The Prime Minister of the Japanese State has declared the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami and loss of control of the nuclear reactors, currently weighing down on the country in the midst of a severe economic depression, to be the worst disaster since the Second World War and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This time however it is national capital which is irradiating the Japanese.
The plates into which the Earth’s crust is divided are in constant motion. Tensions that extend for hundreds of kilometres thus accumulate along their edges, corresponding with the fault lines which mark their boundaries. When this elastic energy encounters a fault, it is released in an earthquake. Due to stresses arising from mutual compression, one plate is pushed under the other producing the phenomenon known as subduction: the plate on which Japan sits is sliding over the Pacific Plate.
The Archipelago is situated in the so-called “Ring of Fire”, the 40 thousand kilometre strip surrounding that ocean and which includes numerous oceanic trenches and volcanic mountain chains, in particular where four of the plates collide. It is a zone in which the risk of seismic activity and tsunamis is extremely high: in fact around 80% of the earthquakes that occur are generated within this area, and it has always been known to be extremely dangerous.
Japan experienced two extremely large earthquakes in the last century alone: the first one, on September 1st, 1923, was of a 7.9 and 8.4 magnitude and struck the Kanto plain, the main island of Honshu and had its epicentre in Sagami bay. The quake lasted ten minutes and destroyed Tokyo, the port of Yokohama and the cities of Chiba, Kanagawa and Shizuoka and the entire Kanto region. The death toll was 177,000 dead. The devastating fire which followed the quake reduced entire cities to ashes. The second major earthquake, which occurred on the morning of 17 January 1995, was in Kobe, and registered 6.9 on the Richter Scale and caused 6,434 deaths. The destruction of buildings was immense with more than 100, 000 buildings raised to the ground and half a million damaged. Even in the last two years there have been 5 or 6 earthquakes registering over 6 degrees on the scale.
Already in 2007 an earthquake had damaged the Kashiwasaki-Kariwa nuclear power station and radioactive nuclei were released, although the amount and precisely what happened has never been communicated. On March 9 this year an earthquake of 7.9 was registered in the North of the country, with its epicentre 32 kilometers beneath the Pacific ocean floor and 130 kilometres off the north coast of the island of Honshu. The Japanese Metereological Office issued a seaquake alarm, then retracted it. Two days later, on March 11, one of the biggest seismic episodes ever registered, lasting two minutes, took place. The epicentre was beneath the ocean floor and around 120 kilometres off the North-east coast of Japan. The sudden displacement of the ocean floor provoked a tsunami, a gigantic wave 15 meters high which crashed down on the coastal region and caused massive devastation.
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In Japan’s not so recent past the problem of constructing houses capable of resisting seismic shocks was resolved by using wood, a material which is highly resistant relative to its mass and has an excellent elastic response, which allows for effective joinery within the main framework. Capitalism, having destroyed most of the forests on the planet, has resorted to materials that are less costly and require less – and less skilled – labour, namely reinforced concrete, which can be used to construct multi-story buildings, which is a requisite of landowning-bourgeois society in order to better compensate for, and divide up, the ground rent, but which, being a heavy material, doesn’t respond well to accelerations. Also, it isn’t technically impossible to construct buildings resistant to earthquakes with reinforced concrete, or better still with steel. And that has been demonstrated, it used to be said, precisely by Japanese capitalism, which, after the lessons learnt in 1923, as distinct from in Europe and America, set about building infrastructures and houses, even skyscrapers, of a size and shape capable of resisting earth tremors. Maybe that was true for a few decades, during the period of the powerful ascent of the youthful capitalism of the Rising Sun. By the time of the earthquake in 1995, however, that cycle had come to an end and the myth was exposed.
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But this time round it was the tsunami rather than the earthquake which produced most of the victims; an estimated ten thousand dead and half a million homeless. Clear evidence of capitalism’s incapacity to rationally distribute human settlement over the planet’s surface, as if more was needed, are the centres of habitation situated on the edges of the Pacific Ocean. The indubitable forecast that it was only a matter of time before a powerful seaquake would impact on those shores didn’t stop cities like Sendai and many smaller ones from being crammed into the narrow valley floors open to the sea and barely above sea-level themselves; and which it was well known the wave was bound to sweep away within the next generation. Building a bit higher up, or further back, would have been enough, with just the crucial maritime and port facilities, and the warehousing, left further down and on the seafront.
But capitalism prevents that, because it is always guided by the immediate
rate of profit. Due to the law of natural selection, or rather, of capitalist
nature, the capitalist who doesn’t continually aim for the maximum rate
of profit, by any means, and whatever the consequences for the future,
goes under. To have built an adequate distance from the waters’ edge,
or a few metres higher, would have increased costs; the costs of
transporting materials and of labour. A very small difference, and certainly
infinitely less trouble than all the suffering produced by the cataclysm,
and the hard slog of rebuilding it all, but it is only the here and
now which ever counts, and that still minimum difference in costs which,
in the present economic recession in particular, determines the survival
of one capital and the demise of another. This is the key to the understanding
of all town-planning, or rather, of its absence.
Not yes or no to nuclear power, but yes or no to capitalism
We have our say on the matter, as synthesised in the above heading.
The production of energy by means of atomic fission is based on the property of the uranium 235 nucleus – an isotope of the normal uranium 238 present in nature, constituting about 0.7% of the total – which, when hit by another neutron, spontaneously divides into one atom of barium 144, one of Krypton 89 and three other neutrons. In this reaction around one per cent of the mass is lost and transformed into energy as light and heat. If the newly emitted neutrons collide with the nucleus of another atom of uranium 235 a chain reaction results, and there is no further need to provide any further external neutrons because the production of energy is spontaneously maintained. In order to contain or shut down the process as far as possible, it is necessary to prevent the neutrons emitted from colliding with other atoms. This can be achieved by interposing a material between the uranium rods which absorbs the neutrons, such as graphite for example. The reaction is the same one used in the bomb which on 6 August 1945 was dropped and exploded 500 metres above Hiroshima. Three days later, over Nagasaki, they tried out another one, based on a different type of nuclear reaction containing plutonium 239. As is well known, the resulting deaths were of the order of hundreds of thousands.
After the war ended, the use of nuclear reactions to produce electrical energy proved to be relatively simple, and all of the different types of nuclear reactor which have been proposed since, including those in the planning stages today, have shown few significant variations or improvements. The so-called ‘fuel’, that is, the rods of uranium 235, are inserted into a tank of water; the pressure of the vapour which is produced drives a turbine, which turns an alternator; the vapour, using water from a lake or from the sea, is then cooled down, transforming it back into the liquid state before it flows back into the tank. The inconvenient side of the production of nuclear energy is that the basic reaction doesn’t just stop at barium and krypton, but continues, producing a series of other elements in various proportions, some of which in their turn are radioactive. Out of these some have only a very ephemeral life, but others only lose their radioactivity after a very long time; and not on the minimum scale of capitalism but even with respect to the life of our planet. Of these the ones which particularly endanger the health of animal species are: iodine 131, with a radioactive half-life of 8 days; caesium 137 and strontium 90, with half-lives of 30 years; and plutonium 239, which remains radioactive practically forever. If a crack should appear in a tank or, worse still, a tank shatters following an explosion, as happened at Chernobyl when the graphite caught fire, these poisons are released into the atmosphere and into the rivers and oceans. Further heating produces a fusion of the rods of uranium and plutonium which, having penetrated the containment vessel, contaminate the surrounding area.
Another unknown with serious repercussions is how to store the ‘waste’ safely, some of which will always be radioactive and presents a danger to life. The problem is facilitated by the relatively small amount of material that needs to be stored, which is around 3 cubic metres per reactor per year, and yet the fact is that no country has yet come up with an appropriate storage facility or a definitive set of procedures: for fifty years now the containers of radioactive waste have been languishing in provisional warehouses awaiting a solution. On the other side it has been observed, with respect to reliance on the fossil fuels, coal, oil and methane – the resources of the latter two having been thoughtlessly squandered by capitalism over the last century – that nuclear power on the one hand uses cheaper materials, which are abundant and easily extractable, and on the other it doesn’t produce CO2, whose presence in the atmosphere is claimed to be modifying the climate. Evidently, due to the huge interests which loom over it (oil, industrial, etceteras) it is highly unlikely that capitalism will ever reach an understanding of the climate’s delicate and complex dynamics – in which phenomena of very short duration are superimposed on those which are much longer – let alone of the real dimension of the changes taking place; and we certainly rule out that it could ever modify the course of the climate, or indeed be inclined to do so, even if only to mitigate the effects on it of its congenital anarchy and improvidence.
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These then are the technical foundations, summed up very briefly, on which the production of nuclear energy is based, and around which a useless debate is taking place between its supporters and its adversaries. And why we say it is useless is because we know it will be Almighty Capital that will decide, in an unholy compromise with the various industrial lobbies, in a tangle of company, geopolitical and strategic interests that determine the different stances; conditioned also by factors of a military order. But the criterion that will eventually predominate is minimum cost. This is the dogma which all the contenders feel obliged to address, with the ‘ecologists’ in particular going to great lengths to demonstrate that nuclear energy doesn’t cost less. An example: a reactor project exists at CERN, named after the physicist Carlo Rubbia, which uses thorium instead of uranium. Its advantage is that it tackles the problem of the reaction ‘running away’ (in other words if anything went wrong, the reaction would stop and the reactor would cool down). Also, less long-lived radioactive residue is produced. It has one defect: it costs more and we can’t have that. Capitalist society is society on the cheap!
The historical merit of capitalism is that it enormously reduced the costs of goods, in terms of the hours it takes to produce them. To barely heat a room in winter you used to have to gather wood all year round. Two centuries later – during which time, in order to reduce costs, which at the level of the individual business means to increase profits, capitalism has destroyed everything it could destroy – capitalism now produces too much of everything, energy included.
Energy is a commodity, which has a value and a market. The producers of energy are all competing amongst themselves, like all the other sectors and, like them, those who sell at the cheapest price prevail. Any other consideration in this society is either due to naivety or bad faith. As far as energy is concerned, there is too much being produced: there isn’t a lack of energy, just a lack of it at a certain price. The reality is that the productive capacity of the power stations, in almost ever country and certainly on a global scale, is much greater than what is required; there wouldn’t be a problem, were it not for Capital. Under communism, the first truly human society to emerge from prehistory, the constant striving to reduce the cost per unit of production ceases. Instead it becomes a matter of looking for the best solution, and the amount of labour time required will only be one factor of minor importance in determining what solution is opted for. Once the production of useless items and the general wastefulness of capitalism has been reduced, including of surplus power, the labour time spent in the production of what is essential for human needs, which even now is barely a couple of hours a day, would be much reduced, with the rest of society’s energy expended in the pursuit of its remaining interests, which will be carried out spontaneously and freely, and without charge, and be expressed in different modes and styles, precisely in order so we can seek together, as a collective, the best solutions, in all senses, for the living and yet to be born, and, in general, for all forms of life in the world-universe.
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Coming back to Japan, the damaged reactors in the Fukushima nuclear power plant are, on the contrary, proof of capitalism’s criminal and blinkered way of going about things, even in one of its most evolved and mature societies. In fact, we will go so far as to say that the two things don’t run counter to each other, but rather in parallel: the more science and technology there is, the greater is the disdain for any proper forecasting, proper construction and proper maintenance. The primary aim of bourgeois technology and science is the reduction of costs: the best technology to provide the worst product. Most of what happened at Fukushima is a State, and class, secret, and, like in a war, information is filtered. The war, within every country, between capital and the working class: capital’s dictatorship.
On the other hand the essential facts are not difficult to discern. If there is one place in the world where a critically important and vulnerable installation like a nuclear power station should not be placed, it is in an area of major seismic activity: within these regions today we find 12 nuclear installations in Japan, 3 in Taiwan, 1 in China, 1 in Pakistan, 1 in Iran and 2 in California. On top of that Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with an average density of 340 people per square kilometre. In the present postwar period, Japanese capitalism was able to become the third world power, only recently overtaken by the Chinese. Since it is able to produce only 16% of its energy requirements from internal sources, Japan has become the largest importer in the world of liquefied natural gas and coal, and the third largest of oil. For that reason the Japanese bourgeoisie has sought with nuclear energy to reduce its energy dependence.
And here we see coming into play the anti-historical division of the world into nations, consequence and limit of capitalism, in which each one of them, all of them the enemy of ever other, must fend for itself. But the radioactive iodine emitted into the ocean from Fukushima won’t be stopped at passport control.
But not building close to the built up areas, unlike the case today, would involve the energy having to be transmitted over long distances, causing, they say, too much energy leak. In the meantime, having freed ourselves of monetary calculations, we could just use hydrogen, the fundamental element, and produce it in a big power station in the desert, transmitting it to wherever it was needed.
We don’t know what condition the Fukushima installation was in, or about its maintenance regime, but we do know it was built in 1970, and that the relevant authorities in the country had decided to close it some time ago. In Japan, over the next decade, 18 reactors, including 5 at Fukushima, will have reached 40 years old. This is considered the maximum life expectancy for these structures although some claim they are dangerous well before that. In any case, despite the laws which decide their maximum safe life span, the various governments, faced with the expenses involved in constructing new reactors, authorise extensions to this period despite the risks involved. In Japan, and elsewhere, those reaping the benefit of this policy are the producers of electricity: it is entirely in the interest of the companies managing these plants to extend their life; already amortized, they produce only profit, and the enormous costs of dismantling them are postponed too.
At Fukushima, the earth tremors dislodged the bars of graphite, but, given an electrical failure, which should certainly have been predicted, the pumps circulating the water shut down, which were still necessary to disperse externally the heat from the residual reaction. Even the emergency back up system, powered by a separate generator, failed to kick in. No other cooling apparatus was in place. A simple radiator circuit would have sufficed; installed at other installations, this functions passively, and actually utilises the same nuclear thermal energy. Or else a gravity duct drawing on a reservoir in the hills. At this point all the technicians could do was to get out, and the two youngest ones, who stayed behind to try and head off a disaster, paid with their lives. Both of the power stations in Fukushima, only eleven kilometres apart, suffered similar damage and analogous problems with their cooling systems, and to more than one of their reactors, which confirms the non-casualness of the event.
Even the company which manages the plant has admitted the situation is out of control. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that water had to be sprayed onto the reactors from a distance using hosepipes, and dropped from helicopters, to contain the fusion of the uranium rods; and to prevent an explosion due to the hydrogen and oxygen produced by the disassociation of water at high temperatures, with a consequent rupture of the reactor casing.
In addition there were the plutonium rich exhausted fuel rods in the storage tanks, and in one of the reactors the so-called MOX, a mixture of plutonium and uranium, ‘caught fire’. The water being used as a coolant coming in from the outside, and the water escaping from the primary circuit which contained radioactive elements, gathered in the tanks and the security channels. From here it leaked into the sea which is right next to the plant. As of now the entire population within a 20 kilometre radius has been evacuated, and for the people living in the next 10 kilometre band, they have been told to stay in their homes and caulk all windows and doors. Then it was if, from on high, the spirits of the ancestors stepped in, and started blowing the wind back out towards the ocean, channelling the radioactive cargo, not unreasonably, in the direction of the American aircraft carrier, the Ronald Reagan, which then immediately put about. Beyond this radius, if we are to believe the official reassurances, the contamination from the radioactive elements in the air isn’t that serious, compared to the explosions in the reactors and the leaking of the valves. What is certain however is that the entire plant, and a significant area around it will become forbidden terrain, and certainly the sea has been seriously contaminated, with consequences which no one can predict on marine life and on the economy, and on the diet of the Japanese and the peoples of the Western Pacific.
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Of course, we won’t be able to settle the question of ‘nuclear power – yes or no’. That is a task which can only be tackled, maybe even as soon as the next generation, once this putrid system of production has been swept away. Then it will be possible to decide whether to utilise nuclear power or not. Or even decide not to decide, closing down, as far as possible, the existing nuclear power stations and, given the uncertainty, undertaking further research.
If the prehistory of the human species begins with the discovery of fire, which distinguishes it from other animals, its true entrance into history, and its full unfolding under communism, might be marked by its mastery of another, higher force, the one which illuminates the sun and the stars.
But the utilisation by mankind of fission, and tomorrow of nuclear fusion, makes communism not just a requirement but an absolute necessity. Only then will it be possible to conceive a unique plan of production and distribution, which, insofar as it relates to energy, would involve planning and running power stations in a way that isn’t guiltily insecure. We can also forecast that for the first few decades many of the existing power stations will just be closed down, because most of the useless commodities which are vomited out by capitalism today will no longer be required, and the rational distribution of products will bring about a drastic reduction in transportation. We also predict that a lot more time and effort will be expended on the construction of homes, which will no longer have to be done on the cheap, and all due care and attention will be given to the requirement of efficient energy distribution. All of this will lead to a reduction in the demand for energy.
There is no solution, on the other hand, for today’s society, which is caught between the requirement to generate profit and the expansion of the gigantic forces it has unleashed: of over-population; of superabundance of commodities, with possibly irreparable degradation of the environment as a side effect; of lack of natural resources; and of a looming shortage of basic foodstuffs (everywhere supplies are dwindling, and the analysts are saying that one year of bad harvests could cause a colossal food shortage).
It is simply utopian to think the question can be resolved under capitalism. The environmental movements are inevitably reactionary insofar as they would like to patch up this system of production, which is by nature not capable of being reformed. Only the proletariat, once it has taken power by revolutionary methods, will be able to reform anything, in the sense that it will build a new society adapted to man and to nature. Today, whether in Japan, already mourning the loss of its ten thousand dead, or in the rest of the world, people’s reactions have been very restrained. Because clearly under capitalism, the present arrangements are the best possible. The democratic method will always support capitalism and all of its excesses.
What we communists are waiting for is the latent force of the proletariat,
building up as friction between the tectonic plates of society, to be released
and generate a gigantic tidal wave, which will overwhelm the ignorance
and criminal stupidity of bourgeois society. That is the tsunami
we are hoping for!
In Tripoli in early September 2011, a procession of mounted Berber soldiers, maintaining the same tradition of military parades as under the Rais, marched into the renamed ‘Martyr’s Square’ to celebrate their conquest of the city and the overthrow of the regime, attested to by the victory of the polyhedric National Transitional Council (CNT).
The cessation of hostilities was however not declared until a month later, following the defeat of the last pockets of resistance in Bani Walid and Sirte, and in particular after the death of Gaddafi, clearly eliminated to prevent him from appearing in court and revealing the shady international intrigues around the Libya affair, which we won’t go into here.
Even the experts in military strategy don’t know how to categorise the war which has just taken place; it is of a new type, they say, which required different relationships between states, different command structures, different networks of communication, etc.
It wasn’t a war that was declared between states, despite the considerable number of participants. It wasn’t even a popular uprising sparked off by extreme impoverishment of the general population, as was the case in the neighbouring countries of the South Mediterranean coast. As a matter of fact, Libya is relatively wealthy, and half of the low paid jobs at the time of the uprising were being filled by immigrant labourers from the neighbouring countries and from Asia. There was a crisis, but not severe enough to generate an armed revolt on the scale we have just seen.
The power relations and social struggles in the Maghreb were different from those in Libya and were resolved in different ways. In Tunisia, the dictator Ben Ali, weighed down with gold, fled the country after the first violent clashes. Meanwhile, Muburak immediately clamped down on the widespread demonstrations in Cairo but was then sacrificed to prevent the oppressed classes and the proletariat of Egypt from spreading their strikes, and eventually forming an autonomous organisation, which would then have had to confront the pre-existing politico-religious formations. In both of these countries the ruling bourgeois classes have managed, “by changing everything in order to change nothing”, to regain, for the time being, control of the situation. In response to these class struggles we have denounced, in line with our communist position, the lack of genuine proletarian organisations capable of taking over the leadership of the movement; here as well our class got involved and was used to obtain the objectives which weren’t its own, even if nothing has yet reached a definitive conclusion.
Whereas in Egypt there was no armed foreign intervention, in Libya armed bombardments by the French air force took place almost immediately. The Libyan situation has more in common with Iraq and the hunt for Saddam Hussein than its neighbouring countries, in which there was no disembarkation of troops or any wish to destroy the political and governmental infrastructure. What we have just witnessed isn’t a civil war between the gathering forces of opposed political parties, open or clandestine, because there simply weren’t any of any relevance; and the CNT, created on the spur of the moment, can’t be viewed as a political party due to its extreme lack of homogeneity.
Why the European powers in Libya decided to recognise the CNT so quickly was, above all, an attempt to ensure the continuous flow of oil and to cause minimum disruption to pre-existing economic arrangements.
Although no political power within Libya actually called for military intervention from outside, the “humanitarian saviours” of “Operation Odyssey Dawn” nevertheless arrived in force with a display of military might and cutting edge technology which was clearly out of all proportion to the facts on the ground. Each “saviour” had his own immediate objectives, but they also all shared two in common: getting their hands on Libyan oil, and, the resisting of any encroachment into the North Africa economies, above all by the Chinese; given Beijing’s persistent search for sources of energy, raw materials and markets for its ravenous economy.
To say this flexing of muscles will probably lead to an inter-imperialist military conflict in Libya in the near future would be rash, but it does serve as a warning. The fact that China has always declared itself opposed to the intervention isn’t for no reason at all, but to protect its lucrative contracts. One thing is for sure, it certainly wasn’t an expression of a “communist” country’s solidarity with the Libyan proletariat.
To say this massive military machine was deployed just to get rid of Gaddafi’s regime and remove his clan from power is simply not convincing. It seems far more likely – and this has been confirmed by subsequent revelations – that it was all planned in advance with France taking the initial lead.
Already on October 21st 2010, the colonel would be betrayed by his most trusted man, Nouri Mesnari, who wanted a change of regime, even if merely an institutional one and of direct advantage to himself. Indeed, following his flight to Paris, the military information he revealed would come in such profusion that he was nicknamed ‘Wikileaks’ by the French services. In Benghazi on November 18th, French agents attached to a trade mission would meet Abdallah Gerani, a colonel in the Air Force, who was ready to desert. On discovering the betrayal of his faithful collaborator, Gaddafi asked France to deport Mesnari, who instead granted him political asylum. On December 23rd three Libyans were welcomed to Paris: Faraj Charrant, Fathi Bourkhris and Ali Mansouri, important exponents of the group which would later lead the revolt. After Christmas, the first logistical and military support arrived in Benghazi. The revolt must have been planned in Paris with the help of Mesnari at about the same time the Libyan secret services found out about Colonel Gerani and arrested him on 22 January 2011. In early February the English and American instructors in the use of heavy artillery and missile launchers are supposed to have arrived.
On the 17th of that month the revolt broke out in Cyrenaica. Meanwhile, in confirmation of this reconstruction, the news broke that other members of the government and various ambassadors had resigned and distanced themselves from Gaddafi, as though a kind of parallel government and parallel diplomacy was already in place. The rest can be found in the newspapers.
According to the pre-arranged plan the intervention would come to an end on 27 June. It was expected that the revolt would receive massive support from the general population, that there would be mass desertions in the Libyan army and from its command structure, and support would come from the various tribal organisations in the hinterland. But this didn’t materialise. It seems that most of the population stood back, an attitude which was surely due to the fact that, when the revolt suddenly appeared like a bolt out of the blue and the bombs started to rain down, there was absolutely no political opposition of any sort firm rooted amongst the people. After an initial disbandment the army reorganised itself, but had to fall back in the face of greater fire power. Having later regrouped in the desert it was expected they would soon succumb but this took longer than expected. These errors of evaluation and various merely partial victories meant the coalition was forced to extend its onerous duty by more than 90 days, up to 27 September 2011.
As concerns the incredible display, on both fronts, of the most advanced and up-to-date weapons and guidance systems, it is worth recalling that after the lifting of the embargo imposed on Libya between 1986 and 2004, the Rais launched a major programme of modernisation and strengthening of Libya’s military potential, propelled not least by his ambition to become the leading figure in a new North African federation. The arms manufacturers of whatever country, friends or otherwise, egged him on, guaranteed as they were by the substantial oil revenue, supplemented by extra income from the “parallel market”. In this type of business, the banning of the sale of weapons to a ‘rogue state’ prompts two reactions: firstly, it favours competition from other countries, secondly, it makes it difficult to make an accurate assessment of the enemy’s arsenal. However, it is one thing to sell light arms and munitions, in which Italy has a primary global role, and another to sell the increasingly complex weapons systems which need a continuous, technically informed “after sales service” to ensure that personnel are trained, and the ongoing maintenance and supply of replacement parts which are far more difficult to come by in the parallel market. Putting a block on such services has always been a form of control and blackmail over the “destination client”.
The USSR, now Russia, has always been Libya’s main arms supplier, and as recently as 2010, with delivery set for 2011-12, it drew up a 1.8 billion dollar contract with Libya for the supply of next generation Flanker fighter-bombers, 80 land-to-air missile systems, 1.3 billion dollars worth of armoured vehicles, and if we add to this the heavy armour provided by satellite countries, the contract was worth 4 Billion in all. And herein lays the explanation, at least in part, of Russia’s opposition to NATO’s intervention and involvement in military operations.
Lagging behind in the arms sales stakes are France, Italy, China. In fact 28 countries in all, big and small, supply Libya with arms, with neighbouring Malta carrying out the role of third party through which much of this triangular traffic flows. And as far as Britain is concerned, an agreement it signed on 27 May 2007 to supply Libya with missiles and air defence systems is probably the ‘back story’ to the image of Blair and Gaddafi, shaking hands and flashing radiant smiles, which popped up with great frequency in the British media’s coverage of the war.
Over the years, good business relations have developed between Italy and Libya in the arms trade, and Italian sales would rise from 15 million in 2006 to around 57 million in 2007. Along with the “friendship, cooperation and partnership treaty”, signed in Benghazi in 2008 by Berlusconi and Gaddafi, other contracts were signed, which for Finmeccanica alone produced earnings of 250-300 million dollars and future orders worth 800 million. A major turning-point in Italy-Libya arms sales, celebrated by the arrival in Rome of the Rais, occurred in September 2009 when there was a formalisation of the acquisition of an significant portion of Finmeccanica by a Libyan government holding company, which thus became the second largest proprietor of this strategic company which produces large-scale armaments such as ships, aircraft and armoured vehicles. On the same occasion the sale of war materials was authorised by other companies in the sector such as Benelli, Beretta, Oto Melara with sales totalling 8 million euros. Not long afterwards, SELEX Sistemi Integrati S.p.A, the company of the wife of the Managing Director of Finmeccanica, would sign a 300 million euro contract for the construction of a radar and missile security and protection system along the Chad Libya border.
Italian capitalism is well known for its double-dealing and this occasion provided yet more evidence: on the one hand the “suspension” of the Treaty of friendship (between plunderers) was the premise for transferring these juicy contracts to the CNT, with whom the foreign minister Frattini ‘got into discussions’ to make sure they’d kick in again once peace was declared; on the other hand, Italy hasn’t been able to wriggle out of its commitments as a NATO country. Nothing new there as far as diplomacy and trade is concerned.
The most complex of the Weapons systems can expect to fetch higher prices and gain access to wider markets if they can be advertised as ‘tested in combat’. Conflicts which are local and of short duration, but of ever increasing intensity, have always served as the testing grounds for all types of weapon in the lead up to the great world wars, the Spanish Civil War being one of the most notable examples. And since there is almost always some such conflict taking place somewhere in the world, they provide a convenient opportunity to ‘field test’ the continual modifications and improvement being made to armaments. We need only think of the continual evolution of the drones, the small pilot-less remote controlled aircraft which have gone from being simple means of aerial observation to long range weapons equipped with rockets; and which, having given constant proof of their effectiveness during the interminable conflict in Afghanistan, have now gone on to be sold elsewhere.
Thus did Sweden grab the opportunity of the war in Libya to test the new Gripen (Griffin) fighter jet manufactured by SAAB, base price 60 million euros; although the Rafale French Multi-role jet fighter stole a march on it by carrying out its first mission a few hours before the agreement in Paris between the countries participating in the mission had actually been signed off. Commenting on this, the co-director of the Institute for Strategic and International Relations in Paris stated: “The decision to carry out the first attack was political and not tactical, and produced the secondary effect of giving the Rafale major visibility”. Indeed the media gave widespread coverage to images of the attack on the one Libyan plane which was actually hit, after a pursuit and aerial battle, by a Rafale. Dassault, the French company which makes the Rafale, boasts about its marvellous product, but after the 300 examples acquired by the French government, its sales have ground to halt, having failed in the competitive tenders for this type of equipment in Asia, Africa and South America, and thereby obviously creating major problems in terms of recuperating investments and lost earnings.
The rest of the operations in the air, most of which were filmed and distributed through all the television networks, were carried out using the classic Tornadoes, which are more adaptable, less technological and benefit from well trained crews. The greater the complexity of a system, the greater the number of personnel needed to keep it functioning. We need only consider that the deploying of the few dozen English Typhoons (European Fighter Aircraft) for “superior air patrols” requires the input of at least 100 technicians.
The list of armaments is considerable and we will leave it at that; basically everyone had weapons systems they wanted to try out, and this is a consequence of a notable acceleration in the arms race and of increases in military expenditure, which, incidentally, are confirmed in the relevant statistics which the party continues to analyse on an ongoing basis.
In terms of gigantism and hypertrophic systems, naturally the most impressive role is played by the USA, who are putting into practice their doctrine of “Shock and Awe”, namely, intimidating the enemy with a massive display of imposing military organisation. Certainly nothing any army would consider a great novelty.
Their new supercarrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, considered the biggest mobile military base in the world, embarked on its maiden voyage to the Mediterranean after receiving its “certificate of readiness for combat operations” only a month before combat operations commenced in Libya. To give an idea of the scale of the operation we should point out that the George H.W. Bush Strike Group 2 is a combination of at least 10 naval units of various types, including possibly nuclear submarines, with a total crew of 7,500. The nuclear air craft carrier alone has four and a half hectares of deck space (45 thousand square meters), which is equivalent to 7 football pitches, 5,500 crew, and it can carry up to 90 aircraft and helicopters. It cost 6.2 billion dollars back in 2009.
The limited, targeted intervention in Libya was preceded by Exercise Saxon Warrior, a major naval exercise off the South Coast of England with 26 ships from 6 countries. In view of the programme and execution of this exercise, which went way beyond contingent events in Libya, and the enormous display of force, many considered it as a preparation for operations on a far greater scale and indicative of a possible military escalation, which could be extended beyond the Libyan borders to the whole of the South Mediterranean.
But this enormous muscle-bound giant would from then on be set in motion by an uncoordinated brain, and produce results falling well short of expectations. Impatient France was well aware that without the support of the American electronic command systems, the AWACS radar invisible aircraft and the cruise missiles, there wasn’t a lot they could do. Great Britain, in order to employ dozens of Tornadoes in Libya had to leave half of its air fleet at home without spare parts and suspend flights of its missile defence interceptors. The United States Africa Command (U.S. Africom) had its own war plan which seemingly consisted solely of eliminating and replacing Gaddafi, and which didn’t include a long and costly ‘no-fly zone’ or the destruction of the Libyan air force. Maybe it was due to disagreements between the three “saviours” that overall command of the operation was later passed to NATO. And then the liquidation of the Libyan forces turned out not to be as easy as had been anticipated, with subsequent military events manifesting as a miscellaneous hotchpotch of the various different approaches.
According to the Strategic Culture Foundation the cost of this short war has been incredible, and it is still rising. On June 3 the Pentagon declared it had borne costs of 716 million dollars, plus one million to reconstitute the reserves of the Ministry of Defence, plus another million in ‘humanitarian aid’. Additional costs, from September 30 onwards, are forecast to be around 400 million. Each Storm Shadow missile launched from the nuclear submarines cost 1.1. million dollars, whilst the tried and tested Tomahawk missiles each cost 800 thousand. The French Minister of Defence declared that expenses up to May 3 to have been 53 million Euros for Operation United Defender plus 32 millions for the munitions. By May 8 Great Britain had spent 44 million pounds on high precision guided weapons. The dispatching of 4 Tornado GR4 bombers, 3 Typhoon Eurofighter interceptors and related technical back-up cost 3.2 million dollars per day. With fuel, maintenance and training costs taken into account, the costs of one flight hour in a Tornado is 33 thousand dollars. The Typhoons cost 80 thousand an hour. Poverty stricken Italy’s minister of Defence announced it would have to reduce its contribution to the costs of participating in the operation from 142 to 60 million dollars. On September 30 it was forecast that that the full cost of the operations in Libya it had sustained would be 1.1. billion dollars.
Maybe this was one of the reasons for giving a new twist to the war by assassinating Gaddafi.
We don’t yet know the full scale of the destruction and how many died in this conflict, but we know, from an estimate given by the International Monetary Fund, that the war “probably cost the 6 and half million Libyan citizens 35 billion dollars, that is, 50% of Libya’s GNP, which in 2010 was over70 billion” (from the Italian daily, Il Manifesto, 29/10/11).
This enormous expenditure and mass destruction have been paid for with
surplus value extorted from the proletarians and workers in Libya and in
all the other countries involved. Meanwhile the capitalists gloat over
the fat profits they have made from it all. There is absolutely no point
in the proletariat using the democratic process to demand a reduction in
military spending or calling for a general cessation of military interventions
and wars; it needs instead to reconstitute its class organisation in order
to counter bourgeois militarism with force, in order to counter
the war between states with the class war of the proletariat of all
countries against global capitalism.
Throughout the world, Capitalism’s economic crisis is having a detrimental effect on the working and living conditions of the labouring class. “Let the bosses pay for the crisis” is a nice slogan, but capitalism wouldn’t be capitalism if the ominous effects of this mode of production weren’t borne mainly by the proletariat. Actually the only way the working class won’t end up “paying for” the crisis is by overthrowing capitalism, with which economic crises will cease insofar as their causes will have been addressed. But as long as capitalism survives, the working class can only resist the attacks it constantly suffers – with the mode of capitalist production itself the underlying reason for those attacks – by mounting a defensive struggle. We mean the economic struggle, or if you like the trade union struggle, which, once having attained a certain degree of development and intensity, the quantitative to qualitative leap having been made, becomes a political struggle. Both exist as two, dialectically connected, levels of the class struggle, with the latter superior to the former. The necessary condition for the transition from the working class’s economic to its political struggle is the class party. And the necessary condition for this qualitative leap, although not sufficient in itself, is the class trade union, in whatever form that might take.
The swelling of the ranks of the unemployed – which Marx referred to as the reserve army of labour – puts pressure on the employed workers, forcing them to accept lower salaries. This is determined on the one hand by the constant factory closures and on the other by the defeatist action of today’s trade unions, which stifle any serious attempt to prepare for a genuine workers’ mobilisation.
It isn’t just by lowering salaries that the exploitation of the workers is increased. Increasing the intensity of work and working hours, for example, with overtime, are other ways. All these methods are described in minute detail in Capital and are daily confirmed in the experience of workers in all countries, yesterday, today and in what remains of the capitalist future.
Clearly for revolutionary communism – Marx’s and ours – the denunciation of “increasing exploitation” doesn’t have a moral value – like for example the petty bourgeoisie who dreams of fair and equitable trade – but a scientific one; it isn’t even just about rallying the class (on a sentimental, pre-scientific, level: we are on the side of the working class), it is rather to indicate the increase in the quota of surplus value that capital needs to try and extract from the workers in order to avoid being inexorably crushed by the tendency of the rate of profit to fall – an economic law described by Marxism which condemns capitalism to decline and death.
To the army of unemployed workers, in this first two years of crisis, we add agency workers and those on short contracts as well: the bosses don’t need to sack them; they can just choose not to renew their contracts.
For many workers the crisis has resulted in a drastic reduction in wages.
* * *
The Communist Left – the only current in the world workers’ movement which remained faithful to revolutionary Marxism following the sorting-out process of the counter-revolutionary period, and which is represented today by our party alone – has never been so banal as to maintain that there is a mechanical correlation between crisis and class struggle. We have repeatedly shown how the great crises to begin with have generally had a depressing effect on worker’s struggles, due to unemployment and its power to blackmail those still in work. But despite this, the general deterioration of proletarian living conditions is one of the factors which prompt it to return to the path of open class struggle.
The relationship between the worsening of conditions and the return to the solid use of the strike weapon is affected by two key elements: the trade union and the class party. These two distinct organs of the working class are products and factors in this dynamic which is being fought out on a historical and international scale.
If the trade union battle is what we might call defensive, to do with resistance, while the political battle is offensive, the working class finds itself – not just today but for the last thirty years – in a difficult defensive phase. The numerous reports of struggles, triggered by the crisis, which are taking place throughout the world talk mainly of battles confined to particular companies. The workers are resorting to measures which although sometimes extreme nevertheless reveal their weakness, desperation and above all, the impossibility of lining up for a general conflict between the classes, or even of imagining how such a thing could happen.
If, until recently, apathy reigned throughout most of the working class, and there was a general lack of interest in trade union questions, today the workers, hit by the crisis, lack experience, and are therefore easy victims of a great confusion of ideas and the clever traps prepared for them by the career trade unionists in the regime trade unions; as well as being susceptible to the mistakes and naivety of those workers who have placed themselves at the head of the struggles against trade unionist opportunism. In the present state of things al this is serving to prevent, deviate or delay making the fundamental practical step without which the workers’ struggles, even if generous, are destined to fail, that is: unification within a general movement committed to struggle. And this can happen only if the working class equips itself with the necessary instrument to make such a step, namely, a genuine Class Trade Union, which it will have to rebuild outside and against the present regime unions.
The limitations of a struggle fought within a particular company are evident: the workers’ demands cannot go beyond the limits set by what is required to keep the company competitive, for fear of it being closing down or relocating elsewhere, and running the risk of some, or all, of the workforce being laid off. During phases of economic growth, like the one which ran from the end of the 2nd World War through to 1973, companies were under less pressure from competition and could be forced to make concessions. But competition becomes increasingly fierce during crises, and companies resort to exploiting the labour force as much as they can to stay in business.
The need for unification of the workers’ struggles is daily rejected and obstructed by the unions’ entrenched loyalty to the capitalist regime. Trade unions subjected to the State and the requirements of capital are the main instrument the bourgeoisie uses to weaken and undermine working class combativity. It is they that take care to bombard the workers with all the ideas and ideological paraphernalia certain to weaken their defensive struggles, and deprive them of a following.
One of their main techniques is to keep each battle isolated and make sure they don’t link up. With this end in view the union avoids identifying itself with the general common objectives of the class and refuses to mobilise its members to fight for them. Even when agitating for goals that seem to be uniting the class, in reality they are working to keep it divided. A case in point is the frequently heard slogan, “stop the sackings”, a demand that tends, as in so many cases, to focus workers’ attention on their own particular company or department, given that it is there where the decision to lay anyone off is made, and if so, who and how many. Also, a firm that is about to close, can it actually avoid sacking its staff? Only by not paying them anything.
To mount a defence during this crisis against the consequences of mass lay offs, the correct class demand for rallying workers is: wages for unemployed workers, and a reduction of working hours with no reduction in wages for employed workers. To achieve these objectives, which alone correspond to the requirements of workers’ defence and which overcome the difficulty that the individual employer in crisis is unable to pay, will involve a sector-wide general struggle, indeed of all sectors and professional categories. The adversary is no longer the particular capitalist productive cell, the firm, where the struggle to defend jobs entails keeping it afloat at any cost, something which is objectively impossible, but now becomes the entire bourgeois class as incarnated in its State, from which is demanded the payment of an unemployment wage.
Naturally that isn’t to say the union shouldn’t also be organising the workers’ struggle at the level of the individual firm as well. But its role should be to organise the whole of a category at least on the national scale and to represent the inescapable necessity of overcoming the barriers of the union struggles fought at the micro level; in order to extend the battle onto the plane of an open and general struggle of all workers for their common demands.
Another way the betrayal in the trade unions manifests itself is the way it tries to prevent different struggles from linking up by downplaying the relationship between the individual crises in each firm and the larger global one, depicting the particular characteristics of the individual firm to the workers as the crucial factor. Thus we have criticism of the boss for not doing his job properly, for not having an effective industrial plan in place, for having incompetent directors for being corrupt, etc, etc. According to this reasoning the salvation of the working class depends on the company’s ‘fitness for purpose’, like it was for the slaves of old, chained to the oars of the galleys. The same reasoning, on the scale of the country, is applied to governments: it is the government’s policy which is aggravating the crisis! But now the crisis has got to the stage of closing factories, this inter-classist, national-company solidarity appears in its most monstrous aspect, and it really needs to be exploded.
Any crisis at company level has its own particularities of course. But what it has in common with all the others is the fact that a part of the workers will be condemned to unemployment, and the ones that are left will have to carry a heavier workload. For this reason the efforts of a true class union should be about providing the material possibility of developing a class identity based on a sense of having the same social interests, and joint mobilisation for genera objectives, which regard all workers as such, not insofar as they are employees of such and such a company. And this because the broader and more united a large strike is; the more effective it will be.
The pro-regime trade-unionists delude the workers that the solution to their problems lies in finding a brilliant entrepreneur to take over the firm, and that is what they should be fighting for! In reality speculative, financial, freebooting capitalism is the legitimate offspring of entrepreneurial and industrial capitalism. Speculation is inherent in the laws of capitalism and has been there since its birth. What makes it increasingly sought after is the growing difficulties involved in getting businesses to invest in production.
* * *
These class demands – full salary to unemployed workers and reduction of working hours – are not new; indeed both of them are features of traditional class trade unionism.
Marxist communism’s position on the trade unions has never been one based on generic, superficial extremism, of the “we want everything and we want in now” variety so characteristic of the petty bourgeois and student groupings that infested the margins of the workers’ movement in the 1970s. Certainly our classist slogans don’t in themselves have the magical property of transforming workers from the state of weakness and difficulty in which they find themselves today into a class which is all of sudden strong, united and combative.
What distinguishes class syndicalism from bourgeois syndicalism is the general plan of struggle. Traditional class trade unionism perceives its ultimate goal as achieving the emancipation of labour; the present regime unionism perceives it as an all-out defence of parliamentary democracy. Everything else is the consequence. If the period between the end of the Second World War and now has resulted in the working class relapsing into its present state of prostration, to the point it has even lost the sense of being a class, this is because the second form of organisation has had success, that of the bourgeois regime, whose aim is to destroy bit by bit any residual class positions within the unions and the proletariat. This incessant work continues today, and will never cease as long as capitalism exists.
Communist intervention amongst the workers doesn’t deny the importance, and the role, of partial and limited struggles such as those occurring today. It means supporting them, but also, when the struggle has reached a degree of intensity that the workers can see what they are facing more clearly, profiting from these battles to point out the need for a larger and broader deployment of forces. It means reminding the class of the general aims of trade union struggle. And the latter must be proposed not as an abstract declaration of principles but as an immediate and necessary goal to be fought for, and for which material preparations need to be made.
With regard to struggles that arise within a particular company, in practice we communists will point out to the workers in particular disputes what we consider to be the least worst directives, but at the same time we will explain how their inherent weakness proves the need to organise themselves in preparation for harder and longer strikes, ultimately arriving at the point where a general strike for class demands once again becomes a possibility.
The correct approach to the trade union struggle is one which aims to
prevent the energy expended in partial struggles being entirely exhausted
at a purely local level, so it can be used, to a greater or lesser degree,
to take a step towards the unification of the worker’s forces, towards
an enhanced capacity of the working class to fight its battles.
THEORY AND ACTION
THE IMMEDIATE REVOLUTIONARY PROGRAMME
(From the pamphlet, "Sul Filo del Tempo - n° 1 - ", May 1953).
(Two previous articles from the same pamphlet, translated
into English, are ‘The Historical Invariance of Marxism’ and ‘The
False Resource of Activism’, which appeared in Communist Left No
27/8. ‘The Multiple Revolutions’ and ‘The Anti-capitalist Revolution
in the West’, will appear in the next edition, completing the series
of six articles).
Intermezzo on the American Revolutions
We consider it useful here to insert an excerpt from a party text of 50 years ago. As well as acting as confirmation of the views presented in the current work, it provides a good example of our methodology, which doesn’t represent history in a mechanical way, as a succession of events in which the economic substructure and political class power are always harmoniously aligned and travel along in parallel, but as a complex dialectic between the two, which can sometimes even appear inverted, but which over a longer timescale, and over a larger geopolitical area, necessarily see the laws of economy reasserted.
From: Russia in the Great Revolution and in Contemporary Society. Turin Interfederal Report, Sitting I, in Il Programma Comunista, 1956/12.
«American Abolitionist Revolution.
«We have already had cause to reflect upon the American national revolution of the late 17th Century. Marx drew a parallel between this war of independence, which he called the signal for the French-European revolution which straddled the two centuries, and the war of secession between the Northern and Southern States, which he expected to signal a proletarian social movement in Europe, but which didn’t happen due to the wars of 1866-71.
«The war fought by the New England colonies to free themselves from the English was a war of independence but can’t really be considered a national revolutionary war like those in Europe, in Italy and Germany, etc. The racial factor was lacking insofar as the colonies were composed of mixed nationalities, although mainly that of the metropolitan State, and it was above all economic and commercial factors which prompted them to seek political emancipation.
«Much less can such a war be said to be a bourgeois revolution, insofar as capitalism didn’t arise in America out of local feudal or dynastic forms – there was no aristocracy or clergy to speak of there – and on the other hand the country it rose up against, England, had been completely bourgeois since the 16th-17th Century, when it had radically overthrown feudalism.
«The theory of class struggle, and that of the historical series of analogous modes of production which all human societies go through, should never be conceived of as banal and formalised symmetries; they should never be applied before arriving at an ‘Engelsian’ understanding of how to deploy dialectics.
«Always when referring to North American independence the Marxist school repeatedly noted how pre-1789, still feudal France, sympathised in a very concrete way with the rebellion against capitalist England; which had to then compensate itself by joining the anti-revolutionary coalitions, finally winning at Waterloo with the feudal Holy Alliance.
«In the case of the Civil War of 1861-65 the factors at stake aren’t national liberty or even race in any significant sense. The Northern States fought to abolish the enslavement of Negroes which was diffused throughout the South and defended by it, but it wasn’t a rebellion of the Negroes, who for the most part fought in the Southern formations alongside their masters. It wasn’t a case of a rebellion of slaves launched to abolish the slavery-based mode of production, which would then be succeeded by the aristocratic form with serfdom in the countryside and the free artisan in the towns. There is nothing in it comparable to the great historic transition between these two modes of production, which occurred at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire and with the rise of Christianity and the barbarian invasions, both of which were conducive to the abolition, in law, of the ownership of human beings.
«In America the industrial bourgeoisie didn’t conduct a social and revolutionary war to wrest power from a feudal aristocracy, which had never existed in America, but in order to provide for a transition from forms of production which were extremely backward compared to the form from which bourgeois society historically has arisen: it wanted to replace production carried out on the basis of slave labour with wage labour, or with artisans and free peasant farmers, whereas the European bourgeoisies had only needed to fight to eliminate serfdom, much more modern and less backward than slavery.
«This shows that a class is not “predestined” to carry out one specific task in the transition from one social form to another. The American bourgeoisie didn’t have to devote its energies to abolishing feudal privileges and serfdom, but had to liberate society from a more backward form based on slavery.
«There is in this example an analogy with the task of Russian proletarian class, which wasn’t to pass from the capitalist to the socialist form, but to clear the way for historical transition before that, for the jump from feudal despotism to mercantile capitalism; without this impacting detrimentally on the doctrine of the class struggle between wage earners and capitalists, and of the succession of the socialist to the capitalist form, through the efforts of the modern wage earning class.
«The landowners in the South were beaten in the 1865 revolution by the industrial bourgeoisie, even though more backward in historical terms than the feudal nobles because they were slave owners, and though more modern than them because a mercantile social network already existed. The Northern bourgeoisie didn’t hesitate to take on the ‘regurgitated’ task of liberating the slaves, which had been absolved elsewhere by very different classes; by the feudal and Germanic knights, or by the apostles of Judea.
«It may be objected that this historical tidying up operation didn’t leave the capitalists in the North with any further revolutionary tasks to perform. But if the South were to have won the Civil War, which was not beyond the realms of possibility, then on the one hand the task would still have remained for the future, and on the other, the bursting out of American capitalism as it headed towards becoming world super power would have been very different».
The Working Class and the War of Independence
[Map of British colonies in 1774]
It isn’t the object of this work to describe the War of Independence fought by the thirteen colonies which were later unified in the United States of America; a war which Americans call a ‘Revolution’, although in fact it was a civil war which did very little to revolutionise the system of production, apart from redistributing to the wealthiest section of the American bourgeoisie the profits which had previously been due to the Crown. It is worth however sketching out the main features of an event which changed the political landscape, and which over the ensuing decades would therefore influence the character of the North American worker’s movement.
The urban bourgeoisie, by now definable as autochthonous, was less and less prepared to allow the possibilities for expansion of the internal market to be mutilated by British colonialism, which had imposed a monopoly on trade, making the purchase of its own goods obligatory and blocking the development of indigenous manufacturing in order to reduce competition with its own industries (with some productive activities expressly forbidden, like hat making). England was the only permitted export destination for American commodities, which also had to be transported there on English ships. Imports, whether from England or elsewhere, could only arrive via English ports. From 1763 settlements to the west of the Appalachians were prohibited (which infuriated the Southern planters) and in 1764 the minting of money and the founding of local banks was forbidden (which increased pressure on the Northern merchants).
These restrictions on the local economy, which caused low pay and frequent bouts of unemployment, also impacted naturally enough on the proletariat. In the ensuing years, following England’s victory over France in the battle for supremacy in North America, the Crown, in order to offset the enormous debts it had occurred as a consequence of the war wouldn’t hesitate to impose a range of taxes, and these would hit everyone to a certain extent. Thus the English would unite the different classes in their resentment towards the mother country, with the notable exception of the colonial aristocracy, of course, who had more to fear from the people than from higher taxes.
From thence arose the continuous friction which would eventually lead to the Colonies rebelling against the mother country. There was no need in America for an economic and social upheaval to clear the way for a new mode of production; there was just the English bourgeoisie’s need to suffocate at birth any competition in the realm of commerce and industrial production. The battle was between two bourgeoisies, but obviously once it had got started it was difficult to be sure just where such a wide-ranging rebellion might lead. However, from a social point of view, the conditions that might have justified a major clash between the classes didn’t really exist, as shown by the fact that the franchise was quite widespread in the Colonies even before the war, although not amongst the workers, nor amongst the small landed proprietors. Neither was there much social conflict to speak of, the sole exception being Pennsylvania perhaps. Almost everywhere the workers constituted such a small percentage of the population that a revolution was unthinkable; and in the countryside, if the slaves in the South are excluded, the figure of the agricultural labourer was virtually non-existent. The bourgeoisie, on the other hand, had already carried out their revolution in the previous century, in England.
The citizen-soldier who formed the basis of the continental army was a peasant farmer, and indeed more than 90% of the colonials made a living off the land at the time of the war; but already a glimpse of the future could be seen in the cities. As commercial and trading centres, the ports of the North and South could boast a social structure that was much more varied than the countryside. In particular, there had developed the classes of free and of impoverished labourers, who often lived a hand to mouth existence. Out of 100 male workers in a typical big port, 15 were forced labourers in some form or another (slaves or servants), 25 were sailors and 40 artisans; another 5 made a living from various trades such as merchants, shopkeepers, officials and those in the professions. Then there were the women, who in the cities were already working outside the home in large numbers and in low paid, unskilled jobs. More or less everyone was paid in cash. But in the cities the general framework was now in place, and besides all the other urban activities and the presence of the wealthy classes, there also existed a large number of people who didn’t work and who lived a precarious existence on the margins of society: vagabonds, beggars, fugitive servants and slaves, widows and orphans, thieves and prostitutes, all of whom now constituted a good third of the urban population.
The artisans, the most important component of the city population, frequently educated, and proud of their craft and social position, didn’t welcome the Crown’s attempts to regulate the colonial economy, a process which was intensified after the Seven Years war (known in America as the French and Indian War) ended in 1763, and which provoked a severe depression in the cities in the early seventies. They were joined in their opposition to the mother country by the sailors, the Dockers and all the professions linked to the sea and the shipyards. More and more, these workers were to be found lounging in the taverns while the American ships rotted, empty, in the docks.
It was therefore the workers in the urban centres who would be the most active in the disturbances of the revolutionary period. The sailors in particular were full of resentment towards the Crown because of the atrocious way they were treated by the Royal Navy; most of them having been recruited with a bang on the head. They would form a subversive multi-ethnic and multi-racial force which was connected along the length and breadth of the Atlantic coast. The workers often had to cope with the pressure of competition from soldiers seeking work in their spare time, and that, incidentally, would be precisely what caused the first bloody confrontation, the so-called “Boston Massacre”. At other times they were forced to toil on military works for starvation wages. Probably the view was widespread amongst the workers that they would benefit from the reduction in imports connected to the dispute with the mother country: there would be more work; a prediction which in fact proved correct.
And yet the aggregations that played a determining role in spurring on the undecided strata of the bourgeoisie towards rebellion, the “Sons of Liberty”, were actually interclassist bodies, composed of artisans, skilled workers, small traders, shopkeepers and professionals, and in certain cases small farmers. As usual, it was the bourgeois intellectuals who provided the leadership, but often they merely articulated the mood of the lower classes, and in any case they were well aware that of all the various components of the rebellion it was the workers who were the most dependable. These radicals, mainly from Boston, made links with the artisans and the workers via a network of taverns, and artisans’ and mutual aid societies, disseminating a political vision which encompassed the opinions of the poorer classes, and anticipating the legitimate participation of artisans and workers in political activity. The middle and upper strata of the urban bourgeoisie, and of course the big landowners, were on the other hand far from convinced of the need for struggle and, as partners, they were never to be trusted, distributed as they were across the two warring camps. It is worth recalling that women were also active in the struggle, forming what was probably the first auxiliary corps in history, the “Daughters of Liberty”.
Groups arose which supported the “Sons of Liberty” amongst the workers in Ireland and England; they urged the rebels to persevere in their boycotting of English imports, even if major unemployment in England was the possible result.
During the first half of the 1770s, workers and artisans took advantage of the weakness and indecision of the bourgeoisie and conquered strong positions for themselves; something which for members of their class was unthinkable until then. In cities like New York, Philadelphia and Charleston, the workers’ representatives participated, on a par with the planters and the bourgeoisie, in the political organs that gradually filled the power vacuum left by the English. It was a phenomenon which took various forms, and spread to the rest of the colonies. In Boston, workers, artisans and peasants formed an association which managed to take over the city government. The merchants of the city complained that “at these meetings the lowest mechanicks discuss upon the most important points of government with the utmost freedom”. In Philadelphia, too, the “mechanicks” succeeded in expressing their strength and in 1770 held the first political meeting specifically reserved for the members of their class. In 1772 they organised a party, the Patriotic Society, to promote their candidates and their programme. By the middle of 1776, the “mechanicks” controlled the city.
After the Boston Massacre, in which the five people killed by the English soldiers were two sailors, a ropewalk worker, an apprentice and an artisan (emblematically it seems it was the coloured sailor, Crispus Attucks, half Black and half American Indian, who led the unarmed revolt) the watchword of the artisans/workers’ organisations was ‘arm for the inevitable conflict’. This meant the formation of a militia (the famous ‘Minute Men’), the gathering of arms and munitions, military training and, in the cities where English troops were stationed, the creation of a highly effective espionage system.
The first battles at Lexington and Concord, in 1775, were actually won thanks to the prompt mobilisation of the Minute Men, equipped with information about troop movements via their spy network. Following the news of the victorious battle, insurgents immediately took control of New York City, and the same happened in many other cities in the centre and South. Each time it was the Sons of Liberty who took the active role whilst the bourgeoisie tended to present the rebellion as a request, with weapons in hand, for reparation of wrongs suffered. It was the workers’ component of the rebellion which supported the most radical leaders (Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine, Christopher Gadsden) and got them to pronounce decisively for independence. Paine was convinced that it wasn’t possible to both remain faithful to George III and preserve liberty; independence would generate a democratic form of government and make America “an asylum for mankind” and “a haven of refuge for the oppressed peoples of the world”: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again”.
Despite the resistance of the bourgeois conservatives, who didn’t want the struggle to lead to independence, the Committee of mechanics in New York instructed its delegates to vote for independence at the Continental Congress; and, in the home of a bricklayer called Graaf, Thomas Jefferson would draw up the historic Declaration of Independence. The Congress assembled in Philadelphia was however slow to take up the demand for independence; a hesitation which didn’t depend so much on any residual loyalist scruples, but rather on the presence of the popular armed masses, which had started to administer sound thrashings to the English troops. What would replace British despotism? Would the rich merchants sitting in Congress be able to continue enriching themselves, or was the way being cleared to anarchy and the rule of the lower orders? In fact, the Massachusetts masses had created an army, and Congress was asked to adopt it. Yes, but who would lead it? The solution came with the nomination of a Southern slave-holder, George Washington, who although a man of little military experience nevertheless managed to reassure the landowners, slave-holders and rich merchants; and to set their minds at rest regarding the peril of a social revolution and assaults on their property.
As the war spread, mobilisation would increasingly extend to the countryside and the hold of the propertied classes fatally increased. The working class and the artisans were strong in the cities but on the scale of the country as a whole they only constituted a small minority, and their political clout was bound to be reduced. But their decisiveness in the early stages was fundamental in propelling the ‘revolution’ towards Independence.
The workers willingly enrolled in the continental army and their class was the most highly represented within it; the inducement held out to the indentured servants was freedom, and if this caused some tension between the masters and the military authorities, such tension was soon alleviated by the compensation paid to the masters for time lost. For the blacks such possibilities didn’t exist. Only in the North were free blacks accepted into the army, although only after much prevaricating, and in general they acquitted themselves very honourably. Many Southern States on the other hand forbade their enrolment.
This was the colonies’ weak point, particularly of those in the centre and South, and it didn’t take the English long to exploit it. In November 1775, Lord Dunmore, Governor of Virginia, officially granted freedom to the slaves and servants of rebels who put themselves at the disposal of the English army. This certainly wasn’t because the English were in any way progressive, as evidenced by the fact that loyalist slave-holders would be insured against their slaves escaping, a prospect which meanwhile terrified the rebels, who nicknamed George III the “King of the negroes”. In fact all a proprietor needed to do to ensure that his escaped slaves would be returned was to declare he was on the side of the King.
Despite this, despite the ignorance and isolation of the great mass of slaves, the number of escape attempts multiplied over the course of the war, and tens of thousands of men, women and children – basically anyone capable of pointing a gun – presented themselves at the army quarters of Her Britannic Majesty. It is calculated that out of the 567, 000 blacks, both slaves and freemen, estimated to be living in the colonies at the outbreak of the war, around 100,000 presented themselves in this way: a real exodus which would have certain repercussions. And these in fact were only a small proportion of the slaves which had abandoned the plantations. Others had died in the attempt or been recaptured by the rebel troops. Not many were put to death, because the fact of the matter was they were still valuable merchandise.
Of those who reached the English lines, many died of hardship, mainly succumbing to illnesses encouraged by the terrible conditions in which they were held. When the English army abandoned Chesapeake Bay, only 300 out of the 2,000 blacks previously welcomed were still alive and capable of departing. And what is more, since the English had no vested interest in whether the ex-slaves died or not, they treated them even worse than the old masters: extremely hard work in conditions that no white would have tolerated, meagre rations, and horrible living conditions were their lot. Only very few of them were issued with weapons, although when given the opportunity they fought extremely well. How the English viewed the blacks became clear during the siege of Yorktown in 1781. Between 4,000 and 5,000 slaves had given Cornwallis their backing in the hope of earning their liberty. The siege meant there were serious food shortages, but instead of the remaining rations being divided up fairly amongst everybody, the slaves were given the food that had gone off; the putrid meat and the worm-holed biscuits. When even that was gone, the blacks were driven into no-man’s-land between the English and rebel barricades. And once they reached the rebel lines, what became of them then? The fact is, that rarely happened, because the greater part of these poor wretches died of hunger and illness, dragging themselves back and forth between the opposing armies who competed at keeping them at bay. Thus the black slaves who had fought in the great “Revolution”, for liberty and all the other principles that fill the history books, could only conclude that liberty certainly wasn’t on the agenda for them.
Apart from a few staunch patriots, the wealthy bourgeoisie didn’t contribute much to the war at all. They were more concerned to risk as little as possible and make sure they found themselves on the winning side. Indeed, as is their custom, merchants and manufacturers would continue to conduct a roaring trade during the war, angering even Washington himself who called them “murderers of our cause”.
Estimates of the forces on the two fronts differ quite substantially. According to one reliable estimate, a fifth of the colonists were actively opposed to the patriots. John Adams instead divided the population into thirds, and estimated one was in favour, one against and one neutral. The revolutionary leaders baptised these fellow citizens with the name “Tories” to emphasise their aristocratic origins and also to make the war of independence more resemble a popular uprising. But loyalism in general derived not so much from class interests as from complex social considerations, with often those who belonged to a minority remaining faithful to Great Britain. In New England, for example, the Anglicans, who were victimised and discriminated against by the Congregationalists, remained close to the Crown, whilst in New York and in Pennsylvania it was mainly the ethnic minorities, menaced by the rigidity of the protestant culture of English derivation, who defended the government in London. The political alignments also reflected wider tensions within the social structure. In the colony of New York the tenant farmers were against the idea of revolution insofar as their masters, the aristocrats and big landowners, had sided with the rebels. Similarly the smallholders in the west of North Carolina, who were unhappy with the conduct of that colony’s officials, and who had rebelled against them in the previous decade, protested by taking a loyalist stance. Even in the South there was no lack of planters ready to defend “liberty” whilst their slaves, in the rare cases they could make a choice, took the part of the English.
But remaining neutral would become increasingly difficult in what had effectively become a civil war, and many were forced to choose which side they would fight for. In fact, the forces in play would remain throughout more or less in a state of equilibrium. Washington, in any case, never had more than 20,000 troops at his disposal, and at certain points it was a mere 5,000. Both sides used the native Americans, who however tended to support the English, and with good cause. The rebels had to repress the loyalists by every means, thereby contradicting the very “liberty” they claimed to be defending (ironically it was actually the Sons of Liberty who were at the forefront of this repression): those not on the side of the revolution were traitors, subject to oppression, sequestrations, deportation, and imprisonment, whereas the English didn’t make provision for the same crime, although from a legal point of view they would have had a certain justification, seeing as how it was a case of their subjects rebelling. A large number of Americans therefore had Independence imposed upon them against their will, and hundreds of thousands would head for England; or to Canada, where after the war ended they would form the English speaking component of that country.
In a situation where the opposing armies were more or less in a state of equilibrium, the advantage the continental army had was the ease with which it could replace casualties and deserters, and also the fact it could engage in a guerrilla war. The English could only find replacements for their troops with great difficulty, and, considering their distance from the mother country, at great expense. The victory was only in small part due to the patriots, devoted to the cause though they undoubtedly were. On several occasions the continental army risked possible annihilation, and continued to exist only thanks to the help of France and Spain, who saw the war as a convenient way of bleeding the old enemy. It was the arms and provisions supplied by the French which allowed the victory at Saratoga (1777), not to speak of the victory at Yorktown (1781), in which a determining role was carried out by the French land troops and naval blockade which enabled the capitulation of Cornwallis’s troops.
Even if American society at this time was composed mainly of the petty and micro bourgeoisie, the bulk of the army was made up of proletarians, and it was their spilled blood which was the price of Independence. When a law was enacted in Connecticut making conscription obligatory for all men between 16 and 60 years old, excluded from its provisions were officials, priests, students and professors of Yale, blacks, those of mixed race, and native Americans. Those who were able to find a substitute, or who could pay five pounds sterling, were also exempt. And “Revolutionary” America would have no qualms about reinstating the practice which had aroused so much hatred against England: forced enrolment.
The war didn’t manage to stifle class conflict for long. Soon there was a general and inevitable rise in prices (in Philadelphia they rose by 45% in one month), and proletarians were furious to see the same people who had got out of fighting by paying for substitutes ignoring the laws that fixed commodity prices, whilst taking advantage of the freeze on wages. There were petitions, threatening mass meetings and riots. In Philadelphia sailors struck for an increase in wages and troops were called in to crush the protest and jail the strikers. This was nothing new: back in 1777 the militia had been used to repress the movement of the tenant farmers in the Hudson River Valleys (New York), who had taken Independence to mean the appropriation of land from the absentee landlords. But many of the latter, although they were aristocrats, had seen which way the wind was blowing, and after steering a middle course had finally sided with the rebels. And the lands of the loyalists were taken over by “patriotic” businessmen. In 1781 a large contingent on the rebel side, the Pennsylvania Line, mutinied. After having repelled the officers, killing one, they marched on Philadelphia where the Continental Congress, the ruling body of the revolutionary power, was in session. The crisis was resolved thanks to Washington’s cautious approach and the contentious issues, including that of back pay, were resolved.
And yet the revolution was not without social consequences which improved the situation considerably for the proletariat: the enunciation of the principles of individual liberty and equality, even if with limited objectives, had clear implications for the future conditions of slaves and servants. White indentured labour was already in decline, caused by the difficulty of keeping the flow of new arrivals constant; a difficulty which increased every time there was war in Europe.
Slavery was abolished in New England in the years after the war, and prohibited in the territories north of the Ohio River. In the central colonies it disappeared more gradually, but by the beginning of the 19th century only few slaves remained. In the South, of course, where the mass of slaves were concentrated, ‘the peculiar institution’ still remained firmly in place. But there was the feeling that it was nevertheless an abnormality that would soon have to be put right.
The sale of the great estates of the loyalists didn’t represent, as might have been expected, an agricultural reform. On the contrary, they were distributed amongst the magnates who headed the new federal State, who, as well as considerably enriching themselves, now had land they could rent out.
Apart from a few nobles who stolidly maintained their links with the Crown, there weren’t major displacements amongst the American ruling classes after independence was won: George Washington was from the start the richest man in the country, and Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, etc, didn’t lag far behind him. Other progressive measures were the reform of the inheritance laws, a notable extension of suffrage (though not in all States), the abolition of restrictions on landed property, and the westward expansion.
Over the next decades the discontent that originated in the class conflict in the East was channelled westwards, towards the ‘savages’ who were unwilling to surrender their ancestral land without a fight. But even after territories were wrested from them to the West, mainly the strip to the south of the great lakes (from Ohio to Illinois), the settler’s life would not be painless, since they would now become the object of the attention of the great speculators. Those pioneers who did manage to stake their claims had to fight on three fronts: against the Native Americans; against the State which required custom duties and taxes; and against the speculators who got them into debt, and often managed to take their land and convert them into tenants.
Despite the romanticised oleographs of the frontiers, most of the colonists lived on the edge of subsistence, and by the mid 1780s the situation had become explosive. The merchants and wholesalers had been trying to re-establish large-scale commerce with Great Britain, but the English merchants were no longer giving credit and were insisting on payment in cash. The former therefore had to request payment in cash from the retail traders, who in their turn then demanded immediate payment by the smallholders. Along with uprisings in Maryland, South Carolina, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the revolt in Massachusetts, led by the war hero Captain Shay, and other veterans of the War of Independence who had lost their properties due to debts and taxes, served as a wake-up call to the Confederation’s politicians. Samuel Adams would sign off a Riot Act which prohibited all gatherings of more than 12 armed persons, and empowering sheriffs to kill rioters. Thus even Adams, the champion of the right of the people to rebel, would end up by saying: “in monarchies the crime of treason and rebellion may admit of being pardoned or lightly punished, but the man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death". But the local militias would refuse to fire on the rebels, and the so-called Shay’s rebellion was only suppressed by a private army financed by the wealthy merchants of Boston, prefiguring the Pinkertons of the next century. There are undoubtedly certain features of the class struggle in the United States that are distinctly American.
If the Founding Fathers had thought that business would proceed on its way undisturbed if each State attended to its own affairs, then evidently they would have to think again. They would accordingly come to the realization that strong central government was needed to maintain order amongst the rebel slaves, the dissidents and the Native Americans. In 1787 they would have to reconvene at the Constitutional Convention and produce a Constitution which went beyond empty rhetoric and really reflected the interests of the classes which had urged separation from the mother country. Other important measures were those which aimed at preventing new territories from cutting adrift from the thirteen ex-colonies, a prospect which was more than likely given the social and economic situation.
The Constitution, which was approved in 1787, illustrates the complexity of the American system and helps us understand some of its distinctive features as they exist today. Whilst it was designed to defend the interests of a small elite of rich magnates (“Those who own the country ought to govern it” John Jay had said), it didn’t neglect the intermediate classes, such as the artisans, small farmers and professionals, who towards the end of the century formed an ample layer of the population (for example, half the population of New York). These classes formed a buffer, an insulating layer between the big bourgeoisie and the strata of the destitute, and of proletarians and quasi-proletarians: blacks, manual laborers, specialized workers, apprentices, farm laborers, native Americans and poor peasant farmers. In this way, better than in all other capitalist countries at that time, and indeed subsequently, it would be possible to exercise social control with a minimum of force and simply by using the Law, along with an immoderate use of nationalist and patriotic propaganda. Of course this masterpiece of social peace (which would not, however, be entirely without interruptions) was founded on the immense wealth of the country being snatched from the Native Americans, with preparations being made to take it in its entirety in the long run.
At the end of the 18th century it seemed as though the American people were well on their way to social equality, whilst the last vestiges of feudalism, which continued to linger in England, not least the monarchy, had been swept away forever. The great revolutionary slogan – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – hypocritical though it was, was interpreted by proletarians as authorization of their wish for a future of decent wages, bearable working hours, and humane living conditions. And on the other hand the great invention of the America war of independence was precisely the brilliant rhetoric of ‘Liberty’. Every class and every social layer, from the peasant farmers of the Hudson Valley to the coopers of Philadelphia, from the sailors of Boston to the traders in debt to England, from indentured servants thirsty for land to the skilled craftsmen of New York, all of them saw in the achievement of Liberty the solution to all their problems, the opening of a new world of wealth and well-being.
But such would not be the case. In the general transformation of the
society that had arisen after the war the struggle would become more and
more restricted to the two fundamental classes of the capitalist system
of production, the working class and the class of capitalists. The other
components of society were destined to decline, even if at certain times
they would still play an important role.
During May 2011 a leader of the independent trade unions of Egypt went on a speaking tour of Western Europe. Addressing meetings in Spain and Britain, he informed listeners about the recent events in Egypt and the lessons he thought could be learnt from them.
There was a marked difference between the meetings the Egyptian workers’ leader addressed in Spain and those in Britain, perhaps reflecting the motives of those organising the meetings and assisting the Speaker in his travels. This became apparent at the meeting which took place in Liverpool.
In Spain, the Speaker addressed a meeting of young people who had been occupying Squares in protest against unemployment and other social problems. The Spanish youth clearly sympathised with the recent rebellion in Egypt against poor living standards and attacks upon the workers.
The Speaker then travelled to Britain, where he was taken around to speak at various Trade Union conferences. The Public meeting in Liverpool was ‘fitted in’ between these other meetings.
The Speaker pointed to the enthusiasm of the Spanish youth, who wanted to emulate the spirit of the occupiers of Tahrir Square in Cairo, and their determination to protest at their appalling social conditions. The Speaker said he was well received at what must have been a sizeable meeting – the occupation of the Spanish Squares went on for some time and drew a considerable number of protesters.
The interesting feature of the occupations in Spanish Squares was that it took place at Election time. Under election laws such occupations are not legally permitted, with the full weight of political pressure (short of physical violence, which would have had dangerous implications for the Spanish state) being brought to bear on the young protesters. The more that pressure was brought to bear (defending the sanctity of the electoral process) the more the protests spread. This is a good form of Solidarity with the Egyptian workers and their struggles.
In Britain, the Speaker was instead directed instead towards the Trade Union bureaucracy as far as a speaking tour was concerned. On the same day as the Liverpool meeting he spoke at the conference of the Fire Brigades Union (which at least has a history of militancy) but that was that – no involvement of the workers in any form, no sign of mobilising support, linking up struggles, nothing to assist the Egyptian workers at all.
The Liverpool meeting, held at the Adelphi Hotel, was organised by the Egypt Workers Solidarity and was hardly advertised at all (except some notices sent out by email) and was not an attempt to mobilise support for the Egyptian workers. The report-back type of meeting, at which questions only were allowed, was not one which allowed debate or discussion on how solidarity with the Egyptian workers could be expressed and organised. If that had taken place then that might have interfered with the meeting scheduled to take place with the trade union leaders meeting at the Trade Union Congress that weekend.
A member of Egypt Workers Solidarity, the organising body which helped to organise the speaking tour, was first to address the Liverpool Meeting. He was followed by a regional official of the Public and Civil Service [PCS] union, who spoke at length about the attacks on the public sector workers and the possibility of linking the official public sector strikes and holding them on the same day, but no more than that. Certainly nothing about linking struggles at the base, amongst the workers themselves, which would threaten the stranglehold of the trade union bureaucracies and officialdom. He went on the express regret at the poor vote in the recent elections for “anti-capitalist” parties (presumably referring to the mixed-bag of Greens, Respect, and the Scargillites, etc. The programmes of these so-called anti-capitalist parties do little to reflect the economic struggles of the working class, and advocate little more than reform of the capitalist state and its policies. It is little wonder that the mass of workers haven’t bothered to vote for them).
The Egyptian trade union leader then spoke about what had been happening in Egypt. There were lessons to be learnt from the middle-eastern struggles, and the Arab revolution which emerged from the events in Tunisia. The demands for freedom and democracy have been met with tear gas (and other riot control equipment, mainly made in the USA). There are many battles still to be fought. The primary need of the workers is the freedom of association. This issue (the right of workers association) needs the support of workers in other countries. There is also a battle going on between the religious and secular organisation of the state.
There have been statements produced in Arabic about the workers struggles going forward. There are independent unions (independent from state-control), which have been affected by workers’ rights from 2006 onwards, and there have been strikes for socialisation of production. This has helped and encouraged meetings to assist other struggles. The leader of the independent trade union federation has come out against the state-controlled unions. During February there were 600,000 workers on strike. The workers need to go forward to the last station – "revolution": their target are independent unions. The main existing unions had previously been under the control of Nasser & Co.
After a series of questions from the floor, the Speaker expressed the following points. The events in Tahrir Square represented the struggle of all people. There were many women’s organisations involved in the struggles. There is a clear need to go through the process of collective bargaining, then negotiate with the state, and later for a workers party.
Students unions have had a history of being dominated by the state, being controlled by police agents. When this broke down the Muslim Brotherhood moved in to try to take charge. In some Universities students have been able to organise themselves.
Some groups have formed with the goal of protecting the secular aspect of the state.
Under Mubarak, 175 companies were sold off, resulting in 700,000 workers being dismissed/pensioned off, etc.
Independent trade unions need to create links with the grassroots. Forty-four percent of the Egyptian population are below the poverty line. To counter laws against strikes, they need to struggle for collective bargaining on economic issues. The law cannot stop the strikes.
The meeting was concluded by some remarks by the PCS regional official, which certainly did not involve anything more than proposals for some officially organised strikes – which will not threaten the state and the establishment, and probably end up saving on the wages bill.
The next meeting the Speaker would address would be the Trade Union Congress in London the following weekend. There was a lot of publicity about the TUC meeting, but nothing about the Egyptian Speaker’s speech. Perhaps he had a “side-meeting” with some delegates – a separate discussion with some so-called “left-leaning” trade union leaders?
The pride of place for the TUC deliberations would however go to an address by the new Labour Party leader Ed Milliband. Milliband has been spending his time as the new leader trying to define a popular brand for his Party. To make it more attractive to the electorate Milliband has been emphasising the problems faced by the endangered middle (class) – that is people like himself.
From this we can see that class struggle didn’t feature high on the agenda at the TUC, whether that of the Egyptian, or of the British workers. In fact any talk about independent trade unions would be anathema to the TUC, who would certainly aim to frustrate any such development in the UK. The TUC continues to be what it always has been in the past, a pillar of the establishment and of capitalism in general.
The experience of the British leg of the Speaking tour leads to the conclusion that the bad form of solidarity, with and through the trade union bureaucracy, isn’t to be recommended, and hardly constitutes solidarity at all.
Postscript: Letter from Wales
The Mubarak trial is being presented as a part of the process to demonstrate that on the one hand that Egypt is closer towards a “rule of law” more acceptable to the governments in the US and the European Union – not that these Govts. were particularly concerned about such things before the February revolution. It is also presented as a concession to the Egyptian masses who brought about Mubbak’s fall from power. In April, the independent prosecutor ordered the arrest of Mubarak and his sons, Gamal and Alaa; they were charged with corruption and murder As an indication that anything has really changed it’s a fraud. Yes Mubarak may get his just deserts but that is more to do with preserving the power of The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces than anything else. In Cairo’s military courthouse – known as “C-28” it is business as usual. Up to 10,000 civilians have been tried by closed military courts (usually before a single military Judge – not known for their scrupulous attention to the evidence). They have been tried for offences including “thuggery”, assault and threatening the security of the Egyptian State (catch all charges which were employed by the Mubak regime). Many of those tried being protesters and leading activists as well as common criminals and the odd innocent bystander, sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from a few months up to five years.
The February revolution actually came at an opportune moment for the military elite. The tensions between the Military and Mubarak were high. The military control 40% of the Egyptian economy through numerous of companies that manufacture everything from medical equipment to laptops to television sets, and owning and controlling vast tracts of real estate.
At the end of the 1990s, as a part of Mubarak’s ambition to set up a family dynasty, his son Gamal was given an influential position in the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Soon he was privatising large portions of state-owned enterprises, handing them to NDP stalwarts like Ahmed Ezz, who obtained a near monopoly over steel production. (Ezz was one of the first party figures jailed after the revolution). In the process 175 companies were sold off, resulting in 700,000 workers being dismissed / pensioned off, etc.
For the Supreme Council, headed by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, commander in chief of the Egyptian armed forces, they feared their power and influence was being deminished – they cared little about the plight of the workers. Speculation was rife within the military that a coup was on the cards. When protests gathered force in Tahrir Square, the military had more to lose by sticking with the Mubaraks then by bringing them down. Without the revolution-there would have been a crisis. The armed forces were sick of Mubarak’s son and disagreed with the succession plan. They feared that these privatisation schemes would dismantle the military’s enormous business holdings. The only solution open to them was a coup, but that would not be acceptable to their potential allies in Europe and America. That the “people” saved the day and Tantawi being briefly greeted as a hero when he met with anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square (on February 4th) changed all that. His capitalist allies in the US and Europe could hail these developments as progress towards “freedom and democracy”. During February there were 600,000 workers on strike and herein lies the real fears of the Egyptian military and there capitalist allies. The power of organised working class action to carry the protests further to proletarian revolution. The military were desperate to take the momentum out of the protests. Proclamations were issued pledging that the military “will not take over power” in Egypt. Announced a plan to budget $20 million for a “centre for health and social care” for “the families of martyrs of the 25th of January,” as well as those injured during the protests. The most recent proclamation, which followed the late June clashes in Tahrir Square between protesters and security police, condemned the violence but carefully avoided blaming pro-democracy activists. The culprits, the council declared, were “dark forces... who have no excuse but the destruction of the national security and the stability of Egypt.” Proposals for an early election was rejected by most in the pro-democracy movement as a ploy to give the Muslim Brotherhood the upper hand electorally. Protesters were now saying the military were turning the revolution into a coup, “The soldiers are with the people,” but “The leaders are not.”
On July 8th, unable to stem the protests, it was announced that Mubarak would stand trial. The previous day the Judicial Investigation Commission, an independent office set up by the military prosecutor, had announced that another two dozen onetime civilian officials and allies of Mubarak would face murder and attempted murder charges. The announcement was widely seen as an effort to neutralize protest. But the crowds, if nowhere near the size of those that gathered at the height of the revolution, still extended to the edges of Tahrir Square. (Observers would later put the turnout to about 80,000.)
The military are desperate to hold on to executive power and the only people who they can hope to do a deal with are the Muslim Brotherhood. Such an alliance would mean increased repression of working class organisations and trade union activities.
The British TUC supports progress towards “Freedom and Democracy” and to prove it are as usual willing to report on the courageous history of Trade Union history in Egypt – Equating it with another step forward for “Freedom and Democracy” the fall of the Berlin wall. Saying: “Around the same time as the Berlin Wall was coming down Abbas, then a young welder, found himself the ringleader of an ’illegal’ strike by 17,000 workers over pay and conditions at a large steelworks in the southern Cairo neighbourhood of Helwan”.
The response of the state was massive repression. They sent in 5,000
soldiers who used live and rubber bullets as well as tear gas. One person
was killed – Abdelhai Suleiman. Fifteen more were injured and more than
600 arrested and jailed.” Which is all very well as background notes
but no mention of the strike waves in Egypt or any call for support. All
they can do is contribute towards the setting up of an office for the The
International Trade Union Confederation in Cairo.
As far as Marxism is concerned, to treat the crisis of the European Monetary Union as though it were just an, admittedly severe, regional financial crisis which is being experienced by a group of European States, and which was triggered by the already “technically bankrupt” Greece, this is a reading of the facts and their causes that only does not explain what is happening, but does not even identify the increasing tendency to bring forward ever more extreme solutions to the general crisis that eventually broke out in 2009 in the heart of financial capitalism, the United States of America; a crisis which, having been stanched with the most incredible example of the acquisition of private debt the history of capitalism has ever known by transmuting it into public debt, has dragged on, through its various highs and lows, up to the present day.
The apparent stabilisation in 2010 was accompanied by loud declarations that the crisis was over, that the revival was ‘just around the corner’, that the figures all indicated growth. The finance markets, bringing much comfort to the saver-speculating public, extolled the re-ascent of the stock market figures, previously heavily in the red, as a sign of spectacular growth to come, a growth set at half last year’s increase and defined as “relatively robust” by the president of the European Central Bank. And this was all accompanied by a relentless optimism, and relentless talk about having had a ‘lucky escape’, because the crisis was passing.
But in fact the crisis, not only in its financial but above all in its productive components, is not only far from being over but is clearly and very definitely still with us, even if not in as violent and obvious a form as over the past two years.
Apparently something is different, is manifesting in a different way, and the underlying problems, still totally unresolved, downplayed and brushed under the carpet, are all focalised in Europe, as an expression not just of political unity – by now totally broken down and contradictory – but above all of monetary unity.
It is therefore relevant, in the light of the Greek affair in particular and regarding Europe under the single currency in general, to cast some light on the clash going on in the financial field, which is as ruthless and vicious as if a war was going on, although it hasn’t reached that stage, yet.
From the moment the Euro appeared on the scene it was a potential alternative to the financial might of the Dollar; it was the financial expression of a group of States, crisis ridden and weak as a unitary form, but powerful in terms of future potential and of the sum of the productive capacities of the individual countries belonging to the Union. However, this was a false indicator. As we are seeing now, and as in fact was pointed out at the time, there is an underlying weakness: financial power and political power are not separate from each other but are indissolubly conjoined at State level. This was a well-known fact, and Marxism has no need to disagree. It was said that Europe was an economic giant – which later events would prove wrong – but a political dwarf – which perhaps wasn’t quite correct, at least as far as some of its component States is concerned.
The devastating events of the past two years have shown that only those who can impose their will at a political level can hope to resist for longer by imposing their decisions, their plans on the others. The Europe of the Euro hasn’t had sufficient time to move beyond the phase of monetary to political structuring. With hindsight all are now aware that that is never going to happen and the Utopia of a United States of Europe was, and remains, a petty bourgeois chimera.
Restricted within the orbit of small scale politics, conducted mainly at the national level by the component states, European unity on the monetary level is becoming ever weaker and its future less and less certain.
It seems a long time ago that China, the main holder of the United States public debt, seemed about to shift to investing in the Euro, which appeared, because of the difficulties being faced by the Dollar, as a currency strong enough currency to possibly guarantee the US currency. And this, very broadly, is the central factor in the conflict that is currently underway.
To concentrate on the vicissitudes of the Euro, or of the financial and political disaster of a group of States that have subscribed to the Euro, is however to lose sight of the overall framework of this crisis; which hasn’t shifted from the Western centre of Europe towards the middle, but has simply encountered, during this particular phase, the serious weakness of a monetary form which isn’t supported by a unitary continental State. At the present moment the USA, China, Europe, the emerging States and Russia are each going through the crisis in ways that reflect their own characteristics, and in relation to their respective points of departure when it broke out; but none are unaffected, or can be said to be immune from the consequences.
This umpteenth breakdown is happening in a specifically defined area, and for now it favours the interests of the world’s biggest imperialism, which is keen to draw attention to the Euro’s plight and take every possible advantage to ensure its own supremacy and own survival: even if, or rather especially if, it is at its ‘competitors’ expense.
The pernicious machinery of finance, and especially the banking sector in which the “private” clearly prevails over the collective interest, also concurs in this process. The European banks, due to the great amount of money available, linked to the second mandate consenting to a loan from the FED, have for some time been financing themselves in dollars then exchanging the Dollars for Euros, accumulating liquidity and keeping the exchange rate with the Dollar low: essentially the German, French and English banks this is. The “strong” part of the Euro zone sees this tactic as a way of maintaining a substantial base of monetary liquidity if Greece’s bankruptcy should cause a domino effect throughout the weaker areas. This however causes a weakening on the “home front”, that is, it is the same “strong” Europe’s banking system which is abandoning the European front. The United States currency is kept at a low exchange rate which favours precisely the United States, which stand to gain most if the European plan runs aground.
And yet from a certain point of view the tactic has a definite goal. Clearly global finance is expecting further chaos, maybe another two years of deepening recession: it is compelled to “accumulate munitions” to try and counter the new impending disaster. With financial followed by an economic war being the prospect in view, the weaker partners, Greece followed by the others, all those who would get in the way of mounting an all-out defence, all those likely to succumb in the face with the violent struggle to come, will have to be abandoned. This would sanction the closing down of the European Central Bank, glutted with junk State-bonds, and consequently the ending of the monetary union. A decision along these lines, after a month of doubts, hesitations and initiatives costing billions, is assuming corporeal form despite the ‘policy makers’ mounting a last ditch resistance. It is therefore no accident that the specialised press in Germany, and the great economic theoreticians in the United States, are continuing to ram home the message about the need to let Greece fail, and to put a stop to a European currency “open to all of its States”.
But the bankruptcy of Greece will only be the first act in the shake-up of the financial system.
At the beginning of June, 14 months after Greece’s first official bail-out, with the economic and financial indicators continuing to show a steady decline, the ‘policy makers’ hypothesized getting the French and German banks involved to underwrite a new issue of public bonds, in other words to refinance the Greek debt with a further loan, thus extending the deadline for repayment, and having recourse therefore to “private” intervention – as they like to call it. The European Central Bank doesn’t agree with this scheme: in 2009, after the flaring up of the financial component of the crisis had already shown how much ‘creative’ accounting was going into balancing the public debit, it made major interventions to alleviate the debt situation in Portugal and Ireland; and in 2010 it managed the rescue package for Greece which drained the French and German banks of a major part of their credit to the Greek State.
That first massive payout involved certain conditions which hit the Greek people extremely hard. Wages went down, unemployment went up, growth and investments were drastically reduced. But the debt would still go up instead of going down, and the interventions had clearly worsened the situation.
Also not of much use was the lowering of the rate of interest on repayments of the 2010 loan, and the extension of the repayment deadline – tantamount in itself to a declaration of “semi-bankruptcy”. In the Spring of 2011 another loan would be required. A plan to raise 100 billion Euro, eventually not considered enough, and then 120 billion would be put forward, with the figure hypothetically broken down into 60 billion from the EU and IMF, 30 from “private” sources, and 30 from “privatisations”.
For the ECB, the plan risks generating losses of interest on the 45 billion bought back from the banks.
The decision doesn’t materialise: come the 11th June and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, after a long, awkward and uncertain phase, makes the peremptory assertion that Greece must be “saved” in order to prevent an even worse crisis than the one in 2009 triggered by the failure of Lehman Brothers; a crisis which would spread to the entire global economy, and thus affect Germany as well.
If an economic system, the Greek one, whose gross national product makes up 0.5% of the gross global product, really does threaten, in the case of bankruptcy – that is, the inability to honour its debt, or even just the interest on that debt – to induce a financial crisis like the one in 2008-9, then whoever makes such a claim would either be aiming either to induce a panic and destabilisation, and from a head of State this would hardly be expected, or else the general conditions of the financial system have really reached the point where an economic system’s sheer magnitude no longer counts when it comes to evaluating systemic risks, in a world that lives and works in a morass of paper symbols and fictitious values. Maybe the pressure of dealing with this worrying and critical situation has given Frau Merkel a glimpse of this terrible truth.
At the end of June these ‘policy’ declarations had once again been overtaken by events, rendered redundant by the European financial crisis. The risk will have to be run of a collapse, which seems inevitable if the rescue package policy is continued.
To alleviate the pressure of the debt – and of the interests on the debt – there is talk, off the record, of a return to the drachma. The effective devaluation which would be the result could restore economic equilibrium by balancing the prices of imports and exports. Even if, we add, it could open up the prospect of a Weimar Republic type scenario: but that would the people’s problem.
It’s just an idea that’s floating around at the moment, and won’t come to anything as long as other official voices still ring out in Europe, but financial and economic theoreticians are already starting to examine the prospect of the ending of the Euro as the general currency of the European bloc.
The immediate future for Greece and maybe for other countries in the Eurozone seems marked out. But then it will be the turn of the others, of the “productive” juggernauts, with Germany to the fore, whose “strength” and “integrity”, will be put sorely to the test. In the war that is already underway there won’t be any winners, not even the strong States that are the main influence on the fate of Europe and the World.
There will be no recovery, no salvation because the capitalist crisis will not permit it. Within the capitalist system no means exists, no financial alchemy that can save any country, let alone little Greece, from the precipice of deflation, i.e., devaluation, “spending deficits” and monetary austerity to declare bankrupt whoever can’t honour their debt.
And of course it will be the proletariat throughout the world which
will take the brunt of it all; especially if unable to stop another world
war, which would temporarily nullify all accounting in a massive bankruptcy-regeneration
of the universe of capital.
On June 15 the Greek workers took to the streets in the third general strike this year to oppose the new austerity measures of the Pasok government, which has been taken by the scruff of its neck by the Central European Bank. The latest austerity plan involves further cuts to salaries and pensions, and massive layoffs in the public sector.
The Greek workers are to be forced to make further drastic sacrifices, to make sure the ‘coupon cutters’ and the banks can go on accumulating profits, and to ensure the bourgeois State can keep on functioning and maintain its machinery of repression and control over the working class; a machinery, take note, which includes trade unions and the so-called left-wing parties, all of whom feature on the list of providers of services to Capital.
During the demonstration in Athens, the anger against the parties of government and of opposition, against the privileged and corrupt politicians, was clearly shown by the attack on parliament. This provoked a harsh reaction from the police, which didn’t hold back in its use of the riot baton and powers of arrest.
The government, forced to accept the conditions set by the European banks, is in crisis. The parties of the parliamentary left, from the KKE (Communist Party of Greece) to SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) and SYNASPISMOS (Coalition of the Left of Movements and Ecology) are calling for early elections, but this is only to divert the proletariat from its struggle and to drive it into the cul de sac of parliamentary games and the trickery of bourgeois elections.
The Greek workers must put their trust in their own independent organisation of the class struggle; they can expect nothing from new elections or from this farcical parliament.
No bourgeois government is going to defend their interests; not even if the KKE, or any of the other parties of the so-called parliamentary ‘left’, become part of it. Indeed, in moments of grave political crisis it is precisely these parties which become the main defenders of the bourgeois regime. This has been historically demonstrated, once and for all, by the role carried out by social-democracy in Germany in the first twenty years of the 20th century, when it was precisely the social-democrats who took the proletariat into the war and then destroyed the revolutionary communist movement.
The general strike on June 15 was the eleventh general strike since the beginning of 2010. However, the bourgeois regime is equipped to resist this limited type of mobilisation by now, on the one hand using the police to contain protesters in the square, and on the other by ‘engaging in dialogue’ with unions and opposition parties, with a view to reaching new agreements only to then regularly question them and water them down as the weeks go by.
The Greek trade unions, whether the Adedy, the GSEE or the Pame, are not class unions prepared to do what it takes defend the general interests of the proletariat. They are instead inextricably linked to the opportunist, bourgeois parties, and rather than stimulating the struggle to defend the proletariat’s living and working conditions, especially of its weakest and most exploited members, it instead contains the struggle and puts a break on it.
What the trade union organisation should be doing is working unreservedly to ensure the unity of the working class, in order to overcome the contrast between workers in the private and public sectors, between permanent and contract workers, between old and young, between those in work and the unemployed, between indigenous and immigrant workers. If the working class rebuilds its unity on the plane of economic defence it can win, if it doesn’t it will lose.
For independent proletarian organisation
The generous struggle of the Greek proletariat against the government’s and bosses anti-proletarian measures will cause the more combative and determined proletarians to reflect that it is not a matter of fighting against one party or one government because the enemy is the capitalist regime, in its entirety; and to do that the first priority is working to forming class organisations capable of ensuring that workers’ day to day interests will be protected. But besides that, they will also have to reconnect with the historic programme of the emancipation of the proletariat from wage labour: the programme of revolutionary and internationalist communism.
The ‘strong medicine’ which the Greek government is trying to get ‘its’ proletarians to swallow, these austerity measures, they are in fact the same being applied in all the advanced capitalist States. Today, the bourgeois is forcing the proletariat to shed more blood, sweat and tears as its tries to cure the malady which, cancer like, is gnawing away at the capitalist organism from within: the world crisis of over production, caused by the falling rate of profit. Tomorrow, it will try and get proletarians to kill each other on the battle fronts, as it attempts to give another, new, horrible lease of life to this decrepit system, as happened before in 1914 and 1939.
There is nothing more that can be done within this system of production; there can be no capitalism which is less corrupt, and more just and more respectful of people and the natural environment: the scrabble for ever greater profits doesn’t tolerate rules and, as it heads blindly into the future, it could end up by destroying humanity itself...
The rejection of the capitalist regime has to be total, and it has to be revolutionary.
Proletarians! Reconnect with the genuine programme of revolutionary
left communism. Join the International Communist Party!
We return to the social situation in Greece to comment on the so-called 48 hour general strike of the 28th and 29th June 2011 which was called by the three main trade unions, namely, the GSEE, which organizes workers in the private and state sector, the Adedy, which organizes public servants, and the Pame, the union linked to the Greek ‘Communist’ party, the KKE.
The strike was called to prevent Parliament from voting through the new austerity plan, imposed by the European Union as the condition for obtaining a new tranche of the famous maxi loan, which will supposedly prevent the Greek State from going bankrupt but which will not only force the Greek workers, after the major sacrifices it has already made, to accept a further worsening in its living and working conditions, but also entail a further rise in the already high levels of unemployment, mainly amongst young people, and hit pensioners, the majority of whom are already only just surviving on the miserable amounts they are getting now.
During the two-day strike various demonstrations in cities throughout Greece were scheduled to take place, above all in Athens. Processions in the capital were expected to converge on the Piazza Sintagma, just across from Parliament. Here, for over a month, there has been an encampment of a few hundred “aganaktismeni” (“indignants”), who have been calling for “real” or "direct democracy" and are rebelling against the rule of the banks and the impositions of the European Union. Within this setting the parliamentary majority (Pasok) and opposition (Nea Dimocratia) are accused not only of being dishonest, and of using their public powers to line their own pockets, but of being traitors (of wanting to sell the country to foreigners); this “anti-Europeanist” stance is shared not only by “the indignants” (who refuse to be identified with the political parties and demand an impossible autonomy) but also by a section of the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary right, along with the KKE, SYRIZA and the other small parties that orbit around it as well.
Despite the widespread discontent in the country about the Government’s new restrictive measures, and despite the proclamation of strike which should have allowed workers to take part in the demonstrations, the mobilisation, considering that the numbers taking part in the demonstrations were less than previously, must be counted a total failure.
This failure would have been more visible if the special police corps, the hated MAT hadn’t organised during those two days an out and out and indiscriminate war against the demonstrators. They fired so many tear gas canisters into the crowd that the air across the whole of the Piazza Sintagma was unbreathable, and deployed squads of motorcycle cops to rough up the few thousand demonstrators who had dared to take to the streets, and who for their part were completely disorganised.
Using the excuse of wanting to clear the few thousand demonstrators out of the Piazza Sintagma, the police used highly excessive force, deploying at least 5,000 officers and Inundating the city centre with toxic gases. The only opposition they met with was from some small, well organised groups of anarchist, who equipped with masks and sunglasses, and batons as well, tried to hold their positions as well as from some other demonstrators who were trying to reacted against the police brutality. On Wednesday alone 2,200 tear gas canisters were discharged and on the following day they were forced to obtain further supplies from Salonika. Over the ensuing days, with money suddenly no object, the arms manufacturers received an 800,000 euro order for more canisters, showing that the police are expecting further, and more serious, demonstrations to come. Agents provocateurs were also clearly in evidence, i.e., police officers dressed as rioters busily going around smashing things up. Among them were some fascists who pretended rioters. Some film clips, a few actually televised, would catch these “awful” protestors sidling over and quietly chatting to the police before then heading off to chuck stones and break windows.
What was clearly evident was that the two main trade unions, along with the KKE and its union (Pame), were working to ensure the demonstrations failed; on the second day of the strike the Pame withdrew from the rally at Syntagma square and melted way as soon as the police fired the first volley of tear gas, whilst the other unions didn’t even take part. What is more, all the means of public transport apart from the tube were closed down during the two-day strike, and this meant many workers, who mainly live in the outskirts of the city, were prevented from reaching the city centre.
If, as the KKE maintains, there was collaboration between the police and groups of “extremists”, there was also, and much more seriously, collaboration between the higher echelons of government, the repressive apparatus of the State, and the unions and the parties of the so-called opposition, to ensure that the social protests didn’t surpass certain limits. This has become clear from how the Pame and the KKE behaved over the course of the two day mobilisation.
These two days are the umpteenth proof of what democracy is really like under a State that still declares itself to be democratic and which is led by a centre-left government: no toleration of any organised opposition against key decisions of the State, a State which, never so much as now, represents, in a society divided into classes – as Karl Marx wrote – nothing so much as the repressive machinery of the ruling classes. The State has in fact enormously increased its repressive apparatus over recent years. It has extended its control over the parties and trade unions and attentively monitors the press and the other main means of distributing information. And it tolerates dissent only to the extent that it serves to disguise its actual, totalitarian nature.
The Greek State in particular, from the early 1900s onwards, has shown that it will always take the side of the bourgeoisie and the landed proprietors against the working class and its organisations; even the brief “democratic” parenthesis following the dictatorship of the colonels has been merely a collective illusion provoked more by the opening up towards Europe and the sudden increase in family income than by any real change in the relations of power within the State.
The call for “direct" democracy, advanced by the ‘indignants’, is thus a mere illusion and serves only to demonstrate the primitive and reactionary nature of their ideology. In the bourgeois State, particularly during a period of global economic crisis like the one we’re going through at the moment, any “real” democracy is impossible since only the dictatorship of the iron laws of Capital can exist. The elections, the parliamentary game of majority versus the opposition, the so-called “freedom” of the press and of association, all of these are just a farce to delude the proletarian about its real situation: living in a state of subjection to the possessing classes.
The 28th and 29th June will certainly not be remembered in Greece as historic dates: there will be more “plans”, more “measures” and further parliamentary elections. The austerity measures, approved by the small majority at premier George Papandreou’s disposal, are part of the 78 billion euro plan (of which 50 billion euro is to be derived from privatisations and 28 billion from cuts and tax measures) which needed to be approved to allow 12 billion euros to be transferred from the European central bank to the creditor banks of the Hellenic national debt; but we’re talking about only the fifth tranche of a new loan to a country that is on its knees. As the Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera, of June 30, put it: “The fact of the matter is the Greeks are trying hard but the Europeans persist in putting forward a solution which hasn’t worked up to now: lending more money to those who are in debt and have less and less income with which to repay it”.
There will therefore be other occasions on which the intentions of the trade unions will be to put to the test, but one thing is for sure, the days of the 28th and 29th June, which were billed as the occasion for a test of strength, have instead revealed the weakness of the trade union movement, and indeed the weakness of the so-called “extreme” left.
These recent days have served as further evidence that even if the proletariat is strong numerically, even if it displays considerable strength and determination, it is nevertheless nothing unless united in organisations which are completely independent from those of the bourgeoisie, in class organisations with a clear programme which is rigorously adhered to.
The proletarian revolution will be impossible without genuine trade union organisations to muster the strength of the proletarian majority and without proletarian political organisation; without a party which stands by the historical programme of left revolutionary communism. The revolution, therefore, is not imminent, and the proletarian vanguard in Greece is still faced with the difficult and long task of trade union and political reorganisation. The fact is it will be necessary, both inside and outside the trade union organisations, to engage with the task of forming groups of workers for the creation of a single trade union front based on class positions; a front prepared to put up an intransigent defence of the general interests of the working class and fight against not only the bosses, the State and the opportunist leaders of the present trade unions, but also the particularist views, and corporative and partial interests, that exist amongst workers.
It will also be necessary for a significant proletarian minority to
with the positions of revolutionary left communism; that current which,
during the tempestuous revolutionary decade of the 1920s, during the early
years of the Third Communist International and of the Communist Party of
Italy, reached its historical apogee, and whose work is continued today
by the International Communist Party today.
As predicted, the economic situation in Greece is getting worse and worse. According to the GSEE trade union, in 2012 the latest government measures will cause unemployment to rise to a massive 30%, meaning more will be unemployed than in work!
Due to the lowering of average income, many are already unable to pay the new tax on property, which is very high (for an old apartment of 55 square meters in a cheap area of Athens it is around 350 euros per annum). Around 90% of Greeks own their own house. If you are unemployed or retired you can try and rent out your property but most of the income will be taken by the State in taxes. Sooner or later many will be forced to sell up in order to survive. Many young people are going abroad to find work, others have started to head back to the country from the city. An overriding sense of melancholy and fear, especially in Athens, is spreading throughout the country and the suicide rate is mounting rapidly. And this is only the beginning.
For years the government has been pushing through a series of measures designed to cut public spending, which it justifies as necessary to obtain a new loan. But of course it is impossible for Greece to reduce the deficit and pay off the debt, and it is sliding further and further into a massive economic depression.
Now even harsher measures, and the placing of the country’s finances directly under the control of the credit institutions, are anticipated. This is seen as the only way of avoiding a declaration of bankruptcy by the Hellenic State, which would impact severely on the system of European finances and in particular the French and German banks, which are in a critical state and risk dragging all of the creditor countries into the abyss.
Therefore, on 3 October, in order to obtain further loans from the ‘troika’, composed of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF, the government initiated a series of new measures which, as always, will hit workers and the petty bourgeoisie. Indeed it has been decided to reduce the threshold of untaxed earnings to 5,000 Euros, and to impose a tax on first houses as well (to be collected via the electricity bill: those who don’t pay get cut off). By the end of the year, 10,000 state employees will have been made redundant and 20,000 more put in cassa integrazione (with paid leave set at 60% of basic pay for a year; then if the worker isn’t required to work during this period he is sacked). The aim is to sack 200,000 public employees, both those on short and long-term contracts, by 2015. And not only this, they also want to abolish national contracts and replace them with local agreements.
Obviously such an accord will be of no advantage either to Greek workers or those in other European countries who are paying for the crisis with their lives.
The workers’ reaction
The Greek proletariat is responding to this ferocious attack with mass mobilisations and strikes, but finds itself faced with many enemies; not just the bosses and the government but also the opportunist trade unions and parties which have sold out to the class enemy.
On October 5, the GSEE, a trade union which organises public employees and workers in enterprises controlled by the State, called its 24th general strike. Given that 30,000 demonstrators took to the streets, the demonstration in Athens was relatively successful.
On October 19 and 20, another general strike of the public and private sector was called. This time it was for 48 hours and was called by the GSEE, by the ADEDY, which also organises public employees, and by the PAME, the trade union linked to the Stalinist ‘Communist’ Party, the KKE. The aim was to demonstrate outside parliament at the same time as the anti-worker measures instigated by the government on October 3 were being ratified.
These trade unions however do not want to organise the proletariat from a class struggle perspective. Instead they oppose the state and bosses’ attack from a narrowly nationalist, parliamentarist and social-democratic point of view, and as each day goes by they give more and more evidence it is they, in fact, who are the regime’s main instruments used to control and repress the workers’ combativeness.
This was evidenced in the demonstration on 20 October in Athens. Here the demonstration took place in a particularly tense atmosphere because the city council workers had already been out on strike for a week. Indeed the government had earlier resorted to calling in the army to clear up the uncollected rubbish piling up in the streets. More than 150,000 demonstrators turned up in the capital. The government mobilised thousands of policemen and also, yet again, the special forces, the infamous MAT which intervened to break up the demonstration making liberal use of toxic gases; the use of which, incidentally, is forbidden in the international conventions that govern war between states, but evidently allowed when it’s a matter of class war!
The open betrayal of the PAME
On October 20, the day of the vote of ratification on the anti-proletarian measures, the PAME trade union, controlled by the KKE, got its militants to occupy the access roads around Parliament. The objectives were to prevent the strikers, gathered in Syntagma Square, from disturbing parliament’s ‘work’, to hold back the furious workers back from the area around Parliament, and to avoid clashes with the police and allowing the parliamentary deputies to have a nice quiet vote.
The leaders of the two main trade unions, the GSEE and the ADEDY, are no longer trusted by the strikers who they can no longer control. Only the organised force of the PAME, which poses as the most radical of the trade unions, was capable of guaranteeing protection to Parliament, which in fact over the last months has often been a target for the demonstrators. Therefore it was only a few anarchist groups, a few hundred people in all, who attacked the PAME activists and fought with the police protecting parliament.
Indeed it is now almost expected that the anarchist groups will attack the police, who then ferociously attack all of the demonstrators and break up the processions. It is similar to what happened in Rome on October 15. Pitch battles then took place between the Stalinists and the anarchists which lasted for hours. When the latter finally managed to break through the line of PAME activists the police attacked, trying to separate the two sides. Just before the vote was due, the PAME moved out of the area in front of the parliament building and the riot police cleared the strikers, now divided and disorganised, from Syntagma Square.
During this intervention a member of the PAME, a builder, died. The leaders of the ‘communist’ party immediately announced he had been killed by the anarchists, and continued to assert this even after the hospital declared that the man had died after a cardiac arrest brought on by exposure to a tear gas canister hurled by the police. Even the right opposition went along with the Stalinist party’s version and congratulated the KKE, the protector of parliament.
For the rebirth of the class union, for the strengthening of the revolutionary communist party
Faced with this difficult situation, the parties of the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary Left as well have called for new elections: this is the classic stratagem deployed by social democratic opportunism to derail the class struggle.
In periods of economic crisis such as the current one, which objectively weaken the working class by subjecting it to the blackmail of unemployment and hunger, it is an ever more pressing necessity to organise the workers in a class union which is genuinely committed to defending the proletariat; a class union outside and against those unions which are clearly hand in glove with the capitalist regime, such as not only the PAME, but also the GSEE and the ADEDY.
The workers’ struggles in Greece over the last two years are yet more evidence that the working class will only be able to protect itself under a decadent capitalism by rediscovering its own unity and strength through action and struggle, and first of all by creating its own class organisations and freeing itself from the opportunist leaders who have sold out to the bosses.
It is also more and more important that the party that lives in the
tradition of left revolutionary communism gets stronger; the party, which
is the indispensable organ needed to prepare the overthrow of this system
of production; a system which continues to sacrifice the lives of millions
of proletarians to ensure its survival.
[This leaflet was distributed at the demonstration in Rome on October 15th in which the FIOM metalworkers’ union and some of the ‘base’, or ‘rank-and-file’, unions participated. The leaflet focuses on the need for the proletariat to concentrate on their own struggle, and points out that it could potentially be side-tracked by focussing just on the fashionable opposition to the outrages of financial (banking) capital, which is necessarily interlinked with capitalist production as whole. In fact it would be an entirely logical step, in a campaign directed solely against bankers and finance capital, to advocate an alliance of workers with small shop-keepers and businessmen and industrial capitalists. And already we are seeing a few of the bourgeois gangs of political speculators doing precisely that; addressing the issue in such a way that precisely capitalist production as a whole is preserved...]
As scientifically predicted by Marxist communism, the internal contradictions of the capitalist regime are bringing about its ruin.
The present international economic crisis isn’t just financial, but results from over-production. Bankruptcy, debt and speculation are not the causes but the inevitable consequences of the recession and of the historical bankruptcy of capital – which is industrial and financial combined – as a mode of production. The markets are glutted with unsold commodities, many branches of production are cutting production and entire factories are closing down. The number of workers on cassa integrazione, and the unemployed who are often not on welfare benefits, is going up. Capital is finding it more and more difficult to keep its slaves alive.
States throughout the world, both ‘right’ and ‘left’ governments, have intervened to defend the profits of national capital. On the one hand they have forcibly reduced salaries and increased the intensity and duration of the working day, on the other they have accumulated enormous debts with a view to preventing the crisis from coming to a head; a crisis which has already been around for decades and is finally spiralling out of control. The unravelling world crisis has further demonstrated the failure of the profit making regime, both in the form of state capitalism and in its so-called liberal, free-trade incarnation. As the crisis takes hold, the use of the infamous bourgeois myth of democracy, to disguise the iron dictatorship of capital over the working class, is becoming increasingly difficult.
Any policy implemented by the bourgeois State is bound to be against the working class (and that is before, during and after “Berlusconi”). Italian national capital is indissolubly intertwined with the world market and global finance. To call for these connections to be severed is not only utopian but reactionary. For any government of any State, not only in Italy but also those of the big imperialist powers, and for the international finance organisations, the policy on budgets, taxes etc, is imposed from without, by the deterioration of the economic substructure; they have no choice in the matter.
Whether a national bourgeoisies is permitted to have its declaration of bankruptcy postponed, or whether in the end it is forced to accept it, the fact of the matter is, whether it ‘pays’ or ‘doesn’t pay’, that conditions will get worse for the workers if they don’t resist the mounting pressure put on them by the bosses and States with a general, well-organised mobilisation of the class.
The debt – of the bourgeois State to the bourgeoisie and of the bourgeois State to other bourgeois States – is nothing to do with the workers. It is indicative of their agonised and ruinous state, not that of our class. The workers are not oppressed by “debt slavery” but by wage slavery.
It isn’t the job of the working class to advise the bourgeois State how it should bring about an impossible ‘return to economic growth’, but to oppose, with all its strength, the bosses’ attempts to profit from the crisis by increasing its exploitation of the workers, dividing them, and channelling the movement into false channels.
This regime will not collapse due just to its highly evident economic, social and intellectual bankruptcy. If the bourgeois class still manages to retain political power at the State level, if the conscious international action of the revolutionary proletariat and communism doesn’t intervene, humanity will be hurled into a third world war, the only instrument which can allow Capital to regenerate itself through the catastrophic destruction of enormous masses of commodities and human beings.
The present crisis, so generalised, deep and irreversible, demonstrates that the capitalist regime has nothing to offer proletarians. They won’t be able to save themselves within the confines of the individual factory, nor of the individual nation. Proletarians have no country. The proletariat can only save itself, and along with it the whole of the world’s oppressed, by re-establishing the unity of its class, first at the national, then on the international scale.
Today, every bourgeois government, of ‘right’ and of ‘left’, has been impelled by the crisis to impose harsh measures on the labouring class. Tomorrow, faced with its imminent collapse it will try and draw the workers into slaughtering each other in a new war to divide up the global market, but above all, to prevent revolution.
This prediction made by revolutionary communism will be confirmed tomorrow just as the Marxist prediction of the great crisis has been confirmed today, because both are based on the same scientific foundation of Marxism, and of its reading of the historical experience of two centuries of capitalism, of its crises, revolutions and two world wars.
The demand to “not pay the debt” and the struggle “against the bankers’ Europe” doesn’t defend the working class. On the other contrary they are slogans which may be useful to a future bourgeois government, decked out in red or black, which has the job of drawing the workers into a war to defend ‘the country’ against the enemy nations.
The real proletarian struggle isn’t against debt but against wage
slavery! Workers must once again make the historic demands of the workers’
movement their own:
- Minimum wage for all workers linked to the cost of living;
- The same wage for workers who have lost their jobs;
- Reduction of working hours with wage levels maintained;
- The same working conditions regardless of race, nationality or gender;
- Immigrant workers and their families to have rights of citizenship.
These demands are ones which all workers have in common, uniting their struggles over and above the religious, racial, sectional and company divides. And it is only on the basis of these demands that a general mobilisation of the class can be built.
These historical demands have been snatched out of the workers’ hands and replaced with ones which divide them and keep them firmly incarcerated within the company prisons, causing them to forget, after decades of the regime trade unionism of the CGIL, CISL and UIL, what they once stood up for. But whoever calls on the workers today to ‘struggle against the debt’ is just providing a new disguise for this old anti-worker work of opportunism, which remains forever with us!
What is becoming an ever more urgent matter for workers is to re-establish a trade union united front on the basis of these demands, and to call for their unconditional defence, opposed as they are to the interests of the bourgeois national economy and incompatible with capitalism, clearing the way thereby for the reconstitution of a powerful class trade union, outside and against the regime trade unions!
The working class has to relearn how to organise seperately from the dominant enemy classes and apart from the vacillating intermediate strata and their “movements”, because only the working class represents the seed of the future, and has the strength to bring a better future into being. But only a class which is well organised and focussed on its objectives, which employs the strike weapon and not the polling booths, will be able to draw to its side all the boundless expressions of social discontent with capitalism.
For this it is necessary that the political organisation of the proletariat,
the International Communist Party – which is the indispensable instrument
for keeping alive today the revolutionary communist perspective – is
strengthened and expanded, so that it will be able, one day, to lead the
proletariat in the struggle to take political power, and embark on the
road to the complete communist emancipation of mankind.
[The following leaflet was distributed at the March 26, 2011 demonstration
against the government ‘cuts’ in London. These cuts, defended by the
government as necessary to ’balance the budget’ were, of course, nothing
other than direct attacks on the working class, and have resulted in drastic
cuts to the social wage, as well as direct attacks in terms of wage reductions,
mass redundancies in the public sector, the introduction of short-term
contracts and reductions in the level of unemployment benefits. Major strikes
by sectors of the public sector followed later in 2011, culminating in
the November 30th one day strike, for which see other articles in the current
As usual, the workers’ anger was carefully dispersed in the processions and demos, as they were ‘marched up to the top of the hill, and marched back down again’: for having processed for miles in the expectation of hearing some kind of inspiring rallying call, they were forced instead, as usual, to sit through the depressing, opportunist ramblings of various labourites and trade union leaders whose only message was ‘go home, and leave it to us’.
In the face of this, we continue to encourage groups of discontented workers, frustrated by the trade union leaders and their continual kowtowing to the bosses and the ‘realities’ of capitalism, to start the process of organising on their own. During the present crisis, in which masses of workers from different sectors are being attacked hard and simultaneously, the need for a class union, prepared to fight for class demands is moving further and further up the agenda. Clearly this is more than the catch-all solution put forward by the labourites and leaders of the official unions: “let the union leaders negotiate with the bosses, and vote for Labour!” If that continues to be their position, it is difficult to see how the workers are going to find any other solution apart form organising outside and against the official unions!]
The current crisis is the result of over production and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. As the rate of profit plummets and vast masses of commodities sit rotting in the warehouses, the forces of capital want the wage earning class, whether in or out of work, to pay for the crisis. The slashing of wages, the extension of working hours, the increased pace of work, and the move away from full time work to temporary contracts and even unpaid work is now reaching an insupportable level. Along with this the social wage is also being reduced, that is, the safety net for the proletariat that provides a buffer against ill health and disability, unemployment and poverty and finally, in the twilight of our lives, old age. Now the bosses and their government are telling us we will have to retire later, pay significantly more into our pension pots and get less when we retire. No wonder we are worried... and angry.
Comrades! Workers! The frantic land speculation and dealing in junk bonds which marked the beginning of the crisis is a symptom of the capitalist crisis and not its cause. The massive bailout of the banks by the government, followed by the spectacle of their senior executives awarding themselves disgustingly large bonuses, nevertheless shows precisely who calls the shots in this society. The bankers and the other plunderers of what is ultimately socially generated wealth are effectively saying “f**k you!” to the working class. They are saying “we can get away with this because it is not the politicians telling the bankers what to do. It is we tell them what to do!” Indeed, it is becoming very evident to all that the political parties are nothing but gangs of political speculators; and the elections nothing more than competitive tenders for the lucrative job of running capitalism.
Faced with these intensified attacks by Capital, the workers need to forge a united front to defend their standard of living. But it will need to be a proletarian united front, organised on class lines and incorporating both those in and out of work. It will need to be centred on real economic demands and head ultimately in the direction of a General Strike. The workers would be mugs to consign their fate to the loose coalition of miscellaneous political parties, bishops and do-gooders which will volunteer to act on their behalf today!
Comrades! Workers! In Italy, the vanguard of the workers has been compelled to organise outside and against the official trade unions such as the CGIL. These unions have clearly gone over to the side of the bourgeoisie, since they are prepared to modify all there demands to fit around the requirements of the bosses and the national economy. Rather than just offering a mediation service, and cheap car insurance or whatever, perhaps the trades unions need to recall that it is force which is the deciding factor; as the whopping 15% wage rise recently won by State employees during the recent uprising in Egypt so graphically illustrates.
The rediscovering of working class consciousness will be more and more
likely, even in this so-called ‘classless society’, as the bosses’
offensive becomes more and more intense and, well, obvious. But to make
sense of these lessons the class also needs its party, which functions
as the repository of its history – its past, present and its future –
and as the force which focuses the working class on its historical mission,
of finally settling accounts with the source of all its ills – Capitalism.
On 30th June, a number of public sector and teaching unions called their members out on a one-day strike to protest against the changes to their members’ pensions schemes being proposed by the government; changes that would involve the workers affected paying more, working for longer, and getting less when they retire. The strike is the biggest the country has seen in the last five years and the biggest in the public sector for a generation.
Three teachers unions, the UCU (University and College Union) the NUT (National Union of Teachers) and the ATL (Association of Teachers and lecturers) were involved in the strike, along with the Public and Commercial Services Union, with members in the Job Centres, border controls and passport offices amongst other places.
UNISON, the biggest union in the public sector, didn’t however ballot for industrial action, the reason given being that their leader, Dave Prentice, was chairing the negotiations with the government which were underway at the time and due to be completed on the day of the strike.
These negotiations, supposedly about ‘principles’, will then be followed by further talks, about the various sector-specific pension schemes. A leaked memo from the TUC revealingly indicates that its strategy will be to focus on winning advantages within these various separate sector-specific schemes.
The latter strategy, it goes without saying, will badly undermine the sense of unity that has slowly been building up over past months, and which was evidenced by the range of different workers from different unions and different sectors that went out on strike on the 30th June, with large numbers showing up for the various processions and rallies throughout the country. The TUC’s strategy indeed nicely complements the government’s own divide and rule tactic, which by way of the usual orchestrated media campaign, using ‘ordinary people’ as its mouthpieces, seeks to pit workers in the private and public sectors against each other by drawing attention to certain (minor) current advantages public sector workers have.
UNISON is talking about balloting its own members for strike action only later in the autumn. As well as relying on the excuse given above, it also explains this delay as due to the difficulties involved in complying with existing legislation. It points out that to call a strike within the bounds of the Law the union has to demonstrate an accurate database and carry out a full ballot of all members affected, a process that can take 17 weeks to complete...
It is certainly true that employers’ have used the courts to undermine ballots by focussing on small procedural errors, and delays were caused as a result in the recent British Airways dispute, and on the Docklands light railway; (where in fact it backfired, and the latter had to pay out £100,000 to the RMT union). UNISON is therefore saying it needs more time to block off some of these loopholes. But the issue is much bigger than this. If government legislation is restricting the field of trade union action (and the government is now talking of making strikes totally illegal in certain ‘key sectors’ – i.e., the underground) then surely there needs to be a vigorous and broad-based campaign against such anti-worker legislation! This would be a great basis for inter-union co-operation, but it simply isn’t happening; and the silence of the unions on the subject one can only interpret as effectively accepting it.
This acceptance is due to the fact that that the trade union movement in Great Britain is pretty much the creature of the Labour Party; and the Labour party is very definately the creature of capitalism. This is the horrible Gordion knot that needs to be split asunder if the working class is to progress towards protecting its standard of living and working conditions.
The strike on the 30th although impressive was limited to one day only, notice of which had to be given far in advance to comply with the present legislation and which the authorities could therefore make adequate plans for. The strike’s effectiveness and scope was sabotaged by the biggest public sector union UNISON not going out as well, supposedly because of the ‘important’ role its leader had at the negotiating table, where he sat to discuss ‘principles’ which would form the basis for future ‘talks’, which it looks like will have a extremely divisive effect because they will be about the technicalities of various individual pension schemes.
THIS IS NOT THE WAY FORWARD!
For workers to mount an effective defence against the increasingly violent attacks of the bosses and their political representatives, they will have to rely on a trade union organisation that is prepared to fight on a class basis. How this class union will be built it is difficult to say, but happen it must, either by splits within the present movement or outside and against the trade unions, as is looking increasingly likely.
It will also have to reconnect with its class party, the International
Communist Party, and break with its ‘traditional’ support for that
horrible life-sapping excrescence that is the Labour Party; which wrecks
every working class initiative it comes anywhere near, and whose spell
over the working class in Britain will have to be broken before any real
progress can be made.
On November 30th an estimated 2 million public sector workers went on strike in Great Britain, making it the biggest protest since the General Strike in 1926. Several of the big public sector unions called out those of its members currently in a public sector pension scheme to strike against the huge cuts the government is proposing, which involve workers paying more into their pension pots, working longer and receiving less when they retire. Even the headmasters union went on strike, which has never struck before in its entire 150 year existence!
In a classic divide and rule strategy the government has tried to turn private sector workers against public sector workers by portraying the latter as all set up for a comfortable retirement at the expense of taxpaying private sector workers. Thus a lot of the literature distributed at the various protest marches held up and down the country aimed to address this misleading government propaganda by giving figures of what most public sector workers are actually likely to get as pensions, which even before the proposed changes is not very much at all (averaging, very roughly, from around £ 2,500 to £ 5,000). The government, meanwhile, to prove its point, wheeled out as an example of a private sector worker... a cafe owner and a market stall owner!
But where to from here?
The generally reactionary nature of the trade union leadership (forced to call this strike today by the rank-and-file, as expressed organisationally, more or less, by the National Shop Stewards Network, an organisation formed by the RMT transport union in 2006) is being openly discussed but the solutions being put forward to tackle this problem are generally along the lines of reforming the trade unions by increasing democracy in the unions. Thus we read in The Socialist «it is essential that decisions on the struggle are not left in the hands of the national trade union leaders. We demand that trade union members have democratic control of the negotiations at ever stage». There is then a call for «fighting left organisations to struggle to ensure that the trade unions fight in their members’ interests. One demand of such organisations should be for regular elections of full-time officials and for them to be paid no more than a worker’s wage». Furthermore, and not just in The Socialist, there are calls for trade unions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party as the latter isn’t a working class party.
Nothing we say will stop adherents of this strategy from seeking to put it in to action, but we hope that the participants in this experiment will monitor its results very closely, because we believe that the Trade union movement in its present form is now so intertwined with the capitalist establishment that attempts to disaffiliate from the Labour Party, and to bring down official’s salaries, are inevitably doomed to failure.
The official unions, and in particular the trade union leaders, are always prepared to put the imaginary unity of ‘the country’ (national capital in other words) before the interests of its members, whose true interests in fact are linked not to the particular ‘national cage’ they happen to find themselves in, but to the international working class.
To truly represent the interests of the working class, the workers’ economic organisations have to become a class union, prepared to go all the way in the defence of their members’ interests and step outside the limits of what is compatible with capitalism. How such a union can emerge from the womb of the present unions it is difficult to see, and it might be that it can only emerge outside and against the official trade unions.
Nevertheless, this magnificent strike already produced, on the following day, a very sudden volte face on the part of the government. After having insultingly dubbed the strike as a ‘damp squib’ the government seems nevertheless suddenly very keen to get around the negotiating table as quickly as possible, and has already promised further concessions and arranged meetings for later the same week.
If the trade union leaders at these negotiations accept anything less than a major climb-down on the part of the government then they will likely have to face considerable anger from their members. Then there will be an opportunity for the new inter-union rank-and-file organisations, which seem to be slowly emerging and flexing their muscles, to show if they really can mount a effective challenge to the leadership or not. But, we must add, any such challenge they mount will only be effective to the degree that they represent a separate class force confronting the trade union leadership, and the bosses; and creating and maintaining this class force will be difficult to maintain without a clear split.
Commenting on Trade union organisation in general, there is a passage in the Communist Manifesto which states “Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers”.
That will the main legacy of the November 30 Public sector Workers Strike,
and already there is much talk of uniting the struggle with the private
On June 14th the bourgeois celebrated a major victory with the Wisconsin state Supreme Court clearing an anti-union law stripping most public employees of collective bargaining rights. The law also requires public employees pay more for their healthcare and pensions.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, on behalf of the ruling class, stated: "The Supreme Court’s ruling provides our state the opportunity to move forward together and focus on getting Wisconsin working again."
The bill, which will devastate many workers and their families, was heavily promoted by Walker and his fellow Republicans to cover the state’s 3.6 billion dollar deficit (of course, the proletariat must suffer and pay). The measure was passed by the state legislature and signed by Walker in March; however, in May a circuit court judge voided it, saying Republican lawmakers violated the state’s open meetings law. The Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision overturned the action, saying the circuit court judge overstepped her authority.
But the matter is unlikely to end there. In the period leading up this decision thousand’s of workers had stormed the State Capitol ‘to attend the debate’ in what some commentators remarked was the biggest demonstration in Madison since the Vietnam War. Their exclusion would in fact form the basis of the unsuccessful legal arguments which the public sector workers’ lawyers used to undermine the anti-union ruling, relying on some technicality about the rights of all to attend debates.
In any case, as every militant and worker aware of the court sanctioned murder of the Haymarket Martyrs back in 1886 will be only too aware, legal processes are very malleable indeed, and only reflect the battle between the classes that is going on outside the court rooms. At the moment the bourgeoisie is digging in its heels, although the close vote shows that 3 of the 7 Supreme Court judges were obviously thinking that a tactical retreat of the bourgeoisie might be advisable at this point.
The key thing is that workers don’t get too bound up in the legal battle per se, and concentrate their efforts on building on the militant organisation they have obviously already achieved, as witnessed by their storming of the Capitol.
And of course the Democratic Party political machine, needless to say, will now really kick into action, posing as valiant defenders of the workers and undermining the separate, self-organisation which will be crucial to the public Sector Workers at this stage.
We don’t know enough about the public sector union in the US to pronounce on their tactics, but we suspect that they might aim to keep the struggle within the narrow bounds of the Public Sector when in fact the successful outcome of the struggle will depend on the struggle being broadened to include workers in the private sector as well; many of whom probably work for companies in direct competition with public sector, who the government either is, or will, hive off work to in its cost-cutting drive.
In England the public sector is also under attack. Two teachers’ unions, the NUT (National Union of Teachers) and the ATL (the Association of Teachers and Lecturers ) have overwhelmingly voted for strike action if the Government doesn’t shelve its proposals for ‘pension reforms’; i.e., that they pay more into their pension pots, get less, and work longer – not an attractive proposition. With other public sector workers under attack, the PCS, the Civil Service union, and UNISON, which represents many workers in local government, are also now talking of taking co-ordinated strike action.
If in the USA the Democratic Party will try and capitalise on the workers’ struggle and lead it down some innocuous route that causes as little damage to the bosses and the national economy as possible, the Labour Party in England, and its associated Trade Union officials, will attempt do the same thing. We’ve seen it all before: big processions which end up in some park where all the forces of the capitalist left are lined up on the platform to offer the alluring prospect of... another procession; or the promise that the Labour Party will ‘see to whatever-it-is when it next gets in’, as though it didn’t have a chance to introduce legislation of benefit to the workers (overturning Thatchers’ anti-union legislation would have been a start!) during its recently completed, seemingly interminable, three terms in office.
The current crisis is not just to do with a speculative bubble bursting, but is the result of the fatal flaw of capitalism – the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. It now appears to be reaching a critical point and is affecting workers throughout the world at the same time and more or less with the same relative degree of severity. Class consciousness is necessarily something which crosses national frontiers, and it is based on the knowledge of a common economic situation: in the case of proletarians, that of having to sell one’s labour power to the capitalists of whatever nation. Indeed, the big capitalists are already thoroughly International, and laugh at the nationalistic petty bourgeoisie, with their narrow patriotic horizons, as their capital meanwhile effortlessly crosses borders, in search of tax exiles, cheap labour and new investment opportunities.
The attack on public sector pensions on both side of the Atlantic is one more example of the common problems faced by workers of al nations, and is one more example of why these common battles are international, not national issues.
In pursuit of international solidarity, which will necessarily be political
as well as economic, we continue to organise as the political party of
the working class, transcending national boundaries, and jealously guarding
the lessons derived from an intense study of the capitalist economy and
of its inevitable decline, and from the balance sheet of the battles fought
in the past by the proletariat, workers and unemployed, as summed up in
our theses and texts.
On August 7th, 45,000 workers went on strike against employer Verizon Communications Inc., the global broadband and wireless telecommunications company. Their contract had expired the night previously, and as Verizon continued demands for further painful concessions – including cuts to medical benefits and the loss of pension accrual this year – the workers decided enough was enough. The walkout involved call center workers, repair technicians and FiOS installers from Massachusetts to Virginia. The strike was called by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which represents 35,000 of the strikers, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which represents 10,000.
Specifically, Verizon wants the unionized workers to contribute to their health care premiums to the tune of $1,300 to $3,000 a year for family coverage. Verizon also wants to freeze company contributions to employee pensions, limit sick days to five a year, drop job security provisions and eliminate pensions for future workers.
Despite earning record profits ($27.5 billion in revenue for the second quarter alone), Verizon has been demanding $1 billion in concessions per year, or $20,000 from every worker. This from a company whose top five executives earned $258 million in compensation and bonuses over the last four years. (Coincidentally, this strike was the largest in the US since 74,000 General Motors employees went on strike for two days in 2007.) The CEO of Verizon alone earned $18 million in 2010.
Just as could be predicted, the unions involved in the strike have been completely ineffectual, as both union leaderships made it clear that nothing was off the table. And the ridiculous court-imposed injunctions against strikers were not argued by either union, such as, in Pennsylvania, pickets limited to six strikers; and in New York, pickets limited to the number of scabs present at each workplace. (As far as solidarity goes, the major AFL-CIO had nothing to say about the strike.)
As various acts of violence against striking workers by scabs and management began to be noticed, Verizon countered with media reports of service interruptions for their customers, as well as enlisting the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate over 90 supposed acts of ’sabotage’ by Verizon workers, including cut wires (referred to by the FBI as a "national security" issue). Verizon workers maintained that scare tactics were being used by the company.
Verizon’s deadline was August 31st for strikers to return to work or else face the suspension of all health care benefits, and the strike was called off on the 21st.
The 45,000 employees returned to work on August 23rd, without a contract
and only the “agreement to restructure bargaining". With nothing achieved,
little chance of wildcat actions, and the future of the labor unions looking
ever more dire and hopeless, it is high time – indeed it is urgent –
for the proletariat to throw all illusions in the capitalist system in
the dustbin of history and start anew. A real class union, composed
entirely of the proletariat and operating only in their interests, would
eliminate all the useless ’bargaining’ which benefits the rich and bring
the real needs and problems of the working class to the fore, with the
means to resolve them. It is also extremely important for the proletariat
of the US to adhere to the program of revolutionary Left communism, as
embodied by the International Communist Party, the genuine party of the
The movement currently sweeping across the United States expresses widespread anger toward the big corporations and financial institutions, but thus far, no real demands have been put forward. No solutions. Not even a generic Band-Aid to be applied to the oozing, gaping wound of capitalism!
It started with an ongoing series of demonstrations in New York City based in the Wall Street financial district. The protests were called by activist groups, and have been aimed at economic inequality, corporate greed, political corruption and lobbyists. The slogan, "We are the 99%", refers to the disparity of wealth in the US and elsewhere, where the bulk of the world’s money and power is situated in the hands of the richest 1% of the population. Beginning in September 2011, the protests have since spread to nearly a thousand US cities, with hundreds to thousands of participants, with massive media attention and increasing police repression. Donations have kept the movement afloat, and the only sign of major trouble is the rapidly approaching winter weather.
We’ve all seen the TV news reports, we’ve all heard the talking heads. But what exactly does the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS) want?
According to what has been gleaned from the generally-chaotic din, it is asking for more jobs, more equal wealth distribution, and less corporate influence over government. A kind of "compassionate capitalism". That seems to be the entire message. With polls suggesting over 50% of US voters are viewing the OWS favorably, the two major US capitalist parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, have both jumped on board the ’populist OWS bandwagon’, further diluting the already impossibly weak brew of lukewarm anger the leaders of the OWS movement have been ladeling out.
Many of the protesters think this more compassionate capitalism will be obtainable by exerting moral pressure: if the capitalists are made to feel guilty for their selfish and greedy behaviour they might be persuaded ‘to share’, rather like infants in a kinder garden. In fact the capitalists have been quite happy to shift the debate onto this terrain, and to provide us with role models from among the ‘great men’ of capitalist philanthropy such as Carnegie and Rockefeller. Thus it is no coincidence that we see stepping forward as valiant defender of the protesters (and capitalists), and hero of the hour, none other than.... Bill Gates!
If the predominant voice emerging from the OWS movement is that capitalism needs to be purged of its most blatantly corrupt elements, and made ‘more caring’, hopefully once these protesters have been forcibly dragged off the streets by the police, and the authorities have finished ostentatiously spraying disinfectant on the pavements where they were previously encamped, some of them will end up believing instead that ‘the 1%’ needs to be overthrown rather than ‘guilt tripped’ into being more caring and sharing to ‘the 99%’!
Hopefully the protestors will eventually come to see that capitalism is now a corpse that walks and has had its day, and the only discussion worth having is about how its grave diggers, the working class, will accomplish their historical task of burying it.
Obviously it is a case of an inter-classist movement. One of its leaders writes: “We must strengthen the Occupy movement by allying it with the workers and the trade unions, with migrants, students, unemployed, homeless, communities of resistance and religious groups”. What possible coherence could be given to any political directive that includes all these groups, classes and ideologies? It is another broad “front” which has as its common basis only idolatry of democracy, a fetish which none dare question. Occupy is neither an economic movement nor a political one but is a confused, and confusing, mixture of both. It is an inter-classist movement, and along with the inevitable anarchists, preaching their indiscriminate and disabling message of opposition to all organization, we find also liberal, petty bourgeois and Christian socialist elements, all vying with each other to gain recruits to their various causes; and all of them having the effect of throwing genuine class fighters off course.
* * *
The surprise and anger of the OWS demonstrators to the authority’s heavy handed breaking up of their occupations and tent encampments resulted in a curious grafting of their movement onto that of a pre-existing workers’ economic struggle.
On 18 November, Occupy Oakland, following an initiative launched by Occupy Los Angeles, proclaimed «the blockade and interruption of the economic apparatus managed by the 1% through the co-ordinated closure of the ports of the entire West Coast, fixed for 12 December. The 1% have devastated the lives of the lorry drivers, dockers and workers who create their wealth, just as attacks by the police co-ordinated on a national scale have transformed our cities into battlefields in the attempt to destroy our occupation movement. We invite each occupation of the West Coast to organise a mass mobilisation to blockade their local port. Union-busting needs to be attentively monitored, in particular the breaking of the contract with the dockers by EGT at Longview Washington. Occupy Los Angeles has already approved a resolution to take action in the port of Los Angeles on 12 December to close the terminals of SSA, which are the property of Goldman Sachs. Occupy Oakland extends this invitation to the entire West Coast, and calls for continuous solidarity with the dockers of Longview Washington in their ongoing struggle with EGT (...) During the general strike of 2 November, tens of thousands of people blockaded the port of Oakland to persuade EGT they need to stop their attacks on the Longview workers. Given that EGT has ignored this message, and continues to attack the dockers, we will now close the ports of the entire West Coast».
The general strike on 2 November, to which this proclamation refers, had taken place in Oakland a couple of weeks earlier, and according to one account managed to muster “tens of thousands of workers, part-timers and students”. The Central banks and many schools were closed down, and also all of the wharves. Severe traffic disruption in the rest of the city also meant many other businesses shut up shop for the day.
The organising body of this local general strike was a general assembly of workers. No credit can at all be laid at the door of the big central unions. The AFL-CIO and Change to Win, an alternative coalition of trade unions formed in 2005, immediately tried to boycott the strike by invoking anti-strike laws which they themselves had underwritten in the contracts of the individual categories. They were also quick to invoke the Taft Hartley Act of 1947 which, along with numerous additional add-ons at local state and federal level, effectively bans general strikes and sets out severe penalties; and which, it is worth mentioning, the big unions have launched no major campaign to oppose... But once important teachers’ and dockers Locals had declared their support for the strike (although not going out themselves), the big unions climbed down and decided against a frontal attack. Only the small but historic IWW and the dockers’ Local 10, previously participants of the blockade of ships carrying armaments destined for the troops in Iraq in 2003, actively organised the strike in the places of work.
The subsequent blockade of the ports on December 12 involved marches and protests in ports along the entire West Coast from San Diego to Portland, and up to Anchorage in Alaska, but participation was low. Only In Portland and Oakland did the blockade have any real success, again receiving support from the local sections of the dockers’ union (ILWU) but not from union bosses. Indeed Robert McElrath, the national secretary of the ILWU, appearing to sense his position threatened, was quick to denounce “the attempt of external groups who by putting forward their political demands are co-opting out struggle”.
Other union spokesman then tried to sow divisions by pointing to the Occupy movement as responsible for ILWU members losing a days work, ironically thereby also appearing to support the non-unionised and self-employed lorry drivers, also up in arms about having lost work.
There is now talk about another big strike on May 1st of 2012.
* * *
A great project, of course; but it won’t be supported by the ‘99%’. If we look behind the statistic and the percentages we can see that this ‘99%’ is also composed of the middle and lower strata of the bourgeoisie. These only support the working class when they can see it is winning, and adopting a robust anti-capitalist stance. Until then only the workers will be prepared to fight because they have a direct economic interest in confronting capitalism, and only they, along with the unemployed and retired workers, will get organised. In the USA it was only when the workers entered the arena that new vistas of possibilities really presented themselves; and an ambitious project such as shutting down the ports of the entire West Coast became a realistic prospect.
If capitalism is to be overthrown there needs to be a clear vision of the road ahead and how it is to be reached. Any struggle that doesn’t know how to acknowledge the lessons of past struggles will fail. They teach that the working class army which will eventually overthrow capitalism will crystallise around practical demands in the realm of the economic struggle and will assume the form of class based trade union organisations. This army, to be effective, will need to be led by its international class party; a party which traces its history back to the middle of the 19th century and is the repository of the political experience of the working class movement.
Only the Communist Party is conscious of the historic role of the working class as the natural and material opponent of capitalism. The latter can no longer offer up any further concessions to the class it exploits, whose labour produces everything; a class quite capable of effectively organising its economic life without capitalists, for it is now very evident that the latter’s much vaunted and highly rewarded ‘organisational expertise’ is severely lacking; an ‘expertise’ which in fact is nothing more than a rationalisation of their position as exploiters; a parasite’s rationalisation.
Only the working class, or rather, the proletariat, a historical and dynamic term rather than a sociological one, can directly challenge this parasitism with its revolutionary movement, once it has rediscovered its original and intransigent political programme, which was already fully articulated back in 1848.
The American working class has spilled much blood in the past and has
a long history of confronting a particularly ruthless, brutal and blatantly
exploitative national capitalism. Now it must rediscover its proud tradition
of class struggle, its political organisation, the International Communist
Party; a rediscovery that will be made in a country where communism has,
perhaps more than in any other, been correctly identified as capitalism’s
enemy number one!
With representatives from most of its groups in attendance, the party’s periodic general working meeting was held at our Genoa editorial office on 6-7 June.
The present function of the party, as regards its immediate tasks, is essentially a defensive one. It directs its efforts to defending the scientific doctrine of Marxism, defending tactical principles which are supported by a long historical experience, and defending a conception of the Communist party which distinguishes it from all other parties, including would-be workers’ or left parties.
Just as the Communist party, from its very beginnings, has always tended to have its own kind of natural and voluntary unicity of movement, confirmed in the seperation of the First international from federalism and from anarchist individualism, so the party reborn during the Second World War learnt the lesson of the degeneration of Third International through Stalinism, which destroyed the world communist party by tearing the organisation apart through its systematic use of fractionism from above, hidden behind the conventions of internal democracy.
This is demonstrated in the way we go about our work, a style which wasn’t invented or revealed by some great leader but which just arose spontanously, embodying the natural attitude of generations of militants without the need for any rules or internal regulations to prescribe it or to punish their infraction. Further proof is the quality of our studies, which even though very complex, are all inter-connected within a coherent whole; and all of it carried out unostentatiously, and without engaging in all the unhealthy infighting and petty intrigues that characterise petty bourgeois and opportunist circles.
A century of crises in the USA - The communist negation of democracy
- The Pakistani Volcano - The military question - From the 3rd Volume of
Capital, the fall in the rate of profit - Origins of the Chinese Communist
The party can neither bring about the revolution nor determine when the class struggle will pick up again, and no more can it influence the process of its own growth and geographical diffusion, which is due to social and historical causes. In this sense the will power of its militants, particular expedients in the realm of propaganda and language, and different approaches to practical activity all count for nothing. Whatever the party says, or whatever hoops it jumps through, it won’t bring communism nearer by even one day.
The party, as history has shown, is only ‘free’ to the extent it is free to destroy itself, by betraying itself, that is, its historical programme, which is “already written”.
Conversely, we also know that the revolution is impossible without the party, indeed it is inconceivable. This is because the party is communism, and is the revolution, outside the parameters of time and space.
This is the key, the essential meaning of all of our work, which we carry out as passionately and as strictly as though the “great day” had already arrived, which for the party, in fact, is always “now” – free from that impatience which typifies the bourgeoisie, trapped in its balance sheet of individuals – precisely because it knows that our revolution has a past, a present and a future, and a necessary period of maturation, which we know about, study and coolly consider.
So it is within this dynamic configuration of objective social forces, rather than within the realm of sentiments and tasks, that we see our periodic meetings taking place; meetings in which we seek to ‘fuse’ the various and spontaneously convergent studies and battle experiences contributed by the party groups. It is a labour that always transcends the self and directs its energy towards the living working class and against the social classes that are its adversaries.
Origins of the trade unions in Italy, the post 2nd World War period
- The Course of capitalism - The rearmament of the States - History of
the Labour Movement in the United States - From the 3rd Volume of Capital
- The Military Question: The American Revolution - Trade Union Activity
On a date previously fixed by the centre representatives of our groups assembled at Sarzana for our periodic working meeting. As well as booking an appropriate venue for the meeting, the Ligurian comrades greeted and helped the comrades attending from elsewhere to get to the meeting rooms, and ensured they were all comfortably accommodated.
Some of those travelling from further afield were met by the Ligurians on the Friday, and others arrived on the Saturday in the morning and early afternoon. Written communications from those unable to attend, some for health reasons, were read out, and best wishes extended to them from all those present.
According to our now tried and tested method, the Saturday morning was given over to taking stock of work in progress and to considering what needed to be tackled in the future, while the Saturday morning and Sunday morning were devoted to listening to reports, which we endeavour, although not always successfully, to fit into the time available.
Clearly, all these writings of ours, although highly valued, aren’t to be viewed each on their own merits but as refractions in the present of a unique social force which is objective and historical, and to whose consistent theory and invariant political programme they tend ever more to approximate.
This exacting task can only be fully carried out by a militant body which adopts the form of the unique, centralised political party, as formulated at the outset by revolutionary Marxist communism.
This party, which through no wish of our own is today a small party, is to be considered as such – and in this it distinguishes itself from other inferior and partial forms – because of its commitment to creating a bridge between a school of thought, that is, an environment within which one teaches but at the same time learns, and a method of action, namely, the constant line which commits us to address ourselves to the class, our living class, which only we can see because we are aware of its past and its destiny; the class which forms our material base and fuels our existence as a party.
From the 3rd Volume of Capital, financial capital - Communism, the
historic negation of democracy - The Foundations of Afghan Society - Course
of the economy - Origins of the Trade Unions in Italy - Trade union Activity
- The military question: the American Revolution
The reports on the course of the crisis refer to the regularly updated monthly indices of industrial production and Trade, with separate data given on all the major capitalisms, including the ‘tiger economies’ where capitalism arrived later.
The effect of the course of the current crisis on each one was shown. In particular, drawing on the historical series for industrial production as illustrated in a graphic table, a comparison was made between the current crisis and the numerous previous ones, and the frequency, duration and depth of these crises was noted.
Referring just to the United States from 1919 onwards, a further graphic table showed crises of more than a year’s duration. In the post First World War period there was the crisis of 1920-21, then the Great Depression of 1929-36; in the pre-Second World War period there was the crisis in 1938-39; in the post 2nd World War period there was the crisis in 1945-50, the intercalary crises of 1953, 1957, and 1970-71, the world crisis of 1974-75, the series of periodical crises of 1980-83, 1990-91 and 2001-3, and finally the crisis we are in the middle of now, which started in June 2008. For almost four out of every ten years during the last century of capitalism, the USA has been in recession. But as we know, that doesn’t mean that the actual volume of production, and thus capital, hasn’t actually increased in the USA over the same period. In fact it has done so twentyfold, with the growth evidently concentrated in the other six years out of the ten when there wasn’t a crisis.
We can subdivide the eleven crises mentioned above according to the depth of their corresponding recessions. After the largest one in 1929, when production was halved, we arrive at a contraction of a third in the crises between the wars (1920 and 1938), and in the one immediately after the 2nd World War in 1945. The next seven crises after the 2nd World War were however much less virulent.
As regards the duration of the period of recovery to the next production peak, the longest crises were those in 1929, seven years, and in 1945, five to six years. All others were shorter, no longer than two years. There was a return to longer recovery periods after two of the most recent crises, those of 1980 and 2001, prolonged to almost four years.
We predicted that even the youngest capitalisms would be vulnerable to the general crisis and this has been confirmed. Crises of over-production are endemic to capitalism and as a rule the younger capitalisms are hit harder by the crises than the older ones.
From 1975 onwards the mature capitalisms – the old imperialisms where capitalism is merely ‘a walking corpse’ – experienced numerous crises of overproduction in quick succession. Average cycles were of five to ten years duration but without the pressure building up to the level of a ‘complete blow out’.
There are many factors that have allowed capitalism’s survival. The main one is the Second World War, which, due to its massive destruction of dead and living capital, permitted a long, almost crisis-free, cycle of expansion. The second factor, from 1975 onwards, has been the generalised attack on the working class which has increased the rate of profit. The third factor is imperialism and the revenue it has derived from exploiting its monopolist position, allowing additional super-profits. The fourth is the development of capitalism in Asia, which will not however be enough on its own to permit the survival of the big imperialist centres.
All of these factors cannot prevent a major crisis of 1929-like proportions breaking out. They may have bought themselves a bit of time, but only by reinforcing and concentrating the very same forces that are driving forwards towards a general devaluation of capital. The present crisis announces this situation.
The speaker then went on to present a graph comparing the international trade figures of the seven major capitalisms. Here the recession has hit everybody. Since October 2008 global trade has steadily decreased reaching a maximum rate of contraction of around -30% between April and July in 2009. After that there was a further reduction in international trade but at a slower rate, to around -12% in October 2009, a value which however was about 10% lower than in the same month of the year before.
Some numerical tables, whose purpose was to compare the volume of exports
of the various capitalisms, were now shown. Germany appeared in first place,
in terms of the value of its global exports, followed by China, which has
ousted the USA from second place. They were followed by Japan, France,
Holland, Great Britain and Italy.
Communism, the historical
negation of democracy
The democratic regime is just one of the faces behind which capitalism hides its class dictatorship. It relies on the mystification that the people, called on to cast their vote, will supposedly have the capacity to determine the political action of governments. But all the people can do in free elections is, at the very most, choose a gang of professional politicians, who for a certain number of years will manage the interests of the ruling class and the social policy of whatever bourgeois-democratic government is elected, and thereby perpetuate the exploitation of the proletariat and prolong its misery.
Just to make a list of all the texts, theses and writings on this theme that have appeared within the framework of left communism, from Marx’s time until now, would be a major undertaking in itself.
Every class has its own ideology. Democracy is the typical ideology of the bourgeoisie because it is the one which best corresponds to its specific class interests.
The revolutionary bourgeoisie would portray the future post-feudal State as a popular rather than a class State, founded on the suppression of all inequality before the Law, and claim that this vision corresponded to liberty and equality for every member of society.
The programme of the first workers’ organisations, which were generally secret after the model of the Carbonari, was to push the principles enunciated by the bourgeois revolution, of Equality, Justice and Brotherhood, to the extreme. But soon a marked rift would arise between these theories and the new theory which would guide the anti-capitalist proletarian movement. The Communist League, by adopting the principle that there could be no revolutionary social movement without an autonomous revolutionary theory, represented the first example of a classist party, and it was in fact for the Communist League that Marx and Engels drew up the Communist Manifesto.
Communism immediately declares that its future State will be a class State, that is, it will be the instrument of one class alone: the proletariat. As Lenin put it, once the working class has taken power “it won’t share it with anyone”. The fact that democracy was rejected by the proletarian movement from the very beginning is not left in the minimum doubt.
Opportunism, when it accuses the ruling class of betraying its own principles, has constantly called on the proletariat to devote itself not to the overthrowing of the capitalist regime but to the reinstatement of neglected democratic rules, whose values, considered eternal, are held to be indispensable if social equality is to be obtained in the future. Communist revolutionaries instead perceive democracy, especially in its ideal, “theoretical” manifestation rather than in its practical “realisation”, as the enemy to be overthrown; as the false myth from which the proletariat needs to be freed.
If it is true that revolutionary Marxists accepted the participation of the Communist Party in bourgeois elections, even when capitalist power was not in danger (think of the revolutionary parliamentarism advocated by Lenin), they participated only in order to use the space conceded by democracy for class agitation and their aim was to destroy democratic institutions.
Following the victory of the Stalinian counter-revolution the exact opposite of what Lenin wanted would happen: having once adhered to the rules of the democratic game, of which the electoral “battle” is the maximum expression, all revolutionary communist positions, and even classist ones, were progressively abandoned so that a political platform could be adopted that shared planks with bourgeois parties.
Even regarding internal matters, the party has never maintained that pronouncements of the majority are necessarily the best. As far back as 1922 the Italian Left was proposing that the formula of democratic centralism should be replaced with organic centralism. Today, in our party, a party based on a unity of theory, principles, final aims and tactics, in which we exclude the practice of mergers with, or infiltrations of, other political organisations, and where we only allow people to join as individuals, there is not only no longer a role for the democratic principle – i.e. the struggle of currents and fractions with a view to establishing the orientation of the party by selecting from a list of illustrious comrades – but no role either for the banal and rudimentary democratic mechanism.
Anyone who hasn’t yet come to realise this, who has a problem accepting
or sticking by it, or who is uncomfortable with it knows what their most
consistent course of action would be: to leave the party.
The Pakistani volcano
and the foundations of Afghan society
At the Genoa meeting a comrade presented an introductory report on the subject of modern Pakistan, a country which is of major strategic importance and full of contradictions, both in terms of its class relations and its ethnic composition.
Tribal and religious divisions have characterised the wars which have pitted Pakistan against its powerful southern neighbour India for the control of Kashmir. This is also the case in Beluchistan, whose people are demanding independence, and in the northern regions of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan inhabited by the Pashtun people, where an American army offensive against the Taleban was underway at the time of the party meeting.
But ‘the Pakistani Volcano’, as it has recently been dubbed in the Italian media, also hides within it enormous class contradictions. A young and very young working class, employed mainly in the textile sector, constitutes 20% of the workforce and is exploited to the extent that it is effectively reduced to slavery in the case of the thousands of child workers. In the countryside modern agriculture exists alongside archaic methods of working the land. The rural population still represents 65% of the country’s population, and of these 68% are employed in agriculture (43% of the total workforce). Of the landed proprietors, 2% own 45% of the land and it is this small minority which has access to the water and also to government subsidies. It is calculated that 60% of the rural families live in poverty.
37% of the labour force is in the service sector, a figure which confirms that Pakistan, despite all its contradictions, is a modern country with a developed capitalism.
The primary importance of Pakistan for International imperialism today is not just in terms of how it will affect the outcome of the war in Afghanistan but above all because control of this country means exerting control over four of the major world powers: China, India, Russia and Iran.
The industrial and rural proletariat of Pakistan, its poor peasant farmers and its semi-enslaved serfs, must try not to get drawn into these games. They don’t have to decide on whether to sell themselves to a new imperial bloc or not, instead they need to demand their complete, revolutionary emancipation from class oppression, that is, they need to fight for communism.
At the Sarzana meeting, continuing the theme of the war in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the comrade who spoke on Pakistan at the last meeting now turned to Afghanistan.
Reference was made to an article by Engels, published in 1858, about the first Anglo-Afghan war; a war in which the English army suffered a scorching although not a definitive defeat. Engels highlights the geographical peculiarities of the country, characterised by the presence of various mountain chains which are amongst the highest in the world and which restrict movement between the high plateaus and the valleys. It is difficult for the central power in Kabul to establish control over the country due to widespread tribal divisions and the people’s warlike traditions, which make them little inclined to bow to foreign domination.
The comrade went on to examine the country’s geography in greater depth before presenting a brief economic history.
The GNP may be broken down into 48% from agriculture, 22% from industry and 30% from services; however of the active population, estimated to be 15 million, 80% are in agriculture, 10% in industry and 10% in the service sector, and this shows the country’s economic and social backwardness even if there are areas where agriculture is conducted in a modern manner, using wage labour, and where a few modern industrial plants owned by Western multinationals have been established. India and China have a significant presence in the country with China mainly active in the mining sector and India within the infrastructure.
The report went on to give a brief overview of the current military situation in the country; of the dislocation of the NATO and United States forces and their composition following Washington’s so-called “new Strategy”, whose goal is to increase the number of United States troops deployed in the area from 68,000 (in December) to around 100,000, to which should also be added the so-called “contractors”, in other words private mercenaries, who at the end of December numbered around 104,000, although these figures are expected to rise to 130-160,000.
This all goes to show the importance attributed to this area by the
Pentagon, and it is not surprising if you consider that Afghanistan, as
well as being Pakistan’s historical hinterland, also shares borders with
the countries of central Asia, through which oil from the Caspian Sea passes
on its way to China, with Russia to the north, and with problematic Iran
to the west.
The military question
The report at the Genoa meeting, with a discussion of Napoleon’s defeat, brought its coverage of the European wars of revolutionary France to a close.
Historians have always liked to speculate about how Europe might have turned out if Napoleon had won. But if from the purely military point of view the question might be worth asking, the fact is the conditions that had favoured the fortunes of bourgeois France and its emperor had changed quite considerably by 1815. In Europe the feudal world had been substantially compromised, even if bits of it survived here and there, and the bourgeoisie was everywhere expanding its dominion. If Napoleon had previously been their weapon he now had to be put out to grass; it wasn’t just a matter of preventing French expansionism, he had outlived his usefulness.
The Allies were preparing a substantial army of the various European powers, headed by bourgeois England and feudal Prussia, composed of around 800 thousand men. Napoleon meanwhile had only his Army of the North, composed of around 124 thousand men. And what is more, the English fusiliers were now equipped with the new Baker rifles, whose range was almost double that of the French.
Drawing on detailed accounts from both sides, the speaker gave an account of the Battle of Waterloo. Although grave miscalculations and errors of judgement were made on both sides, it was the mistakes of the French generals, not helped by the bad weather, which would be the main cause of the defeat.
Nothing went according to plan. The main French attack, which was conducted with waves of infantry and cavalry attacks, was neutralised by the accurate shooting of the English fusiliers and the counter-attack of the English cavalry. The French forces found themselves caught up simultaneously on three immediately adjoining fronts. Attacks and counter-attacks, objectives achieved and immediately relinquished, followed one after the after throughout the afternoon until the first French disbandment. Finally there remained only the Old Guard, which would sacrifice itself to allow the great general to flee the field of battle.
The death toll was 25 thousand French, 22 thousand English and 7 thousand Prussians; there were 7 thousand French prisoners.
In the course of the next two meetings the study went on to consider feats of arms during the American War of Independence of 1775-1783 (and usefully complementing part 2 of our ‘History of the American Labour Movement’, for which see this issue of Communist Left).
Two very different military formations clashed in this war. The English side was trained and organised but was lacking in motivation. The American side was recruited in a more haphazard way, and its commanders were often not up to the task; but the determination of the colonists to attain their goal would compensate for any mistakes and defections, which as a matter of fact consistently occurred on the other side as well. The training of the English troops, in accordance with the classic formulas of the 18th century, which were based on troop movements in open terrain against a similarly disposed adversary, proved clearly inadequate against forces organised for a guerrilla war. Indeed this is perennial unresolved problem: from the Roman legions in the Samnite Wars and in Spain, to the modern American army fighting in the Vietnam war, and on to Afghanistan today. Our modern, contemporary armies, which nowadays they want to scale down and consist of a few specialist mercenaries, are studying and experimenting with tactical schemes to meet this type of combat, which is currently taking place in the mountainous valleys of central Asia and on the plains of Mesopotamia and the Indus.
Something analogous might happen in the cities when the armed revolt of the proletariat finally breaks out; when the latter, not yet equipped with an army which is trained and prepared, might pass onto the offensive and begin using improvised techniques against forces which are trained in this type of combat, but which are nevertheless internally corroded by demoralisation and desertion.
The Thirteen Colonies had been planted in various different ways but all were bound to London by burdensome economic conditions.
England’s victory over France and Spain resulted in vast annexations and a rise in the duties and taxes which the colonists were expected to pay; another obstacle in their way was the Crown, which not wishing to expose itself further wanted to block any further expansion. The situation would get progressively worse until two years later war broke out.
Making up the army of the Thirteen Colonies Volunteers were the militia men (Minute Men), and troops and officers who had been trained in the English army. These together made up a fighting force of around 273 thousand men, along with over 120 ships. 15 thousand regular troops and around 60 ships would arrive later on from France, and 8 thousand regulars and 40 ships from Spain. There were also the Quebecois rebels and the native American tribes of the Oneida and Tuscarora. The English forces would end up with a total of 112 thousand men and 100 ships.
The English infantry were equipped with a smooth-bore flintlock musket known as the Brown Bess, with an effective range of around 250 metres, the French had their Charlevilles, whose effective range was only 100 metres but which would be rendered more effective by successive experimental modifications by American armourers (eventually resulting, many years done the line, in the famous Springfield 1795, the first significant weapon completely designed and produced in America). The colonists had their powerful Kentucky (or Pennsylvania) long barreled rifles, with an effective range of 370 metres, but they were extremely slow to reload. All of them were muzzle-loaders. The first breechloader, the Ferguson, was also used by the English, but it was an innovation that would take a long time to perfect, and not until the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 would the infantry on both sides be equipped with similar weapons as standard issue.
The report then referred to the first clashes between the improvised formations of the colonial rebels and the English army. The Americans were not yet ready to face the English in open battle, only to hit them with guerilla actions before falling back to their secure bases. The movement of English troops, meanwhile, was severely hampered by certain aspects of their military organisation. A commentary about this by Engels was read out.
Washington addressed the issue of organisation of his forces in terms of discipline and command structure, but above all he set up workshops committed to war production and of artillery in particular.
Fortune seemed to favour the English during most of the war, but the Americans received an unexpected boost after taking Fort Ticonderoga where they found 50 cannons, which they managed to haul back to the heights above Boston and use them to liberate the city. Boston, which lacked a loyalist population, was considered impossible to defend by the English and they evacuated the entire garrison of 6,500 men. This would last for at least two weeks, during which Washington didn’t give the order to attack. Both fronts, but particularly London, didn’t want to inflict serious damage on the opposition in case it might compromise future commercial treaties between the two sides. Thus Washington relinquished the opportunity to annihilate the English. He was worried amongst other things about the not insignificant number of minute men under his command: these were proletarians who, after having sparked off the initial struggles in defence of their working conditions, which were still as terrible as ever, were now armed and had developed a taste for victory after taking part in numerous battles.
In order to drive a wedge between the colonial forces there was now
an attempt to take New York with a joint manoeuvre which involved 10 thousand
English troops descending the Hudson River from Canada, and a naval assault
on the city. On the 22 August 1776, 15 thousand English and German troops
from the 35 thousand at Howe’s disposal, with covering fire provided
by 500 naval cannons on 88 frigates, started their disembarkation in Manhattan
causing havoc amongst the Americans. After 40 days of continuous skirmishing
and a meeting between the two sides (called off by the English because
of the Declaration of American Independence on July 4th) New York fell
under English control.
From The Capital,
At the Genoa meeting we looked at what lay behind a famously crucial argument from the 3rd Volume of Capital, focussing on what our doctrine considers to be the ultimate driver of the last ten years of economic crises, although it is unknown to bourgeois economic theories.
Surplus value divided by variable capital is defined as the rate of surplus-value; the relation between surplus value and total capital is defined as the rate of profit.
Historically the rate of profit is transformed, or rather, stabilises around, an average rate of profit.
The tendency of the rate of profit to fall isn’t one of Marx’s discoveries, but rather a worrisome and unexplained observation of economists, in particular of Ricardo. In the Third Part, the rational and scientific origins of this law are laid bare; a law which expresses the fact that, taking a given quantity of capital, there is historically an increase in the part invested in the means of labour and a decrease in that spent on living labour. Since there is a proportionate decrease of the mass of living labour being applied to the increased, yet sterile, means of production, this means there is equally a reduction in the amount of unpaid labour, and the part of the value that it represents, in relation to the total capital.
The growth in the productivity of social labour, which is truly vertiginous under the capitalist mode of production, thus determines the tendency of the rate of profit to progressively decline.
The market in which commodities realise their value must be constantly extended, hence, the expansion into the foreign market to increase sales.
Periodically clashes of conflicting forces produce crises, which are just temporary solutions to the existing contradictions; violent tremors which momentarily re-establish equilibrium. Capitalist production continuously strives to overcome its contingent limitations, but it can overcome them only by means which bring it face to face with the same limitations, although on a new, larger scale.
The enormous development of the productive forces in relation to the population, and the still more disproportionate growth of instruments of credit which increase even more rapidly, find themselves in conflict as much with the foundations on which this huge productive force operates, as with the accretion of wealth and with the conditions under which this growing capital is valorised.
It is due to this conflict that crises arise.
At the following meeting the 5th Part of the 3rd Volume of Capital was expounded upon, introducing the topic covered in Chapter 24, “Externalisation of the Relations of Capital in the Form of Interest-Bearing Capital”.
After having cleared the decks of the ideological distortion which sees financial capitalism, and therefore the banking system, as the root cause of all of that is wrong with capitalism, the exposition set out from the observation that Marxism views the laws to which every form of capital is subject as being ultimately the same, even if they appear to behave differently, and act differently. From the point of view of communist morality, all forms of capitalism are despicable and inhuman.
Money, considered as an expression of a sum of value, in whatever aspect – cash, commodities, instruments of credit – is transformed into capital only on the basis of capitalist production, and only through this process does it become a value which has valorised itself, which has added value to itself. Only within this process does money assume an additional use value, i.e., it operates as capital, that is, it produces profit.
Money, under this aspect of being potential capital, that is, a means for the production of profit, becomes a commodity, but a commodity of a particular type. As opposed to ordinary commodities, the use value of the capital provided is itself value, that is, the excess of value, over and above the original size of the value, created by using the money as capital. This use value is the profit.
Capital productive of interest presents capitalist relations in their most mystified form. This is because the intermediary process between the two extremes of the capitalist cycle, D-D’, disappears. In fact, in the actual process of capitalist production, the monetary form assumes a merely fleeting existence; it is just a transitional form. On the monetary markets, on the other hand, capital seems to exist permanently under this form.
On the basis of future surplus value (profit, for the capitalists and financiers), an ever greater amount of money is advanced to gamble with on the stock markets and, at a truly pathological level in recent times, the so-called “financial engineering” multiplies it in an insane game of mirrors.
When the gap between the value which can be produced in the real production process and the value the financiers have written down on paper becomes too wide, and the crisis in the productive “substructure” (to use their words) eventually reduces the actual mass of values, then the so-called bubble bursts.
For our science, on the other hand, the conservation and reproduction of the value of the products of past labour can only result from their contact with living labour; moreover, the domination of the products of past labour over living surplus value will only last for as long as their relationship is a capitalist one; namely, that historico-socially determined relationship in which past labour becomes autonomous and opposed to living labour.
At the third meeting we finally got to set out the essential points from Chapter 25 (“Credit and Fictitious Capital”) from the 5th Part of the Third Volume. This chapter deals with the special characteristics of commercial and banking credit.
Marx’s notes, reorganised by Engels, aimed to illustrate and explain the fictitious nature of the circulation of bills and the resulting possibility of more or less legalised fraud, whose sole effect is to transfer monetary capital from one pocket to another.
With the development of commerce and capitalist production the natural basis of the credit system is perfected and generalised. Until the date they fall due, bills of exchange neutralise each other through the balancing of claims and debts and therefore function as money. These mutual advances of producers and merchants form the real basis of credit.
What is more, the custody of the reserve funds of businessmen, and the technical operations of receiving and disbursing money and international payments, become concentrated in the hands of the money-dealers.
Alongside this there develops the other side of the credit system: the management of interest-bearing capital. The money-dealers act as middlemen between the actual lender and the borrower of money-capital. They become the general managers of money-capital.
Marx quotes an economist of his time who wrote in 1834:“Whatever gives facilities to trade gives facilities to speculation”. And this process, the untrammelled expansion of the mechanism of loans and discounting, will bring about the crisis of 1846-47.
And even if at this time ‘financial engineering’, ‘derivatives’ and ‘capitalisations’ were still a long way off in the future, nevertheless the course of capitalism, its ‘financialisation’, which seems a very recent invention, was already a road well travelled.
The speaker made a historical detour to consider the British Bank Charter Act of 1844, which restricted the authority to issue banknotes in England and Wales to the Bank of England. Marx brands this Law as the maximum expression of the usurious, money-lending form of capital due to its perverse effect on the rate of interest. After the suspension of the Bank Act, the bank was able to put its supply of banknotes into circulation and ‘go for broke’, that is, any legal fetters on their issue were removed.
Engels notes that by 1848 there was already a new revival of business activity, which in 1849 would break the edge of the revolutionary movements on the continent and lead in the 1850s to a previously unheard-of industrial properity, only to be followed by the crash of 1857.
Marx notes that a secret committee of the House of Lords would be set
up to investigate the crisis, and its analysis of the causes would be as
follows: in the Spring of 1847 there was a undue extension of credit “because
a man transferred property from business into railways and was still anxious
to carry on the same extent of business. He probably thought that he could
sell the railway shares for a profit and replace the money in his business.
Perhaps he found that this could not be done, and he then got credit in
his business where formerly he paid in cash. There was an extension of
credit from that circumstance”.
Origins of the Chinese Communist Party
A historical overview, derived from previous party work, gave us an understanding of how the bourgeois industrial revolution gained a hold in China within the context of the colonial wars known as the “Opium Wars”. The Celestial Empire collapses and is split apart after losing the war with the Western powers. The mechanism of repeated peasant revolts and redistribution of the land, which had created that millennial stability across various dynasties, would be destroyed for ever.
At the beginning of the 20th century the new relations of production start to emerge. First the Taiping rebellion and then the Boxer Rising foretell the collapse of the Empire and the reunification of China as a single state.
All of the Western Imperialist powers see China as the solution to their own crises and contradictions, through the establishment of industries in a country where extremely high rates of exploitation were possible. A small but concentrated proletariat is formed within and around the zones where imperialist influence holds sway, in the railways and in the ports.
The Kuomintang, the ideological expression of Chinese populism inspired by Sun Yat-sen, is a political party and revolutionary democratic movement which had already been organised before 1911 and had exerted a certain influence on the popular masses, even if exclusively in the province of Guang Dong.
In 1911 an attempted bourgeois political revolution, led initially by Sun Yat-sen, immediately degenerates and power falls into the hands of local cliques, diffused throughout the territory. The Chinese bourgeoisie, tied to the interests of the imperialists, has neither the strength nor the courage to express its interests in a national State.
The highest expression of the more or less national and nationalist revolutionary bourgeoisie appears in 1919 with the ‘May 4 Movement’, which is born of the vain hope, promptly dashed, of having some weight and consideration at the Versailles Congress, that gathering of brigands which assembled to divide up the booty after the First World War.
From that time up until 1927 the entire period falls under the banner of workers’ and proletarian struggles. The formation of the CCP will be purely determined by material factors: the arising of new class relations, the birth of the proletariat and proletarian struggle, the victory of the dictatorship in Russia, the beginning of the communist revolutionary cycle throughout the world.
China was faced with what Marxism has defined as “permanent revolution”, with the proletarian vanguard, the Communist Party, having to take on the responsibility of achieving the programme of revolutionary democracy as well. Due to this factor, on the tactical level, it derived the support, extending up to temporary alliance, of the revolutionary national democratic movement, as endorsed by the theses of the Second Congress of the CI.
Indeed, the 1920 theses gave a decisive stimulus to the formation of
the CCP, whose first congress would take place in July 1921. From 1920
onwards groups of communists had formed in four or five cities. The CI
would lend them its support and help to coordinate those still limited
Origins of the trade
unions in Italy
Our press in 1946, which was Battaglia Comunista at that time, would reassert our line on the class trade union and on the patriotic CGIL, and criticise both the latter’s tendency not to renew membership cards, and its tendency to create new organisations which, after all, can’t be summoned out of thin air. But by now the party had already started to consider the possibility of new organisations arising “outside and against” the CGIL, although it was still opposed to a split which, in the absence of class struggles and given the predominance of the opportunist parties in the trade unions, wouldn’t have made much sense at that point.
The speaker went on to read a passage from an article entitled ‘Our Position inside the Trade Union’, from BC No. 24, dated 1-7 September: “Participation in the trade union for as long as the latter continues to represent the antagonism between capital and labour and, by uniting the labouring masses, allows them to conduct effective struggles to meet their demands, and for as long as, on the other hand, the workers as a whole, under the impetus and pressure of events, don’t gravitate towards other forms and means of struggle; but, in the meantime, there must be a clear demarcation between us and the union leadership, and open denunciation of the latter’s policy of dispersing the workers’ energy and supporting the State power (...) Splitting the union is to be rejected as is the formation of new organisations (...) for as long as circumstances don’t place such a question on the agenda”.
The idea that the union could be brought back to a class position merely by reforming the Confederation and by means of majority votes at meetings and Congresses was also criticised. The tactic of the step by step, progressive conquest of the union leadership by revolutionaries was thus ruled out and, consequently, also the prospect that communist internationalists and socialist-communists could co-exist in the leadership of the Confederation.
Depending on the relation of forces, the influence of the revolutionary political organisation, and on any initiatives being taken by the proletariat itself, communist internationalists will either limit themselves to denouncing the trade union leadership and holding it responsible for its actions, or else agitate for it to be got rid of altogether and replaced with a leadership prepared to fight along class lines, or, finally, they will participate in the formation of new types of organisation which arise from the struggle and in extending them to a national scale.
The communist struggle in the meantime aims to develop the class consciousness of the masses and to strengthen the political organisation, both of which are essential conditions for the rebirth of mass organisations of a classist nature, in whatever form they may take under the impact of developing circumstances.
The study then proceeded to look at the subject in more detail, in particular documenting the position our current took after the First World War towards the various workers’ defensive organisations. This research has undoubtedly been made easier thanks to a major party project of tracking down and reproducing old copies of the main organs of the P.C d’I press, which means we can now refer directly to Il Comunista and Il Lavoratore and deepen our knowledge of communist interventions in the class at that time.
For example, regarding the relations that should be maintained with
trade unions led by anarchists – a very topical question today – from
an article in Il Comunista dated 25 October 1921 entitled ‘Against
the tidal wave of mistakes’, it was mentioned that the International
Red Union had taken the initiative of setting up a meeting between the
Confederation, the Syndicalist Union [Unione Sindacale] and the Railwaymen’s
Union [Sindacato Ferrovieri], the latter two led by anarchists. So even
then communists supported organisational unity and joint action with this
type of trade union. Meanwhile, the call for “independence from parties”
was used instead as a pretext to oppose unity of the labour movement,
as much by those who defended the call as by those who rejected it.
The rearming of the States
This subject has been broached before, at the June 2006 party meeting in Viareggio, when data from the 2006 edition of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute yearbook was presented.
In particular a table listed the 15 States with the highest military expenditure, ranking them not according to the dollar value of this expenditure but on a par with purchasing power, that is taking account not of the official currency exchange rate but the actual cost of armaments in the various countries. The series was no longer the traditional one of old, and revealed the changes in interstate relations which following the collapse of Moscow’s empire. The United States was still in first place, with 41.4% of global military expenditure, but was followed, though lagging some way behind, by the People’s Republic of China (14.6%), and by India (7.4%). In fourth place was Russia (6.0%), followed by France (4.7%), Great Britain (4.2%), Germany (3.4%), Japan (3.2%), Italy (3.1%), Saudi Arabia (2.6%,) Turkey (2.2%), South Korea(2.1%), Brasil (1.9%), Iran (1.7%), and Pakistan (1.5%).
The current report was based on SIPRI’s 2009 yearbook, which tallied with other sources, such as the 2008 edition of the French Republic’s White Book on defence, the 2009 edition of the People’s Republic of China White Book on defence, and articles in the international press.
The tables covered a 20 year period, commencing in 1988, characterised on the global scale by a reduction in military spending during the first decade, up to 1998, and then by a subsequent period of constant growth continuing up to now, and as Le Monde notes, “despite the economic crisis”.
Indeed the pattern of the last twenty years might lead one to believe that military spending tends to fluctuate. We Marxists know otherwise. The world capitalist system, just as it prompts an ever greater increase in the mass of commodities produced, so does it also lead to constant expansion of the “arms” commodity and its associated derivatives. Also the tendency of States is to increase their military spending, arming themselves with increasingly sophisticated and costly weapons systems in order to address the need, constantly emphasised in the military policy programs of all the major imperialist States, of defending their economic interests and their access to markets and sources of raw materials.
In confirmation of the accelerated pace of State rearmament the report analysed the military expenditure of the United States of America since the Second World War. Following the peak reached during the imperialist war, this was followed by a significant reduction in spending in the period which immediately followed it; but already in the early fifties, due to the Korean War, it had started to rise, continuing its virtually uninterrupted ascent up to the present day. The brief fall in expenditure between 1988-1998 is to be explained not only by the dismemberment of the Russian Empire but by the process of modernisation which hit every army, with a marked reduction in personnel and light arms and on the technical side the introduction of more sophisticated weaponry.
The comrade then gave a brief description of the rapid rearmament undertaken
by the People’s Republic of China, paid for by the exploitation of the
most numerous proletariat in the world. Beijing is accelerating the pace
at which it is building an army, navy and air force but it is still far
from being able to defend its strategic lines of communication into the
country, along which flow the necessary raw materials needed to develop
its gigantic economy.
History of the labor movement
in the United States
The presentation of the work on the American labour movement continued with a description of the activity of the sections of the First International within the North American working class in the early 1870s. The internationalists were particularly active amongst the unemployed where they met with some success. The most active workers were the Germans, who imported the socialist message from Europe. Along with them came also the questions which in the mother country divided the Marxists from the Lassalleans, with the consequent weakening of the movement which resulted aggravated by a tendency of the Germans to keep apart from the “native” workers. A comment by Marx and Engels on the situation from their correspondence of the period highlighted this situation. In 1876, on the occasion of the dissolution of the First International, there was a rapprochement, and the Working Men’s party of the United States was formed almost contemporaneously, although the old differences would soon re-emerge to the detriment of the Marxist wing, and be compounded once the anarchists had given shape to their own political organisation. Another series of events connected to the European origins of the movement, Irish this time, was the rise and fall of the Molly Maguires, who were mainly present in the mining districts of Pennsylvania.
The greater part of the report was however devoted to describing the major struggles of those years and in particular the Great Railway Strike of 1877; a strike which made the ruling classes tremble and gave the proletariat a measure of its strength. But in the end, thanks to its combined force of army, private troops, militia, police, press and courts, the bosses would defeat the railway workers after a bloody crackdown, leaving many dead, even if proletarians did obtain certain concessions. What is for sure is that the average American worker learned at least two things: first of all came the realisation of the great power the class was capable of expressing when it moved as one; and that this great power could achieve nothing unless there was an organisation to give it continuity, connectivity and capacity to resist. Hence the decisive push to form national trades unions, capable of mobilising large numbers and, thanks to membership subscriptions, of providing support to strikers for prolonged periods.
These important struggles would give rise in 1878 to the International
Labor Union, a national trade union organisation which exhibited a characteristic
feature of a class organisation, in that it supported its weakest sectors,
namely blacks and above all women. But it didn’t last long, finally fizzling
out in 1883. The experience of the participants would not however be lost
and would prove to be a precious asset within the Knights of Labor.
The Historical Need for Communism
at Casa Bar, 29 Hope Street, Liverpool