International Communist Party Back to C.L. index - No. 50


No.51 - Summer 2022
Updated on 22 August, 2023
The Continuing Massacre of Russian and Ukrainian Proletarians for the Greatest Profits of the Capitalists: Prefiguring a New Global Imperialist Confrontation – Not a War Between Russia and Ukraine – Who’s Leading the Game – Imperialist on Both Fronts – Against the European Bourgeoisies – Toward Rearmament – Capitalists in Cahoots
The Labour Movement in the United States of America: Part 17. The “Progressive Era” – Part 18. War: For capital, a panacea for all ills
The Economic and Social Structure of Russia Today – Part one (cont.), Struggle for Power in the Two Revolutions: 34. Monosyllabic Proof: Da - 35. April’s Benchmarks - 36. Repel Defencism! - 37. Defeatism Continues - 38. Transition: Between Which Two Stages? - 39. The Provisional Government to the Pillory! - 40. Party and Soviet - 41. Impeccable Tactics - 42. Down with Parliamentarism! - 43. Police, Army, Bureaucracy - 44. Frail Human Nature? – 45. The Clearly Bourgeois Social Measures – 46. Other False Dispersals – 47. Towards the April Conference – 48. Disagreement at the Conference – 49. The Question of Power Again – 50. The New Form of Power – 51. The Clear Alternative – 52. One Foot then the Other – 53. Further Steps Taken by the Two Feet – 54. Wrong Moves by the First Foot – 55. The Difficult post-April Maneuver – 56. The Russian National Question – 57. Two Conflicting Positions – 58. Lenin’s Confutation of the “Lefts” – 59. The Central Question: The State – 60. The Usual Historical Kitchen – 61. Lenin and the Question of Nationalities – 62. The Conference Resolution – 63. Despotism and Imperialism – 64. Separation of States – 65. Against “Cultural” Autonomy – 66. Nations and Proletarian Organizations – 67. Nationality and the Wes – 68. Revolution with Europe
Summaries of three past Party General Meetings:

Our Consistent Internationalist Work in the Party General Meeting Video conference meeting, 27-29 May 2022 [RG 143]

Converging in the International Party Meeting is the Work of all our Goups Video conference meeting, 23-25 September 2022 [RG 144]

Full Homogeneity of Purpose and Program at the Party General Meeting Video conference meeting, 27-29 January 2023 [RG 145]

Report abstracts:
    Theoretical topics: Marxist Theory of Knowledge, Bourgeois ideology – Marxist Crisis Theory, The forces of production rebel against capitalism, Theories of surplus-value (David Ricardo, Adam Smith)
    Historical topics: History of the Profintern, the Second Congress and beyond - Course of the global economy - Origins of the Communist Party of China - The Hungarian Revolution, conclusions - Military Question: The Russian revolution
    Current events: Reports of the Venezuelan–Latin-American SectionThe Party’s Trade Union Activity in Italy
From the Archive of the Left:
     – Party and Class (1921)
     – Party and Class Action (1921)
     – Rome Theses on Tactics - Communist Party of Italy (1922)
     – Revolutionary Party and Economic Action (1951)





The Continuing Massacre of Russian and Ukrainian Proletarians for the Greatest Profits of the Capitalists

Report presented at the January 2023 general meeting

The war in Ukraine is entering its twelfth month, and in that time, it has already amply demonstrated that it is not a war like the others that have been taking place, even for years, on the “periphery of the Empire”, from Yemen to Syria, from the Horn of Africa to sub-Saharan Africa, from Armenia to the Himalayan borders, where Indian and Chinese infantrymen are even fighting and killing each other with their bare hands.

It is a war in the heart of Europe, one of the world’s largest capitalist agglomerations, pitting two regular armies against each other, and the first conventional, high-intensity conflict fought on the European continent since the end of World War II.

The fighting takes place in ways not seen in decades, perhaps since the Korean War (1950-53) or the Iraq-Iran War (1980-88), and to which Western armies are no longer accustomed or prepared: intense and continuous artillery barrages, deployment of tens of thousands of fighters, extensive use of field fortifications with prolonged life in the trenches, ground air strikes, clashes between dozens of armoured vehicles, fierce struggles for control of urban centres, and high casualty rates among the units.

Prefiguring a new global imperialist confrontation

Hundreds of thousands of men have been mobilised on both sides, and casualties are now counted in the hundreds of thousands as well, obviously largely proletarian.

Clearly, in order to assess such a war, it is essential to take into account the global political and economic situation, the looming crisis pushing all bourgeois states toward a policy of rearmament and war.

In December 2022, we wrote “Since 2014, war had been brewing in Europe to give vent to imperialist tensions that walked hand in hand with recurring crises.” Ukraine has been an open wound for years and that is where the war originated based also, as is always the case, on contingent factors.

Not a war between Russia and Ukraine

The war must be placed in this economic and social climate.

It is true that Russia is now reduced to the rank of a middle power and is certainly not a superpower as the USSR might have been considered, or as the US or China are today; it is true that the Russian High Command has made errors of judgement and that the Armed Forces have shown not a few weaknesses, but it is certain that Ukraine has been able to hold out so far only thanks to the formidable and not disinterested help, both militarily and financially, of the US and secondarily of the other major Western powers whether part of NATO or not.

Only prompt outside help in arms, dollars, information, and trained soldiers enabled the Ukrainian state to keep hundreds of thousands of men at the front and to keep alive a population of a few tens of millions of proletarians even when exposed to the most severe deprivations.

The Ukrainian ruling class, the one that is conducting the war, deciding to resist the invasion, decided to sell its proletarians to NATO to wage war against Russia masking the operation with the lies of defending the country’s freedom and independence.

Who’s leading the game

After the recent decision by NATO and allies to supply German tanks to Ukraine, US President Joe Biden declared that the decision “is not a fight against Russia, but a fight for freedom.” He was echoed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who in a TV interview was keen to reiterate that “no, absolutely not”, Germany has not become a party to the war in Ukraine by delivering Leopard tanks to Kiev.

For his part, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said instead that NATO countries would now be co-belligerent: “Sending various weapons systems to Ukraine, including tanks… Moscow perceives this as direct involvement in the conflict”.

Imperialist on both fronts

Undoubtedly, this was an imperialist aggression of one bourgeois state against another bourgeois state. But we do not pass moral judgement on the war.

We communists do not claim, as the bourgeois philistines do, that every war of aggression is an “unjust” war and every “defensive” war is a just war. In the chaotic ruin of capitalism overwhelmed by its deadly crisis, local wars are a constant and general war an inescapable necessity that drags the bourgeois class and its giant states into its chasm. The aggressors are at once victims and executioners as much as the aggressed.

We claim, moreover, the possibility for the revolutionary socialist state to wage wars of aggression against bourgeois states, just as the Red Army did against Poland between 1919 and 1921, just as we have not failed to express appreciation also for the wars waged by the revolutionary bourgeoisie against the old feudal empires.

Our judgement on this war is therefore very clear: it is a war between imperialist states – and it is not relevant who is the aggressor and who is the aggressed – which pits a more powerful state, Russia, against a weaker state, Ukraine, with the latter, however, being supported by powerful allies, primarily the United States, Poland, and Britain.

In a 1938 essay, Trotsky rightly described Czechoslovakia as an imperialist state in that monopoly capital dominated there and other national minorities were oppressed. Both of these elements also characterise Ukraine today. Moreover, it is evident that Kiev has made itself an instrument of major powers interested in clashing with Russia.

It was once referred to, with reference to the states of Europe that fell under the USSR’s sphere of influence, as “states of limited sovereignty”. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, etc., were free to decide how to organise themselves internally but could not change their position in terms of international relations on pain of intervention by the Soviet Army.

With the fall of the USSR everything has changed for nothing has changed: these states have simply changed sides, but they have no real national independence, which is impossible for small nations at this stage of fetid imperialism. To save themselves from Russian influence they had to sell themselves to the United States or Germany, submit to Western imperialism, and become its instruments even in foreign policy.

Against the European bourgeoisies

The rupture of economic ties between Russia and Germany, as well as between Russia and the rest of Europe, the mothballing of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, for which the US was directly responsible, the embargo on Russian gas and oil, etc., have affected European economies perhaps even more than Russia’s. The Chinese economy has also been hit with the partial disruption of the transit route that used to unite Beijing and Berlin via Ukraine. This has largely benefited the US capitalists, especially in the energy sector, who are now exporting LPG to Europe at 4 times the cost of what came from Russia via pipelines, and the military industry that is doing a brisk business with supplies to Ukraine, but also to the other European states that will have to fill their depleted arsenals.

In reality, for the proletariat of both Ukraine and the Donbass, it is entirely indifferent whether their masters speak Russian or Ukrainian or are affiliated with one national band of capitalists or the other. The commodity labor power, like all commodities, has no homeland. Nor does capital, for that matter. Which, on both sides, would like to enslave the working class in military uniform to fight “to the last man”, to bleed in a long war, the partner but competitor in world trade.

Toward rearmament

The war has further accelerated the arms race in all the world’s most industrialized countries, starting with Germany, but also affecting France, Italy, Britain, Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, and of course China and the United States. By now, the target of 2 percent of GDP spending on armaments that NATO sought to impose on the reluctant European states has been far surpassed by rearmament plans hastily approved under the pressure of war:

According to new data released by the US State Department, due to the war in Ukraine and tensions in the Indo-Pacific, arms deliveries totalled $51.9 billion, registering a 49 percent increase over 2021. Germany was the main buyer in Europe with a total of $8.4 billion; followed by Poland with $6 billion, mainly as a result of the August 2022 order for 250 M1 Abrams tanks.
(Limes, Jan. 26, 2023)

Capitalists in cahoots

We have repeatedly pointed out, both in our old and in our more recent assessments, that the cooperation between Moscow and Washington has never waned. For the US, Russia is not a competitor; on the contrary, it is mostly an ally, as we have seen in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, where the two powers have cooperated in their respective counterrevolutionary and anti-proletarian roles.

That is why the American bourgeoisie, through its state, maintains a permanent dialogue with the Kremlin. The US wants to wear down the Russian economy and its Armed Forces and contain the Russian attempt to expand westward, but it does not want Russia to collapse, because it is an important counterrevolutionary bastion which maintains bourgeois stability in Central Asia, and possesses an arsenal of thousands of nuclear weapons, which it is necessary to keep under strict control.

Moreover, Western imperialism fears that a crisis in the current regime could trigger a social uprising of gigantic proportions on the borders of Europe.

It is therefore a matter for Washington to wear down and weaken Russia, but not to the breaking point.

What, then, might be the Pentagon’s policy? Perhaps to try to ensure that neither army can prevail, that mutual offensives fail, and that the conflict turns into a war of attrition, creating the conditions for a freeze in military operations and a subsequent cease-fire, of course disregarding what this may cost in terms of human and material losses for the proletariat of the two countries.

While the proletariat of Russia and Ukraine is bled dry on the front lines, the imperialist states continue undaunted in their race toward economic crisis and the abyss of world war.

In this tragic situation, as the European proletariat is delayed in regaining its class bearings, it is only to a Party that unconditionally takes the side of the proletarians, who “have no fatherland” and no flag, and is against bourgeois fatherlands and flags, it is only to this Party which in the storm of war does not lose sight of the goal of the international communist revolution, which is far and near at the same time, it is only to this Party, which is absolutely above and against all fighting parties, will leadership be given of the movement for the resumption of the revolutionary class struggle, when it ineluctably comes.

(back to table of contents)

The Labour Movement in the United States of America

Parts 17-18
(continued from last issue)

17 – The “Progressive Era”

At the beginning of the century, the US economy, now fully recovered from the “Great Depression” of the 1890s, was heading towards a long period of expansion destined to end with the boom of the years of the First World War. In the forty years after the Civil War, the country had transformed itself from a predominantly agricultural and largely unexplored nation into a major industrial power. The victory over Spain in 1898, in the war for dominion over Cuba, and the subsequent annexations of Puerto Rico and the Philippines, had shown the world that the young American imperialism should now be considered as one of the protagonists of the international scene. If the sanction of American political-military power would come only with the world conflict, the recognition of its economic strength was now a given.

Even before the end of the nineteenth century, industrial production had reached very high levels. The United States had surpassed Great Britain in the production of steel and cast iron in 1890, and coal in 1895. At the beginning of the century, the United States accounted for 30.1% of the world production of manufactured goods, rising to 35.8% in 1913, far above the levels reached by the other great industrial powers, Great Britain and Germany. Also in 1913, the USA obtained the definitive statistical sanction of its economic supremacy: in that year, in fact, its gross national product per capita exceeded even that of Great Britain, until then the first among the industrialised nations. But, perhaps even more importantly, the United States excelled above all because of the rate of growth of its economy, consistently higher than that of the other industrial powers. In the period between 1870 and 1913, the annual growth rate of production per employee was 1.9%, compared to 1.6% in Germany, 1.4% in France, 1.0% in Great Britain and 0.8% in Italy. During the same period, the annual growth rate of the gross national product per capita was 2.2%, well above the 1.7% of Germany, l.4% of France, 1.2% of Great Britain and 0.7% of Italy.

The development of the US economy in the second half of the nineteenth century was accompanied by a vigorous growth of presence on international markets, especially after the crisis of the 1890s. The value of exports increased fivefold in the fifty years between 1860 and 1910, from 400 to 1,919 million dollars: but in the following five years it grew by 50%, reaching 2,966 million dollars in 1915. Since the 1890s, in fact, there has been a sharp increase in the attention paid to foreign markets. Entrepreneurs, financiers, and political leaders saw in commercial expansion, in the conquest of new markets, the indispensable solution to the dilemmas posed by growth. The end of the process of internal colonisation, the so-called “closing of the frontier”, induced the ruling class to look abroad for new spaces for the placement of surplus goods and capital. On this basis, the young American imperialism took its first steps: first, by consolidating its economic and political dominance over the two Americas, and secondly by trying to extend its influence over the Pacific area and the Far East. The “open door doctrine”, enunciated by Secretary of State John Hay in 1899 with regard to China, provided this expansionist drive with a “general strategy”, based on the pursuit of economic penetration in new markets rather than on the classic colonial practice of territorial conquest. At the beginning of the new century, therefore, the United States entered decisively into the international competition between the great powers. Twenty years later, at the end of the First World War, they were already in a position of clear predominance.

While big capital led this epochal advance, a newly formed working class was amassing in the cities, whose characteristics were continually modified, and even disrupted, by the continuous waves of migration from Europe. The differences produced by the different experiences at home intersected and overlapped with religious, cultural, and ethnic divisions. The latter became particularly relevant towards the end of the century and in the first fifteen years of the 20th century. The migratory flow reached the highest peaks, touching the average of almost one million arrivals per year, in the period between 1900 and 1914. Above all in this period, the influx of emigrants of Slavic or Latin origin from the Mediterranean or eastern areas of Europe became by far predominant, while in the 19th century the immigrants were mostly of Anglo-Saxon, German or Scandinavian origin. As land became more and more expensive, and the possibility of leaving Europe with even a small amount of capital became more and more rare, there were no other possibilities open to immigrants than life in a poor quarter of the city, working in a factory, or in a remote mining village. In the urban areas all the tensions deriving from the impact between an extremely composite and differentiated working class and an industry that was growing and changing its characteristics under the pressure of mechanisation and the search for maximum efficiency were concentrated.

In the course of what was called the “Progressive Era” all social components underwent a rapid evolution. The large corporation in a position of quasi-monopoly certainly represented the antithesis of the previous ideals of American democracy of a rural kind, whose central figures, the farmer and the small independent businessman, had given life to the culture, and the myths, of individualism. The organisation of the trusts constituted, on the economic level, a mortal threat to that culture, because their ability to control the market and prices eliminated every possibility, and even semblance, of free competition. In the political field, the concentration of wealth offered the possibility of corrupting and controlling public affairs on a scale hitherto unthinkable. For this reason, the fight against trusts had already constituted, in the last decades of the 19th century, one of the battle horses of rural populist agitation. Particularly rooted in the agrarian states of the Midwest, the populist movement had demanded, and in part obtained, around 1890, public control over railroad tariffs (Interstate Commerce Act) and measures to control respect for the rules of competition (Sherman Act). But the agitation against the trusts continued to remain, at least until the beginning of the World War, one of the central themes of the American political scene. The anti-monopoly controversy became, in fact, one of the battle horses of the “progressive” reform movements.

Exponents of the old ruling elites such as Theodore Roosevelt, intellectuals, professionals, merchants, generally the most open-minded members of the middle and upper classes, reacted openly in the face of the pressing radical change of status that threatened them. While on the one hand they saw the rise of the new, arrogant power of financiers and industrialists who, at the head of great economic empires, accumulated an enormous power of conditioning on the life of the country, on the other hand they felt the threat of a growing working class that tended to the organisation of strong unions and, at least potentially, to the construction of a socialist alternative.

Faced with the social upheaval resulting from the rapid growth of an industrial economy, the agitation of a “progressive” nature chose the dual path of denunciation in front of public opinion and the political battle at local and central level. In the early years of the century became famous journalists nicknamed muckrakers (shovelers of manure): they brought to light numerous scandals, abuses, episodes of corruption in the public life of the cities. It spread with them a publicity of denunciation first, and then analysis of the social plagues produced by the boom in industry and urbanism: dilapidated neighbourhoods, poverty, child labour and women in appalling conditions, accidents at work. But while attacking monopoly big business, they never lost sight of the danger posed by the working class, whose uncontrolled union organisation and growing presence of socialism and related ideologies were feared above all.

Big business had clear objectives: stability of the financial system, predictability of market trends, elimination of the harmful effects of competition, elimination or reduction of labour conflicts.

For this reason, the major reforms, especially at federal level, ended up being supported, and often designed and managed, by the most politically “enlightened” exponents of big financial and industrial capital. Thus, the reorganisation of the banking system, implemented in 1913 with the Federal Reserve Act, was directly inspired by the bankers, who created a more elastic and efficient credit structure. Similarly, the regulation of competition in the railways, the new Clayton law on trusts, the establishment of the Federal Trade Commission (responsible for the supervision of any monopolistic activities), the modification of protective tariffs, were all reforms launched with the consent of large industrial capital. The men of the large corporations participated directly in the conception and planning of reforms that were presented as an attempt at public control over certain aspects of the economic structure. And they were the ones called upon to be part of the federal commissions charged with administering and applying the reform laws. In this way, the control of major economic interests over politics was realised, the use of political instruments to rationalise the economic system, defined as “political capitalism”. It was a question of institutionalising the guidance of politics operated by capital, which is inseparable from the capitalist system of production, but which the bourgeoisie always tries to hide, so as not to highlight the class character of the state; and which only appears in the light of day when the bourgeoisie is forced to resort to the authoritarian solution.

The reforming thrust of big capital also had as its primary objective the pursuit of a “rational” and “efficient” harmony between classes, to prevent the emergence of an aggressive and organised working class, with all the dangers that this would entail.

Reformism, an antidote to the class struggle?

It was the latter, a far from remote or fantastic possibility in the early years of the century. The years of economic expansion that followed the crisis of the ’90s had seen a dizzying multiplication of strikes and workers’ unrest. The number of officially registered strikes went from 1,098 in 1898 to 1,839 in 1900; it then rose to 3,240 in 1902 and arrived the following year at an "all-time high" of 3,648, which would only be surpassed in the years of World War I. Trade union members, which at the end of the 1890s did not exceed 500,000, reached one million in 1901 and exceeded two million in 1904. They were still low values, however, when viewed in relation to total industrial workers. In fact, the percentage of union members in the total labour force was 12.3% in 1904, the year with the most favourable ratio. In the following period it would fluctuate around 10-11%, only to rise again during the conflict. However, this was a considerable and very rapid progress compared to the percentages of the previous years: 3.5% in 1897, 4.4% in 1899, 7.4% in 1901, 11.3% in 1903. But three-fourths of the members belonged to the unions belonging to the AFL, that federation of which we have already spoken at length, and whose leaders were fundamentally convinced that the welfare of labour was inevitably connected with that of capital.

On the whole, the attitude of the entrepreneurs was divided along two distinctly different political lines. A large part of the companies gave life, starting in 1904, to a real campaign, coordinated nationally by the National Association of Manufacturers, to remove all union representation from the companies and hit the root of the strength of the unions. It was a real generalised offensive, which used all possible repressive instruments, both state and private, to re-establish the total control of the employers in the companies.

Other industrial sectors, however, tried to follow a different line. Some exponents of the major corporations, starting with those linked to the financial house Morgan, began to think that social stability, outside and inside the factory, could be more solidly guaranteed through the recognition of conservative unions as representatives of the workers, the establishment of a regular collective bargaining, the creation of bodies for mediation and arbitration of labour conflicts.

To this end, in 1900, the National Civic Federation (NCF) was born. We have spoken previously of the birth and activities of this structure that brought together exponents of various social components, with a clear anti-working-class purpose and class collaboration. It symbolised the reform movement’s aspiration to social harmony, and in particular that of the most conscious sectors of big capital; it pushed the AFL to embark decisively on the path of cooperation; it favoured the formation of political balances of reformist orientation on labour issues.

In 1912, the reformist orientations of a large part of the country also imposed themselves on the political level, with the victory in the presidential elections of Woodrow Wilson, on a program, called the “New Freedom”, with a clear progressive approach. The Socialist Party, which was born in 1901 from the convergence of the Social Democratic Party of America with elements of the Socialist Labor Party, obtained its best success, approaching one million votes. In the following two years, the structural reforms we mentioned above were enacted. But, above all, the affirmation of the Democrats and the establishment of the Wilson administration changed the state’s attitude towards the working class. Faced with growing conflict, the need to develop a comprehensive policy of social stabilisation led the government to adopt the line of cooperation between capital and workers’ organisations. At first in an uncertain and sporadic way, then gradually with greater organicity and determination, the co-responsibility of the AFL and of the conservative unions for the maintenance of social peace and the increase of productivity became an explicit political choice of the administration. The World War, with the multiplication of state control over the economic and social sphere of the country’s life, saw the full affirmation of this policy. The repression of conflict, and in particular of its most radical expressions, was accompanied by the spread of collective bargaining, the recognition of union standards both in the field of wages and regulations, and the integration of union leaders in the structures of conciliation of labour conflicts.

Labour legislation

These measures were more necessary than ever for the bourgeoisie, since the years 1912 and 1913 were the years in which the radical clash between the working class and the bosses emerged most explicitly in the most industrialised states of the East. These are the years in which the most de-qualified sectors of the working class, those of more recent immigration from Southeast Europe, express with greater force their claims and their insubordination to the high rates of exploitation that the rationalisation of production brings with it. To mention only the best known, in 1912 there was the textile strike in Lawrence, in 1913 those in the silk industry in Paterson, in the rubber industry in Akron and in the car industry at Studebaker in Detroit. This was the culmination of a whole cycle of determined struggles that worried the industrial bourgeoisie, which understood that it was necessary to take action, no longer relying solely on direct confrontation, now incapable on its own to keep in check the most desperate strata of the class, especially because on the horizon, from 1914, there was the involvement in the great war, and the movement for preventive rearmament, called “preparedness”.

The reformist response to the workers’ struggles, and more generally to social unrest, managed to take shape in various legislative measures in the course of these years thanks to a political situation now quite clearly oriented in a “progressive” sense. So much so that the Democratic Party in its pre-electoral convention not only warmly welcomed the delegation of the American Federation of Labor, but practically left to the latter the task of writing that part of its electoral platform concerning the world of labour. The situation immediately appeared extremely favourable to those sectors of big capital that constituted the direction and soul of the “progressive” movement, even if in a very discreet and sometimes hidden way. The NCF, in fact, often constituted a true centre of elaboration and conception of those reform projects that were most dear to the big corporations, and one of the most important instruments through which they intervened in the debate and in political action. Gompers himself wrote in his autobiography that in the session of Congress immediately following the elections, “the union proposals received unprecedented attention”.

To this picture must be added the remarkable success obtained by the Socialist Party, whose candidate for the presidency, Eugene Debs, obtained about 900,000 votes, just under 6%, the highest result in the history of the party. This affirmation obviously sounded threatening to big business and all other defenders of the economic and social system, and therefore helped to stimulate reformist tendencies and attempts at rationalisation.

It should not be thought, however, that there were no obstacles or difficulties in the face of the push for reform. The most important of these were the more openly reactionary and decidedly anti-union forces in the employers’ camp. They were organised in hundreds and hundreds of local associations, starting with the chambers of commerce, and in numerous trade organisations, but above all they had a strong national organisation, the National Association of Manufacturers which, originally created to give weight at state and government level to the employers’ need to expand foreign trade, then built its fortunes on a rigid and decisive anti-union position. The NAM was responsible for directing and organising the violent reaction of hundreds of entrepreneurs to the workers’ struggles and for creating national campaigns for the open-shop and against what they liked to call “immoral class legislation”. At the institutional level, the NAM used its power of pressure, which reached the most blatant corruption, at the local level, through powerful lobbies; the same happened at the federal level, with the creation of special organisations; a custom that the bourgeoisie has not abandoned, on the contrary, it has institutionalised it.

But it was the control of the courts that constituted the main institutional obstacle to the development of the reform initiative, and it was precisely their attitude towards social and industrial questions that aroused popular discontent. Because the law placed “private property rights above personal and social rights”, as Robert Hoxie, a well-known reformer of the time, complained, the courts very often struck down laws that postulated any workers’ rights and declared them unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, the very one passed at the end of the Civil War to guarantee the rights and freedom of blacks! It stated that no person shall be deprived of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law”, and this formula was used by the courts to invalidate any law that placed any restrictions on the freedom of the entrepreneur.

In the spring of 1917, with the war just around the corner, and when both the main capitalist sectors and the administration had by then definitively opted for a policy of openness to the moderate components of the workers’ movement, the Supreme Court finally sanctioned this changed attitude of the judiciary. In a very short time it issued a series of rulings declaring constitutional some of the most important measures passed in the field of labour legislation both at state and federal level.

Legislation aimed at regulating child labour was also very extensive, given that in 1906 43 states had already passed measures on the subject. Many of these measures were, however, very limited, if not formal and ridiculous: in South Carolina, for example, an article had been voted in which, after having established a limit of twelve years for child labour, exceptions were allowed if this imposed sacrifices on families!

Only an apparent victory

The eight-hour claim was supported by vigorous union campaigns and was at the centre of attention. This was also because the processes of restructuring and rationalisation of production directly involved the question of working hours, contributing to the opening of a discussion even in employers’ circles. However, the discussion was not much more than that, because if the introduction of the eight-hour working day at Ford’s factory chain dates back to this period, to the first months of 1914, the vast majority of industries would continue, at least until the war, to maintain much longer working hours, ten and often, as in the steel industry, even twelve hours.

The question of working hours remained, therefore, in these years entrusted to the direct confrontation between the working class and the employers, and even the legislative measures which were voted, at the federal level, for some categories, had their origin, as we shall see, in the need for the government to intervene in order to settle some important open disputes.

This extensive development of labour legislation in the second decade of the century was due to complex and often diverse reasons, which reflected the different tendencies and movements that animated the country on the social level. However, we can try to identify the basic reasons that gave rise to this phenomenon.

The most important, and above all the most urgent, was the need to contain the impetuous development of social unrest and the workers’ struggle. More precisely, there was a need, on the part of the most conscious sectors of capital and the ruling class as a whole, to divert the development of social agitation from class and anti-capitalist tendencies, exemplified not only by the fighting behaviour of large sectors of the working class, but also by the growth of a revolutionary organisation such as the Industrial Workers the World and the fortunes of the socialist party.

On the other hand, many of these laws had a rather relative effectiveness, and their function often did not go beyond propaganda. The Massachusetts Minimum Wage Commission, for example, had no power whatsoever to force employers to apply the minimum wage it had established: it could only publish lists of renegade employers for public disapproval, but nothing more. In other situations, where the law was obligatory, its effectiveness was reduced to a minimum by the fact that the levels set were not linked to price changes, so that in times of rising costs of living, the quotas set soon became lower than the wages actually applied. To this must be added a final factor, that of the action that employers could exert in each state, either through pressure on legislative bodies, or through the presence of their representatives in the commissions charged with setting minimum wage levels, in order to impose minimum levels low enough not to substantially modify the situation. After that, it is clear that the entrepreneurs were able to exploit the political and propaganda aspects of the legislation in their favour without having to pay particularly high costs or be forced to introduce major changes in their companies.

In the field of labour and social legislation, the problem for capital was, therefore, to prevent radical solutions, without opposing the reform movement, but, on the contrary, being part of it and trying to influence it, to direct it towards solutions suited to their needs. The case of workman’s compensation (i.e., guarantees and indemnities in the case of accidents at work) is extremely indicative in this sense. Many large companies, even those that were fiercely anti-union, had already launched accident insurance programs, both because it was a measure that could no longer be avoided, on pain of giving a further reason for social unrest, and in order to increase the worker’s loyalty to the company. Legislation took note of this, extending it to all companies and, above all, relieving companies of the relative burdens.

A very meaningful parallel can be made between these interventions, even of a social nature, and the measures taken by European authoritarian regimes a few years later: an example is the claimed defence of the family, which had been seriously weakened as an agent of social reproduction in the 19th century; hence the attempt to regulate female and child labour, and the valorisation of domestic work and the role of the housewife.

On the whole, the various measures of social and labour legislation, while drawing their origin from the growth of workers’ struggles, from the threat that they constituted for the entire social order and from the pressure of a reformist character of large sectors of the middle class, ended up being realised, and determined in their content, precisely by the action of the most conscious sectors of big capital.

The attitude of the AFL towards labour legislation was always well-differentiated, depending on the interests of the union store. Its leaders in fact saw the reform action from above as an emptying of the role of the unions "good", and therefore as their dis-empowerment. Thus, the AFL tended to remain entrenched in the ideology, and practice, of "pure and simple" unionism on which it had based its successes. This meant that the federation’s line on labour legislation was initially determined by a fairly simple mechanism: reject any measure that would intervene in problems or sectors of the working class where unions were present or expected to be able to organise workers. This meant rejecting almost all laws aimed at regulating in some way the working conditions of adult male workers, i.e., the sector on which the trade unions were based and to which they addressed themselves. For example, they were openly opposed to laws limiting working hours for men, because they wanted this issue to be resolved solely and exclusively by direct bargaining with employers, by the union struggle. On the contrary, they favoured, and often directly committed themselves to the promulgation of laws to regulate working conditions in those sectors where they could not reach with the organisation of the unions or where they believed they had to operate to limit the competition brought to the labour market by the workers they organised: thus the federation committed itself so that public employees, among whom the prohibition to strike made it impossible to have a strong union presence, obtained the eight-hour schedule, minimum wages and workman’s compensation through special laws of Congress. The battle for the regulation of child labour also saw the AFL fully engaged and active, since its spread was a very effective tool to keep wages low and exert more forcefully the blackmail of unemployment on adult workers. In the field of limiting working hours for women, the AFL was always in the forefront, and even came, as in California, to promote the bill itself. There were several reasons for this attitude. First, the unions did not organise, nor did they intend to organise, women, particularly the great mass of unskilled women workers at whom the legislation was primarily aimed. Moreover, on the part of the leaders of the unions and the federation, there was a certain ideological and political convergence with the capitalist projects of limiting women’s work and reconstructing and consolidating the family structure. A traditional opposition to the development of women’s work was rather rooted in the trade workers’ organisations, and there had been numerous battles against the hiring of women in the factories.

With regard to the establishment of minimum wages for women, however, the AFL was in opposition, or merely gave formal support to the movement: this was because they were convinced that minimum wage levels for women would call into question the union tables and weaken the unions, something that officials were not at all happy about because of the danger it could pose to their chairs.

In the years of Wilson’s first presidency, however, the attitude of the federation slowly began to change. It tended more and more to support all those laws that concerned sectors of workers where there had never been any practice of collective bargaining, where the unions had never been able, or had never wanted, to develop their own organisation. It is important to note that this logic was based on the fact that the unions based all their strength, and their very existence, on their ability to exercise almost monopolistic control (hence the tendency to establish the closed-shop) of the labour market job by job, thus leaving out the enormous mass of unskilled workers. It was precisely the development of struggles and worker organisation in the unskilled sectors, in open antagonism with the AFL and the trade unions, that played a decisive role in making the latter change their position and accept the reformist logic of capital, in the common interest of cutting the grass under the feet of these struggles.

On the whole, however, there remained a fairly firm position against any legislative regulation of the main aspects of working conditions, first and foremost of working hours and minimum wages, with regard to adult male workers, that is, where there were, or could be organised, unions of skilled workers. In this case, for the union leaders, the existence and functions of their organisation came into play and it is therefore obvious that they were particularly opposed to those programs that could allow the government to compete for the trust of their members. The growing harmony between the AFL and the government came to fruition in 1913 with the calling to head the newly established Department of Labor of William B. Wilson, a former executive of the miners’ union whom Gompers had proposed for the position.

At this point, therefore, at a time when the start of the campaign for preparedness and, above all, the beginning of a cycle of large-scale labour struggles changed the political and social framework, relations between the federation and the government had matured to such an extent that the traditional distrust of the AFL leadership in the intervention of the state in labour problems had almost disappeared. In 1916 the shift became obvious and explicit. While the campaign of economic and ideological mobilisation of the country in view of a possible entry into the war consolidates the cooperation between unions and government, the spread of a massive wave of strikes forces the administration to make clearer and more explicit choices in its labour policy.

The President intervenes

The outbreak of war in Europe had created enough demand in American industry to overcome the crisis of 1914 and, starting in the spring of 1915, to start a consistent economic recovery; at the same time, it had produced a vertiginous drop in immigration levels. The result of these two phenomena was a rapid disappearance of the traditional reserve of labour-power and a consequent strengthening of the bargaining power of the working class.

From 737 strikes in 1914, the number rose to 658 in the first half of 1915 and 675 in the second half. In 1916, the figures rose steadily: 111 strikes in January, 195 in February, 189 in March, 329 in April and 461 in May. It is a cycle of struggles that will last until the United States enters the war and, albeit under different conditions, even during the war itself, expressing a strength and often a unity between different categories of workers, between immigrants and non-immigrants, between skilled and unskilled workers, that tends to overcome old divisions.

In this climate, in the summer of 1916, the administration was faced with a dispute opened by the four Brotherhoods, which organised more than 350,000 railroad workers, with all the companies to obtain an eight-hour schedule, a maximum daily distance of 100 miles and the payment of overtime at 50% more than the normal hourly wage for all freight train personnel. Faced with the companies’ refusal and the union decision to call a strike that would paralyse the entire transportation network, Wilson personally intervened with his own mediation plan. But the companies refuse the plan and the Brotherhoods, as a result, start the organisational machine that must prepare for the strike, set for September 4. At this point the president, having no other means to prevent the paralysis of transportation that would result from the strike, goes directly to Congress, on August 29, asking the Congressmen to decide immediately to 1) restructure and enlarge the Interstate Commerce Commission, the administrative body that presided over the regulation of the railroad system, 2) establish an eight-hour basic schedule for all interstate railroad workers, 3) to establish a commission of inquiry into the results and costs of implementing the basic eight-hour schedule, 4) to give its consent to a reconsideration of railroad freight rates by the ICC after the introduction of the eight-hour schedule, 5) to amend existing laws so as to make inquiry into labour disputes on the railroads mandatory before strikes or lockouts could be legally declared, 6) to give the president the power to control the railroads and to organise the staff in case of military necessity. The president’s pronouncement in favour of the eight hours is clearly the most important aspect of the whole proposal, although it should be noted the search, explicit in point 5, for a model of labour relations extremely controlled from above. In the face of criticism from the more conservative circles, Wilson replied: "It seems to me, considering the subject of the dispute, that the whole spirit of the moment, and the evidence of recent economic experience, speak in favour of the eight-hour day", where "spirit of the moment" probably means the strength of the movement of struggles underway in the country and "recent economic experience" means the experiences, now anything but negligible, of productive rationalisation that involve, at times, the reduction of working hours. In short, it is the first important anticipation of the labour policy that the administration will adopt during the war, based on the efficient restructuring and the full inclusion of the union in a mechanism of collective bargaining controlled from above. Haste forced Congress to deal only with the problem of working hours, and the president’s proposal was accepted, with the establishment of the basic eight-hour schedule. Thus the strike is averted and a period opens in which government and state intervention in labour matters will not only become constant and regular, but will be accepted if not demanded by the trade unions. The AFL, which at the beginning of the dispute announced its solidarity with the Brotherhoods by asserting that "the power" that would institute the eight hours on the railroads would be that of the "labour movement", accepted the law without flinching, satisfied with the administration’s pro-union orientation.

The federation leadership, at this point, was ready to welcome, and to urge, the standardisation of working conditions and wages that the government would conduct, in the course of the war, with their active participation. Yet barely three years had passed since Gompers still peremptorily asserted, "I hope that the time will never come when it will be the authority and power of the government to fix the minimum wages, or the maximum hours, at least for male workers, on the face of the earth". But Gompers had made so many such volte-faces that one was no longer surprised.

The change, as we can see, is quite radical and finds its reasons not only in the danger posed to the AFL by the development of workers’ struggles and class organisations that threatened its very existence, but also in the government’s changed attitude towards the unions and their demands. A policy that had now openly chosen the path for which for years the men of the NCF, union leaders and the most conscious exponents of big business, had been fighting. That is, the path of the division of the workers’ movement, of the recognition and integration of its moderate and conservative components, of the development of an orderly and "constructive" practice of collective bargaining, of the isolation and repression of anti-capitalist behaviour and organisations expressed by considerable sectors of the working class. In the years between Wilson’s rise to the presidency and his entry into the war, this line was progressively adopted by the administration and the other structures of the state, up to the Supreme Court, and inspired the basic features of labour legislation. The same opposition of employers to these choices, exemplified by the NAM and similar organisations, was modified, and formal acceptance of social legislation was affected, with the consequent exploitation of the propaganda advantages that this entailed, while boycotting its practical effects.

The new attitude of the most evolved part of the big bourgeoisie shines through in the speeches for the election of 1912, in which he exposes his program defined "New Freedom". There Wilson appears as a champion of the defenceless worker against big business.

The attempt was to cope with the growth of workers’ struggles through the establishment of a system of cooperative relations between capital and the moderate sectors of workers’ organisations. That is, a system that would make possible orderly, predictable and controllable relations between workers and companies, based on collective bargaining constructively aimed at efficiency and increased production.

It was an opportunity for the AFL to see the reforms it had been presenting to Congress since 1906, the "Bill of Grievances", come to fruition.

It included a call for comprehensive eight-hour legislation for all government employees, some measures to restrict immigration, a bill to protect workers from the competition of forced labour, and various measures to improve working conditions for seamen that would later be incorporated into the La Follette Seamen’s Act; but its main points concerned issues related to the right of workers to organise collectively and to take action to fight.

In fact, the first part of the Bill called for a law to prevent the use of injunctions by the courts against workers’ struggles or other union activities, and another part called for the tightening of the legislation on trusts while excluding its application to workers’ organisations. In the first case, it was a question of taking away from the courts the main instrument of repressive intervention against workers and their organisations; in the second case, it was a question of preventing the use against workers of a law created to punish every restriction and limitation of trade, and on the basis of which the major repressive operations against workers and against the unions themselves had been built. The injunctions were orders of a judge that imposed on those to whom they were addressed to refrain from some action when it could result in "irreparable damage" to property; failure to comply with this order led to charges of contempt of court and immediate imprisonment.

There were three types: the temporary restraining order which was issued by a judge, without any hearing or notice to the party in question, on the basis of a simple complaint; the temporary injunction which required prior notice and could also be preceded by a hearing; and finally there was the permanent injunction which was issued only on the basis of a hearing.

But it is clear that the most important, and most feared by the workers, was the first type of injunction: it was not only issued on the basis of the opinion of the entrepreneur and his version of the facts, but also had the advantage of a very rapid procedure, so as to be a formidable instrument of intervention against a strike or other action of struggle from its very beginning. In this way, an enormous amount of power was concentrated in the hands of judges whose conservative and pro-patron positions cannot be doubted: it is enough to think, for example, that in the federal courts alone, in the period between 1901 and 1921, the magistrates granted an injunction at the request of the entrepreneur 70 times and refused it only once! So what was supposed to be an "extraordinary remedy" under common law quickly became the "usual legal measure" in the attack on workers’ struggles and their organisations, and in fact it was used on the most diverse occasions.

The other measure requested of Congress, namely the exclusion of workers’ organisations from the repressive measures of the law against trusts, which tended to strike at any form of limitation or restriction of trade, was of equal and perhaps even greater importance and urgency: that law, in fact, the Sherman Act of 1890, had been used far more to strike at workers’ organisations than to prosecute and dissolve trusts. In the period between 1892 and 1896, for example, of the five cases brought by the government for violation of the Sherman Act against trusts, only one was won, while of the five brought against labour organisations, four were won and only one was lost. The mechanism was quite simple: the federal courts had in fact the power to prosecute the leaders of the workers’ organisations every time they saw in some action of struggle an undue limitation of trade and competition, and this obviously meant, thanks to the generality of the law, an immense power.

In the first months of 1914 the AFL launched a great propaganda and pressure campaign to put an end to the anti-union use of the Sherman law and to take away from the courts the weapon of the injunction with which unions are fought. In every issue of the "American Federationist" there are articles that, in addition to illustrating the countless abuses committed by the courts, try to convince moderate public opinion, and especially the political circles and the dominant forces in them, of the need for a more liberal legal discipline towards workers’ organisations. In fact, it is no coincidence that the most frequently used argument is the threat of a strong growth of radicalism and worker unrest if the unions continue to be weakened and persecuted. The AFL, stressing how the repression of "responsible" and "constructive" unions fuels workers’ distrust of the democratic system and cooperation for economic development, thus openly offers itself as the organisation that can guarantee social stability and develop mass consensus for the current economic organisation. Gompers, with impressive frankness, wrote: "if you do not grant the full right of association to the working masses of our country, you will have to deal with other elements that will not let you sleep so peacefully and with so few worries".

Marching separately, striking together

As usual, the bourgeoisie was not united on the relationship to be held with the trade unions: we have seen that the small and medium entrepreneurs were headed by the NAM and the Anti-boycott Association. The latter, in addition to opposing the overall project favoured by the government and large corporations, did not intend to deprive themselves of any possible tool for the repression of unions. On the contrary, the attitude of the most acute among the leaders of the corporations was probably already inspired by the idea of granting the unions the legal rights they claimed, precisely in order to bring them more and more onto a collaborative ground and to stimulate them to an attitude of responsibility towards the social order. But above all to guarantee themselves against the development of radical and class organisations of the workers, for which a widespread and solid presence of trade unions constituted a no small obstacle. These different policies derived not only from the greater foresight of the leaders of the corporations, but also from the fact that they could afford such an attitude by virtue of their economic and political strength, which allowed them to successfully fight the unions within their factories, while the small entrepreneurs had a greater need for the repressive intervention of the state in order to win their anti-union battles.

A law was finally passed in October 1914 (the Clayton Act), legitimising the existence of unions: the American Federation of Labor rejoiced at what it considered to be the greatest achievement of its legislative activity, and Gompers would define the Clayton Act as the "Magna Carta" of workers.

In reality, this was little more than a formal success, since the very vague law, even if it meant an open attitude on the part of the state towards the workers’ organisations, would certainly not have led to a decrease in repression against the unions, or better, against the strikers, when the political moment required it. So much so that proceedings against unions for violation of the Trusts Act ended up being greater in number in the twenty-four years after the enactment of the Clayton Act than in the twenty-four years before, when only the Sherman Act was in force. In practice, it was only the existence of unions that was declared legal, while any of their activities, such as boycotts or the publication of lists of anti-union employers, could easily fall into that category of actions aimed at restricting trade that the antitrust legislation intended to punish. Hot air, in short, that the AFL took for granted, but in the end the only real result was exactly what those corrupt organisations wanted.

It is symptomatic, in this regard, how Wilson himself had intervened in the summer of 1914 in two rather serious and almost simultaneous labour conflicts, shortly after the passage of the Clayton Act. On the occasion of a dispute between the Brotherhoods of the railroads and the railroad companies over wages and working conditions on 98 lines in the West, Wilson did not hesitate to intervene with the railroad executives, urging them to accept a mediation plan; their intransigence in fact, after a mediation attempt had failed, might have led to a strike. On this occasion, for the first time, the president appealed for responsibility for the national emergency caused by the war, and his intervention was successful, inducing the railroad companies to accept an arbitration that, however, would later prove to be largely unfavourable to the Brotherhoods on almost all points of the dispute

But a few months later, in November of the same year, when a struggle of Arkansas miners led by the United Mine Workers found themselves facing a federal court injunction against picketing (and what’s more, one of the mine owners was appointed as administrator of the court’s orders), Wilson acted quite differently. He had no hesitation in complying with the federal court’s request by sending troops to ensure that his order would be obeyed. He thus endorsed not only the injunction and its use, but above all the extreme anti-union behaviour of the magistrates, and to prevent the miners’ struggle from defeating the injunction, he ordered the federal troops to disband without hesitation every "illegal meeting" in the territory of the district. In short, the substance of the repression of proletarian struggles did not change, it was only delegated to the central organs of the bourgeois state, and taken away from the arbitrariness of the small or medium capitalist, who with his greed and narrowness can unnecessarily endanger social peace.

Thus the whole complex of refined instruments of anti-union repression, beginning with the injunction, continued to remain more than legitimate and available, ready to be used again in a different situation, and above all functional to always remind the yellow unions that their present power depended on their behaviour, on their willingness to cooperate, on their active participation in the work of stabilising the economic and social order in which big capital and the state were engaging.

18 – War: for Capital, a Panacea for all Ills

Wilson changes his line of conduct

We saw how the first Wilson administration (1913-1916) showed much more attention to the labour movement than previous administrations had done. In addition to the aforementioned interventions, the most tangible sign of this was the creation of the Department of Labor, at the head of which (not surprisingly) was placed William B. Wilson – a former member of the miners’ union – beginning a tradition of direct corruption of trade union leaders by the State (in commendable anticipation of the same phenomenon in Europe). The task of this Department was to reduce conflicts to a minimum, which was not exactly easy because of strong resistance on both sides: the IWW among workers, and sectors of the employers who believed only in the repression and destruction of workers’ organisations.

Another significant initiative was the creation of the Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR), a consultative body aimed at investigating the causes of social unrest, something which came to play an important political role. In practice it was almost an official consecration of the NCF; joining it were both AFL trade unionists and “moderate” representatives of the bourgeoisie. In short: the state committed to take over the function of regulating social conflict and the task of stimulating cooperation between labour and capital which had, until then, been carried out “privately” by conservative unions and exponents of bourgeois interests.

The commitment of the federal administration to making the unions play a role in containing the most radical pressures from the proletariat, and in regulating spontaneous social conflict, became increasingly clear in 1913. Moreover, increasingly large sectors of the bourgeoisie shared this attitude as well.

A typical example is that of the IWW-led 1913 Paterson Silk Strike, where an ill-fated AFL-led scab recruitment campaign was openly encouraged by conservative newspapers to strengthen the AFL. Its motivation: to help it attain the influence necessary to mediate the conflict (something which could not be done insofar as the leadership remained in the hands of the Wobblies). The traditional trade union movement was no longer necessarily seen as an implacable enemy; in moderate and well-organised forms it could become the stable interlocutor of capital, able to speak for and thereby control the spontaneous and local forms of workers’ representation.

Alternatively, the employers also supported the company’s trade union. The most significant project in this realm was launched by Ford with the establishment of the eight-hour working-day and $5 daily pay for assembly line workers. To quote William Haywood, it was “an insurance against unrest” which not only aimed to prevent the collective organisation of workers in the factory, but – as part of a larger plan including a profit-sharing project and other welfare measures (insurance, credits, recreational associations, etc.) – tended to develop an ideology and a way of life based on the relationship between the individual worker and the company (as opposed to relationships between classes). These experiences were still very limited in terms of extension and incidence, limited to sections of the most advanced industrial sectors; nevertheless, they demonstrated the urgency to face the growth of worker’s struggles and general social instability with means that were no longer limited to direct repression (including repression of union organisation). With this purpose in mind, it pointed to a developing trend that would fully assert itself in the 1920s.

There was a passage – in some cases – from brutal and repressive methods to forms of corporate paternalism. One example of this is the Colorado Coalfield War, a long and very violent strike lasting from September 1913 to December 1914. After the usual actions by bosses and government, with gunfights, casualties, militia and (eventually) federal interventions, the solution, favourable above all to the mining companies, was mainly the effect of the government’s efforts to persuade the AFL-affiliated United Mine Workers union (UMW). The Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, the most important of the companies involved, after having cleverly dragged the strike out to the point of exhaustion, was quick to understand that it could not continue with its old strategies. Once it had established order in the mines (which would continue to be guarded by the federal army until early 1915) and averted the danger of union resistance, its management quickly set up a workers’ representation project that became famous under the name of the Rockefeller Plan.

The project envisaged the election of workers’ representatives in each mine and in each district and entrusted them with the task of meeting periodically with the company’s various management bodies to resolve any disputes. Additionally, mixed committees of workers’ and company representatives were set up to study and solve problems related to safety, health, hygiene, housing, and “recreation and education” of employees. This was accompanied by the announcement of the establishment of the eight-hour working day and an unspecified company commitment to increase wages sometime in the future. In short, it was a real alternative to collective bargaining with regular workers’ organisations. Of course, the company still had total power to hire and fire at any time.

At the same time as the Rockefeller Plan was being implemented (accepted by the workers via vote in October 1915), important innovations in the administration of labour issues were being introduced at the state level; in particular, an Industrial Commission was established to deal with the enforcement of labour laws and conduct investigations of working conditions where a strike was threatened in order to prevent any interruption of production. Moreover, the Commission also constituted the arbitration authority to which companies and workers had to turn after failures to reach agreement during negotiations.

With such a mix of welfare measures and constant relations with the company management, and with the establishment of the Industrial (also called Walsh) Commission at the state level, the corporations established an organic structure for governing relations with the workers, which at the same time could keep the unions out of the mines and prevent new explosions of workers’ struggles. The Rockefeller Plan was thus one of the first examples of company unions: yellow unions that would become a central element of the post-war capitalist counteroffensive

The Colorado affair also brought to light some interesting elements with regard to the federal administration’s policy: it showed that if the government was in favour of collective bargaining, it did not necessarily have to implement it through unions.

The work of the Commission on Industrial Relations was concluded in 1915, with the presentation of a report signed by only 4 of its 9 members (the union representatives and the president), while the others presented two other reports. The main report provided for reasonable working conditions, in addition to more progressive taxation, control of monopolies, and union rights; the other two, although less concerned about the conditions of the working class, still made proposals aimed at avoiding conflicts.

The conclusion of the work of the Commission also touched on another fundamental point of the debate in those years: that of the labour market and of its control. All of the social and economic problems connected with the labour market policy pursued during the final decades of the 1800s were beginning to appear. Based on massive immigration of unskilled workers from Europe – in particular from the poorest rural areas of southern and eastern Europe – the policy aimed at providing industry with a steady reserve army of labour; expressly conceived for the purpose of strangling workers’ struggles, it was intended to allow for the rationalisation of work organisation and of its accentuated mechanisation via the use of large masses of unskilled workers in order to destroy the control that labour unions exercised over the production process. Much to the chagrin of capital, however, immigrant workers had become protagonists of the hardest and most important strikes of recent years and the social base of revolutionary organisations like the IWW; they had become the main factor of social instability inside and outside of the factory.

In fact, although unemployment caused a weakening of struggles and workers’ organisations, on the other hand it caused considerable agitation in the most affected sectors or in those in the most danger of being affected, so much so that it even led to organisation and struggle of the unemployed.

It was thus proposed that the government set up a special fund to be used for public works during times of crisis in order to absorb part of the unemployed to prevent the movement from spreading (it could not, of course, do away with unemployment entirely since it resulted from the need to maintain a reserve army of labour). Another proposed measure was “unemployment insurance”, an allowance for the unemployed to be paid by the employer. Despite support from many economists, this was strongly opposed by the unions. The AFL saw it (as for other social assistance measures) as an attempt to replace the function of trade unions with the direct initiative of employers and the state so as to weaken the relationship between the unions and the proletariat; since the unions were flabby in terms of struggles at this point, without their welfare function they would have lost any purpose to exist.

Despite the good intentions and reasonable proposals, there is no doubt that the most important results of the Commission’s work were political and propagandistic and that its main effect was to win the support of workers and radicals for the Wilson administration and for the idea that unions and radical intellectuals could have real power over social policy; this was of such enormous importance for the government and for American capital that, as we shall see, they will base their choices in the following years – in particular, concerning the preparedness and march towards their involvement in the First World War – precisely on this factor.

The government project on labour policy was accomplished in 1916, the last year of President Wilson’s first term.

1916: response to workers’ struggles and preparation for war

1916 was the year in which the operation initiated by the government and big capital on labour politics was completed. Faced with the intensification and spread of workers’ struggles, and with the prospect of entry into the war, the need to isolate the socialist and radical forces becomes a priority, with a view to stabilising the relationship with the class on a "responsible" and "patriotic" level, thanks to the good offices of the unions. From now on, the government will never lose sight of the goal of dealing with the strike movement and preparing the country and industry for war.

The cycle of workers’ struggles developed with the economic recovery caused by the European war — which not only stimulated production but also led to a labour market favourable to workers with the reduction of immigration and with the competition between companies for new employees — soon assumed impressive proportions: the number of strikes rapidly increased from 1,204 in 1914, to 1,593 in 1915, to 3,789 in 1916, and 4,450 in 1917.

The new wave of strikes soon appeared to the AFL as an opportunity to regain a prominent position within the working class because many of these strikes were born completely outside of the unions. According to official data, the percentage of all strikes called by the unions in particular – which until then had remained at an average of between 75% and 80% – suddenly dropped to 66.6% in 1916 and the trend continued in the following years (during the war) when the percentage reached its lowest values, with 53.3% in 1917 and 55.5% in 1918. For the unions and their federation this was clearly a rather worrying trend, which could only stimulate their commitment to expand their organised presence and influence among the struggling workers.

Strikes during this time achieved their goals quite frequently – especially regarding wage increases, which had relative value given the rising inflation. Moreover, very often it was the entrepreneurs themselves who granted them unilaterally in order to prevent conflicts; for example, U.S. Steel decided to increase wages by 10% in February and then for a second time in May 1916. Even the eight-hour workday was sometimes conquered, especially by sectors of the proletariat with a greater tradition of union organisation (such as anthracite miners and railway workers). Much more complex, however, was the problem of extending and establishing stable collective bargaining and recognition of the presence of unions. In general, where unions had already been recognised by the employers and there was a customary practice of union agreements, this strengthened and extended its scope of action both as a result of the basic push for greater power by workers and of the choice of some employers’ sectors to exceedingly cooperate with the unions in order to strengthen productive stability. Sometimes the pressure of the struggles or fear of them becoming more acute also led hitherto uncompromisingly anti-union entrepreneurs to change tactics and accept collective bargaining. On the whole, nevertheless, there was certainly no lack of resistance and even counter-offensives from all those who deliberately pursued destroying or at least weakening the unions and who saw the situation created by the war as a good opportunity to carry out their attack by exploiting the climate of emergency; they were now a minority among of the bosses, however — one which had not yet understood in what sense social relations were shifting but who nevertheless existed and continued with their methods, especially at the local level.

The federal administration was by now decidedly oriented to favour the recognition of conservative unions for their role in containing and channelling workers’ conflicts within collective bargaining schemes. As the prospect for entering the War approached, there was also the explicit recognition of the role that they could play in the development of production and in the construction of a national and patriotic identity to weaken the classist elements within the workers’ movement. At the same time, whenever they proved inefficient or insufficient, the government also tried and succeeded to replace unions during workers’ negotiations with the employers.

As a consequence, the percentage of conflicts ended with a conciliation jumped to 36.3% in 1916 after having fluctuated for years between 18% and 19% and having reached 20.9% only in 1915. If we consider that the absolute number of strikes had grown enormously and that above all the number of strikes not called by the unions had grown, it is clear that the government’s activity in mediating struggles, together with the efforts of the unions themselves, increased enormously during 1916.

The AFL drive belt of bourgeois governments

Beyond intervening in labour disputes, the government began to move towards the more ambitious goal of integrating the AFL – or at least its management structures – into its labour policy. That is, it was attempting to make it become an irreplaceable component of its apparatus of economic control which, during the war, would unfold in all its extension and articulation; but its foundations were laid in that very 1916, during preparedness. For the time being, it was a matter of persuading the Federation leaders to make a direct commitment towards patriotic ideological mobilisation, transferring also on the institutional and political level those relations of cooperation that were sought – and to a large extent already implemented – on the productive and trade union field. Since the beginning of the year, the AFL began to express itself and press directly in this direction, claiming the right of workers’ organisations to be represented "in all agencies that control and determine public policy or matters of general interest", and guaranteeing the willingness of unions to do for the country, at all levels, what they were already doing in the factory: fighting for efficiency, production, and patriotic mobilisation. The general characteristics that the preparedness had to assume, therefore, for the leaders of the unions, were the maintenance and extension of the working conditions achieved with the most favourable labour agreements, a "democratic" management of the war effort (that is to say, including workers’ representatives in determining the main economic choices), and the development of patriotic unity among all social sectors.

The appointment of Gompers to the Advisory Commission of the Council of National Defense, as representative of the trade unions and at the same time with the task of orienting the war policy in the field of labour, officially marked, in October 1916, the start of this policy by the Wilson administration and prepared its most accomplished implementation during the war.

The pressure of the working class, in the absence of the communist party, had as a consequence a strengthening of the unions and the AFL precisely because of the government’s decision to support and encourage the choices of those industrial sectors inclined to develop collective bargaining and its choice to recognise unions as tools to contain conflict and pursue productive normality. In fact, cooperation remained linked to the willingness of employers to maintain it, while all the legal instruments of anti-union discrimination – which often allowed to exclude or prevent unions from entering the factory – remained in force, confirmed by several court decisions.

For unions based on skilled workers, which therefore did not tend to organise the entire working class and were not based on the search for a general unity of the class, the material basis of strength was inevitably the ability to achieve and maintain sectoral control over the labour market, place by place and in each category of workers; this was even more exacerbated by the historical characteristics of American economic development, marked by a general overabundance of labour. For this reason, they had always aimed at the establishment of the closed shop in order to obtain full control of hiring and prevent employers from using the industrial reserve army to undermine union positions and expel unions from the factories.

Conversely, the various bosses’ offensives against workers’ organisation, intertwined with the destruction of their social base through the rationalisation of production – which made the figure of the highly skilled worker, with their considerable power over the production process, disappear – had focused on the implementation of the open shop, which implied the total power of the entrepreneur to hire and fire at their leisure. This obviously meant that any workers’ organisation could easily be expelled from a factory through accelerating the turnover of workers, allowing for complete control over them. The necessary complement to the open shop was the yellow dog contract: an individual contract in which the worker agreed not to join a union during their employment or not to engage in collective bargaining or striking; in this way the formal right to belong to a union was completely worthless. The annulment by the Supreme Court of rulings against “yellow dog” contracts because they would be contrary to the 14th Amendment (according to which no state could “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”) all but demonstrates that the bosses had not renounced their arms.

Thus, at a time when trade union rights were gaining significant political recognition and collective bargaining was increasingly asserting itself as the accepted policy of large sectors of the bourgeoisie and of the government itself, all the rights of employers to violent, anti-union conduct remained intact. The only important success that the AFL obtained in this period was the beginning of legislative work on immigration restriction, which, in the post-war period, would be completed with the virtual blockade of mass immigration of workers from Europe. On the other hand, the employers aimed to substitute for the labour surplus from immigrant labour with that of female labour, with the emigration from the countryside to the city and, above all, with the great migration of blacks from the south to the big industrial cities of the north. The latter was due to a series of factors that would deserve a separate discussion: first of all, meteorological events combined with insect infestations that had wiped out the cotton production of many small farmers, who had had to pay their debts with savings, mules, or even with their small property; then a policy of the various southern states strained in previous decades to exclude blacks from civil rights; finally, an endless series of discrimination, persecutions, lynchings to keep them subjugated to the whites, who had not accepted the theoretical equal rights. Official data say that in 1916 and 1917 alone, between 500,000 and 700,000 blacks arrived in the industrial concentrations of the North. Often, playing on racial divisions and prejudices, they were used as scabs against the struggles of white workers, as in previous years the bosses had tried to do with immigrants.

To repeat: the reason for this change of strategy was that recently immigrated workers, employed in large numbers in mass production, had become the main factor of social instability and had soon become the greatest danger for the economic and social system of corporations. Therefore, in the period of preparedness – when an offensive aimed at facing these threats was launched on a social level – there was also launched a political and repressive attack (which would grow until the Red Scare of the first post-war period) against the organisations in which the social danger of immigrants materialised: the radical and left-wing organisations, and in particular the IWW. The repressive wave against the socialists and the IWW and more generally against all opportunities for social and political struggle outside of class-collaborationist boundaries was the other side of the coin of the unions’ integration policy and the consolidation of the privileged relationship between the AFL, entrepreneurs, and the government.

While the episodes of violent intervention against the workers’ struggles multiplied – especially if they concerned the industries most involved in rearmament and war mobilisation programs – the repression began to assume the most typical features of a patriotic and nationalist crusade, focusing on the radicalism and foreign origin of many workers, to label as national traitors anyone striking outside the protection of conservative unions. The repression was facilitated and obtained most consensus where socialist and extreme left forces suffered the most social isolation or where these tendencies were experiencing a decreasing prominence. Albeit moderate, the reformist policy characterising the first Wilson administration and the ideological campaign conducted mainly by the NCF (aimed at emphasising the merits of this policy as an alternative to socialist programs) had weakened socialist influence in reformist circles and favoured the strategic alliance between Big Business and middle-class interests which historically characterised the "progressive" era. The 1916 elections testified to this retreat of the socialists, whose votes fell from 897,000 in 1912 to 590,000. Here, the socialists had mainly lost the support of progressive sectors, where the liberal image the administration had presented of itself had taken hold: an image skillfully built in the four years of government and in particular in the last months before the elections, which had included, among other things, support for anti-child labour laws, promotion of the eight-hour workday for railroad workers, and finally the promise to keep the United States out of the European conflict (a blatant lie).

The trade union movement actively participated in Wilson’s election campaign, and it was some of the unions most traditionally close to the Socialist Party – such as the Western Federation of Miners or the International Association of Machinists – that, through their move onto the plane of Democratic, electoral struggles, had most demonstrated the weakening influence of the Socialists. The relationship of trust built between the AFL and the Wilson administration allowed the reforms it produced – although they did not produce any substantial change in the lives of most workers – to appear as an alternative to the development of a classist and revolutionary political perspective, and their overall impact was sufficient enough to halt the previously steady growth that the Socialist Party had enjoyed over the previous four years.

Write "cooperation", but read "collaboration"

The participation of the United States in the First World War – which established its emergence as the dominant capitalist nation – was, among other things, the result of its long process of expansion and penetration into the international market.

If the war sanctioned the definitive affirmation of the choices of large corporations in terms of international politics and the direction of economic development, on the other hand it also saw the completion of the political operation that had long been underway with regard to the workers’ movement on the part of their most discerning leaders. The traditional strategy of the kolkhoz – aimed at the division of the workers’ movement, the repression of its classist and revolutionary organisations, and recognition of and cooperation with the moderate, pro-capitalist and now "patriotic" ones on the other hand – became the official policy of the federal administration in the last months of preparedness, thus obtaining an organic and extensive application.

The leadership of the AFL obviously supported this evolution by all means, confirming without any shame its definitive and total subjugation to capital. "Our country", said Gompers, "…has the opportunity to become the banker of the world…the great protagonist of world trade". Therefore, preparedness saw the approach of conservative unions towards government policies which sought to seize the fruits of this "opportunity" with far more energy.

So obvious was the approval by the trade unions for the war that the conference produced a document that did not even mention the opportunity to enter it; the document instead promised maximum patriotic commitment and asked the government to recognize "the organized workers’ movement as the agency through cooperate with wage earners" and consequently that its representatives were part of all "agencies for the determination and administration of national defense policy". Secondly, it was required that these agencies adopt a policy in accordance with the needs of the workers, ensuring that "union standards" in terms of hours, wages and working conditions were respected everywhere; in return, it guaranteed maximum cooperation in the war effort.

Thus, at the official level, very few unions expressed even weak criticism of the March conference resolution (among them the Western Federation of Miners and the Typographical Union, which did not attend the meeting). Only a few independent unions, particularly in the clothing sector, sided with the anti-interventionist campaign of the Socialists, who saw their influence rapidly diminish within the trade unions despite their positions being met with growing consensus among workers (as demonstrated by some elections in the following months).

But the bosses had not given up their offensive; the entry into the war saw the concentration and intensification of attacks on various labor laws in the states on the basis that patriotism required the abolition of all restrictions on the full use of the country’s labor potential. In particular, attempts were being made to obtain the revocation or suspension of child labor laws, those for the limitation of women’s working hours, laws on the exclusion of immigration from the Far East and, in some states such as West Virginia, laws were also being proposed to prohibit strikes. Although some measures, in some states, were approved, in general the attitude of the federal state prevailed, aimed at uniformly defining working conditions, also in view of a partial planning of productive activity.

With regard to the objective of social peace, the rising tide of struggles for wage increases and the 8 hours could not be faced with simple repression, which would have risked triggering an explosion of class struggles and a radicalization of the proletariat. On the other hand, the boom produced by the orders of the government and the allies led to enormous profits for the corporations — above all for the biggest ones: US Steel, for example, went from an annual average of 76 million dollars in the three-year period 1912-1914 to 478 million dollars in 1917, while the aggregate figures of net earnings of the American industry rose from 4 billion dollars in 1913 (the best year so far) to 7 billion dollars in 1916 and even higher for 1917. This made possible a policy of wage increases — indulged by many corporations at the time — aimed at counteracting inflation or at least masking its effects on the purchasing power of the workers.

Thus, while the 8-hour limit was abolished in the sectors in which it was previously conquered, excess hours were paid 50% more. Everything now depended on governmental decisions and arbitration by specially created agencies, after the Council of National Defense. President Wilson himself took care to call on state governments not to take advantage of the situation to legislate against workers.

The repression of radicalism and of class organizations

All these measures had, however, a minimal influence on the overall economic and social situation. The situation was characterized by, on the one hand, the chaos and anarchy of a productive recovery that was as intense as it was unregulated and with very strong competition, and on the other hand by a further increase in workers’ demands and strikes to support them. Businesses contending for the workers and “labor stealing" among the entrepreneurs, became a source of strength for the proletariat: it was no longer they who competed for jobs and wages, but the entrepreneurs who competed for workers, resulting not only in a strong push for higher wages but also a growing mobility of workers, who went where new jobs were created and where there were the highest wages. There was a very rapid congestion in the industrial centers, where not enough measures were taken to accommodate the workers, an enormous increase in rents, and a sharpening of the wage differences between the various sectors and regions of differing importance to the war. All of this, and the very high inflation resulting from it, would further increase social unrest and the frequency of strikes.

The social situation therefore seemed to be pointing towards a progressive radicalization in which wildcat strikes could spread and the influence of leftist organizations could expand. In many areas, and particularly in the West where the presence of the AFL was much weaker, very hard clashes broke out between workers and employers.

Evolution towards the harshest social clash was on the agenda in all industrial sectors where a habit of union agreements had not existed; the AFL did not fail to emphasize this fact in order to accelerate the spread of collective bargaining and its recognition as a reliable intermediary between the needs of capital and the working class.

Faced with this situation, and in view of the war effort, the federal government moved more and more quickly and decisively in the direction of a far-reaching offensive against social unrest. It was based on a dual policy of concessions to pro-war organizations – such as the AFL – and the suppression of anti-war organizations and periodicals. Therefore, a rather widespread and capillary process of disintegration of organizations that could organize and consolidate a discontent or opposition to the war soon occurred. The first instrument of this campaign were the laws against trade unionism (criminal syndicalism) that several western states, starting from Idaho and Minnesota, voted in the spring of 1917 and in the following years. They established serious penalties (usually from 1 to 10 years, but sometimes the maximum could rise to 20 or even 25 years) for crimes typically of opinion such as propaganda and agitation. Under these laws, not only those who openly advocated doctrines of criminal acts for political, industrial, and social change (i.e., crime, sabotage, violence, and other unlawful methods of terrorism) could be found guilty, but also all those who justified it or belonged to organizations inspired by these doctrines and, finally, even those who had granted the premises for meetings of these organizations. Finally, it should be noted that these laws often contained clauses that removed them from the possibility of a repeal referendum!

To those on “criminal” trade unionism were soon added other laws that also tended to strike at any attitude contrary to the government and the established order, such as those on the flag, which established, for example, that "no red or black flag or banner, emblem or insignia could be carried in a demonstration that bears writings contrary to the established government, or that are sacrilegious, or that may be offensive to public morals". In this way, the various powers of the state were entrusted with all sorts of instruments to strike at popular unrest and protest. In general, these laws were particularly aimed at repressing the IWW and its activities because, especially in Western states they were identified as the most dangerous organisers of workers’ discontent; nevertheless, often the real usefulness the law went much further. Several of their clauses were designed to hit, when deemed appropriate, also certain activities of conservative unions or elementary civil liberties of citizens who had very little to do with organised radicalism; in the phase in which they were issued, however, their objective was only revolutionary and anti-war organisations. At any rate, the conservative unions were already so caught up in the vortex of “patriotic” mobilisation that the state federations of the AFL did not oppose the promulgation of the laws on "criminal" trade unionism, limiting themselves, however with little success, to press for clauses to prevent their use against their organisations: the principles of their stance were never openly contrary to repressive legislation and their practical action – with full participation in the “patriotic” and anti-radical campaign – certainly contributed to its spread. As good shopkeepers, they were happy to accept legislation that took out the competition for the control of the working class, even if it was legislation that in theory could also be used for purely anti-union goals.

Active supporters and promoters of these laws were instead the bosses, who aimed to take advantage of the climate created by the war to equip themselves with effective tools for the repression of workers’ struggles. The authorship of the bills was in fact almost always of some entrepreneurial group or association. Around these forces, of course, all the patriotic organisations had gathered (such as the American Legion), the most important of press organs, and the most influential political circles. In this way there spread, in the first months of the war, a frantic local mobilisation of the public apparatus, of the major political and economic interest groups, and of vigilante groups or volunteers who closed the locales of the Socialist Party and the IWW, chased away the militants, and destroyed their organisational networks, making increasing use of the aforementioned laws to facilitate their work.

In this framework, at the beginning of the summer of 1917, a national initiative of the federal government was also launched: on June 15th, the Congress voted the Espionage Act, a law directly requested by the president to provide the administration with broad powers of repression. Wilson had asked the congress to authorise direct censorship of the press by the White House, but this proposal had been rejected following lively protests from the press and because of the fear of entrusting such power to the executive. However, another article of the Espionage Act gave the administration what it had requested, entrusting the postmaster the authority to exclude from the shipments any material that would incite “betrayal, insurrection or resistance against any law of the United States”. In this way, almost all the major socialist newspapers were confiscated, depriving the party of its most important propaganda tools and, having deprived their main source of contact with the centre, wreaking havoc on its local organisations. In addition, the government and the courts attacked the opponents with a long series of indictments that affected both the leaders and, often, the party rank and file. These initiatives, and the great propaganda campaign that accompanied them, naturally fuelled violence and paramilitary activity in all areas of the country so that public demonstrations were very difficult to carry out and the work of the militants had to become semi-clandestine. It is estimated that in the last year of the war there were about 1500 party headquarters destroyed out of a total of about 5000, and this, combined with the suppression of newspapers and the arrest of several activists, greatly weakened the socialist party, especially in the West and Midwest.

This furious repressive campaign was probably made all the more urgent by the considerable consensus that the Socialist Party was gaining among workers and farmers by virtue of its opposition to the war, reflected in some local elections. Despite the considerable difficulties of its campaign and the terrorist press campaign it was subjected to, the party had multiplied its votes in an impressive way: in the Dayton (Ohio) elections held on August 14th, the Socialists obtained 44% of the votes against 6.5% of the previous year; in Buffalo, the following month, they went from 13% to 32% of the votes, in Chicago they obtained 34%, in Cleveland 22.4% and in New York – in an election of considerable national importance – 21.7%. These successes came almost entirely from the small industrial centres or, in the case of large cities, from the workers’ districts, testifying to the class character of the opposition to the war.

The other main target of the repressive campaign were the IWW, attacked mainly in their national centre and in those situations of labour struggle in the West that represented their strongholds. From the bourgeoisie of the West there was a strong pressure to take exceptional measures against the presence and influence of wobblies among workers. After having obtained the passage of laws against “criminal” trade unionism, at least in some states, and having started a real lynching campaign against the IWW, the bosses and governors of several states began to turn to the federal government to dissolve the organisation. The administration at first responded negatively to these requests, but started an investigation into the character of the organisation directed by the Department of Justice. In the meantime, a wide variety of repression initiatives were taken by the states. Finally, the federal government accepted the pressures from many States and, towards the end of the summer, took the initiative in its own hands: several jurists, following the investigation of the Justice Department, suggested to the federal government to arrest and indict the wobblies for conspiracy, in order to infringe the law on draft and the Espionage Act.. The government, starting with President Wilson, approved the project. On September 5th, federal agents, along with local sheriffs, raided all IWW offices throughout the country, starting with the National Directorate located in Chicago, and on September 28th, a federal court in Chicago indicted 166 IWW leaders, including all major national leaders, for conspiracy; thus began a series of trials against the organisation’s members, beheading the its executives and turning it from a combative industrial union into a legal defence committee.

(to be continued)

(back to table of contents)

The Economic and Social Structure of Russia Today

"Struttura economica e sociale della Russia d’oggi",
Il Programma Comunista, no. 10, 1955 to no. 4, 1956

Part One
Struggle for Power in the Two Revolutions

[ Full text ]

Summaries of three past Party General Meetings

Video conference meeting, 23-25 September 2022 [RG 144]
Our Consistent Internationalist Work in the Party General Meeting

The general meeting of the party was held by teleconference on Friday, May 27 to Sunday, May 29, from 5 to 11 p.m. in Italy, to accommodate the schedules of the various countries.

TAt the Friday organisational session, in the presence of comrades only, 43 in number, we listened to reports from the sections, translated on imprint into the three languages Italian, English and Spanish. On Saturday and Sunday – in the presence of 60 comrades and seriously militia-initiated candidates, 42 Europeans, 15 Americans, and 3 Asians – we heard 14 reports, lasting about 30 minutes each, delivered directly in the speaker’s preferred language. The text of all the reports had previously been translated into the three languages and made available to the comrades, a method we experienced that allows for better follow-up of what is being illustrated, as well as optimal use of time. At the end of each report, the comrades can send any questions of clarification in writing to the organising table, which the presenters decide whether to answer immediately or later, after the meeting is over.

The Centre’s organisational report reported on the work done since the previous meeting and listed the really numerous commitments for the coming months in the various areas of party activity.

All this work, truly remarkable given our minimal forces, is already being carried out in ways that are no longer mercantile and capitalist, no one is being forced into our strict and centralised discipline, no one is receiving any compensation other than his own satisfaction as a communist and the admiration and recognition of comrades, and of the most conscious workers for his engagement in the party. It is these attitudes, naturally and spontaneously assumed, that make possible and empower our social work and struggle today and will develop into the party at large and combatant of tomorrow, the anticipation of a society finally free of bourgeois antagonisms, miseries and morbidities.

Order of business
Friday: Report of the work of the groups and sections, coordination, planning and organization of initiatives for the coming months
Saturday: Rearmament of states

The war in Ukraine

The Productive Forces Rebel against Capital

The Kurdish question (chapters IV and V)

Origin of the Communist Party of China, 2nd Congress

Situation in Venezuela
Sunday: Economic situation in Pakistan

Marxist theories of crisis – Theories of surplus-value

History of the Profintern – 2nd Congress

Economic course of imperialism

Report on trade union activity

The military question in the Russian revolution – civil war in Russia

Party and Culture

Video conference meeting, 23-25 September 2022 [RG 144]
Converging in the International Party Meeting of the Work of all our Groups

A perfectly organised and successful fall meeting of our party. Comrades from 10 countries attended. Connected by video conference, we attended three six-hour sessions, each interspersed with two short intervals. In the first, on Friday, we listened to the reports of the work of the sections, in the number of 14 those received in advance in written form, and which it was therefore possible to make available to the comrades in writing in Italian, English and Spanish, plus the others that we are gradually translating. On Saturday and Sunday, we heard the following reports, all of which were also made available to those present in their languages.

These studies, although entrusted to different working groups, are presented as the collective work of the party and not as the theses of one part pitted against another. We call these general meetings and no longer congresses: we do not organise debates there but carry out impersonal research work, based on Marxist science and the historical theses of the communist movement, for the ever-better knowledge of the bourgeois world that is our enemy, and on the ways and means for the working class to accompany it to its death.

Order of business
Friday: Well‑developed reports of the activity of each section and working group
Saturday: Events of the war in ukraine

The ideology of the bourgeoisie

The national question of the Mapuche in Chile

The economic crisis in Britain

The military question in the Russian revolution: war in the Kuban

The Hungarian Revolution

Origins of the Communist Party of China

History of the Profintern

Report of the Venezuelan section
Sunday: Trade union activity in Italy

The social situation in Pakistan

The war over gas prices

The course of the world economic crisis

Marxist economics: The capital-labor relationship

On the origin of surplus-value: Ricardo

The civil war in Italy against the state and fascism

Central financial reporting

Video conference meeting, 27-29 January 2023 [RG 145]
Full Homogeneity of Purpose and Program at the Party General Meeting

Order of business
Friday: Reports of the activity of each section and working group
Marxist theory of knowledge

Our new approach to the study of marxist economics

Origin of the Communist Party of China

The Hungarian Revolution of 1919

Effects of the world crisis in Japan

The Party’s position on the war in Ukraine

The German “Red Army” in 1923

Course of the crisis of capitalism

The reality of the social protests in Iran

Ongoing labour struggles
- In the United Kingdom
- In the United States
- In Latin America
- In France
- The Party’s union activity in Italy
(back to table of contents)

Report Abstracts

Theoretical Topics

Marxist Theory of Knowledge

The class ideology of the bourgeoisie

This work aims to analyse the ideologies of the bourgeoisie, from its emergence as a class in the 13th century to, approximately, the rise of our theory in the mid-19th century. This analysis is made by use of dialectical materialism, which, among other things, is a method of analysing the base and dialectically connected superstructure of various human societies.

Among other things, this is because, for us, analysis is never an end in itself: theory, more than a part of praxis, is a form of it.

Marxist monism and bourgeois dualisms

In bourgeois thought there is always a dichotomy between reason and faith, between rationality and religion, in addition to the traditional dichotomies of body and soul, body and psyche, nature and culture, and so on, where the two terms are seen as opposites and irreducible to each other.

Among the bourgeoisie there was and still is the idea that modern science was born alongside the appearance of reason, dated by most to the Renaissance. A metahistorical and metaphysical reason, an underground river that emerged with the Greeks and Romans, disappeared for about 1,500 years, to then resurface in the 15th century. The men of the Renaissance, who also held this view, had excuses that we cannot credit to our contemporaries. In this conception, which it must be said is increasingly abandoned by historians and various scholars, the Middle Ages is an age of darkness, ignorance, and superstition, characterised by faith and religion. With the appearance of reason, during the Enlightenment, the darkness of ignorance and superstition to which religion kept men chained is torn asunder, and they can now see the truth and make it their own. This is what is called "secular" thinking.

Today’s "secularist", who claim to speak in the name of reason and science, actually has conceptions that are no less metaphysical than those of religions. In the footsteps of Marx, but also of Ockham and the medieval nominalists, we say that there is no reason as such, but there are reasons. Reason is historically determined: it is the reason of a specific society, which has a specific mode of production and specific social relations among the men in that society. It is the ideological superstructure of a given society, just like all other ideologies, such as religions and philosophies. It is a class reason, it is the reason of the ruling class, it is the mask that hides its domination from itself and especially from those over whom the dominion is exercised.

The ideology of the end of ideologies

Among the bourgeoisie, it has been very fashionable for some time now to talk about the end of ideologies, and even to boast of having none. This end of ideologies, for others also the end of history, is only the ideological transposition of the bourgeoisie’s desire to see the end not of ideologies in general, but of a very specific ideology, the revolutionary ideology, consisting of communism; guarded by the Communist Party which, as in the Zoroastrian religion, has the task of keeping the eternal fire burning.

One etymology, not the only one proposed, of the term “ideology,” ἰδεών (ideṓn), genitive plural of ἰδέα (idéa), “of ideas”, has it derived from the Greek verb ὁράω (horáō), meaning “to see”. Ideology therefore means “point of view”. This meaning can be accepted by us, as long as it is clear what “point of view” means, which is not that one or more men are more capable than others of interpreting history, and therefore of guiding the society in the best way possible, nor that of cunning priests capable of devising deceptions to dominate over their fellow man.

Ideology, the point of view (other than ours), is never conscious: it is the point of view on the reality of a given society, with given class relations, that transports that reality into the world of ideas, elaborating a vision that, however class-based, however false or partial it may be, still meets the needs of survival and functioning of that society.

The bourgeoise, who boast that they have no ideologies, and therefore no points of view, boast that they see nothing and, consequently, understand nothing. On this they are right, but we do not think that they have anything to boast about.

Ideology for marxists

Ideology therefore includes religion, philosophy, and science.

For us materialists, ideologies are both true and false. They are true at the moment when they arise and when they respond to the affirmation of the society that produced them; they are false when, having changed the relations of production and the consequent social relations among the members of that society; society must then elaborate an ideology that is "truer" than the previous one, that is, more suitable for reflecting the new class relations.

But they are false even at the very moment they are true, since they are always and still the ideologies of the ruling class which, by material force and not by the force of ideas, impose themselves on those who are dominated. It is only in moments of revolutionary rupture, when the domination of a class is broken, that the previous ideology, increasingly understood as false, begins to be thrown overboard.

Only in the Communist Party, where the reversal of praxis takes place, does consciousness precede action and ideology precede reality.

Ours is also a class ideology. But it is not partial, because it embraces the totality of historical and social realities and phenomena that are not easily and immediately perceived and felt. It is the ideology of a class which, through the pursuit of its own interest, aims at its own abolition as well as that of capital, thus pursuing the interest of the human species.

The proletariat is the present and communism the future of the one reality that is the human species. In the party there is already communism: the present contains the future. Past, present, and future are terms that our language, imperfect and always perfectible like any other human tool, uses to refer to a reality that is unique.

Heraclitus of Ephesus, the founder or one of the founders of dialectics, in the early 5th century B.C. said "Everything flows", and also "Truth loves to hide". Truth loves to hide itself precisely because it is dialectical, because it is movement, not an end in itself as Bernstein would have it, nor a contribution from the external as Aristotle believed, but a movement that is the subject of its becoming. Movement is one of the names we give to reality.

Bourgeois ideology: In the beginning was the Word

In religions we sometimes find insights of great power, which the philosophy and science of the bourgeoisie, centuries and sometimes millennia later, do not reach. This is not so strange, if we think that the earliest religions were closer to the material basis of society, while the same religions, in later stages, produced ideological constructions that transported society, with its social relations, to the high heavens.

The same has been done by the bourgeoisie, in various ways, from Kant and Hegel to the present. Early Christianity was closer to the material basis than later Christianity; Judaism, as an expression of more archaic social relations, was closer to that basis than Christianity. The Jews, in the Bible, prayed to their god for the abundance of crops and for the fruitfulness of women and herds. They did not pray to him for the salvation of a soul that, we may say, had not yet been invented. First-century Christians themselves did not have the conception of a soul that we know, but they spoke of resurrection of bodies on judgement day, after the long sleep of death.

The prologue of John’s gospel reads, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". The author, referring to Christ and thus to God, uses the Greek term logos (λόγος) which means word, speech, reason, cause, law. Jerome between the fourth and fifth centuries translates logos with the Latin verbum, which means word, speech, verb. In Italian it is translated as verbo. Logos is a term already present in the earliest Greek philosophy, but it is with the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Jesus, that it is understood in the manner that will later be of the Neo-Platonists, and made its own by Christianity, of the middle term between God and the world, which god uses to create the world. Such a middle term that unites God and world, which is God and world, hence God and man, lent itself well to being understood as Christ.

Logos was itself a translation of an older Hebrew term, davar (דבר). This term, too, meant "word", but word that is indistinguishable from fact and at one with it. It was evidently part of the language of a society that preceded "the original sin" of class division.

The Latin translation is happier than the Greek one. God is the verb, God is the word, but not just any word. Nor is it the "motionless engine" of the Greeks. The verb is a moving word, a word that is movement. The best translation of the Johannine incipit is that of Goethe who has his Faust say, "In the beginning was action".

This god, this reality that is not static, but that is action, movement, modification, creation, tension toward the future, is none other than matter. The characteristics listed here are the characteristics of matter. A really powerful insight, expressed in the language of myth, religion, magic.

The earliest thinking was magical: the word did not indicate the thing, it evoked it, it was the thing. The distinction between signified and signifier appears in the Greek world only with Aristotle and even more so with the Stoics. We have already said that this magical-religious dimension was the distant memory and nostalgia of primitive communism.

The time of the Greeks, the Jews, and the Marxists

The burning bush speaking to Moses is movement and not stasis. His words to Moses, known as "I am who I am", should actually be translated as "I will be who I will be". Again, tension toward the future, in union with the present and the past. The Greeks had a cyclical, circular conception of time, paradoxically more "religious" than the Jewish one, a conception that went as far as Vico, Hegel, Nietzsche, who spoke precisely of an "eternal return". By contrast, the Jewish view of time and history was linear, stretching toward the future, toward "I will be who I will be". This linearity was not perfect and joltless: the vicissitudes of the Jewish people recounted in the Bible, their defeats that meant slavery and foreign domination, led that people to conceive of a direction toward God that was indeed linear, but interrupted by several painful and tragic caesuras. An all in all less "religious", less metaphysical conception than that of the 19th century positivists and their "magnificent and progressive fortunes". The Marxist conception of time and history is more indebted to the Jewish than to the Greek. In our The reversal of praxis in Marxist theory, 1951, we read:

An entirely erroneous theory is that of the descending curve of capitalism which leads one to ask falsely why, as capitalism declines, revolution does not advance. The theory of the descending curve compares the historical unfolding to a sine wave: each regime, like the bourgeois regime, begins an upward phase, touches a maximum, then begins to decline to a minimum; after which another regime rises again. Such a view is that of gradualist reformism: there are no surges, shocks or jumps. The usual claim that capitalism is in the descending branch and cannot rise again contains two errors: the fatalist and the gradualist. The first is the illusion that having finished descending capitalism, socialism will come of itself, without agitation, struggle, and armed confrontation, without party preparation. The second, expressed by insensibly flexing the direction of the movement, amounts to admitting that elements of socialism will progressively interpenetrate the capitalist fabric.

The Marxist vision may depict itself (for the sake of clarity and brevity) in many branches of ever ascending curves to those summits (in geometry singular points or cusps) which are followed by an abrupt almost vertical fall; and from below a new social regime, another historical branch of ascension…. Marx did not envisage an ascent and then a decline of capitalism, but instead the simultaneous and dialectical exaltation of the mass of productive forces that capitalism controls, of their unlimited accumulation and concentration, and at the same time of the antagonistic reaction, constituted by those dominated forces that is the proletarian class. The general productive and economic potential always rises until the equilibrium is broken, and there is a revolutionary explosive phase, in which in a very short precipitous period, with the breaking up of the ancient forms of production, the forces of production fall back to give themselves a new arrangement and resume a more powerful ascent…. It should just be noted that the general ascendant sense is not meant to bind itself to idealistic visions about indefinite human progress, but to the historical fact of the continuous swelling of the material mass of the productive forces, in the succession of the great historical revolutionary crises.

We reiterate that the only criterion for evaluating an ideology lies in whether or not it sends forward the knowledge of the society to which it belongs, and above all in whether or not it constitutes a weapon to destroy an exhausted social order. It was not and will not be the weapons of critique alone that destroyed a now fractious class society, but the critique of weapons exercised by the scienceless, the dispossessed. It will only be with the end of the last class society, and with communism, that what has been broken will be reassembled, that, to use Christian terminology, the Word will become Flesh.

(back to table of contents)

* * *
Marxist Crisis Theory –
The forces of production rebel against capital

The first part of this report provides a demonstration of the connection, in the texts of Marx and Engels, between the development of the productive forces and the development of the needs of the human species and the resulting break-down – termed the “contradiction between the relations of production and the productive forces” – in the process of the satisfaction of the needs of the species. Particular focus is given to the 1848 Manifesto.

The brief description of the development of capitalism out of feudalism provided in the Manifesto of 1848 is recalled and its relevant passages highlighted, demonstrating that it is the growth of the “wants of the new markets” and the inability of existing social forms of industry to satisfy them which drove the development of new social forms of industry, passing first from the guild system, then to the manufacturing system, and finally to the capitalist mode of production.

The connection between the class structure of society and the mode of production is asserted tersely, alongside the assertion that the growth of needs is a driving force in the development of the productive forces.

Another quotation demonstrates that the inability of the extant mode of production to satisfy its needs forces the proletariat to struggle in a revolutionary fashion against capitalism.

It is then affirmed that the needs of the species are not fixed; they are the product of a long course of historical development.

A breakdown in the capacity of the species to satisfy its own needs is a breakdown in the activity whereby the species satisfies its needs. This activity is performed via the utilisation of instruments of labour. It is therefore an inability to utilise the productive forces in a way congruent with the species’ needs.

The development of production is defined as the application of new productive forces or a change of how productive forces are made use.

We move on then to crises of overproduction as an example of the contradiction. Commercial crises entail a failure by society to satisfy its own needs in terms of consumption of material products. In these crises workers are laid off, enterprises shut down, instruments of labour put out of commission or destroyed.

The historical examples of the economic policies of Nazism – including the Holocaust, which we define as an economic measure – and of the US Roosevelt government are provided to demonstrate that the bourgeois State has sometimes organised on a mass scale the destruction, regression, or putting out-of-commission of means of production and of commodities in the face of commercial crisis. It is reiterated, giving reference to a Prometeo article from 1952, that New Deal economic policy was fascistic in nature. We quote Lenin, demonstrating that in the age of imperialism there is no major difference in economic policy between fascism and democracy.

The report shifts its focus from the need for articles of consumption and towards proletarian needs bound up directly with production: shortening of the working day, self-affirmation through labour, lessening the burden of toil, elimination of factory despotism, and the need for a far less strictly regimented social division of labour. The potential for the satisfaction of all of these needs exist in the modern productive forces, but their satisfaction is prevented by the capitalist forms of property.

Drawn out from the needs of the proletariat is the Communist program and its corresponding existence as a party. The Communist Party is the political and ideological representative of the modern productive forces.

It is concluded: the communist revolution is a scientific inevitability.

Theories of surplus-value – Adam Smith and David Ricardo

Adam Smith

In that early and rude state of society which precedes both the accumulation of stock and the appropriation of land, the proportion between the quantities of labour necessary for acquiring different objects seems to be the only circumstance which can afford any rule for exchanging them for one another.
(The Wealth of Nations)

So, the quantity of labour-time required to produce different commodities determines the proportion in which they exchange with each other, that is, their exchange-value. Meaning that, in the hypothesis that the labourer is a mere seller of commodities, with his commodity he commands as much of the other’s labour as is contained in his own commodity, since they exchange with each other solely as commodities, and the exchange-value of the commodities is determined by labour-time: "As soon as stock has accumulated in the hands of particular persons, some of them will naturally employ it in setting to work industrious people, whom they will supply with materials and subsistence, in order to make a profit by the sale of their work, or by what their labour adds to the value of the materials".

Smith differs from the mercantilists because he correctly does not derive profit from sale, from the fact that the commodity is sold above its value. Instead, value, meaning the quantity of labour that labourers add to the raw material, is divided into two parts, one of which pays for their wages and the other constituting the capitalist’s profit, a quantity of labour that the labourer sells and is not paid for. Therefore, if the capitalist sells a commodity at its value, that is, if he exchanges it for other commodities according to the law of value, his profit comes from the fact that he has not paid for a part of the labour contained in the commodity. Smith therefore refuted the view that the circumstance for which the entire product of one’s labour no longer belongs to the labourer would abolish the law under which the proportion in which commodities exchange with each other, that is, their exchange-value, is determined by the quantity of labour-time contained in them. However, to this determination of value he would add another, erroneous one, which equates the exchange of the finished product against money with that against labour. According to Smith’s theory, the part of capital that is made up of raw materials and means of production has nothing to do, directly, with the production of surplus-value. The latter comes exclusively from the additional quantity of labour that the labourer provides in surplus to the part constituting the equivalent of his wage. Therefore, it is solely from the part of capital advanced as wages that surplus-value arises, since it is the only part of capital that does not only reproduce itself but also produces a surplus. Profit, on the other hand, would arise from the total sum of the advanced capital. However, since Smith explains surplus-value correctly, but not explicitly in the form of a definite category, distinct from its particular forms, he immediately ends up confusing it with profit. This error will persist in Ricardo, and more markedly so, due to the fact that the latter elaborated the fundamental law of value with more systematic unity. This issue will be part of the following report.

David Ricardo

In this report we are dealing with the first of two reports having David Ricardo as their subject. Ricardian economic analysis is seen by the bourgeoisie as that of rampant capitalism in a rigid liberal scheme. The fundamental issue that runs through all of Ricardo’s work is the determination of the laws governing the distribution of value. Following Smith, Ricardo accepts the thesis that total supply and demand are equal, therefore, greater or lesser demand for a given commodity can raise or lower its market price, but variation, in a given branch of production, in one direction necessarily corresponds to a variation in the opposite direction in another branch.

Ricardo starts with the determination of the value of commodities by quantity of labour, but the character of labour is not examined further. The substance of commodities is labour; therefore, commodities are value. Their magnitude is different depending on whether they contain more or less of this substance.

Ricardo’s method is to start from the determination of the magnitude of value of the commodity by labour-time and then investigate whether the remaining relations, the economic categories, contradict this very determination of value or to what extent they modify it. Ricardo’s great historical significance is that he expressed the economic contrast between classes and, in economics, he grasped the root of their historical struggle and the latter’s development process.

In no case, however, does Ricardo treat surplus-value by separating and distinguishing it from its particular forms of profit and rent. Therefore, his considerations on the organic composition of capital are limited to the differences passed on by the physiocrats resulting from the circulation process (fixed and circulating capital), while he does not touch upon the differences of the organic composition within the production process. Hence his confusion between value and cost-price, his erroneous theory of rent, his erroneous laws on the causes of the rise and fall of the rate of profit, etc. In reality, profit and surplus-value are only identical in that the capital advanced is identified with the capital directly spent in wages. When we talk about Ricardo’s theory of surplus value, we are talking about his theory of profit since he confuses profit with surplus-value, and therefore considers the former only with reference to variable capital. It is so inherent to the nature of his theory that surplus-value is to be treated only with reference to variable capital that Ricardo treats the whole of capital as variable, as he abstracts from constant capital, although the latter is occasionally mentioned in the form of advances.

Regardless of the confusion between labour and capacity for labour, Ricardo correctly determines the value of labour, which is determined neither by the money nor the means of subsistence the labourer is given, but by the labour-time it costs to produce them. Since the value of labour is determined by the value of the necessary means of subsistence on which that value is to be spent; and the value of the commodities of first necessity, like that of all other commodities, is determined by the quantity of labour spent in them, it follows that the value of labour is equal to the value of the means of subsistence, equal to the quantity of labour spent in them.

But as exact as this formula is, nevertheless it is not sufficient. The individual labourer, in return for his wage, does not directly produce the products by which he lives, but commodities of the value of his means of subsistence. Therefore, if we consider his average daily consumption, the labour-time that is contained in his daily means of subsistence constitutes a portion of his working day. The commodity produced during this portion of the working day has the same value, i.e., equal labour-time, as that contained in his daily means of subsistence. Dependent on the latter’s value (and thus on the productiveness of social labour, not on the productiveness of the single branch he works in) is the size of the portion of his working day devoted to its reproduction of value. In capitalism, the value of labour is less than the value of the product it creates, the excess of the value of the product over the value of the wages equals surplus-value. Ricardo says profit, but identifies profit with surplus-value here. For him, it is a fact that the value of the product is greater than the value of wages. How this comes to be remains obscure. The length of the total working day is therefore erroneously assumed to be fixed, and erroneous consequences follow from it.

The increase or decrease in surplus-value can therefore be explained only by the increasing or decreasing productiveness of the social labour producing the means of subsistence. That is, only relative surplus-value is included.

If the labourer needed his whole day to produce his own means of subsistence, no surplus-value would be possible, hence no capitalist production and no wage-labour. For capitalist production to exist, the productiveness of social labour must be sufficiently developed so that there is some surplus of the total workday over the labour-time needed for the reproduction of the wages. However, if under a given labour-time the productiveness of labour can be very different, under a given productiveness labour-time can also be very different. If a certain development of the productiveness of labour must be presupposed in order for surplus labour to exist, the mere possibility of it does not make it a reality yet. The labourer must be compelled to work beyond that length, and this obligation is exercised by capital. This aspect is lacking in Ricardo, aspect from which arises the struggle for the normal working day.

The Ricardian theory of profit rests on the assertion that “that profits depend on wages, wages, under common circumstances, on the price of food, and necessaries, and the price of food and necessaries on the fertility of the last cultivated land”.

This way, rate of profit comes to be ultimately determined by the proportion in which the product of the worst land is divided between capitalists and labourers, and the decisive role of agricultural profits is justified in Ricardo by the fact that, under the simplified hypothesis in which all advanced capital consists of necessaries, the agricultural industry is in position to be self-sufficient, while other branches of industry must employ the former’s commodities as capital. The cultivation of worse land increases the price of grain because more labour is required to produce it, the increased price of grain raises monetary wages because labourers still have to buy the same amount of goods to survive. Since the price of industrial commodities does not increase, since the quantity of labour in them has not, the increased wages of the industrial labourers decrease the profits of the manufacturers.

Ricardo’s theory of development is an attempt to explain how the “the proportions in which the whole produce is divided between landlords, capitalists, and labourers” change as a result of accumulation, the latter being a determining factor in development itself but one that sets in motion forces capable of slowing down its pace until it is nullified.

In the next chapter we will deal precisely with the fall of the rate of profit and, consequently, with the periodic crises of overproduction.

(back to table of contents)

Historical Topics

History of the Profintern

The 2nd Congress

On July 1, 1922, Il Sindicato Rosso announced the forthcoming opening of the 2nd Congress of the Profintern, reporting the rules of representation of the National Centres and adhering trade union fractions, as well as an outline agenda, but subject to change.

The Congress was held simultaneously with the 4th Congress of the Communist International. The latter, in its December “Directives for Action”, had dealt comprehensively and in all aspects with the trade union question. From this fundamental document, in the exposition of the report, extensive quotations were read, which will be given in the extended publication.

The “Theses and Resolutions of the Second Congress of the Profintern” denounced the trade union bureaucracies which, in order to counteract the increasing shift of the masses to the left and reduce opposition to silence, resorted indiscriminately “to the expulsion of individuals and groups, even to the expulsion of several hundred thousand workers”

To counter this criminal action of the Amsterdam International, the Profintern gave the directive that at every workers’ meeting, in every workshop, in every factory, the question of the readmission of the expelled should be posed and by putting the question to the judgement of the broad masses.

Another organisation, ostensibly revolutionary but aimed at sabotaging trade union unity, was that of the anarcho-syndicalists who, in the name of a claimed autonomy from the parties, in fact joined the reformists in their splinter work.

The 2nd Congress of the Profintern focused on goals that were common to the international movement as a whole, thus mainly on practical issues: the United Front, trade union unity, organisation, and the relationship with the anarcho-syndicalists.

Of the proletarian masses adhering to or influenced by the Profintern, Lozovsky estimated a figure between 12 and 15 million, thus not less than Amsterdam, due to the fact that a third of their members sympathised with Moscow, while in the Profintern no one sympathised with Amsterdam.

The thorniest issue that the Congress had to face and resolve was that of the organic relationship between Comintern and Profintern, a relationship that the anarcho-syndicalist component refused to accept. United in this refusal were two currents within the anarcho-syndicalist movement: on the one hand, the “pure” anarchists, who wanted to found their own autonomous International, with a marked anti-communist and anti-Soviet orientation; on the opposite side, the revolutionary syndicalists, among whom there was a strong tendency which, placing itself entirely on the same platform as the communists and admitting the dictatorship of the proletariat, declared itself willing to remain within the Profintern if the close link between the Comintern and the Profintern was dissolved. This aspiration had taken shape especially in the resolutions of the Saint-Etienne Congress and the demands of the French delegation.

Thus it was that the 2nd Congress of the Profintern, in order to prevent further splits, abolished the article of the Statute that in effect bound and subordinated the labour International to the political International. By adopting that subordination, the congress wanted to end the debate between the Profintern and anarcho-syndicalist organisations. For greater clarity it addressed a manifesto to the anarcho-syndicalist organisations in all countries, inviting them to join the Profintern and work with workers in all countries for the liberation of the proletariat.

For their part, the revolutionary syndicalists of France and Italy responded by recording "the greatest satisfaction the unanimous vote of the 2nd Congress on the mutual relations between the two Internationals.… This understanding permits a greater development of the world proletarian movement and to shorten the hour of workers’ liberation…. Long live the dictatorship of the proletariat! Long live the Red Trade Union International!"

Having heard the Report of the Executive Bureau, the Congress approved:

1) The activity carried out for the realisation of the proletarian united front;

2) The repeated offers of joint action made to the Executive Bureau of the International in Amsterdam, which naturally fell on deaf ears;

3) The efforts made to regroup within the Profintern all anarcho-syndicalist organisations with a view to the common struggle against the bourgeoisie and reformism;

4) The opposition to the attempted establishment of a new anarchist international;

5) The recognition that a united reformist and anarchist front had been formed in struggle against both the Profintern and the Comintern and the revolution of Russia;

6) The need to strengthen the influence and role of the international industry committees for the concentration of all revolutionary forces in the labour movement;

7) Insufficient linkage between the Profintern member organisations and their Centre was admitted, but the realisation of permanent and systematic linkage between all organisations in view of future battles was envisaged.

To the word of the united front there were no objections whatsoever, and for its practical realisation it was stipulated that Profintern supporters should first:

1) Organise and conduct vigorous resistance to the offensive of capital;

2) Never lose sight that the main task lay in organising movements common to all workers’ groups;

3) Demonstrate unity, discipline, solidarity in the action of all revolutionary forces;

4) Intense work among the proletarian masses and in the workplaces and not the result of agreements between the trade union leadership.

Defence against the attacks of capital was to be based on elementary objectives that every worker could share: equal wages for men and women; struggle for the maintenance of the eight hours; in favour of the economic claims of youth and resistance to its use as a competitor to the adult proletariat; maintenance of trade union gains and their extension to women workers and maternity; benefits to the unemployed throughout the period of unemployment with equal benefits to men and women; systematic and organised struggle against the paramilitary groups of the bourgeoisie and the state, with arming of the proletariat; struggle for the abrogation of imperialist peace treaties and against attacks on Soviet Russia; against the exploitation and subjugation of the proletarian masses in the colonies, regardless of race.

One noteworthy aspect was the special attention the congress gave to the labour movements in colonial and semi-colonial countries, where:

[T]he class spirit is making itself more and more distinctly felt in this formidable revolutionary torrent. And the duty of the Profintern, like that of the Comintern, is to give this class movement an ever more precise and deeply revolutionary form, to penetrate it with a communist spirit so that it may achieve the maximum results in the struggle against foreign and domestic capital. The workers of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia approach the Profintern’s red flag because they read in it, "War to death on capitalism, in the name of working-class power!"

The 2nd Congress was mainly practical, dealing mainly with questions of organisation and activity. The general principles had already been established, so it merely approved the program of action drawn up at the 1st congress, which summarised the experience of the revolutionary trade union movement in all countries.

The Congress did not avoid serious consideration of the difficulties that the revolutionary trade union movement would force itself to overcome: tens of millions of proletarians still followed the reformists; millions were framed in Catholic, Democratic, and Protestant unions, while tens and tens of millions more were completely outside any organisation.

In the presence of a working class of which a very large part was embedded in organisations complicit with capitalism the SRI would need to adopt an appropriate program and tactics. The other, even more serious, aspect was the huge unorganised proletarian masses. It was determined:

Thus, the most important task of the coming period consists in the struggle for the regroupment of the dispersed workers, for the increase in the strength of the trade unions, for the attraction of the broad masses into the trade union organisations. Our watchword is: “No worker should be left out of the unions”. It is of the utmost importance to combat the theory that tends to justify the abandonment of trade unions in the name of revolutionary considerations…. Their propaganda must be vigorously combated…because social revolution is impossible without union-organised workers…. The broad masses can only be attracted into the trade unions through tireless and systematic work for the daily and practical demands and needs of the workers.

Another important problem considered was that of finance.

Undoubtedly, the Congress led to a consolidation of the Red Trade Union International which, unlike Amsterdam, rooted only in Europe and limitedly in North America, had since its inception established a large number of contacts in colonial and semi-colonial countries and at this second Congress was able to demonstrate its presence and activity in every part of the world.

After the 2nd Congress

Just as the Third International had arisen to combat and defeat the opportunism and treachery of the Second, so, in 1920, the creation of a revolutionary trade union International was deemed indispensable to defeat the Amsterdam International, which was closely linked to the interests of the bourgeoisie and international imperialism.

The directive given to the communists was to remain “at all costs” in the yellow unions in order to win their leadership. Their subsequent adherence to Moscow and abandonment of Amsterdam as the centre of the world trade union movement would be the precondition for the expansion of the revolution internationally.

The resolution on tactics passed at the founding congress of the Profintern in July 1921 declared that “the creation of this centre of the revolutionary trade union movement represents the starting point of a bitter struggle within the world trade union movement under the watchword: Moscow or Amsterdam.” “The break with Amsterdam constitutes for the national trade union centres a precondition for entry into the Red International.” However, in countries where the national organisation adhered to the Amsterdam International, “individual unions, federations and nationally organised minorities can belong to the Profintern while remaining in the old unions.” So, it condemned buzzwords such as “destruction of trade unions” or “out of trade unions”.

The aim was not to get the best and most conscious workers out of the unions by forming small organisations, but to remain in the old unions in order to “revolutionise them”.

One aspect in the previous reports not taken into consideration is that of the International Trade Union Federations and the International Propaganda Committees: we will have to talk about these because the issue and its attempted solution by Moscow would later mark a change in the line and perspective of the Profintern.

The structure of the Amsterdam Trade Union International (IFTU) was not based solely on the membership in it of the various national organisations, but also included international trade unions, that is, of particular categories of trade and industry that had their own secretariats and held periodic congresses. Of these organisations the most important were the International Federation of Metalworkers and the International Federation of Transport Workers.

Amsterdam had imposed the rule that only unions affiliated with it were admitted to the Internationals. Thus, a national union adhering to the Profintern could not have been a member unless it left Moscow to join the Yellow International. The Profintern’s line was not to provoke splits, nor to create new craft Red Internationals, i.e., it maintained the same position it had taken toward the national trade union centres.

In practice, the problem arose when the Russian trade unions asked to be part of the respective craft Internationals. Should the Russians in particular have left Moscow to link up with Amsterdam? This topic will be taken up and developed more fully in the extended report.

The report given at the previous general meeting had focused on the 2nd Congress of the Profintern and especially on its most distinctive achievement, that of the dissolution of the organic link between the two Moscow Internationals: the political and the trade union. Linkage that had been enshrined in the Statute of the founding congress.

It is of December ’21 in France the split in the trade union movement and the creation of the CGTU, which made it a condition for its adherence to the Profintern that the organic link with the Communist International be severed. Concessions to the anarcho-syndicalists were not few and were not limited to minor changes in the Statute.

Then Articles 4 and 11 were read by comparing the original texts with the amended ones. In addition, other minor changes had been made to the “Conditions of Membership in the Profintern” and to the “Relations between the Profintern and the Comintern”.

In response to Monmousseau, who, in the name of the old French anarcho-syndicalist tradition, had made it a condition that the close link between the two Internationals be broken, the Italian Tresso replied by stating that the tradition invoked by the French syndicalists was a dangerous remnant of a petty-bourgeois mentality, demonstrating the need for the close alliance with the political party. He then affirmed the Italian Communists’ opposition to making changes to the statutes.

The last speech on this agenda item was by Zinoviev, the representative of the Comintern, who, after a lengthy introduction, concluded by declaring that the organisational details, after all, would not be so important since, he said, “the French labour movement is worth more to us than a dozen theoretical constructions”. When “practical matters” take precedence over principles even the most classic quotations can be used in the wrong way.

Of course, what was proposed at the 2nd Congress of the Profintern was nothing more than an echo of the decisions already made by the 4th Congress of the Communist International, which were opposed by the representative of the Italian Left, who would later recall:

At the 4th Congress we opposed for reasons of principle a concession that was being made to the revolutionary syndicalists when they wanted to change the statutes of the Profintern and renounce an organic link between the Comintern and the Red Trade Union International. This, in my view was a question, from the Marxist point of view, of decisive importance. When this concession was made I said, this concession will necessarily lead to other concessions in the trade union field. Just as today this important concession is made to the left, to the anarcho-syndicalist tendencies, so tomorrow concessions will have to be made to the right-wing syndicalists, that syndicalist tendency which under the two different forms of the left and the right represents the identical, ever-recurring anti-Marxist obstacle in our path.

And, as we shall see, concessions to the “right” were not long in coming.

In June 1924, at the opening of the 5th Congress of the Comintern (which was followed by the 3rd of the Profintern), the foreign delegates were faced with an unexpected surprise: in the name of the united front and proletarian unity, the dissolution of the Profintern and membership in Amsterdam was proposed. The embarrassing and contradictory reasons for the project of this new tactic were repeatedly withdrawn and resubmitted in disguised form. Of course, there was continued talk of betrayal by the Amsterdam leaders, but, at the same time, emphasis was given to the emergence of a left-wing current within it that had recently raised the issue of the admission of Russian trade unions into the craft internationals. It was stated that the international unity of the trade union movement “would be re-established by convening a world congress at which all unions affiliated either with the Amsterdam International or the Red International of Trade Unions would be represented on a proportional basis.”

Against the criticism of the project of the new trade union tactics Zinoviev intervened by appealing to Lenin’s authority: “Leninism in the trade unions means struggle against schism in the trade unions”; and again, “The true Leninist left is always to be found where the workers are.: Finally, he admitted, “Social democracy has been partly consolidated, even in the trade union sphere. We must now fight it by resorting to indirect ways, which are slower and more arduous. This is the new fact that you do not want to understand.”

It was said that the merger of the two Internationals would be possible only if supported by the thrust of a movement from below of the working masses, and that the Russian trade unions would remain an integral part of the Profintern, and in their separate negotiations with Amsterdam would regard themselves simply as agents of the Profintern and carry on its tactics without pursuing any kind of policy independent of it.

It was proposed that an “international commission” be appointed that would “visit England and Amsterdam in order to study the situation of the labour movement and, possibly, begin negotiations with Amsterdam.”

The question of relations with the English trade unions we shall have to deal with accurately later, now suffice it to say that Lozovsky would shortly thereafter explain that since “the trade unions of the USSR form the basis and foundation of the Profintern, and the English trade unions the basis and foundation of the Amsterdam International”, an Anglo-Soviet agreement would pave the way for an understanding between the two Internationals. At the Comintern’s 5th Congress, a new question arose: “through which door the proletarian revolution could enter England: whether through the Communist Party or through the trade unions.”

The representative of the Italian Left retorted that "for our tactics in England it is extremely important that not all our attention and that of the proletariat be directed exclusively to the left-wing labour movement. We must never forget about the party, even if it is a small party today; we must always emphasise that it, in the development of the social crisis in England and in the course of the struggle, will necessarily have to be the guide of the proletariat and the general staff of the revolution".

The whole new trade union approach expressed at the 5th Congress of the Comintern was reiterated at the 3rd Congress of the Profintern, which opened on July 8, 1924.

Bukharin, bringing greetings from the Comintern, insisted that the conquest of the trade unions constituted “a matter of life and death", stating that the appearance of a left wing in the FSI represented “one of the most important facts of our political life”.

After a brief introductory report by Lozovsky, the question of trade union unity was divided into three parts: 1) on the national level; 2) in the craft internationals; and 3) international unity at the highest level between the Profintern and IFTU.

The outspoken position of the Italian Left on the serious trade union problem is evident:

We reaffirm our opposition to the union split. However, we are not in favour of the current manoeuvres to merge the two trade union internationals because, since the Communist International needs a centre of concentration of the communist trade union forces, and since it has already solved the problem with the creation of the Profintern, instead of the establishment of a trade union section of the Comintern, we do not see the revolutionary reasons that advise such a radical revision of tactics, because we reconfirm that Amsterdam has the function of an agency of the bourgeoisie.

At this point we summarise the evolution of the trade union line, which developed in parallel within the Communist International and the Profintern.

1) At the time of the 2nd Congress of the Comintern (1920) it had been proposed to give certain leftist trade union organisations the opportunity to take part in the Comintern congresses. Naturally, the Italian Communists opposed the admission of trade unions into the world congresses of political parties.

2) At the 3rd Congress a different solution to the problem was proposed; it was decided to found the Profintern, in clear antithesis to Amsterdam. Watchword: “Moscow versus Amsterdam!”

3) At the 4th Congress, to pander to the demands of the French anarcho-syndicalists, the “organic relationship” between Comintern and Profintern was dissolved.

4) At the 5th Congress, the unification of the two Trade Union Internationals was proposed, where the Communists would act as a fraction.

The simplistic objection put to us was, “if in matters of tactics you are for the united front then you must be for unity in matters of organisation”. To this objection we used to reply that we work for union unity at the national level, to penetrate the unions, root ourselves in them and win the broad masses to our influence, knowing that these organisations are destined to play an important role both in the struggle for the seizure of power and thereafter. But when it comes to the international movement the question presents itself differently because, while national unions and confederations, even when they are run by opportunists, still remain proletarian organisations, internationals are a different matter altogether, performing only a political function. The Amsterdam Trade Union International was not a mass proletarian organisation, but an instrument of the bourgeoisie, in close contact with the International Labour Office and the League of Nations, organs that cannot be conquered by the proletariat and its revolutionary party.

The representative of the Italian Left denounced the fact that the International has successively changed the conception of relations between political and economic bodies in the world framework, and in this it is an important example of the method which, instead of deriving contingent actions from principles, improvises new and different theories to justify actions suggested by apparent convenience and ease of execution and immediate success.

(back to table of contents)

* * *

The Course of the Global Economy

The Course of the Economic Crisis

After the 2017-18 recovery, in 2019 a new economic recession hit capital’s global accumulation. The pandemic exacerbated the recession as anti-Covid measures were adopted by some countries. Thanks to the massive economic support measures taken by various states and central banks, 2020 was followed by a vigorous recovery of the industrial production, not fully offsetting, however, the decline of the previous two years.

The recovery in industrial production has been accompanied by general disorganisation, especially in terms of logistics, due to the “just-in-time” approach taken by all companies and the relocation of part of the production to countries with low labour costs, requiring a constant flow of commodities out of them.

To boost production and ensure the development of new technologies, the United States, following the “New Deal” model, launched extended plans amounting to several trillion dollars to boost consumption, technological development and renew obsolete infrastructure. Europe has followed the same path, sizing, however, its support plan according to its possibilities, that is, on a smaller scale.

As usual, we began our overview on the state of industrial production in the major imperialist countries by starting with the United States.

The first graph displayed at the meeting, which plots the annual increments in industrial production, shows a decrease in 2019 and 2020 (minus 0.8 and minus 7.2 percent, respectively) and the following recovery during 2021, with a 5.6% growth for the year. That makes 2021’s production lower than 2019’s by 2 percentage points.

Plotting 2021’s increments by month, we see a strong recovery early in the year, followed by an abrupt slowdown, a result visible in the industrial production graphs of other countries. However, unlike other Western imperialist countries, growth rates in the US remain relatively strong, such that in 2022, based on the first quarter’s increments, industrial production can be expected to exceed 2019’s level by about 2 percent.

The following tables showed that in 2018 the United States exceeded its 2007 peak by 1.5%, before falling to negative 1.4% in 2021. As mentioned above, the overcome of the 2007 peak was due to the mining industry, that is, essentially hydrocarbons. On the other hand, manufacturing industry was still far behind: -8.3% in 2021, compared to 2019’s -7.7%.

In conclusion, this last “New Deal” made no miracles. We know that the effects of the New Deal between the two world wars were short-lived as by 1938 recession had made a comeback. It was only due to World War II that the American productive machine experienced exceptional growth. Let us turn to Japan and Germany. Both charts show the same curve with a sharp slowdown after the peak, followed by a series of negative increments, especially for Germany, such that output for both countries remains below the levels reached in 2019, which were already recessionary.

This was illustrated by a table, which in addition to Japan, includes the major European countries. Compared to 2019, 2021 saw drops ranging from Spain’s 2.9% to Germany’s 5.7%. The United Kingdom, with its 0.9% increase, is the one exception, however, that is due to the manipulation of the indexes. In fact, the British government wants to make people believe that the “Brexit” is having a positive effect on Britain, but on the contrary, it is causing problems to its industry and especially to small and medium-sized enterprises when it comes to importing and exporting to the European continent. Great Britain has never been able to exceed the level of production reached in the year 2000. Since then, the industrial production index, apart from that recent review, has never exceeded that high.

Now, if we compare 2021’s level of production with the maximum reached in 2007, the gap is huge: we have -17.8% for Japan, -19.1%for Italy, -12.2% for France, et cetera. Germany, which in 2018 exceeded its 2008 high by 8.2%, finds itself with a -5.7%. In Europe, the only countries that have exceeded their 2007 or 2008 highs are younger capitalisms such as Poland, Hungary and even Belgium. In Asia, the same conversation is to be had with a country like South Korea.

It is difficult to get reliable data on China. We used gross electricity production to trace the course of capital accumulation in industry. The annual curve shows a strong recovery in 2021 with a 9.2 percent increase after 2020’s decrease.

Using monthly indexes, we have a better representation of the course of capital accumulation in China. We find a curve displaying a strong recovery early, certainly overestimated, followed by a sharp slowdown, ending on a negative increment in the month of December.

It is well known that in 2019 Chinese capitalism was in recession when it came to many of its industries: construction, automotive, et cetera. It probably still is today. And the drastic restraining measures, given their extent, definitely play a role in the political control over the population. 2021 saw many strikes in which workers succeeded in their demands. Strikes, demonstrations and even riots are quite common in China.

The next curve is about the annual production of electricity in South Korea.

It reflects very well the sharp slowdown in capital accumulation, as can be seen by the average annual increments in industrial production according to different cycles. We go from a 17.6% average annual increase for the 1954-1979 cycle, to 9.4% for the next one (1979-1997), to 7.5% (1997-2007), to end with a 2.8% increase for the current cycle.

The oil production table shows that the United States remains the largest producer, with 562 million tons, compared to Russia’s 488 million and Saudi Arabia’s 455 million. The latter two could, if they wanted, increase their production, but they deliberately keep it low to keep prices high. This is the law of monopolies. This explains the high price of both gasoline and diesel as production is kept slightly below market demand. This is clearly seen in the last column, where production is well below the level reached in 2019, as increments, apart from Canada, range from -7 to -13 percent!

For natural gas, however, there is no such differential: compared to 2019, increments range from Norway’s -2.3% to Russia’s +3.6%. The UK registers a 17.2% drop, but that is due to the fact that its wells are running out.

High gas prices cannot be explained by a shortage of crude oil, rather by the short-sightedness of neo-liberal capitalism operating on the just-in-time principle. Because of it, as winter gas reserves were at their lowest, everyone rushed to buy natural gas in the middle of winter, and under heavy speculation by the wholesalers. Especially since Russia, despite the ongoing war, never cut gas off during this winter, not even from Ukraine. It has cut off Finland, just now, as a retaliatory measure.

The countries on the Atlantic coast, Spain, France, and England, import liquefied natural gas from Qatar and the United States. France, to get rid of Russian gas (which accounts for only 17% of its imports) has increased liquefied gas imports from the United States.

A table showing the exports of the main imperialist countries was also presented. It can be seen that, in 2021, for all countries except China, which has become the workshop of the world, exports, in current dollars, are significantly lower than in 2019. The drop ranges from UK’s 15.3 percent to South Korea’s 5.5 percent.

Because of high raw material prices, partly due to years of under-investment, many economists predict a new recession by the end of the year. As soon as the Federal Reserve started raising rates, many central banks wanted to follow suit. The last time they did so was in 2018. However, early in 2019, due to the recession and that winter’s stock market crash, they had to backtrack, returning to quantitative easing. But they cannot turn back the clock and return to the pre-2008 situation. They would face a catastrophe. Banks will go through the same process this time too, however, ending quantitative easing and raising interest rates can only be temporary. Since 1990, the Central Bank of Japan has never been able to get out of it.

Let us turn to Russia. We showed two graphs, one representing the annual manufacturing output, the other the production of electricity. Another table showed the average annual increments, by cycles, in industrial and manufacturing output.

Both graphs show the 2020 recession, followed by a strong recovery then a sharp slowdown. The table shows that after the terrible recession of the 1990s, industrial production recovered. However, investments have been destined mainly to the mining industry, which accounts for most of Russia’s exports, while its manufacturing output is still lagging behind, a minus 17.3 percent from its 1990 peak.

Therein lies the problem, as its manufacturing production depends on many components made in Europe and the United States. Following the thawing of Russian-American relations, many European and American companies invested in the Russian manufacturing industry. For example, the Russian automotive industry is primarily an assembly industry with more than 50 percent of the components made in Western Europe. Many high-tech components, including of course electronic chips, are not produced in Russia.

As a result of sanctions, European and American companies have withdrawn from the Russian market, putting many workers on technical strike. For the time being, Russia is holding up well thanks to gas and oil revenues. The drastic reduction in imports and strict exchange controls have allowed the rouble to recover 25 percent against the dollar and the central bank to slightly lower the discount rate, which had risen to 20%! The inflation rate, depending on the product, is between 18 and 23 percent! The crisis in Russia is coming and will be felt strongly.

The Course of World Capitalism

Following the 2019-2020 recession, which the anti-Covid-19 measures exacerbated, both 2021 and 2022 were characterised by chaos, inflation, and rising interest rates. The drought, Ukraine’s invasion, and in particular the soaring prices of raw materials and energy (at their peak, the price of methane rose 20 times and the price of electricity 10) caused the increase of the cost of grain.

The rise in prices of raw materials and energy is mainly due to the under-investment of the last decades, after the collapse of their price on the world market. Here, in all its beauty, is the chaotic nature of the course of capitalism. Adding to the big picture, as always, is speculation, mainly because for speculators, with inflation, money stays cheaper.

In this context, taking into account the heavy indebtedness of states and businesses, we could have expected, as bourgeois economists feared, a brutal world recession. But what happened? Depending on the country, we only see either a sharp slowdown in their growth rates or a mild recession, especially in European countries, with the exception of the United Kingdom. The hardest hit countries are the Asian ones: China, Japan, and South Korea. This is evidenced by their sharp decline in imports and exports.

We began our overview with the United States. Industrial growth rates, driven by the mining industry and its oil and shale gas record breaking production, are quite strong, with monthly increases of 5.0%, 3.3% and 2.5% since September. However, these figures indicate a clear slowdown. If we refer to the manufacturing output, the slowdown is even more pronounced. Since September, monthly growth rates read +3.8%, +2.4% and +1.2%. In 2023 we can therefore expect negative increments in the manufacturing output.

The year 2022 marked an improvement for manufacturing. In 2021, the annual manufacturing output was -8.3% compared to 2007. In 2022, minus 5.5%. A small recovery, then, but one that will probably disappear in 2023. It should be noted that there has been a sharp decline in inflation for several months now. As of December, it has decreased by 5% on an annual basis.

Japan: after the strong recovery of the first half of 2021, which partly offset 2020’s decline in output, increments from September 2021 onward have mostly been negative, such that 2022 was a recession year. Its industrial output was a minus 18.6% compared to 2007. It was -17.8% in 2021.

Germany, along with Belgium, was the only major European country to have surpassed its 2008 peak. But as of 2019, like most states, it is once again in recession and its gains have disappeared.

2022 scored a minus 1.6% compared to the 2008 peak. It was -5,7% in 2021, a small improvement. However, after scoring positively in August and September, Germany is once again trending towards a zero percent growth rate.

The U.K. has been in a strong recession since October 2021. For the year 2021 the industrial output was a minus 5,7% compared to its 2000 peak. It has since fallen to -9% in 2022, approaching 2020’s -10%. In addition to the soaring energy and commodity prices, the UK’s economic situation has clearly worsened as a result of Brexit. The recession, coupled with inflation, has severely worsened the living conditions of the British proletariat, prompting numerous strikes and demonstrations throughout the country.

France alternates between feeble negative and positive increments, so its situation has not changed since 2021. But we can see that it has worsened compared to 2019 as it went from that year’s -7.5% from the 2007 peak to 2022’s -12.4%. France is therefore in recession again.

Italy had a small recovery in 2022 compared to 2021, sitting at a minus 18.5% from its 2007 peak, a little better than 2021’s -19.1%. Thus, in 2022 Italy went back to its 2019 level. Note, however, that all the monthly increments – August aside – have been negative since June 2022. 2023 is thus expected to be worse

South Korea had fairly strong growth rates, at least until July 2022. Since then, monthly increments have declined and entered negative territory.

China, as is well known, suffered a strong recession in 2015-16, leading to a flight of capital and loss of currency. As everywhere else, there was a recovery over the 2017-18 span, then recession hit again in 2019 manifesting itself in the crisis of the real estate industry – which accounts for a quarter of China’s output – and the consumer sector, in particular with declining car sales, despite China becoming by far the largest car market in the world. This recession has been exacerbated by the anti-Covid measures and the rise of unemployment.

The graph shown at the meeting displays China’s imports and therefore the strength of its domestic market. The graph displayed China’s strong recovery from December 2020 to February 2022 as the health emergency was coming to an end, then the staggering slump to December’s -17.2%. After the huge accumulation of capital of the 1990s, the 2008-2009 global crisis led to an abrupt slowdown that resulted in the 2015-2016 recession, then the one China has been experiencing since 2019. Hence the Chinese delegate’s attempts to bring China closer to the United States during the Davos Forum, held Jan. 17-20 this year.

Finally, we looked at exports. In recent months the slowdown in exports is evident, however what is particularly noteworthy is the spectacular decline in exports from Asian countries – China, South Korea, and Japan. The latter, not surprisingly, has seen its exports in the red since April of last year (about -5%). But most noticeable is, after a strong slowdown, the spectacular fall of China and South Korea’s exports: -15% for the latter and -17% for the former!

Actually, three groups can be distinguished: in addition to the Asian countries, a group is the one consisting of Germany, France, England, and Italy, which all have a similar trend. Above them are the United States and Belgium. But all show a clear slowdown in exports.

To sum up: all the conditions are ripe for a serious global crisis of overproduction. The level of indebtedness of states, households and businesses is high, industrial production in most major countries is well below the peak reached in 2007. World capitalism has managed to avoid a severe deflation, as the one in 1929, thanks to the formidable accumulation of capital in Southeast Asia, especially in China, however, that is coming to an end as China itself is in a crisis of overproduction.

The financial weapon initially used by central banks, “quantitative easing”, has exacerbated inflation. The resulting rise in interest rates now risks causing a chain of bankruptcies. So far, governments and businesses have managed to repay their debts by borrowing again in the market, but at the same time debt continues to grow, making these stunts increasingly dangerous. Adding to it are the trillion dollars debts of the “shadow finance system”, which are out of control and include $96 trillion in derivatives. It is precisely in the derivatives market that Britain’s pension funds have been in danger of collapsing. Only the vigorous intervention of the Bank of England could prevent the general bankruptcy of the British workers’ pension funds.

Sooner or later the fall of some dominoes will lead to a general collapse. Will it be this year, or next year, or the year after that? That we cannot know, but the future of capitalism is sealed.

(back to table of contents)

* * *

The Origins of the Communist Party of China

The Second Congress

The Second Congress of the Communist Party of China was held in Shanghai starting on July 10, 1922. Nine official delegates were present, representing the 123 members that the Party counted then.

The documents of the Congress critically examine the international situation and the affairs that had characterised the imperialist aggression towards China, giving major emphasis to the aspects of the struggle against imperialism, then passing into the second level of the 10th June Manifesto, which was principally concentrated on the internal political conditions of China.

The aggression of the imperialists fits into the necessity of world capitalism to pillage colonies and semi-colonies of their resources and exploit their labour. China was a country rich in raw materials and with an extremely large population, which rendered it a battleground of the various [imperialist] powers. The internal political situation was characterised by the presence of warlords, who imperialists used to control Chinese politics and economic life. For eleven years, from the birth of the Republic, China was crossed by the civil war that provoked an unstable division in the country. Without the overthrow of military oppression and imperialism, China would never have reached her unity and the civil war would never have ended.

Analysing the social forces of the national revolution, the report highlighted how the Chinese bourgeoisie were born as an appendage of foreign capitalism that, arrived in China, could not work independently, but had to ask for help from Chinese merchants. In this way, the comprador bourgeoisie was formed, which acted as an intermediary on behalf of foreign capitalists and joined them in the exploitation of China. In this context, the start of the first stage of industrialisation of China was possible.

A great opportunity for development for the Chinese bourgeoisie came with the First World War, which let to 1) the slackening of the economic penetration of European and American products and 2) the boycotts of Japanese goods. But at the end of the way further development of the Chinese bourgeoisie was hampered by the aggressive return of the imperialists who, in defence of their businesses, relied on the warlords. Given that situation, according to the 10th June Manifesto, “the young Chinese bourgeoisie, in order to prevent economic oppression, must rise up and struggle against international capitalist imperialism”. The anti-Japanese movement of 1919 had demonstrated that the young Chinese bourgeoisie were able to unite against imperialism and the corrupt government in Beijing, while the government in Canton was considered the medium of the enlightened bourgeoisie.

Beyond the judgement on the role of the Chinese bourgeoisie in the revolution, it was correctly affirmed that the most important factor of the revolutionary movement consisted of the three hundred million Chinese peasants, who lived in a condition of general poverty due to the lack of land, the civil wars, banditry, [and] the pressure of foreign products. The peasants could be divided into three groups: the big landowners and the rich peasants; the farmers who farmed their land and tenant farmers; and the dailies. The poorest of the second group and all those of the third constituted 95% of the total. Only the revolution could lift them out of this condition of misery and revolutionary victory could only be achieved through their alliance with the working class.

As a cause of the invasion of foreign goods, artisans and small business owners also fell into poverty, and the more national capitalism developed the more their poverty increased. The assessment was that given this condition, the petty bourgeoisie would also be join the revolutionary struggle. Then there was the working class, which was developing. The Great Seamen’s Strike of Hong Kong and other strikes in the rest of the country demonstrated the strength of the proletariat. Workers’ organisations were also establishing themselves.

Given China’s economic and political conditions, it was decided to side with the National Revolutionary movement, as the International had resolved for the backward countries at its Second Congress.

In another congressional document, regarding the decision to unite with the national revolutionary struggle, shows how this decision was based on the assessment of being in the period between feudalism and capitalism (“democracy” in the congressional text). China was under the dominion of feudalist militarists and to the outside it was a semi-independent country controlled by imperialist powers. In this period, says the document, “It is inevitable for the bourgeoisie to struggle against feudalism.” Since the proletariat was unable to lead the revolutionary struggle on its own, it would have to join the anti-feudal struggle.

Already in the Russian Revolution the Bolsheviks had demonstrated to be false the Menshevik thesis that in the bourgeois revolution the proletariat had only to support the liberal bourgeoisie, which tends to a compromise with the feudalist classes and institutions, but they had stated, and with success demonstrated in deeds, that the slogan of the proletariat was that of alliance with the peasants of the democratic revolution, which could transcend into permanent revolution, of the working class alone.

Such a perspective was not delineated with clarity by the CPC, lacking in the documents of the second congress of the Party a clear conception of the role of the classes in democratic revolution, such as that which was awaiting China

In this phase, however, the decisions of the second congress of the CPC, although outlining a theoretical system that left room for a possible affirmation of the Menshevik tactic of revolution in stages, had the aim of incorporating the correct revolutionary tactic as it had been established by the second congress of the International of the union of the proletarian revolution in the mature capitalist countries with the national revolutions in backward countries like China.

Despite a certain weakness from the theoretical point of view, the Chinese Party had the merit of remaining firm on the necessity of preserving the political independence of the proletariat in the national revolution.

Later, theories about the anti-feudal character of the Chinese revolution and the revolutionary nature of the national bourgeoisie as a whole would be used to justify the open betrayal of the working class and would be used to push through the tactic of alliance with Kuomintang, which would be realised with the submission of the proletariat to the Chinese bourgeoisie party, a process that began during ’22, and was fully realised in ’24.

But at the second congress the proposal by Maring for the entry of the communists into the Kuomintang was not even taken into consideration, instead a solution emerged which was based only on the cooperation between the two parties. There was imagined, still in vague terms, but already quoting the Kuomintang, a cooperation with the liberal bourgeoisie, supporting Sun Yat-Sen’s party “from the outside”.

To this was added the proposal of a so-called “Democratic Alliance”, which would have involved unionised workers together with members of farmers’ organisations, traders, teachers, students, women, and journalists, as well as parliamentary deputies sympathetic to communism. In this way the communists seemed to want to create a broad “democratic alliance”, which in practice would have replaced the front between the CPC and the Kuomintang, not considered as the only revolutionary party in China. For its part, the Kuomintang did not support this initiative, which completely collapsed as soon as, the day after the Party congress, Maring’s return to China made the tactic of Communist entry into the Kuomintang prevail.

Work in the labour movement was still seen as the principal objective of the CPC, busy promoting an independent class movement.

Even if the Chinese conditions determined the necessity of the realisation of a front of all the revolutionary forces, in particular of the movement guided by Sun Yat-Sen, this front was considered as a temporary union between the proletariat and the peasants, on the one side, and the revolutionary bourgeoisie on the other. But it was clear to the young party that the commitment to national emancipation did not mean to capitulate to the bourgeoisie. From the congressional documents:

The proletariat must not forget its own independent organisation during this struggle. And it is very important that workers organise themselves in the communist party and in the unions. All the workers must always remember that they are an independent class, that they must discipline themselves to prepare for organisation and struggle, that they must prepare the peasants to join them and organise soviets to attain complete emancipation.

The Directives of the ECCI and the Plenum of August 1922

The Second Congress of the CPC in July of 1922 had accepted what was established at the Second Congress of the International on the tactics to be adopted in the national and colonial question, with which the Chinese communists had been able to familiarise themselves only with the participation of their delegates at the Congress of communists and of revolutionary organisations of the Far East at the start of 1922.

However, there were not lacking still profound divisions on the questions of the tactics to follow with respect to the national-revolutionary movement, in particular on the question of collaboration with the Kuomintang. The Party planned to march alongside the KMT, still considered a national-revolutionary party. But at its second congress it [the Party] did not discuss the formula proposed by Maring of an “internal bloc” with the KMT, with the communists who would have had to enter the party to carry out the revolutionary work from inside, going, in the idea of Maring – evidently drawn on the experience he had gained in Indonesia – of forming a left wing inside.

Thus, although the question of tactics with respect to the national revolutionary was anything other than definitively settled, the conclusion of the second congress did not leave any doubts about the proposal advocated by Maring, which simply was not adopted.

Maring had, however, obtained from the ECCI at Moscow a sort of green light for his line. On the 18 July, 1922, in fact, the ECCI had formally endorsed some of Maring’s recommendations on China in a document, probably drafted by Radek, in which the Chinese communists were instructed to move their headquarters to Canton and to carry out their work in close contact with Maring, while another document identified Maring as the representative of the Comintern and the Profintern in southern China, valid until September 1923.

The movement of the seat of the Party to Canton, if justified by the fact that there was less repression in southern China, certainly went with the declarations of Maring, who in the report presented to the International on the situation in China had indicated in the Cantonese area an environment more favourable for the development of a revolutionary movement given the present and the strength exercised there by the KMT. Consequently, this decision also took on the significance of a political choice in flavor of closer cooperation with the Kuomintang.

However, there was no written statement in which the International agreed and outlined to China the tactics of communist militants joining the Kuomintang.

The ECCI, however, produced an additional document, Instructions for the ECCI Representative in South China, with which it set out the line to be taken by the Chinese Communists. The document also contained the following directions:

II) The Executive Committee sees the Kuomintang Party as a revolutionary organisation, which maintains the character of the 1912 revolution and seeks to establish an independent Chinese republic. Therefore, the task of the communist elements in China should be as follows: a) The education of ideologically independent elements, which should form the core of the Chinese Communist Party in the future; b) This party shall grow in accordance with the growing division between bourgeois–petty bourgeois and proletarian elements. Until then, communists are obliged to support the Kuomintang Party and especially that wing of the party representing the proletarian and manual labour elements.

III) For the fulfilment of these tasks the communists must organise groups of adherents to communism in the Kuomintang and also in the trade unions.

The instructions of the International’s top leadership, if not an explicit endorsement of Maring’s line, contain quite a few elements of ambiguity with respect to the correct revolutionary approach that had been established at the Second Congress of the International, elements that, however, once developed opened the way for opportunism.

Even from the ECCI document, there seemed to emerge a conviction on the part of the leadership of the International of the inconsistency of the young Chinese party, so much so that it was identified among the main tasks of the Communists in China to educate elements who would in the future form the nucleus of the CPC, practically as if the Party had yet to be formed. From this came the decision to force the Communists to support the Kuomintang, and a formula was introduced which, in the course of subsequent events, would be on more than one occasion detrimental to the fortunes of the revolution in China, which was to support that "wing" of the Kuomintang that was believed to represent the "proletarian elements". For the first time, the theory was emerging that within the party of the Chinese bourgeoisie a "left wing", a faction willing to represent the aspirations of the proletariat, could be identified, which had to be supported and strengthened through the work of the communists.

In any case, as early as mid-1922, the International gave the Chinese Communists the instruction to “organise communist groups of followers in the Kuomintang”, which in essence was what Maring proposed and was rejected by the Chinese Communists, as it could only be carried out with work by communist militants in the nationalist party.

To overcome resistance within the Communist Party of China, Maring convened the Hangzhou Plenum, probably between August 28 and 30, 1922.

Different recollections were given by some of the participants on this important meeting. In all likelihood, Maring would have used the “Instructions for the ECCI Representative in South China” as an endorsement by the International of his tactics. To crush the opposition, Maring would have invoked the authority of the Communist International, urging participants to submit to its discipline. Under such pressure, the CCP leadership voted unanimously for the tactic of entry into the Kuomintang.

It was only by imposing the discipline of the International that Maring was able to change the position previously taken by the CPC, and make them embrace the bourgeoisie in a tactical alliance that was realised by the formation of a communist “inner bloc” in the Kuomintang.

The Hangzhou Plenum thus marks the beginning of that decisive period in relations between the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang, at the end of which, at the Third Party Congress, the Chinese communists would definitively surrender the banner of revolution in China to the Kuomintang, which would then become the central force in the national revolution. The Communists would go to work for the party of the Chinese bourgeoisie, giving up the political and organisational independence of the Party, and end up tied to the bourgeois leadership and discipline of the Kuomintang.

After using them, it will go on to the brutal liquidation of proletarian and communist forces.

The Question of Communist Adherence to the Kuomintang

In early September 1922, the first communists, including Chen Duxiu, were admitted to the Kuomintang and from that time began to participate in the reorganisation of the Nationalist Party. Meanwhile, between September and December, envoys of Sun Yat-sen were conducting a series of discussions with Joffe on possible Soviet military assistance. It was in this context, which saw the beginning of the implementation of Maring’s advocated tactic of communist entry into the Kuomintang, that the Fourth Congress of the International was held in November ’22.

Of particular interest was the report of Chinese delegate Lin-Yen-Chin, who outlined the political situation in China and the situation of the class struggle, which was considered particularly positive as a vast strike movement had unfolded during 1922, foreseeing the development of the Communist Party. He then dwelt on its tasks, identifying them as the united front with the Kuomintang, achieved by the individual entry of Communists into the Nationalist Party:

Our Party, bearing in mind that the anti-imperialist united front must be established to expel imperialism from China, has decided to establish a united front between us and the Nationalist Revolutionary Party: the Kuomintang. The form of this united front envisages us joining the party with our individual names and capabilities.

Thus was announced the beginning of the ill-fated tactic of infiltrating the Kuomintang, justified under the illusion that it could wrest influence from the nationalists over the masses. These were the first steps that would lead the CPC and the proletariat in China to submit to the leadership and discipline of the party of the Chinese bourgeoisie, all under the leadership of the International, which was beginning to show the first dangerous swerves from the correct revolutionary path.

Radek’s speech on the eastern question described a much less favourable situation than the one he envisioned at the time of the Second Congress in 1920. Radek disagreed with the Chinese delegate’s optimistic tones about the prospects for the party’s development in China, highlighting the backwardness of the revolutionary movement in the eastern countries. Hence, just as in the West, the watchword of “going to the masses” should have been launched and the opportunity to link up with any force capable of playing an anti-imperialist role deduced from this, which implied inextricably linking up with bourgeois factions that would inevitably go on the offensive against the revolutionary movement.

The young communist parties compromised themselves with bourgeois forces, which at that time performed an anti-imperialist function. It would not be a few months before the illusion of being able to use such parties collided with the reality of the violent armed repression of the movement and the railroad workers’ organisation in February 1923.

But the directives that the leadership of the International directed to the CPC were the result of a negative evaluation of the party’s strength, which was considered to be far away from having established links with the masses. Thus, Radek outlined the tasks of Chinese communists:

The first task of the Chinese comrades is to focus on what the Chinese movement is capable of. Comrades, you must understand that neither the victory of socialism nor the establishment of a Soviet republic is on the agenda in China. Unfortunately, even the issue of national unity has not yet historically been on the agenda in China. What we are experiencing in China is reminiscent of the 18th century in Europe, in Germany, where the development of capitalism was still so weak that it had not yet given rise to a single unifying national centre…. Capitalism is beginning to develop in a number of different centres. With a population of over 300 million, without railways, how could it be different? We have broad prospects, which you should support with all the fire of your young communist convictions. In spite of this, our task is to unify the real forces that are forming in the working class with two objectives: first, to organise the young working class and, second, to establish a right relationship between it and the objectively revolutionary bourgeois forces in order to organise the struggle against European and Asian imperialism.

Radek did not comment on what the Chinese delegate had said about the tactic of bringing communists into the Kuomintang individually, but that was precisely the central aspect of the question of the relationship between the revolutionary forces in China. Such a tactic was certainly not going in the direction of that “proper relationship” between the proletariat and the revolutionary bourgeoisie, because since the Communists would go to work for the bourgeois nationalist party, it would, in practice, impose the subjugation of the Communist Party and the Chinese proletariat to the Kuomintang bourgeoisie.

The International approved “Theses on the Eastern Question”, in which the watchword of the “anti-imperialist united front” was launched by drawing clear parallels with the situation in countries of mature capitalism: “Just as in the West, the watchword of the proletarian united front has served and still serves to unmask the social-democratic betrayal of proletarian interests, so the watchword of the anti-imperialist united front will help to unmask the hesitations of the various nationalist-bourgeois groups”

At the Fourth Congress of the International, in 1922, our current clearly expressed the position on the single front. In the speech on the Zinoviev report we observed:

The conquest of the masses must not be reduced to the fluctuations of a statistical index. It is a dialectical process, determined first of all by objective social conditions, and our tactical initiative can only accelerate it within certain limits, or, rather, under certain conditions that we consider prejudicial. Our tactical initiative, i.e., the ability to manoeuvre, is based on the effects it produces in the psychology of the proletariat, using the word psychology in the broadest sense to refer to the consciousness, the state of mind, the will to fight, of the working masses. In this field we must remember that there are two prime factors, according to our revolutionary experience: a complete ideological clarity of the party, and a strict and intelligent continuity in its organisational structure.

In the "Draft Thesis" submitted by the Communist Party of Italy, the question of organisation was clearly defined:

Organisational statutes, no less than ideology and tactical norms, must give an impression of unity and continuity…. There is a need for the elimination of totally abnormal norms of organisation…the systematic penetration and "noyautage" into other bodies that have a political nature and political discipline.

Precisely what was beginning to be put into practice in China with the entry of the Communists into the Kuomintang.

(back to table of contents)

* * *

The Hungarian Revolution of 1919

The Agrarian Question - Conclusion

We described how, in Hungary, as in Russia, the agrarian question resolved the revolution. The report mentioned Béla Kun’s writing “On the Hungarian Soviet Republic”

The fundamental cause of overthrow of the Hungarian Soviet Republic was the lack of a solution to the peasant problem, that is, the agrarian question. Hungary…possesses a developed industry and a proletariat of fully trained workers, but the majority of its population consists of agricultural labourers and smallholders…. The Soviet Republic ordered that all large and medium-sized estates, with all their movable and immovable property, should pass without any indemnity into the ownership of the proletarian state. A decree that appeared a few days later exempted properties of less than 57 hectares form expropriation. The lands thus nationalised were supposed to be cultivated in cooperatives; in reality, the management of them remained in the hands of the administrators of the large estates, without the peasants concerned making their word count. A part of the agricultural workers realised that the dictatorship of the proletariat had liberated them, but the landless day-labourers, who did not work permanently on the large estates, receiving no plots, had no interest in defending the dictatorship of the proletariat.

[T]he social base of the white terror was the small town bourgeoisie and landowning and the medium and large peasants…. To the large landowning class, which had switched to the capitalist economy only partially, and which was feudalising again as a result of the country’s economic decadence, it was succeeding more and more easily to attract the peasants to their bandwagon…. Against the industrial and agricultural proletariat the landowning classes were closely united behind the white military dictatorship. The Jewish bourgeoisie itself willingly covered the white terror, although it thus renounced power, because only the terrorist from of defence of private property was possible in Hungary…. In Hungary, no land division took place during the dictatorship. The Republic of Councils socialised large landed property and put it under social administration through the cooperatives of the agricultural proletariat. The expropriation of large farms, with the exception of a few regions, lacked the revolutionary activity of the agricultural proletariat. Due to the need to proceed with precaution to ensure the continuity of agrarian production, the expropriation was mainly legal and did not have the necessary revolutionary character. Nevertheless, the agricultural proletarians gathered in the cooperatives formed on the large estates were almost as great a support for the dictatorship, even armed, as the industrial workers. The dictatorship offered the greatest immediate and palpable benefits precisely to the agricultural workers. That is why they were pushed back most of all after the fall of the dictatorship: the proletarian and semi-proletarian agricultural population became then and for a long time the serfs of the landowning peasantry.

The report then went on to describe the secret and illegal communist movement, which was formed late in the day to combat the social democratic elements undermining and sabotaging the dictatorship of the proletariat from within.

Finally beginning the conclusion chapter. It quoted extensive passages from Béla Szántó’s paper Class Struggles and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Hungary, in the chapter “With Whom Had the Communist Had to Deal?”:

The unification of the Eisenachers and Lassalleans had been characterised by Marx, in his letter to Bracke, among others, as follows: “We know how much the mere fact of unification pleases the workers, but they are in grave error if they believe that they have not paid very dearly for this momentary success.”

Béla Kun quoted this proposition from Marx in his letter to Ignatius Bogar.

It is unfortunately true that the working class really did pay very dearly for unification.

Kun was only wrong in believing that the fact of unification would please the workers. No, a thousand times no! Since unification had taken place only on paper, but in the mass complete distrust continued to dominate. Distrust not against unification, the restoration of the unity of the labour movement, but against the Social Democratic leaders. The masses abhorred them, had no confidence in them. They instinctively had the feeling that those whose policies prior to the October Revolution, but especially after it for four and a half months had fought the proletarian revolution to the death, could not acquire revolutionary genius overnight. And he was not wrong! Nevertheless, they resigned themselves to it, seeing that there was no other choice.

Béla Kun’s platform did not envision the fusion of the Social Democratic Party with the Communist, but only the restoration of the unity of the labour movement. When he wrote it, he did not think of compiling a government program, but a platform – as he put it – “for the clarification of our own views and those of our benevolent opponents”. And in the first place he also proposed concretely: a joint conference of the revolutionary elements to discuss the platform.

Continuing, Szanto points out the irreconcilable differences between revolutionary communists and social democrats:

There, the legalistic methods, the constitutional way and parliamentary means, here, the unremitting class struggle, revolutionary methods, the dictatorship of the proletariat: between these two directives there is no meeting point, no confrontation, a unity is impossible. These two directives are not compatible in a single organisation. Not only the differences in principle, but even more so the methods of action, arising from the theoretical premises, are so divergent that they must necessarily separate from each other.… The more sharply, the more bitterly this process is carried out, the deeper and more complete is the separation between the two tendencies, the more rapidly and in greater numbers the revolutionary elements separate from the right wing, and the left wing grows and swells. And so, in the struggle, together with the education and preparation of the proletariat for revolution, the proletariat itself creates the unity of the proletarian movement by separating and purifying the proletarian elements from the intruding semi-proletarian elements inclined to civil peace. If the proletariat has rejected such elements from itself, it can be capable of exploiting revolutionary situations, and participating in the international revolution.

Szanto, in concluding this candid examination, states:

Before the eyes of the communists hovered the cause of revolution, the cause of world revolution. The Hungarian proletariat was offered the opportunity to grasp it, and thus to promote and revive the world revolution; it was its revolutionary duty to strengthen the proletariat of other countries in its revolution, to awaken it, to incite it. That at the same time those from whom the whole mass had just then broken away would also sneak into the direction of the movement, cannot be for a revolution the only decisive circumstance, though nevertheless not secondary.…

The communists already knew that they were dealing not with bona fide revolutionaries, not with organisers and dukes of the revolution, but with people who only wished to participate in the sharing of the spoils.

The Social Democratic leaders have become very zealous since the fall of the dictatorship of the Councils. They write and express themselves very severely in the foreign press to procure justification for themselves before the Social Democrats of other countries. They believed that the white terror in Hungary would destroy all the printed matter, in which their writings and speeches can be read

They must not forget, however, that even if white terror comes to fulfil their hopes, nevertheless the conviction will live on in the hearts of proletarians that it was the social democrats who undermined and demolished their power.


These reports completed the exposition of the long work on the 1919 Revolution in Hungary that began at the September 2016 meeting.

Béla Kun, in a series of writings, describes the reasons for the failure of the revolution. We have read extensive passages from it:

In Hungary, the situation was made complex by the peculiarity of the structure of the labor movement such that every member of a trade union was at the same time a member of the MSDP and paid with his union dues to the MSDP, whether he wanted to or not, whether he declared himself a social democrat or not. Thus, every member who was a member of the MKP also paid dues to the MSDP. The Communists’ first steps were aimed precisely at ensuring that Communists who were members of trade unions were not forced to leave them when they became members of the MKP.

Kun again recalls:

A closed CP could not be organised in Hungary. And the period from the end of November to Feb. 20 – when the imprisonment of the leadership led to the dispersal of the party organisations – proved in general to be too short to allow the organisation to be fine-tuned.

The MKP could count on the masses. Its revolutionary agitation full of momentum, its exemplary Marxist tactics, its well-chosen watchwords, its bold and unyielding revolutionary actions raised the morale of the proletariat and generated the deepest sympathy for the communists.

From the organisational point of view, these masses belonged to the organic unity of the trade unions and the MSDP… It is strongly true what our friend Radek says, that in the course of the dictatorship we would be in great need of a "big cudgel", whose function would be to dance on the backs of Garbai, Weltner and Kunfi.… Undoubtedly the germs of defeat were to be found in the merger itself….

The revolutionary workers’ party was first and foremost a revolutionary propaganda organisation. The process of forming its structure of organisation and action was arrested by the new ’fusion’ that took place within the workers’ movement.

Despite its effectiveness, the work done by the MKP in the period from November to March failed to sufficiently deepen the revolutionary consciousness of the broad masses of the proletariat.

Opposition to the revolutionary tendency was great within the labour movement, even without taking into account the obstacles that the Social Democratic Party, a participant in the administration of bourgeois state power, opposed by the means of this state force to revolutionary propaganda and organisation.

This opposition operated essentially in three directions:

  1. The social-nationalism established by the MSDP, despite the working masses’ readiness for class struggle, found favourable ground among the proletariat; “revolutionary patriotism”. The “support of the interests of the democratic state” was not repugnant to many, especially since – after November – petty-bourgeois elements had entered workers’ organisations en masse.
  2. The social-reformist conception propagated by the trade unions, which wanted to make social policy the central issue of the labour movement, relegated the abolition of wage-labour to the background in the interest of “restarting production”.
  3. The bureaucratic apparatus of the labour movement and the party was in favour of class collaboration of the entire labour movement.

The clash between the method of revolutionary class struggle and opportunist politics did not succeed in the first stage of the revolution, that is, before the dictatorship. The bureaucracy of the [socialist] party and trade unions avoided its solution, reluctantly merging with the communists. This merger had no ideological basis. The reasons that drove them to the merger were the same ones that prevented the revolutionary propaganda of the communists. For the social chauvinists, internationalism was but a problem of foreign policy orientation; the social patriots sought support in the communist tendency of the labour movement, given the international political situation. They would have liked to revive the slogan of “territorial integrity” under the screen of red internationalism.

The trade union bureaucracy, which a few days before the dictatorship wanted to impose methods on factory workers that would increase capitalist exploitation, was forced to beat a retreat in the face of the masses who, in the form of “spontaneous” expropriations, were ever more vigorously carrying out the expropriation of the means of production and the abolition of wage-labour.

Social democratic tactics caused white terror. The white terror, whose prelude was the democratic counterrevolution organised by the official leaders of the MSDP, is a sad but excellent justification of communist tactics. The victory of the bureaucracy, army and officers, the ludicrous weakness of the MSDP, the direct transition of the petty-bourgeois masses from it to the Christian-social party, all dispelled all illusions about class collaboration. The white terror and the dictatorial power of the bourgeoisie, disregarding democratic forms, will shortly show that the bourgeoisie is inclined to abandon the open and rigid form of its dictatorship and is willing to cooperate in government with the workers’ party only in case the latter is ready to assume the legacy of the white terror: the defence at any cost of private property, the bourgeoisie and the parasitic existence of the bourgeois state bureaucracy. After white terror, democracy can only be established in a Noske-like form.

Still concerning the Social Democratic traitors, Kun’s final “sentence”:

Any organic union with these undecideds is very harmful. If before and during the dictatorship some dialogue with these people could be justified, after the fall of it, a total break with these elements is a historical necessity.

In the course of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Hungarian workers’ movement proved that amnesty, which the social-chauvinist leaders benefited from on the part of the revolutionary wing of the workers’ movement precisely because the good offices of the hesitant, proved to be the source of the weakening of the revolution.… Class unity of the workers is a necessary condition for the solidity of power of the proletariat, a condition capable of ensuring the transition from capitalism to socialism, the first stage of communism. The basis of class unity is steadfastness and unity of revolutionary action; the precondition of steadfastness and unity of action is the settlement of accounts of the workers’ movement with its internal enemies, that is, the traitors who preach class collaboration and all sorts of opportunism; the proletariat must eliminate them from the workers’ movement.…

And so it was until the triumphant and at the same time fatal day of March 21, where the proletariat of Hungary, led by the Communist Party of Hungary, took state power into its own hands and, in parallel, the Communist Party of Hungary, committed, under my leadership, the fatal mistake of merging with the Social Democratic Party of Hungary.

In the last part of the report the comrade mentioned corruption, a nuisance that the proletarian revolution must deal with. In Hungary the communists, aware that they must have a firm and unyielding hand against such an inevitable bourgeois corollary, thus dealt with it (read Kun):

In the course of the dictatorship, it was we, the communists, who first brought an open struggle against any kind of corruption.… Throughout the whole period of the dictatorship these infidels of the revolution supported each other. They warmed counterrevolutionaries of all sorts in their own bosoms in order to benefit from attention after the fall of the dictatorship. Today, they too have emigrated, or in prison, and white terror hunts them down in the same way as communist revolutionaries.

We communists have no interest in hiding the existence of corruption during the dictatorship. We foresaw that there would be some. Not only after the experiences in Russia, where exceptional committees put an end to corruption with relentless severity. We are also reminded of Marx’s words, "Certainly the storm also carries garbage, which does not smell like roses in any revolutionary epoch, all sorts of dirt sticks to us. ’Take it or leave it’”. Communists can present themselves with a clear conscience before the tribunal of the Third International and rightly so because they do not deny that there have been corrupts in their own ranks. However, we must draw the consequences for the future, be aware that it is necessary to seriously interdict the Party from the two most important groups of corruption: the social democracy and the lumpenproletariat.

Finally, we read the conclusions from an initial analysis by Béla Kun, who, in his 1924 writing "On the Hungarian Soviet Republic", summaries the main reasons for the failure as follows:

Why did the Hungarian Soviet Republic collapse?… It can be summarised as follows:

  1. The small area of the Republic, which did not allow for military operations of retreat;
  2. The fact that the fortuitous and favourable circumstances of the international political situation, which Comrade Lenin repeatedly cites as one of the factors in the success of the Russian revolution, were lacking;
  3. The lack of an organised, centralised, disciplined CP, therefore capable of manoeuvring;
  4. The failure to solve the peasant problem, namely, the agrarian question.

We have read large parts of this writing, which emphasise, among the other reasons listed, the question of the Party:

It is the absence of a party that marked the fate of the dictatorship. This party was insufficient because of the merger…. The Communist Party, which was weak and unorganised, could not have avoided under any circumstances being absorbed by the institutions of the Councils.… As Lenin incessantly repeated, the Workers’ Councils, as well as the Republic, must rest on the mass organisations of the working class. Mistake of the Party: it had as its mass organisation of the workers only the trade unions. It was on them that we had to lean, even for the organisation of the Red Army. It was the internal cause of the downfall of the dictatorship.… The experiences of the dictatorship make it absolutely necessary, but also possible, to organise a Communist Party entirely in accordance with the principle of Bolshevik organisation…organised for underground, centralised and closed…. If you love and esteem the Party, above all else, if to be proud of belonging to it is fetishism, then it is the fetishism of revolution, because the Communist Party is the personification of revolutionary consciousness, of revolutionary action.

We continued with the last chapter titled “The Final ‘Lesson’”, where excerpts from Ladislaus Rudas’ pamphlet, “The Documents of the Schism”, were read, which deals in ample and fairly detailed detail with what abominable things the Social Democrats did in the days just before the proletarian revolution and especially during.

We quote a few passages:

As everywhere else, so in Hungary it was the Social Democrats who lowered the red flag before the national flag. It was they who concealed from the proletariat the bankruptcy of capitalism and the impossibility of bourgeois revolution. It was they who by suspending the class struggle (Sigismund Kunfi’s speech in the first days of November 1918), wanted to give the bourgeoisie the feeling of security and at the same time the proletariat the illusion of victory. Kunfi’s sentimental, confused, petty-bourgeois phrases beautifully masked Garami’s cold fraud.… The Social Democratic Party immediately posed as the party of order, of course of the capitalist order, which it wanted to maintain, given the impotence of capitalism itself, with the help of the organised proletariat. The social democrat Garami took as his collaborator, for this purpose, Kálmán Méhely, director of the “National Union of Iron and Steel Industrialists”, a notorious employers’ fighting organisation; in fact, who better than the notorious director of the most provocative employers’ union could support the social democracy in its action to save capitalism?

If a party, which has proclaimed itself to be proletarian and revolutionary for decades, does not even by chance take a single revolutionary step in the revolution, and instead of the organised strength of the proletariat and the influence gained through the organised masses it always acts consequently and consciously against the revolution of the proletariat and in the interests of capitalism – then it is not committing an error, but a real betrayal. And when a party, as everywhere the social-democratic parties do, turns the whole oppressive mechanism of the capitalist state against the proletarian revolution, spills fraternal blood in the interest of the capitalist revolution, what is this but treason?

The comrade summarised the multiple betrayals implemented by social-traitors.

Rudas’ pamphlet, which traces the teaching of this defeat of the revolution, stresses about the social-traitors:

They cannot be convinced at any cost, they can only be fought. This is the great lesson that this writing seeks to impart to the proletariat…only struggle can be the road on which the proletariat can come to victory. The epoch of peaceful class struggle has passed; this is the epoch of armed revolution, and the revolution will fall if it wants to win by compromise. Compromise is not possible: the proletariat must fatally beat the path of struggle to the end, and where it shuns it, it pays the price with white terror.… Any compromise with anti-revolutionary socialists means ruin for the revolution. He who can only be gained to revolution by the lesson of facts, must be fought. He who cannot be gained even in this way, let him die.

We conclude with Lenin stating, on August 6, 1919 at the Conference of Workers and Soldiers without a Party:

Recent events have shown us that the social-conciliators have not changed at all. Apparently, what has happened in Hungary reproduces on a large scale what has recently happened before our eyes in Baku.… But the fact is that even Denikin’s men sing us their refrain about the Constituent Assembly; nowhere does the counter-revolution present itself with an open face, and therefore we say: no temporary failure, such as the latest events in Hungary, will dismay us. There is no way out of all misfortunes except in revolution; there is but one sure means: the dictatorship of the proletariat. We say: every defeat of the Red Army only hardens it, makes it stronger and more conscious, because the workers and peasants have now understood, on the basis of bloody experience, what the power of the bourgeoisie and conciliators brings us. The agonising beast of world capitalism makes its last efforts, but it will croak anyway!

As mentioned in the introduction to this work, the carving out of the cornerstones of revolutionary Marxism, which we have a duty to reiterate today, tomorrow and always, continues, namely that “there can be no coalition, no compromise of any kind with socialists so prone to treason”. This can be read explicitly in the conditions of admission to the Communist International, known as the "21 Points”:

No communist can forget the teachings of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. The merger of the Hungarian Communists with the so-called "leftist" Social Democrats has cost the Hungarian proletariat dearly. Accordingly, the Second Congress of the Communist International considers it necessary to lay down with the utmost precision the conditions for the acceptance of new parties, and to recall those parties which are accepted into the Communist International to the duties they have before them.

(back to table of contents)

* * *

The Military Question in the Russian Revolution

The Civil War in Russia (March 1918-February 1920)

On March 8, 1918, the local Murmansk Soviet, fearing a German invasion of the port and military depots, had requested British military support, which sent a small delegation. The original village had expanded during the war due to the construction of the railroad from Leningrad, which was used to get Entente supplies to the Tsarist army. Due to a branch of the warm Gulf Stream, the waters never freeze.

After the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, cooperation with the Bolsheviks in the anti-German function of the former allies was broken off. Those in the sector now have three objectives: first, to prevent the Bolsheviks and Germans from seizing over a million tons of war material stored in the numerous depots, worth $2.5 billion. Second, support the Czechoslovak Legion, deployed along the Trans-Siberian Railway, to reach Vladivostok for later use on the Western Front, after proper reorganisation in the US. Third, to support the eastern front of the Russian Civil War, where White and Czechoslovak forces are getting the better of Bolshevik forces. Everything was to contribute to weakening the revolution and preventing its spread to Europe. Thus opened the Northern Front of the civil war, which, however, remained secondary.

The Czechoslovak Legion was composed of Czech and Slovak volunteer soldiers who had fought on the side of the Entente, behind the promise of then obtaining an independent Czechoslovak state – at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Similar forces had fought with the Tsarist army for the same purpose. It had 50,000 well-organised and armed men. A clause in the Treaty of Brest guaranteed their free transit along the Trans-Siberian Railway, which took place with extreme difficulty because of the poor condition of the line and the heavy traffic in both directions, dislocating the formations of those volunteers along more than a thousand kilometres.

Following an incident between soldiers of opposing formations, the Bolshevik command withdrew permission for free transit from the Legion, which responded by engaging the disorganised local Communist troops in several bitter battles and succeeding in taking control of large areas along the Trans-Siberian Railway. These successes fuelled the formation of a diverse number of counterrevolutionary paramilitary groups, improperly called the White Army, which never succeeded in forming a single, coordinated structure because the different groups had discordant goals and remained a chaotic anti-Bolshevik confederation.

The Allies ordered the Czechoslovak Legion to take Yekaterinburg, a short distance from where the tsar and his family were being held prisoner. The disorganised local Bolshevik troops were unable to stop the simultaneous advance of the Czechoslovak Legion and White Army formations. The local Soviet Executive Committee then authorised the execution of the tsar and family, which was carried out on July 17, 1918.

Trotsky’s intense organisational work enabled the Red Army to grow in numbers and efficiency to the point that they were soon able to push the Czechoslovaks back from their newly captured positions. The Legion command was pressing to recompose the various formations to reach Vladivostok as soon as possible, especially after the establishment of the new Czechoslovak Republic in October 1918. They concluded an agreement with the Bolsheviks for a speedy relocation, against surrendering part of the imperial gold they held and the counterrevolutionary Kolchak. According to American Red Cross reports, 68,000 volunteers were evacuated.

Let us resume the main chronology.

March 10: Petrograd was now too close to the new German border so the Communist Party decided to move the seat of government and central party bodies to Moscow. Weighing heavily was the situation in neighbouring Finland where the Red formations were in serious trouble supporting the counteroffensive of the White government, which was assisted militarily by Germany.

In a matter of weeks, the Bolshevik Revolution is severely attacked on all its borders, including the landing of Japanese troops in Vladivostok. In this besieged fortress situation, various economic measures, later called "war communism", are introduced to meet the pressing needs for food and materials for the war industry.

With the separate peace between Soviet Russia and Germany, the strategic arrangements of the war, already tried for 4 years, are altered and now believed to be in the final phase. The French and British governments ask the American government to intervene in the industry, especially to defend the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk depots.

England refuses to evacuate ships from the two ports; instead, landings of French, British, American Canadian and Italian troops totalling about 24,000 begin. The international forces are not of high military quality because they are made up of veterans already wounded in previous fighting or hastily trained recruits. Assigned to combat them are the Sixth and Seventh Red Armies, initially ill-equipped and unprepared, as emerged from early May clashes with British troops in an attempt to regain control of the Russian town of Pechenga, occupied by White Finns on behalf of the Germans to use as a submarine base.

On August 2, the British landing is preceded by a coup by Czarist Captain Chaplin leading anti-Bolshevik forces. British commander Poole establishes a puppet government and imposes martial law in the city. Several Russian naval vessels are sunk, and the remaining Bolshevik forces are unable to retaliate and fall back.

The British strategic plan calls for two lines of penetration using existing armoured trains: one from Archangel on the line to Moscow with the aim of capturing Vologda, headquarters of the Russian central command, the other in the direction of Kotlas-Vjatka to link up with the eastern front of the counterrevolution, held firmly by the Czechoslovaks, who were trying to reach Archangel to embark for the western front. Poole quickly realised that without substantial reinforcements of men and equipment the primary objective would not be achieved. Any attempt to enlist volunteers fails. Lenin dictates that Kotlas and Vologda be held at all costs, and Trotsky sets a defence strategy based on trenches and fortifications as winter approaches. The new British commander, Ironside, also set up a prudent winter campaign to consolidate the huge territories he controlled through a system of well-equipped forts.

In Karelia, south of Murmansk, military operations take place along the railway line to Petrograd where the Allies have advanced 600 kilometres; they are stopped by a tenacious offensive by international revolutionary forces led by Spiridonov, a Petrograd worker. The winter war suspension decided by the British command allowed the 6th Red Army to reorganise. Its strength was in the 18th Division, made up of highly politicised Petrograd workers, which reached a strength of 13,000 effectives.

On Nov. 11, 1918, the signing of the armistice between Germany and the Entente marked the end of the war. In the preceding days, when Arctic winds had frozen the waters of the rivers and bay around Murmansk while the rivers to the south are still navigable, the Bolshevik counteroffensive near Tulgas begins, with mixed results. Anti-war propaganda and political agitation in the Allied army intensifies.

On December 11, the first mutiny of a fair number of White soldiers takes place, as they refuse to go into combat. A general desertion would put the entire Eastern Front in serious danger. A total of 13 organisers are shot as repression. The British command notes the impossibility of achieving a conquest with minimal effort with their reduced available forces. The morale of the troops suddenly collapses because of the well-organised reaction of the Red Army and especially because the soldiers, after the end of the war, wonder for whom and for what purpose they still fight in those icy Arctic regions: they all want a quick withdrawal from Russia.

Despite prohibitive weather conditions, fighting continued in January and February; some Allied attacks against the Bolsheviks were successful.

On January 20, 1919, at temperatures of -45°, the battle that represents the turning point of the war took place near Shenkursk; after several days of fighting the city was captured by the Red Army forcing the Allies to retreat considerably. Protests also spread to British soldiers, putting the entire campaign in doubt.

On April 25, a White Russian battalion mutinies: 300 of them, switched to the Bolsheviks, attacked Allied troops near Tulgas. More and more reports emerge of refusal to fight by British and Allied troops.

Between May and June, the repatriation of British and French forces began, partially replaced by British volunteers who had been guaranteed defensive engagement only. French troops also claim to participate only in defensive actions. The Italian group protests the prolonged deployment many months after the armistice.

On July 10, a White unit under British command mutinies and kills British officers. 100 soldiers join the Bolsheviks.

On July 20, 3,000 White soldiers in the key town of Onega, the only winter land route to Murmansk, mutinied and surrendered the town to the Bolsheviks. Attempts to retake it by the British command are in vain, who no longer trust its units.

The final operations record numerous and incisive acts of sabotage for the purpose of hindering the evacuation of Allied troops. The aim of the Bolshevik command is not to allow a peaceful retreat, but a precipitous escape under Bolshevik fire.

The British command reacts with harsh offensives in order to strike a blow the morale of the Red Army. In September, a company of British volunteers refuses to participate in the attack. 93 are arrested and 13 sentenced to death.

On September 27, the last Allied troops leave Arkhangelsk.

On October 12, 1919 Murmansk is abandoned. The remnants of the White Army are left alone to face the Red Army, which improves in organisation and efficiency with each fight. The White Army, poorly disciplined and with supply difficulties, quickly collapses in the face of the Bolshevik offensive launched in December 1919.

On February 21, 1920, the Red Army entered Arkhangelsk, and on March 13, 1920, Murmansk. The remnants of the White Government flee on an icebreaker to France. From a strategic point of view, the British command had made the mistake of organising the campaign simultaneously on two fronts in different directions in a vast and inaccessible territory having at its disposal only limited reliable forces, relying on uncertain enlistments of inexperienced local volunteers.

War in the Kuban

Uncertain was the situation after the end of the first military campaign in the annihilated Kuban. The three counter-revolutionary commanders, Alekseev, Kaledin, and Kornilov, collectively adopted a defensive strategy in anticipation of major military aid from the Austro-German forces. But their troops, demotivated by continuous retreats, began to disperse.

The Bolsheviks, despite significant losses, retook Rostov and Novocherkassk, forcing Kornilov’s Army of Volunteers (AV) to fall back on Ekaterinodar, a newly self-proclaimed Cossack republic. This too was conquered by Red troops resulting in the defeat of the AV. Kaledin committed suicide; Kornilov, dead in the bombing of his headquarters, was replaced by Denikin, who subsequently took command of the AV.

With Operation Faustschlag, in just 11 days, the Germans conquered southern Ukraine all the way to the Black Sea coast, the port of Odessa, all of Crimea, and reached as far as Rostov-on-Don, seriously endangering the fortunes of the revolution.

In the territories along the Don, the power of the Cossack Ataman Krasnov, who had always been a great opponent of the revolution, had been consolidated. With German economic and military support, he had expanded his Don Republic to more than half the size of Italy, However, the Republic had a population of less than 4 million—just over half of them Cossacks—the rest ill-supported peasants immigrating from other regions. In addition to the 10 million roubles from the secret anti-Bolshevik organisation "National Centre", he managed to organise an army of 40,000 soldiers, which was added to what remained of Denikin’s AV. The political intentions of the two commanders differed: Ataman was for an independent Cossack republic, whereas Denikin was for a unified, federative, anti-German Russia; this had consequences on the military level. Strategically, Denikin enjoyed an excellent situation, protected to the west by the new German frontiers, from which aid could come, and to the east by the now reinforced and well-armed AV (a map of the locations was presented at the meeting).

The Red Army, constituted only a few months prior under Trotsky’s efficient organisational work, had between 80,000 and 100,000 troops in the Kuban—mostly new recruits with no combat experience. They were dispersed in a variety of groups, smaller units and territorial garrisons to the point that even the commanders did not know exactly the composition of their forces. The difficulties of communication in those territories made any rapid changes in the plans of the battles in progress impossible.

A formation of about 30-40,000 positioned just south of German-occupied Rostov is commanded by Sorokin and is to control them and the Cossack groups. Kalnin had 30,000 troops placed along the important railroad junction between Torgovaya and Tikhoretskaya. A third formation was the Taman Army with about 25,000 men at the Kerch Strait on the Sea of Azov to counter the Germans stationed in Crimea. A fourth formation of about 12,000 troops was entrusted to Dumenko in an isolated position on the railroad near the set of Cossack villages of Velikoknyazheskaya, now Proletarsk, on the Manych River.

These troops were poorly coordinated due to the near-absence of experienced leaders, and poorly armed; Trotsky called them “a plethoric horde rather than an army”, who paid little heed to central command orders.

On June 28, 1918, Denikin’s AV begins its second Kuban campaign with an attack from three directions on the Torgovaya railway junction and then aimed to recapture Ekaterinodar (Krasnodar). This proves an easy victory, with the retreating Red Army being heavily defeated by white cavalry. Instead of aiming for Ekaterinodar, Denikin sets out north to Proletarsk where he defeated Dumenko’s cavalry, which subsequently retreated northward on the important Tsaritsyn (Stalingrad). The Bolshevik command feared an attack on Tsaritsyn, so Stalin, the commissar general for supplies, diverts 6 regiments to the city’s defence.

On July 6, Denikin, using the railroad, instead heads south to Ekaterinodar. Red commander Kalnin, in order to counter him, summons all the forces in the area to Tikhoretsk, particularly those of Sorokin from Bataysk, who, instead of rushing, engaged in futile attacks on the AV cavalry that Denikin left behind to protect the rear. He thus lost much valuable time and manpower.

Denikin, sensing Red intentions, dispatches a cavalry division to interpose itself between Kalnin and Sorokin’s forces to prevent them from joining.

On July 14, Denikin’s forces, quicker in their manoeuvres, set up a 75-kilometer-long front for the attack on the Tikhoretsk railway junction. The tried-and-tested three-column manoeuvre is repeated: a central attack while two cavalry wings bypass the static defences set up by Kalnin, which does not hold. Red troops withdrew in disorder, abandoning huge amounts of war material. Red prisoners can choose between immediate shooting or enlistment in the AV. Sorokin arrives in the aftermath.

Particularly serious are the consequences for the loss of the important railroad junction that strengthens AV communications while the various detachments of Soviet troops remain permanently separated from each other.

The Soviet command is given to Sorokin, who aims for the defence of Ekaterinodar, while disagreements between the various commanders resurface in the White command. Denikin, for the conquest of the city, intends to gather all his groups for an attack and siege as well as a group intended to counter Sorokin and garrison Armavir. A bold plan to eliminate all Bolshevik resistance in the Kuban with his forces deployed on a front of no less than 245 kilometres.

On July 16, the White offensive began despite Sorokin’s strong resistance near Kushchyovskaya, who abandoned the town and headed south toward Timashevsk. Denikin, having blown up the bridges to the north to prevent the arrival of German troops, arrived 40 kilometres from Ekaterinodar.

The lateral columns advanced according to the plan, which seemed to be working well, and the concentration of all AV forces on Ekaterinodar began.

Sorokin’s counter-move involves outflanking the enemy by bringing up behind the opposing centre. The Taman Army’s best column of veterans is sent against the enemy right flank while Sorokin, leaving out Ekaterinodar, aims at the centre of the AV near Korenovsk, separating it from Denikin’s headquarters at Tikhoretsk. The final battle for the Kuban lasted several days, with furious fighting and considerable losses for the AV.

On July 29, the White commanders, left with minimal forces in Ekaterinodar, broke through Sorokin’s deployment by attacking him from behind on Korenovsk. Here, too, furious attacks were extensive, and included bayonet attacks. Finally, Sorokin, despite his numerical superiority, yields to the AV’s superior experience and efficiency and retreats to reorganise his forces in order to retake the city.

But, after a week of fruitless attempts, Sorokin orders a halt to all attacks and commands a retreat across the Kuban River. All fighting by the various formations ceases on August 14.

On the 15th, Denikin entered Ekaterinodar, concluding the Kuban campaign—now firmly in the hands of counterrevolutionary forces.

The Don Cossacks claim complete autonomy for their republic with an autonomous national army. Denikin, to retain their support, authorised within his armed forces the formation of native units commanded by Cossack officers. The military administration of the occupied territories reintroduced the laws in force before the October Revolution, creating further confusion and unease.

The Red Army of the Caucasus, the most critical of the Bolshevik forces—mentioned by Trotsky as a “terrible example of the evil effects of lack of discipline”—absolutely had to reorganise its remaining forces, which were still substantial although distributed in several separate groups.

(back to table of contents)

Current Events

Reports of the Venezuelan-Latin American Section

The Economic Situation

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a direct impact on Latin America, with rising commodity prices, including hydrocarbons, and a resurgence of inflation. The global inter-imperialist struggle for control and access to energy resources has led to a revaluation of some oil-producing countries, such as Venezuela. If the conflict continues Brent could reach $130/barrel and the Mexican blend $115, while two years ago it was below $50.

In the countries’ domestic political situation, there has been a resurgence of mass unrest and clashes between right-wing and “left-wing” parties and movements.

The Ukrainian crisis has benefited producing countries (Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Colombia) and punished non-producers (Caribbean, Central America, Peru, Chile). It is not yet clear to what extent the increase in the price of other primary commodities (minerals and food) will affect GDP growth. It has to be seen in the context of the trend of the global economy, which is in crisis and still suffering from the Covid 19 pandemic.

Early forecasts indicate that the region will grow less than expected due to the conflict in Ukraine: The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has lowered its forecast for the region from 2.6 percent to 2.3 percent from seven months ago.

Some countries could gain market share by exporting their agricultural products (grains), given the shortage caused by a conflict affecting the two big producers Russia and Ukraine. Spain, for example, to alleviate the shortage has temporarily eased corn import requirements from Argentina and Brazil.

To the rising gasoline and diesel prices, some governments in the region, to maintain popularity and to calm protest movements, have responded by reducing associated taxes or applied subsidies. This represents an increase in government spending and a budget imbalance.

In a hypothetical hydrocarbon crisis, the inter-imperialist struggle for their control would be exacerbated and it is predictable that the United States would strengthen its influence in the region. Brazil is a major producer of biofuels.

But these swings in the hydrocarbon and commodity markets in the region are cyclical and these countries will not be able to escape the international crisis of capitalism.

We can expect the return of mass protests like those of 2019, and we will see currents of the right and “left” trying to channel discontent toward electoral changes of presidents and parliaments or political and institutional reforms.

Foreign investment in Latin America may increase in specific areas by the United States and China in preparation for a future war. They will seek alternative supplies: nickel in Colombia and Guatemala; lithium in Bolivia, Argentina and Chile; copper in Chile and Peru; and phosphates in Venezuela. In addition, food production in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay would attract foreign investment.

Following the sanctions against Russia, a White House delegation met in Caracas with the Venezuelan government to sound out a possible supply of energy products to the United States. The initiative aimed not only to reduce Russia’s geopolitical influence among Latin Americans, but also to find an alternative to the 500,000 barrels per day of heavy crude oil and derivatives that Washington was buying from Russia and that until 2019 came from Venezuela.

At the same time, an agreement was negotiated between Iran and Venezuela: Venezuela would import condensate from Iran to dilute extra-heavy crude, while Iran would supply Venezuela with engineers, refined products, and spare parts for the oil industry.

In the case of Cuba and Nicaragua, a rapprochement with the United States is not so clear, as they do not have the attractiveness of Venezuelan oil.

The working class can only expect more exploitation, informal employment and unemployment, falling real wages and repression, even in those countries where an ephemeral economic recovery would occur, regardless of the political current in government.

The Struggles of the Working Class

Recent developments in the region include:

- Political unrest in Peru: In April there were large mobilisations against fuel price increases and in general. Much of the participation was spontaneous and not in response to calls from political parties or unions. The streets of several cities filled up and around the Government House. The government first proclaimed a curfew but had to suspend it because it was ignored. It reduced the fuel tax and raised the minimum wage, but this was not enough to quell discontent. Mobilisations have been suppressed. Political parties and labour unions are pushing, as always, for a bourgeois-democratic solution, starting with calls for the dismissal or resignation of President Pedro Castillo of the Republic.

- Venezuela: in April, the bourgeois government announced an increase in the minimum wage for the public sector from $1.6 to $28 a month, while the value of the basket of basic goods exceeds $800. In collective bargaining, wage increases continue to remain symbolic: both the public sector and private companies maintain the policy of paying bonuses on top of wages, the amount of which does not affect the calculation of social benefits.

Between March and April, public employees announced street demonstrations to protest low wages. Retirees were the most active, stimulating the mobilisation of comrades still in force.

Public and private workers demonstrated April 7 at the Ministry of Labour in Caracas rejecting the new minimum wage announced by the government. 6,300 pharmacy employees threatened to strike nationwide over wage increases and other demands.

The Venezuelan government is threatening new fees for public services and various taxes; some central others by governors or mayors; all of which will add to workers’ cause for protest.

In April, pensioners staged several protests in the capital and occupied Ministry of Labour offices in several cities.

The second half of April saw widespread unrest among workers at the SIDOR steel company, who went on strike for nearly a week over compliance with the decree on wage increases. The struggle arose spontaneously by the workers, outside the union’s control.

The workers faced government repression, scab squads and demagoguery. The struggle was led by the assemblies. But eventually a section of workers, manipulated by politicians offering to negotiate, went back to work, against assembly directives.

Later, in the first half of May, workers at the Orinoco Ferrominera, SIDOR and Bauxilum held several stoppages and assemblies with the same demand for payment of wages and contractual benefits. Worker agitation has also mounted in Guayana.

On May Day, the government called its May Day gatherings, traditional carnival parades organised and led by the companies and their managers. The pro-government concentration was held in Caracas for media effect. But at the same time, alternative processions were held in several cities, led by various unions of public sector workers and private companies. Here notable was the participation of pensioners. Slogans focused on the demand for wage increases, but also present were various nationalist invocations typical of opportunism. But there was a unified atmosphere. Evidently large was the presence of representatives of opportunist organisations, especially Stalinists and Trotskyists.

On May 1, President Maduro did not make the usual announcement of a wage increase. However, the spokesperson for Venezuelan businesses at the International Labour Organization said that future wage increases in the country would be made through a "tripartite negotiation", involving labour unions, business associations and the government, a procedure abandoned for the past 20 years and which would be reactivated.

- In Brazil, opportunist parties and so-called “popular movements” are promoting street agitations with the word “out Bolsonaro”, a banner imposed by the media on impatience and mobilisation against rising food and fuel prices and corruption within the government. Opportunism seeks to channel discontent toward the dead-end path of presidential elections. They call for Bolsonaro’s ousting, vaccination for all, and an emergency bonus of 600 reals.

The region’s capital crisis will continue to affect workers, subject to unemployment, precariousness and low wages. Even in countries where there is talk of economic recovery, there is no significant recovery in employment or wage increases that exceed the rate of inflation.

The current union centres continue their work of demobilisation, class conciliation and division among workers.

Other Parties on the War in Ukraine

The media and social networks, largely controlled by the West, insist on “Russian crimes against humanity”. In Central and South America where there are so-called “progressive” or “leftist” governments, some media outlets have aligned themselves with the Russian and Chinese media apparatus, which emphasise “Ukrainian Nazism and fascism” or “NATO provocations”

At the UN General Assembly, government delegations from Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Cuba abstained when voting on the condemnation of Russia. The Venezuelan representation was absent! Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador spoke in favour; however, the governments of Mexico, Brazil and Argentina maintain ambiguous positions by maintaining economic and trade cooperation agreements with Russia. The governments of Venezuela, Cuba and El Salvador are interested in maintaining open relations with the United States to overcome sanctions and engage in verbal contortions to maintain relations with Russia and China as well.

Political parties that call themselves “leftist” or “progressive”, but are nothing more than opportunists, are evenly divided between the pro-Russian and those aligned with Ukraine.

The “Communist” Party of Venezuela supports Putin and rejects the Venezuelan government’s rapprochement with the United States and selling it oil.

The International Workers’ Unity-Fourth International (ITU-CI), a Trotskyist movement, cries “Putin out of Ukraine! No to NATO!” and supports the Ukrainian resistance, going so far as to organise an international solidarity network with Ukrainian militiamen at the front and promotes sending contributions and medicine.

While the Mexican government repudiated the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Morena party sided with Russia and called for the formation of a “friendship group” in parliament.

In Brazil, with different arguments, Bolsonaro and Lula coincide in their support for the Russian government. But, in typical bourgeois ambiguity, Lula declared that “no one can agree with the war”. The position of the Brazilian “left” in the face of the war in Ukraine is subordinate to the defence of the interests and business of the national bourgeoisie.

If in Chile, the President denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the “Communist” Party, condemns “acts of war in conflict resolution”, but also the US and NATO with their “provocations and expansionist ambitions”.

The so-called “left” in Latin America, even those with pseudo-revolutionary phraseology and iconography, seek only to consolidate themselves as an alternative for the administration of bourgeois interests and do not hesitate to join the patriotic campaign, on the side of the imperialist line-up that suits them best. It will be ready to throw the masses of wage-earners into the carnage and super-exploitation that war brings. We will not find parties or movements of the so-called “left” in Central and Latin America with a class, proletarian and communist position. They are politically castrated parties, incapable of taking the lead in resuming the class struggle, bringing the proletariat out of submission to the political control of the bourgeoisie, much less providing it with a revolutionary orientation.

If this conjuncture has served any purpose, it has been to show the caricatured anti-imperialism of the so-called Latin American left, which is inter-classist, counterrevolutionary and complicit in the greater exploitation of wage earners in the region.

Report to the September 2022 General Meeting

Historical circumstances forced and required the party to devote much of its energies to the reestablishment and defence of the theory and propaganda of its program. The work of its militants has turned to the translation into different languages of the characteristic texts of Marxism and the Party and to the study and evaluation of the events above. But the Party has never renounced engagement on all fronts of the class struggle, disposing all its forces for this purpose.

We are not a club, a circle, a forum, open to anyone who comes to express his or her opinions or doubts and who indulges and devotes himself or herself to a confrontation of ideas. The party outside presents itself for what it is, and is willing to demonstrate the consistency of what it stands for. But those who join our collective communist battle are integrated at a higher level, in a work begun long ago and by many generations of comrades, in organised and disciplined forms, often constituted by the territorial sections, around predetermined plans of activities to which the party candidate is called upon to contribute according to his or her abilities and strengths. The formation of the militant comes to coincide with his insertion into party life, each at his own pace and in the areas of activity in which he is most inclined.

Party sections are formed on the basis of the territorial criterion, the geographical proximity of the militants, which facilitates their coming together, to plan and carry out specific party activities in those places. Sections are composed of the militants--of different nationalities, ages, occupations, races and genders--who are in a favourable geographic space to meet and organise revolutionary work.

Currently, our old Venezuelan section has become a laboratory for the integration of Spanish-speaking comrades present in different countries. That is, temporarily, the Venezuelan section does not operate on a strictly territorial basis, but on the basis of the language community. We do not know if or for how long we will have to maintain this figure, but it is clear to us that the development of the party will also require the establishment of a section in Spain, or in any other country where the conditions to achieve it arise and where a particular local intervention of the party is required. The establishment of new sections will depend not only on quantitative growth but on the commitment of devoted and disciplined militants. Therefore, the use of technological tools, which are very useful for holding meetings at a distance, does not exclude the need for the territorial structuring of the party.

* * *

Historical circumstances forced and required the party to devote much of its energies to the reestablishment and defence of the theory and propaganda of its program. The work of its militants has turned to the translation into different languages of the characteristic texts of Marxism and the Party and to the study and evaluation of the events above. But the Party has never renounced engagement on all fronts of the class struggle, disposing all its forces for this purpose

We are not a club, a circle, a forum, open to anyone who comes to express his or her opinions or doubts and who indulges and devotes himself or herself to a confrontation of ideas. The party outside presents itself for what it is, and is willing to demonstrate the consistency of what it stands for. But those who join our collective communist battle are integrated at a higher level, in a work begun long ago and by many generations of comrades, in organised and disciplined forms, often constituted by the territorial sections, around predetermined plans of activities to which the party candidate is called upon to contribute according to his or her abilities and strengths. The formation of the militant comes to coincide with his insertion into party life, each at his own pace and in the areas of activity in which he is most inclined.

Party sections are formed on the basis of the territorial criterion, the geographical proximity of the militants, which facilitates their coming together, to plan and carry out specific party activities in those places. Sections are composed of the militants--of different nationalities, ages, occupations, races and genders--who are in a favourable geographic space to meet and organise revolutionary work.

Currently, our old Venezuelan section has become a laboratory for the integration of Spanish-speaking comrades present in different countries. That is, temporarily, the Venezuelan section does not operate on a strictly territorial basis, but on the basis of the language community. We do not know if or for how long we will have to maintain this figure, but it is clear to us that the development of the party will also require the establishment of a section in Spain, or in any other country where the conditions to achieve it arise and where a particular local intervention of the party is required. The establishment of new sections will depend not only on quantitative growth but on the commitment of devoted and disciplined militants. Therefore, the use of technological tools, which are very useful for holding meetings at a distance, does not exclude the need for the territorial structuring of the party.

Report to the January 2023 General Meeting

Wage Struggles in Venezuela

All Latin American governments promise an economic recovery, but all signs point to the fact that this "recovery" will be accompanied by an insignificant increase in jobs, an increase in unemployment (and underemployment and black labour), and a decline in wages.

Presidential and parliamentary elections have given space to new and not-so-new political forces within the demagogic and media game of democracy.

Workers, even in their political disorientation, tend to move in struggles for wage increases, in many cases getting out of the control of union centres which, instead of being an instrument of struggle, prevent strikes and workers’ unity. The new governments propagate ephemeral mirages of prosperity that immediately vanish to make way for the discontent of wage earners.

* * *

In Venezuela, school workers began the year with work stoppages throughout the country. The broad participation was not the organisational result of unions, but rather of discontent over falling wages, which are the lowest in Latin America. The health workers’ union and several areas of the public sector also joined the mobilisations. Isolated disputes in private companies have also been opened.

These conflicts have in common the demand for wage increases. Government offers to pay with vouchers have been rejected, and some sectors of unionism are proposing wage indexation and others payment in dollars, to protect against the devaluation of the bolivar. There is no inter-union leadership to integrate these struggles, but the trend is for them to converge into a single demand for wage increases.

As was to be expected, some groups have ridden these conflicts to use them as electoral springboards for the presidency of the republic and parliament, but workers have rejected discredited union and political leaders. The labour unrest has allowed many workers to become disillusioned with the pro-government unions and the Centro Socialista Bolivariana de Trabajadores; but they are not too trusting of the other centrals, federations and unions either. This rejection does not necessarily reflect an advance in political clarity. A new direction has yet to emerge, one that favours labour conflicts, consisting of the political influence of the Communist Party.

In a demagogic attempt to calm tempers, the government has been forced to show its “intention” to raise wages and will now try to wear down the movement, which has worked in the past. It remains to be seen whether this time the labour movement will be able to grow in breadth and duration. Meanwhile, the government has launched selective repressive actions to intimidate workers and denounced the demonstrations as “part of a destabilisation plan”.

But business circles have also expressed the need for wage adjustments to defend minimum levels of consumption. The Copei (Christian-social) party has submitted a “wage emergency” bill, which obviously will not meet workers’ demands. In this sense, the government and most union centres are aiming for a tripartite agreement, following the methodology proposed by the International Labour Organization and widely used in many countries. Some union centres have called for a minimum wage of $300 a month (equal to 66 percent of the food basket amount and 35 percent of the basic basket). Fedecamaras, the Venezuelan employers’ union, has indicated a minimum wage of $50 per month.

The government clings to the pretext that it cannot improve wages because of sanctions imposed by the United States, when in fact it boasts of economic growth, which has not translated into an increase in living standards for wage earners. The government has cynically called on workers to take to the streets to protest the economic blockade

Siderúrgica de Orinoco (SIDOR) workers went on strike for five days in the second week of January. Although the government failed to recruit scabs in the region, in a meeting convened by the governor of Bolivar State, the workers, faced with blackmail from repression, agreed to suspend the protest in exchange for the release of 18 of their detainees, the company’s renunciation of firing the protesters, and with a “commitment” to discuss wage demands in a nationwide “working group”.

On Monday the 16th, mobilisations and participants continued to grow across the country, with education workers as the main core. The government paid these a 580 bolivar ($29) bonus, which it then extended to other public sector categories, but workers reiterated their demands for wage increases.

On Monday the 23rd mobilisations in all major cities. Teachers and school administrators mobilised massively. To a lesser extent, academics, health care workers and workers in some state institutions and companies joined.

To counter the mobilisations in schools, the government called for a march in Caracas and some regional demonstrations, mobilising employees of government institutions, scaring them with attendance lists, and launching demands for the rejection of sanctions and economic blockade.

On January 30, the mobilisations maintained their pace, spreading throughout the country and with increased presence of health workers. On the same day, the tripartite meeting was held, with the ILO present, and, as expected, there were no announcements of wage increases, the government refused and proposed the payment of compensatory vouchers. All indications are that the tripartite meeting will serve to prevent wage increases.

On Tuesday, Jan. 31, workers in SIDOR’s hot melt areas halted operations in response to non-payment of paychecks and low wages. They are also demanding payment of premium on company profits, savings fund and benefit payments, which have been seized since last May.

Dispersion persists because of the unions’ complicity with the government, leaving the movement adrift without promoting assemblies and coordination mechanisms, which furthers the government’s strategy of aiming to wear down the movement.

Two qualitative leaps are needed to maintain and advance: on the one hand, to develop its own grassroots organisation to coordinate actions and call assemblies; on the other hand, to involve all sectors to bring energies together in a general strike. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to achieve what is being demanded.

From the grassroots, consideration has begun to be given to forming struggle committees beyond the unions. Only continuing and deepening the conflict will be able to change the balance of power in favour of the working class.

(back to table of contents)

* * * The Party’s Trade Union Activity in Italy

Report to the May 2022 General Meeting

The party’s trade union work in Italy from February to May focused mainly on the following areas of activity:

- direct party interventions in strikes, demonstrations, and assemblies;

- activities in the labour movement through the CLA, the Coordinamento Lavoratori Autoconvocati, to promote the unity of action of workers and militant unionism;

- activities within the USB

- analysis and commentary in our newspaper of workers’ struggles and the labour movement, battling with the opportunist currents dominant in it.

Let us start with this last point. An article came out in the February 2022 issue of our Italian-language newspaper, Il Partito Comunista, that analysed the uprising that occurred in Kazakhstan in early January, calling it genuinely proletarian and greeting it enthusiastically. This distinguished our party from most of the opportunist political groups and, in terms of depth of analysis of events and consequent conclusions, from the few who took a similar position. The article was translated by our comrades into several languages, including Russian.

We then drafted an article that polemicised the watchwords of nationalisations and a law against relocations, both advanced by the leaders of the ex-GKN Collective, which, fighting against the closure of the Florentine factory, gathered around it a certain movement, which was, however, more inter-classist than proletarian.

Following some student demonstrations of the death of a young man employed in a metal factory as part of the so-called “school-to-work alternation”, we addressed the issue of the relationship between youth, school, and work, according to the authentic positions of revolutionary communism. Our intention was to disseminate the text at student demonstrations, which, however, was not possible as that movement quickly receded.

Finally, in the same issue, we commented on the conduct of the leaders of militant unions, from the aftermath of the October 11 united general strike until January, which had seen the stated intention to continue the united path sink into the usual every-man-for-himself, free-for-all conduct with which the opportunist leaders divide the union struggle.

USB’s decision to ally itself with an autonomous, corporatist, right-wing union, instead of with the other base unions, for the RSU (Rappresentanza sindacale unitaria) elections in the Central Civil Service sector, was emblematic of this. A decision, by the way, that did not pay off in terms of votes, as the USB coalition did not reach the threshold of so-called “representation” in that sector. These divisions were reflected in the conduct of base unionism in the face of the outbreak of war in Ukraine, which could not but affect the course of the labour movement in the weeks that followed.

The divisions among the base unions are in large part born of the oppositions between the various opportunist political groups that run these organisations. Faced with the war, in their various facets, they had no small amount of hesitancy about the attitude to take, in some cases capitulating in open betrayal of proletarian positions, indicating to the workers to take sides on one or the other side of the front.

On the other hand, the party, on the strength of the Marxist doctrine which it has been able to defend throughout the whole arc of counterrevolutionary history up to the present day – keeping it alive with its daily theoretical and practical work – has been able to indicate to the workers the nature of the war and the conduct to be taken by the labour movement in the face of it from day one.

On February 25, the second day of the war, the provincial FIOM in Genoa called a two-hour strike against the war in several factories in the city. In the short procession, attended by about 400 workers, our comrades distributed an initial text on the war.

That would be the only strike action against the war promoted by the CGIL. The Genoa FIOM, headed by a political group that proclaims itself internationalist, not only did nothing more, but ignored, in fact sabotaged, the May 20 strike of base unionism.

The hesitations and capitulations of opportunism in the face of the imperialist war-which for now is being fought by proxy in Ukraine-have been reflected in the conduct of the base unions and militant unionism as a whole.

The result was first and foremost a lack of readiness to react to the war. The decision to mobilise workers by calling them to a general strike in a unified manner should have been made in the days following the start of the conflict. Instead, it was formalised only on April 9, at an assembly in Milan, by part of the basic unions, setting the strike for May 20.

The strike thus came three months after the start of the conflict, and this – in the face of the course of the war and its economic consequences as they have unfolded to date – was one of the elements that hindered its better success.

The first initiative on the war by rank-and-file unionism was an online assembly sponsored by SI COBAS on March 13. With about 150 participants, however, it was more party-political than union-political in nature. One of our comrades spoke, pointing to the need for prompt united action by confrontational unionism, but he was the only one to express this view, with the exception of a militant from Sindacato Generale di Base (SGB).

Instead, the SI COBAS leadership indicated that it would participate with its own section in the march of the March 26 national demonstration in Florence, convened by the ex-GKN Factory Collective, and would organise a May Day demonstration focused on the theme of opposition to the war. Long time frame, then. This wait-and-see attitude, hesitant in the face of what is the highest form of oppression on the working class in capitalism, was criticised by some SI COBAS militants.

Meanwhile, on the level of activity within the CLA, a collaboration began with an editorial collective called “Union-net”. Three meetings were held between the most active members of the CLA and those of Union-net, and the result was the first joint action consisting of the drafting and distribution of a jointly signed leaflet at the March 26 national demonstration in Florence.

On March 21 in Genoa there was an assembly organised by the ex-GKN Factory Collective to propagandise the following Saturday’s national demonstration in Florence. We distributed together with a CLA worker the jointly signed CLA-Union leaflet for Saturday’s demonstration, and one of our comrades spoke on behalf of the CLA:

- explaining that the combativeness put forth by the GKN workers was the result of years of union preparation and multiplied effect because it was aimed at building the unity of workers’ struggles;

- thus criticised the very poor attendance of base union militants at the assembly, especially the USB, of which the comrade is a delegate;

- criticised even more sharply the complete absence of delegates from the Genovese FIOM, saying that it is run by a political group that proclaims it wants to fight for a "Europe-wide union" but does not even attend with its union delegates an assembly that is an expression of one of the main ongoing workers’ struggles organised by workers from their own union; and

- reiterated the need that, in the face of war, all base and militant unionism should organise a united workers’ mobilisation.

On Saturday, March 26, we took part in the national demonstration, more inter-classist than proletarian, in Florence called by the ex-GKN Factory Collective, with more than ten thousand in attendance, with our own special leaflet.

The day before – Friday, March 25 – CUB and SGB had sent notice to the Commissione di Garanzia (an agency of the Italian state to control strikes) for a general strike on May 20, wanting to set a date in order to avoid the obstacles posed by the anti-strike law in so-called “essential services”.

The day after the Florentine demonstration, the character of which we commented on in our April paper, a communiqué was issued by CUB, SGB, UNICOBAS, USI CIT and ADL Varese calling a national assembly for the purpose of promoting an anti-war general strike. These are all small unions that, even put together, constitute a minority of the already weak base unionism. However, the initiative was finally going in the direction our party wanted and called for, and therefore we immediately supported it within the labour movement.

On Thursday, March 31, a picket was held in Genoa in front of a port gate organised by USB dockworkers against arms trafficking in the port. An assembly followed, in which USB’s national leaders displayed all their opportunism and false opposition to the war. We polemicised these politicians in our last newspaper. At the picket and assembly, we distributed a CLA leaflet entitled “Building a United Mobilisation Against the War” which stated:

Two important signals go in the right direction of the unity of action of workers and militant unionism: today the participation of the Genovese SI COBAS in the day of struggle promoted by the USB dockworkers; on April 9 in Milan the convocation of a national united assembly, in attendance, for now by CUB, SGB, ADL Varese, UNICOBAS, COBAS Sardegna, USI CIT.

On April 9 we participated in the assembly in Milan that officially promoted the general strike against the war for May 20.

One of our comrades spoke on behalf of the CLA, stressing that we considered as positive the decision taken by the assembly and the willingness it expressed to work to involve all rank-and-file unionism in the strike.

In this regard, we argued for the need to proceed with a public and formal invitation to all bodies of militant unionism that had not yet joined the strike, not only the base unions such as USB and the COBAS Confederation but also the militant elements in CGIL. A public and formal invitation, in fact, would have helped those workers within those trade union bodies who want to fight for strike adherence, overcoming resistance to do so from the leadership.

The same was done at the next three, more restricted, meetings where we attended and spoke, again on behalf of the CLA. But the majority of the leaders who had promoted the strike initiative, and who said they hoped all the basic unions would join, always opposed this formal step, which would be a substantive action. So even on the side of the leaderships promoting the strike there are opportunisms that stand in the way of fully unified union action.

On the same day, April 9, other CLA union militants spoke at an USB regional assembly in Florence, prepared by that union to promote a national demonstration it had called for April 22 in Rome. This decision had been made by the USB leadership before the outbreak of war and without involving any other union. The outbreak of war did not change the intention of the USB leadership, which kept its commitment to promote the demonstration on its own. The CLA intervened at this regional assembly by bringing to it the same content expressed by our comrade in Milan, stating that in any case it would participate in the April 22 demonstration, which was then actually accomplished, the only non-USB union body to participate. This conduct of the CLA demonstrated not only its consistency with the principle of the unity of action of confrontational unionism, but also its improved ability to intervene.

A national assembly of the conflict areas in CGIL was held in Florence on April 14, and they agreed to submit an alternative document to the union’s new congress, the 19th, which will begin in a few weeks.

The three areas that say they are militant in CGIL are Reconquistiamo tutto, a trade union fraction of a Trotskyist party, PCL (Partito Comunista dei Lavoratori), the most substantial; Le giornate di marzo, which broke away from the first two years ago and is in fact a union fraction of a Trotskyist group; and Democrazia e Lavoro, which at the last congress did not present an opposition document but amendments to the majority document and can hardly be considered truly militant.

At this meeting the differences with respect to the war issue emerged. A minority from Reconquistiamo tutto declared its support for the Ukrainian resistance “whatever its political direction”, in the name of the “self-determination of peoples” elevated to an absolute principle, to which the struggle between classes is subordinated.

Another Trotskyist group, the most substantial in this area, has taken a more ambiguous position, instead declaring itself against all imperialism but supporting the right of the Ukrainian people to defend themselves by supporting the leftist political groups that oppose the government there.

The Trotskyist group that created Le giornate di marzo calls the war in Ukraine imperialist, but without going so far as to point the way of defeatism not only to Russian proletarians but also to Ukrainian proletarians.

These divisions among opportunist political groups that head the conflict areas in CGIL explain the substantial immobility of Reconquistiamo tutto in the face of the war. This area after issuing a communiqué, “Against Putin, NATO, and the sending of arms to Ukraine”, on March 4, said or did nothing more until a communiqué in support of the May 20 strike issued on May 15. Certainly positive, but in the meantime, it has never participated in initiatives to promote the strike, either at the April 9 national assembly or at subsequent meetings.

The leadership of the USB, which is the main base union in Italy, waited until May 6 to declare its adherence to the May 20 anti-war strike.

A few days later, a communiqué from the provincial Coordination of Delegates of the USB Fire Brigade of Genoa picked up the internationalist and defeatist positions of the bourgeois war.

On the day of the strike against the war, May 20, we intervened in small demonstrations with a special leaflet published in this issue of the paper, in Rome, Florence, Genoa and Turin.

On Thursday, May 26, following a fatal accident at the Genoa airport, the USB – which organises part of the airport’s employees – put together a picket in front of the air terminal to commemorate the worker, who was a union militant, and to denounce security shortcomings. At the well-attended picket, which was also attended by USB delegates and members from other categories, a brief assembly was held, with about two hundred present, at which national USB leaders, the airport USB delegate, a student from the USB youth organisation, and a local SI COBAS leader spoke.

One of our comrades who works at the airport spoke, explaining how similar incidents had happened at the Genoa airport twice before, that safety for companies is a cost that reduces profits, and that for profit the bosses bill a certain number of worker fatalities, in addition to health damage. He concluded by saying that, in order to oppose this state of affairs, denunciations are not enough and that what is needed instead is strength of strike, of organisation, and of struggle. The speech was much appreciated.

* * *
 Report to the September 2022 General Meeting

The party’s trade union activity in Italy in this period can be divided into four areas: the editorial work of notes, articles, and leaflets; direct participation in demonstrations and strikes; intervention in trade union organisations; and collaboration with the CLA.

For 10 years – since the January 2013 issue – the party has resumed inclusion in Il Partito Comunista of a fixed page “for action and theoretical party address,” entitled “Per il sindacato di classe” (“For the Class Union”).

In the June 2022 issue, accompanying the leaflet we circulated at the demonstrations for the May 20 general strike against the war, called by all rank-and-file unions, we published a commentary about its progress and preparation.

We were able to follow the preparation of the strike closely through the CLA, which was invited to participate in the preparatory organisational meetings, as well as all the bodies – even non-class bodies – that supported its promotion, since the first national assembly in Milan on April 9, where we intervened both by disseminating party leaflets and by a speech on behalf of the CLA.

It should be remembered that the CLA includes union militants from different bodies of militant unionism: from base unions and opposition groups in the CGIL. Many belong to different political groups, among which our party is clearly in the minority. The CLA was formed and works on a trade-union-political, not party-political, level, based on a guideline shared by our party, and which indeed characterises it, namely the unity of action of militant unionism and workers. While we saw the limitations in the preparation of the May 20 strike against the war, and the low adherence to it, our judgement was not negative, as we attached importance: to the value of the attempt to organise working-class action against the ongoing imperialist war in Ukraine, in the face of the bellicose doge deployed by the bourgeois regime in Italy and Europe, and the immobility of the regime’s trade unions aimed at preventing any such reaction by the workers; and to the fact that, even amidst hesitations and hesitations, all rank-and-file unions ultimately joined the strike.

This opinion, like that of the previous united general strike of October 11, 2021, distinguishes us in the field of workers’ groups and parties active in the labour movement, most of which either expressed a negative opinion to or belittled the importance of this action taken by rank-and-file, anti-war unions. In fact, unlike us, they attach too much importance to the numerical weakness of the present mobilisations and too little to the features that make them susceptible to wider future development.

The first factor in this distrust is the scant regard in which autonomous working-class action is held, the result of the opportunist political approach that considers of greater value a popular, inter-class movement that – at best – has the working class "at the centre". We, on the other hand, assert that the half-classes and non-proletarian social strata can at most queue up for an autonomous movement of the working class, which is impossible without its identity, its distinct and separate organisation, and capacity for movement.

According to this approach, for example, regarding opposition to the imperialist war, a large part of these opportunist workers’ groups place much more value on large pacifist demonstrations of an inter-class character than on strikes by an albeit minority part of the working class. We, on the other hand, know that only the mobilisation of our class can prevent or stop the imperialist war.

Thus, a first attempt to mobilise the workers on the trade union, i.e., class, level against the war is of great importance, in the certain prospect of the growth of inter-imperialist contrasts and the pressure of the bourgeois regime on the working class to bend it to militarism.

The second factor of mistrust – which is the basis of the judgement different from that expressed by our party on the merits of the strike against the war and the previous one in October 2021 – is the lack of importance given to the unified character of these mobilisations, that is, to the fact that all the organisations of base unionism joined them. This unitary character does not appear in the immediate term to have led to substantial advances in participation in the strikes thus called.

As we explain in our articles and leaflets, the united action of the bodies of militant unionism – base unions and class-based opposition groups in CGIL – is not in itself the thaumaturgic solution to the current state of passivity of the working class. This is the result of a series of complex factors concerning the century-long cycle of counterrevolution that began in the mid-1920s.

The united action of the bodies of militant trade unionism, pursued consistently and organically, that is, at all levels of trade union action – company, territorial, categorical, national, and confederal – is the subjective condition such as to foster the most rapid return to workers’ struggle when objective conditions become favourable in this regard.

Conversely, the persistence of opportunist conduct that divides the action of the base unions is a factor of restraint, of maintaining the regime unions’ control over the workers and the workers’ state of passivity.

Moreover, the direction of the unity of action of militant trade unionism, agitated at the base of its bodies, is useful in sustaining and organising the struggle against the trade union leadership and their opportunism, from the perspective that that permanent and organic unity of action, leading to a united trade union class front, can only take place against and to the detriment of them.

In the past two years, we have witnessed a partial change of course on the part of the leadership of the base unions. It manifested itself first with the national united strike in logistics on June 18, 2021. It should be recalled that in this very category there was a few years ago the hardest clash between SI COBAS and USB. Then the united course led to the general strike of October 11, 2021, a mobilisation still far from being a true general strike but the most successful compared to similar actions in previous years. Then there was the general strike against the war on May 20, and, finally, the united demonstration in Piacenza on July 23 in response to the arrests of USB and SI COBAS leaders.

This unitary course has taken place, and is likely to continue, amidst limitations, hesitations, retreats.

We do not believe that it is the direct result of the union battle action in this sense carried out by our party, including through the CLA. It is the effect of the maturing conditions of the class struggle, which, exacerbated, makes the direction of the unity of action of militant trade unionism that we anticipated and indicated increasingly necessary, and thus vulnerable the opportunist leadership of the base unions to our party’s criticism and proposal of the right direction.

* * *

In the June 2022 issue of Il Partito Comunista, we published a commentary on a national assembly convened in Florence on May 15 by the ex-GKN Factory Collective, in which we participated as representatives of the CLA. This assembly thus enabled us to reiterate some important points of our trade union line, what are the true characteristics of a class movement and the relationship between the economic struggle and the political struggle of the working class.

Here, we added only one consideration, which ties in with the above. The ex-GKN Factory Collective managed to aggregate around its struggle against the closure of the plant a movement of a certain size, such that it deployed several demonstrations, well attended, the best successful one with over ten thousand participants. The May 15 assembly was also very successful, with over three hundred in attendance. These numbers have – justifiably – attracted the attentions of all militant unions, their militants, and even the CLA.

However, in spite of the participatory mobilisations, to the extent that the leaders of the ex-GKN Factory Collective attached more importance to uniting their struggle with inter-class movements – such as the student or environmental movements – than to uniting it with other workers’ struggles and, even more markedly, than to uniting the action of conflict unionism, the prospects of the small movement to which they gave birth are shorter-lived than those of the united actions of base unionism, albeit for now less striking in terms of participation.

The work, the insistence, on the part of our party has tended to explain how the ex-GKN Factory Collective’s ability to mobilise originated in the union work carried out in the past years, up to the announced closure of the factory by the ownership, and how the only future prospect is, yes, outside the factory, but in the wage-earning class, working for the unification of workers’ struggles and militant unionism, and not for the construction of a vaguely popular movement.

The pledges made by the ex-GKN Collective for demonstrations planned in the months ahead, with an inter-class character, and the absence of a serious and determined initiative aimed at directing and strengthening the class-struggle union movement, confirm what had already been outlined by observing the evolution of the characters of the demonstrations and demands from the beginnings of the dispute in July 2021 to the present.

The opportunist political approach to the Collective’s workers’ leaders and their membership in the CGIL have contributed to dispersing these energies of workers’ struggle in the quagmire of inter-classism, once again to the detriment of the necessary work of rebuilding class union strength. The potential of autonomous action of the working class is reduced, and not strengthened by promoting the unity of action of militant unionism.

The real pursuit of the unity of action of militant trade unionism to its fullest extent can in fact only lead the opposition areas in CGIL to break with the internal discipline of that union, manifesting the impossibility of the prevalence of a class orientation within it and the need to organise outside and against it.

* * *

After the May 20 strike against the war, there were other meetings among the union leadership but this time reserved only for them, in which therefore neither the CLA nor our comrades were able to participate.

There was confusion about the general initiatives to be promoted in the fall months. A call for a general strike by SI COBAS, USB, and CUB for October 21 appeared to be registered with the Commission of Guarantee; communication sent on July 15 but not propagated among workers by the promoting unions.

On Sunday, September 18, SI COBAS held a national assembly in Bologna, "We revive proletarian opposition to the bosses’ schemes of misery, militarism, and to the policies of social butchery", from which it launched a general strike for December 2.

Finally, on September 24, all the main rank-and-file unions sent notice to the Commissione di Garanzia of the proclamation of a united general strike on Friday, December 2.

Likely playing a role in this confusion and expectation were the bourgeois political elections on September 25; similar to what happened with the CGIL, whose leadership decided to suspend the union congress for them.

These hesitations are not good, even considering that, in view of the assertion of the “right-wing” bourgeois parties, the CGIL will presumably, as it has always done, engage in some activism in mobilisations, the first sign of which was the convening – without waiting for the passage of the elections – of a national demonstration in Rome for October 8.

But the most important, and positive, fact is that for the second year in a row rank-and-file unionism is unitedly calling a general strike: the problem will now be in its proper preparation.

* * *

Between the anti-war strike on May 20 and the wavering of some of the leadership of the rank-and-file unions in the weeks leading up to the elections, in July there was the affair of the arrest in Piacenza of 8 local and national leaders of SI COBAS and USB. The arrest took place as part of an investigation by the Piacenza prosecutor’s office. This is the third attempt – at least confined to the main ones – of a judicial attack on the class union movement in logistics, twice by the Piacenza prosecutor’s office, once by the Modena prosecutor’s office.

In the first two cases, all charges were dropped along the trial process. In this third attempt, which for the first time involves not only the SI COBAS but also the USB, the most serious and central charge, that of "criminal conspiracy", came down not even two months after its initiation.

Reading the excerpts of the investigation compiled by the prosecution, indeed it seems blatant how it is characterised in a merely instrumental attack, with anti-union aims, to curb strikes in the logistics sector and destroy the base unions that organise them.

The reaction to the arrests was quite positive in terms of participation in the local demonstrations and the July 23 national demonstration in Piacenza, considering that they took place in the middle of the summer. A positive aspect was the united reaction of SI COBAS and USB: in Piacenza, workers from the two unions marched mixed in the same procession, not divided into two sections. But at the August 3 demonstration in front of the Bologna courthouse, USB was absent.

We intervened at the July 23 demonstration in Piacenza by distributing a leaflet that was promptly translated into four languages.

The CLA also intervened with a leaflet entitled "Unite with struggle and organisation that which the state seeks to divide and intimidate with repression".

* * *

The CLA, in addition to the national demonstration in Piacenza on July 23, intervened in the summer months with two leaflets: The first on August 2 at Piaggio in Pontedera, where on July 27 there was a strike joined compactly by workers, with a procession through the factory, following a serious injury to a factory worker, and the second on September 9 at a postal center in Ponsacco, Pisa Province, where a worker had died a few days earlier.

A group of delegates from the opposition area in CGIL, metalworkers framed in FIOM, had been working in the Piaggio factory for some time. Several years ago, these delegates had been suspended from FIOM CGIL but had not left the regime union, and finally were readmitted to it. In 2016, a minority of these delegates left FIOM to join the USB. Between the delegates from the opposition area in CGIL who remained in that union, and those who switched to USB there was from the beginning a climate of discord. A few months ago, the delegates from the opposition area in CGIL who had remained in that regime union also decided to leave it, and switched to a small base union called SIAL COBAS. So now at Piaggio in Pontedera there are two base unions.

In the nearby former Continental factory, now called Vitesco, a few years ago some of the FIOM delegates, also here adherents of the opposition area in CGIL, had left the regime union to join USB. However, these delegates came to a bitter clash with the local USB leadership group, including USB delegates at Piaggio. Together with a member of the USB provincial executive, they finally decided to leave that base union and they also joined SIAL COBAS.

Finally, on September 12, a document was published, drafted by one of our comrades and only slightly modified, entitled “Against the rising cost of living, a united action of militant trade unionism is needed for the creation of a general movement for strong wage increases”.

* * *

On September 1, at a national USB anti-war assembly held in Genoa, we distributed a leaflet entitled "The first step to stop the imperialist war is to strike to refuse to pay its costs".

This leaflet and that of the CLA were distributed in Rome on Saturday, September 17 at an “Anti-Capitalist Proletarian Assembly”. Two of our comrades and two union militants from the CLA were present. This assembly, which would like to be a permanent body, is what remains of that Anti-Capitalist Action Pact created three years ago by the SI COBAS leadership, finding mainly support outside the union in a Stalinist youth group. We harshly criticized this move by the SI COBAS, because it tended to create a party-union hybrid. We easily predicted that such a Pact would quickly come to an end, which occurred, at the behest of the main forces that had promoted it, including the SI COBAS leadership itself. Some smaller organisations that had joined it did not want to abandon the project, and with smaller forces renamed it the “Anti-Capitalist Proletarian Assembly”. This suffers the same defect as the Pact promoted by the SI COBAS leadership. One of our comrades intervened by reiterating, in a very well-articulated speech, the need to keep the two spheres, trade union and party, distinct.

Report to the January 2023 General Meeting

The party’s interventions in the movement and labour organisations from October to January give a complete picture of its different levels within the working class:

- On the streets with leafleting and newspaper stalking, favouring places frequented by workers;

- In front of workplaces;

- Among the working masses, in demonstrations promoted by labour organisations;

- Within labour organisations, in meetings of their internal, territorial and workplace bodies;

- In the meetings of the inter-union body (CLA) to which the trade union fraction of the party adheres in order to promote with it the unity of action of class unionism, i.e., the United Class Union Front, as a fundamental instrument for achieving the highest degree of workers’ unity in the economic class struggle.

It thus rises from a very general level, such as that of street propaganda among the indistinct masses, to more restricted and qualified levels. Each represents a cog in a mechanism that enables the party to enter into the best possible relationship with the proletarian masses.

Such a mechanism operates at present at a very low number of revolutions, it seems almost at a standstill, but we know it will take to work at much higher revolutions with the inevitable return of the workers to struggle.

Of course, the proper functioning of such a mechanism depends on the correct practical direction the party gives the workers in their struggle for their immediate, i.e. economic, interests. Such correctness of direction is possible insofar as it derives from Marxist doctrine, from which descends the whole of the now centuries-old store of practical Communist experience in the trade union field, which the party jealously preserves and passes on, from generation to generation, seeking to put it into practice, insofar as historical conditions permit.

The same confidence and conviction that the working class will return to struggle in a general, broad, intense way, even to the point of revolutionary confrontation, derives from our doctrine and distinguishes us from the feeling of resignation that pervades in Italy today even a good part of confrontational trade unionism.

It is on the shoulders of our doctrine that we can cope with long years of working class passivity, just as the party has been able to cope with an even broader historical period of counterrevolution, which persists but which sees its economic and ideological foundations subject to progressive erosion.

The inevitability of the class struggle today is confirmed by the ongoing movements of workers’ struggle in the United Kingdom, France, the return to the trade union struggle in the United States. This is an economic struggle in the imperialist countries of older, decrepit, and decadent capitalism. This is what awaits all the capitalist countries of the world. When it involves the new industrial giants, now capitalistically mature, starting with China, the legs of the bourgeoisie in all countries will shake again.

In Italy, the trade union movement and our activity have developed in the last 4 months around 4 elements:

- The general strike of the base unions called on September 24 for December 2;

- The action of the new government installed on October 22, after the September 25 general elections;

- The regional general strikes called by CGIL and UIL from Dec. 12 to 16 against the Budget Law passed by government; and

- The 19th CGIL Congress.

Preparation for the unitary general strike of base unionism on Friday, Dec. 2, was developed through three stages of mobilisation: a national unitary assembly of base unionism on Oct. 15 in Milan; a national demonstration with a predominantly inter-class character on Oct. 22 in Bologna; and a national demonstration on Nov. 5 in Naples.

The party intervened in the first two mobilisations: the Milan assembly and the demonstration in Bologna. The preparations for the December 2 strike have already been reported in detail in the December issue of this newspaper. Here we reiterate its essential features.

The whole course of preparation and conduct of the two days of mobilisation of base unionism – the strike on December 2 and the demonstration in Rome on December 3 – offered a limpid confirmation of what our party has always affirmed. The opportunist union leaderships of confrontational trade unionism pander to the necessary unity of action of their organisations only because of contingent calculations, of convenience, only because – within certain limits – they are forced into it. But they will never be able to pursue to the end, consistently and consequently, the building of a united front of conflict unionism, which would be an important step toward the formation of a class union. Their united action is always partial, hesitant, and at all times revocable: “one step forward and two steps back”.

A further confirmation follows, referring to the practical direction of the party’s struggle within the trade union organisations: in order to consistently pursue the direction of unity of action of the bodies of conflict unionism, it is necessary to wage a battle within them, and it will only be able to assert itself at the expense of and against the opportunist leaderships.

The fact that the party, in waging such a battle, albeit on the present minimal scale, however proportionate to the present scale of workers’ combativity, finds support from union militants outside it and sometimes adherents of other workers’ parties, confirms that its course of action will find consensus and followership in an audience of workers extended far beyond the perimeter of its party membership, this inasmuch as it is the only course of action concordant with the needs of the proletarians’ defensive class struggle, for their most common and general interests, not limited to particular sectors and not in conflict with their overall interests.

It is this character of the communist trade union orientation that makes it possible to win the leadership of class organisations and the trade union movement and the functioning of the so-called transmission belt, that is, the link between the party and the proletarian masses through the intermediate defensive organs.

The battle for the unity of action of confrontational trade unionism and the workers’ struggle has been waged in recent months both through the CLA and through the direct intervention of the party among the workers.

The conduct of the opportunist leaderships of the USB and SI COBAS, which broke the December 3 procession of 8,000 workers in Rome in half, confirmed the necessity of the work conducted by the CLA. The activity continued with two meetings, one online and one in-person. In Genoa, a leaflet was drafted and distributed to two CGIL provincial sectoral congresses - transport (Filt CGIL) and education (Flc CGIL) - that indicated how the conflictual union currents within the CGIL, in order to prove coherent, must fight to break the unity of regime unionism (which includes CGIL, CISL, UIL and UGL) by countering it with the unity of action of conflictual unionism, i.e., including the base unions.

A number of considerations must be made regarding this direction:

1 - As has already become apparent in the past, for union currents that claim to be conflictual within the CGIL, pursuing unity of action with base unionism would entail incurring the reaction from the leadership, which, as is the tradition of opportunism, is always as ready to "open to the right" as it is to club and close to the left; such a reaction can lead all the way to expulsion, as happened at FCA in Melfi in 2015, or at any rate to ouster from positions, granted rather than won, in the internal hierarchy.

For example, in June 2012, the day of the last united general strike of base unionism before the one in October 2021, FIOM’s then-national secretary Maurizio Landini - now confederal general secretary of the CGIL - went, invited, to the national assembly of Federmeccanica’s Industrialists’ Association in Bergamo. The conflicting internal opposition supported the strike by the base unions, and some factory groups went to Bergamo to challenge the FIOM secretary. The reaction was, in the following September, the ouster of the representative of the conflictual minority from the FIOM national secretariat.

Several components within the CGIL that claim to be militant manifested their opportunism by guarding against pursuing unity of action with militant unionism so as not to lose the leadership positions granted to them by the leadership.

2 - The propaganda of the address of the unity of action of militant unionism, that is, of the base unions and these with the militant currents in CGIL, therefore serves within CGIL:

- to unmask the incoherence of the leaderships of the militant currents, the result of their political opportunism;

- to the extent that it gets its way, to expose the incompatibility of class unionism with the regime’s CGIL and the need to organise outside and against it;

- finally, of course, to strengthen the mobilisations promoted by base unionism, extending the unity of action beyond the perimeter of its organisations.

As mentioned, we intervened in a national demonstration in Bologna on October 22. We have already commented on that as well. The leaflet we circulated was in response to the GKN Factory Collective, which, in joining this demonstration, had given it national prominence. In fact, the leaders of the collective, in more than a year of mobilising against the closure of the plant, have gathered a good following, with several demonstrations even with ten thousand participants. One of the most repeated slogans was "unite and converge". But such unity by the leaders of the GKN Collective was understood and sought in an inter-class sense, with the environmental and student movement, rather than with other workers. Instead, our leaflet indicated the need to use all energy to build the unity of workers’ struggle and, as the means of achieving it to the highest degree, to fight for the unity of action of confrontational unionism. Battle, this, evaded by the leaders of the GKN Collective.

In the Bologna demonstration, the base unions intervened to propagandise the December 2 strike. They did the same at another demonstration in Naples on November 5.

That day, however, our comrades intervened in another national demonstration, in Rome, promoted by various organisations of the bourgeois pacifist movement, which the CGIL had joined. In the leaflet we denounced the war in Ukraine as an inevitable product of capitalism, demolishing the silly thesis that it was a consequence of the particular warmongering attitude of one or another bourgeois front. Then we gave the indication that not the goodwill and diplomacy of the bourgeois states, but proletarian defeatism on both sides of the imperialist war, will be able to prevent or stop it.

Finally, we propagated the December 2 united general strike of base unionism, indicating how all combative workers within the CGIL were to join it and work for its best success, under the banner of workers’ unity of action, of militant unionism, against the anti-worker unity of regime unionism.

One of the elements that manifested the opportunism of the leaderships of the base unions in the preparation of the December 2 united strike was their refusal to work to engage the conflictual minorities within the CGIL, challenging their opportunist leaderships on this ground. This refusal emerged from the rejection of the CLA’s proposal to this effect at the October 15 national assembly in Milan for it to mandate the establishment in each city of unitary strike-building committees open to all workers and all union bodies that supported it. This proposal had been made earlier-and equally rejected-in the run-up to the May 20 strike against the war, by a delegate of the internal opposition to the La Spezia CGIL, which follows the activities of the CLA.

The party, within the limits of its available forces, took on the task, evaded by the leaderships of the base unions, by propagating the Dec. 2 strike among workers and combative militants in the CGIL. On the day of the strike, Friday, Dec. 2, we circulated the leaflet written for the occasion at the demonstrations in Genoa and Florence. The next day at the national demonstration in Rome, which was well successful, in spite of everything, and predominantly working-class in character.

Another element that marked these 4 months of the labour movement in Italy, and our activity in it, was the establishment of the new bourgeois government. Even before its establishment, on October 8, the CGIL organised a national demonstration in Rome. It took place after the right-wing’s success in the Sept. 25 elections, but before the formation of the new government on Oct. 22.

A theme that imposed itself in those days was therefore that of the “return of fascism”. The CGIL leadership stuck to a position that reiterated even more clearly its corporatism: “We are not here against anyone but for Labor to be heard”. Landini declared from the stage. The confrontational opposition in CGIL, on the other hand, marched behind a banner that read “Prejudicially antifascist”.

Our leaflet thus shed light on the misleading opposition between democracy and fascism, on the nature of the bourgeois government and that of the CGIL leadership, and instructed the workers and combative militants in CGIL to take up the task of organising a movement to defend workers’ living conditions, first and foremost for strong wage increases in the face of inflation, as was already happening in France in those days, building unity of action with base unionism, adhering to and supporting the December 2 general strike.

Then, after the new government took office and after the national strike of the base unions against the Budget Law and its anti-working-class contents, the CGIL called regional general strikes, of 8 or 4 hours, in the week of December 12 to 16.

The CLA intervened with two documents. The first, appealing to the militants of base unionism to promote the participation of the base unions, in a united way among them, in the regional general strikes and demonstrations promoted by CGIL and UIL, under the banner of workers’ unity of action in the economic struggle, as the best means to combat the regime unions’ control over the working class, seeking to radicalise the mobilisations they themselves always called in a bland and sparse way. The second document was the CLA’s leaflet at the CGIL and UIL strike demonstrations in Genoa and Florence, which reiterated the indication contained in the leaflet distributed at the CGIL provincial trade congresses, namely to break the unity of regime unionism of CGIL, CISL, and UIL with the unity of action of militant unionism.

In Genoa we spoke at a public meeting of port union militants of FILT-CGIL and USB, reiterating the need for the unity of action of confrontational unionism.

On the editorial level, we have paid care and attention to workers’ struggle movements in other developed countries in reaction to rising inflation, in France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Turkey. This is to draw as an example and experience of struggle the combativity of workers in those countries. We have also reported a timely description of the wage agreement for metalworkers in Germany, where social peace currently prevails, as in Italy.

On the whole, we can say that union activity is improving in quality, thanks to our constant training to deal in its many planes with the problems it poses, and, at a rate not dependent on us, also in quantity.

(back to table of contents)

From the Archive of the Left

Party and Class

from Rassgena Comunista no. 4, June 30, 2921

[ Full text ]
* * *
Party and Class Action
from Rassgena Comunista no. 4, June 30, 2921

[ Full text ]
* * *
Rome Theses on Tactics – Communist Party of Italy

Adopted at the Second Congress, Rome, March 1922

[ Full text ]
* * *
Revolutionary Party and Economic Action

From Theory and Action in Marxist Doctrine
Presented to the Rome Meeting on April 1st, 1951
Published in International Bulletin no. 1, September 10, 1951

[ Full text ]