a truly class basis and currently has around 5,000 members. Despite this being the organisation which genuinely represents and defends the Teheran tramdrivers’ interests, neither the company nor the civic authorities have afforded it recognition. This union had been founded earlier, back in 1968, but was then banned in the early eighties by the new Islamic regime which imposed its Khane-ye Kargar and Shora-ye Eslami.
For more than a year now the workers organised within the Sherkat-e Vahed have been fighting for a series of demands, such as higher wages, parity with other public sector workers, payment of back-pay, reduction of workload, introduction of collective bargaining and elimination of Shora-ye Eslami from the company. To these demands others have been added in the course of the struggle following the repressive measures taken by the Company and the civic authorities. These have mainly involved calls for the reinstatement of sacked workers with full back-pay for the time they were unemployed, and the release and reinstatement of comrades who had been arrested, also with full back-pay.
In March 2005, workers in four of the ten transport districts in the capital went out on strike demanding a 14% wage increase. The stoppage was only for a few hours but it achieved its objective and the rise was granted. Between March and June the company reacted by sacking 17 members of the union.
Two months after the strike, on Monday May 9th, 300 men belonging to the House of Workers, the Islamic Council of the Sherkat-e Vahed, to Basij, a paramilitary group formed by the government, and some company security men (Herasat) arrived in 12 lorries outside the union headquarters. They would then go on to attack and disrupt a meeting which was going on inside, beating up ten or so of the union militants; including the future leader, Mansoor Osanlou, who had been sacked two months before for his union activities. And all this under the watchful eyes of the State security forces. The most determined elements amongst this bunch of thugs were a group of 40 or 50 or so people led by well-known supporters of the regime, amongst them provincial deputies from the House of Workers, from the Supreme Council for the Co-ordination of the Islamic Councils, from the Executive Council of the provincial Headquarters of the Islamic Councils, from the East Teheran House of Workers, members of the Islamic Council of the Sherkat-e Vahed, and from the company’s security forces.
Barely a month afterwards, some of these gentlemen, namely Hassan Sadeghi, Ahmadi Panjaki and Mohammed Hamze’I, would take themselves off to the Geneva to represent the Iranian workers at the 93rd session of the Council of the International Labour Office! The fact that this corrupt bandwagon, now part of the UNO, still accepts them as representatives of the Iranian workers tells us a lot about its true function as a bosses yellow union International.
In September and October 2002 a group of members of the ILO’s Freedom of Association Section visited Iran. Appropriately enough the report it drafted was despatched to the Iranian authorities! And it is notable that this report wasn’t translated into any other foreign language – rather as though the condition of Iranian workers was solely a matter for themselves, or rather for their exploiters. Clearly this organisation’s specific aim is to prevent international solidarity between workers.
A few excerpts from this report were nevertheless published in the Iranian newspapers, and some trade-union militants got it translated into English. From this we can gather that the heavy repression of the Iranian workers was denounced, in a vague kind of way, and that the formation of ’new independent unions’ was greeted positively. In fact these new unions aren’t independent at all, but are linked by a thousand ties to the government and the Iranian State. We refer to the Iranian Journalists’ Association and the Iranian Lorry-drivers Association. In fact the former organisation stipulates in its statutes that only those belonging to one of the country’s official religions can join. Three out of five of its executive committee members also belong to the Majles, the Islamic parliament, and four of them are members and leaders of the Islamic Cooperation front, which holds the majority in the Majles as well as a dominant role in the State structure. This is hardly surprising really considering the social role of journalists who work for the bourgeois press.
But what really reveals the anti-worker nature of these organisations is the way they have complied with the ILO and refused to challenge the blatant falsehoods being perpetuated by this organisation. And it is the same with the Lorry-drivers Association, with many of the leaders holding positions in the government and the institutional parties.
But let us return to the Tehran tramdrivers.
On June 3, 2005, a general assembly of the Sherkat-e Vahed workers and tram-drivers was held to adopts statutes and elect a leadership. Despite road blocks and intimidation from the combined ranks of the State and company security forces and members of Khane-ye Kargar (House of Workers) 8,000 workers participated in the assembly. By the end of July the number of members of the union sacked had reached seventy.
On September 7, the drivers staged a protest over the non-payment of wages. This consisted of leaving vehicle lights on during the daytime shift. In response to this token demonstration 7 trade union leaders were arrested for ’public order offences’ and later released on bail. On October 17, drivers organised a ’ticket strike’, refusing to sell or check them. It was demanded that a previous agreement, concerning reduction of workload, wage parity with other government employees and reinstatement of sacked workmates, be adhered to.
Not only was the agreement not adhered to but on December 22 fourteen more trade-unionists were arrested, including the union’s leader, Mansoor Ossanlou. In retaliation on Saturday 25th December, 3,000 workers in six out of the ten districts followed the union’s call for strike action, and 40 were arrested. The drivers and their families responded to these latest arrests by setting up a permanent camp outside the Evin maximum security prison, famed for the torture and assassinations carried out within its walls.
The strike carried over to the next day.
During the night, 4,000 workers assembled at the District 6 depot, a notoriously militant district. Following the arrival of the mayor of Tehran and his personal assurance that he would release the prisoners and meet the workers’ other demands, the drivers and other workers resumed work at 5am. On Monday the 27th a small procession of workers and relatives of the prisoners set out from the prison and headed toward the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, calling for the release of the detainees. During the night, 11 out of the 18 prisoners were released, leaving behind 7 union militants, all of whom were members of the executive committee. Meanwhile the bank accounts of several union activists were frozen and their wages stopped.
On December 31st some of the union leaders went to meet with the mayor. The latter would give no assurances about the Ossanlou’s release but promised to reply within fifteen days to the workers’ other demands, i.e., introduction of collective bargaining, recognition of the union, wages increases and the dissolution of the company’s Shora-ye Eslami (Islamic Council). Meanwhile, the seven trade union militants accused of public order offences were summoned to appear before the Court of Justice on the following day.
Messages of solidarity with the Tehran drivers and workers were arriving from the main factories in Iran: from the petrochemical workers in Khuzestan (in oil rich South-western Iran bordering Basra in Iraq), from the Shaho Textile Company workers, from the Kermanshah Metalworkers Union, from the Khodro workers, from the Kurdistan Textile Company workers and from the Committee for the formation of a free union of copper miners.
On January 1st, 150 workers demonstrated in support of Ossanlou’s release outside the Revolutionary Court. The following day at least 5,000 members of the union assembled in the Azadi stadium in the North west of the city. Once again the mayor appeared to meet with the workers. And the day after that the union resumed the ’lights on during the day’ protest and called for another strike on January 28th.
At this point the struggle become more intense: Mansoor Ossanlou was still in prison and the mayor’s promises were clearly revealed as a strategy to gain more time. The ’first citizen’ – who as part of the anti-worker forces had been playing the role of ’the moderate’, engaging in discussions with the workers and attending their meetings – was now faced with stubbornness on the workers’ part and a union which, instead of hinting it might stop the protests, was announcing new strikes. The mayor’s unsuccessful strategy was abandoned; the mask was cast aside and he would denounce the union as an illegal organisation and vow to prevent the strike.
The level of repression is increased. On Saturday the 7th, the drivers stage another protest, driving around the city with their headlights on again and with a portrait of Ossanlou attached to every bus, with a caption calling for his release. Some also put up posters advocating the formation of a free trade union. The protest is successful and drivers from all of Tehran’s ten transport districts, in particular from districts 4, 5 and 9, take part. In District 5 the government calls out the yegan ha-ye vizhe, a special force created in July 2002 to combat "anti-islamic behaviour" and "social corruption" amongst youth. Various skuffles break out when members of the state security forces and the Herasat (company security) stop the buses and attempt to remove the Ossanlou posters. Five drivers are arrested and then released shortly afterwards.
The next two weeks are relatively quiet as preparations are made for the strike on January 28th. On the evening of the 24th union militants distribute a leaflet about the strike and what had prompted it. On the 25th, six trade-unionists are summoned to the Court of Justice to appear the following day. One is placed under arrest whilst distributing the leaflets. The six trade-unionists, having turned up at court accompanied with two workmates, are then interrogated until nightfall and then, along with their two workmates, arrested. Practically the entire union leadership is in jail. Other workers, also summoned to court, see which way the wind is blowing and refuse to appear.
In the meantime, during an interview on Iranian television, the mayor defines the union as "illegal" and the State radio describes the workers as "counter-revolutionaries" and "saboteurs". Rumours start to circulate about the Government deploying 10,000 Baseej to break the strike. On the night of the 27th, hundreds of members of the security forces enter the homes of the trade-unionists, who are beaten up and carted off to prison where the beatings continue. The company directors, members of the Shora-ye Eslami and the forces of order work together to identify and arrest workers. In some cases family members are also subjected to police brutality. During the raid on the house of one of the union leaders, Yaghub Salimi, the riot squad forcibly arrest his wife and five children, including a two and twelve year old.
On the Sunday morning the strike nevertheless goes ahead in all ten districts. In each area there are around six to seven hundred drivers working, the workers on the picket lines are confronted by over a thousand agents who force them back on to the buses with insults, menaces and baton charges. Those who refuse are arrested. In those depots where the workers are powerful enough to react the police resort to tear gas and threaten to open fire on the demonstrators. Company and Government call in the army, and mercenaries of the Baseej militia, to replace the striking drivers. The fact that by this time around a hundred had already been arrested shows the high level of commitment to this strike, which in fact continues in some districts.
By evening 1,300 workers had been arrested and most of them taken off to the Evin prison. The Company declares it is going to sack them all and freeze the payment of their wages with immediate effect. Arrests continue for the rest of the day and the following night. Bit by bit, the prisoners are then released, until by the end of February, the last we heard, six militants remain, all from the union leadership and including Mansoor Ossanlou. An unspecified number of workers is prevented from returning to work, and on February 22nd, 150 of them organise a demonstration outside the Ministry of labour demanding reinstatement.
We have described the course of this struggle not in order to register our surprise at the ’anti-democratic’ way in which the workers have been treated, nor to denounce the methods of the Iranian regime in particular, but to pay tribute to a bravely fought workers’ struggle, and to see what lessons can be derived from it. Despite the rubbishy journalism over here having us believe that Iran is a country immersed in mediaeval obscurantism, in fact it is a modern country with a highly developed bourgeoisie, and that is the social context within which the Iranian proletariat is conducting their battle.
Our response to the repressive action taken by the Iranian State and
employers is not to condemn it as an affront to Democracy, or to portray
it as a ’violation of human rights’ (a purely metaphysical concept) but
rather to warn the workers of all countries that they need to prepare
themselves for a similar level of conflict. This struggle isn’t a hangover
from the past but rather a foretaste of what is to come, throughout the
entire capitalist world. The repression meted out to the tram-drivers in
Italy recently is a small indicator of what the working class in the west
can expect in the future. To those who can let go of their democratic and
pacifist prejudices it is clear that the class struggle, even when restricted
to fighting purely for basic ’economic’ demands, will be made illegal and
will eventually come into conflict with the state apparatus, both in its
democratic, and its antidemocratic, guises.
The bourgeoisie’s demand for greater ’flexibility’ in the rules governing individual and collective dismissals has been becoming ever more insistent during the latest economic crisis. Whilst the Anglo-Saxon world – the USA and Great Britain – has taken the leading role in this respect, the bosses in Europe are going down the same road. The Treu Law in Italy, which was voted in by ’left-wingers’ in 1997, and especially the Biagi Law in 2003, have introduced an arsenal of employment contracts ranging in duration from just a few days to a few years, and they can be instantly revoked at a moment’s notice. This is the French Bourgeoisie’s take on things: “France is getting left behind! You must accept short-term contracts for the good of international capital! You must work more for a lower wage for your ’right to work’, but without any right to maintain it! Let us simplify labour law, and above all the laws which protect the worker! ’Liberalism’ is the future of humanity!”
Let us take a look at the situation in France.
Since the end of the seventies, the labour market has undergone profound changes. In 1975 over 6 million people were working in the industrial sector. In 1986, after ’restructuring’ had taken place in the steel, car and textile industries, this figure dropped to 5 million and by the end of 2005 it was 4 million. There has been a massive increase in the number of women workers. Whilst the number of men in work hasn’t changed (14 million between 1980 and 2005) the figure for women has gone up from 9.6 to 12.3 million, with the newly employed having to adapt to jobs and working conditions which are more insecure. And finally, the third big change, there has been an exponential growth in the tertiary sector, from 9.5 million posts in 1975 to 16.8 million in 2003, with flexitime in the I.T., telephone services and volume retailing sectors and so on becoming the norm.
The level of unemployment continues to rise. It has gone up five-fold from the end of the seventies, from 2% of the working population in 1970 to 9.5% of it in 2006. The official figure is 2.4 million unemployed whilst the real figure, taking into account all types of unemployment, including those ’between jobs’ and those not registered unemployed, is about 4.5 to 5 million, that is up to around 17 to 19%. According to official statistics youth unemployment stands at 23% (a bit lower than Italy, which has the highest rate of youth unemployment in Europe).
For two years, same as in Italy and Germany, the French economy has been in recession. In 2005 there were 2.5 million ’Smicards’ (workers on the minimum wage of 1,000 euro) which is the highest figure for 20 years, i.e.,16.8 % of the workforce, (not including agricultural and part-time workers).
We are not going to list here all the measures taken by the French bourgeoisie as it seeks to come up with a legal framework for short-term working. In France, as elsewhere, the legal machinery is extremely complicated and often incomprehensible to the worker. The fact is that the labour legislation is slowly, but inexorably, being emptied of content: not in terms of the intricacy of the laws, certainly, but rather in terms of the effectiveness of the protection it offers to workers. Such is the situation after decades of complicit silence by the major trade unions, who have participated in each and every government manoeuvre. The mass media would have us believe that the labour legislation in France favours the workers far more than in other countries, and that the workers must therefore make concessions. They tell us that in order to fight international competition we need to help the bosses by accepting reduced wages, cut backs in social security costs and allowing less secure employment contracts so as to ease up the ’taking on’ and ’letting go’ of manpower. As though the more than 6 million hirings and firings a year in France weren’t already enough!
Let us turn to what is happening now. What lies behind the current movement?
Whether of a right or left complexion the State, since 1974, has favoured hiring young people in compliance with the contrat emploi-solidarité, in which the providers of work are exempted from social security costs and the State pays a portion of the salaries. The last contract of this type back in 2002 was called the New Youth Contract. But lack of job security nevertheless continued apace. According to official studies the average time a young worker can expect to wait before getting full-time work is between 8 and 11 years.
But the bourgeoisie has set its sights even higher: it aspires to individual contracts for all workers, whatever their age! The Contrat à Durée Detérminée, the CDD, and the Contrat à Durée Indetérminée, the CDI, which provided the legal framework for fixed term and open-ended permanent contracts, have expired!
And so new designations appeared. The New Employment Contract, the CNE, was passed in August 2005... when everyone was on holiday! Meanwhile in France the voting in the European elections indicated a widespread rejection of the so-called liberal political economy, which has been invoked by both right and left “in the name of a Greater Europe”; and, incidentally, another reason why the propaganda in support of the CNE has fallen on deaf ears. A small demonstration against the CNE and against the rise in the cost of living took place in October. The new type of open-ended contract applied to businesses with less than 20 employees for workers of all ages, a contract which could be broken for no reason within the first two years. The Government said it wanted to encourage employment by introducing ’greater flexibility’ into the regulations protecting the worker against instant dismissal, making the costs of ’golden handshakes’ for workers who are ’let go’ less per business than under the CDI, and so on and so forth. The CNE, as opposed to previous subsidised contracts which cost between 5,000 to 50,000 euros per worker, costs the State nothing. As expected this CNE doesn’t encourage new applicants for jobs, rather it makes it much easier to sack those already in work according to the fluctuating requirements of the business, and without any need for further justification.
But there are still a few additional steps the Government and employers have to make before they can impose the individual contract (i.e., total insecurity) on workers. Thus prime minister Villepin’s government is simply continuing the work of previous governments. The unions, including the CFDT, faithful friend of every government and every ’reform’, has been excluded from the consultations.
A report by French economists aiming to sum up the first six months of the CNE has pointed to its ’instability’ in terms of providing new jobs (!) and proposed that in order to be more effective it needs to be extended to all businesses, of whatever size. The State has adopted this proposal, but only applied it to under 26 years old. It is called the First Employment Contract (CPE), and it is described as an ’equal opportunities contract’ (seeing that young workers have ’less opportunity’)! Poor proletarian ’young people’, the things you have to put up with!
And now we come to this February.
A certain malaise spreads through the lower classes and begins to be expressed in the typical objectives, and typical ways of achieving them, of the different strata: the proletariat, petty bourgeois, and lumpen proletariat. Young workers, currently unemployed or under-employed because of the crisis, have been betrayed and left to their own devices by the regime’s trade union organisations, which neither defend them, organise them, nor mobilise them. Those emanating from the families of the petty bourgeoisie and worker’s aristocracy find themselves ’parked’ in the colleges and universities. And it is these young workers and these ’students’ who are currently protesting against the new law on the CPE.
The university students take to the streets. The main unions and ’left-wing’ parties finally wake up: they denounce the ’institutionalisation’ of insecurity at work (even if the process has been going on for years and they have actively contributed to it). Demonstrations take place with a growing number of participants. To begin with it is young people abandoning their schools and colleges, then the workers. The Government doesn’t budge.
Monday, February 7th: 400,000 demonstrate throughout France (218,000 according to police figures). Thursday February 23rd: millions of young people demonstrate against the CPE in Paris, Rennes, and Toulouse as the bill goes before the Senate. Tuesday March 7th: the unions (CGT, CFDT, FO, SUD, FSU-teachers), the UNEF student organisation, and various political parties headed by the Social Party all demonstrate in support of the workers, university, college and secondary school students. 20 out of 84 universities are blockaded for several weeks. ’Public opinion’, the press informs us, is hostile to the CPE! According to the CGT there are a million demonstrators (396, 000 according to the police), including 125,000 students in 160 towns and cities across France and 200,000 in Paris. However there is little participation from the transport sector.
The Government remains indifferent: on March 8th the law would be put to Parliament for the final vote. Saturday, March 11th: the Sorbonne, by now occupied for three days, is evacuated by the police. More and more rectors take a stand against the CPE.
The unions reconvene on March 9th in the headquarters of the CFDT, which has assumed leadership of the strike. The organisations taking part include the CGL, FO, CFTC, CFE-CGC, FSU, UNSA, Solidaires, Unef, student confederations, and UNL and FIDL for the secondary school students. A day of demonstrations is set for Thursday March 16th and Saturday 18th (with the workers’ unions insisting that it is “better” to demonstrate on a Saturday than a weekday). According to the organisers, 500,000 people attend the Thursday demonstration. There are violent confrontations with the police and fights break out amongst the demonstrators themselves. Whilst the extremist “wreckers” target the police, the lumpen proletariat of the “banlieues”, mainly young immigrants, also target the police but mainly the demonstrators. The Saturday demonstration is attended by 1,500,000 people (500,000 according to the police) 100,000 of them in Paris marching behind the union leaders and the Socialist Party. There are further confrontations with the police and a militant in the SUD trade union is badly wounded and at the time of writing is still in a coma.
Villepin still won’t budge. The unions refuse to take part in any negotiations until the law is withdrawn and threaten to call a general strike. The inter-union organisation which had been created calls for “a multi-sector day of action, with stoppages, strikes and demonstrations” on March 28th. It carefully avoids uttering those terrible words General Strike after it had been rejected... by the CFDT!
Still the Government refuses to back down. Nevertheless on March 20th Villepin receives a deputation of employers’ representatives who press for changes to a couple of the more ’prickly’ paragraphs of the new law: reasons for dismissals should be given, and the CPE should only be for one year. In fact the CPE only affects small businesses whilst the main problem for the property owning classes is rationalising labour law as whole, which it considers far too complicated, and much more favourable to the workers in France than it is in other countries.
Thursday March 23rd: 450,000 demonstrators take to the streets (police figures: 220,000). There are violent incidents involving the “youth of the banlieues” who fight with both police and demonstrators. Villepin, and the unions, are afraid the struggle will become too radicalised and that they will be sidelined by the demonstration on March 28th. On March 24th there is a farcical meeting in Matignon between some of the union organisations (CGT, CFDT, FO, CFTC, CFE-CGC) which had previously ruled out negotiations until the law was annulled, and Villepin, who also met student representatives on the following day. But Villepin refuses to back down, not even on the point of the reform’s proposal to give employers the right to sack workers for no reason.
On the eve of the big day, stewards appointed by the union and student organisations to police the demonstration meet with Sarkosy, the French Home Office minister, to outline a strategy to prevent young people being attacked during the march by the “wreckers”: plain clothes police officers would be welcome... The main concern is to do with possible congestion. What the bourgeoisie and the official unions fear is not the anger of the “wreckers” from the “banlieues”, which an efficient police operation could easily control, but the workers’ anger! All the unions would do was put up a feeble protest against demonstrations being hemmed in by walls of corrugated iron! But aren’t they, when it comes down to it, jailers in a certain sense?
On Tuesday March 28th, according to the organisers, 3 million demonstrators take to the streets; that’s more even than during the December 1995 strike against the Juppé plan and the March 2003 demonstration against pension reforms. ’High spirits’, are kept severely dampened by the official stewards appointed by the unions and above all by the police. It is obvious that the workers are exasperated by a social situation in which increasing insecurity takes on more and more the aspect of poverty, pure and simple.
On the day after the demo, the parliamentary deputies of the prime minister’s party, the UMP, distance themselves from him. Villepin nevertheless presses on and calls for the law to be immediately put on the statute books. The inter-union confederation doesn’t know which way to turn. Who will change the great man’s mind! Enter Chirac, that unequivocal supporter of Law and Order!
The social struggle continues. It is not only the young workers being
betrayed by means of various attacks but the whole of the working class.
And the working class will only be able to defend itself effectively when
it is organised as a class; both in trade unions which are worthy
of the name, organised across trade categories and encompassing the different
generations of workers, and, in order to maintain a clear sense of class
identity and consciousness of the class’s ultimate goals, within the International
At 9 O’clock in the morning on July 11, our Fortunato
was run over by a lorry at the crossroads near his house, and suffered
This is the dedication to him we read at his funeral in the presence of his family, party comrades and workmates. We wish to take this opportunity to reiterate our thanks to them all for being there and for their kind condolences.
Sadly we find ourselves here today to return our dear Fortunato back to the Earth he loved so much. Thirty years ago we were here to bury his older brother, Angelo, who also died under tragic circumstances, and twenty years ago we were here to say goodbye to comrade Silvio, who also left us far too prematurely.
Fortunato, as well as being a family man and a worker, was also a communist, which is why we are here today, party comrades for his entire life, to talk about him. He who has left us to mourn his passing.
To remember him we need not resort to the words of priests, or don strange attire. Communism, celebrating when there is reason to celebrate, and mourning when there is reason to mourn, has no need of such things because its has its own wise words, its own way of explaining man’s relation to his own kind, and to the world. Words, which for good or for ill, are comprehensive and, in a certain sense, definitive. Communism has its own response to this time honoured question; moreover one which isn’t just abstract and ideal because it ultimately converges in the practical question: so what should we do now? And here today, what should we think and what should we do now that Fortunato is no longer with us?
It is rather the present society of capital and the market which is lost for words, apart from hypocritical, useless nonsense, repeated ad infinitum. It is capitalist society which has nothing to tell us about mankind, about its past and future, because it has no future and nothing more to say.
Fortunato’s entire life was a reply to this question, an illustration of the stature and worth which a man of our social class can, and therefore should be able to, attain. Drawing on his long experience as a worker and on the secular tradition of communism, Fortunato, intelligent and always considerate to others, almost always knew the right thing to say and to do.
He came of peasant stock, and thus, when at great sacrifice to his family, Angelo went off to Pisa university, it devolved on Fortunato, the youngest, to go out to work: an agreed division of labour, and future, which did not signify a priority nor a lack of love and respect for them both.
His working life started in the naval dockyards and he soon became a skilled worker. He was passionate about his work, and soon there was little about the dockyards he didn’t know. At a certain point he also wanted us party comrades to know more about what he did, and he asked us to attend the launch of one of the ships he’d worked on, to appreciate its size and grace, to witness how proudly it stood with its prow aloft, and how neatly it entered the water. Then, standing on the framework of another ship still on its stanchion, he told us about the various phases of construction, drawing our attention also to the deficiencies in the dockyard’s safety equipment, particularly as regards the removal of welding fumes.
A few years later Fortunato would become seriously ill with a throat infection caused by those same fumes, an illness he faced with great determination and courage. Because he didn’t want to jump any queue we recall he only applied for an operation in his local hospital, and only at our insistence did he come to Florence to receive treatment.
But welding wasn’t the only thing Fortunato knew about. In his working life he had done a bit of everything, from growing flowers to fishing, and he always took an interest in what he was doing.. Later, when the shipyard was in crisis, he devoted himself to organising the cooperative which was formed and demonstrated his impressive organisational skills, good judgement and capacity to understand the needs of those he worked with. If a cooperative, on its own, and immersed in this mercantile society as it is, certainly isn’t communism, Fortunato’s commitment, and generous lack of self-interest, allowed us to catch a glimpse of how work might be carried out in a communist society; a society in which, put simply, each will give according to his ability and receive according to his need.
In politics, the young Fortunato had two masters; on the one side the shipyard and the daily requirements of the trade-union struggle, on the other, the teachings of his older brother who, as a student at Pisa, had been able to make contact with the party, which he had then immediately joined.
This was a time of great workers’ struggles whose momentum would overwhelm all threats and intimidation from the bosses, every murderous attack by their police on the factory and farm workers, and even the cordon sanitaire of the official trades unions, whose leaders had already gone over to the other side. Significant wage increases across all grades and categories, a general rejection of overtime were the demands that arose spontaneously from the workers, and the call would go up for a general strike of all categories to obtain those objectives.
Fortunato threw himself into the workers’ struggle in an instinctive way, and, incidentally, so would the majority of the young workers around him who couldn’t fail to be influenced by him. He would listen, talk to his workmates, take an active part in the meetings and then report back to Angelo. Angelo would let Florence know what was going on, who would draw up and duplicate a report, a pile of which would be sent back with the Lazzians. Forunato would then distribute them the next day at the dockyard gates, at crack of dawn, in time for the appearance of the first shift. And, as far as it is possible to do so in this society, the workers would win that battle, defeating the bosses and the State, and dragging a reluctant trade union behind them.
These memories are like a thread linking struggles of long ago to the difficulties and requirements of the present day struggle of workers and communists.
Those meetings and assemblies which Fortunato attended, in the dockyards and at the Viareggio Chamber of Labour, were heated ones indeed, and even when they refused to pass him the microphone, his powerful voice meant he still made himself heard. He was respected by everyone, his enemies as well, even though he never failed to call liars and traitors by their right name; they who hide behind the red flag only in order to betray the workers and take them, and their organisations, down the road to defeat and dispersal; they who call on the workers to make sacrifices, for the good of the workers, in the same way they persist in supporting criminal wars and murders, in the name of world peace.
When there came a partial decline in workers’ struggle, Fortunato, with his projects and sensible words, would manage to prevent some young comrades, moved by desperation and petty bourgeois impatience, from taking the terrorist road, a real dead end if ever there was one.
Fortunato was never behind the mass of the workers when they were wrong. This is because it isn’t the communist way to engage in cheap politics by gaining the merely contingent consensus of the majority. Fraternally he would point out to his workmates the trap they were being led into, and denounce those who were setting the trap.
The most recent, and maybe the worst, of these traps was when the unions proposed, and unfortunately managed to get approved at the meetings, different treatment for internal workers and those employed by external firms and for old and new employees. At the meetings, and writing in the party press, Fortunato, in his robust but precise language and mellifluous tones, declared that to accept these proposals would be disastrous for the entire working class, and cause a division which would compromise its capacity to organise for years to come. Today we can see the results of these proposals, with the struggles and consciousness of the working class now divided not only across different sectors, but even within the individual workplaces. With threats of sackings to blackmail them, and lack of solidarity amongst the older workers, young workers are being subjected to every kind of prevarication.
This was something which caused Fortunato much distress and he was right in predicting the consequences; that no-one would be able to defend themselves effectively – not even the older and more experienced workers, who today see their pensions being reduced whilst younger workers remain indifferent – once that a wedge had been driven between the proletarian generations, whilst the young workers are, and perceive themselves to be, class orphans, deprived of everything, and whose organisation in trade unions will today have to be rebuilt from scratch.
But Fortunato wasn’t just an organiser of trade union struggles, unstintingly would he pour his feelings, thoughts and energy into the party’s militant struggle for communism. In a communist, the two spheres, the political and the trade-unionist, come to together and overlap. He attended all the party meetings, and always gave his full attention to all aspects of party work, even to the most complex of the ongoing studies that are a fundamental part of those meetings.
In our party there are no intellectuals and no workers. Workers are just a product of capitalist society, like the slaves were in ancient society. In the same way there are no longer any slaves, so under communism there will no longer be workers. Anybody will be able to be a welder in the morning and, for example, a philosophy teacher in the afternoon, and on other days other things besides. Fortunato was an anticipation of that type of man, within the limits that living in this society allows, just as the party has to be the anticipation of human relations no longer based on competition and the commodification of work.
Today this man, loved by everybody here – indeed one who nobody who knew him could fail to love – is no longer with us; no longer here for his family, for his workmates and fellow party comrades. We miss him, physically miss him as thought we’d lost a hand or a foot.
And it wasn’t by chance, it wasn’t his destiny or fate which took him away from us. Once again it is capitalist society which must be held responsible; a society which in order to make room for the trafficking of its commodities inexorably draws away space from the life of men. We can see beyond coincidences and individual responsibility; it is capital which killed him, and it is capital, in its mad race to accumulate profits, which ran him down; after, that is, having enriched itself using his physical strength and intelligence for his entire life. It is the same capital we are forced to resist day in and day out, just in order to wrench from it the possibility of survival.
But Fortunato still survives. Not however in those fantastic worlds
invented by the priests to console and delude the oppressed. He survives
here, amongst us. It is us, with our will, who can keep him alive. Not
only does he survive in his soundly built ships ploughing the waves. He
survives in the memory of his dear compagna Marisa and in what he
taught to his sons, Amadeo and Federico, who he loved more than anything
else, and the memory of his sister Emiliana. He survives in the will, in
the determination of his party comrades, we who we are proud to have had
him amongst us, to carry on his battle for the liberation of the working
class, to fight for communism.
("Tracciato d’impostazione" appeared in July 1946 as the introductory article in the first edition of our review Prometeo).
Beijing has been transformed within a few short years into a city packed with skyscrapers. The building sites are busy 24 hours a day, and at night workers continue building at an astonishing pace under poor electric lighting, hardly ever even wearing overalls. Huge projects like the Three Gorges Dam astound by their sheer scale and audacity. With its industrious working class forming the Chinese bourgeoisie’s main asset, China is today firmly established as a ’superpower’, and the West is getting very worried.
But what the Western philistine bourgeois cannot understand is why Mao continues to this day to be worshipped in China as a hero and father of the nation. Surely Mao a reactionary? Shouldn’t the reformers, starting with Deng Xiaoping, take all the credit? What they fail to realise is that today’s China is the product and consequence of the triumph of Mao’s party back in 1949. From the communist and proletarian perspective, Mao was a reactionary, yes, and he did nothing for the communist and proletarian cause by calling himself a Marxist revolutionary. But on the other hand, he was a great bourgeois revolutionary, even if devoured by his own revolution in the same way as the great revolutionaries of the French revolution. It is to Mao and his party that the honour is really owed of having shaken off the imperialist plunderers, and establishing the independence of the Chinese nation.
The recent history of this emergence of one of the world’s great
ancient civilizations, from a largely rural base to today’s modern capitalist
powerhouse, is covered in the present article. Originally written in the
Spanish language in 1997, hopefully it will, along with other party studies
on the Chinese situation, eventually form a solid foundation for future
studies to be undertaken by a yet to be formed Chinese section, within
our one, world communist party.
The death of the last of the ’great helmsmen’ of the Chinese national
epic, in itself insignificant, provides us with a good opportunity to sum
up the tortuous historical cycle China has passed through, transfixed by
the reputations of these great helmsmen of the Chinese Communist Party.
As events unfolded, the process was subjected to a detailed analysis in
our party publications and studies. As always these remained faithful to
the Marxist postulate which situates the real motor of history in the economic
and material interests of classes within given modes of production, and
in their social struggles. Circumstances determine the appearance and achievements
of particular individuals on the historic stage, and not the contrary.
Since 1949, when the present party took power, the mysterious oleographs
of the heads of the Chinese State, and then their inglorious retractions
and condemnations, have provided us with abundant evidence that it is History
which determines what individuals do, and not the other way round.
China, which now stands forth as a global capitalist power, will soon be capable of competing with the old powers which arrived at the same stage centuries ago. And yet, at the beginning of the 20th century, and due to the restrictions imposed by the imperialist States after the Opium Wars, conditions were appalling, and bankruptcy, and an ever increasing exploitation of the peasantry, seemed intractable. We do well to remember that before the European Renaissance, before capitalism came to dominate the West, China was the most advanced civilisation on the planet.
The vast majority of the population was made up of peasant farmers. Half of them owned no land and as well as paying taxes they had to hand over a percentage of their crop to the landowner as rent for their small-holdings. In 1911, the Republic of China was proclaimed by Sun Yat-sen, who would later on found the Guomindang or nationalist party. This was the first significant event of the bourgeois revolution. Behind Sun there stood the Chinese big bourgeoisie, still very weak. This bourgeoisie, which under the Empire had collaborated to no small degree with the foreigners, enriching itself in the zones open to commercial contact with westerners where capitalist production and a modern proletariat could be found, was nevertheless capable of equipping itself with the unitary national character needed to bury the empire; aided no doubt by the extreme, longstanding corruption and decrepitude of the latter’s apparatus. And yet it didn’t win any popular support. If the revolutionary Tai Ping and Boxer movement of the 19th century had popular support but lacked an organised structure, Sun’s republic, which was putting an end to the millenary empire, didn’t manage to mobilise the masses.
The three principles put forward by Sun: nationalism, democracy and bread for the people, were the same as any other bourgeois revolution taking place in a country lacerated by imperialism, and lagging way behind western capitalism in terms of its forms of production. However the father of the Chinese nation was certainly naïve to hope he could count on the more advanced nations to turn China into a modern nation.
In China at that time, pregnant with bourgeois revolution, two unavoidable tasks were on the agenda: 1) achieving national independence, 2) pushing through land reform, the premise for industrial development. Whether it would be the bourgeoisie or the proletariat to achieve these tasks remained an open question. As in Russia, the extreme weakness of the bourgeois class meant it was powerless to mobilise the huge mass of peasantry to expropriate and divide up the land of the large landed proprietors, and thus put an end to the unspeakable oppression of the peasantry. This was too big a task for a bourgeoisie which had arisen in very different historical and international circumstances than those faced by the French bourgeoisie of the Great Revolution in the 18th century. Indeed, so much was this the case that despite it governing the republic it had installed, the situation in China, as far as relations with the colonial powers and the social situation at home was concerned, didn’t really change at all.
Scarcely a year had passed before Sun found himself obliged to renounce the presidency of the republic in favour of General Yuan Shikai, the military commander under the old regime, whose control of the army meant that it was in his hands that the real power lay. On the latter’s death in 1916 the various military leaders divided China up into various spheres of influence, each controlled by a different foreign country by way of agreements supporting the respective military leaders. This marked the beginning of the period of the ’war-lords’, brought to a close in the 20’s with the accession to power of the Guomindang and Jiang JieShi. This gave a certain level of stability and homogeneity in China, a state of affairs required by the foreign powers in order to continue their looting of the country. Meanwhile, the indigenous big bourgeoisie, to which the four notorious families of Song, Kong, Chen and Jiang belonged, weren’t prepared to prevent the foreigners from exploiting China because putting it into practice would have meant arming and mobilising the peasantry.
Throughout the world, particularly after the First World War, communists hoped that the working class, organised in its own independent party, would place itself at the head of the democratic revolution and transform it into its own dictatorship. This is what happened in Russia, where a minority class, the proletariat, managed to take hold of the country by taking power in the main cities. Some thought it might be possible to do the same thing in the important coastal cities in the east and south of China. Certainly it is to the Stalinist counter-revolution that we owe the liquidation of such a prospect.
So, we’re talking about a double revolution, the objective of which is to leapfrog the stage of bourgeois power. In Russia, Lenin’s party achieved this not by allowing the Constituent Assembly to consolidate, but by dissolving it; precisely what the assembly was intending to do to the Soviets in fact. Just as in Russia, the essential weakness of the bourgeoisie was evidenced by the fact that its parties, the social revolutionaries and Mensheviks in Russia just like Sun’s Kuomintang in China, were compelled to flirt with socialist notions.
In 1923 Sun postulated friendly relations with the USSR and an alliance
with the communists, an aim which was to be realised, after his death in
1925, in the first national government, which included representatives
of both the Kuomintang and the CCP. In the period between 1924 and 1927,
having established itself as the dominant force within the party in power
in Russia and within the International, Stalinism would order the proletarian
party in China to form an alliance with the bourgeoisie and the Kuomintang.
Thus would the necessary independence required to achieve the double revolution
would be lost. Later on the CCP would be persuaded to transform itself
into a peasant party led by Mao Tse-tung.
With the International’s support, the Kuomintang’s internal and military organisation would be strengthened. In 1926, setting out from Canton where the Guomindang had mustered their forces whilst Sun was still alive, Jiang JieShi launched his Northern Campaign at the head of a heterogeneous coalition, and in 1927, after crushing the Shanghai Commune, the generalissimo installed his dictatorship.
Following the bloody suffocation of the Shanghai Commune by the Guomindang, in close collaboration with Stalin, an alliance which Stalin had to abandon after the events of 1927, the Communist Party was disbanded and dealt its death blow. The proletariat was now without a party of its own, and the definitive separation between the working class and the CCP can be dated back to this period. Mao now readopted Sun’s principals and converted the CCP into a real nationalist party, into the ’real Guomindang’; but his followers were drawn from the poor peasantry, and it was with their support, and therefore without the need to depend on the faint-hearted bourgeoisie, that it would embark on achieving its unique and ultimate objective, the democratic-national revolution. Thus Stalinism prevented from happening in China the double revolution they had had in Russia. Mao would adopt Stalin’s line, and follow faithfully in Sun Yat-sen’s footsteps. Mao was Stalin’s direct descendant. It was necessary for them not only to crush the proletariat but to betray it as well, and for the party to strictly regiment the poor peasants so the revolution didn’t stray off the democratic path.
Once the Chinese proletariat, same as the Russian, had been separated from its sole ally, the proletariat in the advanced countries (whose victorious struggle was the only thing which could save the Chinese and the Russian revolutions) it was compelled to seek terms with the bourgeoisie, thereby compromising the possibility of a revolutionary victory and postponing it indefinitely. In the 20s, it wasn’t a case of the two peoples, the Chinese and Russian, having to unite in the face of Western pressure, a policy which Stalinism would later try to spread to the rest of the world. Quite the reverse. What the proletariat of both countries needed to do was fight to the bitter end to achieve a revolution in the West: either that, or both the Chinese and Russian proletariat would be defeated. China and Russia had a common destiny: either a successful revolution, or the long and painful process of establishing national economies under their respective bourgeoisies.
Soon after Jiang JieShi had consolidated himself in power, having initiated a decade of relative financial stability, Japan invaded Manchuria. This was something the Chinese government considered inevitable since the area had already been penetrated by Japanese capital, and it concentrated instead on suppressing the peasant unions organised by the CCP; which despite the effective decapitation of the party in 1927 nevertheless continued to refer to itself as such. The execution of Li Dazhao, in a zone still controlled by the war lords in Beijing in 1927, and the expulsion two years later of Chen DuXiu (who would be blamed for the disastrous outcome of the collaborationist policy which had been imposed on him, against his will, by Moscow) is the closing chapter for the founders of the Chinese Communist Party. The baton of party leadership would be passed on to the peasant revolutionaries Zhu De, Mao Zedong and Zhou EnLai, etc, who whilst retaining the typical phraseology of Stalinism relating to communism, to Marxism, to the working class and the struggle against exploitation, would nevertheless continue as constructors of the great capitalist fatherland.
Despite all this, Moscow would pay no attention to the CCP’s movement in the countryside; not until the peasant armies started getting the better of the Guomindang after the Second World War.
Following the campaigns by the nationalist armies against the ’communist bandits’ in the early thirties, those powers who wanted to stop Japan, including Russia, started to favour a union between the Guomindang and the CCP against the invading enemy. Thus between 1937 and 1939 the Chinese government would receive 250 million dollars from Russia, even though the country wasn’t conducting a particularly vigorous struggle against the Japanese. Indeed, in response to a stepping up of the Japanese invasion, which affected coastland regions of China, the Chinese government could find no better remedy than retreating further inland.
On finding that the Japanese were preparing to pull out of Manchuria,
Stalin’s Russia, the ’benefactor’ of poor people like the Chinese oppressed
by imperialism, sent in troops to occupy the country on the pretext of
’driving the Japanese out’; although in fact profiting from the situation
by dismantling the modern factories and railways built by the Japanese
and sending them back, piece by piece, to Russia.
The Japanese defeat at the end of the Second World War seemed to reinforce the position of the Guomindang, but in fact it was not so. China’s problems were still the same as they were at the start of the century. It has been calculated that 55% of the rural population in 1939 were composed of landless peasants. Next in order of importance were the peasant proprietors who owned a parcel of land barely sufficient to scrape a living, and then came the middle and rich farmers, who were nevertheless subject to requisitions from the army. In addition, the victorious powers were once again preparing to sink their teeth into China. To prepare the way for this, given the certainty of an imminent civil war between the ever more numerous and disciplined peasant militias and the Guomindang armies, the Yalta agreement prescribed a coalition government for China which would have rendered it incapable of adopting the energetic reforms and the necessary centralisation needed to free itself from foreign imperialism.
Although we continue to define the CCP as reactionary for abandoning the tactic of the double revolution and the master-line which would have ensured a proletarian victory, the eventual victory of the CCP and the installation of the People’s Republic of China nevertheless constitutes a gigantic step forward from the point of view of the installation of modern capitalism, which would allow, although only after a long and difficult process, the appearance of the modern proletariat, its future grave-diggers; which when it next rises up against its oppressors it will no longer be a weak and minority class, but the most numerous in the world. This merit must be afforded to the party of the Chinese bourgeois revolution, given that China is practically the only ’undeveloped’ country which managed to mount a victorious uprising against the West, shake off the yoke of imperialism, and overturn the conditions condoning the looting of the old imperialist powers which the latter had succeeded in imposing on other countries.
Following the flight of the Guomindang forces to Taiwan, and the installation of the People’s Republic of China on the 1st October, 1949, the way was left open for the autonomous accumulation of capital in China and the consequent economic autarchy. This was no mean feat in an era in which imperialism dominated the world. In the 50’s, Zhou Enlai declared that the increase in customs duties favoured the creation of big industry in China: foreigners were unable to invade China with their cut-price commodities because the keys to the market were held by the Chinese and not by foreigners. The imperialist powers were much keener on the collaborationist and corrupt Guomindang than they were on the CCP; not because the latter were ’communist’, as the USA would have us believe, but because by arming the peasantry they had created the national market, expelled the foreign companies, and proclaimed all those other revolutionary measures typical of the birth of an independent bourgeois nation in a country which had pre-capitalist relations of production in the process of decomposition.
For us communists, democracy ’cannot exist’. By this we mean that the existence of the State indicates the presence in society of different classes, with opposing and irreconcilable interests. Historically the bourgeois has claimed democracy was possible in order to divert the insurrection of the oppressed classes into one supporting their own ascent to power. The democracy installed by the People’s Republic of China was therefore the triumph of bourgeois national democracy. The one objection of the petty-bourgeois intellectual philistine in the West is that there are... no elections. He doesn’t think that this masterpiece of equilibrium between the classes, between the poor, middle and rich peasantry, the national bourgeoisie and the proletariat, all joined together in the CCP to pursue the national interest, is sufficient for China to be considered a capitalistically modern nation. In fact it could be said that when it was first installed the People’s Republic of China was a lot more democratic than the so-called democracies in the West; which notwithstanding all their electoral circuses are under orders from a bunch of bankers who control everything. Nevertheless, China has never experienced socialism, neither a dictatorship of the proletariat nor of the proletariat and peasantry; the Chinese proletariat, defeated, has been sacrificed to achieve economic objectives at the national and business enterprise level, the latter including that owned by private capital.
Even before it took power the CCP had changed course, having decided to establish a ’People’s Republic’ rather than a ’Workers and Peasants Republic’. The peasant armies of the CCP would feel like fishes out of water in the cities. When they entered as victors and announced what steps would be taken, they would enforce a respect for private property on the workers and forbid any immoderation. Ever present in the CCP’s writings and speeches is the condominium of the four classes: workers, peasants, and the petty and national bourgeoisie. Meanwhile it was proclaimed that capitalism wouldn’t be destroyed because it could be beneficial and useful, as long as boundaries were set to it. And that is why, when the People’s Republic was proclaimed, it didn’t set about making indiscriminate expropriations, but just nationalised the large banks and the businesses of ’bureaucratic capitalism’, despite the fact these had already been nationalised by the Guomindang under the control of the ’four families’. Here again the real scandal doesn’t lie so much in having arrived at a pact and compromise with the Bourgeoisie, who controlled the technical and administrative means of running businesses, but in presenting this as the ’building of socialism’.
Mao feared a workers’ insurrection more than anything, as the only thing which could prevent his victory. Certainly the working class, left to its fate in 1927, would greet the arrival of the CCP militias with supreme indifference.
Despite the proclamations against immoderation, between 1947 and 1952
there was a reign of terror directed against the landowners and rich peasants
as a reaction against the terrible exploitative regime which had been suffered
by the poor; who were now armed and mobilised. The CCP, rather than proclaiming
the class struggle, did everything in its power to prevent it.
At the beginning of the 1950s, the entire country depended on agricultural production. Bringing social stability to the countryside was an urgent matter. Repartition of the land would benefit both the rich and poor peasantry, at the expense of the landowners, Buddhist and Taoist temples, the Christian church and other collectivities. Two to three mu of land (1 mu = 1/15 hectare, 1 hectare = 2.47 acres) was assigned to each person over 16 years of age. The middle and rich peasants were allowed to keep both their land and their surplus product; thus there was a failure to keep to the promises made to the poor peasantry in 1947 when their mobilisation had been required. Dividing up the land was a colossal task. Almost half the land under cultivation (47 million hectares) was divided amongst 300 million peasant farmers, a division also involving more than 3 million draught animals.
Notwithstanding the CCP’s aim of turning China into a modern industrialised nation, it was still a petty bourgeois country composed of peasant farmers, and there remained no option but to pass through this stage. Nevertheless, an immediate start was made on the accumulation of capital for investment and for the development of industry. And it was here that China came up against those problems which would cause internal divisions within the CCP as to how to resolve them: the huge extent of the parcelling out in the countryside into small family concerns which were barely able to support their peasant owners and their families was holding up the flow of capital between town and country and within the countryside itself; so how and when was this situation to be resolved?
In 1952, production caught up with pre-war levels and the phase of reconstruction was declared achieved, in the sense that self-sufficiency in food was attained and famine was no longer a threat. The party-State had less problems bringing about a concentration of industrial capital than agricultural capital since the CCP depended totally on the support of the peasantry which had placed it in power. With the State holding the monopoly of the distribution of raw materials, the bourgeoisie found it difficult to oppose state control. Also, the bourgeois proprietors, who were officially employees of the State, retained control of their enterprises as well as a block of shares (the rest belonging to the State) the dividends of which they cashed in each year. At the end of 1952, the State, either as sole share-holder, proprietor or owner of part of the shares, controlled 76% of industrial production with national private capital falling from 56% to 17%. Most of the treasury bonds were owned by industrialists and traders.
Heavy industry was a creation of State policy, as in Russia, ensuring strong industrial growth and guaranteeing national security. But the rest of the economy wasn’t able to keep in step. Agriculture needed to produce a surplus, both in order to provide sufficient raw materials for industry and food for the cities, and in order to invest in the mechanisation of agriculture, where extremely primitive technical instruments were still in use; likewise, however, an industry capable of providing modern machinery couldn’t develop if the national economy didn’t provide the necessary surplus: this was the vicious cycle within which China was caught. Having recourse to help from abroad would however mean compromising national independence, since none of the countries capable of procuring such goods would be prepared to help for nothing. In 1949 the presence of foreign capital in the various economic sectors was virtually zero. The bourgeoisie had fled with the Guomindang to Taiwan, taking all the capital they could with them and most of the merchant marine.
The one country with which China had an interchange of technical instruments against agricultural produce was Russia, which, of course, wasn’t going to give anything away for nothing. In order to keep China on its side during the cold war, and for other reasons, it suited Russia to keep China dependent on it. However, the determination of the Peking leaders to defend its role as an independent nation would cause Russia to pull out its technicians in the 1950s. China thus found itself completely isolated in the world before it had accomplished the difficult task of developing its own means of production, which it set about achieving through the use of the only capital it had available – manpower-capital.
With the attainment, in 1957, of the five year plan for agriculture and industry initiated in 1952, growth achieved maximum velocity: industrial production grew by 141%, which, in comparison with the 25% growth in agriculture, exposed China as guilty of capitalism; of offering more iron than bread to the human species.
The CCP was aware that the agricultural reform had created many small peasant proprietors who were barely self-sufficient, and that this was preventing capitalist accumulation and development, as much in the cities as in the countryside. Two tendencies would soon emerge within the CCP, although actually the only thing which really divided them was the speed at which it was intended to assist the development of agricultural capital, whether through the use of salaried workers or machinery. It isn’t true (despite the bearded intellectuals and young firebrands of the West falling for it) that there was one tendency, Liu ShaoQi’s, which was pro-capitalist, and the other, Mao’s, which was pro-communist. Both were for developing agricultural capital, but the boundless Chinese peasantry meant that first the land had to be divided up before new reforms could be undertaken to bring about an accumulation and concentration on a grand scale. This is why, up to the second half of the 1970s, Mao’s tendency would predominate over Liu’s and Deng XiaoPing’s, although not without momentary setbacks and defeats. Mao knew that his party was totally reliant on the peasantry, and the untrammelled development of the second phase of the bourgeois revolution, of expropriation and concentration, would have caused class struggle within the peasantry itself.
In order to obtain capitalist accumulation in the most rapid way possible in a backward country like China, the most progressive measure which a communist revolution headed by the proletariat could have taken wasn’t dividing up the land, but nationalising it. The government would thus have been allowed the power of decision and control in the countryside which otherwise it would be lacking. This is what the Russian revolution, a revolution led by the communist proletariat of the cities, would do in its early stages, whereas the Chinese revolution was a peasant revolution fought out in the countryside.
Thus in the early part of the 1950s China was faced with a pressing need to increase agricultural production, whilst at the same time it didn’t want to allow the forces of the market and competition to develop to the point of provoking a rapid expropriation and proletarianization of the poor peasants, with the attendant risk of creating millions and millions of vagrants throughout the country which the incipient industrial development was not yet able to absorb; and with the consequent threat to the stability of the young State and its party. Faced with this alternative, the Chinese leaders opted for ’collectivisation’ in the hope that agricultural production would be increased, and at the same time the peasant would be separated from his patch of land in a less traumatic and gradual way. Collectivisation consisted of favouring the creation of mutual aid teams and co-operatives from 1953 to 1957, and the People’s Communes in 1958-9.
The mutual aid teams consisted of 4 or 5 families united together in order to share scarce tools and draught animals, and their labour as well, with a view to alleviating the chronic lack of technical means.
The lower-stage agricultural producers’ co-operatives, referred to as semi-socialist, consisted of 20 to 30 families, each retaining a small plot of land for their individual use whilst renting out the rest to the co-operative along with animals and tools, thus retaining their property within the co-operative. Members still received some income on the basis of the amount of land they contributed. The co-operative was organised according to a set plan.
Within the advanced or ’socialist’ co-operatives, which encompassed the entire village and were composed of between 100 to 300 families, there was no private property in land or in the main instruments of production which were acquired by the co-operative. Income shares were based solely on the basis of the amount of labour contributed.
By 1957 the co-operative system had shown that it wasn’t up to the task of increasing agricultural productivity: whatever was earned from any small surpluses which were sold was used by the peasant families on their small plots and farmyard animals to the detriment of the co-operative. To this was added the inability of the State to control the level of production and the crops which would be planted. All that the State could do was use the lever of taxes and price manipulation.
This loss of impetus of the co-operative system – along with the break with Russia, which left China totally isolated – was the reason why Mao was so keen on the Great Leap Forward campaign and the creation of the popular communes. It was nothing other than a voluntarist attempt to increase production by calling on the masses to mobilise and make sacrifices; an attempt to substitute abundance of ideology for lack of technology.
Initially the State didn’t find it difficult to set up the communes as the peasants were already very predisposed toward the idea. Each commune consisted of a self-governing group of co-operatives, divided in their turn into teams and brigades, which coincided respectively with the first and second type of co-operatives. Each commune grouped together around 4,000 families and generally coincided with the geographical limits of the xiang. The co-operatives had to surrender all their instruments of production to the commune. Land and water resources belonged to the commune. The use of privately owned instruments became sporadic and family barriers were broken down. To begin with reports appeared in the press which cited examples of peasants who were so swept away in the enthusiasm that they donated personal domestic items, such as crockery, for communal use, and others who even dismantled their houses so that the resulting materials could be used in the building of the collective canteens, offices, shelters etc., whose functions were being reinforced by the Commune. Another objective the commune set itself was the internal development of industry. It was calculated that the harvest could be brought in with two thirds of the available agricultural workforce, the rest of which could be utilised for major infra-structural projects such as roads and canals. Since to accomplish the latter only the most basic tools were available, and hardly any machinery, the whole laborious enterprise came to resemble nothing so much as a giant anthill.
The creation of the popular communes, with their much vaunted autonomy, shouldn’t be interpreted as the apotheosis of the popular State: the higher authorities within the commune were party-State cadres who functioned as a transmission belt with the higher echelons. They directed the life of the commune, set production targets, determined how wages would be distributed to the commune members, and so on and so forth. The Marxist interpretation is this: the social mobilisation of the Great Leap Forward was founded on the solid base of the faithful executive cadres who had the capacity to organise the rest of the population; the State was therefore demanding the reintroduction and maintenance, in time of peace, of the iron organisational discipline of an army at war. If apologia there was it was in defence of the dictatorial, rather than the populist, State. It follows that the peasant would lose any freedom he had (control over time, work, methods, choice of crop) and the individual, in the measure to which life was lived in the collective canteens and other initiatives of this kind, would cease to belong to the clan or family in order to enter into the service of the State. In other words, the State was faced with the necessity of following a similar plan in agriculture as the one it was following in industry.
Our party has never let itself be dazzled by the myth of collectivisation as a post-capitalist form: it has never described capitalism as a private form of production, considering that the latter can entirely dispense with the lords of capital. The road to socialism is characterised in essence by the development of given productive forces and by the international revolution. Neither of these factors could be said to apply to China.
The communes, as originally conceived, would not succeed. The main reason for this was because they were an idealist attempt to modify the productive forces by applying the lever of will. Problems cropped up in the communes from the outset. Originally Peking allowed them a free hand and its directives concerned neither the organisation of the commune nor the requisition of privately owned peasant property. The peasants were unhappy about the requisition of the private plots. The communes ran the risk of not being able to pay wages. Already by August 1959 there were the first attempts to rectify the situation but still the problems showed no signs of being resolved. The stubborn resistance of the peasant proprietors along with the resulting production difficulties meant that the communes in their original form would have to be broken up. Finally it was agreed that the commune’s fundamental unit was the co-operative. This was the basic level of organisation within which losses and gains could be calculated and decisions made about how to divide up what had been produced; and all this to the advantage of the private plots of land, which by the end of 1959 constituted 15-20% of the village’s economy. Also in 1960-61, climatic factors would have a devastating effect on the harvest and millions of people would die in the PRC’s worst ever famine.
In 1962, having been emptied of any content by the reforms, the function
of the communes was reduced to being an instrument of control and co-ordination,
continuing merely as proprietors of undertakings which concerned the overall
jurisdiction of the communes and of state industry, whose penetration into
the inland regions gathered force during the ’50s, going some way to make
up for the lack of communications routes with the coastal zones. In agriculture
it continued to be the co-operatives who took control and made the decisions.
The emergence Liu ShaoQi’s and Deng Xiaping’s current in the realm of State policy would be marked with the introduction of sanziyibao; the ’thirty liberties and a contract’. The thirty liberties were the restoration of the private plots and the possibility of their extension by bringing uncultivated land under the plough; the possibility of selling the products which didn’t end up in the hands of the State in the rural markets; and the freedom to form small family enterprises which were able to assume full responsibility for their losses and gains. The contract referred to the setting of production quotas on a family rather than on a Team basis. Deng’s famous saying, “it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice,” goes back to this period.
As the latter provisions started to bear results, Mao’s policy started to be opposed within the higher echelons of the party. Due to the increase in production the reforms would be much more popular than Mao’s Stakhanovism. In industry as well there was a marked recovery following the agricultural crisis of 1960-61, which had hit industry hard due to the lack of raw materials and basic foodstuffs.
Between 1966 and 1967 the Maoist tendency, in a desperate attempt to ensure its survival within the Party-State, launched the watchword of struggle against treacherous revisionism. Mao’s sole support lay in the world of students and teachers, but nevertheless the events of the Cultural Revolution certainly cannot be explained by their support alone: the purges of the party carried out by Maoism only happened on the scale they did because the army, which still considered Mao their leader, supported them as well.
Once underway, the Cultural Revolution didn’t claim to be anything other than a dispute between factions within the party apparatus, albeit a bloody and bitter one; as long as the workers and peasants weren’t drawn in the productive life of the country was unaffected. The workers certainly didn’t see the Spartan proposals put forward by the Red Guard students as representing their interests, indeed the latter had nothing at all to say about the exploitative conditions in the factories. The Red Guards, who with the support of Peking and the army felt omnipotent, were despatched to the provinces to cleanse the local party committees of bourgeois and counter-revolutionary members. The cadres would be purged with assassinations and suicides.
Confronted with this situation the local committees could see no other option but to organise the working masses against the Red Guards. Social discipline was breaking down, and since the workers didn’t identify with either of the contending parties they would seize the moment by instinctively making their own demands, calling for higher wages and improved living standards. Strikes became widespread and affected the country’s production. With the power and discipline of the Party-State diminished, the peasants decided to appropriate the entire harvest and the State granaries were left empty. The prevailing disorder and anarchy induced the army to take power and the control of all civil life into its hands: but only with repression by fire and sword did it manage to restore order. It was the Maoist faction which appeared to have emerged victorious, however it was the military which occupied most of the key positions of State.
In 1972 Deng XiaoPing, who had been forced into the background during the Cultural Revolution, was rehabilitated; and bit by bit, other followers of the ’openness’ line would be rehabilitated as well. This is the moment when diplomatic relations are re-established with the USA and China starts to play an important part on the international stage. Following Mao’s death in 1976, after years of physical decline, the Gang of Four would try and regain power in a last stand for ’anti-openness’, but it is defeated. The confirmation of Deng XiaoPing as head of State signals the beginning of a phase of economic reforms and openness to the rest of the world which continues until the present day; it is a long and complex period of intense activity which does honour to the proverbial patience of the Chinese; for in China, with its huge population and vast territories the cycles of change take much longer.
The agricultural reforms introduced by Deng, the liberalisation of prices,
the ending of the Communes and the empowering of the family enterprises
has resulted in a considerable increase in agricultural productivity in
China. The figures are however still well below those in the Western countries,
where the proportion of labour power involved in agriculture is minimal
and rarely exceeds 10%, whilst in China it is estimated that it is still
58% of the total.
As to Maoism’s fears that openness would consign the country to the foreigner, it is impossible even today to say how well-founded they are, and if so, to what degree. At present there is a gigantic struggle going on between China, which is fighting for its aspirations to be a global superpower, and the old and already established imperialisms, headed by the USA. China needs to enter into contact with Western capital and Western technology but it wants to compromise its autonomy as little as possible whilst old imperialism, with its international institutions and its global economic order, wants China to accept the place assigned to it and not rock the boat. The tensions generated by this conflict show up from time to time in the trade disputes between China and the USA, in the shows of strength by both sides around the Taiwan question and in the Western denunciations of violations of ’human rights’ (as though the Chinese government had some kind monopoly of these violations and the United States was as pure as the driven snow).
The main card which China can play in this contest, which for the moment is fought out solely on the economic-diplomatic-political level, is the potential of its internal market of more than 1,200 million people, something which really brings a glint to the eye of capitalists everywhere. This drooling expectation is what allows China to place restrictions on foreign investment which wouldn’t normally be accepted. The multinationals investing in China often complain about bureaucratic obstacles, a biased legal system, promises not kept to, etc, etc, but many of them have nevertheless opened an office in China as a base from which they hope, one day, to establish complete freedom of movement. Statistically 3/5 of the foreign investment flowing into China from abroad between 1979 and 1995 came through Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, which leads one to the conclusion that to operate in the Chinese business world you need to know the language, maintain contacts and have the right connections if you don’t want to get excluded. The Chinese, who have had to put up with the West’s technical superiority, have had plenty of time to hone the arts of deception, although, when it comes to the crunch, they can always draw up the heavy guns as well.
In order to analyse the evolution of this conflict between international capital and China, with the former wishing to contain China and the latter wishing to establish itself as a great power, we need to keep track of the economic data on borrowing, investments, balance of trade, etc, and also the military policy which so worries the western bourgeoisies.
On the other hand the Chinese proletariat must be concerned about the
ineluctable dynamic of the capitalist mode of production, be it Chinese,
American, European or Japanese, with its tendency to drive working class
living conditions to the worst extreme. Without a class-based alternative,
at the very least at the trade-union level, it will find it impossible
to halt capital’s insatiable lust for proletarian sweat and blood; for
with or without suffrage, the requirements of capital remain the same.
Proletarian emancipation will be attained through the destruction of capitalism,
through setting up its own political regime which remains independent and
dedicated to that end, through the necessary direction of the Communist
Party in the proletarian revolution.
Report presented to the January 2003 Party meeting
(Part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 )
The last year of peace
In 1860, the fundamental causes which sparked off the war appeared in definitive form and the battle lines would be drawn up. It was also the year in which the idealised justification for the conflict was hyped up and delivered to a “people” not in fact very convinced by the ’Liberation of the Slaves’ slogan. Towards the end of 1859 there has been another event to inflame the soul: John Brown’s failed coup de main, followed by his execution.
John Brown was a combative, visionary romantic who had made the liberation of slaves into his mission. He belonged to that strand of eighteenth century revolutionaries who believed that exemplary actions were capable of rousing people to action and prompting widespread revolt. In Italy there had been similar people, who Brown knew of, such as the Bandiera brothers, Piacane, and of course Garibaldi; and it was a tradition which would be maintained by anarchists, tailing off in the second half of the century.
The military action at Harper’s Ferry went badly, but it is doubtful if the slaves would have massed under the banners of their liberators, considering their behaviour in the years that followed, when their masters would be challenged by an extremely powerful army.
And yet the execution of John Brown would have a considerable impact on hearts and minds in the Northern towns, where he was seen as a martyr at the hand of the evil slave-owners. But whereas the watchword of anti-slavery was broadly supported by the middle-classes, who were now aligned with the financial, industrial and mercantile capitalists, the proletariat, as we will see later on, was far less convinced by it.
Any military massacre which the bourgeoisie drags the proletariat into always has some moral justification or other to conceal its true aims: no state has ever gone to war saying it is doing so to enrich the dominant classes. In 1861, war was fought in the name of anti-slavery, in 1914, it was irredentism and anti-absolutism; in 1939, it was in the name of democracy and anti-fascism; and nowadays, following the demise of Russian “communism”, improvidently subjected to euthanasia, war is being fought in the name of anti-terrorism,
In fact, even at that fatal historic turning point, the majority was unaware of the much more complex and deeper reasons lying at the heart of the conflict. It was really a matter of establishing if the Union could survive as two distinct nations and economic regimes, or if one of them would have to accept a subordinate position in relation to the other. The time for compromises had definitely passed, and with one controversy after another following in quick succession, the North could no longer postpone the assumption of full power and the restructuring of the state according to its own requirements.
By the middle of February 1860, the question of the “free homesteads” was already back on the agenda. This was a particularly pressing issue in the Mid-West, but now also of concern to the Atlantic bourgeoisie, insofar as the upshot would be an enormous growth in the market for industrial goods produced in the North. The South, worried about the prospect of further immigration bolstering the North even more, and with president Buchanan’s help, wrecked the law, thereby incurring the permanent hostility of the Midwest.
And all the other important measures which favoured both the North-east
and the Midwest (public works on the waterways of the Great lakes, protective
tariffs for the textile industry, agricultural colleges, the transcontinental
railway, admission to the Union of Kansas, which was now non slave-holding,
etc.) would also be blocked by the South’s majority in the Senate. Whilst
the North wanted to turn the entire Union into one big market, the South
forcefully opposed this tendency, seeing it as sounding the death knell
for its own economic, cultural, and social system.
The 1860 elections
1860 was the year of the presidential elections as well, and therefore, as it still is today, of conventions to nominate the presidential candidates. Similar to today, too, the contest was between the Democratic Party, which was in theory a national party but increasingly centred on the interests of the South, and the new Republican Party, which clearly represented the interests of the industrial North.
Of the two conventions the Democratic one was the harder fought, due to the fact that the two souls composing it, those of the Midwest and the South, would clash, and, in short, go their separate ways, putting up two separate presidential candidates, Douglas and Breckinridge. The point at issue cited as cause for the split was whether or not slavery should continue in the new territories; but this was just a symbol, in itself of scant significance which, as we have seen already, masked a struggle which was to do with altogether different issues. Indeed, if, as now seemed inevitable, secession were to take place, the South would have no further territory within which to establish the right to install slavery, even if the colonists wanted it.
In fact, in 1860, no-one was actually threatening the institution of slavery already in existence in the Southern states. No-one seriously believed that the “peculiar institution”, seemingly hackneyed and destined to fizzle out over time, could ever spread to the North from the South. And yet if the mob in the North feared a “slavocracy” invading the North, the South feared the perceived threat to their wealth, insurrections and massacres of whites and so on. A Richmond newspaper wrote: “Even if there were not one slave between Arostook to Sabine, the North and South could never agree on a permanent basis”.
All this would appear very clear in the course of the Republican convention which was held in Chicago. Abraham Lincoln, a man from Illinois (Midwest) but born in the South (Kentucky), was chosen as the presidential candidate; in other words a compromise candidate with a not too marked political personality who could garner votes from all sides. And what is more the party’s political programme was already written, and Lincoln for his part would conduct a very muted political campaign. Although possessed of a not entirely insignificant personality, he was but a modest instrument of history, and maybe he was aware of that fact.
In the Republican platform the ideological reasons for abolitionism, relating to the situation in 1856, were now redundant. It would restrict itself to declaring that the principal, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, that all men were “created” equal, was “essential for the conservation of our republican institutions”, something with which even the Southerners could concur given that it had been written by Jefferson, a born and bred Southerner himself. And to admit that blacks had been “created equal” didn’t mean, incidentally, that they couldn’t “later on” become “different”. In practice, there was to be no meddling in the affairs of the individual states with regard to slavery, even to the extent the possibility that it could be introduced into the new territories wasn’t ruled out. The substance of the platform, therefore, didn’t revolve around the question of slavery, but was to be found in a paragraph which stated quite baldly that the Union was inviolable, and that any secessionist proposal had to be considered as a treasonable project, which it was “the duty of an indignant people to forcefully reject and silence for ever”. There then followed all those measures so dear to the hearts of the Midwest and East which the South would reject: The Homestead Act, railway subsidies, protectionism for industry, a daily postal service and federal public works in rivers and ports.
Thus the electoral campaign took place in a highly charged atmosphere. Lincoln, pulled in different directions by the party’s competing souls, didn’t take up a decisive position. Legend has it that he stood up to the party, and, rather than being partisan, i.e., pro-North, he took up instead a national position. Well, we are quite happy to leave that for the biographers to decide: all we know is that he couldn’t have done other than follow the imperatives of the time, and allow himself to be swept along on the tide of history like any decent battilocchio (1).
On November 6, the day of the elections, four candidates would enter the lists and although Lincoln would get less than a majority of the popular votes, he gained a majority in the electoral college. The vote was very polarised insofar as his support was all derived from north of the Mason-Dixon line.
It was a case of the historic transfer of power from the Democratic
Party to a party which openly represented the interests of the North. This
would have, even if long expected, a devastating effect on the South and
the most ardent advocates of secession wouldn’t hesitate to fan the flames.
The upshot would be, on December 12, that South Carolina would declare
for secession, and, over the course of the following two months, they would
soon be followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and
Whereas in Washington nothing much would happen, because, pending the inauguration of Lincoln on March 4, Buchanan didn’t dare lift a finger, in February 1861 a convention of the secessionist states would meet in Montgomery, Alabama. On February 7, a new state entity, the Confederate States of America, was declared, with Jefferson Davis, ex-Mississippi senator, as president. A new constitution would be launched as well which, naturally enough, reflected the principles and priorities of the South.
But there was more, and Marx wouldn’t hesitate to give his incisive verdict: “The oligarchy of 300,000 slave-holders used the Montgomery Congress not only to proclaim the separation of the South from the North; it also exploited the Congress to overturn the internal system of government of the slave states, to completely subjugate that part of the white population which had still maintained some degree of independence under the protection of the democratic Constitution of the Union. Between 1856 and 1860 the political spokesmen, lawyers, moralists and theologians of the slave-holders’ party had already tried to prove not so much that Negro slavery is justified but rather that colour is immaterial and that slavery is the lot of the working class everywhere.
“It can be seen, then, that the war of the Southern Confederacy is, in the truest sense of the word, a war of conquest for the extension and perpetuation of slavery. The larger part of the border states and territories are still in the possession of the Union, whose side they have taken first by way of the ballot-box and then with arms. But for the Confederacy they count as ’the South’ and it is trying to conquer them from the Union. In the border states which the Confederacy has for the time being occupied it holds the relatively free highland areas in check by means of martial law. Within the actual slave states themselves it is supplanting the democracy which existed hitherto by the unbridled oligarchy of 300,000 slave-holders.
“By abandoning its plans for conquest the Southern confederacy would abandon its own economic viability and the very purpose of secession. Indeed, secession only took place because it no longer seemed possible to bring about the transformation of the border states and territories within the Union. On the other hand, with a peaceful surrender of the contested area to the Southern Confederacy the North would relinquish more than three quarters of the entire territory of the United States to the slave republic. The North would lose the Gulf of Mexico completely, the Atlantic Ocean with the exception of the narrow stretch from the Penobscot estuary to Delaware bay, and would even cut itself off from the Pacific Ocean. Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico, Arkansas and Texas would be followed by California. Unable to wrest the mouth of the Mississippi from the hands of the strong, hostile slave republic in the South, the great agricultural states in the basin between the Rocky Mountains and the Alleghenies, in the valleys of the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio, would be forced by economic interests to secede from the North and to join the Southern Confederacy. These North-western states would in turn draw the other Northern states lying further east after them – with the possible exception of New England – into the same vortex of secession.
“The Union would thus not in fact be dissolved, but rather reorganized, a reorganization on the basis of slavery, under the acknowledged control of the slave-holding oligarchy (...)
“The present struggle between South and North is thus nothing less than a struggle between two social systems: the system of slavery and the system of free labour. The struggle has broken out because the two systems can no longer peacefully co-exist on the North American continent. It can only be ended by the victory of one system or the other”.
Could a State, legally, secede? The Union had been established between equal colonies in a voluntary association, and there was no clause in the Constitution which forbade having second thoughts. Naturally enough bourgeois historians and lawyers have expended rivers of ink on the subject, as though historical events, before they happened, had to ask themselves first if they were legitimate. Lincoln himself, in his inaugural address, attempted to demonstrate that there was no such right to secede; but of course his aim wasn’t to convince the Southerners, but to show that they were rebels who had placed themselves outside the law, and were to be treated as such.
Secession had happened because the Southern States were sure they could hold the North at bay, perhaps even win a short war, by counting on a series of favourable national and international events, and on the initial advantage obtained by the Buchanan administration (Marx spoke rightly of a “secessionist conspiracy”, prepared in the previous years), and, later on, the opportunity presented by Lincoln’s lack of resolution during his first year in office. Only a few dreamers thought that a war of long duration could be won.
On March 4, 1861, the new president of the United States took office, and from his very first speech it became very clear what the real reasons for the conflict were: indeed Lincoln allayed any concerns about threats to citizens’ property by declaring, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so”. However, mind you, “I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual”, hence “I shall take care... that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States”.
The dice was cast, and in the following month there would be no second thoughts. The bombardment of Fort Sumner, a Federal fortress near the mouth of Charleston harbour in South Carolina, would start on April 14. The war had begun. Lincoln announced there had been an insurrection and called on the government militias to repress it. But the most important consequence of the bombardment was that the North would suddenly flare up against the South, thus creating the psychological conditions for much wider mobilisations.
Four other Southern states now took the plunge and declared their secession,
Virginia (with West Virginia breaking away to form a separate state on
the Northern side), Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina; Kentucky declared
itself neutral (although it wouldn’t be spared the horrors of war), whilst
Maryland and Missouri were still torn by rival factions. It is important
to recall that Washington, the federal capital, lay in a territory between
Virginia and Maryland; the capital of Virginia, meanwhile, would become
the Confederate capital. At sea the South offered letters authorising the
running war against the Northern merchant marine, while Washington proclaimed
the naval blockade of the South. The state of war was officially declared
on May 29 by the Confederates.
The deployment of forces
At the outbreak of the war the population of the 20 Northern states stood at around 19 million. In the 11 Southern States there were just a half million whites, and 3 and a half million Negro slaves. The population of the 3 border States numbered about 2.5 million whites and half a million slaves; these States would generally remain faithful to the Union, with all the strategic and military advantages which that would involve; but their white population would be divided, providing volunteer forces to both sides in equal measure.
With regard to the Negro population, one might think they would have constituted a further threat to the South, but such an eventuality, apart from a few events of negligible impact, was never realised. Not only did the slaves not revolt, but their labour, involving even activity in the Corps of Engineers, would allow a large number of whites to enrol without essential economic activities suffering as a result. The North didn’t have such enormous resources available to it and the greater part of its production work was increasingly performed by women. This was another aspect of the civil war which anticipated the World Wars of the following century.
But the real weakness of the South didn’t lie in a lack of manpower, for although the Northern armies certainly had numerical superiority, it was never overwhelming. Rather their weakness lay in the meagreness of its industrial productive apparatus and railway network. With ten times more workers, industrial production in the North (textiles, metallurgical, iron and steel, etc,) was eleven times greater than in the South, not to mention its bank deposits and gold reserves. The South’s capital was for the most part tied up in slaves, and thus the only way it could be freed up was as labour. Also, the railway network in the North was three times more extensive. But the area in which the South was most woefully inadequate was on the maritime front: the South’s merchant navy was simply derisory in comparison with New England’s huge fleet, which also provided its navy with sailors; a navy ready for war which was almost non-existent in the South.
As regards resources in the primary sector, that was clearly the South’s strong point. Producing mainly tobacco, cotton, sugar and rice for exportation, such exports, in theory, should have allowed the South to acquire all the industrial products it lacked, but there was the small problem of Northern naval blockade. The North, on the other hand, with its abundant production of maize and wheat, and meat, would never be likely to have serious problems with its food supply.
In the light of these facts it is difficult to understand the harshness, and long duration, of the conflict, and the reasons for this were many and various.
In the first place, the two camps entered into the war unprepared: the regular army of the United States amounted to 16,000 men, and remained unorganised due to the lack of decision about which side its component parts, above all the officers, wanted to fight on. Although each State had its own militia, their main purpose was official parades and an excuse for wining and dining. Troops and armaments, therefore, had to be entirely improvised, and in this the respect the South was much quicker and more efficient than the North.
The actual number of soldiers deployed by the two sides during the war is a matter of some disagreement, but the following figures are probably near enough:
1861, July 186,000 150,000
1862, June 918,000 690,000
1865, March 990,000 175,000
According to these figures the North’s numerical superiority was, at the start, fairly narrow, and was more than counter-balanced by other factors. First and foremost there was the fact that the South was fighting a defensive war, with shorter lines of communication and the possibility of moving forces through internal borders; it also had better knowledge of the terrain; and there was the fact that the Southerner, who lived in the countryside, was better at improvising as a soldier than the worker, who didn’t know how to shoot or ride a horse (although the North took advantage of a large number of immigrants, mainly Germans, who were refugees from the revolutions of 1848-9). Furthermore the Southerners were initially better led, thanks to an entrenched military tradition in the South, and they would find excellent commanders right from the start (Lee, Johnston, Jackson and Forrest, etc). The North, on the other hand, had to try out, and then get rid of, several commanders-in-chief before finding the winning team in Grant, Sherman and Sheridan.
The blockade, which should have been a winning card, took a long time to take effect. The number of ships crossing from the Southern ports fell from 6,000, in 1860, to 800 the following year. The Southerners had time to convert agriculture to the production of essential foodstuffs, and industry to war production. If, on the whole, civilians in the South suffered from the consequences of war much more than in the North, the Southern soldiers rarely found themselves short of weapons and essential supplies. The armaments of the infantry were roughly equivalent with artillery as the North’s only significant advantage.
All things considered, therefore, even if Marx saw the result of the
war as foregone conclusion (although not all his contemporaries did), the
duration of the war is understandable.
There are various distinctive characteristics of the American Civil War which make it stand out from all wars which went before, and make it the precursor to the military conflicts of the following decades.
The sheer scale of the conflict was exceptional. An immense theatre of operations, the millions of soldiers employed, the huge numbers killed (600 to 700 thousand) and wounded (half a million), and four years of uninterrupted war make it the first ’great’ war.
It was a war fought and won in the first place by infantry, and yet a number of important technical innovations would set it apart from all previous wars. The main one concerned guns, which now had rifled barrels and were therefore much more accurate and with a far longer range. If, in the past, the old smooth-bore muskets had allowed courageous mass attacks and close quarter fighting with bayonets, guns like the Springfield carbine were capable of stopping the advance of entire battalions from a considerable distance. Despite the fact that frontal assaults would thenceforth only prove effective in extremely rare cases, the military strategists would nevertheless continue over the course of the war to hurl wave upon wave of men against the enemy strongholds. Whilst previously it was a case of having to face not-very-accurate enemy fire over a hundred metres or so before directly impacting with the enemy, now it was often a matter of having to traverse a kilometre or so in the face of firepower which was capable of mowing men down in their hundreds. Losses were enormous, up to 25-35% of the forces employed, figures which were unheard until that point. Enemy positions now had to be swept clear of artillery before the attack, or it was an impossible undertaking. The initial response to this tactical revolution was the prioritising of defence over attack, and the birth of the trench. The American generals wouldn’t fully grasp the significance of this tactical revolution; and even 50 years later the same lesson was still being learnt in the same blood-soaked way during the “Great War”. Even in 1940 there were those who would rave about “millions of bayonets”.
Another important consequence of the introduction of rifles was it became far more difficult to use artillery on the battle-field. This was because the gun crew had now become easy targets, whilst the smooth-bored cannons became less efficient if set further back. On the other hand, rifled cannons hadn’t been adapted for tactical use due to the reduced calibre to weight ratio, and therefore they were not much use for case shot (incidentally, the machine gun would also be introduced during this conflict). But rifled cannons did gain in range and precision, and here too there use was revolutionary: instead of being constantly moved onto the battlefield, they started to be used to bombard enemy positions from afar, concentrating the fire of several batteries even when they were set far apart.
Another innovation of the Civil War, due in part to its extent, was the greater logistical requirements of the two armies, which resulted, for the first time in modern history, in the systematic destruction of the enemy’s economic and productive resources assuming strategic importance. And, in order to prevent a partisan war setting in (which nevertheless did happen), or stop it developing further, it was but a short step from there to out and out terror. The acceptance of such a policy of annihilation would come about almost as an intrinsic, fatal necessity, and it indeed it ran counter to the intentions of the politicians and generals themselves. On the third day of the war President Lincoln had given the Southern States his sincere assurance that “We will take every care (...) to avoid any destruction, any interference with regard to private property, as well as any disturbance to peaceful citizens throughout the country”. General McClellan, who had succeeded Scott, apologised to a Virginia gentleman for the damage he had suffered, saying “I do not come here to make war against the defenceless, the non-combatants, private property, nor against the domestic institutions of the country”; in other words, he had no intention of freeing slaves, a nightmare for Southerners who still remembered the revolt by the slave, Nat Turner, thirty years before.
But when Ulysses S. Grant assumed command of the Federal forces in February 1864, he understood the necessity of destroying the economic resources and productive capacity of the South. Typical of the orders he gave to General Sherman was: “You need to remain in Jackson (Mississippi) as long as it is necessary to destroy it as a railway centre and manufacturing city producing military supplies”. And to General Sheridan: “If the war is to last a further year, we would rather the Shenandoah valley were to become a desolate and sterile land”. And Sheridan would give Grant no cause for complaint in this respect. In October 1864 he informed Grant that he had destroyed 2,000 farmsteads filled with grain, oats and agricultural equipment, 79 corn mills full of flour, 4,000 head of cattle and 3,000 sheep in the Shenandoah valley.
Another sector revolutionised by military technology, along with the engineers corps which assumed a hitherto unknown importance, was the cavalry. The cavalry’s ’irresistible charges’ had been rendered very resistible indeed by advent of the rifle barrelled gun, and it as well would have to be reorganised. Here adaption occurred very rapidly. Once the now suicidal charges were abandoned, the cavalry was used for several new purposes: tactically, to provide an impenetrable screen against enemy scouts when the army was on the march; for near and long-distance scouting expeditions; and for audacious attacks, sometimes far behind the enemy lines, against vital logistical objectives. It became a mobile troop, capable of moving with surprising speed and of fighting either on horse or foot. This was a very modern combination of functions which, at the beginning, the Southerners knew how to exploit to the full.
Finally, at sea, there was another great innovation: the new ironclad battleships. Impervious to the cannon shot then available, they would, in their turn, initiate a new phase of naval warfare.
“From whatever standpoint one regards it, the American Civil War presents a spectacle without parallel in the annals of military history. The vast extent of the disputed territory; the far-flung front of the lines of operation; the numerical strength of the hostile armies, the creation of which hardly drew any support from a prior organisational basis; the fabulous cost of these armies; the manner of commanding them and the general tactical and strategic principles in accordance with which the war is being waged, are all new in the eyes of the European onlooker”. Thus did Marx begin a famous article on the American Civil War dated 21 March, 1862. And from the strategic and tactical points of view as well, there are other distinctive features of the war which are worth briefly examining in order to understand it better.
The South, even if the aggressor, had no choice, once it had lost the advantage of surprise, but to adopt a defensive strategy, even though offensive episodes in enemy territory weren’t entirely excluded, whether for tactical reasons or to improve morale behind the lines. The South placed its hopes in holding on until the tide turned in its favour: firstly, there might be diplomatic or armed intervention in support of the South by the European powers (initially it was believed that the English economy wouldn’t be able to withstand the shortage of American cotton); secondly, Northern public opinion might get disillusioned�and indeed there were many in the North, faced with a war of attrition involving much sacrifice and an increasing death toll, who already opposed the war.
The North, on the other hand, had no choice but to fight an offensive war. The political objective of the Washington Government was the restoration of the Union: the secessionist States were seen as rebels and the Confederate government considered as non-existent. The Union’s general strategy was to disperse and destroy the armed forces of the secessionists, to shatter the Southerners’ desire to resist and rebel and indeed it could not have been otherwise. No mediation or concession was possible, and this was another reason why the war was “beyond compare”. That the North was only too aware of its terrible power is clearly shown by the attitude of Lincoln himself: the tremendous confidence with which he called on the South to submit to terms of surrender only on the North’s terms proved that it had no fear of armed confrontation, and in fact welcomed it.
Conscious of its formidable conquering power, the young “national” bourgeoisie certainly wouldn’t have allowed any obstacles to stand in its way.
The absolutist princes of the 18th Century had to content themselves with wars with restricted objectives; in part due to sound judgement (why threaten the entire system of which they were a part?), in part through necessity (professional soldiers were costly, and difficult to replace by combatants who were equally effective; the manufacturing works of the time weren’t up to arming, equipping or feeding a mass army, even allowing it were possible to have conscripted them) and they had always avoided all-out war, for reasons of domestic stability too.
But for the bourgeois democratic world things were very different. Here the “nation” was declared to be common patrimony: and on whom could the sacred duty, of taking up arms to defend it, devolve if not on its citizens? On such principles was the “mass levy” of the French Revolution based, and on these same principles would conscription be based, introduced in America by the Southerners shortly after the outbreak of hostilities.
In the North the situation was different. There it didn’t take long for the State governments to realise that whereas the ordinary citizen was ready to take up arms in a Hannibal ad portas (2) scenario (which for good or bad was the fate of the South) it was reluctant to fight for anything else. The “national” governments therefore soon discovered that even if, in theory, they had unlimited human resources, these resources couldn’t be mobilised without recourse to a new and powerful weapon: war propaganda, a weapon which in the next century would be refined and extended, even in time of peace, in preparation for war. The business of the latter was to describe the enemy as menacing, cruel, abject, and only fit to be wiped out as quickly as possible; only thus, against the “hated enemy”, could an army of citizens be made to march off to war. War propaganda would inculcate in soldiers and citizens the determination not to give up until the enemy had been totally annihilated.
The North had an enormous task before it, not least because it only had an overwhelming numerical superiority in the latter phases of the war when the fate of the South was already sealed. At best the ratio oscillated between 1.5 and 1.75 to 1, whereas Clausewitz envisaged a ratio of at least 2 to 1, or even greater, as necessary to ensure victory. If we also take into account the fact that the North didn’t have a Napoleon, and that the South enjoyed the advantages of fighting a defensive war, we can see that the outcome of the war certainly wasn’t a foregone conclusion. The North, however, had excellent river and railway communications in its favour which allowed long lines of communication between the front and the rear, without which the entire enterprise, at least in the theatres of war in the West, would not have been possible.
The war front was in fact incredibly long, more than 3,500 kilometers
as the crow flies, 500 kilometers longer, that is, than the German front
in Russia in 1942 stretching from Finland to Stalingrad. In fact it was
a composite front, composed, of various theatres of war. If we take these
in order, going from East to West, we have: North-East Virginia, in the
relatively restricted territory between Washington and Richmond, the two
capitals, and including the Shenandoah valley (it was here the bloodiest
battles and most of the fighting took place); the bitterly fought central
zone, straddling Kentucky and East Tennessee; the course of the Mississippi;
and the biggest sector of all, to the West of the great river, an area
which was nevertheless of lesser importance and in which battles took place
between reduced forces due to the territory’s scant resources. There was
however another front which would soon prove to be of fundamental importance
in laying the basis for the final victory: the maritime one.
(1) Battilocchio – The word comes from a “Filo del tempo” article in «il programma comunista», No.7, 1953. Literally, someone who, passing by, makes you blink in admiration. It indicates the important person, the great leader, whom, according to idealists, is able, by sheer force of his own will power and capacity, to shape history. This, of course, is totally opposed to our view, according to which the more “important” a person is, the more he is determined in all his decisions and acts by forces beyond his control.
(2) Hannibal is at the Gates – the enemy directly threatens.
On March 28th, prompted by a proposed attack on the LGPS – the Local Government Pension Scheme, an estimated 1.5 million low-paid local government employees took official strike action. Dubbed as the ’biggest strike in Britain since the General Strike’, it was called by a Joint Union Strike Team drawn from the 11 trade unions with members who work in the sector. Amongst those balloted, support for strike action was overwhelming.
Fresh in their minds was the fact that hundreds of thousands of workers in the private sector have also seen their pensions undermined over the last few years. All of us are now very familiar with the company which either under the guise of a ’pension holiday’ or by means of ’creative accounting’, helps itself to the company pension fund to prop up an ailing concern. One characteristic example is United Engineering Forgings in Ayr, which went into administration in June 2001 with a shortfall in its pension fund of £12 million. When the company was eventually declared insolvent, after the Directors had carefully divided their own from the company’s liability, retiring workers would find they had suffered a massive cut in their lump sum and a severe reduction in their weekly pension entitlement.
Given the Government’s insistence over the last few years that people ’need to take more responsibility’ for their retirement, it was perhaps not surprising that workers affected by the failure of these various pension funds would turn to the Government for help in such circumstances. Thus, a parliamentary ombudsman, a government official who investigates complaints against government departments, was duly appointed to investigate the matter of who was responsible for the fiasco. The official report has just appeared and found the Department of Work and Pensions guilty of mal-administration, declaring that official guidance on company pension schemes was "inaccurate, incomplete, unclear and inconsistent", and calling on the Government to compensate 85,000 people who have lost all or a part of their pensions. This the government has arrogantly refused to do (only the second time the Government has gone against the decision of an ombudsman, both times under ’new Labour’). In fact the Government has already twice altered the minimum funding agreement, and reduced the amount companies have to contribute to pension funds, and whilst this has saved the bosses millions of pounds it has pushed some funds into crisis. All in the name of ’affordability’ and ’sustainability’, of course.
Meanwhile, the Government’s Turner Commission is demanding that the state pension age be raised to 67, then 68 and eventually 70. The bosses union, the CBI, has upped the anti and suggested that 75 be the retirement age, with the ’lunatic fringe’ even suggesting 80!
Anyway, the main reason for the March strike was the proposed abandonment of the current ’Rule of 85’. This rule states that Local Government Scheme members can retire at 60 with an unreduced pension if their age plus service is 85 or greater. The scheme administrators, whose interests are inextricably bound up with the Government’s, now want to restrict this right to those below the age of 53. Also, it was more than slightly galling that higher grade workers in local government would not be affected by this proposed change, so it would only affect those already on a very low wage.
The abandonment of the Rule of 85 is bound to be an especially worrying for those who are just below the threshold of entitlement, but plenty of younger workers also appeared on the picket lines on March 28th. There is an acute sense of discrimination being perpetrated against the lower paid. Thus, for instance, teaching assistants working alongside teachers and emergency services control room staff working alongside NHS paramedics will be acutely aware that their work is undervalued compared with their colleagues’. They have suffered an attack on their standard of living; an attack that is really equivalent to a massive wage cut, and they have suffered an attack on their basic sense of worth.
And the current pension isn’t exactly something to shout from the rooftops about. Currently members of the LGPS are already the poorest pensioners in the public sector, with women members, who make up three-quarters of the pension scheme membership, getting an average pension of a mere £31 a week.
So these workers were prepared to go out on strike. And the strike did have some impact. Tyneside virtually ground to a halt. The metro and the Tyne tunnel were closed. In Merseyside the Transport Authority workers closed both tunnels and shut down the ferries. Hundreds of schools, sports centres and libraries were closed and numerous college lecturers, still smarting from a derisory wage settlement, refused to cross picket lines despite much pressure from the management. The main streets of Manchester was full of picket lines, 440 strikers gathered at a strike outside Brighton Town Hall, and so on and so forth throughout the country.
Reports from the picket lines nevertheless show a lot of dissatisfaction with the way the strike has been planned and conducted. It was frequently asked why the original plan for a two-day strike had been shelved and reduced to just one day; indeed there were numerous calls for an all-out strike, seen as far more effective that a one, or two, day strike for which the authorities would have had adequate warning and been able to make adequate preparations. On the Admin staff picket line at Manchester Met University, the workers were unequivocal about what the next step should be – "general strike"! and striking on May 4 polling day was correctly seen by many as a necessary, and highly effective, measure to force the government to back down.
Another issue frequently raised was why the unions are still paying out huge amounts of union members’ money (in UNISON’s case, £500,000 per annum) to the very party in government which is so blatantly ignoring their needs. A fact which prompted one striker to compare these donations to ’buying the Labour Party a pair of Doc Martens boots so they could give the union members a good kicking!’ (In the end UNISON did decide to suspend its contributions to the Labour Party, but not for long of course). Our own, cynical answer would be that if union members aren’t getting anything out of this cosy relationship with the Labour Party, then the union bosses must be. They will be expecting government posts for ’their’ money, directorships and consultancies; and for seats in the House of Lords on which to park their substantial butts when they ’retire’. That seems to us the real outcome of the much vaunted ’historic link’ between the Labour Party and trades unions; a link which we used to be told would, one day, usher in ’workers’ control of production’!
In any case, after the March strike, TUC-brokered talks hastily got underway with the threat of a rolling programme of strikes set to take place on 25, 26 and 27 of April and the prospect of two days national action on 3 and 4 May, including local election day. The proposal for the rolling strikes was that they would take place on each of the three days, but in different regions, meaning there would be no cumulative effect of three continuous days of strike action, over the same territory and with the same people involved. Rather than an escalation of the strike this proposal seemed more like a way of winding it down. In fact, with these one day strikes all it means is that there’s absolutely tons of work to catch up on when you get back, and you have to work twice as hard!
But in the end, all these magnificent plans would come to nothing! After the Government had made some minimum concessions around offsetting lump sums against reduced pension payments, the unions decided to pull the plug on the April strikes, and suspend any further action pending talks with local government officials! Even the days of action, something which would have really affected the government by throwing the elections into chaos, as we noted earlier, were abandoned as well. And the talking will no doubt drag on and on and on, gradually losing momentum, until resurrected at the next union conference.
Faced with their disappointment at the latest betrayal of the union leaders, who made their decision to abandon the strike without consulting the membership, an organised union left within UNISON has called for greater ’democratisation’ of the unions. This is a tempting remedy but it doesn’t address the need for the kind of class-conscious organisation needed to win workers’ struggles. Calling for democracy in the realm of workers’ economic organisation can also work against class action, and indeed the bosses have broken many a strike by launching press campaigns about how they were launched ’un-democratically’.
Historically rank-and-file organisations have sometimes managed to attain a certain degree of autonomy with regard to the Union leadership and have often launched impressive (although frequently un-democratic) actions. Do the workers win or not, that is the acid test! Such organisations have tended to be successful when launching unofficial actions but have generally not had any kind of extended or permanent organisation which can ensure that the momentum of a strike is kept up. This has meant that struggles have all too often been isolated and then run out of steam. All too often they have been recuperated back into the unions, and the unofficial leaders slotted into an official job away from the shop floor; or sacked.
One demand that was made by the UNISON left after the betrayal was especially interesting: that the strike committees continue to meet. It is interesting because the demand contains within it the germ of a class organisation.
But a true class organisation would need to extend further still, out of the confines of a particular trade or locality, with links extending to other sectors of the working class. And for really broad class actions, encompassing several sections of the working class, there will need to be in place some kind of structure which is actively opposed to the present leadership, now totally integrated into the Government in, a ’quasi-autonomous’ kind of way, and acting as a kind of informal Ministry of Labour.
An organisation, from above, as in the present strike, is not the same as the one organised from below required by the workers if they are to win the strike. The leadership will use legal and safe channels, which will end up as innocuous escape valves for letting off pent-up anger; it might seek to bring ’moral pressure to bear’, but it will not step outside the law and risk its funds being sequestrated. Thus in the main leaflet which was widely distributed at the demos, the call for support from the rest of the class is at best insipid: "members in the NHS and other sectors could show support by donating to their strike fund and joining in any lawful activities".
The obvious thing to do from a class point of view, of course, was to have called for solidarity action between private sector and government employees, both of whom, as everyone knows, are having their pensions attacked
This attack on workers pensions is just another episode in the class battle. It is another example of the ruling class trying to cut its costs by passing them on to the workers. It is part of a class battle which is being fought around us all the time, in lots of little skirmishes between workers and management in every firm, and every country, in the world. At the moment, the class is a slumbering giant, lulled into a false sense of security by the few remaining privileges left over from its militant heyday.
But it will rise again when it has been pushed too far. When it does,
and we could be approaching that point, the class will have to equip itself
with organisations which truly express the economic interests of the working
class, rather than those of the highly paid and privileged elite which
governs the present trade-unions in the interests of British capitalism.
As we have pointed out previously over the last few years there are some “left” Trade Union leaders dubbed by the media as the “awkward squad”. These “left” TU leaders have been portrayed as “trouble-makers” as far as the Government and employers are concerned, people who look for ways to stir up trouble for capitalism. If only this impression was true!
This year (2006) has shown that these “left” TU leaders are in fact, in practice, little different than right-wing leaders, except for one important point – they are more effective in undermining and diverting the class struggle away from open confrontation with the employers and the state.
The right-wing TU leaders collaborated openly with the bosses and their state and vigorously denounced the workers and their strikes. This particular breed of “left wing” leaders pose as “defenders of the workers”, but as leaders of the Trade Unions act little differently to their right-wing predecessors.
These same “left” TU leaders often talk about campaigns against New Labour, ending the drift towards Tory policies by the Labour Party, in practice nothing is really done to oppose the Government. In reality by use of criticisms of Tony Blair and “New Labour” these same “left” TU leaders seek to divert workers’ attentions back into the Labour Party and into seeking the re-election of a Labour Government, the same Government organising the attacks upon the workers!
Vauxhall Strike at Ellesmere Port in May
Plans by the US General Motors to cut production at its Ellesmere Port plant on the Wirral, in what soon became apparent as the ending of one of its three shifts, with the “loss” of 1,000 jobs, provoked an immediate wildcat strike. The morning shift of May 11th walked out as soon as it was clear that large scale redundancies were being discussed by Trade Union Leaders who were in Germany discussing with GM Europe chiefs about the future of the plant. The afternoon shift followed the lead of the morning shift, and refused to restart production. All the local union convenor could say is: “we have been betrayed. To say we are angry is a misunderstanding”.
The Trade Union leaders, nationally and locally, had been collaborating with the employers to increase production, and productivity, ever since the plant was opened in 1960. In 1998 Vauxhall Motors and the unions agreed a new-style three year productivity deal in which Japanese-style working practices would be introduced. As a result of this “deal” the production of the Astra model would be increased to 160,000 a year by the adding of a third shift.
Since then production of the Astra has soared while the ability to sell them has already peaked. GM Europe is expected to have over 50,000 Astras unsold at the end of 2006. “Productivity gains” had led to an increase of production by 20,000 cars at Ellesmere Port. The reward for exceeding all previous production levels was announced in April 2006 that the new Astra van would be built at Ellesmere Port.
The same old problem of over-production has arisen – they cannot sell sufficient cars at that price, so attacks have to be launched upon jobs and wage rates.
The meeting at Frankfurt between GM Europe Executives and Trade Union leaders was to discuss, amongst other matters, the re-launching of the Astra model for 2010. It was being rumoured by GM Europe that only four out of five European plants, in England, Germany, Belgium, Poland and Sweden, would be awarded the Astra contract. Hence wage and productivity rates would be on the table, and the loser would not be producing the new model.
The TU leaders who were discussing with GM Europe chiefs were not trying to oppose the level of job cuts, but merely that the “pain” of job loses should be spread across the plants in Europe. This is a fine way to raise international issues – export job cuts: make other workers in other countries lose their jobs! It didn’t do the TU leaders any good, the idea of spreading the redundancies abroad – the 1,000 jobs were going at Ellesmere Port, and that was that.
Fears of job cuts led to “left” TU leader Derek Simpson of Amicus having an urgent meeting with GM Europe chiefs in London, while Transport & General [TGWU] ’left’ leader Tony Woodley had talks with Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, over fears of job losses.
The Shop Floor Workers walk-out
The attitude of the Vauxhall workers hardened when it became apparent that the bosses had a 90-item wish-list (already halved from even more drastic cuts) which included a five year wage freeze, to the introduction of compulsory overtime, paid at the standard rate, not at the increased overtime rate. Other demands on the bosses “wish-list” included the pension scheme being closed to new employees, cuts in bonus payments and the loss of the shift premium (which alone is worth £140 per week). Without bonus payments and the shift premium it would not be worth many workers bothering to work at the plant.
The leaking of the company’s “wish-list” gave the workers an idea of what the future had in store for them. Work faster, and for less wages, or your out! They responded by walking out. This is the first wildcat strike at a car plant on Merseyside for about two decades. The workers were convinced to return to work while they waited to hear what there fate was.
Both of these “left” TU leaders declined to condemn the workers for walking out – very kind of them! They understood the anger of the workers. It is most instructive to see how both of these “left’s” reacted to the attacks upon the workers, and what they proposed to do about it. They both called for the ending of “lax” labour laws which meant workers could be made redundant easily, in comparison with other European countries.
Simpson warned that if GM went ahead with significant job cuts at Ellesmere Port he would see about Amicus ending its £8 million contract for cars for the union. He also warned that he would encourage union members, and their families, to buy cars from their competitors. Woodley continued with talks with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, to see if any additional Government funds could be made available to help workers affected by redundancies. Involvement of Government ministers turning up at factories to offer “assistance” when mass redundancies are announced is a traditional strategy of defusing situations, as happened at Rover in Birmingham in 2005, as well as Peugeot at Ryton earlier in 2006.
No Sign of Class Struggle from the ’Left’ TU Leaders
After the announcement of the 900 redundancies by GM Europe mass meetings took place at Ellesmere Port and the employer’s offer was rejected. The workers listened passively when union officials urged workers to hold out to try and protect the long-term future of the plant.
After about a week there were enough enquiries about the redundancy package to make the whole process declared “voluntary”. The workers could instinctively grasp what their future would be: more work for less pay. So should they stay or should they go? As far as the long-term future of the plant is concerned (which the union leaders are seeking to protect) it is likely to be dependent upon EU funding through the Government. In this case workers would be correct in seeing that these ’left’ union leaders are more interested in ensuring the workers who remain are properly exploited. Of course the ’left’ TU leaders are interested in protecting jobs – their own!
The fraternal embrace of Brown, Woodley and Simpson continued well into the Autumn and beyond, even after the dust had settled over the job cuts at Ellesmere Port. There were more important matters than the workers and whether they could retain their jobs, and especially more importance than backing strikes – what about the future of a Labour government! An early hint by Simpson that New Labour should be torn up by the roots was quickly forgotten about. The Autumn TUC meeting was a tame affair, very respectful, with the ’left’ TU leaders in the main calling for an orderly handing over the Labour Party leadership to Brown. Gordon Brown, the holder of the money bags, would be the darling of the Left, the saviour of the Labour Movement, leading everyone into a bright future. What a fantasy world these guys must live in.
The united front between Brown and the ’left’ TU leaders is a curious one indeed. Simpson, Woodley and all have condemned the Government’s attacks upon the workers, along with measures such as Private Finance Initiatives, which has been a form of privatisation of Government services by the back door. And who has been the chief architect of all this, none other than their very good friend, Gordon Brown Chancellor of the Exchequer.
It is no accident that Gordon Brown is being projected as being “a
bit on the left” by all sorts of focus groups, as the natural alternative
and rightful (pardon the pun) successor to Blair. Whether the hand-out
is a peaceful process, or a long-drawn out affair, and if Brown is the
next Prime Minister he will continue to be the architect of the more successful
exploitations of the workers. And the way matters are shaping up he will
be ably assisted by these same ’left’ TU leaders, who will no doubt be
securing their own futures in the TUC, and possibly in the House of Lords.
- Antimilitarism and the Workers’ Movement
- Italian Ideology, The Post-resistance Bloc
- Origin of the trade unions in Italy: Fascism and War
- Course of the Crisis
- Iran: Balance sheet of the “Islamic Revolution”
- The War in Iraq
- The Jewish Question: Universalisms in Conflict
The party meeting was held in Camucia, a village lying at the foot of the hill of Cortona, and was conducted in the spacious and tranquil surroundings of a meeting hall booked by comrades belonging to the local section.
In attendance was a good cross-section of our groups, some arriving on Friday, and others on the Saturday morning and afternoon. As is our custom, the Saturday morning was dedicated to reviewing what has been achieved and what is still to be done.
In the two sessions on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning we listened, in an orderly and attentive way, to a number of reports, all of which covered extremely difficult topics. These will be published in future issues of Comunismo, but due to the to give precedence, for continuity’s sake, to what has already been covered (for the sake of absent comrades as well as for those who follow our work) we will, as usual, provide a brief summary here.
Our activity at present, which through force majeure consists mainly of study, issuing publications and making ourselves known by means of leaflets and posters, is directed towards keeping alive the genetic heritage of the Communist Party; a party which is different from bourgeois and opportunist parties not only because of its distinct body of doctrine, which is opposed to all other parties, but also because of its unique way of functioning internally. It is very important to maintain the thread of this continuity, and we cannot afford to lose it.
The form which our small party takes has been determined, directly and indirectly, by the events of the class struggle, and by need to prevail over and resist the enemy. Its modus operandi was neither invented nor decided on by anybody and neither does it claim to be conforming to some ideal, preconceived standard. It is an asset which was discovered by the party in a spontaneous way whilst carrying out its collective functions. Now refined by long years of experience, the party’s ’shape’ has proved well adapted to its ’internal nature’ and the tasks it has to perform.
The party is an ’organ of work’, which has a science and a tradition of its own which it can call on. It is the party’s consistent work which forms its bedrock, and which dictates the form it takes.
In this spirit – only too well aware of the difficult times we live
in, only too well aware that success isn’t just around the corner – we
hold our frequent general meetings; meetings in which we join together
to co-ordinate our battle and tackle the not always easy task of building
up a picture of the current balance of forces.
Antimilitarism and the Workers’ Movement
Previous reports presented in the ongoing work on anti-militarism have taken us from the birth of the unitary State in Italy to the outbreak of the 1st Inter-imperialist War. This chapter, although still on the theme of anti-militarism, took us out of the chronological sequence followed so far.
The current report is derived from further researches into the 1911 archive document published in Comunismo, no 57 (December 2004), entitled The Italian-Austrian-Hungarian Proletariat against Militarism and against War.
When we republished the document, we weren’t in a position to supply a detailed presentation. We knew neither about the long and exhausting struggle which had preceded it, nor who the promoters of the international convention referred to in the document were, who, animated by an authentic class and internationalist spirit, would struggle for years for the fraternisation of the proletariat above races and nations and, above all, who would fight with alacrity against militarism. With remarkable consistency, even after the outbreak of the European massacre they were able to keep apart from the generalised betrayal of the Second international parties.
From 1904 until the outbreak of the war, significant work in defence of the above positions was carried out by a small but dedicated group of comrades. They are completely unknown today having been ignored in the official historical accounts. But to this small socialist party, based in the Istrian peninsular, we can give the credit for initiating, co-ordinating, and actively promulgating, the need to fight for an international socialist policy which rejected all forms of chauvinism, racism and irredentism.
Certainly the fact that such a rigorously left position was adopted by this group is due in part to the particular historico-geographical setting in which it arose: Istria, and Venezia Giulia, have always been perceived as a bridge between the Italian peninsular and the Balkans. In the age-old history of human migration this region has always been a point where different people’s and civilizations, different cultural and linguistic currents from East and West, South and North and vice versa have met and merged.
Here the modern working class had to struggle simultaneously against the Hapsburg central power, against the local economic power, which was essentially Italian, against the Slavic priesthood and against the rising indigenous bourgeoisie. In this complex and difficult but nevertheless instructive situation, Istrian-Triestine socialism was ready to immediately embrace the theoretical assumptions of left socialism, which it resolutely put into practice.
At the very moment of its inception in 1894, the Social-Democratic League (Lega Sociale-Democratica) gave proof of its left credentials, especially in its introductory manifesto aimed at the Triestine and Istrian proletariat. The League, which immediately joined the Social Democratic Party of Austria, later became denominated as the Sezione Italiana Adriatica del Partito Operaio Socialista in Austria.
However, due to their radical and classist positions, it wasn’t long before the Venezia Giulia and Dalmatian sections (both Italian and Slav) clearly distinguished themselves from Austrian social-democracy, which was inspired by a program which was reformist on the terrain of class struggle and was simply autonomist with regard to the national question (’austro-marxism’ as it was known). In Vienna the program ratified by the 1901 congress spoke only of “evolution”, declaring the purpose of the party to be: “organising the proletariat, permeating it with the realisation of its condition and its task, making it and keeping it intellectually and physically capable of struggle, availing itself of every appropriate means corresponding to the natural rights of the people”. In Trieste, they adopted a very different position: “the Socialist Party is the vanguard of the proletarian army, it awakens the proletariat’s class consciousness, organises the proletariat, instructs it, endeavours to strengthen it. The proletariat, once it has embarked on the path of social change, will not be able to stop, and it will have to avail itself of every possible means in pursuit of its goals (...) The socialist Party isn’t a law-abiding party (...) the greater or lesser resistance of the enemy classes will determine whether legal or violent means are used”.
Still in early 1914 the Adriatic socialists were doing all they could to prevent the network of international socialist relations which they had helped to build up from being abandoned. The outbreak of war thwarted the latest plan, of resuming the dialogue started back in 1904, and subjected the declared internationalism and anti-militarism of the Second International parties to a drastic process of verification.
Against this tragic and critically important background, the 15 August edition of Il Lavoratore of Trieste gave its unequivocal reaction to the social-patriotism which was invading the columns of the party’s Viennese organ: “when talking about the current war, L’Arbeiter Zeitung puts on an air of being able to speak for all socialists (...) Everywhere, after the war broke out, party representatives generally started to interpret things differently (...) abandoning the viewpoint they had previously been able to, and had needed to, subscribe to for so many years”. On the other hand it praised the behaviour of the PSI: “The Italian socialists are fighting strenuously for neutrality against the nationalists, who are plotting war”.
But the pressure exerted by the German and Austrian socialists, who raised the spectre of the “pan-slavist menace”, would come to nothing.
For the Istrians, along with all the other left socialists in Europe and Russia, the ignoble demise of the Second International at the outbreak of the war marked the failure of their attempts to get it to readopt the platform of communism. One of them, Vallentino Pittoni, wrote to his brother: “It is the infatuation with struggle which keeps us going along, with the deep conviction that the cause is just and that it is worthwhile being one of its instruments (since the older and more experienced you become, the more you know that rather than ’creating’ the struggle – old illusions! – we are but its instruments”).
And the activity of this virtually unknown party didn’t cease even when Italy entered the war and the PSI adopted that dishonourable position which consigned proletarians into the hands of the State executioner. Over the course of several meetings between Istrian socialists, of both Slovakian and Italian nationality, their clear aversion to war was reaffirmed in passing the following resolution: “The united social-democratic parties of the Litorale (Coastland) condemn the war and the nationalist aspirations which caused it”.
After the occupation of formerly ’unredeemed’ (’irredente’) land by the Italian army, the ex-Adriatic – Italian and Slav – sections of the Partito Operaio Socialista in Austria joined the PSI. On January 26, 1919 the first socialist congress of Venezia Giulia was held. On April 7, a motion for the party to leave the Second International, and join the Third, was approved.
At the Livorno (Leghorn) conference in 1921, the overwhelming majority
of the proletariat’s Triestine and regional organisations went over to
the Communist Party, retaining the leadership of the Trieste Camera
del Lavoro (Chamber of labour), along with various other proletarian
organisations, and they also brought to the party the illustrious Il
Italian Ideology, the Post-resistance Bloc
The Gramscian theory of antagonistic “historic blocs” has been characterised by us as terminology which can allow a new type of “alliance” to be put in the place of the struggle between one class and another. The latter, of course, being the fundamental theory we subscribe to.
After the Resistance, once the “anti-fascist bloc” had defeated the fascists, the idea that the political ’glue’, tried and tested during the war, could represent a winning and definitive social alternative was seen as very original.
And now? Supposedly the proletariat functions, from its “central” position, as a kind of coagulant in relation to the middle classes, peasant farmers, small businessmen, shop-keepers, managers, who are linked by their common wish to take part in the anti-monopoly struggle. Against who? Supposedly against those strata who are somehow linked to those who “derive wealth from their privileged position”.
This theory of the “social bloc”, which is very adaptable indeed, provides succour to opportunist politics, and is pandered to by the general State interest, one minute with ’consultations’, the next with open competition between emerging social strata.
After the economic crisis of the sixties and seventies, the blocs broke up, to the point where the justicialist grand reckoning of the nineties has even been in this light [’justicialism’ – a term used to describe the political ideology, devised by Juan Peron, involving a particular combination of fascism and socialism. ed.]
And where is Italian ’transformism’ today? Where it ever was! That is, trying to pass itself off as politics when in fact it is just a camouflage for the anti-proletarian tension got to the level we know today.
It appears that class struggle, and the class’s history, has been definitively
’abolished’ by the emerging ’new blocs’. Well, we aren’t sure about that!
Precisely when the national social blocs were no longer able to justify
their composition, the old historic blocs of nations started to be juggled
around again, putting considerable strain on both the domestic and foreign
policy of the various States. And that includes the Italian State, displaying
the characteristic muddle-headedness and foolish ambition typical of a
nation-state which was formed relatively late.
Origin of the trade unions in Italy: Fascism and War
In this report there was a detailed treatment of the wave of strikes which affected the industrial cities in the North of Italy from the second half of 1942 to the end of 1944. The official Stalinist/’resistancist’ (resistenziale) vulgate has described them as patriotic and anti-fascist, in other words motivated by political ideals of an inter-classist and pro-democratic stamp. In actual fact we are talking about a genuine class struggle which was conducted for purely class reasons. Even in the absence of communist leadership, the industrial proletariat, crushed by overwork in the factories, by hunger and by the repressive measures of the occupying forces and the bombardments of the ’liberating’ forces, would be spontaneously carried on to its natural terrain of self-organisation and the fight to defend its existence.
A leaflet of the time called for “Struggle against hunger and terror”. To those disabled by the war it proclaimed: “You are poor wretches like us. Whilst the bosses accumulate money from our sweat and blood”.
Other demands of the strikers were equally advanced and related to wages, hours, rationing of essential goods and protection from bombardments.
And it is to be noted that the Stalinists only tailed behind this movement. They neither expected it, nor did they do anything to actively promote it; and the only reason they didn’t actively try to prevent it was that certain elements, taking into account the balance of forces between the classes at the time, were able to sidetrack it in pursuit of their own national ends.
Furthermore, the fact that amongst the active participants in the movement there were not only those who thought of themselves as fascists, and who passed for such, but also members of the control formations (formazioni di controllo) specially created in the factories by the regime, is further proof of how the class struggle cuts across all the bourgeoisie’s false oppositions, war fronts and styles of government.
Once again consciousness is lacking within the class and the trade-union
movement. The lesson which the bourgeoisie and the Stalinists wanted us
to learn, and unfortunately managed to import into the movement, was that
the exploitation of workers was the product of fascism and the fascist
war, and therefore in order to oppose exploitation it was necessary to
fight for democracy and the allied victory. The communist lesson, which
our few comrades tried to put over as clearly as possible in their newspapers
and manifestos, was that it is the bourgeois and landed classes, whatever
banner they fly under, who are the oppressors of the proletariat; it is
they who are the enemy, and they who need to be fought and overthrown.
Course of the Crisis
A number of detailed graphs pinned to the wall, following time-honoured tradition, illustrated the speakers’ essential points. The course of the economy in the post Second World War period was represented by a series of small graphs, with a larger one to cover last year.
Drawing a balance sheet of the last economic cycle, it was possible to see who were the (current) winners and losers amongst the biggest capitalisms. The United States and Germany have maintained a rate of growth which is high relative to the others and haven’t experienced recession. It thus confirms that accumulation of capital isn’t at all in contradiction with an evident increase in poverty and an enduring high rate of unemployment.
At the other extreme Great Britain and Italy are clearly in recession. A sharp fall in Italy where the index of industrial production has dropped below the previous peak of 1,943 (based on the reference figure of 100 in 1913) in the year 2000, to the present figure of 1,577, a contraction of 19%. Great Britain has been in recession since the year 2000.
But France and Japan are also in recession, even if less severe. In this last capitalism the scale of production has never surpassed the peak of 13,431 in far off 1991, a figure it is still 1% below.
By considering the average rate of growth over the whole of the last cycle, taken to mean relative growth between the penultimate and last peaks, we get a series, running from the lowest to the highest rate of growth, which also reflects the age order of the capitalisms concerned: Great Britain +1.3%; France +1.8%;Germany +2.5%; Italy +3.4%; United States +3.6%; Japan +5.8%.
Passing to the volume of exports it is to be noted that China now comfortably
occupies second place in the world ranking. The current order is this:
United States – China – Japan – Germany – France.
Iran: Balance sheet of the “Islamic Revolution”
As part of a new ongoing study of this important country, an initial chapter on the geography and history of the region was presented.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and its fragmentation into autonomous republics, and the invasion of Iraq by the United States, Iran found itself both in a geographical and political sense caught up in an extremely tense web of conflicting interests centred on control of the Middle East and the planet’s main oil reserves. This imperialist dynamic is opening up scenarios with major consequences for the whole world order, anticipating rifts and clashes between the capitalist States on a global scale.
Without claiming to be an ’international institute of strategic studies’, we can say that the very nature of recent events means that we need to apply our Marxist vision to the series of crises which broke out in the late 70s starting with the collapse of the Pahlavi regime; with today’s crises tending to be linked to the formidable appearance of the Chinese and Indian colossuses in the East.
The geographical location of Iran, situated between the ex-soviet republics of the Caspian Sea – with their enormous, but barely or poorly exploited, oil deposits – and Turkey, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Pakistan, means that it plays a key ’linking’ role in the region. Its economic indicators, its rate of annual growth, its industrial sectors – along with the main one, oil – and the volume of imports and exports show we are certainly not dealing with a ’backward’ country here.
With a population of over 68 million Iran is by far the most populous country in the Persian Gulf and also the most urbanised.
Although throughout its history Persia has never suffered direct colonial domination, it has been the object of pressure from Tsarist Russia, and amongst the European powers Great Britain in particular.
In 1906, a nationalist party would install a constitutional government in order to combat foreign influence and to oppose the corrupt and weak Cagiara monarchy. European interference would become increasingly persistent after the discovery of oil.
The story of Modern Iran commences in 1925-26 when an officer of the Cossack army, Reza Khan would, with the support of the British, usurp the Persian throne and reign as Reza Shah Pahlavi. The new Shah would speed up the process of westernisation and rename the country ’Iran’, thus embarking on a long trial of strength with the religious hierarchies. In the countryside he would introduce a reform of agriculture which was still based on latifundia, of a semi-feudal type.
During the 2nd World War the north was occupied by the Soviets, whilst the south was occupied by the English and Americans who would force Iran to declare war on Germany. In order to break free from an awkward ally who didn’t share their politics, the Americans and English forced Reza Khan to abdicate, putting in his place his son, Mohammed Shah Pahlavi, who would speed up the process of modernisation, which extended to the social domain.
This moment marked the entry of the country into the assembly of western States, and, due in part to its efficient military organisation, it would establish itself as the principal power in the Persian Gulf.
The exploitation of the oil resources would spark off a new contest between the western States. Led by a coalition of nationalist and religious groups, a powerful popular movement would arise which was opposed to foreign interference and in favour of a new division of the oil revenue. The Shah was forced to nominate Muhammed Mossadeq as his prime minister; he who in 1951 had nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, in a move effectively excluding Great Britain and involving the expropriation of most of the oil revenue.
Great Britain, supported by the United States, would retaliate by organising an international boycott of Iran, and the economic crisis which resulted would shatter the fragile political coalition which supported the prime minister.
The Americans then imposed an embargo on the country which prevented the export of Oil to the USA. In 1953 Mossadeq would be overthrown by a CIA orchestrated coup.
Mohammed Pahlavi, previously forced to leave the country and demanding that the new American boss resolve the crisis, re-ascended the throne. And there he would remain until 1979, when he took the road to exile after the revolution.
The presence of the United States is substantiated with a new ally in
the Middle East, and consolidated in 1951 with the signing of the anti-soviet
and anti-Egyptian Baghdad Pact, the other signatories being England, Turkey,
Iran, Iraq and Pakistan.
The War in Iraq
The reports presented at previous general meetings (currently being published in instalments in our review Comunismo) have traced the history of the proletarian movement from the first years of the 20th century up to the outbreak of the war with Iran. On this occasion, the comrade who has been entrusted with the study took a detour in order to examine certain aspects of the war between the resistance and the coalition and look at recent developments.
And it really is a war: the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq has now passed the two thousand mark whilst the US army in the North-west of the country, with the support of mercenary troops, is conducting massive attacks against towns and villages to annihilate the “terrorists”. Two years on from the “end” of the war, the war continues, and the American army instead of reconstructing bridges over the Euphrates is still blowing them up.
Of course the parties and political movements in the West which subscribe to “third-worldist” ideology, and some even that describe themselves as “communist revolutionary”, have openly sided with the Iraqi resistance, which is fighting, “arms in hand”, with enemy number one, United States imperialism.
The Iraqi resistance, as ably demonstrated in the report with a number of quotations, is a political movement composed of a number of elements, mainly ex-Baathists, nationalists and religious fundamentalists, and it proposes to drive out the occupiers in order to reconstitute a united and independent Iraq.
One thing is clear, the Iraqi proletariat has nothing to gain from siding with this openly reactionary movement. Attacks by armed resistance groups against the workers trade union organisations and against women’s organisations have been denounced.
The primary duty of the proletarian movement in Iraq, as elsewhere, is taking part in the struggle to defend the living and working conditions, which in Iraq have sadly deteriorated over the course of the long war. The proletariat’s enemy is the bourgeois State, whether “independent” or in the service of the foreigner. The proletariat doesn’t have to choose between the stars and stripes, or the Islamic or Baathist banners. The Iraqi proletariat, like the Iranian proletariat, has had been deeply scarred by the experience of losing millions of lives whilst defending “revolutionary” and “anti-imperialist” regimes such as these.
Communism is anti-imperialist insofar as it is against capitalism, considering imperialism as merely the latest, “supreme” and necessary form which capitalism takes.
In Iraq there are no further historical duties of national emancipation
and bourgeois revolution to accomplish. The driving away of the Americans
is a commercial/financial matter. It may divide the Iraqi national bourgeoisie,
but it is still the bourgeoisie in power, in its entirety, in its constituted
national State. A dismantling of the Iraqi State, produced by whatever
combination of centrifugal forces, domestic and foreign, would do nothing
to modify this condition.
The Jewish Question: Universalisms in Conflict
In this work our intention is to show that when you ignore the economic and social structure of the diverse forms of society, and try and make ’ideological’ judgements (’ideological’ as we understand the term), misunderstandings abound, and you run the risk of committing not just errors, but horrors!
Hebrew universalism, like other universalisms and in particular Catholicism, is the super-structural product of the historical given conditions in which it arose and which it variously adapted itself to. That is something we take as said. The fact is that the various manifestations of ’universalism’ are destined to clash precisely because they arise out of the contradictions which exist within the material world.
Our ’universalism’, which with good cause we continue to call ’internationalism’, is of a different type, insofar as we don’t deny that the proletariat – called on by the Manifesto to unite against the capitalist-imperialist hydra – needs to settle accounts with its own national conditions; not in order to accept them, but to fight against them according to the various historical necessities.
And this is all the more necessary when the bourgeoisie produces its fascisms and nazisms - not to speak of the monstrous Stalinian State, which marries them to the degenerated communist movement, defeated in its internationalist role.
It is then easier to understand how one can appeal to forms of reaction against certain universalisms in the name of ’corporative’ interests, which don’t tolerate the disruptive effect of individualism in all its manifestations.
As far as one can claim to change things with words alone, is it not perhaps true that arguments for and against globalisation develop on the basis of the actions and reactions located within the matrix of class struggle at an international level?
Therefore our duty is one of revealing the social matrix of the universalisms,
both understood in a positive historical sense, and as an expression of
danger or conspiracy.
- American Workers’ Movement
- Origin of the Trade Unions in Italy
- Italic history and ideology
- Iran: Balance-sheet of the “Islamic revolution”
- The History of Modern Iraq
- The Jewish Question
On January 28th and 29th of this year, we were back in Parma for the first party meeting there in almost half a century. The last one was in 1958, and none of the comrades who attended that meeting are still with us today, an absence which has taken its toll. However, anyone who needs the person of a leader in order to trace the party’s programmatic or organisational continuity obviously hasn’t grasped the essential spirit of communism, or what it really means to militate as a communist; isn’t free of the bourgeoisie’s vile individualist, democratic and electoral ideologies which surround us on all sides, and from which only the party is immune.
The way we conduct our research isn’t based on the pitting the opinions of individuals and groups within the party against each other, rather it is a convergent historical research based on the firm foundation of our Marxist doctrine. We don’t, therefore, have a congress rule book in which debate is prohibited; given our methods and our aims, we simply have no use for it.
In a quiet, well-lit venue chosen by local comrades, with a marvellous view over a lovely snow-covered park, we were able to carry out our work in our usual calm and focused way. Almost all our groups were represented; unfortunately our French and some of our Italian comrades couldn’t attend because of train stoppages due to the snow. Even those expected on the Friday evening didn’t arrive until the following morning. The logistics for the visiting comrades accommodation went very well, and it was good to spend time in Parma, a beautiful, ancient city with a rich proletarian tradition.
The morning of the Saturday was spent planning the meeting, reading mail from comrades unable to attend, discussing completed work, exchanging materials, planning publications and making arrangements to intervene with our propaganda in current workers’ struggles.
The sittings on the Saturday afternoon and the Sunday morning were dedicated
to listening to the six reports which had been prepared by various comrades.
What follows is a brief resume of these reports, which will appear in full
in our review Comunismo.
American Workers’ Movement
To begin with we listened to the report on the workers’ movement in the most capitalistically advanced and powerful country in the world, the United States of America. It was the first instalment in a new ongoing study embarked upon by the party.
The speaker started with a description of the peculiarities of the colonisation process in North America: unlike what happened in the Central and Southern parts of the continent, there were no riches to be plundered, except those produced by the hand of man. Thus from the outset the first colonies needed low cost labourers, and lots of them. The problem was resolved to begin with by using bonded labour and the deportation of masses of convicts. Then there was a preference was for using low cost slaves imported from Africa who after a few years would repay their costs with their labour; although unlike bonded labour they weren’t then freed, but remained slaves for life.
In a predominantly agricultural country, manufactured goods were produced almost exclusively by artisans, and the only places where a high concentration of workers could be found was in the naval shipyards, and on the ships themselves. In the 17th Century an urban proletariat composed of ex-slaves, workers arrived from Europe, and freed slaves slowly started to form. Throughout the rest of the century though the predominant form of manual labour was slave and bonded labour, and inevitably the form in which economic struggles expressed themselves was as violent revolts; in which whites and blacks often fraternised against their common class enemy.
The War of Independence, which broke out in defence of the interests of the possessing classes, saw the poorest classes (as usual) providing the troops which would fight against, and defeat, the English armies. If their expectation was better working and living conditions in the future, in the end, it would be the bosses (as usual) who would reap the benefits of the blood which the proletariat had spilled on the battlefields. The war, and the 1787 Constitution, would prompt the birth of the Federal State which in a few decades it would become a great industrial and military power.
For the working class, the real confrontation with the Bourgeois was
yet to begin.
Origin of the Trade Unions in Italy
The Allied landings in Sicily and the South in 1943 and 1944, and the dissolution of the fascist trade unions and corporations, prompted the formation of the Uffici del Lavoro, the Offices of Labour, by the occupying forces; their aim, to use them as a bulwark against the resumption of class struggle. Needless to say they weren’t able to prevent the birth of new trade union organisations, and the Allies and the Badoglio government would resort to trying to keep them under control.
In November 1943, the Chamber of Labour was reformed in Naples, then in other major towns in the area and beyond, as at Salerno, Foggia and Potenza. The workers of the Province of Naples and a few other districts created the Southern Secretariat of the General Confederation of Labour (CGL) and nominated Enrico Russo as its Secretary General. The CGL, putting itself at the head of the class struggle during those months, saw a sharp rise in its membership not only in Naples but throughout the South.
The classist orientation of the new union would bring it into conflict with the Italian Communist Party (PCI) which was advocating instead unity with the other classes to achieve “national liberation”. Thus in Bari, at the start of 1944, the PCI created the CGIL, the adjective ’Italian’ being included in opposition to the CGL in Naples.
On February 20th, 1944, the CGL managed to obtain the Allies permission to publish its newspaper Battaglie Sindacali. On the same day it held its 1st National Congress at Salerno with 30 Chambers of Labour participating. The CGIL of Bari, which was trying to prevent delegates from other districts attending, was absent.
In his speech to the Congress, Russo spoke out against any trade union truce and said: “the collapse of fascism doesn’t mean to say conditions have been created which will take us, via ’progressive democracy’ and without class struggle, directly from capitalist to socialist society”.
At the Congress, the motion for unification with the CGIL in Bari was carried, although in practice the two organisations would afterwards retain their separate identities. Nicola Di Bartolomeo, who was another important leader of the CGL and a Trotskyist practising entryism in the Italian Socialist party of Proletarian Unity, would also declare against recognising any programme of national reconstruction.
Obviously in the Neapolitan CGL there were other positions as well, such as Gentili’s and the Action Party’s, with the latter advocating participation in the war effort alongside the Committee of National Liberation (CLN).
In order to offset the Salerno Congress, the Campania branch of the PCI spoke on “national unity against Hitlerism”. When Togliatti arrived, he would launch the alliance with the monarchy and say to the workers, as reported in Unità on 2 April 1944, that they didn’t need any “so-called class interest” to inspire them, national interest would do. Togliatti would even try to personally win Russo over to the ’national unity’ policy, and, having failed, the PCI would embark on a policy of attacking and denigrating the CGL; and attacking Russo, who by now had adopted the positions of the Communist Left, from which he had distanced himself in 1936 at the time of the Spanish Civil War. Finally in June 1944, with the signing of the Pact of Rome, the PCI, the PSIUP and the Christian Democrats would create the CGIL from on high; a patriotic union from its inception and mirroring the new inter-imperialist relations.
In Comunismo, no 1, we wrote “the formally free trade unions
which were formed during the 2nd World War are the continuators
of the State trade-unionism of fascism, and have adopted Mussolini’s model.
Their function is to keep the working class tied to national solidarity”.
In Article 1 of the CGIL’s statutes we read: “the CGIL is a national
organisation of workers who (...) consider an allegiance to liberty and
democracy as the permanent foundation for trade-union activity. The CGIL
bases its programme and activity on the constitution of the Italian Republic”.
Italic history and ideology
Without permanent modernisation there would be no capitalism. Countries like ’little Italy’, which entered into the infernal circles of the world market later than the others, would bring all their backwardness and contradictions with them.
If Italy certainly taught the plutocrats a lot (they who had followed developments there with ill-disguised interest, before declaring war on it), and if fascism – as everyone would now admit – served as vanguard and model defender against sovietism, nowadays every country which wishes to emerge from a state of ’under-development’ in order to modernise risks finding itself in the same quandary as Italy when it was in a similar position.
A ’model’ country then? No, rather a country which mirrors the contradictions produced by world imperialism, which nowadays likes to celebrate its beanos under the much abused tag of ’globalisation’.
The ’modernisers’ in the field of State policy talk of “neo-feudalism” and “supra-nationality” but they are just two sides of the same coin and are certainly nothing new.
The various bourgeoisies need, both practically and ideologically, to
tackle the devastating consequences of capitalist ’modernity’, but their
problem is to do it in such a way that they can stay head of their competitors,
protect themselves and their capital, and at the same time not inadvertently
allow the wolf of proletarian revolution to cross from the other side of
the river of history.
Iran: Balance-sheet of the “Islamic revolution”
The continuation of the work on Iran took up from the liquidation of Mossadeq’s experiment in democracy, and covered the period from the return of the Shah, from his brief exile, to his fall during the 1979 ’revolution’.
This period, of over twenty years duration, continued to be marked by deep social rifts and upheavals on the political and economic levels, and by crucial changes in the balance of power in the area.
In 1956 there had been the Suez crisis, in 1967 the Arab-Israeli War had shaken the Near East and in March 1971 Great Britain had announced the expiring of treaties with the Gulf Sheikhs and the withdrawal of their troops. This marks the end of the 150 year old Pax Britannica, motivated by London’s need to protect the route to the East Indies, and the definitive establishment in the area of American hegemony, with the opportunity for Iran to control the Persian Gulf and form a powerful army, equipped by the most technically advanced weapons of the time and lavishly financed from the proceeds of the oil revenue.
And yet in the 1970s this huge arsenal would prove useless against the domestic threat to the regime, popular insurrection and the conflicts breaking out in the cities.
Against this backdrop, the Shah, who kept total power in his hands and who had installed a rigid system of social control guaranteed by the all-powerful political police, the Savak, was able in the 1960s to introduce a far-reaching programme of social reforms ’from above’ with the intention of placing Iran amongst the top industrialised countries within just twenty years.
Meanwhile the Shah would assign the production of Iranian crude oil to a consortium of eight foreign companies, thereby reinforcing relations with the West and ensuring the influx of considerable sums of capital into the State coffers.
In 1961, in order to rationalise agricultural policy and to uproot the phenomenon of the latifundium, the agrarian reform – dubbed the ’White revolution’ – was enacted. With this reform, and in line with his father Reza’s policy, the Shah wanted to hit the powerful Shiite clergy as well. By depopulating the countryside, and favouring the abnormal process of urbanisation which in less than twenty years would multiply the population of some Iranian cities tenfold, it was however soon obvious the reform had failed.
The progressive failure of the agrarian reform had the effect of further accelerating the programme of industrial reform, with forced investments and with the development of commercial relations. However the nation’s political and administrative structure was totally incapable of dealing with such profound changes in the economy, and so was the national infrastructure. On top of this the corruption of the small dominant class further accentuated the social divide.
In 1973 there was the ’first global oil crisis’ as it came to be known, with a 600% hike in oil prices. Iran’s oil income would rise from 200 million to 20 billion dollars per year. This was an enormous figure which would be completely used up in an enormous spending spree.
When in the mid-70s the revenue derived from oil sales started to drop off, the failure of the pharaonic industrial projects would lead to a dramatic increase in unemployment and widespread discontent amongst the commercial middle-classes of the bazaar, who would later play a crucial role in the Islamic ’involution’ in 1979.
In this feverish period the economic and financial crisis would sharpen the already accentuated political crisis and increasingly fuel the social struggle within the country. Against a backdrop of major demonstrations, massacres, dissolution of the monarchical state structures and paralysis of economic activity, society as a whole proved unable to emerge from the chaos. In a situation where the prerequisites for a revolutionary solution were lacking, it would be proletarian struggles in the oil refineries and the industrial zones of the big cities – struggles which were fought in defence of decent working conditions and living standards – which would deal the coup de grâce to the monarchy.
What was missing was the classist conduct of the struggle for the political ends of the proletariat, rather than for a change of regime to liquidate a corrupt administration or breath new life into a hitherto impotent bourgeoisie by substituting the Shah for the bourgeois Baktiar, or with a wavering Bani Sadr. A Communist orientation, which neither the ex-Stalinist Tudeh, which had become reformist and democratic from the time of its support for the Mossadeq government, nor the insurrectionary groups which had reformed from its collapse, could ever have guaranteed.
The workers’ councils, the Shora, were born from the formidable
Isfahan and Tabriz strikes and the struggles in the oil-fields, but when
counter-reaction appeared in the guise of Islamic priests – the inevitable
outcome, the thermidor of the courageous proletarian movement in
Iran – they were transformed into “Islamic councils”, becoming transmission
belts for the ideology of the mullahs.
The History of Modern Iraq
Today, after all of Washington’s official justifications for unleashing the war against Iraq have proved to be false, the real reasons are emerging, even appearing in the bourgeois press: “Bush’s war had three aims – wrote ’Limes’ in its December 2005 issue – One, to set up military bases in Iraq to dominate the Gulf area and beyond. Two, to establish a relatively democratic government in Iraq to act as a paradigm for the Islamic world as whole. Three, to ensure control of Iraqi oil reserves”.
In three years the Gulf War has produced a situation of seemingly perpetual civil war in Iraq; a war with no way out similar to the one in Algeria, where a ten year war between terrorist gangs and the bourgeois State has left a hundred thousand dead, mainly consisting of proletarians and the disinherited poor, and where a generalised climate of terror has been created which has killed off all attempts by the proletariat to launch a counter-attack against oppression and exploitation.
The American occupation force in Iraq, which has already caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths, is being fought by a well-organised and battle-hardened resistance which is responding to the generalised repression by intensifying its attacks on civilian and military targets.
In an increasingly complicated and difficult situation the occupiers, in imitation of Saddam Hussein’s policy, are working to intensify ethnic and religious differences; thus they hope to divide the proletariat and goad the various communities into fighting amongst themselves and thereby reinforcing their role as “mediators”. But the cracks which have been opened up at the heart of the Iraqi nation have widened into an abyss, threatening the occupiers themselves.
Even the highly propagandised “democratic elections”, and then the almost clandestine approval of the constitution by the first freely elected parliament (which has been forced to meet in the so-called “green zone”, guarded by occupying troops), haven’t brought about a normalisation of the situation. As each day goes by, more and more corpses fill the mortuaries and mass graves; the American army, meanwhile, on the very day Parliament opened, would launch its most powerful offensive since the start of the war against the city of Samarra, situated a few miles to the north of Baghdad.
In this tragic situation the Iraqi proletariat is fighting tirelessly to rebuild independent organisations able to defend the class against the government, the armies of occupation, the guerrillas, the white militias and the criminal gangs. The same can not be said for the anti-American guerrillas, who certainly have allies in many of the States in competition with Washington.
It is significant that right in the middle of the Iranian nuclear crisis the news emerged that U.S. diplomats would soon be heading to Teheran to seek the collaboration of the “rogue State” in managing the Iraqi problem. The bourgeois States may be enemies but they are allied in their struggle against the proletariat.
The Iraqi working-class is alone, and asks the international proletarian
movement for help. But the working class in the most fully industrialised
countries, the only ones able to support their Iraqi brothers and sisters
in a practical way, can’t do so because it lacks those instruments which
would allow it to organise and channel the devastating power its possesses:
the class trade unions and the revolutionary political party.
The Jewish Question
Anti-Jewish hatred was able to attribute a identity to a German bourgeoisie which hitherto had been unable to come up with one credible enough to fight and die for. In the whirlpool of capitalist production not only the identity of individuals is menaced but that of nations as well. And what of their identity nowadays?
Every “culture”, i.e., every class, tries to maintain its identity intact, but the “permanent revolution” of the productive forces constantly corrodes and damages it.
It isn’t just hatred which underlies anti-semitism, but also the more or less clear knowledge of its own inconsistency masked by the desire for power.
“Ideologies” are limited by their excessive simplification of the complex social reality which they reflect, and democratic culture in turn seems unable to move beyond simple platitudes.
What is stopping current bourgeois circles from going beyond the stereotypical anti-semitic formulas?
To get to the bottom of the identity crisis would mean no longer trusting in mystifying formulations such as the “banality of Evil”. We cannot reduce ourselves to saying that Nazism was imprisoned by the “banality of Evil”. We cannot say that it committed massacres and exterminations “inevitably”, and without any plausible reason, because it was blinded by the demon of destruction and just leave it at that.