The newspaper Il Partito Comunista, and the organised network of militants gathered and still gathering around it, are the result of a selection which occurred in the course of conducting the “hard work of restoring the revolutionary doctrine and party organ in contact with the working class, outside the realm of personalised politics and electoralist manoeuvrings”; a job undertaken by the Communist Left in Italy after the collapse in 1926 of the Communist International, fallen victim to Stalinism and the distorted theory of ‘Socialism in One Country’. The story of the actual reconstitution of the revolutionary class party is inevitably marked by these periodic selections which, in the organisational sphere, express the clarification, definition or simply the placing on the agenda of the major questions of theory, of program, of tactics and of the party’s internal organisation and functioning, which reality itself, not men’s will, force the party to face up to, to reassert and to formulate in an ever more precise way.
The Communist Left in Italy took to the road of party restoration again after 1926, first of all by reasserting the full importance of the factors which underpinned the victory in Russia and the formation of the 3rd International at its 2nd congress in 1920. Absolute necessity of the class political party organised on a global scale in a non federalist and centralised manner founded on Marxist theory and doctrine considered as invariant; necessity of violent revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, directly led by the class party; reaffirmation, against the prevailing Stalinism, of the thesis, very much alive in Lenin’s time, that the victorious proletariat in one country must subordinate its entire effort to achieving proletarian victory on a world scale, with the consequent hierarchy of the global communist party having to be: Communist International – party in power – proletarian State. In reasserting those key positions, the Left necessarily had to march against Stalinism, separated from all those positions and groups which had drawn the conclusion, from the collapse of the International, that the centralised party and one party dictatorial state should be opposed; “anti-Stalinist” positions and groups, these, which in fact marked a return to the Kaapdist positions which had been defeated at the 2nd Congress
Another crucial position taken by the Italian Left was that the series of objectively unfavourable events marking the course of the proletarian revolution between 1917 and 1926 wasn’t the only cause of the degeneration of the International, there had been a number of subjective weaknesses as well, which may be summed up as: a set of lacunae in the process of the formation of the International and of the parties belonging to it, a process which the requirements of the immediate battle had rendered imperfect; as a lack of elaboration and order in the field of tactics, as compared to the Bolsheviks’ magisterial effort in restoring the theory and the program; an incorrect organisational practice from the 4th Congress onwards, which we denounced as dangerous and as the harbinger of organisational disintegration (mergers, infiltration, sympathiser parties, etc.), and finally,an incorrect method of running the party and organising its work, which started to gain ground around the time of the resolution of the German problem in 1923, and finally prevailed in the International under the aberrant term “Bolshevisation”. The Left drew the lessons of this historic tragedy by drawing up a critical balance sheet of the whole of the International’s work from 1920 to 1926; a balance sheet, incidentally, already contained in our Lyons Theses at the 3rd Congress of the Italian Communist Party back in 1926.
This approach to the question necessarily provoked another parting of the historical ways: that between our current and that of Trotsky and the Russia opposition, which rejected our balance sheet for material reasons and certainly not through any lack of will on our part. In 1945, with the passage of Russia and the Stalinised parties to the counter-revolutionary camp having reached its material conclusion, the reforming of the revolutionary communist party on the above-mentioned basis was back on the agenda. By now the road we had taken, and the one taken by the Trotskyist ‘International’ and those who had relapsed into spontaneism, diverged in every respect and there was no going back. The generic anti-Stalinism of various regroupings couldn’t therefore be posed as the basis for reorganisation. What was posed instead, with the 1945 Political Platform, was the historical experience of the Italian Left and on this road, with Battaglia Comunista as its fortnightly paper and Prometeo as its review, the “hard work” would begin.
The post Second World War period forced the party to confront a number of specific problems regarding its tactics and general perspective. The crucial point in this mammoth task, conducted between 1945 and 1952, is marked by the party’s Characteristic Theses in 1952 which constituted the basis for joining the party itself. Those who didn’t accept the Characteristic Theses en bloc found themselves automatically outside the organisation. No-one had to expel them. They left of their own accord, not sharing the conclusions to which the party’s work in its various spheres of activity had led. They could, in the words of our 1965 Theses, take any of the other paths which diverged from ours. They did take one, are following it still, and at what distance from the party is none of our concern.
Although a situation persisted that was completely amorphous and dead as far as the revolutionary crisis was concerned, the situation itself of the party organisation’s growth and consolidation around the fortnightly Il Programma Comunista and even on an international scale, placed back on the agenda in 1964 the need to deal with problems related to the party’s perennial tasks and the way the organisation functioned internally. Once again the situation, rather this or that person’s will, had brought certain problems to the fore which, already covered in a hundred and one statements datable to 1920, now had to be settled once and for all, namely: the organisational problems faced by the reconstituted party with its now much reduced network. This necessity we tackled in our usual way, taking into account not the opinions of individuals or groups but looking instead to the past, and to the future, for answers to today’s and tomorrow’s problems. Between 1964 and 1966 we used the Marxist method to undertake an assessment of the organisational experiences of the world communist party between 1848 and 1926, putting back in their place the various factors which define the essence of the communist party, theory, programme, tactics and organisation. And objective and definitive conclusions were drawn from these experiences which were summed up in the 1964-66 Theses which are also something you also have to either accept or reject en bloc, because they constitute not the fruit of somebody’s questionable deliberations, whether of a leader or a rank-and-file member, but an outcome of the Communist Left’s overall vision developed over a fifty year time span.
With this new milestone on the road to the reconstitution of the party now in place, the organisational repercussions of this act were in a certain sense secondary and didn’t really matter. Some, maybe quite a few, left. They, too, were free to follow any road they wanted. No action was taken either to push them out, or draw them back in. Our paths diverged and they diverge still, and the divergence is summed up in a monolithic block of theses and statements that typify the Communist Left.
In the 1964-66 Theses, and in the actual history of the party we have sketched out and which they summarise, a description of the party’s organic dynamic is summed up in these terms: “The screening of party members in the organic centralist scheme is carried out in a way we have always declared to be contrary to the Moscow centrists. The party continues to hone and refine the distinctive features of its doctrine, of its action and tactics with a unique methodology that transcends spatial and temporal boundaries. Clearly all those who are uncomfortable with these delineations can just leave. Not even after the seizure of power may we admit forced membership within our ranks; all terroristic pressures in the disciplinary field are therefore out of the correct meaning of organic centralism; they even copy their vocabulary from abused bourgeois constitutional forms, like the faculty of the executive power to dissolve and reassemble elective formations – all forms that for a long time we consider obsolete, not only for the proletarian party, but even for the revolutionary and temporary State of the victorious proletariat” (Excerpt from Theses on the Historical Duty, Action, and the Structure of the World Communist Party).
So, for Marx, Lenin and the Left, the task of honing the party’s theoretical, programmatic and tactical cardinal principles could always bring about organisational rifts and splits as a consequence. When a split occurs on this basis it is the result of divergent political positions having appeared, and it is a natural, organic and historically positive fact. But in the organic centralist scheme, which is a correctly Marxist conception of the party’s internal dynamics, the use of organisational pressure cannot be considered as the way of resolving internal differences without it slowly but surely corrupting the very nature of the party. The theses have no hesitation in sanctioning this view as one which is derived from historical experience. Between 1970 and 1973 history placed various problems on the party’s agenda. According to our classic method we needed to engage in a rational and objective search for solutions, from which would emerge either unanimous agreement on the part of the entire organisation, or a clear delineation of contrary positions and consequently a spontaneous, natural and organic organisational split. A whole series of material reasons have meant that the method we have always defended, which was codified in 1965, has been prevented from being put into practice. Of necessity the opposite method was used, putting back on the agenda, inside the organisation, the practice of political struggle, of ideological terrorism, and of organisational pressure against militants who declared themselves to be in total agreement on the bulk of the party’s fundamental positions and who totally accepted executive discipline within the organisation. The use of these methods ensured that, for the first time in the party’s history, the selection which now gave rise to the newspaper Il Partito Comunista came about not as a voluntary departure of elements who disagreed about some fundamental position, but as the official expulsion of elements who have declared their full acceptance of the entire tactical, programmatic and theoretical patrimony of the Communist Left.
The use of these methods contravenes in a practical sense the party’s theses on organic centralism, which means, given that these theses are not a theoretical luxury, that it contravenes the sole method History has chosen to construct in practice the strong, compact revolutionary organisation needed by the proletariat to achieve its emancipation. The party is not built by such methods; historical experience has taught us as much with its bloody lessons; in fact, it renders the party prone to deviations in the programmatic and tactical spheres by neglecting one of the main ‘guarantees’ it will stay on the right track: its internal working practices,the third aspect of the resurgence of opportunism in the Moscow International denounced by the Left.
Not our willpower, but material facts have brought us to this point: openly defending all of the Left’s classic and unchanging positions as the sole basis on which the organised network of the class party can be woven back together again, close-knit and powerful. Constrained to take note of the existence of two organisations, neither wanted nor caused by us, we have nothing else to inscribe on our banner apart from complete loyalty towards and faith in the tradition of Marx, Lenin and the Communist Left, as codified in the body of theses known respectively as the Rome Theses, Lyons Theses, Characteristic Theses of 1952, and the 1964-1966 Theses on Organic Centralism. And to claim that the International Communist Party only arose and developed on these unchangeable and inviolable foundations, and only on these foundations can it survive and expand.
For the Class Union
The proletarian economic struggle is the struggle of the workers to defend their immediate interests: it is to do with wages, reduction of the intensity and duration of work, contesting the way work is organised, etc. It is the first stage in the class struggle, which becomes truly such when it becomes political struggle, the apex of which is the revolution against the bourgeoisie to conquer and exert power.
The economic struggle is a flight of steps which leads to political struggle. Each step is higher than the one before insofar as it corresponds to a broader and more intense struggle, drawing in and uniting an ever greater number of workers. In completing these steps the workers join together, overcoming the barriers which divide them. The first barrier is always that of the individual, then the department, the factory, plant or works, the firm, the category, and finally, most difficult of all, the barrier of the nation. The highest stages of the economic struggle – when the entire working class is mobilised for common objectives – tend to coincide with the first stages of the political struggle, because acting as a class is the first step towards feeling part of a class and understanding oneself to be part of a class.
economic struggle is constantly
because the material conditions that generate it
haven’t been eliminated.
These reside in the relations
which distinguish capitalism from all previous modes of production:
the relationship between Capital
The two poles of this relationship – which determine capitalism’s
two main classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat – are implacably
opposed. In general terms:
- Capital either grows or dies. A company whose capital doesn’t grow is destined to go under in the short or medium term. The sum of the capitals of individual firms – small, medium and large – is society’s gross capital. The bigger it gets, the more difficult it is to make it even bigger. To achieve this it is forced to step up the level of exploitation, in other words to lower wages and increase the duration and intensity of the working day.
- Wages – as the ultimate form assumed by Labour – is the sole means of subsistence of the proletariat, of the worker under capitalism, deprived as he is of all instruments of production apart from his own labour power, which he has to sell in order to eat. To ensure his own survival the worker necessarily finds himself in conflict with the requirements of capitalism.
The conflict between Capital and Wage Labour is implacable because it doesn’t derive from the will of the individuals which form the two main social classes under capitalism – the workers and the capitalists – but rather from the laws which govern this mode of production, which determine the needs of individuals and therefore their actions, according to their place in society. Class struggle doesn’t derive from ideology but is a fact which communist theory, precisely because it is scientific and non-ideological, recognises and places at the centre of its thinking. Examples of ideologies are notions such as social peace, the harmonisation of class interests, the idea of reconciling the needs of workers with those of Capital, in a word, reformism.
Economic struggle and political struggle are not opposed to one another. Economic struggle only hits out at the effects of capitalism, defending workers from Capital’s need to offset the falling rate of profit. The political class struggle aims to tackle the cause of the problem: the Capital-Labour relationship in the realm of production. The history of capitalism shows that every victory won by workers in the field of economic struggle is ephemeral. Over recent years this has been confirmed as one by one the workers’ hard-won conquests have been smashed by the bosses and their governments. The only way the working class can put an end to being exploited and to its precarious situation is to pass from fighting against the effects of capitalism to fighting against capitalism itself. The political struggle is the logical extension of the economic struggle. Communists don’t therefore exploit the workers’ economic struggles for political ends which are totally extraneous to those struggles.
“The Communists have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole (…) They are distinguished (…) only by this (…) they point out and bring to the fore the common interests of the entire proletariat independent of all nationality (…) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole” (The Communist Manifesto, Marx & Engels, 1848.
The crucial importance of the economic struggle is clear. Without it there would be no possibility of victory over capitalism. A class that is incapable of defending itself on the economic plane cannot attack on the political plane.
“The political movement of the working class has as its object, of course, the conquest of political power for the working class, and for this it is naturally necessary that a previous organisation of the working class, itself arising from their economic struggles, should have been developed up to a certain point”. (Letter from Marx to Bolte, Nov 23, 1871).
The importance of economic struggle is accentuated by the fact that during periods of counter-revolution it is the one field in which party can take action; by which we mean not just propaganda and proselytism, but getting involved to the extent of being able to influence, organize and lead workers’ struggles. Continuous insistence on the possibility of such action is one of the pillars which underpins the party’s effectiveness and determines its very nature.
“8. (…) Clearly the predominant task of today’s small party is the restoration of principles with doctrinal value (…) But this does not mean we should erect a barrier between theory and practical action; beyond a certain limit that would destroy us along with our basic principles. We thus lay claim to all forms of activity peculiar to the favourable periods insofar as the real balance of forces renders it possible”. (Considerations on the organic activity of the party when the general situation is historically unfavourable, 1965).
“9. (…) The party soon realized that, even in an extremely unfavourable situation, even in places in which the situation was absolutely sterile, restricting the movement’s activity merely to propaganda and political proselytism was dangerous and should be avoided. At all times and in all places with no exceptions, the party had to make an unceasing effort to integrate its own life with the life of the masses, participating in its protests as well, even when these were influenced by directives which conflicted with its own. (…) It is important to establish that, even where such work [Union activity] has not really got off the ground, we must make sure the small party doesn’t end up as an exclusive club with no connection with the outside world, or limits itself just to recruiting members in the world of opinion” (The “Naples” theses, 1965).
The party therefore takes great care to define its line of action in the field of proletarian economic struggle. The general aim of this action is to get the workers to move up each of the steps leading from economic struggle to revolutionary politics. It is a difficult job which consists of connecting every battle – even the smallest, most localised and most restricted in its goals – with the all-encompassing road to struggle which the class must take in order to achieve its highest aims, through the choice of goals, means and methods of struggle.
This task is conditioned by two major factors: the role of the proletarian economic organisations and the opposition of the ruling class.
Since the beginnings of the labour movement proletarian struggle has meant organisation of the workers. For workers equipping themselves with an organisation is a pressing necessity. “The collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the form of collisions between two classes. Thereupon the workers begin to form combinations against the bourgeoisie; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found PERMANENT ASSOCIATIONS in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts” (The Communist Manifesto).
From temporary structures, which arose to fight individual battles and then dissolved, there was a move to permanent organisations. This allowed the accumulated energy and experience not to be wasted, and operated as a touchstone of the level of class unity which had been achieved. When – inevitably – the combativity of the workers fluctuated, experiencing highs and lows, the organisation operated as a kind of flywheel, accumulating the energy expressed at the height of battle, and conserving it for when the working masses had ceased strike action, transmitting it to the next struggle.
As well as progressively overcoming temporal limitations the proletarian organisation also tended to surpass those limitations linked to the way capitalist production is structured, that is by company, trade or sector. Typically organisations would arise in a particular company, then spread to similar enterprises in the same sector of production in order to prevent competition between the workers in the respective companies. In such a way organisation of the entire sector on a national basis is achieved. The next step is uniting the unions in the various trades and sectors into one organisation.
Another way in which unions which organise the whole of the working class have been formed has been by setting up local territorial organisations, which coordinate the workers’ struggles by uniting them outside and above the various companies and trades. Typical examples of this are the Chambers of Labour in Italy and the Trades Councils in Great Britain.
Communists, even when not directly involved in forming organisations of proletarian struggle, have always eagerly supported them because what reinforces the class also reinforces revolutionary communism. The Party doesn’t organise party trade unions: economic organisation and political organisation need to remain distinct. But this approach isn’t in response to some moral precept. Communists know they are closest to the workers and represent their party. They never plead apoliticism, a trait which is a distinguishing feature of opportunisms of every hue. As a matter of principle “communists disdain to conceal their views and aims” (The Communist Manifesto). The Party encourages workers to build organisations to fight their struggle wherever a real proletarian push in such a direction actually exists. However it supports the formation of organisations which are open to all workers and which transcend their divisions, including political ones.
The Party doesn’t support the creation of unions – [The Italian term sindacato, which can also be translated as ‘syndicate’, avoids any reference to individual ‘trades’ as in the English term ‘trade union’. We have therefor tended to translate sindacato as ‘union’ where possible] – composed just of communists as the latter would inevitably be in a minority. In fact the Communist Party, insofar as it is revolutionary, inevitably organises only a minority of the working class because “the dominant ideology is always that of the dominant class” (Marx). Organising ‘party’ unions would mean abandoning the majority of workers to the influence of the bourgeois parties, an influence exerted in the majority trade union organisations through their agents. This is the reason we reject the hybrid forms which seek to combine Party and Trade Union.
The Communist Party, insofar as it is revolutionary, and therefore in the minority, doesn’t have the manpower to create direct relations with the class as a whole. The organisations formed by the proletariat to conduct their struggles are intermediate organisations which Lenin aptly described as the transmission belt between the Party and Class. Only by means of communist activity within these organisations can the voice of the Party, and its strength, be multiplied.
The best development of the class struggle is when there is a large part of the working class organized in one or more proletarian economic organisations, and there is a Party, with a clearly defined theory and revolutionary program, which has been able to carry out intensive activity within these organisations, to the extent that it is instantly recognisable by its members.
Two hundred years of proletarian struggle have shown us that the process of forming union organisations isn’t something that is achieved once and for all but is something that may be repeated, by a part or the whole of the class, according to how matters unfold in each country and what forms the hostile action of the bourgeoisie takes.
Although the trade union and labour movement in each country has certain characteristics of its own which are shaped by its national history, its fundamental traits are nevertheless everywhere the same, as delineated by revolutionary communism at the very beginning in the 1848 Manifesto, which concludes with the watchword Workingmen of all countries unite! It is both necessary and possible to delineate the general course which proletarian organisations have followed, and what the characteristic responses of the national bourgeoisies have been towards them.
The conduct of the ruling class has changed over the course of the history of capitalism and within it three successive phases may be discerned, which we refer to as: prohibition, tolerance, and subjugation.
The bourgeoisie’s attitude In the early days of the workers’ movement was strict prohibition and repression. Typical examples are the Le Chapelier law of June 1791 and the 1799-1800 Combination Acts in England. The conquest of political power by the revolutionary bourgeoisie, at the expense of the landed aristocracy, had as its ideological cover the doctrine of so-called liberalism, according to which the newly installed order, civil society, would, by virtue of the newly obtained legal equality of its citizens, be self-regulated, no longer harbouring those internal destructive forces which had been a feature of the feudal ancien regime, which had collapsed under the blows of the revolutionary bourgeoisie. As far as the bourgeoisie is concerned, of course, its regime was, and still is, the ultimate that is achievable, and will last for ever. The formation of distinct social bodies within society, such as the workers’ organisations, was thus repressed, considered a relic of the past, associated with the mediaeval corporations.
The Liberal doctrine soon revealed its ideological, that is, its false character. As youthful capitalism in Western Europe gathered momentum, along with the rapid growth of the proletariat, the use of repression would soon prove to be dangerous. If every time the workers went on strike they were faced with the full force of the bourgeois state, they might very rapidly be persuaded to move from economic to revolutionary struggle. Economic struggles were tending immediately to become political struggles. For that reason, in this period, the economic organisations and the political organisations of the proletarian class often coincided, as in the case of the glorious First International of 1864-1876.
The bourgeoisie – which took power in England during the revolution of 1649-58, in France during the Great Revolution of 1789-93, and in the rest of Europe after the revolutions in 1848-49 – would change its approach and accept proletarian associationism. The Tsarist regime, still feudal, wasn’t able to do the same, and this would be an additional factor contributing to its collapse under the onslaught of the proletarian revolution in October 1917.
The bloody repression of the Paris Commune would thus mark the start, In Western Europe, of the phase of tolerance, which witnessed an impetuous development of capitalism on the one hand and of the unions on the other. Typical examples of the latter were the German and English trade unions.
Thus the bourgeois State tacitly admitted that capitalist society wasn’t a homogeneous whole consisting of free, equal and fraternal citizens after all, but was divided into classes. But – in deference to the liberal doctrine – it still tried, for as long as it could, to leave the resolution of disputes between Capital and Labour to the independent organisations of the bosses and the workers, intervening only when they became a threat to public order. But the course of capitalism would inevitably exert pressure in the opposite direction: towards ever greater State intervention.
The long period of strong economic growth from the 1870s to the early years of the 20th Century – similar to one after the Second World War – was the material basis which fed the growth of a reformist current within the socialist and labour movement; a current which would become entrenched within the leadership of the trade union organisations. The new attitude of tolerance thus seemed to be serving the bourgeoisie’s interests very well: economic struggle was no longer pushing workers towards revolution, but towards reformism.
Reformism rejected revolution as the way out of the class struggle but shared with revolutionary Marxism the objective of a society without classes, without Capital, without wage slavery. There existed a proletarian reformism, or reformist Marxism, which revolutionary Marxism fought against – denouncing its inevitable failure – but with which, until History had proved the revolutionaries right, it shared the same political organisation, as in the typical case of the Second International, founded in 1889.
The trade unions, despite being led by reformists, were independent from the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois State in a theoretical and a material sense, due both to the nature of proletarian reformism and that of the bourgeoisie’s so-called liberalism. Neither of these attitudes were free choices on the part of their exponents but rather expressions of the youthful phase of capitalism; a phase which, following the powerful surge at the end of the 19th Century, was fast declining.
The ending of the cycle of growth and opening of the crisis around 1905, which resulted in the First World War and the proletarian revolutionary wave from 1917 to 1923, would radically alter the situation in the way revolutionary communism had predicted.
The revolutionary Marxist currents showed they were capable of carrying out highly effective activity within the trade union organisations, and of putting the latter’s subjection to reformism in jeopardy. The bourgeoisie could see they needed to exert tighter control over them.
The First World War accelerated capitalism’s transition from its youthful phase to maturity – imperialism – the chief characteristics of which on the economic front are the concentration and centralisation of capitals, closely linked to a fusion of banking and industrial capital. These features of the economic structure would be reflected in the political superstructure as a strengthening of the capitalist State machine, which, having once dispensed with the threadbare cloak of liberal ideology, tended from then on to intervene, control and discipline both the labour movement and the bourgeoisie itself in the interests of national and international capital as a whole.
The First World War confirmed the failure of reformism which in every country had supported its own bourgeoisie by propelling proletarians into fratricidal massacre on the war fronts, showing that it accepted capitalist war even if it rejected revolutionary violence. Proletarian reformism died and since then its corpse still walks only because it was embraced by the bourgeois state, which upholds it as an essential bulwark against the revolution. From now on there would exist only bourgeois reformism.
The defeat of the revolutionary wave in the years 1917-1923 helped the bourgeoisie in its bid to subjugate the workers’ economic organisations.
In those countries where the link between the workers and revolutionary communism was strongest the ruling classes resorted to the armed action of fascism, destroyed the class’s trade union organisations, created in their place State trade unions and theorised – openly – the organisation of the social forces, Capital and Labour, into Corporations, subject to State discipline, for the higher good of the Country.
But the material content of Fascist ideology – as well as the military action against the proletariat – was merely the practical action which all bourgeois states, both democratic and fascist, would take from then on. Just substitute “Corporations” with “Social components” and “Fatherland” with “Democracy”, or “Country”.
In those countries where revolutionary communism had been weakest, the bourgeoisie could still achieve the same results with reformism which, now become the bourgeoisie’s faithful servant, abandoned its previous goals and advocated those of its new master: first the classless society, without Capital, without wage labour was identified, and then Democracy, which, insofar as it was supposed to guarantee an egalitarian, progressive and forward looking capitalism in a state of permanent growth, would now be promoted as the supreme good to which the workers’ struggle had to be subordinated. Entirely false, of course, because no political regime can change the economic laws of capitalism.
The victory of the counter-revolution was also a victory for reformism which, having survived the revolutionary years of 1917-23, would penetrate the communist parties under the ideological guise of Stalinism and utterly destroy them. This new defeat of communism and of the revolution led to the Second World War. Yet again the workers of the world were prevented from answering the Manifesto’s call to unite! Yet again reformism would send workers to be massacred on the war fronts. The counter-revolution had triumphed, and as it couldn’t be broken it would have to run its course.
The ending, in 1974, of the new cycle of accumulation made possible by the Second World War, the collapse of fake Russian communism in 1989, the explosion of the general economic crisis in 2008, all of this is a sign of the deterioration of the material basis of this long counter-revolutionary phase.
AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Immediately after the Second World War the Party recognised the new stance of the ruling class, which now wanted to subjugate the working class organisations. The historical time-span which included the two world wars had seen the surrender of the traditional class-based union organisations. Seriously compromised as far as their independence was concerned, they had been transformed into regime unions, that is, tied to the political, economic and social regime of Capital. The long counter-revolutionary phase could only favour this process.
Faced with this situation, the Party kept to its traditional policy of working within these union organisations with the aim of conquering them, and turning them back into class organisations. However it added the proviso that the more they became incorporated into the regime, the greater the likelihood would be of the workers having to organise themselves outside and against them.
The work within these unions was therefore linked to the process of their progressive subjugation, or, more precisely, to the possibility for militants of carrying out communist union activity within them and of fighting for the communist trade union line: “IV, 11. (…) The Party, whereas it recognises today that its work in the unions can only be sporadic, yet never renounces it; and, from the moment the numerical relationship between its members, sympathisers and those organised in a given union body becomes appreciable, and the given organisation is one in which the last possibility, whether potential and statutory, of autonomous class action hasn’t been entirely ruled out, the party will carry on trying to penetrate it and to conquer its leadership” (Characteristic Theses of the Party, 1951).
The party is in no hurry to resolve this dual possibility – reconquest of the unions, or rebuilding them outside and against the regime unions – but insofar as it has a clear and complete picture of the situation, it has as a duty to indicate to the working class which path to take, because its role is to promote the party line within the proletarian economic struggle, and to influence and direct it accordingly. “II, 7. (…) In unfavourable periods, and when the proletarian class is passive, the Party’s duty is to encourage the formation of organisations whose aim is to achieve economic objectives in the immediate struggle and to predict the form they might take”. As in any other branch of activity, neglecting any one of its functions damages the entire organisation; its internal life; the work that it does.
possibility of evaluating whether a union organisation is
a regime union, that is, it is unconquerable
by communists, rests on the basis of what its policies are, and on
whether the following factors are present:
- regular attempts by groups of workers to organise outside and against it;
- practical impediments in place preventing the activity of party militants within it.
Following the Second World War the Party was only able to engage in significant activity in the unions in Italy. Here it fought inside the biggest union – the CGIL – from when it was reconstituted “from on high” with the “The Rome Pact” in 1944, already on the regime’s terms, and then for a further thirty years after that.
Only at the end of the 70s did the party come to the conclusion that it was no longer possible to carry out communist trade union work within the CGIL: conquering it was no longer possible, not even, as we used to say, ‘a legnate’ (‘with cudgels’), in other words not through congresses but propelled by mighty struggles and using violent means. This evaluation of the situation was based not only on union activity inside the CGIL, but also on important struggles in which workers organised themselves outside and against it.
Both of the above mentioned facts were very evident. Indeed in subsequent years the line of the party – which from then on in Italy was “outside and against the regime’s unions; for the revival of the class union” – has been confirmed by the birth of new, so-called “base” (or “rank-and-file”) union organisations. If over the last 35 years, from the end of the 70s until today, it is true that these new organisations have not gone on to form the Class Union; that they have defects, some of them serious; and that some of them have even tended to go down the same involutional path as the CGIL, this doesn’t contradict the party’s approach to the union problem but actually confirms it. In the age of imperialism the fact is that every union organisation that hasn’t been conquered by the revolutionary Communist Party is destined, sooner or later, to be subjugated by the bourgeois regime.
After having resolved the question of whether to “reconquer or rebuild outside and against” the Italian unions, the Party has for the last thirty years or so carried out union activity inside the new rank-and-file union organisations using the same methods and pursuing the same objectives as always, same as it did in the regime union the CGIL in the imperialist age, and same as in the red CGL during the first quarter of the 19th Century. What distinguishes this later period from the earlier ones is the absence of major proletarian struggles, making it quite a challenge for these small rank-and-file union organisations.
Apart from the party’s work in the trade unions having inevitably been influenced, much reduced and sometimes even interrupted altogether by external events (since it is struggle we’re talking about and not academic activity) its essential consistency and continuity is traceable using the main instrument of communist work, that is, the newspaper as ‘collective organizer’, through its trade union organs: Il Sindacato Rosso (1921-1925), Spartaco (1962-1968), Il Sindacato Rosso (1968-1973), Per il Sindacato Rosso (1974-1987).
The new trade union supplement, Per il Sindacato di Classe, which will appear in our monthly in Italian language Il Partito Comunista, intends to do the same job and stick to the same path that has already been marked out.
The increasingly severe crisis of capitalism has resulted in the only solution remaining to the boss class – defending profit levels by reducing the wages (and benefit costs) of the working class. This time, those in work and those on benefits, are being treated the same – a 1% increase of salaries (at most) and the same for benefits. Those in work are increasingly affected by reduction in hours along with real cuts in pay as the “only way of keeping their jobs”. With inflation in the region of 3% (according to the massaged statistics provided by the Government) this means that we are all suffering a reduction in our standard of living.
Those on benefits, including the long-term sick and disabled, are now increasingly being forced to show they are actively seeking work, and forced to take any job going, even if appallingly paid and highly unpleasant. School-leavers are being required to sign up for apprenticeships at Colleges who want to provide them as skivvies for two-bit outfits who don’t really want to pay anything. Many of these “apprentices” are left to their own devices and then forced to sign on again as unemployed.
Of the welfare reforms, one particularly disruptive one is the “Bedroom Tax”, where those below Pension Credit age who are considered to be under-occupying their home will have significant reductions to Housing Benefit, and will be expected to pay the difference themselves or face the prospect of losing their home.
All of the workers, both employed and unemployed, are now facing the same attacks and can only defend themselves by fighting together as a class.
WORKERS CAN DEFEND THEMSELVES ONLY WITH THE STRENGTH
OF THE CLASS STRUGGLE:
- With effective strikes, prolonged, without notice, with pickets, which extend beyond companies and categories;
- By fighting for goals that unite all workers: real wage increases (above inflation) with more for the worst-paid categories; generalized reduction of working hours for the same salary, wages for workers made redundant.
- By linking in with, uniting with and defending the proletariat as a whole, that is, including the unemployed, pensioners, the sick, disabled, the young, in order to unite ourselves as a class.
To do this we need to rebuild
a real CLASS
OUTSIDE AND AGAINST THE CONTROL OF THE UNION LEADERS, whose main
is to prevent the class struggle.
And that can only be a start. No economic victory will be final
capitalism is finished off once and for all. This has been amply
in recent years, as all the achievements of the hard-fought workers’
struggles of the past have been destroyed one by one. The working class
can only free itself from the condition of poverty, insecurity and
by gaining power through revolution, by overthrowing the dictatorship
of the bourgeoisie and imposing the dictatorship of the
needed to emancipate humanity from capitalism can only be the revolutionary
- Abolition of wage labour, with the abolition of capital and the free distribution of goods and services;
- Socialised work with the disappearance of unemployment;
- Drastic reduction of the working day;
- Reorganisation of production according to human needs and not for profit.
LONG LIVE COMMUNISM !
May the First is the day when workers throughout the world, by transcending the barriers of nation, race and religion, assert their common membership the same social class, linked by their common interests and fighting the same battle to emancipate themselves from exploitation, misery and poverty.
For over a century this historic aim has been a real possibility, no longer a utopian dream, thanks to capitalism itself which, condemned by its very nature to the pursuit of profit, has developed the productive capacity of labour to such a point that the needs of humanity as a whole can now be fully satisfied.
However, if on the one hand capitalism created the material conditions for this to occur, on the other it actually prevents such a historical goal from being achieved because it chains labour to the laws of profit, which are irreconcilable with the satisfaction of the needs of the greater part of humanity.
Due to the crisis which has hit the economy of the entire planet, this May the First 2013, workers of every country throughout the world find themselves in a situation which for several years now has been getting steadily worse rather than improving. Lurching from crisis to crisis – the present crisis is the fifth since 1974, and naturally follows on from it – capitalism is destroying the myths of peace, progress and increasing prosperity, all of them inextricably linked to the very worst of capitalism’s social and political superstitions, democracy, which now stands revealed as the form of capitalism’s dictatorship.
In the countries where capitalism is older, in Europe, America and Japan, where the economies are in full recession, the working class is hit by wage reductions, by cuts in social spending, by mass unemployment.
However the consequences of the crisis are starting to be felt in more recently industrialised countries as well, across China and India, from South Korea to Vietnam and Indonesia, and this is despite the low wages and extremely harsh working conditions. In Latin America Argentina is again in the throes of a deep crisis, but in all the other South American countries, from social-democratic Brasil to ‘Chavist’ Venezuela and laissez-faire Chile, the various regimes – despite not having yet been hit with the full force of the crisis, are adopting the same ‘austerity’ policies and seeking to ratchet up the exploitation of the working class.
In North Africa, the proletariat’s struggle to improve their living and working conditions and achieve political and trade union rights has been diverted towards the false objective of democracy and changes of government, the result being that the machinery of exploitation and capitalist oppression has been left totally intact. In South Africa, the impressive struggles organised by the mineworkers over the last few months has shown that in the younger and more vital capitalisms the exploitation is just as bad.
For now the bourgeoisie, supported by the fake ‘labour’ parties and patriotic trade unions, linked by a thousand threads to the government, the police and when necessary, the army, are managing to keep the lid on the pressure cooker of proletarian revolt. But the heat has not be turned off, and the moment when it will blow up is not far off.
The real causes of the economic crisis
The real causes of this economic crisis, as predicted by Marxist economic analysis, lie in the overproduction of commodities caused by the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, an ineliminable and relentless feature of the capitalist
economy because an integral part of the infernal mechanism that drives it forward: the incessant search for profit by means of the exploitation of wage labour.
As each day goes by, Capitalism can only sink further and further into crisis. The various proclamations of the bourgeois governments of ever stripe, left and right, which dream of overcoming the crisis by tweaking the economy, by imposing ‘rules’ on the markets, etc, is just propaganda to convince the workers they must accept sacrifices because ‘things have to get worse before they get better’, while the cuts in social spending, unemployment benefits and pensions, are pointless but ruthless measures imposed by the Bourgeoisie to assert their dominance over the proletariat and the middle classes.
From economic crisis to war?
Capitalism is a permanent struggle between States, between industrial and financial groups, banks and companies, with each of them defending the interests of their own capital, their own profits.
To win its battles, the bourgeoisie in each country calls on ‘their’ workers to make sacrifices to render the national economy more competitive; it says to them: “we are all in the same boat”. But the fact is, we aren’t. In this war it is always the same side which is defeated, always the proletarian side. Whenever the workers agree to link their destiny to that of the firm, to the country, they effectively enrol in the bourgeois army, and end up fighting amongst themselves, getting hit today by low wages and increased working rhythms, and tomorrow by bullets and shells.
In every country the inevitable worsening of the economic crisis will make proletarian living conditions more and more unbearable, and as the economic, commercial and military competition between the various bourgeois States becomes more and more cutthroat, on the agenda will inevitably appear the alternative of either global imperialist war or international communist revolution.
The proletariat will then have to reconnect with the revolutionary tradition delineated by the victorious revolution in Russia in October 1917 – which halted the First World War by unleashing a tide of global revolution – and have to devote its entire energy to preventing yet another global massacre, which would certainly be even more bloody and terrible than the two previous imperialist wars which gave this infamous regime a new lease of life, allowing it to survive a further century.
What is to be done?
Workers must first of all organise on a day to day basis to defend the living and working conditions. They must strive for unity by overcoming the artificial divisions of nation, religion and trade, and fight to defend their wages, to reduce the working day and to oppose sackings, redundancies and layoffs by demanding the same salary for less work.
In all countries the economic struggles to resist the attacks of the ruling class will have to eventually take the form of Class Trade Unions prepared to intransigently defend workers’ living conditions and committed to rejecting any responsibility for the nation’s, or the company’s – the capitalist – economic situation, because conscious of the fact that if capitalism fails, the workers won’t die along with it, but will grab the historic opportunity to overthrow the bourgeois state regime and install the proletarian dictatorship, freeing the productive forces from the economic laws of capital and wage labour.
It is in this historic phase of international revival of the class struggle that the International Communist Party, the inheritor of the historic program of revolutionary communism bequeathed by Marx and Engels and Lenin and the Italian Left, will be able, by gathering around it the most combative and determined vanguards of the working class, to launch the battle to prevent a new global massacre and, with the revolution, bury capitalism, along with its insane exploitation of human labour, its permanent wars and the growing misery and poverty of millions upon millions of proletarians.
Proletarians have nothing to lose
but their chains
and an entire world
to conquer !
‘Unite’ the Union prefers collaboration to Class Struggle
“There is probably no long-term commercial future for the oil refinery and associated petrochemicals plant at Grangemouth in Scotland even if the current owners, Ineos and PetroChina, can resolve their dispute with workers and the labor union.
“Excess capacity in the refining industry, especially in Europe, and the shale revolution in North America will continue to pressurize Grangemouth and Britain’s other oil refineries.
“It is hard to see what strategic advantage Grangemouth possesses that will enable it to compete with new refineries and petrochemical facilities planned or under construction in Asia and North America.
“Every plant closure is a tragedy for those whose livelihoods are destroyed. Britain’s politicians are right to push for a compromise between Grangemouth’s owners and workforce if it can keep the site open a few more years. But they should resist the temptation to offer financial support to a plant that may eventually be doomed anyway” (John Kemp: London Reuters, Oct 24th 2013).
The projected prospect of the closure of “excess-capacity” refineries in Europe especially through the inward flow of US shale oil is one that would lead to an increase in the price of oil and its products rather than a fall.
The above mentioned new refineries and facilities are targeting exports not only to Europe but also to Africa, which will have the result of freezing out of European exports to that Continent, To achieve this means reversing the decades long embargo of oil exports from the US, the result of previous price-hikes in Saudi Arabian oil.
Pressure will be on the price level of Brent Crude, an industry standard for a heavier grade of crude oil, the main grade produced from the Brent oil Field in the North Sea, hence its name. The higher price for Brent Crude, often in the $10 per barrel price bracket, is variously put down to restrictions in the pumping facilities in the North Sea and also to financial investigations going on in New York that this price having been “fixed” for years.
In attempts to enliven profitability, ways of reducing prices through increased productivity as well as cheaper means of extraction from the ground has led to the development of shale oil production. The increased availability of shale oil and its products is having a big impact on the existing oil refinery plants across Europe. The European refineries are not only threatened by loss of markets in North America, the ultimate threat is to be reduced to be merely terminalling operations for the importation of refined petroleum products. This has already been the fate of the Croydon refinery on the Thames Estuary, with its wharfs, tank farms, pipelines being converted for importing purposes. There are six other existing refineries, two in the North East of England (Lindsey and Humber), two in South Wales (Milford Haven and Pembroke) and one each on the Mersey (Stanlow) and the English South Coast. (Fawley).
Grangemouth is a strategic operation which has three components: oil refinery, petrochemical plant and pumping station for the Forties off-shore oil field. The oil from the Forties Field comes on-shore near Aberdeen and then pumped down to the Grangemouth area. A long-term plan is required for Grangemouth for capitalism in general. A simple shut-down would create unnecessary difficulties – the bludgeoning of the workforce into meeting the restructuring of the site will have to be carried out.
The Development of the Grangemouth Site
The Grangemouth site was established in 1924 by Scottish Oils (which had already been purchased by the forerunner of BP. The paradox is that the Grangemouth site was the inheritor of the shale oil refining of 1850 near Bathgate which rapidly became outdated by oil refineries in Pennsylvania USA in the 1860s. During the First World War Britain helped to develop oil fields in Arabia to sustain its war effort. During the period up to 1939 the Grangemouth refinery had a through put of up to 400,000 tonnes per year. Oil refining was not possible from 1939-45 as convoys were routed to the West Coast of Great Britain.
With the start up of production in 1946 the site was expanded with an adjacent petrochemical complex in 1951 with Distillers Company Limited, by creation of a joint company, to create the first such operation in Europe. Many products resulted from this plant, from alcohol to animal feeds.
A further extension to the site took place in 1975 after the discovery of North Sea Oil – BP created the Kinneil Crude Oil Stabilisation terminal which pumped directly into the BP Forties Field in the North Sea. This facilitated the supply of crude oil to either third parties or to Grangemouth site itself. The refinery output had grown more than twenty times, having the ability to produce more than 10 million tonnes annually.
In 2004 BP decided to divest itself of the Grangemouth refinery and its interest in the petrochemical complex, retaining the Kinneil pumping operation, by the creation of Innovene Company. This new company was purchased by Ineos. In 2011 Ineos entered into a joint venture with the Chinese state owned PetroChina to form PertroIneos.
The Grangemouth refinery had become a strategically important site by supplying the majority of Scotland, Northern Ireland and a large part of Northern England. Grangemouth’s strategic position, if it was likely to be affected by strikes, would be unacceptable to the capitalists and their Government(s).
The combined site, in order to reassert management’s control, and profitability in general, was being prepared for a sort-out, and it would be the workers in the firing-line. The three parts of the Grangemouth site were to be separated out for confronting the workers.
The Pension Fund Issue
Across many industries the Pension Fund issue has become an important source of contention between management and workers. Many Pension Funds were contributory (the workers having to pay a percentage of their salary) while the rest were non-contributory (the workers were not expected to contribute). Some Pension Funds decades ago (especially during the Thatcher period) had surpluses, that is more in their reserves than they needed to pay out. So began a series of Pension Fund ‘holidays’ whereby Companies were allowed not only to make contributions for some years (running down the reserves) while in some cases “raids” of Pension Funds took place when excesses were removed. These sums were then transferred to profits and distributed to shareholders. The effect was to buttress declining rate of profit in the short-term. But the reducing returns in the financial markets did not make up for the shortfalls. Deferring the Pension Fund shortfall problems for future years means that it will have to be faced sooner or later. And that time arrived by the start of this century.
The attacks on Pension schemes began in the Private sector with the demand for the end of final salary scheme (based upon the rate of pay at retirement) as well as raising the amount that workers contributory payments should be raised. As these schemes were part of terms of conditions of employment they could only be relinquished by agreement. The pressure was on to have new employees registered in the new scheme, which would be based upon average earnings during their working life, as well as increased contributions. Hardest hit would be women workers who took time off to raise a family, or those who needed to look after sick or disabled relatives. The impact is to drive a wedge in between the workers on the old scheme and those on the new arrangements.
Of course this did not apply to the Directors of these Companies who could walk away with multi-million pound pension deals, even if they nearly bankrupted the Companies concerned. They were part of contractual liabilities, which Directors can agree amongst themselves for anytime including the future.
Once the attacks had been well under way in the private sector, it was time to start on the public sector. Previously the presumption was that pay was poorer in the public sector, but at least those workers in the public sector had more security. The same attacks upon pensions in the public sector (increased contributions and the end of final salary schemes) was recommended in the name of fairness – if the private sector had to take the hit so should the public sector.
When BP divested itself of the rest of the Grangemouth site it was left to the new Ineos management to deal with the pension issue. There had been a generous non-contributory pension scheme in place at Grangemouth, which had been placed there to keep the workers loyal and working hard. BP has recently “caved in” on the pensions issue at the aviation fuel supplier it has sold, leaving the new owner DHL to meet the costs.
Ineos tried to change the pension arrangements in 2008. The resulting two-day strike over changes in the pension scheme led to panic-buying of petrol across the North of the British Isles. This strike also temporarily led to the disruption of oil production in BP’s Forties Field. With the failure of this attempt Ineos obviously began to prepare for a new attempt to enforce changes.
Shenanigans in Falkirk
As readers will appreciate we don’t usually spend much time dwelling upon the internal affairs of the Labour Party. The Falkirk Parliamentary Constituency has the Grangemouth site within its boundary.
The current ‘disgraced’ MP for Falkirk Eric Joyce had been suspended from the Labour Party, and is now sitting as an Independent MP and he has promised not to stand at the next election. What seems to have caused the suspension from the Labour Party was a fight in the Strangers Bar of Parliament, when Joyce hit a Labour Whip who was trying to restrain him. After a further bar room incident Joyce was barred from being served alcohol in all the eight bars in Parliament. The appointing of the next labour candidate for Falkirk has led to controversies. Getting the candidacy for a safe Labour seat is usually an attractive prospect for a politico on the make.
There have been wrangles going on for some months about attempts by members of the Unite union (a combination of the Transport & General Workers Union and Amicus in 2007) to “fix” the election for the next Labour candidate in Falkirk for the 2015 General Election. Charges were made of ‘packing’ the Falkirk Constituency Labour Party in order to ensure that the Unite union’s preferred candidate would win. This apparently included Labour Party members being enrolled and paid for by Unite union, with some being reported as having no idea that they had been put forward for membership.
The furore over the accusations at Falkirk had raised its head from time to time, incited by accusations in the Media. The Leader of the Labour Party, ‘Red Ed’ Milliband, whose election was achieved by the voting block of trade unions such as Unite, has been accused of being under the control of the trade unions. Is Ed Milliband his own man or are the trade unions pulling the strings? The attempts to rig the ballot at Falkirk were to be the subject of an internal Labour Party enquiry, then mention was made about it becoming a Police matter, then everything dying down again. A report by BBC News states that Unite had been cleared of electoral rigging. The Chairman of the local Constituency Labour Party, Stephen Deans, was also the Unite Convenor at Grangemouth as well as being the Chairman of Unite, Scotland. Deans is reported to be standing down as the Chairman of the local Labour Party at the end of the year.
According to press reports fresh evidence of the attempts to influence the election of the Falkirk candidate was provided by Ineos. This was reported to be in preparation for the disciplinary hearing over the conduct of Stephen Deans, about the allegation of misusing Grangemouth resources (emails were handed over to a Sunday newspaper) for an outside purpose. (The Times 29th October 2013) Stephen Deans resigned his job at Grangemouth twenty-four hours before he faced the accusations at a formal disciplinary hearing. There was a clear expectation of Deans being dismissed.
Ineos had been organising an investigation about Deans’ activities for the previous 18 months. The trawling of computer use against employees has all the hallmarks of the employment of ‘independent’ industrial consultants who investigate the ‘target’ in order to establish the case against the worker concerned. This service does not come cheap. Whether there is more material which was gathered by computer monitoring, but not yet publically released, remains to be seen.
Other accusations were made by Ineos of a group of men mounting demonstrations against Ineos Directors outside their homes or hotels were meetings were being held. References were made in statements to harassment against these Directors and their families. This group of demonstrators has been referred to as The Leverage Team.
The accusation by Ineos of harassment against its Directors is not because they would be against its use in principle – it is just that they don’t want anybody in the workforce using such measures. No doubt many bosses would regard harassment as a Management prerogative: part of Management’s Right to Manage. Deans is now out of it – it would not come as a surprise if he ends up with a plum-job in the Labour Movement. It will be the remaining workers at Grangemouth who will be on the receiving end for such treatment.
The Prepared attacks against the Grangemouth workers
Earlier in October talks were taking place in Glasgow between Ineos and Unite at the conciliatory service ACAS about a threatened two-day strike starting on October 20th over the disciplinary procedure of Stephen Deans. Stephen Deans was being represented by Unite’s Regional Secretary for Scotland, Pat Rafferty.
In preparation for the threatened two-day strike Ineos announced the start of turning off of some units at the Grangemouth site so the refinery and petrochemical plants can be shut down in time for the strike to start. Ineos was opting for a ‘cold’ rather than a ‘hot’ shutdown – a hot shutdown keeps some parts of the plants functioning while a cold shutdown would take several weeks to restore full production. Ineos is the full owner of the petrochemical plant and the majority owner of the refinery (just over 50%, with PetroChina owning the rest).
The complete closedown of both plants at Grangemouth emphasised the demands by Ineos for cuts in wages by the workers to sustain profitability. Ineos claim that the petrochemical plant is losing £10 million a month (this figure has been disputed because of alleged accounting manipulations). The petrochemical plant will be closed by 2017 if the union does not agree to slash wages, pensions and jobs. A deadline of the following Monday was given to accept this demand. The value of the plant has been “written off” by being reduced from £400m to nil so Ineos can just walk away from the abandoned site, with the loss of 800 jobs. Liquidators were to be brought in to start the closure of the petrochemical plant.
Within two days Unite had backed off and cancelled the two-day strike. For some reason Unite expected Ineos to be “reasonable” and go for a ‘hot’ shutdown so that both plants would restart quickly. Unite also offered a guarantee there would be no strikes until the end of the year if Ineos withdrew the Monday deadline.
Ineos were back tabling the same demands on Thursday 17th October, for cuts in pay, jobs and pensions to ‘save’ the petrochemical plant. The cuts of pay had now included a pay freeze, with no bonuses being paid, for three years, with the end of the company’s final salary pension scheme. There was a plan for the investment of £300m in the Grangemouth site, and the workforce had until the following Monday to accept the deal or the both plants would remain closed. The Ineos (£300m) was backed up by Government funds with the British Treasury underwriting £125m infrastructure loans.
While Unite tried to go for some ‘last-ditch efforts’, such as a guarantee of no strikes for a longer period, to find a compromise, Ineos had a meeting with the workers of both plants on the following Wednesday. BBC News reported that Ineos stated to the meeting that the petrochemical plant was to close. A vote at the meeting showed almost all of the admin staff voting to accept the offer and a hostile rejection from the shop-floor workers. This seems to be because it would be the shop-floor workers who would be at the sharp end of the attacks. Ineos emphasised that liquidators for the petrochemical site would be appointed within a week. The Chairman of Ineos separately stated that once the petrochemical plant closed, then the refinery was likely to go as well. Unite was to come forward with fresh proposals to keep the plants open.
Appeals to the Scottish Government
Pat Rafferty, Regional Secretary of Unite Scotland, declared that the two-day strike had been called off “in the national interest”, that the ‘cold’ shutdown was against Health & Safety and against the economic interests of the country. Rafferty, playing the Scottish Nationalist card, raced off to the Edinburgh Government to confer with Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond (leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party), looking for Government intervention.
Rafferty placed a “Unite Scotland” website as part of Unite the Union’s UK website. Its purpose was as “a tool to curate a discussion and debate between union members and the wider Scottish left community”. The “Unite Scotland” website hasn’t been updated since January this year. An attempt to preserve Unite members jobs when Scottish Coal went into administration in April this year led to an appeal to the Scottish Government to reverse closures. Nothing happened about Scottish Government inyerventions preventing closures. Some Scottish Government consultations about the regulation of the coal industry was announced in September, in the wake of the closure of Scottish Coal.
The illusion which had been doing the rounds, that Scottish Independence would be historically “progressive”, that the Scottish workers could get some relief from an Edinburgh Government rather than a London one has looking more unrealistic as time goes by. The once much vaunted Northern Arc of Prosperity (Norway as an oil producer, Iceland as an off-shore centre of banking and the Irish ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy) has disappeared. The Icelandic banks went bankrupt and the booming Irish economy, based upon property speculation, sank into depression, requiring a bail out from the European Union. Part of the debt incurred by ‘toxic’ loans of the Eirean property speculation bubble was with Ulster Bank, a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). A fully Independent Scotland would have to pick up the £40+ billion debts racked up by RBS.
On October 24th Unite announced that it would accept Ineos demands to prevent Grangemouth closure and save all the 1,499 jobs. Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, stated that they were putting forward a positive response to the survival plan of ineos. Scottish Government officials met with representatives from Unite and Ineos in an attempt to broker a deal. Now Ineos was stating that the combined site (of the refinery and the petrochemical plants) was making a loss. Now the future of the refinery was also at stake. Ineos was now challenging both the London and Edinburgh Governments and threatening to shut all of Grangemouth down.
Part of the reorganisations at Grangemouth was the alterations to the facilities so that different gas can be imported from US rather than use gas being pumped from the North Sea. The long-term survival of Grangemouth sites may require the switch to cheaper supplies of oil, rather than those from North Sea oil fields. The SNP Government has been proclaiming a bright future for an “independent” Scotland with its oil reserves, not wanting to talk about these changes to international oil and gas supplies. In previous TV adverts Alex Salmond declared that what Scotland needed was ‘Nats’ (abbreviation of Nationalists) – it seems that all Scotland has ended up with are ‘gnats’.
Within 24 hours Unite had completely climbed down, offering more than what Ineos were demanding, Ineos announced that the Grangemouth closure had been reversed with the £300m investment package going ahead in order to secure the future of the petrochemical plant. The Unite deal with Ineos was a three year pay freeze (with a reported end to bonus payments), a three year ‘no strike’ pledge with the ending of the final salary pension scheme. There were other changes to “union agreements on the site including no full-time union convenor” [Guardian on-line, October 25th]. Stephen Deans had been removed as Convenor at Grangemouth a week before he resigned employment with Ineos.
Unite had been trying to give the impression that they are a “campaigning” union supporting its members at work and “in the community”. All that has gone, certainly at Grangemouth. Unite will be collaborating with Ineos in making Grangemouth profitable. It will be the workers at Grangemouth who will pay the price. With wage rates falling over the next three years some employees will protect their jobs by sub-contractors losing their jobs.
The deal Unite has done with Ineos is not unusual. It is similar to what the TGWU (fore-runner of Unite) did on the docks – operating as a partner with the employers. With the deal with Ineos, and maintaining the closed shop, means that the workers will have to remain members in order to keep their jobs, with the union fees being deducted from their wages.
Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, may continue to speak at Anti Austerity meetings across the country. Obviously he won’t be pointing to the enforcing of austerity at Grangemouth.
For the workers at Grangemouth they can only look towards organising themselves at the shop-floor level, creating their own links with other workers, whether employed or not, rather than the bureaucratic structures of Unite, and its so-called communities.
Unite at Grangemouth is an open collaborator with the bosses, and little different from the share-holders of Ineos, a share of the profits aside.
Bangladesh – April 2013
The Latest Victim of Multinational Capitalism
Bangladesh is now splashed across the front pages of the Western newspapers as they discover, with hypocritical horror, the appalling working conditions which exist in the clothing industry there; something which only became ‘newsworthy’ following the tragic catastrophe in April 2013, when a factory building collapsed killing over 1,200 workers, for the most part women.
Let us briefly recall the history of Bangladesh, a country situated in the Indian sub-continent to the north of the Gulf of Bengal and almost entirely surrounded by India. It was one of the poisoned fruits of the division of British India in 1947, when it became the eastern part of the Dominion of Pakistan, founded on the basis of its Islamic majority. Bangladesh gained its independence in 1971 when it was abandoned by the central government during a natural catastrophe and after a war of independence backed by India and its Soviet ally. Its 144,000 square kilometres are home to 152 million people, a population density of 1,052 per square kilometre, the highest in the world. It has few mineral resources and is frequently lashed by cyclones and floods. Its politicians, organised around a pseudo-republic, are amongst the most corrupt in the world. 40% of the inhabitants live below the poverty line (it is 146th in the list of 182 countries rated according to the index of human development).
Bangladesh is the latest ‘host’ to the garment industry in its chequered tour of the world in search of factory-countries where it can make the biggest profits, i.e., where the wages are lowest. What has allowed this remarkable mobility is the low investment needed to start up in this industry. All you need is a workforce which is large, unqualified and – of course – hungry. Such mobility is far more costly and difficult to achieve in heavy industry, although we can count on capitalism trying to overcome these difficulties, impelled as it is by the economic crisis and the drive for profit.
In any case, the life-cycle of the garment industry has repeated itself in one country after another: a phase of frenetic growth, set in motion on the backs of a super-exploited working class, produces enormous profits for the capitalists, which are then reinvested in other sectors. The sector then declines, due to improvements won by the local proletariat, and the capital which has been squeezed out of the workers, whether by small entrepreneurs or the multinationals, is moved off to another country where production costs are lower.
The origins of this modern saga are to be found in the textile industry of the United Kingdom in the 18th century, which became the spinning and weaving workshop of the world, thanks to the cotton imported from its Indian colony. In the 19th Century, this production shifted to the north-east of the new American democracy and at the start of the 20th to the south of that country, where the black slave was by now transformed into a wage labourer. Eighty years on and it is now in the Asian countries, such as Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka and China, where this powerful mechanism is concentrated. Numerous Asiatic countries have thus been linked in to world industrialisation.
In Bangladesh, which now has the dubious honour of offering the cheapest labour on the planet, the clothing industry appeared in the 1970s and experienced a major boom during the 1990s.
In Europe, capitalism has more or less abandoned its textile industry and considerably reduced its garment industry. Protectionism has been ended and ‘under-developed’ countries have been offered access to the markets of the European Community, with no taxes or set quotas. It is another example of the imperialist phase of capitalism: no matter how much capitalism supports the institutions of ‘its’ nation, it still destroys places of work there and sacks ‘national’ proletarians in the dash towards more alluring opportunities for profit-making elsewhere, where the proletariat is still defenceless.
By 2011 Bangladesh was already a major supplier of garments to Europe, just behind China and Vietnam, but by 2013 it had overtaken Turkey and India! In 2011 clothing manufacture formed 13% of the country’s GNP. By 2012 this key sector of the economy represented 80% of the country’s exports, 80% of which ended up in the European Union. Indeed Bangladesh is now competing with China, where workers’ wages have gone up faster, due to their combativeness, and where companies are already moving into other sectors. For the big brand names in the clothing industry, China is no longer the happy-shiny-factory-land it once was; its workforce is now demanding more, and as a consequence profits from these big monopolies are lower. Thus Bangladesh has now become one big factory for these predators: with three to four million workers spread across 5,000 factories it has now overtaken its Indian, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Indonesian neighbours. American experts predict that clothing manufacture in Bangladesh will have doubled by 2015 and tripled by 2020!
The country isn’t however equipped with solid infrastructures, particularly in transport, electricity and health, and the rights of workers are even less ‘diffused’. There is also widespread use of child labour (13% of those between 7 and 14 years old according to UNICEF). The elegant designer labels feign astonishment, brandishing their fake codes of conduct and guarantees of working conditions, and dispatch inspectors to soothe the ‘ethical’ consumers’ associations. But the long chain of subcontractors and suppliers conceals the product’s journey from the workers, who make them, to the buyers, making any fancy ideas about controlling working conditions mere wishful thinking. Fortunately, the proletariat in Bangladesh doesn’t entrust its self-defence to ‘good intentions’ from the West! And that scares capitalism.
The proletariat in the clothing industry, which chiefly consists of women, represents 40% of the country’s industrial workforce. The first to volunteer for this kind of work are those rejected by Islamic society, those who have been disowned, widows, divorcees; then come people driven to it by poverty, the majority of the population; and this in the face of hostility from the traditionalist Muslim environment, where women in work represents a clear challenge to patriarchal structures, since it allows women to dictate the conditions under which they marry, by bringing their own dowry and choosing their own marriage partner. This is one of the emancipating features of capital which has always been recognised by Marxists.
Each morning, millions of workers set off to work in the 4,000 factories and workshops in the industrial belt of the capital, Dhaka, and more than three quarters of them are women (tracers, cutters, seamstresses, porters). The buyers are the big western brands which have ‘relocated’ their production here, either directly or via intermediaries.
The working conditions are so unendurable, the fires in the over-crowded factories so frequent, the wages so low that every now and again the country is convulsed by protest movements, up to and including full scale hunger riots like those back in 2008. The wage earners stand opposed to the entrepreneurs grouped together in the BGMEA, the Bangladesh Garment Manufactures and Exporters Association. During demonstrations, which are systematically repressed by the armed forces, many workers have been killed and hundreds wounded. And the trade unions and their militants are systematically repressed. In 2011 there were demonstrations in response to the increased cost of basic necessities caused by inflation. The demonstrators demanded 51 euros per month, as opposed to the 17 euros they were actually getting (and in contrast with the 75 euros and 112 euros per month which Vietnamese and Indian workers are getting). Working hours are around 80 hours per week with the working day as long as 18 hours when there are urgent deadlines to be met. The workers are calling for better working conditions as well. In November 2010 an agreement was reached on raising the minimum wage to 30 euros per month (after the Asia Floor Wage, a regional association calling for decent wages for workers in the sector, estimated that 144 euro per month was needed as an absolute vital minimum). But this law won’t be respected of course, same as previous ones.
The catastrophe on April 24th 2013, in which a large building that housed five garment factories and over 3,500 workers collapsed, was an accident waiting to happen. Workers had frequently complained about the decrepitude of the building and reported the widening cracks in the walls, but all to no avail. Chronicle of a massacre foretold. More than 1,200 victims sacrificed on the altar of capitalist profit! Surely not even the most hardhearted can close their eyes to this hecatomb!
But proletarians, for the most part women, have once again made their position clear, and demonstrations on an almost daily basis have prevented the factories from functioning on any kind of a regular basis. In the industrial zone of Ashulia, near Dhaka, 80% of workers walked out in order to press for wage increases and the death penalty for the owner of the building. At the beginning of May the BGMEA closed down those factories which were notoriously working for the big brands (American Wal-mart and Gap; English M & S and C & A; Swedish H & M; Spanish Zara; French Carrefour, Auchan and E. LeClerc; Italian Benetton). This was apparently due to “industrial unrest”, and an agreement was hastily signed by the ‘worldwide’ trade union confederations, the Industrial All Global Union and Uni Global Union, and 31 western clothing brands with a view to guaranteeing the security of the textile factories. (In fact, this agreement was supposed to have been signed back in September last year, but the multinationals prevented it with obstructionist tactics.) It would take until the 17th May for the factories to reopen, although the agreement actually covers only around a fifth of them.
All that Capital is worried about, whether huge and concentrated or small and dispersed is its dividends, and maybe now it will have to find another country, with another proletariat, which can offer labour costs which are at least as low as in Bangladesh. Neighbouring Burma perhaps? Or Ethiopia or Kenya? Probably not Africa in fact: the New York Times reckons the cost of living there is too high for wages to be lower than in Bangladesh, and the political stability of Africa is another consideration. In a nutshell: either profits have to be cut or prices raised.
The European Commission’s specialist in economic affairs in Dhaka would have cause to exclaim: “Everything points to the responsibility of the factory owners, the buyers, and in the end, the consumers. Anybody who buys a sweater for six euros should suspect it was made by people working in bad conditions”. So, is it “consumers” who are really to blame? Such puritan rhetoric is typical of the bourgeoisie, and it is aimed at the wage earners rather than those making the profits! They would love to see the proletariat in the West, which is seeing its standard of living dropping, divided from, instead of joining together with, its Asian brothers. A portion of the western proletariat, the part with some reserves, is intoxicated by the delusion of wealth, with its computer gadgets, its mountains of ‘cut price’ clothes, but all in order to cover its malaise, its insecurity, its daily frustrations.
But the plethora of ‘cut price’ merchandise is actually a symptom of overproduction, which capital is unable to control. The economic crisis advances with giant strides, the mole burrows. The western proletariat has to get back on the path of class struggle and fight its common enemy, global capitalism; global capitalism which lives off the labour power of the workers, in the west as in the rest of the world; this is its only way forward, the only way it can rediscover its humanity and its self-sacrificing and generous spirit.
Like the monopolies, known as multinationals these days, these big industrial enterprises, supported by the big banks, know no frontiers: the proletariat of the entire world is available for them to be exploited at their convenience. And that is why the proletariat, if it wants to overthrow the bourgeoisie, a class of parasites, and abolish capitalist relations of production, has to organise internationally, on both the trade union and the political level. Only then, after the work of the dictatorship of the proletariat has taken effect, will classes, and class oppression, finally disappear.
The Egyptian government, which took office in the middle of July and was put together in record time by the octogenarian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawid, doesn’t have much time because the Egyptian situation is one which requires rapid decisions. “Imported grain reserves will run out in two months, according to an ex-minister of the recently dismissed government. There are about 500 thousand tons on top of the three million tons grown in Egypt” (AGI, July 11, 2013). Indeed it seems that back in February, due to a fall in foreign currency reserves, the deposed Morsi government suspended its usual purchases of grain on the world market. Now, after the coup, they are waiting for the 12 billion dollars of aid promised by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates; this substantial amount should allow the Egyptian State, the largest importer of grain in the world, to feed its 85 million inhabitants and buy a bit of time; although at the expense of an increased debt burden.
The Muslim Brotherhood government wanted to abolish State subsidies over a five year period and had started to do so. Most of these subsidies were to cover energy costs, providing cheap energy to industry but also cheap petrol to private individuals. Oil worth 165 billion Egyptian Pounds (I dollar = 7 Egyptian pounds) is extracted inside the country but the State sells it on for only 50 billion, deducting the difference from its budget. Other important subsidies reduce the cost of the gas canisters which play such an indispensable part in the family economy of Egypt: apparently 360 million are used there each year. Another essential product which is subsidized is bread: a loaf of bread which costs 40 piasters to produce is sold by the government for 5 piasters.
Of course this system is open to abuse but for several million poor Egyptians these subsidies are essential for their survival. Despite this, the vampires of the IMF still asked the Morsi government to abolish the subsidies system.
This was just one of many problems which the Muslim Brotherhood government was unable to address. Extremely serious economic and social problems were threatening the establishment’s hold on things and stoking up social conflict. Hence the army, the real holder of political and economic power, decided to step in.
The ‘revolution’ of 2011
In the first few months of 2011, spurred on by the example of the revolt in Tunisia, the powerful Egyptian proletariat began to organise mass mobilisations and strikes. In the space of a few weeks this led to an emptying of the regime unions and the formation of free trade unions, which called for significant pay rises and for improved working and living conditions.
In this phase the intervention of the liberal democratic movement on the one hand, and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other, served the interests of the ruling classes by diverting the working class from its own objectives and focussing it instead on the bourgeois demand of bringing down Mubarak; who in a well orchestrated media campaign was suddenly held responsible for all of the country’s ills. Once again it was a case of “changing everything to change nothing”.
In the July 9 issue of L’Unita’ we read: “In the 17 months since the fall of the Hosni Mubarak government the army have kept a tight grip on Egypt. In those 17 months, states a report by Amnesty International, the security forces and the army have killed at least 120 demonstrators; court martials have subjected 12,000 civilians to unfair trials; the army has arrested women who took part in the protests and forced them to take ‘virginity tests’”.
And yet the liberal El-Baradei, to name just one among many, has collaborated with the leaders of the Coup-d’etat from the word go.
Another example: at the end of 2011 the army intervened in a demonstration of young Copts, who were protesting against attacks by the Muslim Brotherhood, by opening fire on the crowd with machine guns and causing a massacre. And yet when General Al Sissi announced the Coup d’etat, the Coptic Pope was seen standing beside him.
The Brotherhood: changing everything to change nothing
The government of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was elected by a very narrow margin, had had its sphere of action severely circumscribed by an agreement it had made with the military hierarchy. In the economic sphere, the Brotherhood’s ‘liberalism’ had to settle accounts with the army’s ‘statism’, a matter which would be resolved in the Brotherhood’s favour only after they had secured key government posts.
It wasn’t however the same on the social plane, where the government’s actions against the Workers’ movement was a lot more incisive. This is evidenced by a document drawn up by the Egyptian Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in June 2012 (obtained from the Mena Solidarity Network):
“Today we are living in the third year of the revolution but under the present regime ‘s government we are still garnering the bitter fruits of the dictatorship, which has seen Egypt placed back on the International labour Organisation’s black list of those countries with the worst record on workers’ rights. Today, on the eve of a new wave of our people’s revolution, we remind the world of the demands the Egyptian workers made the day after the revolution.
“We ask: where is the new law on the unions, the so-called law on trade union freedom? Why hasn’t it been passed, despite having been debated for over two years? Why is the machinery of repression being used more and more to crush workers’ protests,
up to the point that the strike at Portland Cement in Alexandria was smashed by police with dogs? Why are workers being sacked whose only crime was exercising their right to protest and strike, with some workers even facing prison sentences after being accused of ‘inciting strikes’? Why are there thousands of workers unemployed due to the closing of factories or the termination of their fixed-term contracts? Why has the State kept silent while around 4,000 factories have closed; why haven’t they questioned the owners and why aren’t they protecting the workers’ rights? What is preventing the implementation of the laws to improve workers’ conditions, such as the law on the minimum and maximum wage, and the new labour law? Meanwhile, on the contrary, laws have been passed which are directly opposed to workers’ interests, such as the one which criminalizes strikes, and the laws which demand taxes from the poor but leaves the rich and the big investors untouched.
“It is necessary to declare that the present government is as guilty as the previous ones, both those before and after the revolution, seeing as how they have all worked against the workers’ interests, seeking instead to line the pockets of a small minority consisting of investors, the rich and big businessmen. The only thing these people are interested in is maximising their profits by sucking the life blood out of the workers and the poor”.
The evolving situation in Egypt over the last two years has more than confirmed this.
The bourgeoisie applauds the coup d’etat
The well-organised coup, which probably happened following consultations with Washington, would see the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces quickly divesting President Mohammed Morsi of power, arresting hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including their main leaders, suspending the Constitution, dissolving the Senate, and imposing a judge, Adly Mansour, president of the Constitutional Court, as provisional leader of the government. The Chief of Staff of the army and Minister of Defence, Al Sissi, made the announcement of Morsi’s dismissal speaking from a room in which were gathered high-level representatives of so-called ‘civil society’, of the opposition parties, El-Baradei, and of the Coptic and Islamic religious hierarchies.
The immediate objectives of the coup were: to prevent any reaction by the Muslim Brotherhood and their party Justice and Liberty, so abruptly removed from power; to continue to enjoy the support of the United States by giving a ‘democratic’ veneer to the coup, using the huge anti-government demonstrations to justify it; to obtain a patent of impartiality and moderation, which could be useful to it if it needed to intervene; which sure enough it did, against the rural and city proletariat.
The action by the army obtained the support of the liberal El-Baradei’s National Salvation Front, the Salafist muslims, the Coptic Church and the “Rebel Movement”, the latter allegedly having collected 22 million signatures for its anti-Morsi petition. It just goes to show, for the umpteenth time, that the various components of the ruling classes are always prepared to sink their differences whenever the survival of the bourgeois State is at stake.
If the Egyptian proletariat really wants to get organised and defend workers’ interests, this solidarity that exists amongst the bourgeoisie must be borne firmly in mind. The bourgeoisie’s liberal movement in Egypt backs a number of demands which supposedly define the Western democracies, namely: the lay State, equality of the sexes, freedom of the press, freedom to join trade unions and the right to strike. But the revolutionary communist party can’t ally itself with this movement on those grounds. In Egypt, just as in the European countries, a liberal’ or ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie no longer exists: the bourgeoisie is counter-revolutionary everywhere, wherever it may be, and is united in defending what is an increasingly shaky economic system. It is ready to do anything to defend its privileges, whether these are huge or ridiculously small, and it will fight to hold on to its power even if it means installing an open dictatorship, and they certainly won’t be seeking the consensus of the exploited classes.
In reality, this ‘democratic’ coup d’etat wasn’t directed against the Muslim Brotherhood (with whom, up to a few weeks ago, the army was actively collaborating against the working class) but against a government which had proved unable to hold back the rising tide of protests and strikes.
“The Morsi administration’s greatest limitation was its inability to ensure security and control over the country’s territory”, states Maurizio Massari, the Italian ambassador in Cairo. “The supply of gas became irregular, transport became unreliable, and money started to disappear. The institutional confusion, corruption and legislative chaos eventually delivered the final blow to the experiment of Muslim Brotherhood government”, is reported in No. 29 of Il Mondo. It was really a preventative coup d’etat to try to gain time. By imposing a government which is capable of re-establishing an appearance of law and order and creating, or so they think, the minimum conditions needed for the country to continue receiving economic aid from abroad, essential if the State is to head off the collapse, it’s ultimate aim was really to deviate the protest, yet again, onto the level of changes that are really just reshuffles within the bourgeois class.
The army, it is true. is defending its own interests as trust proprietor of industries and land and employer of tens of thousands of wage earners, and in this respect it has come into conflict with the ‘laissez faire’ policies of the Morsi government; but it also represents the essential interests of the State, insofar as it is an instrument for the defence of the bourgeois order, and it is this which has ensured it the backing of the greater part of the ruling classes.
Here is the statement issued to Asia News by the spokesperson of the Egyptian Catholic Church: “What is happening in Egypt is not a coup d’etat. The army has chosen to defend a peaceful revolution organised by young Egyptians backed by millions of people throughout the country. In a normal coup d’etat the army would have immediately nominated one of their own men as interim president, changed the government and taken power. But this isn’t the case in Egypt”.
Today against the Muslims, tomorrow against the proletariat
In the early hours of the morning of Monday July 8th, the Egyptian army broke up a demonstration organised by the Muslim Brotherhood using extreme violence. The demonstrators were assembled outside the headquarters of the Republican Guard in Cairo and were calling for the release of ex-president Morsi, who they believed was being held inside the building. Under fire from soldiers and snipers, more than 50 demonstrators were killed, many shot in the head, and over 300 wounded. Over 200 were arrested as well and the headquarters of the Justice and Liberty Party, an emanation of the Muslim Brotherhood, was closed down. This massacre passed off without any major scandal, and the bourgeois parties and various churches thought that calling for ‘a commission of enquiry’ to ‘ascertain’ the facts would be quite enough.
This brutal intervention certainly responds to the need to terrorise demonstrators (and not just those mobilised by the Muslim Brotherhood) but it also had another purpose: the Islamists needed to be removed from power but not eliminated altogether, because their clampdowns on the workers’ organisations, their populist demagoguery and their religious propaganda have helped and will continue to help the ruling classes to retain their hold on power. Equally, when the high sounding slogans of freedom and democracy currently being used by the army’s supporters are no longer convincing, the State will increasingly have to resort to its well oiled machinery of repression.
Bourgeois international solidarity
On the international plane the coup was immediately welcomed by the Saudi monarchy, who congratulated General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, and the new head of government, Adli Mansur, for ten years Hosni Mubarak’s right-hand man in Saudi Arabia. The Syrian president Al-Assad also welcomed the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government since they are his adversaries in the domestic war he is fighting. Abu Masen, the Palestinian president, took the same position, whereas it seems that Hamas have lost an important ally following Morsi’s departure.
Meanwhile Qatar, which is small but financially powerful and whose interests had been given preferential treatment by the Muslim Brotherhood government, harshly condemned the coup; although this won’t of course stop it continuing to do business there. Turkey, with its Islamic background, has taken the same stance, and so has Iran.
The western countries have been much more cautious, with the United States setting the tone and Europe following behind. Their stance has been summed up well in the words of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the General Secretary of NATO, who declared: “I don’t believe that the most important thing right now is to put a label on what happened in Egypt or to have theoretical discussions about whether or not it was a coup d’etat. What we need to do now is strengthen democracy as quickly as possible”.
Nevertheless, the United States have just delivered the remaining four of a consignment of twenty F16 fighter planes to Egypt, signalling that the alliance remains in place, and the State Department has sent their vice secretary, William Burns, to Cairo to reaffirm United States support for “the Egyptian people”. Despite the crisis and the economic difficulties, from which not even its own economy has been immune, the United States doesn’t want to lose a precious ally, and one which not only directly controls the Suez Canal but constitutes a mainstay of the status quo in the Middle East.
The Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying, has also expressed support for the “Egyptian people’s choice”, appealing to the various sides in the name of ‘dialogue’ and ‘reconciliation’; and this despite the fact China was the chosen destination for President Morsi’s first State visit outside the Arab world! But business is business, and China has important projects underway in Egypt. According to the data reported in the September 21st 2012 edition of Le Monde, “Between 2009 and 2011 the volume of trade between China and Egypt rose from 5.5 to 9 billion dollars. The Chinese, not particularly bothered by the arrival of the Islamists in power, continued to invest in Egypt while the rest of the world was pulling out. As far as China is concerned, Egypt is strategically very important”.
Only the proletariat can take up the challenge
Egypt is therefore in a very difficult economic position. The economy, already weakened by structural problems and the general crisis of capitalism, has been weakened by the long months of social instability, street battles and strikes.
Faced with this crisis, which shows no signs of abating, the bourgeoisie everywhere, the old and the new capitalisms, are unable to propose any alternative ‘model’, but just the same old recipe they always come up with: reducing wages and winding down the social State in an attempt to beat the competition on the world market.
The only force with an ‘alternative economic model’ is the one force which is effectively absent at the moment both in Egypt and internationally: the proletariat. It still hasn’t managed to articulate its own interests, ‘represented’ as it is by parties which are either openly bourgeois or which are fake-socialist or fake-communist.
Certainly the workers of the cities and rural areas of Egypt constitute the one class which is capable of obtaining ‘bread, justice and liberty’, which is what they are calling for; but they will be only able to achieve this, with the support of the international proletariat, by overthrowing the bourgeois State and destroying its army, abolishing private property in the means of production and land, and installing its class dictatorship.
What happened in Egypt was certainly not a revolution; there was no change of regime, only a change of government. Heads may have rolled but power has remained in the same hands. For there to be a revolution there will have to be more than just mobilisation of the proletariat, a weakened ruling class and an economic crisis; there will need to be a working class with its own independent organisations, namely, a well organised Communist Party, and powerful proletarian economic organisations.
To achieve this result the proletariat will have to extend and strengthen its unions, but in order to turn them into really formidable instruments of struggle, they will need to keep them free from the insidious influence of the State and of the bourgeois, opportunist parties. And it will only be able to proceed towards establishing its class power if its vanguard is able to reconnect with its programme, which is a condensation of the class’s long experience of fighting for revolutionary emancipation; only if it manages to reconnect with revolutionary Marxism; with the International Communist Party.
After the street battles, the massacres and the general slaughter in Egypt over the course of the last few days, the response of the bourgeois commentators, hiding the real issues as always behind a kind of reactive emotionality, has been to talk of ‘civil war’. No attempt, of course, has been made to explain the various opposing class interests which lie behind the various clashes and confrontations. Everything can be explained, supposedly, in terms of the struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood (alleged defenders of a ‘legality’ violated by the coup-d’etat) and the army (who are simply trying to restore order and are supported by a broad secular front).
Let us not be fooled by the symbols, the slogans, the objectives written on the banners of the demonstrators. In a country which is modern and fully capitalist it is certainly nothing to do with a struggle for ‘legality’, or for ‘democracy’, or for ‘Islamic law’. What is clear, given Egypt’s current circumstances, is that the demonstrators are motivated by material interests and vital necessities, and that neither front has any hope of coming up with a solution. Neither the army chiefs nor the Muslim Brotherhood can promise a decent future to the millions of Egyptians who have mobilised and taken to the streets.
The working class, the one class powerful enough to take on the bourgeois regime, has been absent from the struggle. The demonstrations to restore ‘legality’ organised by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Morsi government haven’t enthused the proletariat; there have been no reports of strikes or declarations in support of the movement in the streets by the unions. In fact all there has been, denounced in a leaflet put out by the independent unions, have been the declarations of the official unions, which have called on workers to demonstrate in support of the Al-Sisi coup.
In the army, as far as we know, there have been no cases of desertion, and certainly not mass desertion. And despite authorising harsh repression the State apparatus has held firm.
The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the oldest parties in Egypt. They have a capillary-type organisation which is distributed throughout the country, and which evolved over a hundred years or in response to the need to act in secret; although in reality it was tolerated by the regime, which every now and again would release one of their leaders from prison to deploy them against the proletariat.
A capillary organisation, along with the welfare services which the movement has traditionally offered to the less well-off, and which rely on the considerable economic resources at its disposal, are factors which may explain how it managed to achieve the level of mobilisation it did in the middle of August. Most of the demonstrators seem to hail from the ranks of the disinherited classes (who make up a substantial portion of Egypt’s population) or from the middle class, but not from the rural or industrial proletariat.
Forcing its followers into a confrontation with the army (which had many times announced its intention to break up the demonstrations by force) may have been a cynical ploy on the brotherhood’s part to regain credibility after its brief spell in government, when its hostility to the less well-off classes became very obvious, along with the seamless continuity of its policies with that of the previous Mubarak regime. For the army’s part, it went in for open provocation, and some commentators have speculated that that the army imprisoned the Brotherhood’s main leaders precisely so the young extremists would be unleashed to take the bait. The wave of repression, costing the lives of hundreds and possibly thousands of Muslims, and of dozens of soldiers, has stoked up the myths both of the army as sole defender of law and order and of the Brotherhood as Islamic martyrs.
It seems that the familiarity of this tired old game hasn’t escaped the notice of a section of the Egyptian proletariat. We read in an Appeal to the Workers dated July 26, issued by a consistent minority within the Executive Committee of the Independent Unions: “Ask yourself this: in whose interest is it to continue these struggles, this spilling of blood? It is in the interests of both sides, of the Muslim Brotherhood and of the Army. Just as the poor are cannon fodder in the wars between States, so do the poor in Egypt end up as the fuel for domestic conflicts and in the domestic war”. Yes: a domestic war against the proletariat!
The blood of the dead and wounded spilled in the streets of the main cities in Egypt was intended, above all, as a terrible warning to the proletariat and oppressed classes of Egypt; the classes which the global economic crisis, and the Egyptian one in particular, is threatening to set into motion.
To the proletariat in Egypt, crushed by starvation wages and capitalist exploitation, and living a horrible life with no prospects, we say this. The proletariat is not “the people”; it isn’t an anomalous mass that acts without any precise aim which can be easily swayed by demagoguery. The proletariat is a social class with a determined programme and with characteristic forms of struggle and organisation. It has the potential to become an army capable not only of bringing down the capitalist apparatus of production but of confronting and destroying the State machine and installing its class dictatorship. When the proletariat finally gets going all the institutions of bourgeois repression which today seem so invincible will quickly reveal their impotence and be undermined by capitalist society’s inner contradictions.
In order to become a disciplined and powerful army, the working class in every country of the world will have to fight to rebuild organisations which defend the class at the economic level. The first important steps have already been taken in Egypt with the formation of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, outside and against the government federation of trade unions. But the class will also have to reconnect with its class party; the one party which is totally ‘biased’ in its favour, and which won’t expect it to compromise its demands in the name of the firm, the nation or the national economy.
For half a century, mainstream politicians of all parties in the Federal Republic were therefore in agreement that Germany should give all possible assistance to its American ally, which stationed up to 400,000 personnel on German soil in 1950s at the peak of the Cold War.
It’s a message that lacks resonance with a younger post-Cold War generation. The recent revelations that American drone attacks are being directed from Germany, and that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been spying on German citizens on a massive scale, have been the cause of much public angst and hand-wringing among a liberal political and media elite that had invested so much hope in President Obama.
However, coverage of the NSA affair in Germany has been dominated not by the substantive issues – the nature of the capitalist State and why it needs to spy on us all – but has rather provided the backdrop for the familiar pantomime of speculation, factional charges and counter-charges during the run-up to the Federal elections in 2013.
Meanwhile the USA is demanding that Germany play an even more active role in preparations for future conflicts, under the guise of fighting terrorism.
Over the past two decades the United States of America has gradually wound down its army’s physical presence in Germany. Throughout the Cold War and until earlier this year, the US Army Europe (USAREUR) was headquartered in Heidelberg, from which it built a huge complex of bases in a swathe across Rhineland Pfalz, around the southern Hessen cities of Frankfurt and Darmstadt, and in the northern half of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria (northern Germany was occupied by the British Army on the Rhine). In many cases, these were not merely barracks but small towns with fully functioning services, shops, cinemas, churches and even a prison. At its peak, Patrick Henry Village outside Heidelberg alone had a population of 16,000.
Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, the so-called “peace dividend” allowed vast numbers of troops and equipment to be redeployed in operations around the world, notably in the Middle East and the Balkans in the 1990s and 2000s. Recently the focus has moved to northern Africa and 500 rapid response US Marines are now based at an airbase in southern Spain. By 2017 the number of troops stationed in Germany will be further reduced to 30,000 (Stars and Stripes, 29 November 2012). However, while the number of American boots on German soil has declined, the US military presence has intensified as part of a major redeployment and realignment of forces.
The American presence in Germany now serves two main functions. First, as a forward base serving theatres of war mainly in Africa and the Middle East. Opened in 1952, Ramstein near Kaiserslautern is the largest US air base outside the United States. More than 50,000 US citizens and military officials are currently employed there, while the hospital at nearby Landstuhl is the largest American hospital outside the USA and treats wounded US soldiers from all over the world. As a report by the think tank, the Heritage Foundation recently stated:
«From the Arctic to the Levant, from the Maghreb to the Caucasus, Europe is at one of the most important crossroads of the world. U.S. bases in Europe provide American leaders with flexibility, resilience, and options in a dangerous multipolar world. The huge garrisons of American service personnel in Europe are no longer the fortresses of the Cold War, but the forward operating bases of the 21st century».Thus, whereas throughout the Cold War the Americans viewed Europe as the most likely theatre of operations in the event of a direct war between the two superpowers, today America views Europe as an operations centre for fighting a global conflict, wherever and whenever.
Second, much of the USA’s global surveillance activity is concentrated in Germany. In 2012 the US Army Europe relocated its headquarters from Heidelberg to Wiesbaden, ostensibly in order to achieve savings to the US taxpayer. In fact, the saving is just $112 million out of a total US military budget of $700 billion. The move is not to save costs but rather reflects the new role of the American defence and security apparatus: fewer combat troops, more high-ranking officers, and more civilian surveillance specialists. And there is no lack of funds to accommodate these personnel. According to the US army newspaper,
«Projects include the 59,000-square-foot, 200-workstation Information Processing Center, scheduled for completion next December. USAREUR spokesman Bruce Anderson says the $30.4 million center will improve the capability of USAREUR and 5th Signal Command to deliver timely information and consolidate operations under one roof. The $91 million Consolidated Intelligence Center will be the last of the three operational pieces to be built» (USAREUR press release, 16 February 2012).Other facilities being slated for Wiesbaden and environs include logistics and maintenance facilities, warehousing, a housing office and a new $43.8 million PX facility with various retail outlets. So the funds are not in short supply.
The Consolidated Intelligence Center, scheduled for completion in 2015, will be the focus for US surveillance operations. The 1100 or so “intelligence professionals” and “special security officers” currently based at the Dagger Complex near Darmstadt, will be relocated here. They will work with NSA bugging specialists based at Bad Aibling in Bavaria who, as revealed in the documents released by US whistle-blower Edward Snowden, «will have their own communications headquarters and direct connection to the NSA data networks» (Der Spiegel, 3 August 2013) despite the fact that since 2002 Bad Aibling has been formally under the control of the German Federal Republic.
The documents prove that Germany played a central role in the NSA’s global surveillance and that each month, the US intelligence service saves data from around half a billion communications connections from Germany. According to one of the documents published by Der Spiegel, Germany is among the countries that are high on the priority list for the US intelligence service, and the NSA is spying on German citizens, right up to the highest levels of the German government (as well as the Washington offices of the European Union) with approval from the White House (Der Spiegel, 10 August 2013).
But, according to a report in the Atlantic Council:
«The new aspect of the revelations isn’t that countries are trying to spy on each other, eavesdropping on ministers and conducting economic espionage. What is most important about the documents is that they reveal the possibility of the absolute surveillance of a country’s people and foreign citizens without any kind of effective controls or supervision. Among the intelligence agencies in the Western world, there appears to be a division of duties and at times extensive cooperation. And it appears that the principle that foreign intelligence agencies do not monitor the citizens of their own country, or that they only do so on the basis of individual court decisions, is obsolete in this world of globalized communication and surveillance. Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency can spy on anyone but British nationals, the NSA can conduct surveillance on anyone but Americans, and Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency can spy on anyone but Germans. That’s how a matrix is created of boundless surveillance in which each partner aids in a division of roles» (1 July 2013).In short, the world’s security agencies are spying on each other’s citizens and sharing the information, thereby evading all constitutional checks on their powers.
Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) claimed in an interview with Die Zeit that she only heard about the US data collection activities via news reports – a ludicrous assertion, given that the BND reports directly to the Chancellor’s office (Die Zeit, 17 July 2013). She was ridiculed for trying to play the endearingly innocent ingénue with her excuse that “the internet is new to us all” (McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, Memories of Stasi color Germans’ view of U.S. surveillance programme, 26 June 2013).
Roland Pofalla the Chief of Staff of the Chancellery who is responsible for overseeing the BND, fatuously asserted that “All questions concerning the allegations against the German intelligence service have been resolved … Data protection is maintained”. As Germany’s leftist daily Die Tageszeitung commented, what he meant by this was not, of course, that there would be no further mass surveillance of the German public, but that the BND and NSA (and the British GCHQ) would cooperate on spying, i.e. we could trust the German State to ensure that the Americans and the British did not abuse the trust of the German government (TAZ, 13 August 2013).
Naturally, the German left can be trusted no more than the conservative coalition. Opposition Social Democrats (SPD) accused the government of being too soft in its stance towards the NSA’s activities; a rather difficult position to maintain since it was the SPD-Green coalition which, in 2002, agreed to strengthen cooperation and data sharing between the NSA and the BND – and in fact, it was the current SPD leader, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who concluded the deal. The SPD responded by saying that the 2002 agreement related to the specific circumstances of the September 11 attacks and was never intended to allow comprehensive surveillance of the entire population.
In short, whereas the SPD “only” unlocked the door and left it wide open, the CDU kicked it down with some gusto.
The Pirate Party, which says it would like to reinvigorate democracy for the 21st century, focusing on issues around internet privacy and transparency in government, only added to the mystification. Its leader Udo Vettel told Der Spiegel, “We cannot afford a secret service that ignores the constitution” (Der Spiegel, 14 August 2013). But as we have seen, the German BND might well observe its obligation not to spy on “its own” citizens. It merely has to turn a blind eye while the NSA and GCHQ do this for them.
Like the German Greens in the 1980s, the Pirate Party is posing as
alternative whose hands are unsullied by participation in government,
it serves as a safety valve for those who believe that the mainstream
parties are behind the times, and are therefore a threat to German
A “hip” new defence of the surveillance State
In Germany as elsewhere, parliament provides a forum where heated discussions revolve around very slight disagreements on the direction of policy and the State’s priorities. Fewer and fewer people take this parliamentary posturing seriously and the bourgeoisie is exploring some more sophisticated approaches to conditioning public opinion to accept the political consensus.
“Progressive” voices within the bourgeoisie, particularly those associated with the growing mobile computing and communications market (smartphones, tablets and app-based software) are asserting that the new generation, brought up on social media, already publishes everything the State needs to know about them via Facebook. They have no hang-ups about sharing information (so long as they get some perceived benefit in return, as when you download a “free” app). Proof: the instant messaging system WhatsApp, which requires subscribers to upload the contents of their smartphone’s address book in return for the service. WhatsApp has very quickly accumulated 250 million active users, and handles 27 billion messages in a single day (Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2013).
But what come’s next? Many are now arguing that social media can help to save German’s democracy in an era of declining political participation. The Guardian recently reported a pilot project in Heidelberg:
«Findings from a major study in 2011 by the Bertelsmann Foundation show that in recent years many young Germans have become disinterested in electing a representative, preferring to have a direct role in local projects. At the same time, they seem less inclined to attend public meetings, read the newspaper or listen to public broadcasts. They increasingly rely on social media to stay informed and voice their opinions, but they still expect politicians to hear what they’re saying».The article goes on to explain how the city of Heidelberg is exploring social media data and using its findings not only to explain the council’s policies at a time of increasing political disengagement, but also as a way to identify and diffuse dissent early, and to ensure that unpopular decisions can be pushed through. The Mayor of Heidelberg’s Chief of Staff explained,
«Opinions expressed on social media also show that most vocal campaigns are short lived. Yet, those that persist are volatile and a campaign of disinformation can derail public support for a project. When rumours are turned into urban myth the general public is left disenfranchised. Local authorities are well-advised to identify such trends as early as possible and to reassure the public with reliable information» (The Guardian, 12 August 2013).During various uprisings around the world, notably in Iran and during the so-called “Arab spring”, commentators from establishment think tanks have praised the liberating role of social media. Yet the readiness of Facebook and Twitter as well as search engine companies like Google to share data with authorities, the ability of the authorities to identify dangerous trends in opinion using an arsenal of analytical tools, and the increasing sophistication of both private and State agencies in manipulating these confirm that until its political power is directly confronted, the ruling class will be the controlling voice in social media, just as it is the controlling voice in print, radio, TV and every other form of mass media.
In May, during a visit to Washington with Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s Interior Minister Hans Peter Friedrich stressed that Germany and the US were “intimately linked” in fighting terrorism and worked well together “at all levels”. He also called for closer electronic surveillance of travel within the European Union, mirroring the US Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). Citing the example of the Boston bombing, Friedrich asserted that terrorists increasingly act independently of larger organisations such as Al Qaida, effectively justifying the State in regarding every citizen as a target for State surveillance.
During the same visit, Thomas de Maizière assured the United States of German support in its imperialist campaigns around the world, which of course are mainly being fought under the banner of anti-terrorism. Soon afterwards, reports in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and on ARD television revealed that the Stuttgart-based supreme command of the United States Africa Command (US Africom) and the Air Operations Center (AOC) at the US air force base in Ramstein are directly involved in drone attacks in Somalia. The German government at first responded to the investigation by asserting that no attacks were directed from German soil, then backtracked and claimed rather implausibly that it had “no evidence” that the attacks were taking place. There is nothing new here. Germany’s constitution very clearly states, “Acts tending to and undertaken with intent to disturb the peaceful relations between nations, especially to prepare for a war of aggression, shall be unconstitutional. They shall be made a criminal offense.”
The German government has already established a pattern of denial, duplicity and obfuscation to get round its formally pacifist constitution and widespread public opposition to militarism. In 2003, the SDP-Green government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer spoke against the Iraq war. At the same time, however, they guaranteed Washington the unrestricted use of US bases in Germany. For weeks, huge quantities of military hardware stationed in Germany was repainted for the desert and transported to Iraq, while Ramstein air base played a critical role as a transit centre between the USA, Europe and the Middle East throughout the war and during the occupation.
Communists understand that the bourgeoisie is increasingly attracted to war as a way of resolving a prolonged crisis. That is why militarism and surveillance of the public go hand in hand: in the event of a war, the ruling class will want to snuff out potential sources of resistance as quickly as possible, while identifying ineffective sources of pseudo-opposition and co-opting them to its own ends. We also understand that talk about reinvigorating democracy, for example through greater transparency, social media etc only deflect attention away from the realities of power.
Moreover, while we recognise the heroism of individual actors such as Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning in exposing the truth about the surveillance State and military operations around the world, we understand that the bourgeoisie is perfectly able to exploit such revelations, on the one hand by fostering the illusion that the military can be held to account through democratic institutions, while simultaneously destroying the individuals concerned (Bradley Manning’s recantation, when he faced a 90-year prison sentence, was reminiscent of a Stalinist show-trial). The state prefers to achieve its ends through constitutional means, but it will by-pass these whenever necessary.
Class struggles ahead draw parties closer together
Set up in the aftermath of the Second Imperialist War with the approval of the Western Allies, the German Constitution of 1949 is in many ways the “model democracy”, specifically designed to facilitate consensual, centrist politics, extinguishing any meaningful opposition between the classical left and right wings. Only once in the history of the German Federal Republic (BRD) has a single party governed – the 1957 administration of Konrad Adenauer, who fought that year’s election under the slogan, “No experiments”, in other words, an explicit rejection of anything that could be regarded as “radical” even within the narrow confines of bourgeois democracy. With this exception, administration of the BRD has been based on a coalition either between one of the two large parties and a minor mainstream party (usually the liberal FDP) or else a “Grand Coalition” of the centre-right CDU-CSU and the centre-left SPD.
Campaigning for the parliamentary elections of September 2013 was nevertheless a particularly vacuous affair, even by German standards. Neither of the candidate chancellors, Angela Merkel and Per Steinbrück, could find anything of substance to disagree about. In order to stir some modicum of interest in this farce of an election, Angela Merkel paid a grotesquely cynical visit to the former concentration camp at Dachau, to draw attention to an alleged far-right threat to democracy (in fact votes for the far-right NPD barely registered, at 1.3%).
The outcome will be another Grand Coalition, the final details of which are being thrashed out between the main parties at the time of writing, subject to a vote of the SPD membership in mid-December.
The main loser in the election was Angela Merkel’s former partner in government the liberal FDP, a party whose programme of tax cuts for the rich did not sit well with the need to sell austerity to the working class. For the first time in history, the FDP failed to gain the 5% share of the vote needed to secure parliamentary representation. In fact, the main beneficiary of the FDP’s worst electoral result since 1948 was Angela Merkel, who won 2.1m of the 3.8m votes lost by the liberals. A new force in German politics, the Alternativ für Deutschland, a party of swivel-eyed economics professors who, despite (or perhaps because of?) their lifelong study of economics seriously believe that the answer to capitalism’s crisis is to break up the Eurozone, picked up a further 430,000 of the FDP’s votes.
The other mainstream parties, the Left (Die Linke) and the
Greens, also suffered setbacks. The Left – a merger of the former
ruling party of East Germany and some leftist social democrats,
fought the election behind the slogan, “Revolution? Nein!”
with the aim of distancing itself as far as humanly possible from the
glories of Red October. Its leadership wants to present the party as
salonfähig – i.e. acceptable to polite bourgeois society.
The Left has also gone out of its way to make clear that it will not
present any obstacles to future German involvement in imperialist
wars. A recent book by the leftist Welt Trends think-tank called for
a more “sensible” approach to foreign policy, including support
Alas, all to no avail: the Left lost 12 of its seats in the Bundestag. Moreover, while the overall balance of seats made a broad-left coalition of SPD, Greens and the Left a mathematical possibility, the SPD has ruled this out, preferring to be the junior partner in a Grand Coalition rather than the senior partner in a leftist administration.
The Green party also took a hit in the elections, down from the highs it achieved on the back of fears stoked by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Its policies are in any case out of sync with the current economic climate. Big business is balking at the additional burden of “green energy”, the cost of which is mainly being borne by the public in the form of higher fuel bills and prices. It too is now discarding some of its cherished principles and left-leaning leaders; the Green Party energy minister for the state of Schleswig Holstein commented that the Greens lost the election because they are widely dismissed as a “schoolmarm party” seeking to "morally enlighten humanity”. Its openly pro-business wing is now in the ascendant.
The economic background
There are clear economic drivers behind the formation of a centrist Grand Coalition: the need for further sacrifices at the altar of capitalist profit – a hard sell to an already stressed and exploited workforce.
Viewed from countries with double-digit unemployment, Germany’s economy may appear to be in good shape. In fact however, many of its leading industrial concerns are suffering a fall in profits and have warned of the need for further cost-cutting measures.
Lanxess, the speciality chemicals maker, reported a 95 per cent drop in second-quarter net profit and abandoned its 2014 profit guidance. Salzgitter, the German steel producer, said that it would make a €400m full-year pre-tax loss “in view of the persisting structural crisis in the European steel industry”.
In July, Siemens, Germany’s biggest engineering company by sales, cancelled its operating margin guidance for 2014. And BASF, the world’s biggest chemicals maker by sales, likewise cautioned that its full-year earnings target had become “significantly more challenging”.
Volkswagen, one of the world’s three largest auto manufacturers (it owns the Audi, SEAT, Porsche and Skoda brands and truck makers MAN and Scania as well as VW) reported third-quarter sales roughly in line with expectations but analysts doubt whether it will achieve its profit forecasts.
Major companies in service sectors such as banking and software have also been feeling the pinch while the television manufacturer Loewe recently filed for bankruptcy and dismissed a third of its workforce.
While all of these companies put the blame on the world economic slowdown, this is largely belied by the fact that overall German factory orders are relatively healthy (up by 3.8% month-on-month in June 2013).
German companies are in fact investing massively in new technologies and manufacturing techniques in order to stay ahead of international competition by reducing costs. For example, Volkswagen has invested billions in a new MQB (Modularer Querbaukasten) production architecture which, it is claimed, will reduce the labour time required to build a car by 30%. However, only living labour can produce the surplus value that is the basis for capitalist profit, so while these drives to reduce production costs may help German companies to sustain sales, it will put further strain on profit margins. Such is the fundamental contradiction of the capitalist system!
German big business needs the backing of a strong political establishment and the cooperation of the unions to confront these structural challenges. The working class will feel the pain in a number of ways.
First, the leading industrials will try to squeeze the hugely important German Mittelstand. This is not merely the classical petty bourgeoisie but rather medium-sized companies with a turnover of up to €50 million and up to 500 employees, which service the large industrials, for example with capital goods, outsourced services and with second, third and fourth-tier production for big-name brands such as VW, BMW and Mercedes Benz. According to some studies, Mittelstand companies employ 70% of Germany’s workforce. However, they contribute only 50% of its gross domestic product.
Regardless of who actually votes for them, the FDP has historically been the main party representing the Mittelstand with its focus on lower taxes, less “red tape” and “more flexible” (i.e. cheaper) labour.
Naturally it will be workers in these companies who will be asked to absorb the squeeze from the big corporates, through pay freezes, reduced working hours on less pay and layoffs, all of which effectively mean an increase in the rate of exploitation.
In order to deal more effectively with the more organised workers in the larger industrial concerns and the public sector, the German bourgeoisie will require austerity measures such as the imposition of pay norms below the rate of inflation and a reduction in the social wage.
A goal of the Grand Coalition is to reduce government debt (currently around 80% GDP) but the CDU-CSU has rejected in advance any talk of the Grand Coalition increasing taxes on the rich and corporations. It is therefore inevitable that the SPD will have to jettison its modest election promises such as increased old age pensions and gender equality in the workplace. It will, however, hold fast to its promise to increase the minimum wage – a totemic gesture to reassure its left wing, because in fact the minimum wage will only serve to establish a benchmark enabling employers to drive down wages. The SPD will count on support from the trade union bureaucracy. No problem: before the election the main German trade union confederation, the DGB, already signalled that it will be a willing partner to a Grand Coalition government by agreeing to a deal weakening the position of Germany’s 900,000 temporary contract workers, reneging on its earlier commitment to equal pay for equal work.
It is little wonder that German workers are already more stressed than ever as the pressure to deliver productivity gains mounts. A survey conducted by the Techniker Krankenkasse (a state-underwritten health insurance company) revealed that nearly 60% of Germans feel under stress, with work issues given as the main cause. Stress levels are highest among people in the middle of their working life, i.e. between 36 and 45.
The Grand Coalition, the talk of “realism” and the convergence of all of the German political parties around virtually indistinguishable programmes to restore capitalism to profitability will make it increasingly clear, and not just to class conscious workers, that they offer no real choices.
The only real choice facing the German working class is a stark one: capitalism or communism!
How to save the banks
The histogram which follows is interesting at a number of levels because it shows the amount owed to the banks of a number of States by the three debtor states currently on the point of having suspend their payments: Greece, Ireland and Portugal. If we’d added Spain we’d have even better idea of the full scale of the risk. These countries can no longer refinance themselves on the market and need to apply for assistance to the European Financial Stability Fund, the so-called ‘State Rescue’ fund.
According to the French online journal Mediapart, in a piece on January 1st 2011, “at the end of 2009, the amount of credit the European banks extended to Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain came to no less than 14% of the EU’s GDP”. This is a considerable sum and explains why the European Central Bank (ECB) is worried. As the histogram makes apparent, in Europe it is the German, French and British banks which hold most debt.
Only a very small proportion of the funds in the banks, around 2% to 3%, is held in hard cash with the rest consisting of titles of various kinds i.e., bonds, shares, bills of exchange, etc, which in the end are actually nothing more than debts; money owed. After a crisis, as the businesses against which these titles were issued go bankrupt, as share values collapse, as households find themselves no longer able to honour their debts, and even worse when entire states go bankrupt, then the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.
The banks which are most exposed are the German and British banks, by respectively 249 and 243 billion dollars, followed by the United States banks, by 193 billion, the French banks, by 153 billion, and the Spanish, which has a bad debt of around 80 billion euros resulting from the bursting of the property bubble. Thus Spain is on the same slippery slope as Greece and Ireland, and certainly in a worse position than Portugal.
Another interesting element is that the widely discussed public debt is low in comparison with the total debt which includes also private debts. The total public debt held by the banks of Ireland, Greece and Portugal amounts to 92 billion dollars whereas the total debt is around 1022 billion dollars. Subtracting one from the other gives us a figure of about 930 billion dollars debt in the private sector, around ten times the public debt. Meanwhile public debt is for the most part held by insurance companies and pension funds.
Only a very small proportion of what the banks possess exists as cash, between 2 and 3% of their income, while the rest consists of titles of various types: bonds, shares, bills, all of them effectively debts of one kind or another. When, following a crisis, the enterprises which have issued these titles are obliged to go bankrupt, shares rapidly lose their value, families cannot honour their debts and, worst of all, States go bankrupt, the whole house of cards on which the capitalist system is based collapses. This is what happens during a crisis, especially when it lasts a long time and its impact is global.
Below is a series of curves which show private debt but not, unfortunately, the indebtedness of the financial institutions.
If we compare these curves with those of increases in Public debt (see Part 1, in previous Communist Left) one can immediately see the change of scale: the public debt graph stops at 180%, the private debt one at 350%. The most indebted States are Ireland, Portugal and Spain. The debt of Italy and Greece is about half that of the other three. The crisis has caused a major rise in private indebtedness in Ireland (the ratio rising from 189% in 2007 to 293% in 2010), whereas in the other countries there is no significant change, not since the recession anyway; since 2009 the debt tends to follow a horizontal line without actually going down. Greece is the exception as its private debt turns out to be less than the public debt: during the two years at the peak of the crisis, 2008 to 2009, they were about the same, but then the public debt literally exploded. Here are the figures:
What counts isn’t so much the relation between debt and GDP as the capacity to repay the debt. The Argentinean State declared itself bankrupt when its debt was only 30% of the GDP. Spain’s debt today is 70% of GDP and could reach 79% by the end of 2012. France’s debt, for example, is around 86% and will probably exceed 90% by the end of 2012. The capacity to repay is determined by the economic strength of a country, by its balance of trade and balance of payments and for the State by how well it can balance its budget. But for Greece, as for Spain, the budget deficit was considerable and remains such. Italy, on the other hand, has an enormous public debt, but a low budget deficit, 3.9% of GDP in 2011, as against, for example, a little over 5% in France.
Another factor to keep in mind, one which differentiates the public from the private sector, is that the latter sees a reduction in its debt during recessions due to companies going bankrupt and their compulsory liquidation with bank accounts frozen and goods sequestered to pay off creditors. Families who are unable to pay their debts can have their goods seized and automatic deductions made from their income, and still end up thrown out of their homes.
But you can’t adopt the same strategy when it is a State that is the debtor. If a State like Greece should declare it is suspending payments and reinstates its national currency, there wouldn’t only be a default on government securities, but private bills, when and if they were paid back, would,be paid back in national currency devalued by between 50 and 70%. This explains the fears of the European bourgeoisie which is caught up in the infernal machinery of crisis of European and global capitalism; a crisis which, originating in the crisis of overproduction, due to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, is now hitting financial capital.
When, as in Europe, entire sectors of the banking system are frozen, the capitalist economy as a whole grinds to a halt because the accumulation of capital cannot happen without resort to the system of credit. Without credit production stops because no-one has sufficient means of payment, neither the capitalist, who must pay in advance for salaries and the acquisition of raw materials and often before having banked the proceeds from the sale of commodities produced during the previous cycle of production, nor the retailer, who has to acquire goods before selling them, and so on. One rapidly arrives at a situation of over-production, productions stops, and a paralysis of the entire system sets in.
Another important point to bear in mind is that the ECB and the French government are not the only ones who are totally opposed to any declaration by Greece of a default, even a partial one, on their debt. Even the Greek government is bitterly opposed because, as we have mentioned, the Greek banks are major lenders to the Greek State, to the tune of around 50 billion dollars. The Greek bourgeois prefers to starve the people and particularly the proletariat rather than witness the collapse of its financial system and with it the paralysis of its entire mode of production.
As the Greek debt rose from 300 to 350 billion euros at the end of 2011, a figure equivalent to 150% of the GDP, it finally became apparent to all that the situation was spiralling out of control. Under the pressure of events the ECB, the French government and the rulers of Greece had to bow to the evidence and accept the terms set by Chancellor Merkel.
In the form of agreements, without declaring the Greek State bankrupt, and without any apparent restrictions on private lenders, a reduction in the Greek debt was agreed upon which fitted in with the need of the European banks, mainly the French and German ones, to extract themselves from this mess. As good protestants the German bourgeoisie would present this discounting of debt as a punishment of those imprudent financiers who had been too quick to lend out their money.
The solution: socialising the debts
After months of negotiations between the governments, the ECB and the IMF, and then with the financial institutions which held the Greek State’s debt, a reduction of the Greek debt was finally agreed in February 2012. We don’t know the details about the bargaining process nor how the reduction was calculated, and indeed the information in the press is rather contradictory. Nevertheless, if we refer to Eurostat data and other more or less reliable sources, we can come up with a fairly accurate picture.
We know from Eurostat that at the beginning of 2012 the Greek public debt was 355 billion euros; of these the ECB held securities with a starting value of 47 billion euros. In addition, as has been repeatedly mentioned in the press, of the 110 billion promised by Europe, only 73 was taken up. So, if we subtract from the 355 billion the value of the securities held by the ECB (47 billion) and the sum advanced by the European Financial Stability Fund (73 billion), we come up with the figure of 235 billion euros worth of securities held by private organisations. On this sum has been applied a loss of value of 53.5%, of 126 billion and leaves us with a figure of 109 billion, or 107 billion according to the press, or at least this is the figure they have cited most often. The ECB, for its part, has ‘generously’ accepted to buy back the 47 billion of securities it holds for the price it paid, that is 40 billion euros, but it certainly doesn’t intend to accept less. Which brings the debt down to 220 billion.
The table below illustrates the debt is divided up between the various organisations before and after the intervention:
In the next table we show what we know about the composition of the private debt.
The “Other Greek organisations” are mainly Pension Funds, which hold 21 billion dollars worth of securities. The ‘discounting’ operation hasn’t been entirely free of problems and two of the smaller Pension Funds refused to take part in the negotiations. The heading “Other” includes insurance companies, Pension Funds of other States, the North American banks and Hedge Funds. One newspaper stated that European insurance companies hold around 20 billion euros of this part of the debt.
After all this financial juggling Greece ended up with a “reduced” debt of 220 billion euros, but if the new loan of 130 billion conceded by Europe is added to that sum, we are back where we started with 220 + 130 = 350!
Greece after the restructuring operation finds itself in as much in debt as it was before. So what was the point of it all? The aim is actually quite clear: to transfer the risk from the Private to the public. If Greece defaults, the risk for the banks will be reduced and it will be the European States who will pick up the tab, which means, in the last analysis, the European proletariat will pay for it! That is what is meant by socialisation of the debt. This is what the ruling classes have done in Ireland and Spain, where they have transferred the debt, in all or in part, from the banks to the public domain. And it is why there has been the sudden drastic increase in the indebtedness of these States.
Here is the analysis of the liberal newspaper Les Echos, from an article on March 12 2012: “The successful debt cancellation operation between Athens and its private creditors will place public creditors in the front rank. “the Greek debt is passing from private hands into those of the public, that is, the IMF, the European Union, the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), and the European Central Bank”, explains Ioanniz Sokos from BNP Paranbas. According to him, the part of the debt held by the public sector will rise to 75% by the beginning of 2015 (when the new bail out plan ends), as opposed to today’s figure of 35% (just before the bonds were exchanged). The EFSF will by a long way be Athen’s major creditor, with an exposure of 167 billion euros. The new Greek State bonds issued to investors today will represent only 18% of the debt in 2015”.
It is abundantly clear that the aim of the deal has been to transfer the weight of the Greek debt, and thus the risk, onto the shoulders of the various States and thus in the last analysis onto the shoulders of the working class, to whom the bill will be presented in the case of bankruptcy.
Restructuring or pillage?
But that isn’t all. There is plenty else to be said about this deal. Firstly, in exchange for their old devalued bonds, the banks and other financial institutions have received 30 billions worth of short term bonds from the EFSF and the rest, that is, 77 billion (107 minus 30) in new Greek 30 year bonds, on which interest will be paid according to the following timescale: for the first three years creditors are to receive 2% interest, then, for the following five years, 3%, then 4.3% for the 22 years remaining. So, if all goes to plan, which is highly unlikely, the creditors stand to pocket:
77 B€ x 0.02 x 3 years = 4.62 B€ 77 B€ x 0.03 x 5 years = 11.55 B€ 77 B€ x 0.043 x 22 years = 72.84 B€ TOTAL = 89.01 B€
By the end of the 30 years the Greek State would have paid out 89 B€ in interest and also been obliged to pay back the initial 77 billion loan. It needs to be taken into consideration, as far as bonds are concerned, that during the term of a loan a debtor only pays back the interest, paying back the capital at the end. The interest is therefore calculated on the whole of the capital for the entire duration of the repayment period.
But the strangulation of the Greek State and the financial skulduggery doesn’t stop there. Let’s have a look at what the 130 billion of supplementary loans will actually be spent on: 5 billion to pay the outstanding interest and 30 billions to be paid directly to the EFSF, to reimburse the 30 billion worth of securities given in exchange for the old bonds. Therefore the 130 billion loan is in effect only 100 billion. What is more, 23 billion will be paid directly into the banks to recapitalize them, a figure which could rise to 50 billion. This means the Greek State is lumbered with a debt of 75 billion euros instead of the 50 billion it owed before the debt was restructured. This 75 billion is composed of the discount it still owes to the Greek banks, plus the 50 it now owes to the EFSF. This, therefore, leaves only 45 billion to carry the plan forward to 2015, at which point, thanks to this ‘strong medicine’, the patient will supposedly have been miraculously cured.
to Eurostat data, after the 2009 crisis the Greek State steadily
reduced its primary budget deficit, that is, the deficit before the
interest is added, but despite this the interest still went up. The
following table shows the figures for the Greek debt between 2007 and
The interest to be repaid has risen steadily from around 12 billion in 209 to 16 billion in 2011, whereas the primary deficit has fallen from 24 billion in 2009 to 3.7 billion in 2011. This means the total deficit, following the increase in the amount of interest owed, remains significant despite the fact the primary deficit has reduced to almost nothing. What is more, with the contraction of the GDP, due to the recession, the deficit as a percentage of the GDP could even go up.
It is interesting to know how the banks have been refinanced. In exchange for the 50 billion euros which the Greek State will be paying into the banks it will receive shares, and it will therefore become a shareholder of the banks it has recapitalized. But these shares will be ordinary shares, that is to say, the Greek State will have no say in the running of the Greek banks, despite having shouldered a massive debt on their behalf!
Our bourgeois Troika can always say that the State will receive interest on its shares; meanwhile it is actually the State which has contracted the debt of 50 million in order to breathe life into these famous banks, and clearly the Greek proletariat is expected to pick up the bill.
However, we must emphasize that the Greek government is in cahoots with all this convoluted swindling that is going on, and clearly the bailing out of the banks was the sine qua non for accepting the restructuring of the debt.
Squeezing the Greek proletariat and petit bourgeoisie to gain some time
To conclude our discussion on the restructuring of the Greek debt held by Europe, we will quote from a Les Echos interview on May 29 with Mitu Gulati, the professor of Law who laid the basis for the reduction of the Greek debt. Here is what he had to say on how it was put into effect:
“Lee Buccheit and teams at Cleary Gottlieb and Lazard, who advised Athens on this operation, have done a remarkable job. It is however to be regretted that that it took so long to realise the Greek debt needed restructuring. The process should have got underway by the middle of 2010. I remain convinced that the markets probably realised by then that such an operation could have prevented a worsening of the crisis in the euro zone. What is more, it might have prevented the additional costs incurred by the governments of the euro zone and rendered the austerity measures required of Greece less severe. But the ECB was totally opposed to a restructuring of the debt, fearing contagion. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that it was rather its refusal to act earlier that lay behind the contagion. Another aggravating factor was that the Greek government clearly had no control over the debt restructuring process.
“In the normal course of things, when a country is facing a crisis as serious as this, first it decides to stop paying its creditors and then it engages in negotiations. In this way it becomes in the interest of the creditors to reach an agreement as rapidly as possible, so they can get paid.
“In the case of Greece it was the opposite which occurred. Greece was engaged in negotiations while it continued to pay its creditors. It was therefore in the latter’s interest to draw out the discussions.
“This has cost Athens 60 to 80 billion euros, funds which the Greek government could undoubtedly have put to better use.
“Furthermore, the idea that the investors should participate ‘voluntarily’ in writing off debt – an idea defended for months by the European leaders – didn’t make any sense, because how could you be sure that a bank, having accepted this principle, would really bring it securities in exchange, when it could just as easily sell them off beforehand to a hedge fund?”.
Thus, Greece has been swindled out of no less than 60 to 80 billion euros, conned by the Troika! The so-called ‘aid’ from Europe and the IMF can be summed up as pillage, swindling and a brutal attack on the Greek proletariat and petty bourgeoisie. Europe is supporting Greece like a noose supports a hanged man.
But will these draconian measures improve Greece’s chances of somehow extricating itself? Not a chance! All that will result from these austerity measures is an aggravation of the recession, which in its turn will increase the deficit, reducing the most of the Greek people to poverty. The Troika’s plan is totally unrealistic, and they know it.
This is what some liberal economists think about it. In Les Échos (12/03/2013), Isabelle Couet writes:
“It is very likely that Athens’s creditors will have to make a further outlay in a few years time. In this regard the publication of the GDP figures on Friday was an unhappy omen. In 2011 business activity contracted by 7.5% … whereas in its first report, the Troika(EU, IMF and ECB) forecast a contraction of only 2.6%. “The estimates of medium term growth are too optimistic” – concludes Jacques Cailloux of the Royal Bank of Scotland – “we predict growth of 2.5% from 2015, while the Troika is counting on 4%”. According to the economist another unrealistic hypothesis concerns the primary balance (the balance net of interest on the debt). “The scenario of an average primary surplus of 4.5% between 2014 and 2020 doesn’t hold up”. Without further aid, according to Jacques Cailloux, the level of debt in relation to the GDP will reach 160% by 2020”.
And here’s more from Jacques Cailloux, chief economist of the RBS, being interviewed in the 22/02/2012 edition of Les Échos:
“The arguments advanced by the Troika concerning the trajectory of the sovereign Greek debt seem too optimistic to me. I would add to this that putting in place a veritable “Marshall Plan”, with, say, 100 billion euros of productive investment in the country, would have allowed the country to resolve its economic problems much quicker. In practice, the Eurogroup agreement just gains a bit of time and avoids the country defaulting in a disorganised manner”.
The interviewer then asks:
“In your view, then, there is no
guarantee that the Greek debt will be able to return to the level of
120% of GDP by 2020, as predicted in the agreement?”
“That’s right – replies the economist – the Troika’s basic scenario is that the Greek GDP’s rate of growth between 2014 and 2019 will be around 3% per annum. To me this seems far too optimistic. Moreover, this basic scenario also anticipates achieving, over the same period, a primary budget surplus of over 4 points of GDP. A difficult performance to achieve in a period of budgetary austerity and structural readjustment. In addition, the government predicts it will lower its structural public expenditure by 10 % whereas, over the last three years, it has remained practically unchanged and represents today just over 42% of the country’s GDP”.
And there is this article by Jean Marc Vittori, also in Les Échos:
“The Greek debt has been reduced by barely a quarter. it is still too much given the country’s means. Later on, more money will be needed to recapitalize the Greek banks, whereas privatisations will bring in much less than forecasted by the figures, which had already been revised downwards. Finally, in Greece there will be no growth in the short term. The commission’s experts predict it will return to growth in 2014, following a reduction in activity much more serious than predicted. The hypothesis of 3% growth in 2015 appears unrealistic. The Troika of public creditors (European Union, IMF and ECB) explain this clearly in their confidential report: there is a “fundamental tension” which remains unresolved between the reduction of the public deficit and an improvement in the country’s competitiveness, because such improvement comes by way of a lowering of wages and prices which will inevitably increase the weight of the debt in relation to the GDP.
“Under these conditions, it is tempting to conclude that these bailouts, which never work, are useless. Nothing could be more wrong. The fact is that this long, painful and chaotic process earns Europe something of inestimable value: time. Time for the private lenders to adjust to the prospect of losing practically all the money they invested so imprudently in Greece; time for the banks to cushion the blow and spread the losses on their Greek loans from one three-month period to the next”.
While the real seriousness of the crisis is played down, the estimate of growth between 2014 and 2020,and the possibility of having a primary surplus with which to pay the debt, is played up. The entire operation simply doesn’t add up. Why then impose all this suffering on the Greek people – and above all on the Greek proletariat? The aim is simply to gain time and avoid a meltdown of the European financial system. But despite all these expedients it can’t be avoided in any case.
Rendering the proletariat submissive and exploitable at will
We can get a good idea of the depth of the recession in Greece by looking at the figures for industrial production. The curve in the diagram below, compiled o the basis of UNO data, shows the percentage increases in industrial production in Greece from the year 2000.
indices it emerges that industrial production, in relation to the
maximum of 2007, was 13% lower in 2009, and 25% lower in 2011, and we
can predict it will be 34% lower in 2012. This dramatic fall in
industrial production is reflected in the GDP, even if, as we have
explained elsewhere, the GDP doesn’t give an accurate measure of
the real progress of a country’s economy because the declared
values, and the way in which the GDP is calculated, are heavily
Greece isn’t the only one in this disastrous situation. Spain, Portugal and Ireland are all in the same boat. Compared to the 2007 maximum, Portugal saw its industrial production decline by 13% and after a brief rise in 2010 fall again by 13% in 2011. A projection of the trend gives - 15% for 2012. The situation in Spain is much more serious and is similar to that in Greece: in 2009 -22%, in 2011 - 23% and in 2012 surely -25%. In Ireland the situation at first sight seems better: in 2009 - 6.6%; in 2011 +0.6% and for 2012 the projection is 0.5%.
Moreover, in Spain, Ireland and Portugal, along with public debt which is bound to rise, despite all the tightening up, there is also a large private debt. In Spain the most recent figures we have, dating from 2010, indicate a rate of private indebtedness of 224% of the GDP. For Portugal we have the same figure. For Ireland the rate rises astronomically in 2010 to 293%! As for unemployment, it has reached 25% of the labour force in Spain and around 22% in Greece.
How would the European bourgeoisie like to resolve this catastrophic situation? By heightening the exploitation of the proletariat to increase its competitiveness. They want ‘the labour market’ to be more ‘flexible’, by allowing capitalists to sack workers more easily and generalising the practice of employing workers on time limited contracts. They want a system which will allow employers to take on workers quickly when they are required, and to sack them without formalities when that is no longer the case.
This is already the lot of a section of the proletariat, but the bourgeoisie and its lackeys now want to extend it if possible to all workers. It is, according to them, a question of ‘justice’. Greece, Portugal and Spain are to be used as laboratories where they can experiment with this policy. Over recent months there have been a host of articles in the press about ‘flexibility’ in the labour market; about the need to be less ‘rigid’, and so on and so forth. This is what the ECB and the various governments mean when proclaim that one of the main things required to re-launch the economy is a ‘restructuring’ of the labour market.
In order to confirm that it is indeed their intention we will quote from an article by a French economist who expresses exactly what the European leaders are thinking. The article is entitled ‘Employment: we need to act now’. It is written by Eric le Boucher and can be found on Slate.fr. In this article, after having talking about the need to develop education in order to have a qualified workforce, it moves on to discuss a "Dual market”:
"The second point bears on the labor market itself. In many European countries, particularly in the south, the labor market still makes too much of a distinction between stable and unstable jobs, which has the effect of " aggravating the inequalities produced by the school system", as four specialized economists on labor issues correctly point out in their book: La machine à trier: comment la France divise sa jeunesse.
"This division into a "dual" labour market is unfair and inefficient. Since breaking a CDI is always complex from a legal point of view, businesses continue to call for the CDD as a way of dealing with fluctuations in their activity. [CDI, Contract of indefinite duration: a contract with no set time limit and which can be broken by the employer only under certain conditions as defined by Labour Legislation, such as due to professional misconduct, which must be demonstrated, or during staff lay offs, when redundancy payments have to be paid; CDD, Fixed-term contract: the exact opposite of the CDI. A contract of limited duration, from just a few hours to several months, after which the contract ceases automatically and the worker becomes unemployed].
"Lots of people, including the young, "switch" from one short-term contract to another, signing up to agencies between jobs. The OECD notes: "In ten countries, the proportion of those in temporary jobs lies between 10 and 25 with a high proportion of young people and women. Before the crisis, in France and especially Spain, nearly 55% of employed young people (15-24 years) had a fixed-term contract or worked for a temporary employment agency".
"The use of the CDD has also inflated the unemployment figures and, incidentally, expenditure on unemployment insurance", emphasize the four economists, who favorable a single contract of work.
"The debt crisis, which deprives Governments of income and means they have to take stock of the amount of unemployment benefit they can allocate, makes it even more necessary for these educational and structural reforms of the labour market to go ahead".
Bourgeois society can no longer afford to support the growing mass of the unemployed, and to stimulate the accumulation of capital it must increase the rate of profit in order to counter-balance the inevitable tendency of this same rate to fall. There is only way to achieve this: increasing the rate of surplus value by reducing wages and increasing the duration and intensity of work. The employing and sacking of workers has to be made easier and adapted to the company’s requirements, with national and sectoral agreements being replaced by agreements in the form of individual contracts at the company level.
Monti and Cameron’s call for growth in February 2012 is completely in line with these political and economic measures: Les Échos du 21/02/2012:
"Ten days away from a new European summit of the heads of State and Government, certain countries intend to break the tempo set by the Franco-German twosome. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, his Italian counterpart, Mario Monti, and ten other European leaders have sent a letter to the president of the EU, Herman Van Rompuy, and to the president of the Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, to call for measures to strengthen growth in Europe. The recipes provided are rather liberal: reduction of State aid to the banks, drastic relaxation of the labour market or complete liberalisation of the energy sector by 2014. Paris and Berlin would have refused to join in the initiative".
If Paris and Berlin didn’t want to join the duo, this is not due to a disagreement on the measures presented, but because in this basket of crabs that is the European union everything is down to who is strongest. Still quoting from Les Échos, of May 29, 2012, we can read:
"Germany would like to propose to its partners that they reform the labour market, by relaxing the rules on dismissal and by promoting low skilled jobs by lowering the costs attached to them. Berlin wishes also to export its dual educational model, which promotes apprenticeships and thus protects the young from the mass unemployment observed in Spain, for example".
This links in with the proposals made by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the revival of the economy.
This much is clear: since 1974 capitalism has been going through its fourth global recession and these bourgeois parasites are prepared to go to any lengths to save their economic system and their class privileges. Today it has no qualms about cynically reducing broad whole strata of the Irish, Portuguese, Spanish and Greek proletariat to poverty; tomorrow it will the turn of the Italian, French, English and German proletariat.
One way out: Revolution!
Numerous sacrifices are being asked of the proletariat of these countries in the name of a future recovery. But even if there is a recovery in the future, which seems highly unlikely, it will be of very short duration. The length of economic cycles vary from between seven to ten years and can sometimes be even shorter, only five years. The last cycle ended around 2007 and the present one is due to end around 2014 -2017, possibly earlier.
As we observed at the beginning of this article, the growth in industrial production between 2000 and 2007 was extremely weak, or even negative in the case of Great Britain and Italy. And today, after the modest recovery of 2010-2011, it is still far from the maximum reached in 2007 (2000 in Great Britain and Italy). Therefore we can expect the arrival of a new recession before there has ever been a real recovery.
Europe is now officially in recession again, and on the global scale we witness a significant slowing down in the process of capital accumulation, indicating that a new crisis of over-production is approaching, and a serous crisis of financial capital.
So what is the purpose of these sacrifices? The Spanish and Irish states, which took advantage of the previous cycle to lower their debt, now find themselves so deeply in debt again that they are on the verge of bankruptcy. The coming crisis, which will in all probability hit China, will be a terrible one; and this time the various States won’t be able to get out of it by taking out loans.
To save its mode of production the bourgeoisie expects blood, sweat and tears from the proletariat. But is it really in the interests of workers to sacrifice themselves, to live like dogs in order to prop up a system which is based on exploiting their wage labour?
Capitalism has carried out its historic role by socialising the forces of production, but that purpose has now been fulfilled. It is now a mode of production which is obsolete and reactionary and it is holding humanity back, brutalising it and destroying the very sources of its existence. Having arrived at the stage of imperialism it can only survive by unleashing periodic world wars,which lay the basis, after terrible massacres and destruction, for a new cycle of production of surplus value. And now, seventy years after the last imperialist world war, humanity is on the brink of a new global conflict; one which will be even more terrible and destructive and whose premonitory signs can already be detected in the wars constantly flaring up in the Middle and Far East.
The bourgeoisie, whose destiny is tied to this mode of production, has become not only a class which is reactionary, but one which is totally useless and parasitic. Salaried workers now make up the overwhelming majority of the population, although broad layers have become “middle-class” due to their possession of reserves, which imbue them with a petty bourgeois outlook and render them hesitant and incapable of solidarity during workers’ struggles. It is this which underpins the stability of bourgeois society. But it is a situation which is rapidly changing, and the labour aristocracy will soon find its standard of living reduced to the level of the majority of proletarians.
It is the proletariat, which lives by selling its labour power and not on the back of others, which makes society as a whole function and which produces all of its wealth. It has nothing to lose but its chains and an entire world to win!
Proletarians! Comrades! The only alternative is revolution, INTERNATIONAL, PROLETARIAN, COMMUNIST REVOLUTION! All other solutions are doomed to failure.
Meeting in Turin
24 and 25 September 2011
All of us must thank the Turin comrades for organising the meeting so well, for despite all the difficulties involved in welcoming, feeding and finding accommodation for everyone, and with people arriving at all hours of the day and night, it was simply perfect. The venue for the sittings was really comfortable and just what we needed to get on with our work.
It is at these meetings that our organization, still small at the moment, can finds its maximum expression. It is here that the various working groups present the results of their studies, their reflections and conclusions, and where the party as a whole assimilates and integrates their work. Convinced as we are that the road to communism is already marked out, and that it is simply a matter of remaining on it, the purpose of our meetings is not to evaluate or make decisions about the various contributions, but to cross-check and synthesise them.
As usual, we present here a highly abbreviated summary of the various reports, the full versions of which will be published in our review, Comunismo:
The Course of Capitalism – Historical background to Syria – The Military Question – Labor movement in the USA – The Difficult Introduction of Communism into the USA – Trade Union Activity – Marxist eonomy – Democracy and Labour Movement in Italy.
Meeting in Sarzana
21-22 January 2012
Back there again after an interval of two years, the party reassembled in Sarzana for what was, according to our index, its 112th general meeting since 1975. Our proceedings took place in a comfortable and spacious meeting place rented from the local circolo di quartiere (district club).
Comrades started arriving from Friday afternoon onwards and on Saturday morning we held a planning session, deciding the order of proceedings for the meeting. The different study groups gave a broad outline of the content of their reports and the conclusions they had reached. Despite the fact that the reports cover different topics and that there is a division of labour between the different groups, the party makes every effort to arrive at a synthesis of the various themes, which are actually all inter-connected, and seperated only for ease of investigation and presentation. It is no coincidence that often a ‘non-specialist’ comrade, after listening to and meditating on a complex report, will draw very pertinent conclusions.
The non-contradictory nature of the interests of the class we represent, of the doctrine we profess and of the revolution we are preparing for, ensures that the party can aspire to a maximum of centralized efficiency and working discipline without, or reducing to a bare minimum, all those external forms of centralisation and discipline which are only really necessary when, as in the world of the bourgeoisie, they can only be achieved by coercion, by codifying them into a rigid set of rules and regulations.
The reports are summarised below, with the full versions published in our press:
Course of Capitalism – The Military Question (2nd War of Italian Independence) – Syria: data for an initial evaluation – The rearming of the States – The Labor Movement in the USA – Imperialism’s war in Libya – Communist Negation of Democracy – Trade Union Activity – Democracy and the Labour Movement in Italy – Origin of the Trade Unions in Italy.
Party General Meeting in
19-20 May 2012
Amongst the ruins of all the bourgeois myths, there rises the unadulterated revolutionary science of Marxism
On the weekend of 19-20 May, the party’s general meeting took place in Cortona, in a very pleasant venue booked by local comrades for the exposition of our work. Almost all of our groups, from Italy, France and Great Britain were well represented.
As several of the reports on economy, finance and the trade union movement would clearly show, the stagnation of capitalism, the ongoing overproduction of commodities, and the social crisis have not been resolved. It is a phenomenon which is now irreversible, due to the petering out of the long cycle of accumulation which began after the Second World War. Only war could potentially extend its life a bit longer.
The crisis is also hitting the gigantic young capitalisms of Asia and America, which although still expanding have seen their momentum significantly reduced, as well as serious tensions accumulating within their financial sectors.
In the West, where we still aren’t quite at the edge of the precipice, which might take a few years, the reaction of the working class to the crisis has inevitably been weak, bound up as it has been for far too long – at a attitudinal level more than in a material sense – with the needs of capitalism, at both company and national level. No longer accustomed to generalised struggle and class solidarity, the working class still fails to see how powerful it would be if it took a stand, equipped with its defensive movement and its party, outside and against today’s society.
The party cannot bring about the revolutionary situation, but it can anticipate and prepare for it, based on its scientific knowledge of this dying bourgeois society, and the vivid and joyous notion of the society of the future.
We list here the themes reported on over the course of the two days:
Course of the Capitalist Crisis – Critique of Bourgeois Theories of Finance – The Military Question (2nd War of Italian Independence) – Communism against Democracy in the Early days of the Workers’ Movement in Italy – Trade Union Activity – Historical Trends in Gold Production and Gold Prices – The rearming of the States
MARXIST ECONOMIC THEORY
The 3rd Volume of Capital
The report commenced with a brief critique of the current call to “refuse to pay the State debt”, an idea which the stupid ‘left milieu’ is getting very excited about at the moment. This impotent petty-bourgeois theorisation can be lumped with the idiotic notion of an alleged contrast between “finance”, seen as destabilizing and ruinous, and productive capitalism, seen instead, if properly regulated and managed well, as tolerable and just. The birth of the crisis, in short, can supposedly be traced back the fraudulent, immoderate conduct of ‘the finance sector’; its boundless voraciousness, its unpreparedness to obey any rules. The idea is, then, that having once unmasked the despicable actions and fraudulent activities of global finance, a refusal to pay the debts incurred by these malefactors of capitalism’s ‘dark side’ could be the premise for a return to an “ethical” form of capitalist production. This is the ideology of the shopkeeper who, overwhelmed by debt, sees cancelling that debt as the solution to everything, cost what it may.
Our re-presentation, worked on over the course of three years, of the principles of the revolutionary doctrine outlined in the 5th Section of the 3rd Volume of Capital, has strived precisely to highlight the impossibility of separating finance from capital, maintaining that even if the latter is the backbone of the former, the one is still inconceivable without the other. In so-called “global finance”, which Marx analysed in its embryonic stage, this is so evident as to be beyond discussion.
The speaker then moved on to tackle the highly important Chapter 30, “Money capital and real capital”.
The accumulation of money capital, and of money wealth in general, reduces itself to the accumulation of proprietary claims over labour.
Accumulation of capital in the form of the national debt means nothing more than the growth of a class of state creditors with a preferential claim to certain sums from the total proceeds of taxation. These promissory notes are paper duplicates of capital which has been destroyed, but which nevertheless function for the owners as capital, insofar as they are saleable and can therefore be transformed back into capital.
Equally shares, which are title deeds on businesses, and which are actually titles to actual capital, give no control over this capital but merely confer a legal claim to a share of the surplus-value that will be created by this capital, and in this form are paper duplicates of real capital. As duplicates they can themselves be exchanged as commodities, and hence circulate as capital values. But these are illusory, and their values can rise and fall quite independently of the movement in value of the actual capital to which they are titles.
When interest rates fall, as a consequence of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, their values, i.e. their listings on the stock exchange, have a tendency to rise. This imaginary wealth expands as capitalist production develops.
Insofar as credit plays a direct role in the reproduction process, that is, as something which the industrialist or merchant needs for his activities, for discounting bills, or as a loan, neither shares nor government stock play a part: money is what they need. The speaker reminded us of a very important and powerful passage from this 30th Chapter, in which it is made clear that to produce a crisis, there has to be both a shortage, to the point of total paralysis, of the means of payment, and a fall in production with respect to the potentiality of the productive apparatus.
Since the entire system of production is based on credit, a shortage or absence of the latter makes the crisis assume the character of a financial, credit and monetary crisis, while in fact the real substance of the crisis derives from the fact that the mechanism of production has exceeded, in its search for a higher rate of profit, society’s capacity to acquire. For us it is a fundamental concept that the general crisis of the capitalist system, as studied and described by our school, is a crisis that manifests itself, to use the current terminology, as “deflation”.
The speaker then moved on to examine specific monetary themes and in particular those described today as “monetary aggregates”; a digression into the economic theory of our main opponents is important in order to understand the graphs and tables which underpin bourgeois analysis of the development and deepening of the crisis.
The final chapter of the report tackled the theme of the accounting procedures used by bourgeois States, along with the underlying relationships that characterise them. This has helped us to make a more effective critique of the recipes for resolving the credit crisis presently being put forward by the bourgeois left – the worst of all in our eyes. It’s the same old stuff about balancing the movement of capital; about the lack of equilibrium of current account balances in the European area which entirely favour Germany to the detriment of its European partners; about the absurdity of seeking growth purely by means of austerity and savings, with too much on one side and a dramatic lack on the other; about the hoarding by the banking system, to the detriment of productive investment; about the solution only being possible on a European level and not on the scale of individual States; and about the disruption that would result if the euro collapsed.
In none of these various formulas is it worth inquiring where the value actually comes from; where, in the economic cycle, that wealth is actually produced. They refer instead to abstract financial currents, but where these came from is not specified or considered important, and there is no point in asking where they will end up either.
There is no reasonableness, no rational calculation, no forecasting involved in the hunt for profit. The bubble has to be inflated until it bursts, and the debtor is strangled by interest rates, even if he won’t then be able to pay back the capital.
COMMUNISM AGAINST DEMOCRACY IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE LABOUR MOVEMENT IN ITALY
From the 2nd to the 7th September, 1867, the 2nd Congress of the First International was held in Lausanne, where the great progress made by the Association was very evident. In Italy, too, the worker’s associations of Naples, Milan, Genoa, Bologna, and Bazzano had by now started corresponding with the General Council in London.
Almost simultaneously the League of Peace and Freedom held its congress in Geneva, on the 9th September. This new association, composed of out and out bourgeois, set itself the task of abolishing the tensions and conflicts which had tormented 19th century Europe. Even Mazzini refused to support such a hotchpotch of disparate and dubious ideologies.
While Bakunin would make use of this international tribune to promote his political, social and religious program, Dupont, on behalf of the International, would conclude his intervention with these words: “To establish perpetual peace it is necessary to destroy the laws that oppress labour, all privilege, and turn all citizens into one class of workers: in a word, the social revolution in all of its consequences must be accepted”.
By now it was no longer doubted that the constitutional Government could only ever carry out a reactionary role. But at the same time the complete impotence of the Mazzinian agitations had also been demonstrated, and the epoch of the Garibaldian expeditions was clearly over. The up and coming generation was quick to see that the revolution could only move forward by overcoming the old democratic ideologies.
1868 was a year of grinding poverty. On top of the economic crisis that had been besetting the country for over eight years, there was the war in 1866, and the policy of forced circulation (where banknotes had to be accepted as payment but were non-convertible). The cost of basic necessities shot up, and the workers’ wages, already kept at a very low level, were further reduced by the tax on movable wealth introduced in 1866.
Violent demonstrations spread throughout the country and workers and artisans expressed their discontent with demands for higher wages, with public rallies and, above all, by intensifying the resistance movement. And the strikes of 1868 in the great industrial cities would differ from the strikes of previous years in one key respect: they included different categories of workers.
Early in the year, as well as the tax on movable wealth, there began to be talk of an even worse tax which would weigh exclusively on the most impoverished classes: the “macinato” – the grist or flour tax. The parliamentary representatives of the bourgeois left staged their false opposition, with Crispi presenting himself as the great defender of the weak; the same Crispi who in the 1890s, after becoming head of government, would have no qualms about ruthlessly repressing the Sicilian Fasci.
From January 1st onwards, protests and revolts against the “macinato” spread throughout the kingdom. In Emilia the revolts would take the form of a full-blooded insurrection, so serious that the government granted full military and civil powers, throughout central Italy, to General Raffaele Cadorna, the one man they believed could restore law and order; a man already feted for his bloody repression of the Palermo rebellion in 1866, which had earned him the nickname ‘the butcher’. In Italy as a whole the final death toll would be 257 dead, with 1,099 wounded and 3,788 arrested.
There could be no more favourable moment for him to launch his revolution that this, but instead Mazzini opposed the movement and even tried to put a stop to it. The leaders of the Republican Party, despite having had the power to totally transform this rebellion of peasants and workers, if only they had brandished the banner of the republic and social reforms, went instead to the aid of the bourgeois institutions.
The events in France in 1871 gave a sharp jolt to the Italian political scene. The abrupt collapse of Napoleon III’s empire and the subsequent insurrection of the Parisian proletariat roused the spirits and determined the stance of the political parties and the social classes. Political groups and committees stood shoulder to shoulder with the old Workers’ Societies, which were reinvigorated with a new influx of young people and which adopted a position firmly and decidedly on the side of the struggle of the Parisian proletariat.
Mazzini, by totally condemning the Paris Commune, would give clear evidence of his conservative and petty-bourgeois nature.
As far as the Italian State was concerned, it wished to strangle socialism at birth and prevent it from gaining a foot-hold in Italy. It identified the workers’ associations in Naples and Florence as the two main centres of its propagation and ordered their dissolution, since, it was said, they constituted a substantial threat to public order and a permanent offence to the laws and fundamental institutions of the nation.
But State repression would have the opposite effect to what was intended, helping to make the International more widely known than ever. From August 1871 onwards, not a day passed without another section forming.
Meanwhile Mazzini could see that the predominance he had gained in the workers’ societies between 1861 and 1864, after ousting its pro-government leadership, was slipping away. He convoked a new workers’ conference, in order to reorganise the above-mentioned societies under his leadership and exorcise the peril of the International by recommending that the congress should avoid being characterised politically as either republican or democratic, so it could form, together with the monarchists, a broad anti-internationalist front.
The speaker then dwelt on at some length on the International Conference held in London in 1871.
In the Italian peninsular there was evidently much enthusiasm for the International, but Engels was not slow to detect that the new sections were extremely weak: without programmatic clarity the Italian sections were bound to break with the General Council very soon. By November, the internationalists were already registering their unhappiness with the programme adopted at the London Conference. What most saddened Marx and Engels was that the conflicts didn’t generally manifest themselves as different points of view regarding the questions covered or the resolutions adopted by the General Council, but as personal interests, as the petty ambitions of rather dubious figures quite happy to move from one front to the other according to where they derived most personal advantage.
It was the perfect terrain for Bakunin’s ill-defined, and above all a-programmatic, theories of “libertarian” insurrectionalism to take root and spread. When on August 1st 1872 the first Italian Internationalist Congress sat at Rimini, it declared that it was breaking with the General Council in London and that the Italian sections would not be attending the International’s next General Congress at The Hague in 1872.
The results of many years of work by the General Council seemed to have suddenly gone up in smoke.
THE MILITARY QUESTION
The defeat of the Piedmontese army marked the beginning of an unfavourable period for the revolutionary movements both in Italy and the rest of Europe (France, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and the Czech territories) with significant intervention by feudal, Tsarist Russia.
Ferdinand II, after violent bombardments of Messina and Palermo (earning himself the nickname ‘King Bomba’), took back full control of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, favoured by the irreconcilable differences within the Sicilian revolutionary government over the agrarian question, about whether or not to sell the peasant farmers the landed estates confiscated from the church and Bourbon loyalists.
In the Papal State, the recalling of the troops provoked an uprising, and, after fierce struggles, the Pope’s flight to Gaeta. The Roman Republic would be proclaimed in February 1849 and be ruled by a triumvirate headed by Mazzini, bolstered later on by the arrival of Garibaldi and his South American volunteers. The Grand Duke of Tuscany Leopold II also took the road to Gaeta; on the one hand calling on Austria for military assistance, on the other granting audiences to the Tuscan moderates with a view to a peaceful solution.
In the Piedmont, Carlo Alberto had failed to understand it wasn’t a question of expanding the Sabaud Kingdom with a few military conquests, but of a national independence movement; which was why he made very little effort to enlist the help of volunteers.
In March1849, taking advantage of Austria’s preoccupation with the revolt in Hungary, Carlo Alberto called an end to their truce. Radetzky responded with a mass attack from the South, getting to within 12 kilometres away of the Sabaud High command. The decisive battle, which would end in defeat for the Piedmontese, was fought around the little hill of Bicocca. The same evening Carlo Alberto fled to Portugal, abdicating in favour of his son, who would go on to sign an armistice the following day. The war had lasted just four days.
Radetzky would now set about restoring the old regimes south of the Po. From Brescia he headed down to Tuscany and subdued Lucca, Pisa, Livorno and finally Florence, to which Leopold II could now return, escorted by, or as hostage of, his Austrian guards.
Pius XI had addressed his appeal to all the catholic powers of Europe to support his reinstatement as ruler of Rome. His call was answered by France (where Louis Napoleon – the future Napoleon III – had recently been installed as president); by Austria, which dispatched Radetzky; by Ferdinand II of Naples, who stood alone to engage Garibaldi’s troops, by whom he would be defeated; and by Spain, whose troops were kept away from Rome to defend part of the Lazio.
Thus the Roman Republic was surrounded, but only after three weeks of violent bombardments did a shattered Rome finally surrender to the French generals. A part of the Roman army followed Garibaldi in his attempt to relieve Venice, but after a matter of days it had totally dispersed.
Radetzky could now concentrate on Venice: first he bombarded and completely destroyed Marghera, then he launched a brutal 24 hour bombardment of Venice, after which, in August 1849, weakened by hunger and malaria, it surrendered too. The Absolutist reaction had taken back control of Italy.
But the insurgent cities had only surrendered after putting up a very stiff resistance, indicative of a strong popular will powered by the rising proletariat, which at the time was still tailing a bourgeoisie which was highly unsure of itself, (when, that is, it wasn’t actually supporting the old regime). Engels’s’ verdict is most succinct: “The Italian bourgeoisie has turned traitor”. From a technical point of view, with the development of increasingly accurate and powerful cannons, artillery would take on a fundamental role in military campaigns.
In the brief period between 1850-1870, wars were not fought to enforce an internal reorganisation of the European States, despite some still being in the process of defining their territories; instead, there were a number of brief and restricted conflicts between already existing States for the control of external areas, namely: The Crimean War, the Second and Third War of Italian Independence, the Austro-Prussian war for the control of Denmark, and the Franco-Prussian War. These wars, and specifically the Paris Commune, mark the end in Europe of the anti-feudal alliance between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and the beginning of the struggle between these two classes for the political control of society.
Amongst the agreements reached by Cavour and the now Emperor Napoleon III at their secret meeting in Plombieres, in July 1858, is the plan for four Italian States: a kingdom in Upper Italy under the House of Savoy; a central one to be entrusted to Luisa di Borbone; one which included the territories immediately adjoining Rome to remain under the Pope; and a kingdom of the Two Sicilies, to be entrusted to Luciano Murat, son of Joachim. In exchange the two strategic zones of the whole of Savoy and the province of Nice would be transferred to France.
From the technical point of view, the introduction of the Bessimer system, for converting cast iron into steel in a much cheaper and more economical way than before, allowed arms and rolling stock to be mass produced, removing from Sweden its European pre-eminence in the field. France’s primacy would be uncontested from when it adopted the mass production of the first rifled cannons. The first breech loading cannons would be produced in Swedish workshops in 1848.
England and Russia tried to prevent conflict in Italy, which they feared might spread the war of independence or, most dangerously of all, transmute into a proletarian civil war. Cavour and the House of Savoy despatched a telegram to Paris stating they would submit to the calls to disarm, but meanwhile got parliament to pass special laws preparing for war.
As chance would have it, Vienna drew up an ultimatum on the very same day ordering Piedmont to disarm the free corps and place the army back on a peace-time footing. Cavour notified Paris and requested that 50 thousand French troops be immediately despatched to the Piedmont. And yet, underneath the apparent resolution of France and Austria, much fear and confusion lurked, and this explains the sudden armistice after a few bloody battles in which none of the desired aims were achieved.
On the afternoon of 29 April, Austro-Hungarian troops invade the Piedmont. After just three days the entire Austrian army has got to within fifty kilometres of Turin. Then they stop, and three days later fall back towards the Lomellina fearing an attack from the South by the French which would have cut them off from their four-sided stronghold, the quadrilatero.
On 14 May Napoleon III takes command of the now integrated Piedmontese and French troops. The plan is to head for Milan, liberate it, force the Austrians to pull back beyond the Isonzo and then to march on Vienna. Garibaldi’s troops would form a second front in the Prealpine zone; Marx explains that both Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II secretly counted on Garibaldi’s destruction, which would have freed them of his inconvenient and high profile presence. But that would not happen. In fact, having successfully completed his mission, Garibaldi would see his prestige considerably increased, to the detriment of the two now overshadowed royal personages!
Only Risorgimentalist rhetoric considers the first battles of Montebello and Palestro as worthy of note. The Savoy troops, with their clear numerical advantage, would claim victory at Palestro, but the number of casualties on both fronts was so huge that it has never been conclusively established.
The French plan now envisaged an attack on Magenta. Two fronts with around 60,000 men on each side collide and fight house-to-house battles through the town. In the end the Austrians retreat without the French giving chase, clearing the way to Milan. The losses are heavy with 10,000 dead and wounded, three quarters of them Austrian.
Marx and Engels comment on the strategic errors of the rival commanders, in particular Napoleon III’s, and on the tactic of the Austrian defensive line along the Mincio. The European diplomatic corps take steps to bring the war to an end, fearing it could spark off a proletarian rebellion.
Separated by the low morainic hills to the South of the Garda, and unaware of each other’s presence, the two armies concentrate their forces within 25 kilometres of each other. Entirely unanticipated, and with forces of 260,000 men in play, there would now get underway the biggest open field battle since Lipsia in 1813; bigger even than Waterloo in 1815. It would take the form of a series of distinct battles developing almost simultaneously along a 20 kilometre front, but with no overall plan. The Sardinian troops fought at San Martino, the French at Solferino. The battles, which commenced around 3 or 4 in the morning, were extremely violent and bloody, with neither side gaining a clear advantage. At San Martino, King Vittorio uselessly decimated his troops by ordering repeated bayonet charges, and even the Piedmontese Chief of staff admitted that, despite the courage and sacrifice of the soldiers, the leadership had been badly at fault. Once again, only in the annals of inflated risorgimentalist rhetoric can this battle be considered a brilliant victory.
In the late afternoon, after most of the soldiers had been fighting for14 hours without a meal break, the allied armies finally achieved victory after breaking through the lines of the Austrian army led by the Emperor Franz Joseph, and causing a disorderly retreat. If we consider the casualties, including the dead and wounded, they are pretty shocking: 11% on the winning side, and 14% of the Austrians, that is, around 50,000 soldiers. The wars of young capitalism can already characterised by their enormous destruction of people and resources. It would take two days to clear the battlefield of the dead and wounded.
The speaker referred to Engels’s detailed comments on these battles, and his evaluation that because the outcome of the war was still unclear, the real war would now begin.
But in the end it didn’t begin, because Napoleon III, more concerned about his own borders than what was happening in Italy, cleverly manoeuvred his way out of the tight corner he’d got himself into.
Marx would comment that there was no war of Italian independence, just a dynastic war between a Habsburg and a Napoleon, whilst all a Savoy could do was assume the role of the poor relation at his rich cousin’s table. Italian independence is reduced to Lombardy being a dependency of the Piedmont and the latter a dependency of France.
Cavour manages to convince the European powers of the potential danger of a slide towards republican, Mazzinian and anti-papal solutions, and that the best way of containing these would be, at least for the immediate future, extremely predictable plebiscites on the annexation to the Sabaud State of the territories which rose up at the start of the war. Lombardy, Parma, Modena, Emilia, Romagna and Tuscany would become part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which would now cede, after the farcical, rigged plebiscites, Nice and Savoy to France. Garibaldi was the most dissatisfied of all about this.
HISTORY OF THE LABOUR MOVEMENT IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The 1880s saw a fundamental turning point in the history of the American labour movement: the foundation of the American Federation of Labour. Based purely on trade unionism, it was an association which was very different from the Knights of Labor, with which it would compete in its early years before finally emerging as the true representative of the organised American proletariat.
As far as proletarians were concerned, what set the two organisations apart was that the federation defended clear class positions and fought for the eight hour day, and it was this, after years of stagnation, that determined the Federation’s growth. In 1886, at a congress in Philadelphia, it adopted the new denomination, A.F.L.
The new federation distinguished itself from the K.L. in some key respects. Firstly, membership was restricted purely to wage-earners; secondly, it considered the strike weapon as fundamental. In its early years it also had a distinctively socialist perspective, introduced by its main founder, Samuel Gompers, according to which the interests of capital and labour could never live together in harmony.
Also with regard to the type of trade union, initially the industrial union seemed clearly superior, being inherently more susceptible to attracting non-specialised workers, while the craft unions tended to be more corporativist, making the mobilisation of large numbers of proletarians much more difficult. But when several unions threatened to withdraw their support, Gompers was quick to change his mind. The defence of the weakest categories of workers: women, blacks, immigrants (not to mention the Chinese) would also soon get watered down. After a period of increasing openness, when it was still competing with the K.L., the A.F.L. would later become increasingly discriminatory and focus just on skilled workers.
The speaker then paused to dwell on the two great strikes which shook the United States from East to West in 1892: the Homestead Strike in the iron and steel industry in Pennsylvania, and the Miners’ strike in Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho. Although different in many respects, what was common to both strikes was the bosses’ attack on the trade unionisation of the workers, and the sheer violence of their attack, using all the various means at their disposal, and to which the workers responded by meeting force with force. Thus the story of these strikes is also one of armed struggle, and one in which proletarians, in a number of different situations, would demonstrate their exceptional military and organisational capacity, and a tenacity which would win grudging admiration even from their adversaries.
The study now moved on to consider the major downturn which affected the United States between 1893-1897, a crisis on scale hitherto unknown in the country which was characterised by extremely high rates of unemployment, large movements of people in search of work, and a generalised attack by the bosses on the working class.
The federal government refused to provide assistance to the unemployed, who were thus forced to rely on what was available locally, often provided by trade unions. And this despite a march on Washington by thousands of unemployed; the famous “Coxey’s Army”.
The struggle was a matter of survival. There were important strikes by the miners in the West and East, against the mining companies and the whole of the apparatus of public authority ranged alongside them, with violence the common denominator during all the various phases of the struggle.
It was clear that American trade unionism needed to change tack, but the forces in play, in the AFL, had no intention of doing so. And yet if the importance of unity continued to be the subject of debate, its advantages were before the eyes of all. In fact a new union, the American Railway Union, had been formed on the basis of the principle of the unity of all workers in a given sector, creating an industrial union, which before long had succeeded in notching up victories the railwaymen had never dared hope for until then. It was clear now that the model for a united American labour movement was the industrial union, which could unite skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers under its banner.
With previous victories behind it, the ARU would come out in support of the employees of the Pullman company, who built railway carriages. In just a few months the company had cut its employees’ wages by 25%, 30% and then by over 50% while still awarding its shareholders huge dividends; meanwhile it had refrained from making any corresponding cuts to the rents of the tied accommodation where its employees lived. On May 11, 1894, 4,000 workers downed tools.
For a month, supported by the working class of Chicago, the workers managed to hold out. On June 12, on the occasion of the ARU’s first national convention, the strikers’ representatives called for delegates to support them by boycotting the Pullman company. The sector’s response surprised even the trade union: almost a quarter of a million railwaymen, mainly from the lowest and worst paid grades, were prepared to show their solidarity against an employer who typified the intolerable exploitation which everybody was having to put up with at the time.
Soon the railway bosses had to admit that the companies couldn’t defeat the struggling workers on their own, and concluded that “it is now the government’s responsibility to deal with the problem”. Ignoring constitutional law, the federal government intervened directly by sending in numerous troops and issuing injunctions that in practice removed from workers their right to strike. There were fierce struggles in which dozens of people died and the ARU leaders were thrown into jail.
Defeat seemed inevitable. The only hope was a general strike, which only the other trade unions, and in particular the AFL, could decide whether to call, But this didn’t happen,; a decision which was sanctioned under the banner of what was then described as “prudential unionism”, but which today we have no compunction about describing as trade unionism collaborating with Capital.
THE REARMAMENT OF THE IMPERIALIST POWERS
Capital is always imperialist and militaristic. This answers the question of those who ask why – given the social consequences of the economic crisis – extremely costly aeroplanes, battleships, nuclear submarines and missiles continue to be produced rather than combatting hunger and ignorance; why the various States spend billions investing in ever more modern weapons systems at the same time as they are cutting social spending and reducing wages and pensions.
A recent example is the case of the Greek State, which was acquiring weapons from France and Germany at the same time as it was implementing a policy which would impoverish large sections of the population. During the economic crisis Greek military expenditure has gone up from 6.24 Billion euros, in 2007, to 7.1 billion in 2010.
Where capital, both private and public, is invested, and how it goes about it, isn’t a moral question but the result of a cold calculation about profit. Anonymous capital is entirely indifferent about whether it produces bombs or medicine: the choice depends on the rate of profit, net of probable risks. So, in periods of social, political and economic instability like the current one, industries linked to the production of armaments are among those which guarantee the greatest profits.
In order to corroborate this statement the comrade cited some figures on world arms expenditure derived from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The key geographical areas into which arms production is divided were highlighted, also the countries which are the main producers and the biggest spenders.
Data on military expenditure in 2010, the year of the general crisis, confirms that it went up in real terms by 1.3% compared to 2009, arriving at the enormous figure of 1,630 Billion dollars.
Arms expenditure had reached a peak in 1988. In the following years, with the collapse of the Russian bloc, it declined, reaching its lowest point in 1998, with a reduction of around 40% compared to ten years earlier. The sharpening of the economic crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan prompted a rapid increase in global military expenditure, above all by the U.S.A. In 2008, the year the Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in fact, it had reached the level of twenty years before; and since then it hasn’t stopped rising. However growth in 2010 is slower than before, given that the average increase between 2001 and 2009 was a good 5.1.% per annum.
These basic figures confirm that the economic crisis is driving an increase in global military expenditure; reflecting the parallel preparations for that general war which for Capital is its only way out from the crisis of over-production.
IMPERIALIST SCHEMES AROUND PAKISTAN
[GM110] [This report, from our Genoa Meeting in May 2011 [GM 110], should have appeared in the previous issue of Communist Left].
The report on the war in central Asia and on the growing inter-imperialist tensions in the area would hardly be complete without mentioning the recent episode of the “spectacular” killing of Bin Laden who, on the wanted list since 9/11 but never found, seemed increasingly phantom-like. He was found holed up in a villa in Pakistan, hostage of the Pakistani services, and, perhaps, handed over by them to the Americans when it happened to suit them. On May 2nd, following an incursion into Pakistani territory, to the city of Abbotobad, 60 kilometres north of Islamabad, the “prince of terror” was supposedly killed by a highly specialised team from the special forces. For some reason the young soldiers, transformed from sappers into gravediggers, dragged the body to the helicopter (the undamaged one) and then dropped it onto the bridge of an aircraft carrier which was heading off shore, from which it would be hastily dumped in the sea. If it wasn’t about the dead we were talking it would be laughable.
We Marxists are not interested in dwelling on the dramatic details, of which there is already a huge amount to numb the minds of the masses and to divert them from the main questions. In fact, the American action could have been entirely staged, with Osama actually living in a luxury hotel in Saudi Arabia, or, more likely, he’s already been dead for years. And there are those who maintain, intelligence specialists included, that Al Qaeda has never been more than a tiny circle of amateur conspirators, and that the romantic myth of it leader was a deliberate creation, backed up with remote-controlled virtual appearances. Maybe on this occasion the scrupulous American administration managed to resucitate him.
In any case, for the time being everything else has paled into insignificance: the withdrawal of the ‘regular’ troops from Afghanistan due to begin in July; the war in Libya; the immense United States deficit, and also the general strike a section of the American workers are starting to call for with increasing insistencea.
What is useful to understand instead is the way the war has evolved and the changes in the relations between the various imperialisms which have entered the lists: the United States, China, Russia, England and Germany, and between the large and densely populated states in the area: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and India. The Afghani-Pakistan region is now one of the world’s strategic nerve centres, adjoining the gloabl demographic and economic barycentre. How will the war evolve in this unstable but highly populous zone? Will the U.S.A withdraw from Afghanistan? How will it go about it? And above all, why now?
There isn’t just one reason but certainly the main one is to do with confronting the USA’s domestic problems, and particularly the dire state of the country’s economy, still in the grip of a financial crisis, whose underlying causes are more evident than before, whereas production remains stuck in the doldrums.
By passing the 2010-2011 Finance Bill, whose main provision is slashing health care, Congress has, for the time being, prevented the State from going bankrupt. The cuts will hit millions of proletarians, causing the already high unemployment figures to rise even further. But the ‘savings’ made by the Finance is nothing compared to the federal debt of around 14 thousand billion dollars, whcih is near the borrowing ceiling of 14, 294 billion. Last May the secretary to the American Treasury, fearing the country would default, invited Congress to urgently raise the upper limit on borrowing “to protect the credibility and the credit of the United States and avoid catastrophic consequences”.
The truth is, over recent years capitalism’s global economic crisis has proved a far more serious and concrete threat than the much publicised Islamic brand of “international terrorism”. This is clearly showed in the rebellions sweeping through North Africa and parts of Asia, where the part played by the iconic Osama and islamic fundamentalism has been absolutely negigible.
Osama was an enemy who was not only useful to American imperialism, for whom he represented fundamentalist Islamic terrorism: the new enemy to replace the rival Russian capitalist imperialism. He represented an enemy useful to all the capitalisms in that he helped postpone the prospect of class struggle, by feeding into the myth of a conflict between civilizations.
But despite the fact that “enemy number one” is now dead and at the bottom of the ocean, the American Congress has renewed its declaration of war on the World, authorising the use of lethal force in any conflict whatsoever, with no set boundaries and no clear enemy. The declaration updates the one passed on September 18, 2001, against the smoking backdrop of the twin towers massacre. But if the old version, invoking the right to self-defence, had authorised the use of military force “against nations, organisations and persons responsible for the attacks launched against the United States (...) with the aim of preventing further acts of terrorism”, the new one anticipates a war without end, without borders, and paves the way for a new world war, a new global massacre; the one palliative solution for the incurable ills of capitalism.
The chances of the United States reducing its military commitments abroad are small. This is not just because the international equilibrium is very delicate, but because for stars and stripes capitalism war is a vital necessity, as indeed it is for all capitalisms, great or small, old or new.
SYRIA: THE SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
Following the demonstrations in Syria which for many months have been calling for a change of government, we embarked on the present study. In this first part, a comrade identified key points with a view to helping us understand what is really going on in the country, as distinct from all the ideologically loaded bourgeois interpretations.
A fundamental requirement is to establish which social strata – which classes – are involved in the protest, what the various alignments between the different groups and parties leading the movement are, what are the objectives they have set themselves and how they propose to achieve them. A long-held tradition of ours that this kind of enquiry requires detailed study of the past class struggles of the country concerned and of the region within which it lies.
Syria had its national revolution and obtained its independence decades ago and the Syrian State has already given abundant evidence of its counter-revolutionary nature on many occasions, both inside and outside its borders. The State is clearly one which serves the interests of the bourgeoisie and of the landed proprietors.
The strategic position of Syria makes it an appetising target for the imperialist powers, from the United States to Russia, from China to Iran, from Israel toTurkey, all of whom are striving for influence in the region. And what with the international crisis increasingly forcing these plunderers to redefine their zones of infuence, Syria’s position has become even more appealing.
Given this situation, any political movement which calls for greater liberty and democracy without putting class questions at the centre of its demands can only mean one thing: it wants to transfer the country from one imperialist camp to another. Syria’s industrial and agricultural proletariat has nothing to gain by taking to the streets and shedding its blood so it can pass from one imperialist boss to another.
In order to defend itself and assert itself as a class, the working class in Syria, same as the workers in Tunisia, Egypt and Israel, doesn’t call for the boss to be changed but for a struggle against its own bourgeoisie – whoever it is, whichever imperialism happens to support it – by building a class front to defend living and working conditions, and by becoming politically independent by adhering to the line of internationalist communism.
By means of a thorough study of Syria’s history, economy and society, this ongoing work will be looking to confirm this general assumption.
In 1918 English troops occupied Syria, putting an end to Turkish domination. The country’s independence dates from 1946. Before that France had played on ethnic and religious differences, in particular those between the Christian, Druze and Alawite minorities, in order to gain control of the Sunni majority. In 1963 the Baath party (effectively the Assad clan) seized power and declared a state of emergency, assigning sweeping powers to the police and army.
The divisions between the various social groups never healed over and they have been exasperated by the imperialist crisis, with a consequent rapid decline in the living conditions of the lower classes.
Clearly a bloodless transfer of power to the majority, which in the Syrian context is the Sunnis, is no longer possible, if, indeed, it ever was. The Alawites, along with the Christians, hold economic and military power.
What is certain, however, is that the enemies of the Syrian proletariat can be found amongst the representatives of all of the national groups.
Passing on to the economy, in 2011 the crisis in the economy worsened considerably. Many industry indicators, such as those for tourism and foreign trade, showed a sharp decline. Various capitals abandoned the country and foreign investment was been frozen. The rate of exchange of the Syrian Lira against the dollar dropped by around 10% and oil exports plummetted to an all time low. What is more, on November 15, 2011, economic sanctions imposed by the EU on Syrian oil came into force.
In the last few years the admission of the Syrian economy onto the global market has contributed to undermining the “soundness” of the Baathist social sytem, and the free trade agreements with China and Turkey have swept away many of the small businesses in the industrial and agricultural sectors, increasing the levels of unemployment and inequality. By the end of 2010 a substantial portion of the active working class was in difficulty, with wages, eroded by inflation, no longer sufficient to satisfy the basic requirements of their families.
During the early months of the year the protests had generally been peaceful, but in the city of Dara’a the struggle would escalate, and street demonstrations would be met with harsh repression. The government didn’t hesitate to use the army and special militias against the people in Deraa, Homs, Douma, and Hama, with the latter subjected to heavy bombardments and with armoured vehicles used to crush the barricades.
It is likely that many proletarians, particularly farm workers and the unemployed but also workers in industry and the services, have taken part in the protests and will continue to do so, but without pressing for specific class demands of their own.
On the one hand the Alawite bourgeoisie has sought better relations with the United States, as shown by its support for the coalition in the war against Iraq; on the other it is working to reinforce its strategic alliance with Iran against Israel. But the Syrian regime, because weak at home, was forced in 2005 to abandon its military occupation of neighbouring Lebanon.
On the international front, the isolation of Damascus has been intensified, whilst on the domestic front we have witnessed progressive militarisation of the revolt. More and more often the various armed groups, financed by assorted Western imperialisms and the Gulf monarchies, are confronting the army. Periodic incursions against command centres, ambushes, and targetted killings are taking place, as well as full scale battles which have apparently brought some towns and districts under the control of the insurgents.
But the revolt lacks political leadership. The fragmented and uninfluential Syrian opposition abroad consists mainly of bourgeois factions fighting among themselves, and its continued existence is entirely due to support from the Western powers.
In October the Free Syrian Army was formed, financed for the most part by foreign capital. Special forces from Britain, France, Jordan and above all from Qatar are at work in the Turkish base in Iskenderum, where they are training mercenaries from the FSA alongside troops from Ankara.
American imperialism is putting pressure on the Arab League to oust the Alawite bourgeoisie which currently holds power in Syria; something which would favour America to the detriment of its enemy Iran, and would counter the influence of Russia in the area.
The ports of Syria have always been very important for commercial traffic between Europe and Asia. Today this is especially the case because it is there that the oil pipelines terminate, one of them transporting petrol and gas from the fields in the extreme North-east of the country, bordering Turkey, and the other from Iraq. Both these pipelines converge at the city of Homs, from where they branch off towards the two ports of Baniyas, and Tartus, where, incidentally, there is a Russian naval base.
The American road to Teheran passes through Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad. However, its ultimate destination lies further east: shutting down Chinese expansion towards Arab energy sources.
Over the long months of this revolt, which has also taken on the features of an armed insurrection, it seems the Syrian proletariat hasn’t managed to equip itself with autonomous organisations, neither on the political plane nor for the purposes of articulating immediate economic demands. The resistance movement against the government, in which large sections of the proletariat are certainly taking part, is in the hands of bourgeois factions bankrolled by Western imperialism.
The revolt of the Syrian proletariat will need to expose the lies of bourgeois propaganda which wants to dissolve the classes into the indistinct magma of the Arab “people”, which wants to chain proletarians to the fetish of religion in order to postpone the moment when the middle-eastern proletariat will have to unite with their working-class brothers and sisters in the West in order to fight a common battle against the capitalist regime.
THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF ITALY’S POSITION
ON THE TRADE UNIONS
FROM 1922 EDITIONS OF ‘IL COMUNISTA’
The comrade went on to read further extracts from Il Comunista, this time from June and July 1922 editions. He showed how the Communist Party of Italy tried to bring the struggles of the metal-workers, who were out on strike at the time, and other categories of workers into the orbit of the recently formed Labour Alliance (Alleanza del Lavoro.) The intention was to unite proletarians from the various trade unions, in accordance with the watchword of the Trade Union United Front. Naturally the leaders of the Confederation, and Buozzi’s FIOM (the Metalworkers union) did everything they could to break up the struggles, countering our proposal of a general strike with calls for strikes one city at a time or even one factory at a time, arguing that if only one section of the bosses is opposed to the metal-workers proposals, it would be better to strike only in their factories, thereby avoiding other workers having to lose money, and halting production during a time of crisis.
Even demands by the industrialists for a reduction in wages would be accepted by the Confederation’s leaders in the name of the national economy, touting as victory that they had obtained slightly reduced wage cuts to those originally demanded.
Rallying behind the slogans of apoliticism and peace, we find a haphazard array of reformists, maximalists, syndicalists and anarchists all confusingly united on the same side: that of anti-communism.
The report described recent trade union events, greeted by the party with biting criticism and a clear political line. Detailed examinations of the former and more detailed commentaries on the latter have appeared in our periodical press.
In this report comrades were given a review of trade union related events between September 2011 and January 2012. It focused on attacks on the working class in Italy conducted by the Government and the industrialists; on the reaction of the regime’s trade unions and of the ‘base’ unions; and on the party’s activity.
The Italian bourgeoisie’s attack on working class living standards consists of two main elements: dismantling of the national labour contract by the industrialists, with the support of the regime’s trade unions and without direct intervention from the government; attacks on the class’s total wage via a series of financial measures directed mainly at deferred wages (pensions) indirect wages (social services), as well as attacks on the actual paypacket by means of tax increases.
The response from workers has been to grin and bear these attacks without putting up an effective response. ‘Rank-and-file’ or ‘base’ trade unionism is still beset by certain, what we might call, hereditary defects, with its actions still based on practices which are more relevant to political organisations than trade-union ones, the main bad practice being the calling of seperate strikes, whether by the confederal unions, or by the host of variously acronymed base trade unions.
In the face of the Monti government’s harsh and provocatory annual budget, the response of base trade unionism as a whole, which didn’t want to strike alongside the CGIL, was to do absolutely nothing. This is clearly a serious problem. Only the federation of the USB-Lavoro-Privato (a base union particularly strong among public sector employees) took part in the strike on December 12, which FIOM had extended to the full 8 hours for metal-workers (3 hours for the remaining categories). But that choice, although positive, was probably due to the USB doesn’t have many members in the private sector.
The party intervened in the official confederal unions’ strikes on December 12 and 19 and the USB-Slai Cobas’s strike on January 27, with targetted leaflets in which the real economic and political situation in which the class finds itself was described, the party’s general line on the need to struggle was set out, the regime’s trade unions attacked, and there was a direct and explicit critique of the base unions.
As regards activity within base trade unionism, our comrades, both in the workplace and on the occasions when they have attended territorial assemblies, have stressed the need to break with the practice of calling strikes seperately, and called for united action by all workers instead as the best means of fighting the regime’s trade unionism, as incarnated in the CGIL, CISL, UIL and UGL.
To this end our comrades, and other workers, drew up two appeals, both aimed at the USB (Unione Sindacato di Base) leadership, one after the strike on September 6 (opposing the decision to organise strikes seperately) and the other in view of the general strike on December 19 called by the CGIL, CISL and the UIL, in which we call on the USB to participate. The purpose of such appeals is not so much to convince the leaders to change course – which they are unlikely to do – but to promote the correct classist praxis of united action to the members of, and militants within, the base unions.
For the party the keystone of it’s relationship with the trade union organisations is the possibility of conquering their leadership. The party doesn’t worry about being accused of wanting to “manipulate” the trade unions and workers’ struggle. This is because it firmly believes that its trade union policy has produced the best and most enduring results, and on the defensive level as well. As the Communist Party Manifesto states, communists “have no interests separate from the interests of the proletariat in general”.
From 1945 to the late 1970s, the party was open to the possibility that the CGIL could be reconquered, despite the fact it arose from the regime, when it was “reconstructed from above” at the time of the Rome Pact in 1944. But after thirty years of practical experience battling inside this trade union, including participation in important workers’ struggles, by the end of the 70s the party had concluded, based on specific spontaneous arisen tendencies within the movement, that the CGIL had stopped defending proletarian interests or putting up a real fight and that it was no longer recoverable, and that it had gone past the point of no return.
The same cannot be said today of rank-and-file trade unionism, mainly because it hasn’t yet been tested in the fire of a largescale class movement: in the thirty years from the early 80s to now there have been far much fewer workers’ struggles than in the previous thirty years. The party therefore advises its militants working in the base unions, and workers, to organise themselves into an internal current, with a view to combatting the present leadership, by engaging in a struggle against the practise of launching separate actions and with the objective of reunifying rank-and-file trade unionism from below, as the first step towards the rebirth of the class union.
As stated in the leaflet we distributed during the strike on January 27 and during the confederal strikes in December, the party considers its communist trade union policy to be the only one which will produce useful progress towards reorganising the working class into a genuine class union. These are the main planks of its policy:
1) Workers will only take up the slogans calling them to intransigent struggle, will only stop trusting in the conciliatory methods of the regime trade unions when they feel sufficiently strong to do so. For that to happen it is necessary to promote maximum unity of class action, because the more the workers strike together the stronger they will feel, and the closer they will get to achieving that minimum level of energy needed to ignite the struggle. The confederals want strikes with enough participants to show the bourgeoisie they are still in control of the workers, but strikes that are as disheartening and unisnspiring as possible, for the same reason.
2) In Italy, when base unions participate in demonstrations with workers mobilised by the CGIL, CISL, UIL and the UGL, they aren’t, therefore, giving in to the regime unions, but adopting a strategy which is the best way to undermine them. The base unions must therefore abandon the practice of holding seperate strikes and, as far as possible, take part in demonstrations – in particular in general strikes, both of particular trades and the class as whole – alongside the workers mobilised by the confederals.
3) Ever since the base unions first arose in Italy their leadership has been prone to sectarianism, wishful thinking, inter-classism and opportunism, but the energy which originally brought them into being derived ultimately from the class and its struggles. But with the level of this energy remaining low and restricted to particular categories, inevitably the leading bodies have damaged these small trade union organisations over time, accentuating their defects and losing sight of the qualities which gave them their initial impetus.
4) The party supports any group of workers which is prepared to struggle, whether in the regime’s trade unions, in the base trade unions or outside of them, and it supports both them by doing what it can in terms of practical support and by strongly recommending unity of action with all workers, in the prospect of the need for a new trade union organisation that includes the entire working class.
5) The party actively fights to spread the idea that it is not enough, faced with the increasingly harsh attacks by the employers and their state, to call general strikes of just one day; rather it is all-out general strikes which need to be organised, which keep going until the government retracts its anti-working class measures. We aren’t, of course, talking about proclaiming a mobilisation such as this this right now, but rather of preparing for it in day to day organisational work, holding on to a prospect which whilst certainly longer term may well be punctuated by sudden unexpected accelerations of class activity.