(Comunismo, n. 10, september 1982)
|1||The Importance of Tactics|
|2||First Phase of the Union Movement: Prohibition|
|3||Second Phase: Tolerance|
|4||The Communist Movement Facing the Trade Union Question|
|5||Third Phase: Subjugation|
|6||The Balance Done by the Communist Left in the Trade Union Field in the Immediate Post-War Period along the Red Thread of Revolutionary Marxism|
|7||Traditional Red Unions Against Nationalist Unions|
|8||The Dynamics of Trade Union Struggle in the Age of Imperialism|
|9||The Tactics of Our Party in the First Twenty Years After WW2|
|10||The Most Significant Struggles of the Party|
|11||Towards an “Ex Novo” Rebirth|
This monographic issue of our magazine, entirely devoted to the union question, comes out while a vast attack on the living and working conditions of the working masses is underway. The law on cutting severance pay, the cancellation of the agreement on the salary scale by the bosses, the umpteenth tax and tariff measures being defined as we write, highlight what for us revolutionary Marxists is only a historical confirmation: capital is desperately trying to get out of the deepening crisis that is afflicting it, which is a crisis not of this or that “mode of politically managing the economy”, but of the capitalist mode of production itself, by reducing as much as it is socially possible the living conditions of the entire working class.
While all over the world, from East to West, North to South, bourgeois society is demonstrating that it is unable to control its own terrible contradictions and is slowly but surely falling towards the only solution it can give to its historically recurring cyclical crises inherent in its own economic nature: a world war between imperialist blocs, where each State tries to get out of the quagmire in which its economy is stranded by enacting measures that follow the two classic directives that characterize the attack of big capital on the exploited classes: the reduction of the purchasing power of wages and the restructuring of corporate production processes through the expulsion of the “superfluous” workforce from the factories.
Both of these effects interact with each other to the detriment of the working class; the growth of a vast army of unemployed proletarians acts as a brake on the growth of wages, and the joint action of the bosses and the governments that defend their interests plays on this contrast to progressively drive the working masses back to the miserable levels of life from which they had been deluded by the official trade unions and the false “socialist” and “communist” parties into believing that they had finally escaped.
In this context, the function of the official representatives of the workers, the national tricolor unions, appears with increasing clarity as that of valuable and indispensable organizations to the ruling class for the preservation of the social and political stability of capitalist society. Every governmental or employers’ measure, dictated by the progressive worsening of the general economic situation, finds in them the best vehicle to be imposed on the workers without provoking class reactions dangerous for the general order of capitalism.
Their reformist, collaborationist and renunciatory policy is the backbone of the social peace that has characterized this second post-war period, in which the working class has been, as it still is, absent from the world stage of the real class struggle. The degree of degeneration of these trade unions, the real character of their anti-proletarian purpose, and the consequent attitude that revolutionary communists must hold toward them today, can only be derived, as is the tradition of our Party, with the study of the entire span of their existence, using the theoretical weapon of the Marxist method. Only through the past history of the workers’ movement is it possible to understand and reaffirm what the infamy of the times we are living through does not yet allow us to see: the only possibility of preventing the collapse of the bourgeois class from dragging the working classes with it lies in the ability of the proletariat to succeed in reuniting its action with the leadership of the revolutionary communist party, which represents its historical aims, and thus determine the objective conditions indispensable for the conquest of political power by the working class, the destruction of the bourgeois State, the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship and the subsequent transformation of the capitalist economy, which produces goods for the sole purpose of making profits, into a socialist economy, towards the production of goods that meet all the needs of all mankind.
But for this to happen, it is indispensable that the working masses return to the uncompromising defense of their immediate conditions of life through the class struggle against all the forces that defend the interests of the capitalist economy, with the consequent rebirth of a class-based organizational fabric that frames and directs the most combative part of the proletariat in this struggle. The rebirth of class unions as intermediate bodies between the party and the class in struggle is indispensable, as is reiterated in all the sets of theses of the Communist Left.
The two reports we’re publishing here [of which this constitutes only one; the other can be found in Italian in Comunismo, no. 10] tend to re-present this classic Marxist perspective, which, as such, is ours alone, in polemic not only with the official opportunism of the false “workers’ parties”, but also with those who distort this fundamental cornerstone of Marxism, claiming that the return of the proletariat to the revolutionary struggle must follow paths different from those known so far.
1 – The Importance of Tactics
In the recent work which appeared in our monthly magazine under the title From the immutable tradition of revolutionary Marxism springs the function of communists in the class struggle of the proletariat [see Comunismo, no. 10], we tried to show how the tactics which the Party adopts in the trade union field coherently descend from the party-class-action relationship as revolutionary Marxism described it from day one, as soon as it appeared as the social science of the proletariat, and how the historical evolution of the formal party and of the workers’ movement in general has realized it in the practice of the class struggle; how, ultimately, all that remains for our small party of today is to “hoard” this past, reconnecting it to the original theory which traces the continuity of the red thread between the various historical situations occurred up to now, in order to continually reconnect with it, without inventing or discovering anything “new”, in order to throw it into the present and above all to extend it towards future situations, trying as of today to foresee the great lines of its course and development. Indeed, we insisted, in this work as in so many others, on the question of tactics bound by the general principles of the party and Marxist theory and, at the same time, descended from a correct analysis of the situation.
This postulate is particularly true if we refer it to the Party’s tactics in the field of trade unions, and precisely to its attitude towards the proletarian economic organizations that have arisen historically because of the need of the proletariat to defend its living and working conditions from the capital’s thirst for profit. To this subject the Party, especially in its intense activity of re-establishing the cornerstones of Marxist theory after World War II, has always devoted ample space for analysis, specifying from time to time with increasingly clear-cut contours, the type of action to be carried out in the union field.
Nevertheless, the union question remains challenging and thorny for its complex determinations, such as to engage in full our dialectical muscles. At times, the objective study of the problems related to this issue has degenerated into heated discussions within the party and has been the cause of sudden lacerations.
The cause of this is mainly to be found in the extreme difficulty of directing the Party’s practical work within the workers’ and trade-union struggles in general, since the “raw material” for the precise identification of tactics is lacking, so to speak: the struggles themselves.
Half a century of counter-revolution has practically brought the proletariat back to the dawn of its history: there is no more immediate class economic organization, while the Party has no influence on the working class. In order to overcome this, it is not enough to trace back the Marxist terms of doctrine and the history of the first communist organizations, in particular of the First International, but it is necessary to draw the subsequent history of the world workers’ movement up to the present situation, which is the product of the evolution, and involution, suffered by the proletarian economic organization, directly related to the phases of evolution and putrescence of international capitalism.
The dynamics of the process which will see the proletariat take sides again in the near future on the ground of the class struggle and which will have to see the Party committed to influence its action up to the point of assuming its political direction, will not be the mechanical repetition of the previous periods but will have its own characteristics, linked to the events that the growing world inter-imperialist contrasts will determine in the individual States and to the repercussions that the anti-proletarian measures that each of them will be forced to adopt will arouse within the working masses. It is precisely these characteristics that the Party will have to try to understand and foresee, anticipating the methods of action and the tactics to be adopted. “Specific characteristics” does not mean that they are unknown to Marxism so that, as others have pretended to do, it is a question of calling into question the classical process indispensable for the proletarian revolution outlined by the Party in all its bodies of theses: the unfolding of a vast proletarian movement acting on class bases, the consequent revival of immediate class bodies, the influence on them of the Party through its communist groups organized in union fractions.
What must be correctly identified for the purpose of the right tactics is the specific dynamics through which this process will take place, whose broad lines are already known to the Party. These broad lines are immutable because they belong intrinsically to the general laws of the bourgeois-proletariat class struggle, first fully understood by Marxism and traced in all their historical becoming in an invariant way. To admit that the general dynamics of these laws can express general tendencies different from previous periods in the history of capitalism, is tantamount to denying the validity of Marxism and admit the need for its enrichment.
Having said this, it is important to reiterate that defining tactics, and not only in the trade union field, is the permanent task of the Party, whatever its membership and the range of its influence within the class. To deny this, asserting that the Party, reduced to a handful of militants, has absolutely no influence on the workers’ movement, and therefore cannot even pose tactical problems, is an exaggeration of reality, functional to those who, for the most varied reasons, have an interest in liquidating the very existence of the Party, “at peace with the historical party, turning its back on the formal one”.
In order to better define the Party’s current tactics in the trade union field, we cannot refrain, as is our method, from re-presenting, albeit in broad outline, the history of the international trade union movement, not as scholastic cultural research but as a theoretical weapon for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and all its lackeys, more and more numerous and variously disguised.
2 – First Phase of the Union Movement: Prohibition
From the point of view of the bourgeoisie’s attitude toward proletarian union bodies, the Party divided the history of trade unions into three phases: prohibition – tolerance – subjugation.
The first phase is characterized by the emergence on the historical scene of the first confused but decisive workers’ movements against individual capitalists and consequently of the first workers’ associations, the first coalitions of wage earners against the bourgeois in defense of wages. This phenomenon was the first denial of the liberal doctrine that constituted the ideological guise of the triumph of the bourgeoisie, now the ruling class against the old regimes of the feudal aristocracy. The falsehood of the democratic principle, whereby the defense of the interests of individuals could be guaranteed by a body of representatives of all citizens, who would equally distribute social and economic justice among all members of civil society, became clear: no economic association among citizens would be necessary, because the defense of individual rights would be guaranteed by the State, by the government, by the freely elected representative institutions of all the people. It is in the name of these principles, under the impulse of its class preservation, that the bourgeoisie fiercely represses the first permanent workers’ associations, accusing them of wanting to resurrect the guilds of the ancien régime. The bourgeoisie’s prohibition of the first forms of workers’ economic associations, a prohibition expressly raised to the level of a law (remember the Le Chapelier law in France in June 1791 and the law of the English Parliament in July 1799), was based on the material conditions of capitalism in its very first liberal phase, dominated by the free market and mutual competition between capitalists. In theory it was also directed against associations between capitalists, in practice it could only strike at the natural tendency of proletarians to band together in defense of their class interests. This prohibition meant that the first workers’ associations, regardless of the consciousness they had of themselves, constituted, by the mere fact of manifesting themselves openly, a powerful revolutionary factor. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the first proletarian movements the distinction between bodies of immediate defense and the first political groups or circles was not very clear.
However, Marxism has since then defined this difference in very clear and definitive terms, from which every consideration in the field of trade union tactics derives. It is enough to mention this quotation of a passage by Marx from a letter to Bolte of November 29, 1871, which defines the relationship between political struggles and economic struggles and therefore between party and union:
«The political movement of the working class has as its object, of course, the conquest of political power for the working class, and for this it is naturally necessary that a previous organisation of the working class, itself arising from their economic struggles, should have been developed up to a certain point».
Note how already in this expression the perspective of the necessity of an immediate economic organization as an indispensable precondition for the conquest of political power by the proletariat is outlined.
«On the other hand, however, every movement in which the working class comes out as a class against the ruling classes and attempts to force them by pressure from without is a political movement. For instance, the attempt in a particular factory or even a particular industry to force a shorter working day out of the capitalists by strikes, etc., is a purely economic movement. On the other hand the movement to force an eight-hour day, etc., law is a political movement. And in this way, out of the separate economic movements of the workers there grows up everywhere a political movement, that is to say a movement of the class, with the object of achieving its interests in a general form, in a form possessing a general social force of compulsion. If these movements presuppose a certain degree of previous organisation, they are themselves equally a means of the development of this organisation. Where the working class is not yet far enough advanced in its organisation to undertake a decisive campaign against the collective power, i.e., the political power of the ruling classes, it must at any rate be trained for this by continual agitation against and a hostile attitude towards the policy of the ruling classes. Otherwise it will remain a plaything in their hands(...)”
The economic movement and the political movement were part of a single, not yet differentiated revolutionary process identified in the Manifesto of 1848 with the famous expression of the organization of the proletariat into a class and then into a political party, which was made possible by «the ever expanding union of the workers”. We can say that there were not yet questions of tactics of the political organization with respect to the economic one, as long as both lived the revolutionary process, which saw the proletariat take sides more and more decisively in defense of its exclusive class interests, converging in fact, in a process already clear to the communists of that time, towards the conquest of political power as a result of the welding of the real movement of proletarian economic associations with scientific socialism, that is between economic associations and the revolutionary political party.
The difference between the one and the other was, however, already present to Marxism, as appears in the work it carried out within the First International, to which economic associations also adhered. In the inaugural address of the First International, in fact, the limits of cooperative and trade union organizations are already indicated, which in themselves «will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries”, and here it’s already formulated the concept of the necessity to overcome the purely economic character of the movement, in order to orient it towards the conquest of political power.
3 – Second Phase: Tolerance
Subsequently, and in particular in the period of the Second International, the bourgeoisie changes its attitude towards trade unions; it realizes that if it keeps repressing them by force it will mean to push them towards more and more radical attitudes and, violating its sacred liberal principles, it admits the possibility of their existence: it is the phase of tolerance, which coincides with a strong development of the trade union movement in all countries where the bourgeoisie is now firmly established in power and where the capitalist mode of production is now entering the imperialist phase. It is, at the same time, a period of exceptional productive expansion and of relative social and international peace: the golden phase of capitalism. The great profits deriving from the rapid and relatively peaceful expansion of production allowed the formation of a large layer of labor aristocracy on which rested the spread of that wave of degeneration from Marxism which was social-reformism. The concept of the violent conquest of political power fell away, and indeed of the conquest of power in general, so that, in the eyes of the reformists, the interests of the proletariat came to be identified more and more with those of their national bourgeoisies, and therefore the working class had to take charge of the productive trend of its own nation.
This degeneration on the political level corresponded to a similar attitude in the trade union field. It was the type of German-Austrian trade unionism that best represented this tendency.
«The trade unions of Germany – state the theses of the Red International of Labor Unions (Profintern) – were the cradle of reformism, the ideological content of which consists, in the political field, in the notion of a peaceful and gradual evolution tending toward socialism through democracy, in the softening of class antagonism, in the fearful renunciation of revolution and class terror, in the hope that the development of democratic institutions will automatically lead to socialism without upheaval and without revolution, while in the strictly trade-union field it expresses the tendency to keep the unions far from the revolutionary political struggle, the preaching of neutrality towards revolutionary socialism, the intimate connection with reformist socialism, up to the overvaluation of collective agreements and the tendency to create equal rights, that is to build social relations whereby, while the bourgeois economic regime remains, the equality of rights between workers and employers can nevertheless be reconciled with the preservation of the system of exploitation”.
No better fate befell the Anglo-Saxon trade union movement or trade unionism, which,
«brought together mainly the most privileged strata of the working class and its ideology represented the philosophy of the labor aristocracy. By the theorists and practitioners of trade-unionism, capital and labor were regarded not as two mortal class enemies, but as two mutually integrating factors of society, the harmonious development of which was to lead to peace between capital and labor and the equal distribution between them of common social goods”.
As we can see, the characteristic traits of modern trade unionism of the decadent imperialist epoch, the one with which the proletariat must reckon today and especially in the future, arise from here. They are the same today as they were then, nor could they be otherwise, since union action can be aimed either at defending the interests of the working class itself, and therefore tending to line up the proletariat against the entire apparatus of the bosses and their State on the ground of an open no holds barred confrontation, or at being subservient to bourgeois interests, and therefore privileging the national economy over the defense of the real needs of the class. From this point of view, that is, of political content, there are no differences between the trade union opportunism of the first phase of expansion of capitalism and that of the imperialist era in an advanced phase such as today, and the ideology with which they are both permeated is the same: that of the ruling class. The difference lies in the institutional function assumed vis-à-vis the state structures and the political-economic gears of capitalist society in general, in relation to the tendencies and attitude of the proletarian masses toward it.
The trade union movement, which was very well developed during the expansionist phase of capitalism, bore certain characteristics which later allowed the bourgeoisie to use it in order to stabilize its class regime: these are what Lenin in “Left-Wing” Communism calls «certain reactionary features”, namely «a certain craft narrow-mindedness, a certain tendency to be non-political, a certain inertness, etc”, traits which are particularly counter-revolutionary especially when put in relation to the development of «the highest form of proletarian class organisation”, «the revolutionary party of the proletariat”. It is these features, which in the theses of the Profintern are listed as «petty corporatism, isolation, the struggle of many of them against women’s work, the nationalist and patriotic spirit resulting from the confusion between the interests of national industry and those of the working class”, which will dramatically find their highest expression at the outbreak of the first world imperialist massacre and during it, in which, in most of the countries of Europe, the trade unions ceased to exist as class organizations of struggle, transforming themselves into imperialist organizations of war whose function consisted in putting all the existing proletarian forces at the disposal of their bourgeoisies, in the name of the “defense of the fatherland”. In all countries, with few exceptions, the leaders of the trade unions fought among themselves on the war fronts, forming alliances with the bourgeois social forces of their own “fatherland”.
As the Profintern theses state:
«The period of the World War is that of the moral dissolution of the trade unions in all countries. Almost all union leaders behave like despots: they spontaneously assume all the tasks of stifling every attempt at revolutionary protest, they sanction the worsening of working conditions at various times, they agree to tie the workers to the factories according to the wishes of the capitalist, they renounce conquests obtained through great struggles, in short, they carry out everything that the ruling classes order without protest”.
The tolerance shown by the bourgeoisie had thus borne fruit: in all countries the organizations feared by the official defenders of the bourgeois regime because they could potentially threaten the established order, were suddenly transformed into the essential pillars of the preservation of this order. The theses of the Profintern rightly stress that «this transformation of the leaders of the trade union movement into the watchdogs of capitalism represents the most striking moral victory of the ruling classes”.
After the First World War, this policy of close collaboration with its own bourgeoisies, which marked the collapse of the Second International, continued in all industrialized capitalist countries and expressed itself in the subordination of the interests of the working class to the reconstruction of the economies of their respective countries. However, because of the disastrous conditions in which the war had reduced the proletariat throughout the world, a phenomenon in a certain sense antagonistic to this appeared. Driven by the imperious and vital necessity to defend in some way their own conditions of life, great proletarian masses are dragged onto the terrain of the struggle against capitalism. In order to succeed in this struggle, enormous masses of workers, who until then had lived on the margins of political and union life of their own class, flocked to the unions which in all countries witnessed a powerful increase in membership, thus transforming themselves from organizations grouping only certain categories or professions, as they often were before the war, into unions for the entire working class. By joining the unions, the great working masses sought to make them instruments for the struggle for the defense of their livelihood, clashing all over the world with opportunist leaders enslaved to the interests of the ruling class. This transformation of trade unions is greatly influenced by the October Revolution and, in its wake, the formation of the Third International: trade union currents are formed in all countries that, although not directly influenced by the Communists, are opposed to the policy of collaboration with the bosses.
4 – The Communist Movement Facing the Trade Union Question
It was thus natural that communists should emphasize this process and the strategy of intervention in it in all the countries where communist parties were being formed, exalting its exquisitely revolutionary characteristics.
The Second Congress of the Third International devoted an entire body of theses to this question. We quote:
«The sharpening of class antagonism compels the trades unions to lead strikes, which flow in a broad wave over the entire capitalist world, constantly interrupting the process of capitalist production and exchange. Increasing their demands in proportion to the rising prices and their own exhaustion, the working classes undermine the bases of all capitalist calculations and the elementary premise of every well-organised economic management. The unions, which during the war had been organs of compulsion over the working masses, become in this way organs for the annihilation of capitalism.
«The old trade union bureaucracy and the old forms of organisation of the trades unions are in every way opposing such a change in the nature of the trades unions. The old trade union bureaucracy is endeavouring in many places to maintain the trades unions as organisations of the workers’ aristocracy; it preserves the rules which make it impossible for the badly paid working classes to enter into the trade union organisations. The old trade union aristocracy is even now intensifying its efforts to replace the strike methods, which are ever more and more acquiring the character of revolutionary warfare between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, by the policy of arrangements with the capitalists, the policy of long term contracts, which have lost all sense simply in view of the constant insane rise in prices. It tries to force upon the workers the policy of ‘Joint Industrial Councils’, and to impede by law the leading of strikes, with the assistance of the capitalist state. At the most tense moments of the struggle this bureaucracy sows trouble and confusion among the struggling masses of the workers, impeding the fusion of the struggle of various categories of workmen into one general class struggle. In these attempts it is helped by the old organisations of the trades unions according to crafts, which breaks up the workmen of one branch of production into separate professional groups, notwithstanding their being bound together by the process of capitalist exploitation. It rests on the force of the tradition of the old labour aristocracy, which is now constantly being weakened by the process of suppression of the privilege of separate groups of the proletariat through the general decay of capitalism, the equalisation of the level of the working class and the growth of the poverty and precariousness of its livelihood. In this way the trade union bureaucracy breaks up the powerful stream of the labour movement into weak streamlets, substitutes partial reformist demands for the general revolutionary aims of the movement, and on the whole retards the transformation of the struggle of the proletariat into a revolutionary struggle for the annihilation of capitalism”.
If at the time of the First International, in the midst of the prohibition of the trade unions, the Marxists aimed to maintain the connection of the trade unions with the political party of the proletariat for the struggle against capitalism, now the tactic, consistent with the previous one, was expressed in the watchword of the conquest of the trade unions by the communist parties, against the legalitarian, reformist and collaborationist leaderships.
We quote again:
«Bearing in mind the rush of the enormous working masses into the trades unions, and also the objective revolutionary character of the economic struggle which those masses are carrying on in spite of the trade union bureaucracy, the Communists must join such unions in all countries, in order to make of them efficient organs of the struggle for the suppression of capitalism and for Communism. They must initiate the forming of trades unions where these do not exist. All voluntary withdrawals from the industrial movement, every artificial attempt to organise special unions, without being compelled thereto by exceptional acts of violence on the part of the trade union bureaucracy such as the expulsion of separate revolutionary local branches of the unions by the opportunist officials, or by their narrow-minded aristocratic policy, which prohibits the unskilled workers from entering into the organisation – represents a great danger to the Communist movement. It threatens to hand over the most advanced, the most conscious workers to the opportunist leaders, playing into the hands of the bourgeoisie. The luke-warmness of the working masses, their theoretical indecision, their tendency to yield to the arguments of opportunist leaders, can be overcome only during the process of the ever-growing struggle, by degrees, as the wider masses of the proletariat learn to understand, by experience, by their victories and defeats, that in fact it is already impossible to obtain human conditions of life on the basis of capitalist methods of management; and by degrees as the advanced Communist workmen learn through their economic struggle to be not only preachers of the ideas of communism, but also the most determined leaders of the economic struggle of the labour unions. Only in this way will it be possible to remove from the unions their opportunist leaders, only in this way will the communists be able to take the lead in the trade union movement and make of it an organ of the revolutionary struggle for communism”.
These theses also responded to the deviations of some sectors of the communist movement, especially in Germany and the Netherlands, which advocated the tactic of abandoning the unions led by the reformists in order to move to the formation of new unions grouping only communist workers and proletarians close to them in order to create an autonomous union network linked to the party, and posed as an essential element in the tactical field of trade unions that any action had as its objective the constant connection with the working masses, consequently abandoning attitudes that could lead to the isolation of communists from other workers. In particular, the theses rejected the hypothesis of promoting union splits in the absence of a vast workers’ movement directed in this direction, and stressed the need to work within the yellow unions led by the reformists, tending instead, at the national level, to the unification of all the class union centers, in the perspective of the class unity of the proletariat, indispensable to obtain concrete results on the ground of the economic struggle of defense and, in a revolutionary perspective, to the insurrectionary struggle for the conquest of political power:
«Placing the object and the essence of labour organisations before them, the Communists ought not to hesitate before a split in such organisations, if a refusal to split would mean abandoning revolutionary work in the trades unions, and giving up the attempt to make of them an instrument of revolutionary struggle, the attempt to organise the most exploited section of the proletariat. But even if such a split should be necessary, it must be carried into effect only at a time when the Communists have succeeded by incessant warfare against the opportunist leaders and their tactics, in persuading the wider masses of workmen that the split is occurring not because of the remote and as yet incomprehensible aims of the revolution, but on account of the concrete, immediate interests of the working class in the development of its economic struggle. The Communists, in case a necessity for a split arises, must continuously and attentively discuss the question as to whether such a split might not lead to their isolation from the working masses”.
«Where a split between the opportunists and the revolutionary trade union movement has already taken place before, where, as in America, alongside of the opportunist trades unions, there are unions with revolutionary tendencies – although not communist ones – there the Communists are bound to support such revolutionary unions, to persuade them to abandon syndicalist prejudices and to place themselves on the platform of Communism, which alone is the platform for the economic struggle. Where within the trades unions or outside of them organisations are formed in the factories, such as shop stewards, factory committees, etc., for the purpose of fighting against the counter-revolutionary tendencies of the trade union bureaucracy, to support the spontaneous direct action of the proletariat, there, of course, the Communists must with all their energy give assistance to these organisations”.
«But they must not fail to support the opportunist trades unions, which are in a state of ferment and passing over to the class struggle. On the contrary, by approaching this evolution of the unions on their way to a revolutionary struggle, the Communists will be able to play the part of an element uniting the politically and industrially organised workmen in their struggle for the suppression of capitalism”.
The first part of the trade union theses of the International then ends with a very important observation, because it constitutes the key to understanding the relationship between economic struggle and political struggle in the imperialist phase of capitalism, which is precisely the central theme we are dealing with:
«The economic struggle of the proletariat becomes a political struggle during an epoch of the decline of capitalism much quicker than during an epoch of its peaceful development. Every serious economic clash may immediately place the workers face to face with the question of revolution. Therefore it is the duty of the Communists in all the phases of the economic struggle to point out to the workers that the success of the struggle is only possible if the working class conquers the capitalists in open fight, and by means of dictatorship proceeds to the organisation of a socialist order. Consequently, the communists must strive to create as far as possible complete unity between the trade unions and the Communist Party, and to subordinate the unions to the practical leadership of the party, as the advanced guard of the workers’ revolution. For this purpose the Communists should have communist groups in all the trades unions and factory committees and acquire by their means an influence over the labour movement and direct it”.
Already then, the communists noted this phenomenon typical of the imperialist era of capitalism, which has taken on even more pronounced aspects today, given the further phase of decline of capitalism following the Second World War.
5 – Third Phase: Subjugation
In fact, it was precisely during the post-war period that the bourgeoisie went on the offensive again and its attitude towards the trade unions changed: from tolerance, which had proved to be precious during the war, to the subjugation of the trade unions, that is, to their use as direct instruments of the management of the capitalist economy, and therefore to their legal and institutional recognition. This process takes on very different aspects in all countries and is intertwined with the tragic defeat of the Russian communist revolution and the subsequent Stalinist degeneration of the Third International, culminating in dragging the proletariat to the war fronts in the second world imperialist slaughter, in the name of defending democracy.
We will deal here with this process and these events only briefly, since the Party has already devoted extensive studies and analyses to them, and has based its post-war theses on their Marxist interpretation. What is of interest here is precisely the aspect of imperialism’s tendency to centralize all the factors of capitalist production under the aegis of the State, including the trade unions, which have now become an integral part of the social and economic fabric of capitalism.
In outlining its tactics in the trade union field, the Party considers this phenomenon and studies its consequences and the particular historical implications it has gradually assumed in relation to the degeneration of the trade union movement and to the physical and programmatic destruction of the Party organ on a world-wide scale.
In this regard, we take from the article: Movimento operaio e internazionali sindacali, which was published on June 29, 1949 in the then fortnightly of the Party, Battaglia Comunista, a passage that highlights how the process of the subjugation of the unions to the state was clear to us in its true essence:
«The problem of entrenchment between political organs and trade union organs of proletarian struggle in its setting must take into account the most important historical facts which have occurred since the end of the First World War. These facts are, on the one hand, the new attitude of the capitalist States toward the trade union question, on the other hand, the very outbreak of the Second World War, the monstrous alliance between Russia and the capitalist states and the contrasts between the victors. From the prohibition of economic unions, a consistent consequence of pure bourgeois liberal doctrine, and from their tolerance, capitalism passed to its third stage of their insertion into its social and State order. Politically the dependence had already obtained itself in the opportunist and yellow unions and had proved themselves during WW1. But the bourgeoisie had to do more to defend its established order. From the very beginning the social wealth and capital were in its hands and it was concentrating them more and more in the continuous repulsion into nothingness of the leftovers of the traditional classes of free producers. In its hands since the liberal revolutions was the armed political power of the State, most perfectly in the most perfect parliamentary democracies, as Lenin demonstrates alongside Marx and Engels. In the hands of the proletariat, its enemy, whose numbers grew as accumulating expropriation increased, was a third resource: organization, association, and the overcoming of individualism, the historical and philosophical division of the bourgeois regime. The world bourgeoisie wanted to snatch from its enemy even this, its only advantage (...) Since the prohibition of the trade union would be an incentive to the autonomous class struggle of the proletariat, the method of struggle has become the complete opposite. The trade union must be legally incorporated into the State and must become one of its organs. The historical path to this result presents many different aspects and also many returns, but we are in the presence of a constant and distinctive character of modern capitalism. In Italy and Germany the totalitarian regimes achieved this by the direct destruction of the traditional red unions and even the yellow ones. The states which defeated the fascist regimes in the war moved by other means in the same direction. Temporarily, in their territories and in the conquered ones, they have let free trade unions operate and they have not forbidden and still do not forbid agitations and strikes. But everywhere the solution of these movements comes down to a negotiation in the official arena with the exponents of the political power who act as arbiters between the economically struggling parties, and it is obviously the bosses who play the part of judge and executor. This is certainly a prelude to the legal elimination of the strike and of the autonomy of union organization, which has already taken place in all countries, and naturally creates a new approach to the problems of proletarian action. The international organizations reappear as an emanation of the constituted State powers. Just as the Second International was reborn with the permission of the victorious powers of the time in the form of tame offices, so we have today socialist offices in the orbit of the Western states and a so-called communist information office in place of the glorious Third International that once was”.
The process of subjugation of trade unions dates back to the beginning of the phase of imperialism and initially took the form of the creation of unions that deny the class struggle, the so-called yellow unions, born under the express patronage of the Catholic Church, now an iron ally of capitalism, and funded directly by certain sectors of the bosses; they had a certain development in the early 1900s, until they formed the International Confederation in 1919.
The bourgeoisie, realizing that workers’ associations were an irreversible fact of life in its social system, tried to create one for its own use. But obviously this was not enough. In order to serve the purpose of social preservation, a trade union must first of all win the credibility of broad working-class strata. As such, the yellow unions never enjoyed a solid worker base. The opportunism of reformist social-democrats proved much more useful, as it took solid root among vast strata of the labor aristocratic exalted with the crumbs of the colossal profits of the first phase of “peaceful” expansion of liberal capitalism.
However, in countries such as Germany and Italy, especially in the latter, where the radicalization of proletarian struggles conducted on classist bases had assumed such aspects and consistency as to seriously threaten the foundations of the capitalist social order, the bourgeoisie was forced to abandon the model of competition between red unions on the one hand, and white and yellow unions on the other, and to resort to the destruction of both, especially of course the red ones, in order to proceed straight along the road of attempting to create union apparatuses of direct State control.
The Left, faced with this new attitude of the bourgeoisie and the consequent danger that, in Italy, the CGL would crumble under the blows of fascism, launched the slogan of the rebirth of free trade unions, an indication that was not followed up due to the sabotage of the reformists who, loyal to the fascist will, dissolved the Confederation waiting for better times.
In the meantime, the monstrous wave of the Stalinist counterrevolution was sweeping the revolutionary communist movement all over the world, leaving the trade unions free to all forms of prevailing opportunism. The communist parties of all the Western countries abandoned any form of class union defense, binding the proletarian interests in the countries where they had a certain influence to the defense of the interests of the Russian State, now inserted in the circuit of capitalist countries but disguised as the “socialist fatherland”, directing the workers towards the defense of democracy, the policy of Popular Fronts and the alliance between all classes, or even in cahoots with fascism, as in the campaign of “popular alliance” in Italy in 1935-36.
It seems to us useful to take up at this point broad excerpts of a long work which appeared in our monthly magazine in several issues in 1977, under the title Basi d’azione del Partito nel campo delle lotte economiche proletarie, which sets forth the continuation of this historical analysis very clearly. As always, the essence of our work is that of specifying, better “sculpting”, the issues in which our work of defending the correct Marxist positions is articulated, not that of bringing “individual enrichments” or intellectual lucubrations of those who claim to be “better prepared”, all this junk belonging to the typically bourgeois individualistic ideology and which we think we have overcome forever in our Party. Better to repeat, learned by heart, what has been well said than to spout “innovative” nonsense.
«The revolutionary communist party no longer exists and the forces that had fought against the prevalence of Stalinist opportunism either hold to coherently Marxist positions by trying to draw a balance from this fearful counter-revolutionary wave, but are consequently reduced organizationally, or they abandon the very terrain of revolutionary Marxism, falling on the one hand into anarcho-syndicalism, and on the other, like Trotski’s current, adopting an opportunist praxis aimed at moving up the unfavorable current by all means and by every expedient and consequently self-destructing as a revolutionary force.
«The betrayal of the parties of the Third International allowed capitalism to easily overcome the economic crisis of ’29-’33. In the U.S., as in all European countries, all political forces took sides on the need not to weaken the national economy and therefore not only did not lead a revolutionary attack but openly took sides against the actions of defense of bread and work that the proletariat spontaneously undertook. This allowed the capitalist state to enact welfare measures and a corruption of the working class that the American New Deal took over from fascism, but which had their counterpart in all European countries. The proletariat was habitually accustomed to consider itself no longer as a class with interests opposed to those of the other classes and organically linked on an international scale, but as a component of the nation, of the people to whose general interests it had to sacrifice its needs. On both sides of the future war fronts the same identical flag was waved: national class solidarity, national defense, the concept of the people instead of the concept of class. It was the flag raised by fascism and its pseudo-unions against the traditional red and class unions.
«It is therefore clear that while in the countries with a regime of open dictatorship, Germany and Italy, no work was undertaken to validly oppose the state unions and resurrect the class unions, but proletarian energies were directed to the popular struggle against fascism on the thesis that it did not defend well the interests of the whole nation, in the countries where the dictatorship masquerading as democracy remained, the tradition of a unionism willing to sacrifice everything to defend the institutions and the regime, willing to sabotage any strike because it weakens the national economy, willing to sign, as in Switzerland, eternal pacts between labor and capital on the basis of the common interests of all classes, was established within the proletariat. In Spain, in France, in England, in Switzerland, and also in Italy, the process of formation of this trade unionism, which the Party has rightly called tricolor, is particularly visible.
«The difference between Fascist trade unionism and tricolor trade unionism does not, therefore, lie in their respective policies: both subordinate the defense of the immediate economic interests of the workers to the needs of the fatherland and the national economy. The difference, a fundamental one, is in the organizational form whereby in some capitalist states, in the strongest and in those where the class struggle has not reached critical limits, just as it has been possible for the capitalist state to maintain democratic forms, it has been possible to maintain formally free trade unions, formally with the voluntary adherence of the workers, even if substantially linked to the fate of the capitalist regime and its preservation. This formal difference is not without significance since it is the result of historical events whereby the capitalist State has been able to win over the proletariat without having to resort to the supreme proof of strength which occurs when the State is forced to present itself before the masses openly and at gunpoint as the expression of the interests of the ruling class, attempting to beat back proletarian struggles by direct violence and necessarily forcing the proletariat into bodies of a forced and coercive character, i.e. compulsory unions openly dependent on the State and forming part of its apparatus.
«The fact that the capitalist State has succeeded in subjugating workers’ bodies to the defense of its own interests, de facto and through a thousand ties, but that it has been able to achieve this result by maintaining their formally free and voluntary organization is a negative fact of the greatest importance. It indicates that the bourgeoisie has succeeded in corrupting the proletariat and that it has not needed to destroy its class organizations, but that they have voluntarily submitted, through their opportunist leaders, through the influence of privileged working-class strata, to the demands of the State and capital; it indicates that the proletarian class has not had the strength to prevent its own organizational structures from falling into the hands of the class enemy and that the organized proletariat accepts the submission of its economic interests to the higher interests of the nation. This result, essential for its own preservation, capitalism succeeded in obtaining it in the aftermath of the defeat of the great revolutionary wave of the interwar period, not because it had discovered new and unknown recipes for its survival, as entire generations of anti-Marxists have pretended to believe, but because the relations of force on the world scale had become favorable to it both because of the demoralization that took over in the class after many great defeats, and above all because of the destruction of the revolutionary class party following the Stalinist victory in Russia and the passage, bag and luggage, of the parties of the Third International into the opportunist camp. These parties, after having made common cause with the old social-democratic parties in all countries, have worked constantly by their side with all means to dismantle in the working masses any hope of liberation, to reaffirm in the minds of the proletarians the idea of a necessary link which must be safeguarded between their interests and their economy, their nation, their fatherland. It is the combined effect of these negative events that have allowed the capitalist state to rain down on the working class of various countries its reformist and welfare measures, to guarantee through them a minimum of survival to the proletarian masses of the industrial countries and to concretize in them the illusion, harshly and bloodily paid for by the crushing of colonial and underdeveloped populations, that class economic interests could be defended by submitting them to the general interests of the nation and the State”.
At the same time, it is the combined effect of these negative events, of the relations of force between the classes that in the last half century have been clearly unfavorable to the proletariat that have allowed the worldwide transition from the class unions of the first post-war period to the tricolor unions of the second post-war period to today.
6 – The Balance Done by the Communist Left in the Trade Union Field in the Immediate Post-War Period along the Red Thread of Revolutionary Marxism
The precise course of this involution should be studied on a world scale, analyzing the characteristics of the present trade unions in each country, or at least in each geopolitical area in which the planet can be divided, in order to be able to come up with a tactical solution, which cannot but be diversified according to the particular situations of the various countries. However, the complete definition of the tactic of intervention cannot do without the direct experience of the communist practical work in order to perceive the correspondence experimentally: besides the nature and the specific characteristics of the trade-union organizations with which one is working, the attitude of the proletarians towards them and their attitude and predisposition to the struggle.
This does not exclude that it is possible and necessary to outline the general tendencies valid for the whole of the capitalistically developed countries which allow us to emphasize the classical perspective lines of revolutionary Marxism and allow us to exclude that the dynamics of the future world class fire may follow unknown and original paths, such as to modify the general practice of class conflicts as Marxism described it.
It is not by chance that our classic text Revolutionary Party and Economic Action flatly states:
«Apart from the question of whether or not in such and such a country the revolutionary communist party should participate in the work of given types of union, the elements of the question recapitulated so far lead to the conclusion that any prospect of a general revolutionary movement will depend on the presence of the following essential factors: 1) a large, numerous proletariat of pure wage-earners, 2) a sizeable movement of associations with an economic content including a large part of the proletariat, 3) a strong revolutionary class party, which, composed of a militant minority of workers, must have been enabled, in the course of the struggle to oppose, broadly and effectively, its own influence within the union movement to that of the bourgeois class and bourgeois power.
«The factors which have led to establishing the necessity for each and every one of these three conditions, the effective combination of which will determine the outcome of the struggle, were arrived at: a) by a correct application of the theory of historical materialism, which links the basic economic needs of the individual to the dynamics of the great social revolutions, b) by a correct interpretation of the proletarian revolution as regards the problems of the economy, politics, and the State, c) by the lessons derived from the history of all the organized movements of the working class – as much from the degenerations and defeats as from the outstanding achievements and victories.
«The general line of the perspective outlined here does not rule that there will be all kinds of different situations arising in the course of the modification, dissolution, and reconstitution of associations of the union type; all those associations, that is, which arise in various countries, either linked to the traditional organizations which once upon a time declared themselves as based on the class struggle approach, or else more or less tied to the most diverse methods and social tendencies, even conservative ones”.
For this reason the Party, reconstituted on a correct Marxist basis in the immediate post-war period, did not have to expound new positions in the field of its behavior with respect to proletarian struggles and economic organizations, nor to dictate new norms. The problem of the relations between party and proletariat, between revolutionary class struggle and immediate economic struggles, between revolutionary political organ and economic organizations of defense, between the communist party and other parties and tendencies having roots within the working masses, is to be considered completely and definitively solved by the Marxist tradition in a span of 70 years of struggles and world experiences, starting from the Manifesto of 1848 and arriving at the mentioned theses of the second world congress of the Comintern in 1920, at the theses of Rome of 1922 and at those of Lyon of 1926.
It was a matter, in the immediate post-war period, of taking stock of the tragedy that had befallen the world proletariat, also in the field of trade unions, evaluating with Marxist rigor the meaning and nature of the trade unions born from the end of the second imperialist slaughter and, re-proposing the classical solution of Marxism about the relationship between the Party-class-intermediate bodies in the perspective of the future resumption of the class movement, which it was known could only be a long time away, it was a matter of indicating a valid tactical solution for the intervention of the communists in the proletarian struggles in the countries where the Party had members, even if extremely small, Italy and France, and in particular in the former.
As early as the Party Platform of 1945 enunciated in classical terms the tasks of the communists with regard to the trade union movement:
«In the forefront of the party’s political tasks is the work in the trade unions for their development and strengthening. The criterion, by now common to both fascist and democratic union politics, of attracting the workers’ unions among state bodies, under the various forms of its regulation with juridical framework, must be fought against. The party aspires to the reconstruction of the trade union Confederation, fully independent from the direction of State agencies, acting with the methods of class struggle and direct action against the bosses, from local and category claims to whole class interests. Workers belonging to different parties or to no party at all can join the workers’ union; the communists neither propose nor provoke the division of the unions due to the fact that their governing bodies are wholly in the hands of other parties, but they fully openly proclaim that the purpose of the union is completed and integrated only when the political class party of the proletariat is at the head of the economic bodies. Any other influence on the proletariat’s union organizations not only takes away from them the fundamental character of revolutionary organizations demonstrated by all history of class struggle, but makes them sterile for those very purposes of immediate economic improvements, by making them passive instruments in service of the interests of the bosses.The solution given in Italy to the formation of a central union with a compromise not between three mass proletarian parties, as such a thing does in fact not exist, but between three groups of hierarchies, of extra-proletarian cliques with pretensions to the succession of the fascist regime, must be fought by inciting the workers to overthrow this opportunistic apparatus of professional counter-revolutionaries”.
It is clear that the Left places the trade-unionism born from the resistance and democratic anti-fascism in an antithetical position to the period after World War I and, as we shall see, identifies the cause in the tendency of imperialism to monopolize the means of production and labor-power. The concept is reiterated in that period in numerous writings, in particular the On the Thread of Time articles that appeared in ’49. In all of them, the extraneousness of the tricolor unions to the working class appears very clear. Thus, quoting Movimento operaio e internazionali sindacali again, we read:
«The unions group themselves together in congresses and councils which no connection can be shown to have with the working class, and which, by palpable evidence, show that they are put on by one group of governments or another. The salvation of the working class, its new historic rise after tremendous struggles and hardships, does not lie with any of these bodies».
Tricolor trade unionism was the worthy heir of fascist national-syndicalism, just as the democracy re-established by the bombers and cannons of the Allies could only have been the continuation of fascist totalitarian reformism. It was not through it that class recovery could have passed. Implicit in this statement is the assertion that, however one might have approached it from a tactical point of view, whether to work from the inside or from the outside, it was clear that the attitude could not have been similar to that of the communists towards the red unions after World War I, that is, the tactics to be adopted towards them could not have been the mechanical repetition of those of the Communist Party towards the CGL. It would have been necessary to take into account the substantial difference between the two and, above all, the irreversible tendency of the bourgeois State to subjugate the trade union centers and, dialectically, the very tendency of these to claim the formal or substantial institutionalization of their function. This will be clearly outlined in the events of the second post-war trade unions and will pass through increasingly decisive stages in this sense, first of all the direct membership of the unions to the institutional bodies responsible for the control of the capitalist economy, such as the CNEN, then the delivery of its financial and operational organization in the hands of the boss, through the introduction of the method of membership in the union through delegation to the company management for the payment of union dues, then the substantial recognition had by the last governments as an active counterpart in the delineation of economic programs of the various ministries aimed at hitting the conditions of working-class life in the national effort to get out of the crisis, until the recent explicit request to its members who hold positions of union delegates, under the pretext of the fight against terrorism, to explicitly declare the repudiation of violence in the class struggle and unconditional loyalty to the values of democracy and the Republican Constitution, a step that erases even the last formal feature of the free trade union.
The clear deployment of tricolor trade unionism in the bourgeois and imperialist camp is outlined with extreme clarity in On the Thread of Time article Le scissioni sindacali in Italia:
«The fascist unions presented themselves under many trade union labels, tricolour as opposed to red, white and yellow, but the capitalist world was now a monopolist world and they transformed themselves into a state union, a compulsory union that encircled workers in the structure of the ruling regime and destroyed in fact and in law any other such organisation.
«This great new fact of the contemporary era was not reversible; it is the key to trade union development in all the great capitalist countries. The parliamentarians of England and America were mono-unionists and the trade unions in their hierarchies served governments as well as Russia.
«The Victory of the Democracies and the return to Italy of characters who were more like castor oil distributors than those to whom it was dispensed were not a reversion of fascism, which was much more progressive than the post fascist (…)
«If the historical Italian situation had been reversible, that is, if the stupid position of the second Risorgimento and the new struggle for the Nation and Independence, a war horse more than ever used even by the Stalinists, had had some basis, the tactic of founding a single confederation with the Reds and Yellows, with whites and blacks, would not have existed for a single minute, and the masses would not have supported this bestial order contained in the Moscow Encyclical of Easter 1944 without the influence of the factors of historical strength for which we will take, if we must give it a name, Mussolini’s.
«The successive splits of the General Italian Confederation of Labour with the departure of the Christian Democrats, then the Republicans and the right-wing Socialists, even if they lead today to the formation of different confederations and even if the constitution allows freedom of trade union organisation, these splits will not interrupt the social process of the enslavement of the union to the bourgeois State, and they are only one phase of the capitalist struggle to remove the solid basis for a truly autonomous workers union structure from the future class revolutionary movements.
«In a defeated country where the local bourgeoisie is deprived of the autonomy of its State, the effects of the influences of the great foreign State complexes that fight each other on these lands cannot hide the fact that even the Confederation that remains with the social-communists of Nenni and Togliatti is not based on class autonomy. It is not a red organisation but it is a tricolour organisation tailored on the Mussolini model.
«The history of the 1944 trade union “resurgence” stands to prove it, with its tricolor ribbons and its sprinkles of lustral water on the workers’ flags, with its base orders of National Union, of anti-German war, of a new Liberal Risorgimento, with the claim of a Ministry of National Harmony, directives that would have made a good red organizer – even of split reformist tendency – vomit”.
7 – Traditional Red Unions Against Tricolor Unions
What is the great and substantial difference between the red unions of the first period of imperialism, of the first post-war period, and the present ones? The former, though directed by reformist opportunism, were unions forged in the process of progressive organization of the proletariat as a class in struggle against capitalism, in an attempt to overcome divisions by factory, territory and category. They were born in the early years of the century under the stimulus of powerful class movements, and in them were reflected, in opposition to each other, with full right of autonomous organization, all the political components that referred to the working class and that had solid roots in it. The very nature of the organization, founded on the principle of class struggle and of the irreconcilability of interests between capital and labor, as well as of independence and autonomy from the State, meant that not even the most right-wing reformist leaders would have ever been able to consider it as an organism aspiring to insert itself in the institutional and corporate gears of the capitalist economy. The opportunist leaders were then forced to limit themselves to the action of calming the workers’ struggles in order to avoid that the anti-capitalist action of the proletarian masses reached its extreme consequences.
Certainly it cannot be said that the work of reformism and its tendency to collaborate with the bosses and the institutions of the State was substantially different. From the political point of view we have demonstrated a thousand times the perfect historical continuity between social-democratic reformism, fascism and Stalinist and modern post-Stalinist democratic reformism. But the action of the former, while operating in the direction of capitalist preservation, took place within a class organization, based on proletarian masses in which the healthy concept of class struggle was alive, and which was well reflected in the propaganda and action of the communists and of those forces that, from a trade-union standpoint, placed themselves on the ground of the just class struggle. The CGL reflected exactly this situation and was rightly defined as red by the communists themselves, as opposed to the white and yellow unions that came directly from the bosses and the capitalist State.
The unitary CGIL born in ’45 has nothing in common with this, besides its organizational form. Instead of being a class organization controlled by opportunism, it is a union set up by a bloc of political forces united in national unity, to which openly bourgeois parties and self-styled workers’ parties belong indifferently, all under the aegis of American imperialism and the blessing of the Church. The observation of this union and its patrons, which would have been impossible if the characteristics of the organization of the first post-war period had persisted, is enough to designate it as openly bourgeois in character. As stated in the above-mentioned On the Thread of Time article, nothing will change the exit from the CGIL of the union forces inspired by the bourgeois and openly opportunist parties: driving these splits will not be class considerations, but the inter-imperialist contrasts of the nations that emerged victorious from the recently concluded slaughter.
This profound difference is also reflected in the statutes of the two confederations. Let us briefly compare the most significant passages.
From the statutes of the CGL of December 10, 1924:
«Art. 1 – The General Confederation of Labor is constituted in Italy to organize and discipline the working class struggle against the capitalist exploitation of production and labor; and to develop in the class itself the moral, technical and political capacities which must lead it to the government of socially ordered production and to the administration of general public interests”. Final part of Art. 31: «(... the CGL) organizes the proletarian movement in the field of resistance, so that the category struggles are increasingly replaced by general struggles aimed at raising the standard of living of the entire working class and at convincing the working class that any improvement achieved in the field of wages and through the category struggle is destined to be in vain in the long run if the working class does not proceed with a closer action against the political and economic power, to radically transform the institution of private property”.
Beyond the considerations that can be made from a theoretical Marxist point of view on the implicit tendency to technical education as a premise to the conquest of political power – but do not forget that we are dealing with the statute of a trade union, not with the political program of the party – it is evident that the purpose of the organization is aimed at raising the struggles above workers’ categories, in an open battle against capitalist oppression, towards the complete emancipation of the working class from wage labor.
Here instead is the pearl of the CGIL statute of 1965:
«The CGIL bases its program and its action on the constitution of the Italian Republic and pursues its integral application, particularly with regard to the rights proclaimed therein and the economic and social reforms dictated therein. The CGIL considers peace among peoples to be the supreme good of humanity and an indispensable condition for civil, economic and social progress».
It is the statute of a trade union that considers itself an irreversible part of the society to which it belongs and of the political regime predisposed to its defense, willing, therefore, to sacrifice any interest, including that of the class it claims to officially represent, to the defense of State institutions and the national economy by any means. It’s what we call a regime union, that is, a union that voices the ideology of the ruling class to the working masses. Not a State union outright, but only formally, and with all the programmatic prerequisites to become one legally as well.
In the study on fascist unions that appeared in issues 4 and 6 of this organ, we highlighted this continuity, also juridical, between fascist unionism and democratic tricolor unionism, in the sense that in both fascist and democratic jurisdictions, the union is seen as an indirect organ of the State, that is, an organization that carries out an objective activity of support and exaltation of State institutions, even though it does not belong organically to them, that is, it is not a real organ of the state, as, for example, were the Corporations.
This concept corresponds to the dynamics proper to imperialism and is now a fact characteristic of all nations, even though it presents different formal aspects according to the countries.
8 – The Dynamics of Trade Union Struggle in the Age of Imperialism
We’ll again extensively quote our ’77 report, Basi d’azione...:
«What has changed in the trade union dynamics of the imperialist epoch? The imperialist epoch is distinguished by the extreme concentration of production and financial capital, but also by an intensified interference of the State in all aspects of economic and social life. The State not only manifests itself more and more as the “committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”, its apparatus of domination, the concentration of its armed force against the proletariat, but also becomes the guarantor of the capitalist economy, increasingly obedient to the needs of its operation and personally shouldering the task of managing the productive mechanism of the capitalist economy.
«This accentuation of the functions of the state is necessarily reflected also on the proletarian organisms determining the fact that they are left free to develop only if they do not bind themselves to a revolutionary perspective and are put under control in their own claiming and economic action. The bourgeois class has not forgotten the lesson of 1917-26, when the workers’ unions, despite being headed by opportunists and avowed reformists, were on the verge of unleashing the revolutionary class struggle and being won over to the leadership of the class party.
«As we have seen, the theses of the International already noted this situation and indicated that “the economic struggle of the proletariat becomes a political struggle during an epoch of the decline of capitalism much quicker than during an epoch of its peaceful development”
«In the imperialist epoch capitalism can no longer allow the free unfolding of economic struggle, nor of workers’ organization, because it has historically experienced that the manifestation of generalized economic struggles in the presence of a critical cycle of the capitalist economy can dangerously turn into a political struggle, into the assault on political power: that is, the struggle of the proletarians on the economic terrain is, because of the conditions under which it takes place, likely to be influenced much more easily by the direction of the revolutionary party.
«Having escaped the revolutionary danger of 1919-26, the capitalist state will no longer permit any free unfolding of social conflicts, because it knows well that this “free unfolding” can produce disastrous effects for the preservation of the regime. It certainly does not abolish the workers’ economic organization, but it strives by all means to control it and to subject its action to very precise limits, to bind it to itself and to its destiny with a thousand ties and to make it an appendage of itself to the point, at critical moments of the class struggle, of openly transforming it into a cog of the State apparatus. This achievement of being able to control the economic workers’ movement in the inevitable moments of productive breakdown and economic crisis is essential to the survival of the capitalist regime, because it is the only element that can prevent the transition of economic crisis to social and political crisis.
«Capitalism in the imperialist epoch attempts, because of the exacerbation of its internal contradictions, to control at the social scale the anarchic development of the economic and productive process, from which the growing social tensions derive. For this reason, the State feels the need for direct control over workers’ unions, which is evidence of the extreme weakness and vulnerability of capitalism in the imperialist phase. This control can take different forms, the most appropriate and perfect of which is the insertion of workers’ unions in State structures, through which the State tries to make wage levels compatible with profit, the cost of labor with economic performance, and make tolerable for the capitalist system the inevitable contrasts between the needs of employees and those of companies; in short, to regulate the relationship between workers and employers in order to preserve the regime. So the union turns from free to subjugated, from an organ of the working class into an organ of the bourgeois State, from the defense of the proletarians masses into the defense of the national economy.
«Indeed, the imperialist epoch is characterized by this necessity: either the labor movement submits to the interests of the nation or it becomes materially revolutionary. Class unionism is only possible insofar as it turns against the very bases of survival of the regime, or rather inevitably affects them. The explanation of this is already found in the theses of the Communist International: the impossibility of capitalism to reorganize the economy after the war except by crushing the workers’ movement. International capitalism, then, could not have emerged from its crisis and could not have reorganized its economy without crushing the economic and social struggles of the proletariat; it could not in practice afford to maintain the economic conditions of the proletariat at the pre-war level. Consequently, the proletarian economic struggles took on an objectively revolutionary aspect and were the party’s basis of mobilization. The economic struggle of the proletariat could not remain on a neutral ground of conflict between proletarians and capitalists, because it collided with the very foundations of the regime, and consequently became a struggle against the state. The class unions would either have to restrict the defense of living conditions within the framework of bourgeois necessities or they would have to become red unions directed toward revolutionary attack.
«In the imperialist epoch, therefore, the very basis of union action is modified, which, in critical periods, quickly transcends to either an insurrectionary struggle or to a total sacrifice of working-class conditions. But this also means that a union led by any party other than the revolutionary class party cannot in these critical periods conduct the economic struggle in a consistent manner, which was possible in the epoch of the “peaceful” development of capital. In that epoch the economic struggles of the proletariat could also oppose the revolutionary struggle, as they can at present in non-critical epochs, but in the imperialist epoch the connection is tighter.
«From this follows the immense value and importance which the elementary movements of the proletariat aimed at defending bread and work assume. Far from denying their essential value, the fact that they easily pass over into the political terrain, the party emphasizes on the contrary their necessity. It is precisely this situation that deploys the class party on the terrain of proletarian defense, while it deploys against it, against this elementary demand of the workers, all the parties of the bourgeoisie and all its State forces. All the forces of social conservation are lined up to prevent the free and open manifestation of the economic struggle, to maintain the legal subjugation which characterizes it today. Only the forces of the party are lined up to support the free momentum of the workers’ struggles. Capitalism will no longer permit the resurgence of free trade unions; nor a fortiori will it favor their manifestation as in the previous epoch. The time in which it could allow the free organization of workers, and attempt to compete with the revolution on the trade union level is over”.
From this union dynamic of the imperialist epoch, some pseudo-revolutionaries have deduced that the time of union demands and workers’ defense organizations is over, and that nothing can be conceived now, in terms of struggle against the system, that is not immediately and exquisitely political, denouncing the struggles for economic defense as backward, internal to the system, or even reactionary or corporatist, joining in this judgment with the official opportunists. Others, who also claim to refer to the Communist Left, have deduced that the resurgence of intermediate bodies between the Party and the class can be configured according to an original process, not foreseen in our bodies of theses, whereby these bodies can also have immediately political content, skipping the economic phase. Such conceptions automatically place those who support them outside the field of revolutionary Marxism and historical materialism, and reunite them with idealism, for which men would be driven to act not by immediate economic conditions, but by ideological and political concepts, even if acquired on the field of class struggle.
The observation that in an imperialist regime the consequent defense of the economic interests of the class is drastically and categorically incompatible with the stability of the capitalist system and therefore immediately assumes a subversive content which is intolerable for the bourgeois institutions leads, on the contrary, to the confirmation that future class organizations can only originate from the battle for the desperate defense of the living conditions of the working masses, and therefore can only have an immediate content which is essentially economic.
This array of forces which, in one way or another, deny the Marxist validity of the prospect of the resurgence of class immediate economic organizations, makes the reconstitution of an economic organizational network more difficult and subjects it to a thousand pitfalls, especially in the absence of the Party’s work of direction in this sense. It is not insignificant to note that, with respect to all the organizations that, under different labels, claim to refer to the Communist Left, we are also clearly distinguished in this, having remained the only ones to defend the perspective of the revival of class-based economic organizations.
It is important on these issues, to highlight the analysis made by Trotski on the trade unions in the epoch of imperialism which, although written in a period when his tactical positions diverged more and more from ours, turns out to be identical to that of the Left and is to be considered a fundamental cornerstone for understanding the trade union dynamics that will characterize the future resurgence of the class movement.
«There is one common feature – in the development, or more correctly the degeneration, of modern trade union organizations in the entire world: it is their drawing closely to and growing together with the state power. This process is equally characteristic of the neutral, the Social-Democratic, the Communist and “anarchist” trade unions. This fact alone shows that the tendency towards “growing together” is intrinsic not in this or that doctrine as such but derives from social conditions common for all unions. Monopoly capitalism does not rest on competition and free private initiative but on centralized command. The capitalist cliques at the head of mighty trusts, syndicates, banking consortiums, etcetera, view economic life from the very same heights as does state power; and they require at every step the collaboration of the latter. In their turn the trade unions in the most important branches of industry find themselves deprived of the possibility of profiting by the competition between the different enterprises. They have to confront a centralized capitalist adversary, intimately bound up with state power. Hence flows the need of the trade unions – insofar as they remain on reformist positions, ie., on positions of adapting themselves to private property – to adapt themselves to the capitalist state and to contend for its cooperation. In the eyes of the bureaucracy of the trade union movement the chief task lies in “freeing” the state from the embrace of capitalism, in weakening its dependence on trusts, in pulling it over to their side. This position is in complete harmony with the social position of the labor aristocracy and the labor bureaucracy, who fight for a crumb in the share of superprofits of imperialist capitalism. The labor bureaucrats do their level best in words and deeds to demonstrate to the “democratic” state how reliable and indispensable they are in peace-time and especially in time of war. By transforming the trade unions into organs of the state, fascism invents nothing new; it merely draws to their ultimate conclusion the tendencies inherent in imperialism”.
Further on he resumes:
«Monopoly capitalism is less and less willing to reconcile itself to the independence of trade unions. It demands of the reformist bureaucracy and the labor aristocracy who pick the crumbs from its banquet table, that they become transformed into its political police before the eyes of the working class. If that is not achieved, the labor bureaucracy is driven away and replaced by the fascists. Incidentally, all the efforts of the labor aristocracy in the service of imperialism cannot in the long run save them from destruction.
«The intensification of class contradictions within each country, the intensification of antagonisms between one country and another, produce a situation in which imperialist capitalism can tolerate (i.e., up to a certain time) a reformist bureaucracy only if the latter serves directly as a petty but active stockholder of its imperialist enterprises, of its plans and programs within the country as well as on the world arena. Social-reformism must become transformed into social-imperialism in order to prolong its existence, but only prolong it, and nothing more. Because along this road there is no way out in general”.
We will return at the end of the report to the tactical and strategic aspects that Trotski traces in his article. On the other hand, we have no words to modify his analysis which goes hand in hand with what the Left outlined in the immediate post-World War II period.
9 – The Tactics of Our Party in the First Twenty Years after WW2
Given that the tendency of the trade union to embrace the bourgeois State is an irreversible process, this is not why the Party, as indeed did Trotski, denied the necessity of communist work within unions; in particular, to return to the real situation we are considering here, the Italian post-World War II period, the necessity of work within the CGIL, which arose as the long hand of the CLN. Later it was abandoned by Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Republicans for reasons of oppositions of the imperialist blocs on the world scene, which had their reflection in the political components of the Confederation, united in spite of the always proclaimed autonomy.
The Left, as the cornerstone of any tactical action in the trade union field, has always placed the need to never separate the communists from the rest of the working masses in struggle. In other words, in the face of the question of work in the existing unions, it has never advocated for splits, as a matter of principle. The Left has, for example, bitterly fought the propensity, typical of the KAPD in Germany in the early post-war period, to separate from the existing trade unions to give birth to new class organizations, small revolutionary trade unions controlled by the Party, in fact made up only of communists or strongly politicized workers who were already revolutionary.
In order to decide whether or not to work in a trade union, therefore, it’s not enough to identify the historical tendencies of the trade union form and verify which are attributable to the organization in question. That is, it is not enough to deduce the tactics from the political nature of this body, but it’s necessary above all to see the attitude of the workers towards it. As materialists we cannot attribute to the workers enrolled in a union the consciousness of what it historically represents to Marxist investigation. If the workers, or the majority of them, the most combative ones, see in a given union their representative, the instrument for their defense, and fight for it and with it, our place of battle can only be in that union. This was precisely the inclination of the most combative working masses in Italy in the post-war years, and the Party decided to join the CGIL.
It did so, however, not without posing the problem of the future development of the class struggle free from the influence of opportunism, a prospect then seen as belonging only to the future. We posed the question, extremely succinctly and clearly, in a document of ’51:
«The trade union situation of today diverges from that of 1921 not only because of the lack of a strong Communist Party, but because of the progressive elimination of the content of trade union action, with substitution of bureaucratic functions in the place of grassroots action: assemblies, elections, fractions of parties in the unions and so on, of trade officials for elective leaders, etc. This elimination, defended in its interest by the capitalist class, sees on the same historical line the factors: CLN-style corporatism and Di Vittorio or Pastore-type trade unionism. This process cannot be declared irreversible. If the capitalist offensive is faced by a strong Communist Party, if the proletariat is wrested from CLN tactics (in the trade union field) in the face of those, if it is wrested from the influence of the current Russian policy, at the X moment or in the Y country classist unions can rise again ex novo or from the conquest, perhaps violently, of the current ones. This is not historically to be ruled out. Certainly those unions would be formed in a situation of advance or conquest of power. The difference between the two situations makes the one between the D’Aragona leadership, which does not exclude our fraction action in the CGL, and the Di Vittorio one, secondary”.
It is important to emphasize what is rigorously argued in this passage and to carefully follow its development, which, to a casual observer, might seem contradictory. In fact, it begins by outlining the substantial difference between 1921 and 1951 in terms of union organizations, which is identified as «elimination of the content of trade union action, with substitution of bureaucratic functions in the place of grassroots action”. No longer were workers’ leaders freely elected and revocable at any time, but “trade union officials” who were given by the central power and the parties of the CLN coalition the duty of officially representing the interests of the workers.
But “this process cannot be declared irreversible”. To reverse the trend, which, as we have seen is irreversible from the point of view of the process of imperialist centralization, can only be the return of the proletariat to the anti-capitalist and anti-opportunist class struggle, under the influence of the revolutionary party. Given the premises for this trend reversal, it is therefore historically not to be excluded the resurgence of class unions. Note that by class unions is not meant an economic organization necessarily controlled by the Party, but a body in which there is full freedom of action and movement for a fraction organized within itself. The resurgence of them is therefore linked to the resumption of the class struggle and can only take place “in a situation of advance” or even of the “conquest of power”.
The dynamics of events, and not a priori voluntaristic exercises, would then dissolve the alternative, the famous dilemma, whether through the conquest, “perhaps violently”, of the current ones or the “rebirth from scratch”.
In these terms, the Party could not take a cautious attitude, waiting for the events to untie the knot, and decided to take the road of the “beaten conquest” and to organize itself, where its very weak workers allowed it, as a fraction within the CGIL. It is in this sense that the last expression should be understood: «The difference between the two situations (’21 and ’51) makes it so that the D’Aragona leadership (which does not exclude our action as a fraction of the CGL) and the Di Vittorio leadership have very little differences”. This, we said, may appear to contradict the initial statement on the clear diversity between the two union organizations of the first and second post-war period. But the question should be seen in a dialectical sense, in the sense of the reversibility of the process by the class movement, a process that the Party should have and could have encouraged (note the expression “if it is wrested from...”.) through the conquest of the existing union. If the irreversible trend of capitalism is to imprison the proletariat in the regime or State unions, the irreversible trend of the proletariat is that of the reconstitution of its organs of struggle, the class unions.
Already in the Party Platform of ’45 the Party recognized that:
«The criterion, by now common to both fascist and democratic union politics, of attracting the workers’ unions among state bodies, under the various forms of its regulation with juridical framework, must be fought against. The party aspires to the reconstruction of the trade union Confederation, fully independent from the direction of State structures, acting with the methods of class struggle and direct action against the bosses, from local and category claims to whole class interests”.
The Party in the immediate post-war period, therefore, has no doubts about how the CGIL is “based on the Mussolini model”, and the tactics adopted to militate in its ranks, with the perspective of the fight against the opportunist leadership, certainly does not rest on the consideration that it is a class union controlled by opportunism. Having posed and deduced in a Marxist way from history the nature of this trade union, the Party, having reconstituted itself on precise and correct revolutionary bases, cannot evade the attitude to be held towards it and, in general, towards similar organizations.
In the Characteristic Theses of ’51, in which the Party overcomes a certain confusion expressed in the immediate post-war years in this regard, after affirming, as will be repeated in all subsequent bodies of theses, that,
«the Party, in the phase of recovery, will not strengthen itself in an autonomous way if a form of union economic associationism of the masses will not be resurrected». The theses state that, «the union cannot remain indifferent to the party who never gives up willingly to work there, which distinguishes it clearly from all other political groups who claim to be of the “opposition“. The Party acknowledges that today, its work in the unions can be done but sporadically; it does not renounce however to enter into the economic organisations, and even to gain leadership as soon as the numerical relationship between its members and sympathisers on the one hand, the union members or a given branch on the other is suitable, so long as the union in question does not exclude all possibility of autonomous class action”.
What, then, was the task of the small post-World War II party in the face of the tricolor unions and their trend towards fascistization? The development of this process in one direction or another is not indifferent to the future class recovery, and this will be more difficult if the bourgeoisie can implement the integration of the trade unions into the institutions of the bourgeois regime without violence, without having to resort to the open and ferocious regimentation of the proletariat in the fascist-style State unions.
We therefore had to oppose this process with all our might, even though we knew that, in the absence of a strong proletarian push, we would be easily overwhelmed. We always conducted this battle among the workers in the name of the rebirth of class unions, against the opportunist union leaders, denouncing every step of their defeatist and anti-proletarian work. We always denounced the policies of the three trade union centers which, in their leadership, in their politics, in their internal structure, always acted in concert against the general interests of the proletariat and in defense of the capitalist regime. In this sense we were always very clear: none of the three had even the appearance of a class union.
However, we saw a difference between CISL and UIL on the one hand and CGIL on the other. The first two were openly bourgeois organizations, financed by American imperialism and by vast sectors of the Italian bourgeoisie, created with the precise aim of dividing the mass of workers and recognized as such by all militant workers; the “CISLer” was generally the kiss-ass, the scab, the tattle tale to the bonzes, the open pimp of the master; the UIL mainly organized what today are called “middle managers”. But the CGIL gathered the most combative part of the Italian proletariat, which saw it as a “red” union, an acronym, the symbol of a tradition not yet extinguished.
In order to control and discipline Italian workers, the opportunists had in fact been forced to refer to the words of the glorious traditions of past proletarian struggles, to wave the red flag every now and then. We saw in this a positive element: in order to fool the Italian workers it was necessary to wave the red flag, that is, the Italian workers were still moved by their flag. The CGIL represented for a large part of the Italian proletariat that banner, that symbol. Under that flag the workers unleashed strong strikes, sometimes going beyond the directives given by the opportunist leaders, clashing with formidable courage with the police who often proved unable to contain the fury, facing dismissals, beatings, jail, leaving on the streets and squares hundreds of dead.
It was this state of mind of the Italian proletariat – and nothing else – that led us not to exclude the possibility of a “violent” reconquest of the CGIL to a class leadership. This reconquest could not be gradual, but would only be possible when a powerful proletarian movement took place which would sweep away the opportunist leaders and break the structure they had set up.
The leaders tried by any means to shake off the tradition that the CGIL represented for the workers, to take away this point of reference, this very thin thread that connected them with a glorious past. In our action in the CGIL, therefore, we always tried to defend and enhance this tradition – a material force of primary importance – in an open struggle against the leadership, in the name of the rebirth of the class union.
In this way, it was not a question of mechanistically resuming the tactical positions of 1921 in the union field and bringing them back to the situation after World War II. The Party was fully aware of the difference in situations and the different nature of the trade union organizations it was fighting.
We could not consider in the same spirit of the first post-war period the indication of the internal conquest of the CGIL. It could not have been a “conquest” in the sense of a simple substitution of the political current at the head of the union, through a battle expressed through congressional methods, even if understood as a formal expression of the great proletarian class battles conducted in the streets, in the spirit of the conquest of a union “free” from the influence of the bourgeois State and the bosses and therefore open to confrontation and internal confrontation of the political forces that refer to the class. The “conquest”, at the height of the advanced phase of imperialism, could only be understood as the destruction of the entire organizational scaffolding of a union now tied by a thousand nerve endings to the institutions of the class enemy, under the impetus and in the heart of the action of a class resurrected to the real anti-capitalist and anti-opportunist social struggle. The eventual future “red” CGIL could only have risen from the ruins of the one that the communists were facing and that even then tolerated their internal presence only because they were reduced to insignificant forces in terms of influence on the class.
In setting up its “entryist” tactics with regard to the CGIL, the party of ‘51, in a certain sense, referred to the “historical memory” of the proletariat, in the same way that the prevailing Stalinism referred to this “memory”, persistent in the working-class generations that had lived through the years of Fascism and those immediately preceding it, and organized the tricolor unitary union by copying the organizational schemes of the old CGL: departmental collectors, Chambers of Labor, etc., and referring to the class character of the CGIL, and recalling the class character of trade unionism, then very much alive in the minds and hearts of the proletarians who, after the suffering of war, were forced to suffer through the hardships of reconstruction, made of poverty, low wages and insane work rhythms that worked them to the breaking point.
The core of the Party’s battle within the CGIL, the claim of the return to class unionism, against the renounciative policy of the union leaders enslaved to the interests of national and international capital, was the watchword of the Party since the beginning of the ’70s, and was expressed not only with verbal and written statements but “in every corner” that, in the union field, lent itself to the possibility of active intervention. Communist militants never neglected to intervene by bringing the voice of the Party, participating in the workers’ struggles and in the attempts to organize the most militant workers.
Our action was constantly based on a tactic linked to the general principles of the Party, adapted from time to time to individual situations: no action of sabotage or boycott of the union struggles and strikes organized and controlled by the unions, participation in them with the constant work of active denunciation of the anti-worker policy of the union centers, indication to the proletarians of the general class objectives on which to fight in order to tend to the overthrow of all the worker categories, indication of the class methods of struggle, first and foremost the general strike without time limits and without notice, constant connection of these immediate indications of objectives and struggle with the ultimate political aim of Party action.
A very significant organic synthesis of the Party’s positions throughout this period – which we fully vindicate in all the theoretical and practical manifestations in which it was expressed – can be found in the Tesi sul bilancio fallimentare della politica controrivoluzionaria delle centrali sindacali e la linea programmatica e tattica del Partito Comunista Internazionale drawn up for presentation at the 8th CGIL Congress and which appeared in issue no.25, of February, 1965 of Spartaco, then the trade union supplement of our fortnightly organ Il Programma Comunista, of which we quote the final part entitled Per una direzione rivoluzionaria del sindacato.
«- Economic disruption has highlighted the inability of union leaders to propose to the proletariat efficient solutions in defense of wages and jobs: as has clearly demonstrated the absolute impossibility under the capitalist regime of avoiding economic disasters, of achieving a harmonious evolution of the economy. New and deeper crises will put the inescapable direct clash between proletariat and capitalist state on the table to put an end to this mad race towards the destruction of men, means and energies.
«- Revolutionary communists, on the basis of the centuries-long experience of proletarian struggles, note that the present treasonous trade union leaders will not leave their leadership posts until after they have been driven out by the workers after a not short struggle aimed at eliminating from their ranks the traitors and the sell-outs to the bourgeoisie. This struggle, an evolved form of the class struggle, will take place to the extent that the proletarians decide to pass from a passive submission to opportunist influences to the firm determination to defend by every means their existence, their wages, their jobs, refusing to defend national, patriotic, republican, constitutional interests, behind which capitalist privileges are hidden; refusing to subordinate their economic struggles to the demagogic struggle for structural reforms.
«- This struggle will be possible to the extent that the proletariat makes the revolutionary communist program its own; it will be victorious on condition that it is directed by its class party, the International Communist Party. For this reason, the revolutionary communists do not propose the creation of new unions, as long as it is possible to carry out revolutionary work in the existing ones, as long as the CGIL does not renounce even formally the class attributes to which it refers, and does not prohibit the creation of currents within it. They do, however, hope for the creation of revolutionary communist groups, through which the revolutionary program of the class party will be spread and leadership positions in the unions will be conquered.
«- The affirmation within the trade unions of the revolutionary communist program will guarantee the revolutionary unfolding of the struggle of the masses, which is an essential premise for trade unions not to be captured by the capitalist state and to be able to constitute the unitary organization of the proletariat in defense of its economic interests and in view of the seizure of power.
«- As the clashes between the working masses on the one hand and the ruling class and their State on the other become more and more acute, the continuation of a so-called neutral policy, equidistant from the parties and the State, which the bonzes of the CGIL boast of pursuing, becomes increasingly impossible. In fact, in declaring themselves faithful custodians of the democratic method, they objectively place themselves at the service of the capitalist regime and bind the fate and conditions of the proletariat to those of the capitalist State. Rightly taught by Lenin and the Left, the trade unions cannot pursue a policy independent of the parties: they are either under the influence of opportunist parties, i.e., agents of capitalism, or they are led by the revolutionary party.
«- The work of the revolutionary communists within the mass organizations of the proletariat is therefore essential, because it serves to unmask the counter-revolutionary policy of the leaders, urges the proletarians to demand greater resoluteness in conducting struggles and in setting contingent objectives, and to guard against collusion between union leaders and company managements. With the establishment of the Company Trade Union Sections, the Union Centrals aim to isolate the proletarians more and more in the workplaces and to restrict the possibility of a general action of the masses.
«The first task of the communists is precisely to fight against the corporatism generated by the company based unionism and to give the whole proletariat a general vision of the economic and political problems, to impart to the struggles a class vision that overrides not only the narrow limits of the company, but also those of the category and the sector, the region and the nation, reaffirming that the struggle of the proletariat is an international struggle against a regime, the capitalist one, which extends its domination over the whole world.
«Revolutionary communists call on the proletariat to put an end to the ignoble practice of timed strikes, which have been announced in advance to company management, prefectures and police headquarters, strikes which do not inspire any fear in the bourgeoisie and when, through the spontaneous initiative of the workers, they take on an unexpected class consistency, they serve as a reminder and an outlet for the hatred of the owning classes, materializing in harassment, arrests and convictions of proletarians. The strike as it is used today by the counterrevolutionary centers is a blunt and counterproductive weapon. Only the sudden strike, the widest possible strike, really strikes the economic interests of capitalism, and also prevents it from effectively preparing means of defense and immediate counterattack.
«- Revolutionary Communists do not pretend to possess a magic formula by which they guarantee, once in the leadership of the Trade Unions, the full and continuous success of the struggles for demands. Because of the consciousness they derive from being militants of the class party, they are well aware that any conquest in a capitalist regime is transient and ephemeral, and that the awareness of the masses of the inevitability of the victory of communism over capitalism is the indispensable and necessary premise even for the immediate struggles for demands. For this reason, they will always propose immediate objectives that contain elements that unite and do not divide the many categories into which capitalism has separated the workers into in order to better dominate their strengths and interests; elements that generalize workers’ struggles in order to raise them to the higher political form of class struggle; objectives whose achievement, or even the mere consequent struggle to achieve them, will undermine capitalist interests and oblige the capitalist State to throw off the infamous mask of the Nation or the people, which is to say, the mask of democracy, and to present itself in its true guise as an instrument of the dictatorship of Capital. The characteristic objectives of this revolutionary communist method are the demand for the reduction of the working day with no decrease in pay, the undifferentiated and substantial increase of wages, the recognition of wages even to workers who are expelled from production and placed in a state of unemployment, instead of begging in subsidies and misery pittances, and the cessation of piece-meal work and production bonuses, incentives and overtime, to be replaced instead by a general increase in wages.
«- The myth of the national collective bargaining agreement, as of any type of contract, transfers the importance of the struggle from its social and class ground to its legal and formal ground. On the basis of this legal practice, the Trade Union Centrals put into the wage-earning class the belief that everything is resolved by the reaching of the contract; when the company managements stiffen, they channel the disputes into the meanderings of the ministries to make them the subject of formal adjustments or equivocal compromises, for the sole purpose of diverting the attention of the workers from the political and class importance of the struggle for better demands, and thus discharging the workers’ anger while waiting for the legal solution of the dispute. Labor contracts are signed through struggle and with street mobilization, and they represent no guarantee for the proletarians if they are not defended by daily battles and struggles that engage the bourgeois classes head on.
«- In order to amalgamate the proletarian forces, to unify their efforts and struggles, the revolutionary communists advocate the return to the traditional function of the Chambers of Labor in which all proletarians, above categories and sectors, offices and companies converge, because of that mutual physical and natural contact which instills confidence in one’s own strength, breaks the isolation to which the proletarians are forced into in the workplaces, and awakens in the proletarians the consciousness of being a class and not aggregates or productive appendages of capitalist society. Thus they demand frequent assemblies and meetings between proletarians in neighborhoods and districts, and not, as almost exclusively happens, meetings of a small number of leaders committed, in the privacy of their offices, primarily to defend their bureaucratic managerial positions paid with the not insignificant dues of the wage-earners.
«- In the struggle that will not fail to take place the proletariat is engaged on a twofold front: against the ruling class and their central State and against the opportunist parties and union leaders. All workers are called into this struggle, and the International Communist Party relies on the worst-paid and most exploited part of the proletariat to arouse the necessary ferments to the revolutionary class struggle.
«- The proletariat must, within and outside the trade unions, propose to itself – contrary to what the program of the CGIL emphasizes – the destruction of the present social system, if it does not want to perpetuate its conditions as modern slaves, periodically obliged to shed their blood, after having shed their sweat all their life, on the altar of the defense of the fatherland and the national economy”.
As we can see, the Party’s activity within the CGIL was aimed, in spite of the meagerness of our forces, at exalting before the proletariat the function of the Party and of the Communists in the union. The Party, even in such unfavorable periods, has never neglected its highest goals in terms of practical action; on the contrary, it has exalted them and constantly placed them at the center of its propaganda and agitation.
10 – The Most Significant Struggles of the Party
Our incessant work of denouncing union opportunism was always accompanied by constant participation in the workers’ struggles and, wherever the slightest opportunity arose, by an attempt to organize workers’ forces on a class level in open opposition to the central unions.
In one of our leaflets of 1959 we wrote:
«International Communists militate in the trade union merely as members, not because they attach any value to its present action, but because they have the duty to make the voice of the class party and the revolutionary tradition heard by the organized masses and because they are certain that, in the phase of proletarian recovery, the superstructures imposed by opportunism on the economic organizations will blow up and the workers will trample the protective trappings of class collaboration under their feet”.
In November 1961 came out the Tranviere Rosso – a bulletin of the ICP tram driver adherents of the CGIL in whose first issue read:
«We international communists, who continue the glorious party of Livorno, of the militant traditions of the union, of the proletarian organizations throughout the class, have not ceased for a moment to challenge the current union leaders (who come from opportunist parties) their ruinous work of destruction of the class union”.
In May 1962, as the party’s trade union activity expanded in conjunction with large workers’ strikes, Spartaco – “Central Bulletin of programmatic and struggle organ of the international communists adhering to the CGIL” – was published:
«We are fighting so that the traditional workers’ union, the CGIL, may be reborn as a class union; a union that affirms and defends exclusively and with no quarter the life and work interests of the proletariat, and never accepts to subordinate them to the so-called higher needs of the company, the national economy, the fatherland, much less to the defense of bourgeois institutions” (Issue no.1).
We never missed the slightest opportunity to organize groups of workers who felt the need to move towards classist positions. The bonzes systematically proceeded to dismantle any reference to the red tradition in the CGIL, and we were always the most strenuous defenders of this tradition. In February 1962, our comrades even founded a Chamber of Labor in Palmanova del Friuli, managing to hold the leadership for a few months.
In 1961, the system of delegating the collection of union membership fees to State and employer offices began to be introduced. We immediately began a campaign against this method and refused to accept it, defending direct membership. In this, we were at the side of numerous workers who instinctively rebelled against this directive that tended to place the union organization in the hands of the bosses and the state:
«This system of collection deserves criticism in itself both for its effect on the workers and for the recognition that in this way the ruling class openly gives not only that it no longer has any fear of the unions, but that it considers them as organs of permanent conciliation within which the working class must be disciplined in order to be able to control it better. The management will therefore ask the workers which union they prefer to join, in order to make the monthly deductions. It is useless to observe what weapon of blackmail has thus been offered to them; what is far more serious is the control that the capitalists will be able to exercise over a large part of the organization and which will not fail sooner or later to bear fruit”. (Il Programma Comunista, June 1961).
Another step towards the dismantling of everything in the CGIL that could be used for a serious workers’ struggle was the establishment of company union sections. This initiative aimed to prevent any possible generalization of the struggles and tended to lock the workers in their individual companies by avoiding connections; it was accompanied by a campaign to show that each group of workers had its “counterpart” in their company, large or small, and that therefore the company was the natural home of the union having to proceed to many individual negotiations or disputes with the various directions. Thus, while the employers’ front was united over the company limits, they wanted to break the proletarian front. We argued instead that the natural home of the union was outside the company prison, that is, outside the controls or blackmail of the boss:
«According to this ’new’ trade union strategy which has the presumption of appearing as a new trade union policy, in the face of a social system, the capitalist system, the proletariat should move not as a class and proceed not as an army whose departments are employed according to strategic needs in view of the final assault on the enemy camp, but as ’autonomous’ company departments, each of which, on its own account and independently of the other, carries out skirmishes within the company (...) The class union must have its organs of command outside the factory, outside the economic cell of capitalism”. (Spartaco, December 1963).
In 1965 the campaign for the reunification of the CGIL-CISL-UIL began; this unification, which initially met with resistance from the most militant workers, would definitively erase the last formal and symbolic class characteristics of the CGIL and would mark its definitive transition into a regime union.
We said then in issue 25 of Spartaco:
«The supposed union unity pursued by the CGIL leaders with the white and yellow unions CISL and UIL, the open expression of the bosses’ interests, not being carried out nor being able to be carried out on the basis of a program of general interests common to all proletarians, aims rather at the objective of the creation of a single counterrevolutionary union organization that imprisons all wage earners; in the same way that yesterday the only union organization, the CGIL, was broken by the constitution of the CISL and UIL, with the aim of breaking down as quickly as possible the natural resistance of the workers by dividing the proletarian front. The return to proletarian unity either means – as it does now – the complete abandonment by the CGIL of any semblance of class, or – as we hope – it will be the product of the growing class mobilization of the wage-earners, determined to find a single compact and invincible organization, the premise of which is the replacement of the traitorous leaders with leaders faithful to the workers’ interests”.
«In this way the ’unitary union’ may be made, an ugly copy of the fascist corporatist union; but at the same time the CGIL is dead. The Communists will not cry bitter tears over this, but if the infamous design of opportunism were to come true, another solid bulwark would be erected in defense of capitalism and it would be more difficult to return to the workers’ struggle” (Spartaco n.19,1966).
Starting July 1968 we printed Sindacato Rosso - the monthly organ of the Central Trade Union Bureau of the International Communist Party. It carried the same masthead as the trade union organ of the party in 1921. The Red Syndicate carried this manchette:
«For the class union! For proletarian unity against corporatist unification with CISL and UIL! For the unification and generalization of workers’ demands and struggles, against reformism and splitting up the struggle! For the emancipation of the workers from capitalism! Let the organs of the party, the factory and union communist groups arise, for the revolutionary leadership of the working masses”.
The Sindacato Rosso was the organ of agitation and propaganda of our workers’ groups and constituted inside and outside the union, the only voice raised against the betrayal of workers’ interests.
In 1969, the bonzes brought the delegation campaign to a conclusion by having a clause inserted in the contracts committing company management to the collection of union dues. This act, which was naturally presented as a victory, definitively sanctioned delegation as the only form of union membership.
At that time we organized in all the workplaces where we were present an energetic campaign demanding the return to direct registration through the “collectors”, refusing and inviting the workers to refuse the proxy. We also succeeded, in some cases, in organizing Anti-Delegation Groups. In general, the new method passed, meeting only our resistance and the spontaneous resistance of a few workers’ groups. The bonzes presented it as a technical problem; in reality, it was a very serious step towards the insertion of the union body into the state and employers’ machinery: it was a political act in the direction of fascist unionism. The proxy also served to expel the most conscious revolutionaries and workers from the CGIL because the bonzes often refused to renew the membership of those who did not agree to sign the proxy.
Faced with the expulsion of our comrades, we did not give up the fight, but we always reaffirmed, with deeds more than words, that with or without the card we would continue our battle against the traitors inside or outside the union, in the assemblies, wherever the opportunity arose:
«Refusing delegations does not mean leaving the union. On the contrary, it means opposing the definitive degeneration of the CGIL (...) No to delegations, yes to the class union” (Sindacato Rosso, no. 18, 1969).
«Our comrades are in the CGIL and they will remain there: they will participate in the assemblies (the very few that the bonzes feel the courage to organize), they will intervene in the struggles and common demonstrations, they will never be silent about their program, and not only will they not invite the workers to desert the organization, but they will urge them to remain there to continue the hard battle destined to lead the union back to the functions of which a bunch of sellouts deprive it” (Il Programma Comunista, February 1969).
It is at the same time the period of the long contractual struggles that marked the peak of the Italian union movement after World War II. In this period, in several large factories, at Pirelli, FIAT, etc., the first Unitary Base Committees were created, spontaneous workers’ organizations that attempted to bypass the unions and on some occasions to replace them, making up for the organizational deficiencies of the union bureaucracies and promoting actions and claims in opposition to the official union line. But the trade unions centrals then had good game in “riding the tiger” and were able to guide and control the movement and direct it according to their objectives, still taking advantage of the period of economic boom that allowed the bourgeoisie to grant, of course not without hard struggles, the crumbs of the rich profits still growing. The union bureaucracies were thus able to seize with a certain ease these basic organizational drives and to institutionalize the Committees, transforming them into Factory Councils, not without the explicit help of the employers willing to recognize as workers’ representatives only those delegates accepted and recognized by the unions, and importing them from outside in those companies where they had not arisen spontaneously. The factory councils thus became the organizational base of the Confederations in all factories and workplaces.
It was in those years, and especially in the years immediately that immediately followed, that a process of progressive closeness of the unions to the State institutions and to the economic policy of the bourgeoisie and its parties slowly took shape. Or rather: it was in those years that this tendency, implicit in the unions of the imperialist era and already unequivocally manifested in the “new type” unionism of the immediately post-fascist period, underwent a significant acceleration. It was not, therefore, a “turning point”, a “betrayal” of the past, as it was presented by some small circles that sprouted like mushrooms in that period, but it constituted an accentuation of the natural propensity of the national-democratic unions to become instruments of the ever more efficient functioning of capitalist society.
This accelerating stroke did not happen by chance, but coincided with the beginning of the cycle of international crisis of capitalism which is still deepening and which, let us remember, had its first phenomenal manifestation in August 1971 with the non-convertibility of the dollar into gold imposed by the USA.
This accentuation is in parallel made possible by the joint deleterious effect on the working class of the collaborationist policy of opportunism and of the real increase in the standard of living of large strata of workers reared in the shadow of the impressive development of industrial production in the period immediately preceding it, in turn made possible by the intensive exploitation of the national workforce in the twenty-year post-war period ’45-’65, and by the robberies of all kinds of human and material resources of the countries of the underdeveloped world by world imperialism in general, with the complicity of the national bourgeoisies of these same countries.
That is to say, that the process already well identified in our writing of ’51 Revolutionary Party and Economic Action is accentuated:
«Wherever industrial production flourishes, a whole range of reformist assistance and providential measures exist for the employed worker. These constitute a new type of economic reserve representing a small stake in wealth, and this makes the position of the worker in those areas in a certain sense analogous to the artisan and small peasant. The wage-laborer thus has something to lose, and this makes him hesitant, and even opportunist when union struggles break out and worse still when there are strikes and rebellions. This was a phenomenon remarked on by Marx, Engels and Lenin with regard to the so-called labor aristocracy”.
In the years following 1951, this phenomenon is accentuated considerably: ever larger proletarian strata are affected by this acquisition of a small patrimony of “guarantees” and “bonuses” presented as “conquests definitively acquired” and which create the illusion to the proletarians that they have finally gained access to an irreversible and constantly growing standard of living and social security. It will be the recent years of the tangible worsening of the economic crisis that will dispel the illusions and once again force the proletariat to face the harsh reality of capitalist society: decrease in the purchasing power of wages, loss of jobs, insecurity about the future, poverty.
It is the accentuation of this phenomenon that made more than a few leftist big mouths of the time pretend that the working class of the industrialized countries was now definitely “bourgeoisified” and “integrated” in capitalist society and that “other classes”, other “social subjects” were called to replace it in the revolutionary function, and that, in parallel, among bourgeois “theorists” and economists, generated the theory of “neo-capitalism” now able to control its internal crises, and therefore to be finally crisis-free and susceptible to be gradually reformed in the sense of a progressive adaptation of its institutions to the economic and social needs of the working masses and of “the people” in general.
The exceptional world productive impulse of that period was such as to dazzle anyone who was not able to apply the correctly Marxist analysis to the social and economic reality of the present, and therefore all but the Party. Notably, all of them – conservatives, reformists, “progressives”, “revolutionaries” – drew on the same “theories” that put the classic proletariat-bourgeoisie struggle out of time and history. And today when, as always, the harsh reality of the facts returns to make more transparent that nothing has changed in the traditional class contrasts of capitalist society, it is on these theories, with their updates, that basically continue to draw today’s “leftists”, when they believe they see the essence of the “new” social conflicts in the contrast between the “stable” proletariat and the “marginalized” one, the latter being a hodgepodge of unemployed, underemployed, urban underclass, angry petit-bourgeoisie, common delinquents, in general, all conceived as possible “revolutionary subjects” as they strive for the immediate satisfaction of individual needs increasingly denied by the ongoing capitalist crisis.
It is in the midst of this exceptional productive expansion of capitalism that, in the second half of the 1960s, and in general after the overcoming of the “economic crisis” of 1964-65, an army of young proletarians enters the factories and there is an almost general change of generation in the Italian working class, which progressively spills over, and in particular during and immediately after 1968-69, into the structures of the trade unions. All of this produced an organic turnover of union cadres, especially in the intermediate levels of the factory structures, managed with masterly skill by the unions, which were able to exploit the momentum of ’68-’69 and renew many grassroots cadres. The generation of the immediate post-war period, the one that had undergone the influence of the class tradition, that had distinguished itself for its combativeness in the struggles of the ’50s, gradually gave way, and in certain local situations even abruptly, to new elements foreign to this tradition and therefore better predisposed to adopt the more and more democratized and reformist ideology advocated by the leaders of the three confederations, who now spoke a common language on all matters.
The policy that begins to significantly permeate the entire basic organizational structure of the union is that of “structural reforms”, of “participation in the economic choices of the government and the companies”, of company bargaining, of the organization of work, in which the union openly makes itself the bearer of the productive needs of the company and shows itself available to the sectorial management of the workforce according to these needs. In this regard, we recall the issue of overcoming piece-meal work with collective piecework, presented by the bonzes as a step forward on the road to emancipation from exploitation, which in fact responded to specific production needs of many companies, which were able to make the organization of work more flexible to the changing needs of the market.
In short, the trade union trinity tries to unite, overcoming the internal contrasts between the various political parishes, adhering more strongly and coherently to its role of social lubricant of the economic and institutional gears of capitalist society. This whole issue is then presented for the need to “get out of the factory,” to “bring the power of the union into society,” to “develop democracy,” to “count more in the economic policy choices of governments”, and so on. Behind these vague expressions there is a high degree of collaborationist approach aimed at the total subordination of workers’ interests to the needs of the national economy, which today, in the midst of economic crisis, has taken on such blatantly anti-worker aspects. Such a policy, we repeat, is but the natural continuation in democratic style of the corporatist unionism “based on the Mussolini model”, but which develops in a period that sees the phase of continuous growth of capitalist profits exhausted, thus opening an era of persistent falls in production that, between inevitable ups and downs, marks the constant and progressive restriction of corporate profit rates and therefore also of the State resources available for social services, and that forces the bourgeoisie all over the world to compress the living conditions of workers, and the “tricolor” trade union to take on its role of propping up the capitalist regime.
To physically take on this task are called elements from those ranks that have been able to enjoy the crumbs of the productive “boom” period of capitalist development after World War II and therefore embody with a certain conviction and a natural predisposition to objectively embody the role of “participation” of the union in the major social and economic problems of the country, in a desperate attempt to “get out of the crisis”, a role to which the union in those years pushes in the effort to insert itself in all the political and economic ganglia of society.
This tendency is present in numerous debates of that period; worth for all some passages taken from a lecture by Lucio De Carlini, secretary in charge of the Lombardy Regional Committee of the CGIL:
«If there is a contradiction between the strength and bargaining power of the union and the overall situation of the country, in order to fill this contradiction the union must make choices of general interest, that is, move the class in the general interest of democracy, of the development of our country”. And, further on: “The economy is going badly; the fault of the capitalist economy – and so far we all agree, of the structures – obviously, of the plundering of resources by capitalism and its allies – we all agree. But when we do not understand that this plunder does not concern only the capitalist, the class opponent or the parties, but it concerns us, our condition, then this lack of understanding is a contradiction that we must resolve politically. We cannot advance on unitary ground when there is productive indifference, and, this, I want to say it brutally, has never been the characteristic – in all these decades – of the working class. The working class is not indifferent to whether the economy is doing badly or well, or whether the development of the economy of Italian society is balanced or unbalanced. It is not indifferent because it does not have, we do not have, a subordinate conception. We do not have a conception according to which we say that we are interested or not interested in the economy or the social development of our country to the extent that we can carve out, as subordinates, a few liras, a few parts of this economy. We do not have a syndicalist conception, of pure redistribution of income, so that others should be in charge of directing the economy, of how to produce income, and I am only concerned with carving out the slice that belongs to me and also with broadening the redistribution for the workers. On the other hand, we have a concept of transformation, because we cannot advance further on the more typical terrain, the contractual terrain, if we do not transform the economy of Italian society along a line that links claims to reforms, that links the battle of contractual claims to the battle of transformation on the political, economic and social terrain. If we have recovered in our country on the ground of unity (...) we must say thanks to the fact that this contradiction, without alarmism, but with deep class awareness, the workers have taken over, they understood that we could not and we can not move into the future if not bridging the contradiction that exists between strength and bargaining power on the one hand and the crisis of the country and Italian society on the other».
Therefore, let’s do away with “old-fashioned” unionism, based on positions that one would not be ashamed to define as “corporatist”, that is, simply claiming improvements in wages, regulations and contracts, and towards the negation of all this, towards the recovery of the Italian economy and society, which should be the main task of the working class.
All this approach is progressively taken up, without reservation, by a host of officials who have come to the union stripped of any serious class instinct, young bonzes and bonzettes who have now abandoned any reference to the real class struggle and assimilated to the marrow the theories of “democratic bargaining”, of confrontations with employers and governments on the problems of companies and the country, of efficiency and productivity superimposed on any other interest.
The union organization is on its way to becoming a highly bureaucratized apparatus, getting rid of any class residue. That little bit of union life, of the direct relationship between officials and members that still existed, and which had allowed or could have allowed a certain amount of internal work by communist militants, was definitively extinguished. The CGIL, as well as the CISL and the UIL, progressively became an organization resistant to any class stimulus if not to nip it in the bud, and a slow but inexorable separation began, increasingly evident over the years, between the union’s territorial structure and its members, who in previous years had generally followed the union’s directives with a certain conviction.
In the years immediately following the struggles of 1968-69, and on the basis of pre-existing elements, the conditions and the general situation matured that would allow the Party, in the face of the more tangible signs that would manifest themselves in the following years, to dissolve the historical alternative of the future class movement between the “conquest, perhaps violently”, of today’s unions or the rebirth from scratch. At that time, in the Italian workers’ movement, the extremes and the conditions were beginning to arise for the Party to bring the problem to the attention of its constant analysis of the situation, indispensable for the correct application of immediate tactics.
It was at this time that the Party launched the slogan of “Committees for the Defense of the Class Union” against the prospect of the unification of the CGIL with the CISL and UIL, which appeared imminent at the time and had already been partially realized through the creation of the category federations. This slogan of ours, which still referred to the defense of the class tradition of the CGIL, was in continuity with the effort made by the Party up to that time, in line with the positions it had been adopting in the union field for 20 years, to oppose and call the workers to oppose the process of progressive abandonment of these traditions by the CGIL.
The suggestion for the “Committees for the Defense of the Class Union”, if it was consistent with the struggle which the Party had been waging in the union field up to that time, was not, however, accepted by the working class and the Committees did not extend beyond our communist groups.
But this indication for “Committees for the Defense of the Class Union” coincided with the troubled period in which the Party selected the forces that now remained the only ones to represent the organizational continuity of the Communist Left. The painful ordeal of those years, which saw most of the old organization progressively take sides in positions increasingly distant from the classical ones of the Left, and therefore from revolutionary Marxism, prevented a serious clarification of the union question, which at some point was set aside, in view of the struggle then conducted on issues that went far beyond union tactics.
This is not the place to deal with the issues that provoked the organizational split and that involved the very way the old center conducted the organization, thus, in the final analysis, the question of the correct assimilation of organic centralism as the Left defined it after World War II, as well as the propensity for maneuvering and the “politique d’abord”, in the persistent illusion of being able to force the course of historical events; which led the old organization, as could be then easily predicted, to all sorts of stragglers, more and more adopting frontist attitudes in the political field and flirt with anyone who claimed to move their ass in the direction of anti-capitalism and anti-opportunism.
It was not, as was often misunderstood then and later, the union issue that marked the watershed between the forces that gathered around our monthly organ and those that followed a path increasingly diverging from ours. However, the trade union question could not be immune from the degeneration that took hold in the organization, if only because a political deviation cannot but be reflected on all the main issues into which, for the sake of convenience of analysis, we are used to divide the entire science of revolutionary Marxism.
The deviation in this field was expressed through the enunciation of the new Gospel in the matter of intermediate bodies between Party and class, in the sense that it purported to liquidate the trade union tactics which the Party had pursued for twenty years, announcing, in a body of “theses” which were supposed to “straighten out” the trade union question, that the future proletarian bodies «may well not be the trade unions – and they will not be in a perspective of an abrupt turn in the direction of revolutionary assault, just as it was not they, but the Soviets, in a situation of virtual dualism of power, the link between party and class in the Russian revolution». So that the indication of the rebirth of the class union, of the proletarian economic organization, was branded as anti-historical, denying at once all the activity carried out by the Party after World War II, and more generally all Marxism.
Beyond the historical falsehood according to which during the Russian Revolution the Soviets were the only “link” between Party and class, denying the important and irreplaceable function that the trade unions had in this, erasing from its revolutionary program the prospect of the resurgence of immediate organizations with economic content is tantamount to suddenly tearing up all the theses characteristic of the Communist Left and of the Party in the post-World War II period, and denying even the theses of the International.
The fact that these organizations which will come into being may not be trade unions in the sense that they will most likely take on an organizational form different from those which exist today or from the traditional trade unions, as our theses also foresee, cannot mean that they can have an immediately political content such as to be comparable to the Soviets of the Russian revolution, organizations which cannot come into being if first, in a brief but necessary phase, the class does not give life to organizations with a purely economic content for its immediate defense, because it’s only on this ground that the class can move. It will be from the Party’s activity in these bodies and at the same time from its initiatives and interventions “among all the classes of society”, as Lenin put it, together with the progressive acquisition by ever larger strata of workers of the need to organize themselves in order to wrest political power from the bourgeoisie, that the political bodies of proletarian power can arise.
Only in this sense can we say that the split of that sad period also involved the union question. The communists could have accepted any different immediate tactics in the face of the present trade unions, and the Party could certainly not have split over this, but they could not accept the renunciation of the historical perspective of the rebirth of the economic bodies of immediate defense, which only the proletariat rediscovering its class basis will be able to determine; they could not accept that the question be posed more or less in these terms: we do not know what characteristics the future class organisms will have, nor do we care to know today, it being sufficient today to work “at the level of the class”, on an immediate “minimal” level, abandoning the “great general indications” in order to throw ourselves headlong into a boorish pragmatist minimalism from the development of which the Party should have derived the indications for action and tactics.
It is interesting to note how those who have taken this road have reached the point of indeterminacy in the trade union field, that is, of no longer following a precise tactic other than that of the day to day, whereby today one indication is given, tomorrow another in contradiction with the first, or that of seeing the process of formation of intermediate bodies between the party and the class as an act of will of the party itself aimed at “building” bodies “anticipating” the real resumption of class struggle and therefore disconnected from it; thus inevitably mistaking, in this anti-Marxist perspective, the remnants of the 70s leftist groups or the more or less organized fringes of radical and pro-terrorist movements of sub-proletarian and petit-bourgeois matrix, for “workers’ vanguards” with which to flirt in order to “build organized points of reference” as an alternative to the trade union confederations, without any serious connection with the class.
11 – Towards an “Ex Novo” Rebirth
After the split, having resumed the path of the political struggle organized around the new newspaper, the Party continued to re-propose the terms of the doctrine of the “union question” and the careful examination of the attitudes assumed by the class in its defensive struggles and the path of its union bodies.
Organizational unity into a single regime union has not occurred in an organic sense, nor is it now of much interest to know if and how it will occur. The process of bringing the tricolor bonzes of all shades closer to the institutions and to the needs of capitalist companies and the State that administers their interests has not been stopped. On the contrary, it has continued in recent years with the final consolidation of the method of delegation, the strengthening of the bureaucratic apparatus of professional trade unionists, who now consider themselves officials at the service of the State, complete with a regular salary, the implementation of a police regulation of the strike, the well-established practice of closing any kind of contractual or corporate dispute with the supervision of state ministers, in perfect fascist style, the co-optation in the union of police representatives, the “strike-meetings” in favor of the regime’s thugs affected by terrorist attacks, the accusation of terrorism and pro-terrorism towards all militant workers, the acceptance, even formal (the substantial one had always been accepted), of classic capitalist postulates such as the link between the condition of the workers and the earnings of the companies, the necessity of the expulsion of labor-power from the factories and the increase in the utilization of the plants and the productivity of the work of which the union itself became the guarantor and the open organization of scabs in the face of spontaneous strikes of groups of workers acting outside of rigid union control.
The union structure has become increasingly rigid: closed off to workers, it is increasingly in the hands of careerist civil servants. This has made impracticable the road to its eventual reconquest to a class line that, however, as we have always remembered, could only take place on the wave of powerful proletarian struggles that would break the entire current organizational apparatus. As the crisis progressed, the betrayal of the union leaders gradually came to light. These, who in the years of the economic boom had been able to conduct a smokescreen of defense of working-class conditions, creating as much as possible wage differentiation because this corresponded to the needs of the capitalist economy, and obtaining in this way even tangible results, especially for the labor aristocracy, are now openly refractory to any working-class needs. It’s more and more obvious to workers the contrast between their own vital needs, the defense of wages and jobs, and the openly renunciatory and collaborationist attitude of the official trade unions of all colors. It is becoming more and more obvious that the defense of these needs can only be expressed outside and against the present trade union structures.
In some categories, groups of the most exploited workers have moved in recent years for the first time in open contrast with the directives of the union bonzes, even managing to give rise to significant strikes and to express organizations in open contrast with the organizational structures of the unions (railway workers ’75, hospital workers ’78).
From the situation that has emerged in recent years, it is now clear not only to us, but also to an ever wider array of workers, that no serious defense of the most basic life needs and work is possible under the protection of the current trade union centers, and that no action of struggle carried out consequently on the class level is possible except outside of their organizational framework. Of course, for workers the acquisition of this awareness is an instinctive fact and does not automatically mean the possibility of translating it into active action. Beyond minor cases in small companies without much importance, this awareness has been expressed for some years now in a widespread lack of interest in politics and in the work of the official unions, which are increasingly contested in the factory assemblies, where, moreover, there are massive desertions, just as the increasingly rare proclamations of strikes by the unions find less and less adhesion. The dynamics of the transition from widespread apathy towards the unions and their actions to active action in the field of class struggle independent of the regime’s union will certainly have a non-linear, contradictory development, with steps forward and backward, and it cannot be a priori ruled out that it may also involve locally rank and file sectors of the union structure. However, this phenomenon will certainly have a character of radical violence. It cannot be the result of a long “internal” work of agitation and propaganda of the communists or of the most militant workers, but it will express itself as real episodes of frontal clash between the classes, which will surely see the whole organizational structure of the current union centers lined up against the workers in struggle.
The struggle of the hospital workers was emblematic in this respect, however the same 35 day-long struggle of FIAT, crushed by the union structure at the moment when it was finally about to assume the classical characteristics of the real class struggle, was certainly no less significant.
In the first, the workers in the struggle expressed a class leadership in antithesis to the local union organization, which straight up sided against the strike movement, managing to crush it and recover it in the end, after negotiating and reaching an agreement with the representatives of the State, and after being recognized by the latter as the only official representative of the workers in the struggle, in the spirit of a real regime union, even though its officials were driven out and rejected by the workers whenever they tried to bring back the strike to the bitter end. At FIAT the struggle, even in its spontaneity and decision, did not express an organizational form opposed to the official bonzes, who were able to “ride the tiger” easily, until the moment when the strike would turn into an open clash against the police, determined to crush the pickets by force by order of the judiciary.
The characteristic of a regime union is not that of not knowing how to direct a class strike – in this sense we remember how the same fascist unions, which were also state unions, were forced, despite themselves, to direct class struggles, albeit for short periods – but that of being able to lead them or bring them back into the economic, social and political compatibility and tolerability of the bourgeois regime.
Beyond these two examples of struggle, which, together with those of the railway workers in 1975 and the airline workers in 1979, are the most significant, we should not underestimate the phenomenon that, increasingly often, from struggles or generic attempts to organize themselves to react to the constant worsening of their living conditions, groups of workers tend to organize themselves independently of the union and to act on genuinely classist bases.
These more or less organized groups are often short-lived and tormented and fall, lacking a solid link with extended and non-episodic working-class struggles, either under the clutches of the “trade union left” which brings them back under the control of the bonzes, or into the grip of sectarian positions agitated by tiny political circles, who tend to transform them into small political conventions or to act without taking into account the effective link with other workers, and therefore on a voluntarist and adventurist basis.
This whole situation, together with the growing detachment between the unions and the working masses (referring also and above all to the grassroots members, many of whom are still members due to inertia and apathy, thanks to the fact that in order to get out of this situation it is necessary to formally cancel the company delegation to pay the membership fee, a phenomenon that is gradually assuming considerable dimensions), indicates to the Party that the alternative between the conquest of the current unions and the creation of new ones has definitively fallen; thus the resumption of the class struggle can only express “new” class organizations, whose development and strengthening will take place not within the structures of the current unions, but outside of them, even if the events of today do not yet allow us to see what specific forms they will take.
The present situation, lacking a movement of struggle of the working class masses directed towards the organizational constitution of a network of proletarian bodies alternative to the official unions, does not require and does not allow a formulation of the type: outside the present unions, let’s sabotage their struggles and build another union organization. In this regard, it is important to take up the continuation of the ’51 document which traces the alternative between “violent conquest” and an “ex-novo” rebirth. Point b) reads:
«Considering the party’s limited strength, and until it gets far greater, which is not known whether it will be before or after the resurgence of non-political class organizations on a large scale, the party cannot and must not proclaim a boycott of trade unions, company organs and workers’ agitations nor, where it is predominantly made up of local forces, use in open agitations the slogan of boycott by calling on people not to vote (we are of course referring to votes of a trade union nature), not to join the union, not to strike or the like. In a positive sense: in most cases practical abstention and not boycott».
The position to be held today can be deduced from this observation. From a general point of view it is our duty to point out to the proletarians the necessity of the resurgence of class organizations and also to point out that this will tend to be expressed outside and against the present unions.
From an immediate point of view, this means pointing out to the proletariat the necessity of organizing itself independently from the present trade unions, in the perspective of the reconstruction of a class organizational network, even though we are aware that this process can only be the work of the proletariat itself and that, therefore, as long as the proletariat does not take sides in the class struggle in a generalized and non-episodic way and the Party does not have a marginal influence on it, no indication of sabotage of the current actions can be put forward by us in the immediate future; this no matter how much they are directed towards increasingly anti-worker objectives, unless we are faced with an explicit will on the part of vast strata of workers to actively rebel against this direction, nor can an explicit call to leave the tricolor unions be put forward, since today there is no alternative organized reference point capable of catalyzing the workers’ will to act.
What does it mean to “work from now on in the perspective of the ex-novo rebirth of a class economic organization”? It certainly cannot mean the passive waiting for the spontaneous proletarian movements, resting on a position which envisages, on the one hand, on the level of general propaganda, the indication of the prospect of the resurgence of class unions, and, on the other hand, on the level of practical action, the messianic waiting for the great event, after which the Party will pose the problem of influencing the class movement which has risen in the meantime. Going back to the passage quoted above, the expression «which [the increase in the party’s strength] is not known whether it will be before or after the resurgence of non-political class organizations on a large scale», indicates precisely the dialectical and non-mechanistic unfolding of this process, in which the relationship between the development of class movements and their organizational expression and the Party’s influence in them is not one-way but of mutual interdependence. In practical terms this means that there can be no contradiction between the strategic indication of perspective given by the Party in the trade union field and its immediate practical action. Proletarian militants must therefore work to direct and, when objective conditions permit, organize workers on the class terrain. In other words, as we have pointed out on other occasions, the Party has the task of concretely helping, by making available its proletarian forces, the tendency of workers to organize themselves for the defense of their class interests, and providing, in immediate action and organization, the directive capacities that they can derive from the possession of the historical background of the past experiences of proletarian struggle that only the Party can possess and, at the same time, importing in the workers the consciousness of the fact that purely economic action is ephemeral and the necessity to embrace the perspective of the revolutionary communist program for the definitive historical solution of their condition as an exploited class. The “balance” of the two aspects of the question, that is, whether it is preferable to insist more on the purely economic terrain or to carry out interventions of a wider political scope, will be determined by the sensitivity that militants will have in being able to grasp the tendencies and the subjective conditions of the workers with whom they will have to act, their degree of class consciousness, their real propensity to struggle, etc., a sensitivity and capacity that will be better acquired and refined with the progressive qualification in practical intervention.
Any intervention and action directed in this direction must have as an indispensable presupposition the predisposition, even of small minorities of workers, to place themselves truly and seriously on the ground of the struggle for the defense of their living and working conditions. Any organizations that may arise from this must be permeated by the tendency to link themselves constantly with the rest of the workers and to act according to a line of action that realistically takes into account at all times the consistency of this link. In this sense, it is necessary to reject and fight against the tendencies of a group spirit and politicking, often present in these first attempts to organize independently from the unions, which claim to give life to self-described “proletarian” micro-organisms which are not connected to any context of struggle and to the class, microscopic “revolutionary” unions that, even if they sometimes proclaim correct class positions, are doomed to being small political sects excluded from the real class movement and continuously torn apart by “ideological” contrasts between the political groups that compose them, thus appearing in the eyes of the workers, instead of a class reference point of struggle, as yet another small extremist group.
The reconstruction of a class-based economic organizational structure cannot be the product of alchemy and test-tube experiments prepared by self-styled “political vanguards” who are more or less aware of the necessity of the anti-collaborationist economic defense struggle, but the result of a vast proletarian class movement in which the Party must spare no energies in order to enable itself to influence and direct it, a movement in which the influence of those who today claim to be its driving forces will certainly be harmful and misleading.
Another point to consider is union membership. In relation to and as a consequence of the situation described above, we communists are inclined not to join the tricolor unions. This attitude does not derive from considerations of principle, nor from union splitting tendencies, which have always been excluded and fought against by the Communist Left, but from the simple practical observation that the tricolor union apparatus, considered in its top-down organizational structure, is now, at the top as well as in its rank-and-file cadres, an organism bureaucratized and impervious to the internal action of a working class fraction organized autonomously on the ground of class, but adherent to the official union structures, if only because there is no longer an internal union life that allows a minimal work of penetration and influence in the same basic structures of the union. Under these conditions, union membership, even disregarding company delegation, is no longer of any use in order to have a greater possibility of work among the grassroots adherents, a possibility that would remain equal to that towards non-members and would simply resolve itself to participation in the financing of bodies completely subservient to the capitalist regime. However, precisely because this attitude is not motivated by considerations of principle, in any particular situations, most likely found in the field of small business, where the non-membership of one of our militants in the union would compromise his work in the workers’ struggle, the question will be addressed by the Party: because only the Party and not the individual militant is entitled to a final decision in such situations.
As for the factory structures directly elected by the workers, the factory councils and the like, the question arises in a different perspective. These bodies are almost entirely controlled by the unions; indeed, in large factories, they are often the real supporting structures of the unions within the factory, whose management is in the hands of the external organization and whose internal life is often sclerotic and apathetic, limiting themselves to endorse the decisions of the executive, the latter in turn an emanation of the union apparatus of the territory. However, they are still composed of delegates elected by the workers and in direct contact with them, and therefore susceptible to be influenced by events that would increase the tension and the will to fight. In addition, in small and medium-sized companies, where in general the grip of union opportunism is less tight, the Councils of Delegates often enjoy a certain autonomy and are more easily permeable to class positions. For all that, we cannot a priori exclude propaganda and agitation work within them. In principle, without therefore also here excluding decisions to the contrary in particular cases, we are for internal work, on the condition of being elected representatives of the workers who see in the elected militant a combative worker willing not to compromise in the struggle against the bosses and, for this reason, to fight against the colossal obstacle of union opportunism and collaborationism. Obviously, even for this question we cannot draw up case histories with so many ready-made solutions. The case of militant workers elected as delegates will have to be rigorously evaluated by the Party and every decision will have to take into account the circumstances and the situation in which the election took place. In any case, the attitude of our militant will have to be marked by the constant public dissociation, in front of the workers, from every decision of the factory councils that deviates from the real defense of the class interests and from every collaborationist, corporatist initiative that moves in the spirit of the “good functioning of the factory” and of the recognition of its productive problems, as well as, obviously, to be aimed at the constant denunciation, without subterfuge or half-measures, of the work and of the unfavorable agreements concluded by the factory councils controlled by opportunism.
However, it is foreseeable that the adhesion of the factory councils or fractions of them to the process that will lead to the reappearance of proletarian classist economic organizations will also have a predominantly episodic and not generalized character, so that the Party attaches much more importance to direct work among the workers and in particular among those strata that are more exploited and more affected by the anti-worker measures of the bourgeois governments and the bosses, and therefore more susceptible to the struggle; thus contributing with its very modest forces to the rebirth of a genuinely proletarian anti-capitalist class movement, free from the asphyxiating fetters of opportunism, aware that its influence can be decisive to this end.
As a matter of fact, in the imperialist phase of capitalism, the existence of “free trade unionism” is no longer possible, that is, of trade union bodies which, even though they are not directed by a revolutionary orientation, even though they are in the hands of reformist and petit-bourgeois parties, can conduct the struggle on the economic terrain in a consequent manner. The economic struggle in the imperialist epoch is transformed much more rapidly than in the past into a political struggle, since its very manifestation and generalization is an attack against the very foundations of the capitalist regime. As a consequence, any trade union organization is immediately confronted with the problem of the State: either it accepts to limit the proletarian struggle within “legality” and thereby restrict and stifle it for the benefit of social conservation, or it transcends the limits of bourgeois legality and enters the revolutionary field, which means at the same time to extend, strengthen and generalize the struggle that the proletariat conducts in defense of its living conditions. This situation makes all the parties and all the political directions that are for the preservation of the regime to be at the same time enemies of the extended and consequent manifestation of the proletarian economic struggle, and only the class revolutionary party is the most ardent supporter of this struggle. The union function is completed and integrated only when at the head of the union bodies there is the class political party, says the Party Platform of 1945, and in fact there is no other way.
The deduction to be drawn from this is certainly not that then the union is no longer necessary and that the union struggle can no longer exist. It’s another lesson entirely, the opposite in fact: the proletarians will return to the struggle for the defense of their economic conditions, and in this struggle they will reconstruct the organisms suitable for this defense, the class unions; these organisms, by definition open to all workers, by definition organizing the working masses on the basis not of conscience but of material needs, will find themselves placed by the situation itself in front of the alternative: either to submit again to the control and influence of the State, which is equivalent to the control and influence of the opportunist, bourgeois and petit-bourgeois parties, or, vice versa, to move their action to the terrain of illegality by submitting to the only truly illegal political address, that of the class political party. In our view, therefore, the existence of class unions in the imperialist epoch has an even greater importance than it could have had in past epochs. If in the past it was possible to keep the struggle of the proletariat on the economic field separate from the goal of the ultimate revolutionary conquest, and even to use the economic struggles to constrain them, this is no longer possible in the imperialist epoch: here the passage of the class union to the methods and objectives defended by the communist party must take place under penalty of the proletarian economic organisms losing their own class connotations, i.e. abdicating the fundamental purpose for which they arose.
Within the economic organisms which the class will be forced to express in the return to struggle, the struggle will be fought between all those who want to keep their action within the limits of bourgeois legality, and thereby extinguish and suffocate it, and the direction of the Party which, by pushing for the strengthening and generalization of the proletarian defensive struggle, will thereby drag these organisms onto the revolutionary ground.