– Paris attacks: Not a war between races and religions but preparation for the imperialist war
– First of May 2014: A Hundred years after the outbreak of the First Imperialist War - Against capitalism and its preparations for a Third - For the resumption of workers’ struggles - For the Revolution - For Communism: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
– War in Gaza. For the rebird of a proletarian and communist movement in Middle East
– The Scottish Independence Referendum - A blind alley for the working class: The Scottish nationalist “debate” - The Scottish nationalist view of history - Union of the Crowns & union of parliaments - Industrial decline, North Sea oil & the independence debate - The currency issue and the communist position
– Ukraine: Introduction
– The threat of war in Ukraine: The working class in Ukraine must struggle against both the Russian and the Western imperialist fronts and for tomorrow’s international communist revolution
- March/April 2014 - Preparations for a future World War: The imperialist machinations in Ukraine - The Current Crisis
- War manoeuvres in Europe
– The Labour Movement in the United States of America (Part 4)- In search of an independent role: First organized economic movements - Political Struggle - The Working Men’s Party
– New Publication: Factors of Race & Nation in Marxist Theory, 1953
– General Meeting Reports: - Gm114, Turin, September 22-23, 2012 - Gm115, Genoa, January 19-20, 2013 - Gm116, Parma, May 25-26, 2013 - Gm117, Sarzana, September 21-22, 2013
Trends in the economy - Marxist economic theory -The military question - History of the labour movement in the Usa - Oil and imperialism - The war in Syria - Communism and democracy in the early days of the labour movement in Italy - History of Egypt - The rearming of the States - Towards a study of Indian capitalism - Trade union activity
Paris attacks Not a war between races and religions - but preparation for imperialist war
The Paris massacre, which they say was carried out by ‘Islamic extremists’, has been uniformly described by every bourgeois regime and across the media as the latest episode in an inevitable clash between civilizations, religions and races. Over and over again we are told that ‘we will all’ have to defend ourselves against this aggression, against these acts of war. So the leaders of the European States all solemnly took to the streets, with the massed ranks of people of all classes lined up behind them, exalting ‘our Western values’ of liberty and democracy.
In short we say that a dismal melodrama has been served up as the perfect way to push patriotism and national solidarity. Virtually no-one has denounced the evident contradictions in the carefully orchestrated script being pumped out by the media. People have taken the bait and are moved: the old method of state terrorism. This is how it will always be in the absence of an anti-bourgeois opposition party, a party that can only be, revolutionary and communist.
We won’t go into the history of terrorist campaigns here, although in Britain, Italy and other countries we have already had enough experience of them.
To wage war it is necessary to gain the moral and material submission of those who are to be sent off to die. And since they cannot admit the real reasons for imperialist wars – the egotistical interests of big capital in all countries – they have to come up with a mythology to befuddle the minds of the proletariat and petty-bourgeoisie.
On one side the First World War was explained as a struggle against German militarism and on the other side as a struggle against a brutal, feudal Czar. The Second World War would be justified as the struggle of democracy and socialism against Nazism and fascism. Under these false banners millions of proletarians, considered surplus to the requirements of capitalist accumulation, were sent off to the slaughter. Only the revolutionary communists would hold firm during these tragic events and denounce the monstrous deception.
Then preparations for a Third World War began with the opposition between western liberalism and Russian statism, which was falsely passed off as communism. Now they have added the even more inconsistent phantom of ‘Islamic terrorism’, which supposedly declared war on ‘us’ starting from September 11.
Yes, a phantom. ‘Terrorism’ is not the ends, but the means. And it is one used by all States when they need it. There is little, or nothing, Islamic about it, neither in the sense of a religious doctrine, nor as a programme related to the social situation or national-political aims of any of the Arab countries. In fact, these terrorists, ranging from the so-called lone wolves to large well-equipped armies, are nothing more than mercenaries enlisted by the major capitalist powers.
The established religions, without exception, are docile instruments of the State and entirely counter-revolutionary. In the Arab, Middle Eastern and Islamic countries they play an especially important role in repressing working-class struggles and organisations.
But this is a very strange war, in which the casualties are not the police and the armed forces of the ‘Western enemy’ but the common people, with terrorist bombings in markets, on trains, etc. These actions are not designed to weaken the forces of the enemy but on the contrary to strengthen them, as the massive demonstration in Paris has clearly demonstrated.
So, we agree with them. Yes, we are at war! But it is a war against the global working class, a day-to-day war to distract workers from their own struggles and their need to reorganise on a class basis, a war against the workers of the world who, wherever they are, in the North or South, Europe or the Middle East, in the USA as in Russia and Asia, remain, out of historical necessity, the one real and uncontainable mortal enemy of this rotten society.
In opposition to all the government spokesmen, right and left, who are earnestly hawking their so-called ‘alternative’ perspectives, all of them finely tuned in defence of Capital (whose needs must never be questioned) we have one reply: In this battlefield between the imperialist powers, proletarians again run the risk of being overwhelmed by national, ethnic and religious divisions, of yielding to the ruling class.
This ruling class may appear to be divided into two hostile camps but in reality it is united in the defence of its interests and its power.
The only ally of the working people is the theoretical strength and practice of communism. Humanity’s future lies only in the final battle to overthrow capitalism. This is the direction in which the world proletariat must follow: Workers of the World Unite!
FIRST OF MAY 2014 A Hundred years after the outbreak of the First Imperialist War
Against capitalism and its preparations for a Third For the resumption of workers’ struggles
For the Revolution
In 1914 the assassination in Sarajevo gave all the bourgeois States of Europe the pretext to launch their first imperialist war. It had been predicted two decades earlier by Frederick Engels, who warned that this armed mobilisation of millions of men would be resolved, without achieving anything, in a horrible, seemingly endless massacre.
Faithful to the line of Marx and Engels, the socialists of the extreme left – Lenin, Luxemburg and the Italian Left – immediately declared that the war was imposed by the Gods of Profit with the aim of destroying the enormous glut of commodities, which had already built up by this time, and with a directly counter-revolutionary aim: of exterminating a generation of young proletarians, who everywhere were becoming conscious of their class power and menacing the bourgeoisie’s grip on power.
Despite these warnings, in no country of Europe was the working class able to mount an effective opposition, and it was forced to march off to die in that counter-revolutionary war due to the open betrayal of the Socialist Parties, which took just a week to turn the doctrine of social class war on its head, and instead of calling on proletarians to oppose the imperialist war it called on them instead to defend whichever country they happened to ‘belong’ to, along with bourgeois militarism in general.
The reaction to this betrayal, consisting of the splitting of the old, reformist, social chauvinist traitor parties, and rise of new revolutionary, communist parties couldn’t happen in Europe until the tempestuous upheaval of the long war was over. Generous and determined workers’ uprisings, which were even armed and well organised some of them, took place in 1919, in particular in Germany and Italy. A new zenith, never before attained in terms of the party’s programmatic clarity, was reached in 1920, with convening of the Second Congress of the Third International and, in Italy, in 1921 with the foundation of the Communist Party of Italy. Fundamental staging posts these never to be abandoned by the movement in the future. But having come together too late, under extremely difficult circumstances, they didn’t succeed in giving the class effective political and revolutionary leadership, with the class in Italy, and also in Germany, defeated not by fascism but rather disarmed by the gradualism of an outdated, social-pacifist, electoralist and reformist social democracy.
Only in Russia, where a strong and disciplined Communist Party had existed since before the war, was it possible for the class to turn the imperialist war into a civil war, to overthrow the state power and to install the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
In the other countries, the bourgeoisie, having got through the post-war crisis and hung on to power, propped itself up on a working class whose attacks had all failed. Even the communist power in Russia was feeling the pressure of the defeat in the West, and before long Lenin’s party whould degenerate, with the advent of Stalinism, into a bourgeois and nationalist party – despite its false communist label – and become the expression of a capitalist society and imperialist state in competition with other capitalist societies and imperialist states.
From then on, then, the rest of the 20th century whould therefore be marked by counter-revolution, which only the Italian Communist Left, organised since after the Second World War in the International Communist Party, had the power to recognise, to denounce its various forms and pitfalls, and to predicting its eventual end. Outside the party, the weight of this century-long counter-revolution, and the overwhelming predominance of the bourgeoisie in every field of human affairs, firstly twisted and distorted the revolutionary Marxist doctrine, then not only blanked out its most elementary postulates at the very heart of communist party, from the collective memory, but also caused a collective amnesia about the historical goals of the working class. that is, communism and a classless society.
In the meantime capitalism continued to expand to an incredible degree, which it cannot avoid doing, aggravating all of its economic contradictions in the process, and accumulating ever more wealth at one pole and poverty at the other. Then it was hit by another crisis of overproduction in 1929, and in 1938. Once again it had to resort to world war to deal with its overblown balance sheet, bringing it back into the black by force of arms. And the Russian state, by now completely capitalist, just like all the others, hurled its proletarians into this Second Imperialist War, passing it off as “democratic”, and trampling underfoot Lenin’s communist revolutionary directive to sabotage capitalist war on all fronts and transform it into social revolution, as the socialist parties had done at the outbreak of the First World War.
Over the course of a century, Capital, in its frenetic race for profit, has managed to cast aside every obstacle in the way of its growth and, after having penetrated into every corner of the globe, it has continued, even after the ending of colonialism, to overthrow millenary empires and old patriarchal societies. Today its monetary insignia, with the consequent notions of Freedom (free market) and individual liberty (to sell ones labour power), are everywhere accepted as “natural”. China, notwithstanding its ‘red’ image, has the bourgeoisie at the helm of the state and is already a major capitalism, and aspires to be the greatest global imperialism of them all. The capitalism of the younger great nations is pressing on the heels of the old centres of world imperialism, which now base their power more and more on their residual financial power, and in the case of the United States on their military apparatus, and less and less on the production of surplus value and commercial domination of the world market.
Therefore in most of the world a massive revolution has taken place, with on the one side the savage destruction of the peasant class and class of small-scale producers, and on the other their transformation into wage earners, concentrated mainly in monstrous urban conglomerations. This has usually meant a certain improvement in their extremely wretched living conditions. And even the working class in the West, for a brief period following the Second World War, managed to draw some ephemeral advantages from the universal expansion of capitalism. Today, in every continent, capital finds itself face with, and will have to face up to a huge and boundless working class.
Since 2008 global capitalism has relapsed into an irresolvable crisis of overproduction and it is showing that it is unable to continue its unbridled expansion, which, perversely, is necessary for it to be able to survive. In the fight to obtain a share of the glutted markets, and to sustain the falling rate of profit, capital has to reduce its costs, in particular the cost of labour power. We are therefore witnessing a general attack on the living standards of the working class, whic is having to put up with reductions in wages, increased hours and an intensification of working rhythms, and with a consequent increase in unemployment.
In this social, political and economic war, fought out daily between the opposing classes, the proletariat is coming to realise that it is entirely defenceless: it has no trade union to organise it, and no party to lead it. In fact the majority of trade unions in all countries have accepted the bourgeois dogmas of productivity, competition between businesses, and national solidarity as their own; and the so-called workers’ parties openly boast of their patriotism and their faith in democracy, which is nothing other than a cover for the dictatorship of Capital. No-one proclaims the unconditional defence of the working class, unless ‘compatible’ with Capital. The great revival of working class combativeness and power will therefore come about as a result of the rebirth of genuine class unions, and a rediscovering the revolutionary programme, as formulated by the proponents of authentic Left Marxism and manifested in a revived World Communist Party which has made itself its living expression.
The world crisis of overproduction, which six years on is showing no real signs of being resolved, is exasperating the competition between the old imperialisms, which before the productive euphoria seemed to have attenuated, and between the old and the new imperialisms. The more or less legitimate manipulations engaged in by the stock markets and financial sector tend only to re-divide among the bourgeoisie the surplus value which the workers have already produced, and these manipulations cannot, therefore, resolve the crisis but only put it off, increasing the debt held by private individuals, by the banks, and by the States, and the crisis is bound, sooner or later, to burst out again and produce new and worse financial crises.
The bourgeois governments know that only war, along with all of the huge destruction of goods and workers that it entails, can allow their mode of production to continue for another historical cycle. And they are getting ready for war. Recent evidence of this is the jostling on the military front between the USA and Russia in the Ukraine. The soldiers confronting each other, arms in hand, seems like a throwback to old Europe, the bloody cradle of capitalism, of its ideology, of its revolutions, of its first State forms, of colonialism, and of imperialism; but also, of the working class, of the great Marxist doctrine still dazzling in its originality, and of its first, though still not definitive, victories.
The crisis is first of all a bourgeois crisis, a crisis of capitalism as a mode of production, which has now exhausted any claim to being historically progressive and is merely a useless dead weight on working humanity, which is forced to work ever harder and experience ever greater insecurity only because still in thrall to the mad religion of profit.
The bourgeoisie will never renounce its wretched privileges unless it is forced to give them up. It would prefer to go to war. It is up to the global proletariat to accept the challenge: economic war to defend wages, organised in genuine class-based trade unions against economic war for the profits of the bourgeois class; revolutionary class war against the war between states, organized and led by its unitary and disciplined international communist party.
We don’t know how long the agony of the capitalist beast can be prolonged, but one thing we have learned from the events of the past century is that the revolutionary organs – the party, even if in a minority, and the trade union – must be ready and prepared well before the revolutionary crisis breaks out, so it may be recognised and put to use by the class when the time comes. This means that to work now, in the middle of the counter-revolution, towards forming the political organ defensive organs of the working class, is already Communism, is already Revolution.
15 / 7 / 2014 WAR IN GAZA For the Rebirth of a Proletarian and Communist Movement in the Middle East
The air raids on Gaza over the last few days are just a continuation of the Israeli government’s same old policy against the Palestinian people, and especially the proletarian class. Once again the Israeli government is fighting “terrorism” in Gaza, but not with the aim of totally destroying Hamas, despite what they say. Rather they want to use Hamas to serve its own ends, to continue to police Gaza as Al Fatah and the PLO did in the past. They aren’t really out to destroy them because they know that a bourgeois movement like Hamas, cloaked in nationalism and religion, or even better, corrupt like Al Fatah, is the best defence against the development of a class movement. The two bourgeoisies, Israeli and Palestinian, have this interest in common. And the missiles launched from Gaza are certainly more useful to the Israeli, and global, bourgeoisie than to the “Palestinian cause”.
Palestinian and Israeli proletarians are thus kept like rats in a cage in a miniscule stony ghetto between Jordan and the sea, intoxicated with patriotic idolatry and bloodlust, and pawns in a cynical ruthless game between the big imperialisms.
Over time the various attacks, missions, and campaigns have been designated in various ways but nothing has changed. Two years ago we had “Operation Pillar of Defence”, before that “Operation Cast Lead”, before that “Operation Hot Winter”, always with the same result, because the same result was what was intended. The victims, like in all wars everywhere, belong to the class of proletarians. Proletarians die, the assassins derive the political advantages they were after, and then a ceasefire is declared. The bourgeois, with few exceptions, do not suffer the consequences of war. They give the orders, proletarians give their blood. As of today the death toll has mounted to 650, most of them proletarians, elderly proletarians, proletarian children who have no safe shelter to flee to. These victims are nothing to Hamas, Al Fatah or the Israeli government, they are just numbers. Meanwhile the occupation continues and extends.
In Israel, as is still the case in many other centres of capitalism, an unfavourable economic situation has rendered the proletariat prone to indifference and inactivity, threatened as it is, given a lack of class-based trade union organisations, with losing the work and privileges it enjoyed up to not so long ago. Only as the capitalist crisis deepens, with the Jewish proletariat of Israel losing their economic advantages and so-called social state, will we see a real development of a mass class struggle. The war serves to keep the proletariat divided and imprisoned by the counter-revolutionary ideology of the defence of the bourgeois fatherland and national interests.
Now we are seeing the rise of fascist groups in Israel who support a Greater Israel, and wear insignia and uniforms like the neo-nazi cells in the rest of the world, and – irony of historical irony – they are increasingly coming to resemble the original Nazis who wanted to exterminate them.
The groups of peace activists in Israel show clearly the impotence of their sterile movement, which invokes an impossible peace between nations whereas in fact the only way capitalist wars will be stopped is by the proletariat, when they cast off their chains and engage in the class war. In any case, these pacifists always seem to end up relapsing into warmongering in defence of democracy; the democracy which these small fascist groups, composed mainly of young dropouts, “want to destroy”.
Discontent has meanwhile exploded in Ramallah, with protests and demonstrations of young proletarians against the bourgeois Al Fatah, reacting to the killing of an Arab boy who had fallen into the hands of a fascist cell of young Jews, and there have also been illegal demonstrations in East Jerusalem.
But what Hamas, Al Fatah and the Israeli bourgeoisie fear most of all are new trade union organisations formed on a proletarian class basis, be they Palestinian or Israeli, which are opposed to the bourgeois forces of Israeli and Palestinian nationalism; and also the spreading into that crossroads of history of the one, reborn, world communist party.
The Scottish Independence Referendum A blind alley for the working class
Since the onset of the 2008 financial crisis the question dominating bourgeois economics has been how to reduce the astronomical levels of public, banking and private debts and overcome the economic recession. And the question dominating politics is how to sell the necessary sacrifices to the working class, such as wage freezes (or at least pay increases below the rate of inflation) unemployment, cuts in welfare benefits, reduced services and poverty.
But we should not forget that, while the bourgeoisie finds a common enemy in the international working class, it is not a monolithic class; the economic downturn raises tensions within the bourgeoisie itself, as various capitalist interests find themselves fighting to protect their share of the profits from our labour. One of the common responses is to tighten control of national resources (including wage labour) even if this means reducing foreign trade.
Nationalism is the worst kind of poison for the working class. Parties on the right of the political spectrum – in Italy the Northern League, France’s National Front and England’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) – shift the blame for falling wages and unemployment on immigration, when in reality this results from a lack of solidarity between indigenous and migrant workers. The “left” parties, by contrast, hide their own racism and nationalism behind hypocritical phraseology.
However, since it would be suicide to admit the true reasons for the economic crisis, which is international by nature, the mainstream bourgeois parties quickly follow suit, though they are careful to adjust their nationalist rhetoric to suit their particular constituencies. Hence the ruling British Conservative Party (the Tories) has been selling the idea of “repatriating” EU powers to Britain. As well as enabling the UK to clamp down on immigration, the Tories argue that by cutting Britain free from “Brussels bureaucracy”, British industry would gain a competitive advantage against other EU countries such as Germany and France. Meanwhile the British Labour Party claims to be responding to “what it is hearing on the doorstep” by announcing a “progressive immigration policy”, which includes a crack-down on foreign migrant workers.
If you strip away the rhetoric, the storyline is the same everywhere. It’s all the fault of the filthy foreigners. The last defence all these bourgeois parties in the face of a crisis is nationalism, patriotic flag-waving and bigotry. This is no different in Scotland, where the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) claims that a new capitalist mini-state offers the basis for a return to the prosperity and social reformism of the post-war boom.
THE SCOTTISH NATIONALIST “DEBATE”
For decades, the Scottish National Party (SNP) was a marginal party allied with similar separatist parties in the United Kingdom and across Europe. The idea of a fully independent Scotland had virtually no traction and the SNP’s electoral successes mainly relied on it providing an avenue for protest when the Labour Party – by far the largest party in Scotland for most of the 20th century – led the UK government.
In 1990 Alex Salmond convincingly won the election to become leader of the SNP. Salmond showed all the characteristics of an astute political operator. He had previously been a member of the left-wing 79 Group, committed to a “republican, socialist Scotland”. On the other hand he had a background in economics and gained detailed knowledge of the banking and oil industries while working at the Scottish Office. Being more flexible than principled he always seemed to be attuned to the main chance.
Under this new leadership the SNP increased its number of MPs from four to six in the 1997 general election, which saw a landslide victory for the Labour Party under Tony Blair. After this election, Labour legislated for a devolved Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, a development that has already occurred along similar lines in most other countries. When the ship of state runs into choppy waters, the illusion is propagated that the working class can defend itself better through inter-class solidarity around the bastion of the “homeland” rather than through a general alliance of the working class; but in fact, regionalism is a form of politics that is perfectly in line with the development of capitalism’s own self-defence; the more that capitalism is centralised and destroys the myth and the reality of small-scale production, the more it needs to reconstitute an economically fictitious but socially and politically valuable local autonomy. Most of the nationalist rhetoric has focused on the “Westminster elite”. In fact, devolution in the UK has already seen the transfer of many of the state’s functions to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and further devolution is being discussed for the English regions.
While still formally committed to a fully independent Scotland, Salmond played an active part in securing the victory for devolution in the Scotland referendum of 1997. He needed all his skills as a political fixer to keep the party’s fundamentalists on board and prevent the formation of a significant left-wing separatist party opposed to NATO and the European Union.
A new Scottish Parliament was then convened at Holyrood in Edinburgh. Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) are elected by a mixed-member proportional representation. Some observers saw this electoral structure as a way of preventing a SNP majority – in reality it is a way of drawing in all the political bodies into the Scottish Parliament, for the more effective management of capitalism. During the boom years up to the financial crisis of 2008, the SNP argued that the strength of Scotland’s banking and oil sectors could enable an independent Scotland to play a leading role in the “Nordic Arc of Prosperity”, aligned with the Scandinavian countries. Membership of the UK, it was argued, was preventing Scotland from enriching itself. Likewise, the SNP could point to the “Celtic Tiger” economy of the Republic of Ireland, where wages were rising and property prices were skyrocketing. So long as the boom continued, it was an argument that had some force. But of course, capitalist booms always end in bust.
After several Labour or Labour Party-led Scottish governments, in August 2009 the minority Scottish National Party government tried to get its Referendum (Scotland) Bill 2010 passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2009-10. The other main political parties (Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Tories) ensured its rejection. The SNP labelled all of these parties, which organise on a UK-wide basis, as “Westminster parties” and emphasised its “Scotland-first” approach.
But when the financial crisis of 2008 led to the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland and the fall in oil prices (and the bankruptcy of Iceland, previously cited by the SNP as another role model) the rhetoric had to change. It reverted to a more left-wing line. The “Westminster parties” were all wedded to neo-liberalism, whereas the Scots had always been social democrats. Salmond now presented independence as the only way of protecting the National Health Service and creating jobs for young people. He embraced “Green” policies such as projects to protect the environment and create clean energy.
Salmond’s outlook at this juncture still finds many echoes and was summed up by well-known Scottish historian Tom Devine, who stated in a recent interview, “The Scottish parliament has demonstrated competent government and it represents a Scottish people who are wedded to a social-democratic agenda and the kind of political values which sustained and were embedded in the welfare state of the late 1940s and 1950s”.
In fact, Salmond was able to turn the economic downturn massively to his advantage. The spending cuts that ensued reduced the income of the working class while shoring up the banking system. But for various reasons, Scotland was protected from the worst severity of the cuts. For one thing, Scottish banks were the main beneficiaries of the bailout, largely financed by English taxpayers. Secondly, the so-called “Barnett Formula”, a mechanism used by the Treasury in the United Kingdom to adjust the amounts of public expenditure allocated to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, remained relatively generous to Scotland. Spending per capita is significantly higher in Scotland than in England. Third, despite its economic problems, per capita income in Scotland remains higher than in England and Wales, where there is a growing disparity in wealth between London and the South East and the other regions.
The finances from Westminster offered the Salmond SNP Governments the opportunity to continue spreading this largesse to the Scottish population. The “tartan populism” of the 2007-11 SNP government meant saw the abolition of student tuition fees, reduced education classroom sizes, the promotion of “green” energy, etc. If there were spending cuts, reductions in standards of living, unpopular new taxes and economic decline in Scotland these could all be blamed on the outdated UK set-up and the “out-of-touch Westminster elite”. A fully independent Scottish government would do better.
Thus the SNP went into the May 5 2011 Scottish elections with the promise to “give Scots the opportunity to decide our nation’s future in an independence referendum”. As usual with election manifestoes the SNP’s pitch was high on hype and short on declared aims and objectives. The promise of a referendum did not commit voters actually to the implementation of independence, just a further vote on the issue: a means of registering a protest, almost a parlour game.
The swing to the SNP in the 2011 election was virtually assured by the election of a Conservative-dominated Coalition Government in the 2010 UK General Election. The Conservatives can barely win a single MP in Scotland, so the SNP’s argument that in an independent Scotland, Scottish voters could at least be assured of “getting the government they voted for” carried some weight. Many Scots who had opposed independence now saw it as the “least-worst option” – a way to escape some of the consequences of the crisis in capitalism by moving government to Edinburgh.
The stunning victory of the SNP in 2011 saw the party gain an absolute majority of SMPs with just 44% of the popular vote. Given that only about a half of adults in Scotland voted, the SNP’s actually secured the support of less than a quarter of adults who were entitled to vote. This was hardly an overwhelming endorsement to the Independence option. There was still a lot to do if the prospect of independence was going to dominate the political scene in Scotland.
THE SCOTTISH NATIONALIST VIEW OF HISTORY
Alex Salmond and the SNP frequently claim that they have “nothing against the English” and that they simply want “control over our own affairs”. As we will see below, this rejection of crude chauvinism has not only broadened the Yes campaign’s appeal to English people living in Scotland, but also to “progressive” political factions on both sides of the border. However, this has not prevented the SNP from consistently referring to an anti-materialist view of history that presents Scotland as an “oppressed” country – one that was tricked into union. The SNP victory in the last Scottish election led to inevitable comparisons between the victorious Alex Salmond and those other “great Scottish heroes” such as William Wallace and Robert de Bruce in confronting English adversaries and asserting Scottish independence.
So it is worth briefly reviewing the course of Scottish history since the Middle Ages: is Scotland truly an “oppressed nation” that is in desperate need of “national liberation”?
In the late thirteenth to early fourteenth century the Scottish monarchy faced a succession crisis, which was exploited by the expansionist Plantagenet King Edward I2 to establish English hegemony. These ambitions came to an end under his son, Edward II, when an invading army was annihilated at Bannockburn in 1314. The SNP celebrated the 700th anniversary of this event earlier this year, aligning it with the contemporary “Second Scottish War of Independence”.
Then in August of this year, Alex Salmond presented a “Declaration of Opportunity” in Arbroath, following a cabinet meeting of his administration.
Coming a month before the referendum on Scottish independence, the statement was calculated to appeal to nationalist sentiment with its invocation of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. Wildly ahistorical claims have been made by nationalists that the declaration, which took the form of a letter to the Pope asking for his support against England from a group of noblemen loyal to Robert the Bruce, was Scotland’s equivalent of the American Declaration of Independence. In reality, the letter was an assertion by the pro-Bruce faction of their claims against rivals (Bruce had been excommunicated by the Pope following the murder of John Comyn, the legitimist claimant to the throne). It was strongly supported by the Scottish clergy, which resented its subordination to the English Archbishop of York. In 1328 Edward III signed the Treaty of Northampton, which renounced English claims north of the border. The Plantagenet dynasty’s expansionism would henceforth focus on the conquest of France in the Hundred Years’ War. Meanwhile Bruce and his descendants focused on trying to amalgamate Scotland’s ruling classes within a single kingdom.
Eventually a Scottish cardinal was appointed by a later Pope and the Anglo-Norman ruling class in Scotland made progress in asserting itself against the Celtic clans of the Highlands and Islands.
Nevertheless, the conflict between England and Scotland continued well into the English Tudor dynasty, which marked the beginning of the end of the feudal era in England. Scotland had entered into a secret alliance with France (the “Auld Alliance”, which lasted from 1295 to 1560) and the rivalry between England and France spilled into Scotland, notably with the slaughter of the Scottish forces at Flodden Field in 1513. With the growing power of England under the reign of Elizabeth I the relationship began to change (with intermarriage between the English and Scottish dynasties, religious reformation, the Irish plantations and common fears of external threats such as the Spanish Armada). The ground was prepared for the Union of the Crowns.
UNION OF THE CROWNS & UNION OF PARLIAMENTS
When Elizabeth I died without an heir, James VI, Stuart King of Scotland, was named her successor to the throne of England in 1603. He was crowned King James I of England. The Stuart kings and queens ruled both independent kingdoms (as well as Ireland) until the Act of Union in 1707.
The English Tudor reformation and the upheavals of the 17th century were features of a long religious, cultural and above all economic transformation of society, one which freed the mercantile activity of the developing capitalist classes from the feudal nobility. However, while Scotland experienced a more thorough-going Protestant reformation, it lagged behind England in terms of social and economic development. James Stuart was a great advocate of a full union but this was blocked by the English parliament. The two countries were not yet quite ready to unite.
By the late eighteenth century capitalism was flowering in England largely thanks to its growing maritime power and merchant capital. Raw materials, such as cotton, tobacco and above all sugar were being produced on plantations in the New World with slave labour and converted into finished goods in England. The great feudal estates were being transformed by capitalist agriculture. Politically, these changes were reflected in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, which asserted England’s independence from the great continental power of France and gave greater freedoms (the “English Liberties”) to the capitalist classes.
By contrast, Scotland’s attempt to create its own colonial empire ended in disaster with the Darién scheme, which was backed by a quarter of the money in circulation in Scotland and left the Scottish nobility heavily in debt. The scheme was finally abandoned in 1700 when the colony on the Isthmus of Panama (called "Caledonia"), which was already suffering from starvation and disease, was finished off by a successful Spanish siege.
The Scottish nobility and the emerging Scottish bourgeoisie were left with no choice but to seek a bailout from Scotland’s richer neighbour; an act which has gone down in Scottish nationalist mythology as a “stab in the back”, or as the Scottish romantic poet Robert Burns wrote in 1791:
We’re bought and sold for English gold, Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
The Act of Union of 1707 thus merged the two kingdoms into a new state, the Kingdom of Great Britain. Queen Anne was the last Stuart monarch, ruling until 1714. Since 1714, the succession of the British monarchs of the houses of Hanover and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Windsor) has been based both on their descent from James VI / I of the House of Stuart and the Protestant religion, favoured by the bourgeoisie in both England and Scotland. In the early 18th century this line of succession was briefly threatened by the Old and Young Pretender (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) who tried to rally Irish and Scottish highland clans to restore the legitimist Stuart line – attempts that were vigorously opposed not just by the English but also the rising Scottish lowland bourgeoisie. Full union in the 18th century was therefore a capitalist project, coinciding with the rise of Britain as the first industrial world power. Whereas the third kingdom of the British Isles, Ireland, was largely left behind, Scotland and England emerged as a single capitalist entity that came to control up to a third of the world’s land mass. Scotland was never an “oppressed” nation in the Marxist (or any other) sense.
Indeed, if you read Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations”, during the Scottish Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution, Scotland became one of the commercial, intellectual and industrial powerhouses of Europe. The economic development of Scotland was driven by access to English domestic and colonial markets. In particular, Glasgow went on to became the “Second City of the Empire” (after London) and vast fortunes were accumulated through the exploitation of British and colonial labour.
The most important advances of the British working class in the 19th century were made in this context (for example the formation of the Independent Labour Party, founded in Bradford in 1893, organised on a UK-wide basis and its first leader, Keir Hardie, was a Lanarkshire trade union organiser). The Communist Party of Great Britain, founded in 1920, likewise organised on a UK-wide basis, although one of the leaders of Red Clydeside, John MacLean, erroneously argued for a separate Scottish party, claiming that traditional Scottish society was structured along the lines of "Celtic communism". He argued that "the communism of the clans must be re-established on a modern basis" and raised the slogan "back to communism and forward to communism". This absurd and ahistorical claim, that Celtic society forms a more solid basis for communism than “Anglo-Saxon”, also finds echoes today in the “progressive” wing of Irish nationalism.
INDUSTRIAL DECLINE, NORTH SEA OIL & THE INDEPENDENCE DEBATE
As is well known, in the 20th century the United Kingdom underwent a massive decline in economic importance, which accelerated with decolonialisation after the Second World War and the rise of the newer imperialisms, in particular the USA and the USSR, and now China. The Clydeside shipbuilding industry, for example, has been virtually wound up, alongside that of north-east England and Belfast. The British working class has steadfastly stood together in many struggles against the subsequent loss of jobs and attacks on its living standards, although in Scotland as elsewhere it was led into many disastrous situations by the reformist and Stalinist leadership (notably the 1971 “work-in” at the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, UCS, in Glasgow, Scotland, which repeated the mistakes of the factory occupations in Italy after the First World War). The British working class has never sustained a revolutionary and internationalist tradition through its own political party, which has been its greatest source of weakness.
Scottish separatism remained a minority current in national politics until North Sea Oil started flowing in the 1970s. A growing faction within the Scottish bourgeoisie was attracted to the idea that they could grab a larger share of the profits and tax revenues if Scotland separated from the rest of the UK. But even as it experienced a boost from the energy crisis of the mid-seventies, it found little support in these ambitions from the Scottish working class. The SNP was regarded as “tartan Tories”.
From the eighties onwards the challenge for Alex Salmond and the SNP has therefore been to walk a tightrope, balancing the pro-business agenda of the SNP while enticing a sufficiently large number of workers to vote for independence.
To this end over the past few years they have relied on various leftist parties and informal groupings, such as the Green Party, the SWP, the Scottish Socialist Party, Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) and former Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan. These elements have long since abandoned the Labour Party, which had grown corrupt and openly pro-business long before anyone had heard of Tony Blair.
We have therefore witnessed not one campaign for independence but two parallel campaigns.
On the one hand, the SNP has been busy telling everyone that Scotland must become independent not so much because Scotland is somehow oppressed or downtrodden, but, as a “Yes” campaign leaflet argued, because “Scotland is one of the world’s wealthiest countries”. The same leaflet continued, “Our economy produces more per head of population than the UK, France, Japan and most other developed countries”. It adds that, “Experts agree that Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world”.
Thanks to control over North Sea Oil and other revenues, the leaflet continued, “On Independence we would have sound public finance… Scotland more than pays its way. Estimates show that in each and every one of the last 33 years, we have generated more tax per head than the UK as a whole. Over the last five years our public finances have been stronger than the UK by a total of £8.3 billion – that is almost £1,600 for every person in Scotland”.
The leaflet concluded, “The issue is not whether Scotland is wealthy enough to be independent. The question is whether the Scottish or Westminster government should decide how we use our wealth”.
The official “Yes” campaign has been promising lower rates of corporate tax for business to attract more investment by multinational corporations to Scotland. The message could hardly be clearer: the Scottish bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie of any other country that invests in Scotland, will get a larger share of the booty from international capital. And part of the revenues will help the SNP to fund a native Scottish bureaucracy that would provide greater job opportunities for its supporters in the professions.
So how do we square this capitalist message with the idea that Scotland is “oppressed”? Well, on the other hand we have the “progressive” wing of the Yes campaign promising a socialist utopia after independence. The RIC in particular has been canvassing working class areas claiming that a Scotland freed from Westminster (and Tory government in particular) could return to the “Scottish” values of social democracy. These faux-socialists are pushing the lie that a Yes vote (despite everything that Salmond is saying) will not only represent a victory against the austerity measures pushed by the UK government, but will also empower “ordinary people”. The words that are most prominent in their campaign activity are the old left-capitalist canards such as “grassroots activism”, “community” and “regeneration of democracy”, combined with the predictable appeals to every imaginable form of left-liberal identity politics. Leftist activists and media commentators in England have been more than happy to jump on this bandwagon, claiming that independence in Scotland would lead to a rejuvenation of “grassroots democracy” throughout the UK, including the devolution of political and economic power from Westminster and the City of London to the regions (In practice, if any such change occurred, this would only serve to legitimise the reality of capitalist dictatorship. But an equally likely outcome is the strengthening of English chauvinism – many in the UKIP would like to ditch “socialist” Scotland as part of their project to create a more economically competitive England outside of the European Union.)
But even then the RIC the argument largely rests on North Sea Oil. An article on the RIC website states that “The only way to deal with the deficit and restore public services after coalition cuts as well as having money to invest to rebuild Scotland’s economy is by nationalising North Sea oil. This is the only radical way out for the Scottish people. This would see a more than tripling of oil revenues. It would take away Scotland’ exposure to the volatility of the oil price if a reserve fund was structured... It would also allow us to have our own currency and central bank and fund a green sustainable Scotland where peoples’ needs are met. It would allow Scotland to be independent of the Bank of England and the Treasury. We could take the Norwegian route who [sic] own a large majority stake in their oil industry and join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) rather than be caught up in the EU membership game. This would allow us to trade with Europe and be European while not being part of a neo-liberal economic block”.
The article continues, “Yes ‘it’s Scotland’s oil’, but only if it is nationalised. Then we can build a prosperous, equitable and sustainable independent Scotland”.
Thus the best on offer is a Scandinavian model of social democracy financed by oil revenues, in the unlikely event that the industry will be nationalised after independence – an illusion that Alex Salmond and his pro-business supporters will be quick to dispel.
THE CURRENCY ISSUE AND THE COMMUNIST POSITION
It is pretty obvious that the British Lion, although old and sick, still has enough of its own teeth to avoid having its tail cut off by a bunch of chattering petty politicians with their idiotic debates on state television. Armed with the ballot box, the illusion they want to foster within the working class is one of the state being governed “by the will of the people” rather than by and for a single class: the bourgeoisie. Or, more precisely, by big business, which is neither English nor Scottish but global.
The televised debates for and against independence revolved around the currency issue. The “Better Together” No campaign, led by ex-Labour Party Chancellor of the Exchequer Alastair Darling, has made much of Salmond’s lack of a “Plan B” should the rest of the United Kingdom reject a currency union with Scotland based on a shared pound sterling. Salmond has already changed direction at least once on this issue, having supported Scotland’s admission to the Euro before the debt crisis. On the other hand, the focus on the currency issue has only served to demonstrate that the No campaign has absolutely nothing of value to offer working people in Scotland, which has proved to be a key factor in the success of the separatists.
The fact is that whether Scotland stays in the sterling zone or adopts its own currency, or joins the Euro, as we have seen across Europe and beyond, a currency cannot protect any country from the fluctuations in the global capitalist economy. Workers have paid the price of austerity whether they are in England, Greece, Spain, Bulgaria, Turkey or wherever.
Perhaps a new financial order could even prove useful to the bankers and capitalists of the City, by providing the additional room for manoeuvre via a certain amount of regional autonomy on the commercial, monetary and financial level. And perhaps an independent Scotland would make it easier for British diplomats to engage in double-dealing and cheating their rivals.
Either way, none of this serves the interests of the Scottish working class. The whole “debate” is just leading workers up a blind alley under the cover of a massive democratic smokescreen, one that fosters the illusion that a vote in a capitalist ballot can change anything of substance. As we go to press the outcome of the referendum hangs in the balance. The No campaign has been forced to make tactical concessions that will give Scotland greater autonomy while falling short of full independence. But whatever the outcome of the vote on September 18, and whichever side is partying to celebrate its success, it will be the Scottish working class that returns to work with a hangover that will last for decades as the various factions of the Scottish and international bourgeoisie continue to squabble over who gets the biggest share of the wealth that they – the working class – produce. One thing is certain, the bourgeoisie will do whatever it can to set Scottish and English workers against one another, driving down wages as they compete for jobs.
The only way forward from our perspective is unified struggle by the British working class, ultimately as part of an internationalist communist party whose aim is to wrest political power from the bourgeoisie and initiate the socialist transformation of the economy.
The following articles appeared originally in our Italian press and deal with events over the last year in the Ukraine, a country uncomfortably situated between two imperialist blocs both of whom are competing to increase their share of the Ukrainian market, i.e. to extract a greater share of the surplus value extorted from the Ukrainian working class.
In the current situation of global crisis, this struggle between imperialisms tends to move ever more quickly onto the military front, an increasingly alarming phenomenon as capitalism looks more and more to another world war to resolve its crisis: smashing everything up, infra-structure and ‘surplus population’ included, in order to create a ‘fresh’ cycle of capitalist growth, based on the misery and death of billions of people.
As any article written about the Ukraine at present tends to be quite quickly overtaken by events, we will just mention here that the first two articles, Preparations for a future World War: the imperialist machinations in Ukraine andThe working class in Ukraine has to fight against both the Russian and Western imperialist fronts were written in March and April 2014, with the Russian annexation of the Crimea imminent; whilst the third article Ukraine: war manoeuvres in Europe, brings together further writings taken from our Italian press, supplemented by further observations, taking us up to September 2014.
No doubt by the time Communist Left goes to press events would have moved on although our fundamental message will remain the same: it is in the interests of the working class in the Ukraine to concentrate on the interests of its own class, that is, organising to defend its immediate economic interests, and rediscovering the genuine communist programme which truly represents its ultimate interest, opposed to all nationalisms and imperialist intrigues, in whatever form they may manifest.
The threat of war in Ukraine The working class in Ukraine must struggle against both the Russian and the Western imperialist fronts and for tomorrow’s international communist revolution
The clash between Russia, the U.S.A., Germany and the other plunderers who want a share of Ukraine’s wealth is not just against the Ukrainian proletariat, with the prospect of years of misery and increased exploitation ahead of it, but also against the working classes in the West and in Russia, who all risk getting caught up in an imperialist war and ending up as its main victims.
The ruthless power struggle between the various groups of capitalists, all reliant on the various State structures, in Washington as in Moscow, Berlin as in Warsaw and Kiev, is just a reflection in Ukraine of the sharpening clash between the world’s major economic and military powers. The underlying cause is the crisis of over-production, undermining the capitalist system from within, upsetting the delicate balance of power and exposing all the bourgeoisie’s threadbare ideologies and false myths of progress and peaceful coexistence.
This crisis, falling exactly a century after the outbreak of the first imperialist war, shows that capitalist society is rotten to the core everywhere, and that the time is ripe for communism. But the road to communism may be blocked if the global working class fails to realise its enormous power, loses sight of its own destiny, and fails to embark on the road of international revolutionary struggle.
The struggles in the squares of Kiev and other Ukrainian cities have brought down the Yanukovitch government only to replaced it with one which is equally bourgeois. But the new government, like the old one, will still have to face the fact that the Ukrainian capitalist state is enormously in debt to the imperialist blood-suckers, a debt whose insupportable consequences will be born by the working classes, who will be starved and thrown out onto the streets.
This is why the government in Kiev is stoking up the flames of nationalism, in order to try and get the proletariat to forget its real problems, such as wages, employment and a home to live in. And it is in pursuit of the same imperialist and anti-proletarian objectives that the government in Moscow is engaged in an equally infamous propaganda campaign among Russian proletarians, and against those of Russian origin in the Crimea and the eastern regions of Ukraine!
The bourgeoisie, with the help of its servants in the media, the political parties and the trade unions, are spreading the slogans of defence of the nation, race and religion among proletarians, trying to get them to see their foreign brothers as enemies. These are the false banners under which they seek to divide the working class and prevent it from uniting in trade union struggles today, and revolutionary communist struggle tomorrow. The street rebellions in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities show how the ‘sacred’ patriotic banners and slogans are now just weapons used by the bourgeois states as war propaganda.
This was why, maybe, this time the Ukrainian proletariat instinctively kept away from the squares in which patriotism, whether ‘pro-European’ or ‘pro-Russian’, was being so loudly exalted. The proletariat has no interests in common with its own bourgeoisie, with the bosses, with the ‘oligarchs’, whether they are draping themselves in the banners of democracy and Europe, or calling for the Russian bear to protect them. The working class must reject all temptation to express solidarity with its ‘own’ bourgeois and with the middle classes and rely only on its own autonomous and fully independent class-based organisations.
All Proletarian energy should be directed to the reconstitution of the indispensable weapons of its emancipation: a really combative working class trade union, and the communist party, revolutionary and internationalist.
NO to the defence of the country, YES to the defence of working class interests!
NO to war between States, YES to the international class war!
Preparations for a future World War The imperialist machinations in Ukraine
Ukraine is slightly larger than France, with an area of 603,700 square kilometres. With its vast central plain flowed through by the Dnieper and its highly fertile black soil, it is a largely agricultural country and a major exporter of cereals, principally maize. In 2011, France produced 64 million tons of cereals and the Ukraine 51 million. It is estimated that Ukraine’s cereal exports could amount to 28 million tons in 2013-2014.
To the east Ukraine borders with Russia, to the north with Belarus, to the west with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, to the south with the Black Sea. It occupies an important geo-strategic space, acting as a buffer between Russia and central Europe, while the Crimea serves as a bridgehead allowing access to the Mediterranean.
After the dismantling of the Russian empire (the old USSR) in December 1991, as a result of the crisis of Russian capitalism, the Russian republics, together with Ukraine, the Baltic republics, etc, formed independent States. It is necessary to emphasise that, contrary to the expectations of the Americans, who thought the dismemberment of the USSR would start with the Muslim states in the south of Russia, which were treated as out and out colonies, it was in fact the rich states of Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic States that wanted and organised the separation. The system of equal distribution of wealth within the USSR in favour of the poorer republics had become too onerous for them.
Gross National Product
In billions dollars at 2000 values
The terrible crisis of over-production that hit the economies of all of these states before 1998 caused a major collapse in agricultural and industrial production. In Russia industrial production fell by 56%, worse even than the crisis that hit the United States between 1929 and 1932 (-43%!)
We don’t have the figures for industrial production in Ukraine over that period but the decline in the GDP over those years gives an idea of the extent of the crisis: down 60% in 1999. Between 2000 and 2007 industrial and agricultural production in Ukraine, as in Russia, experienced a strong upturn, with a 9% average annual increase in industrial production. Nevertheless, despite this positive tendency, industrial production hasn’t returned to 1989 levels and the GDP in 2008 corresponded to just 89% of the GDP in 1989 (at constant values).
Exports in 2012
The crisis prompted many people to emigrate. Ukraine’s population, which stood at 52,179,210 in 1993, has fallen regularly over the ensuing years, down to 45,593,300 in 2012. This illustrates the depth of the crisis and shows the suffering the people have had to endure. For the proletariat and the middle classes it was like being in a war.
However, between 2000 and 2008 Ukraine, just like Russia and the Baltic republics, benefited from the influx of capital that could not be profitably employed in North America and Western Europe, enabling it modernise its industry and agriculture.
At present Ukraine possesses a solid industrial base, consisting mainly of manufacturing and mining, with a workforce which is highly qualified but whose pay is on a par with Chinese workers. Its main exports are: steel goods, above all piping for the transportation of gas and oil; mechanical and engineering products, such as engines for aircraft and helicopters (an industry vital for Russia and China); chemical products, from carbon coke to fertilisers, sulphuric acid, etc; and arms, exported mainly to China.
Ukraine has taken advantage of this period to modernise its agriculture and privatise its kolkhozes, those centres of social conservatism, and as a result it has become a major exporter of cereals. In 2012 its exports to Russia and the European Union amounted to .61 billion and .06 billion respectively, i.e. about the same to both.
Exchange of goods - in 2012
European Union (27)
The global recession of 2008-2009 hit Ukraine particularly hard. Industrial production fell by 5% in 2008, then by 22% in 2009, that is, by 27% in two years. To this has been added a chronic trade deficit, which has been widening since 2005. This has been aggravated by the attempts of the Ukrainian economic authorities to keep the national currency, the Hryvnia, at an elevated rate of exchange. In 2009 Russia ended the policy of “fraternal pricing” and is now selling its gas at the international market price, expressed in dollars. The businesses and banks are heavily indebted in foreign currencies – dollars and euros – and half of the public debt is expressed in dollars as well. In order not to increase the debt and the cost of gas, the Ukrainian central bank is maintaining the parity of the national currency with that of the United States at an elevated level, just like Argentina, which before the crisis in 2001 linked its currency to the dollar. This monetary policy of maintaining the Ukrainian currency at an artificially high rate of exchange is unfavourable to exports, especially in this period of global recession, and it is costly in foreign currencies.
After a strong revival in 2010 and 2011, the second international recession caused a new downturn in industrial production during 2012 and 2013, with businesses and banks experiencing a fall in profits. After the emergence of the United States from the recession at the end of 2013, with the announcement by the Federal Reserve (Fed) of the progressive arrest of ‘quantitative easing’ (since September 2012 the Fed has been picking up billion worth of mortgages and treasury bonds to keep interest rates low, which increases the supply of money and makes it much cheaper) and after the announcement of the economic upturn in the European Union, capital abandoned the emerging countries, the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), returning to North America and Europe, causing the currencies of these emerging countries to fall in value and provoking recessions. Ukraine, like Russia, is also being subjected to this dynamic.
In 2013 the Ukrainian central bank spent tens of billions of dollars to maintain the parity of its currency and this has exhausted its reserves. At the start of 2014, despite these interventions and drastic restrictions on the movements of capital, the value of the Hrvynia fell by 10%. The devaluation of the currency favours exports and puts a brake on imports but makes the debt more onerous when it is calculated in dollars and euros.
Marxism has demonstrated that the course of capitalism, along with its currencies and markets, is totally uncontrollable and is not amenable to any kind of state control. The entire historical course of Russian capitalism – the final dismemberment of the USSR bringing to a juddering halt all of the Stalinist counter-revolution’s boasts about so-called state control of the economy – has amply confirmed this aspect of capitalism, and the current global economic crisis, bearer of poverty and destitution, illustrates this in a yet more tragic way.
The result of the exchange rate policy in Ukraine, despite a relatively low rate of public debt – 43% of Gross Domestic Debt in 2012 compared with 90% in France and 127% in Italy – is that businesses are no longer able to obtain finance on the international markets. The rates of interest on short-term public bonds, which just a month ago stood at 5%, went up to 35% in the space of a week. Ten year bonds have risen to 11.3% from 8.5% in January 2014. The foreign currency reserves of the central bank are much reduced and the state deficit has gone up to around 55% of the GNP as a result of the recession. In short, the Ukrainian state is on the verge of bankruptcy and a payments freeze.
According to the interim Minister of Finance, Iuri Kolobov, Ukraine faces billion of indebtedness in 2014: 4 billion is owed to the International Monetary Fund by the Ukrainian central bank; around 2 billion consists of state issued securities (titoli) and euro bonds, and the rest is the gas bill owed to Naftogas, the Russian publicly owned gas company. According to the minister himself, Ukraine would need billion, that is, around €25.5 billion, to meet its obligations in 2014-15.
Ukraine has twice had to appeal to the IMF. The first time, in November 2008, under the Yuchtchenko-Timochenko government, it reached an agreement for a loan of .4 billion; the second time in 2010, under the government of Viktor Yanukovitch, an agreement envisaged a loan of billion. Both these agreements included a number of provisos, including the suppression of subsidies on gas bills for private and business users. But on neither occasion did the government actually apply these measures which, in a situation of economic crisis, would have triggered social unrest. As a consequence, the IMF stopped making payments within the space of a few weeks.
The Current Crisis
Due to its geographical position and its commercial ties, Ukraine finds itself caught between its big Russian ‘brother’ and the European Union. The Ukrainian bourgeoisie, like that of Poland and the Baltic states, wants to belong to the European Union in the hope of attracting the investment needed for its economy, and to have easier access to capital markets. As for the European Union, given the situation of global market saturation, it can only hope that it will gain access to the Ukrainian market; and the European, English, German, French and Italian multinationals can only wait impatiently for the chance to invest on advantageous terms in a country which has a solid industrial base, up-to-date technology in the electronics and military sector and, above all, a highly qualified labour force whose salaries are about the same as the Chinese. But this integration, or rather this sidling up to each other, with the European Union talking of a billion loan all set up and ready to go, is conditional on economic restructuring, deep cuts in public spending including subsidies to gas consumers and, maybe easier to obtain, a legal system which conforms better to business interests, that is, a system which is transparent, which works properly and is not arbitrary.
This rapprochement is not viewed at all favourably by Russian imperialism. Integration into the European Union would de facto lead to Ukraine joining NATO. This would mean Russia having NATO forces on its borders, which would put the Crimea, with its important base at Sebastopol, under serious threat. That’s why Russia used the carrot and stick approach with president Yanukovitch, to stop him drawing closer to Europe; the stick consisting of the threat of cutting the supply of gas and increasing customs duty on all Ukrainian imports, even if in contradiction with the rules of the World Trade Organisation which Russia joined two years ago; the carrot being the prospect of an unconditional billion loan and a cut in the price of gas by a third. The Yanukovich government, caught between carrot and stick, didn’t take long to make its decision.
What follows is well known: faced with the dashed hopes of a section of the middle classes, including small entrepreneurs, and supported by a few of the oligarchs who do business with Europe, and certainly thanks to the work of professional agitators financed by European or American imperialism (just as Russian imperialism is doing today in the Crimea and some regions in the East of Ukraine) Majdan Square in Kiev was occupied; and after two or three months of clashes with the police and special forces, similar to the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia, the government fell.
As in other regions of the world, the global crisis of capitalism has set the classes in motion, but unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, where the proletariat has played an important role, mainly through its network of trade union organisations which were able to organise long, bitter strikes, the proletariat in Ukraine has been completely absent. Some proletarians certainly took part in the demonstrations but they were submerged in the mass of demonstrators and didn’t manage to differentiate themselves from the purely bourgeois demands of Majdan Square. The great mass of the proletariat surely understood in an instinctive way that nothing good could be expected from either side.
Small states, especially when in difficulty, become easy prey to the big imperialist states. Who will gobble up Ukraine? Russia? Or, the United States via Europe?
Russia doesn’t have the economic clout to absorb Ukraine and nor can it prevent it from drawing closer to Europe. Today’s Russia cannot be compared with the old USSR, which shared the domination of the planet with the United States. How strong is Russia minus Ukraine, the Baltic republics and central Europe? If we take the production of electricity as providing as an approximate indicator of industrial strength, and look at the data for 2007, before the major crisis of 2008-2009, Russia’s industrial weight is about 5%, as against 22% for the United States and 16% for China. Using the same criteria Germany comes in at around 3%. Russia can therefore be seen as a big Germany with nuclear warhead-shaped teeth, but a big Germany nonetheless. In no circumstances can it compete with the United States as it did in the past.
The real adversary of the United States is China. The Chinese bourgeoisie is preparing to take the place of America imperialism and it has time to play with. With rates of industrial growth of 5-6% (even if official figure put it at 9-10%) it is counting on catching up with and then overtaking the United States and producing more weaponry. What the Chinese forget, same as every other bourgeoisie, is the crisis of overproduction. Indeed China is menaced by a really formidable crisis of overproduction, a crisis which will be at least as severe as 1961-2, if not more so. And the question isn’t if the crisis will happen, but when. Our best estimate is that it will occur at the end of the current economic cycle, probably around 2017, or maybe even sooner. In any case, this gigantic crisis of overproduction will be the point of departure of a global deflationary crisis, which will be worse than 1929.
The military intervention of Russia in the Crimea and its menacing manoeuvres on the borders of Ukraine are signs of its weakness. The United States is reacting by sending a battleship to the Black Sea and reinforcing its air defences in Poland but it is not exerting pressure in other operational theatres of war, like Syria for example. This demonstrates two things:
1/ That despite alarming events in the Far East (a few weeks ago Chinese warships fired on Philippine fishing boats; in fact China has declared the whole of the China Sea and the related air space as its sphere of influence), in the Middle East, and now in Europe, the conditions for a third global conflict have not yet matured. Before that happens there will be a major economic crisis, which will draw the proletariat back onto the path of class struggle; after which there will be two alternatives: a third world war, or international communist revolution.
2/ For now the United States isn’t counting on its military power to bring Russia to heel but rather on a weapon that is just as powerful: financial capital. It is the same weapon that Washington used in 1956 following the Anglo-French intervention in Cairo and the Suez: the two European allies still believed themselves to be masters of the world but succumbed to the financial pressure of the United States and hastily packed their bags and returned home, even if on the ground the conquest had clearly been very easy. One can imagine the anger of the French bourgeoisie and its anti-American sentiments at the time.
Russia today is not only suffering from the effects of the international crisis but, like the other emerging countries, is also facing a withdrawal of capital. It should also be taken into consideration that industrial production stagnated in 2013 and is expected to go into recession in 2014. “Russia registered growth Last year of just 1.4% of the GDP (compared with 3.4% in 2012, and way off the 7% average annual growth between 2000-2010, and the 5% promised by president Putin in 2012) and the authorities were hoping for a 2.5% rebound in 2014. The central bank has already revised this estimate and now predicts 2% per annum growth at least to the end of 2016. The causes of this are, notoriously, the scant enthusiasm shown by foreign investors, given a lack of real industrial diversification, concrete programmes of privatisation, of a good business climate and a transparent legal system” (Les Echos, March 4, 2014).
This situation is provoking a devaluation of the rouble, aggravated today by Russia’s military posturing: after the announcement of a possible military intervention in Ukraine the euro rose above the symbolic threshold of 50 roubles, never seen before, and the dollar rose above its 2009 record of 36.85 roubles to the dollar. To counter this trend the central bank has suddenly had to increase the benchmark rate, the rate which governs interbank exchange rates, from 5.5% to 7%.
If an embargo on investments in Russia is enforced, as the American Secretary of State John Kerry has been threatening, Russian capitalism would be severely damaged, with a high risk that a certain number of banks will go under. Therefore, in a gesture to reduce the tension, Putin put a stop to the military manoeuvres on the Ukrainian border.
No doubt negotiations are now underway. What does the Russian bear want? To secure its naval base in the Crimea; for Ukraine not to join NATO and consequently the European Union; and for the Ukrainian government not to be declaredly anti-Russian.
On this latter point every Ukrainian government, including those that seem most pro-West, have shown that they are very pragmatic and conscious of the geopolitical reality. This was the case when the star of the “Orange Revolution”, Julia Timochenko, was prime minister and considered pro-West. It was she who negotiated the new gas contract with Russia, which would later be considered too favourable to the Russians by Yanukovitch, the deposed president who took refuge in Russia.
As for the integration of Ukraine into Europe, what the European Union has proposed up to now is a partnership. But if the Crimea is acquired by force, as looks increasingly likely, there is no doubt that in the medium or long term Ukraine will be integrated into NATO and the EU.
But neither Europe nor Russia could put up with a bankrupt Ukraine because this would mean major problems for both. If Ukraine stops paying its debt instalments the Russian public banks, which have invested heavily in Ukraine, would suffer grave consequences. On this point both Europeans and Russians find they have interests in common.
Russia’s means of retaliation is its gas, but at the same time it doesn’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. Russia can’t continue to use gas as a weapon for ever. The production of gas from shale in the United States has revolutionised the market for energy products. By becoming independent from the energy point of view and a major exporter of coal, the United States has lowered the price of energy and obliged its former suppliers to find other outlets. On the other hand, the possibility of liquefying natural gas allows it to be transported over long distances. Europe currently consumes 485 billion cubic metres of gas per annum, 160 billion of which is exported from Russia but in ten years time a substantial proportion of this with be substituted with LNG (liquefied natural gas). If Russia were to interrupt its supply now, with inevitable negative effects on its own economy, Europe could obtain supplies from Qatar, Australia or Canada.
Still on the subject of gas, the deposed Yanukovitch government did everything it could to reduce the consumption of gas and its acquisition from Russia, which was supplying it at above the market price. In its power stations it had replaced gas with coal, which is produced in Ukraine, and it even imported gas from Germany. With these systems in place it had managed to reduce gas consumption from 54 billion cubic metres in 2011 to 45 billion in 2012, reducing its dependence on Russia by acquiring, in 2012, only 34 billion cubic metres from Moscow. What’s more, at the beginning of 2012 the Ukrainian government signed two contracts for the exploitation of two shale beds, each of which could provide, according to the government’s own estimates, between 8 and 10 billion cubic metres of gas per annum. As for the United States, it is speeding up the construction of terminals for the exportation of LNG, with possible customers being precisely countries such as Ukraine.
How far do the Americans want to push this trial of strength? If Russia refuses to leave the Crimea, will they organise an embargo on investments in Russia? China, which until now has given moderate support to Russia, might then intervene to help Moscow. But this ‘help’ would come at a price: the Chinese bourgeoisie will lend its capital on condition that it is allowed to plunder the mineral resources in Siberia and get its hands on Russia’s cutting-edge technology. The United States for its part will need to convince the City, which recycles a part of the Russian revenue generated by the sale of gas and oil, to take part in the embargo. But the United States may have an interest in not inflicting too much harm on Russia in order not to find itself on its own facing China.
We can only make suppositions, but what is certain is that no positive solution will emerge from all this haggling between the imperialist states. On the contrary, it all just serves to open the wound still further; we need only recall what happened in Cyprus.
Whatever happens the Ukrainian proletariat will gain nothing from either side, only blood, sweat and tears, and an even more precarious existence. If there is an industrial recovery on a global scale in the big imperialist countries, it will only be moderate, and would be at the price of much greater insecurity for the workers and their increasing pauperisation; as much in the industrial as the service sector. In Japan 30% of the labour force is already poor and on temporary or part-time contracts, in Germany it is 20% and in France 15%, according to data from 2010, and no doubt this percentage has gone up over recent months.
The European bourgeoisie is well aware that the brutal remedies it applied in Greece and Spain can’t be used in Ukraine; it will be obliged to use less drastic measures but it will still be the Ukrainian proletariat that will pay the price. This is what Eric Berglof, chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Redevelopment declared in an interview: “A country like Ukraine, which has a diversified economy and an educated workforce, must make an effort to give investors greater cause for confidence”. He couldn’t be clearer than that.
The rise in military tension, in the China Sea as in the Middle East and Europe, is paving the way for the future world war; a war into which the imperialist states are being propelled by the crisis of world capitalism. When the conditions for it have matured it will only take a spark to ignite the conflagration. It would be an utter disaster if the first missiles blast off and the proletariat cannot stop the war through its class action, or it stops it too late, as in the First World War.
If the war breaks out before the revolution, the transformation of the imperialist war into civil war will be difficult but not impossible. But if the Third World War were to be fought out to its bitter end, not only would the planet be totally devastated, with maybe a billion dead, but there would be all the conditions, with the proletariat reduced to a state of poverty and starvation, for capitalism to start a new cycle of accumulation. The centre of economic gravity would move across to the Pacific whilst old Europe, which had proved unable to achieve communism, would suffer an uncomfortable retirement.
Ukraine: war manoeuvres in Europe
For centuries, due to its strategic position between Catholic West and Orthodox East and due to the fertile soil of its plains, the region currently occupied by the Ukrainian State has been preyed upon by the stronger state entities which encircle it, all of them determined to bring it under their control. Although benefiting from fertile land, ample mineral resources and an impressive, although partially obsolete, industrial infra-structure, Ukraine still finds itself today, having won independence from the USSR, squeezed between dependence on Russia for its energy supply and its huge public debt, which distorts its policies in the interests of the international financial organisations.
Just as occurred in other countries with a weaker economy, which in Europe are concentrated mainly in the south, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and in the east, Rumania and Hungary, the economic crisis which hit world capitalism six years ago caused a general worsening of the condition of the lower classes in Ukraine, mainly affecting the working class and the petty bourgeoisie,.
The working class in Ukraine suffers from a high rate of unemployment and low wages, but, in the absence of a class perspective, that is, without the indispensable guidance of its class party, the Ukrainian proletariat hasn’t managed to mount an independent response and it is being suffocated by the inter-classist embrace of ‘the people’ in the undifferentiated sense of the word. The workers have allowed themselves, as individual citizens, to be corralled into the electoral cattle-pens and have swallowed the illusion they can use their vote to impose their will on the demagogic career politicians, all subsidized by big business, and can choose between one or the other of the various imperial alignments fighting for control of their country.
Lacking a revolutionary perspective, deprived of its trade unions, attached to the clique in power, weakened by rampant unemployment and by a growing uncertainty in the future, the Ukrainian proletariat hasn’t managed to counter the gangs mobilised by the various bourgeois parties, ranging from the fascists of Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector) and Yulia Tymoschenko’s Patria (Fatherland) Party, to the nationalist “Svoboda” or nationalist-communist and Stalinist parties. Some proletarians, on the other hand, resort to seeking an illusory “identity” in the various churches which have traditionally divided up the region’s souls.
The question of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, defended by the Government parties in Kiev, is of no concern of the proletariat, which has nothing to gain from it, or of the communist revolution and it should be considered no less reactionary than dividing the country up. On the other hand the “reunification” of the Crimea with the Russian motherland, advocated by the nationalists of “United Russia”, to Moscow’s economy, or a future one with the eastern regions of the country, cannot be deemed “progressive” either. The transfer of Crimea to Russia has inflated the nationalism in the region out of all proportion: it has sown divisions between workers who for more than a century have lived side by side and shared the same economic and civil conditions; and it has reinforced and aggravated ethnic and religious tensions so as to conceal the underlying class conflicts.
Dividing the working class is the necessary prerequisite for the imperialist blocs to launch a counter-revolutionary “ethnic” war similar to what took place in Yugoslavia a couple of decades ago. Such an international war between capitalisms, a ‘Civil’ war in appearance only, would seriously damage the proletariat and the prospect of revolution; and not just in terms of the terror, bloodshed and deprivation that would result, but because, for capital, war represents confirmation of the proletariat’s prostrate submission to its dictatorship.
The current revival of ethnic, religious and national divisions within the borders of the Ukrainian state, where capitalism is fully developed and where a strong proletariat exists, is just an “irredentist” pretext which, behind the “right of self-determination”, seeks to justify this or that national minority, and does a very bad job of it at that. It is just bourgeois war propaganda and a reactionary attempt to prevent any possibility of a united proletarian counter-attack. The national-communists, the orthodox Muscovites, the Stalinists, the Cossacks fighting to unite with Greater Russia are no better than the fascists and nazis, who, along with the so-called liberals and the followers of the Ukrainian orthodox church, plead for union with Europe and seek the protection of Washington.
Caught up in the conflict between the two ‘global’ imperialisms, nothing remains for the proletariat to do but to fight on its own behalf instead, against both sides.
In this nasty war between bourgeois states the various superficial justifications given are of no interest; whether or not, that is, the coup-de-main by the Kremlin, which over the space of a few days was able to occupy the Crimea militarily and secure its old naval base in Sebastopol, is covered by some arcane “international law” or not. And neither are we interested in knowing if it was Moscow responding to the attempt by the United States to move NATO’s missiles further to the East, or NATO responding to Russian manoeuvres which threatened to occupy all or part of Ukraine.
The pro-Russian militias of The Donets Basin (or Donbass, an area which straddles the borders between Ukraine and Russia) have refused to accept the discipline of the new Kiev regime and organised a referendum similar to the one in Crimea, hoping to legitimise as “the will of the people” the call for the region, re-baptised New Russia, to form a union with Moscow. The proletariat, which is particularly concentrated here due to the presence of the mining and metallurgic industries, seems to have consented to the region’s ‘transfer’ to Russia because of its fears about the openly anti-communist pro-Western government, and because it believes, wrongly, that throwing in its lot with Russia would mean better wages, better social security, higher pensions, and so on and so forth.
The events of recent weeks in the South-eastern regions of Ukraine, the scene of clashes between the Ukrainian army supported by volunteer militias, and pro-Moscow rebels supported by divisions of the Russian army, confirm what we have been saying over recent months: that this conflict isn’t a domestic matter of concern just to the Ukrainian State, but a conflict between imperialist states and their allies.
Let us recall recent events: at the end of June, after Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea and the outbreak of the revolt in the eastern regions of the country, Ukraine signs the economic part of the agreement on membership of the European Union, while Moscow and Washington apparently try to put an end to the military action in the Donets Basin. In early July, however, Kiev’s army initiates an offensive which by July 5 leads to the conquest of Slovyansk. On July 17 a Malaysian Airlines plane is brought down with 295 passengers on board. Mutual recriminations by both sides take place. At the end of July the Ukrainian prime-minister Arseni Iatseniuk announces his resignation, blaming the failure to achieve a government majority on the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, which had failed to back a series of measures stipulated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as the conditions for a new loan.
According to the right-wing nationalist parties the Ukrainian people, from the fall of Viktor Yanukovich’s regime through to February, had been called upon to choose a new president but not a new government. “We believe that in the present situation such a parliament, which protects state criminals, agents of Moscow, which refuses to withdraw immunity from those who work for the Kremlin, shouldn’t exist”, declares the leader of the nationalist party “Svoboda”.
On August 25, a month after the fall of the government, President Poroscenko has to dissolve the Rada and call new elections for October 26. And yet, in a clear illustration of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie’s uncertainties about which imperialist master to sell itself to, Poroscenko takes part in a summit at Minsk in Belarus, where he has meetings with both Putin and the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan, who are part of the Euro-Asian Customs Union, and with the representatives of the European Union. It appears no positive results emerged from the Summit however.
Meanwhile back on the battlefield the rebel troops, with the support of Russian army divisions, won further territory in the second half of the month of August, pushing back and encircling the Kiev troops on more than one occasion.
On August 29 Yatsenyuk, the Ukrainian prime-minister, despite having been forced to resign, declared that he would be introducing a law for the admission of Ukraine to NATO. On September 2 the European Union announced new sanctions against Russia. On September 3 France declared it would be postponing the delivery of the first of three Mistral class landing craft to the Russian navy, scheduled for October. The same day Presidents Putin and Poroscenko hastily tried to come to an agreement, agreeing a ceasefire a few hours later. This fragile truce provides a breathing space in which to try and prevent a widening of the conflict which could see some of the world’s major military powers ranged against each other and provides a backdrop to the Extraordinary Summit called by NATO for the 4 and 5 September, specifically to examine the Ukrainian question.
Today a war in the heart of Europe still seems premature, but the economic crisis is leaving less and less room for diplomatic manoeuvres and accords and is pushing the various States towards defending their interests with arms, in what is effectively a continuous training exercise for a future armed conflict on a global scale; the preparations for which are being made not just at the military level but also in the media, which is starting to get so-called “public opinion” softened up and used to the possibility it just might happen.
The major capitalist states in Europe, and especially Germany, have strong ties with Russia which receives exports from them in exchange for gas and oil. But they are also tied to the United States by a military alliance, NATO, which for many decades after the Second World War imposed the status quo which emerged from Yalta and ensured the bourgeois order necessary for the post-war reconstruction.
The United States today, under the impulse of the economic crisis, is pushing in two directions: they want to reduce the economic links between Europe and Russia and tie Europe in more closely with its own economy. At the same time they want to strengthen NATO and complete their encirclement of Russia, a manoeuvre much feared in the Kremlin. With this aim in view Washington wants to exploit divisions within the European Union by relying on the traditionally anti-Russian countries of Eastern Europe, and thus today it is scheming to get Ukraine to join NATO.
Russia, for its part, wants to maintain and increase its trading relationship with Europe and is very worried about NATO’s shift to the east, so much so that it is prepared to make major financial investments and, it appears, even take military action to ensure Ukraine’s loyalty, or at least its neutrality.
All of this in a phase of the economic crisis which is making a new inter-imperialist military confrontation, on a vast scale, ever more inevitable.
Bourgeois propaganda is no longer concealing the possibility – for us a certainty – of a future war between imperialist states, and the tone of recent declarations proves this. Reciprocal accusations and threats have been made in public by Putin and Obama in preparation for a military undertaking, the brunt of which will be borne by proletarians on each of the eventual fronts.
According to the September 2 issue of Il Sole 24 Ore, four thousand soldiers from nine countries, with armoured and air support, are taking part in NATO military exercises on the Eastern front to be concluded in early October. The Atlantic Alliance states that initially the manoeuvres were to have been headed by the United States, but it was then decided it would pass under the aegis of NATO, against the backdrop of the current efforts to reassure the countries in the East faced with the aggressive moves by Russia. Other military initiatives are also under way: in the Black Sea the United States and Ukraine are engaged in joint naval exercises: “The exercises, in which Spain, Canada, Rumania and Turkey are also taking part, are focused on the technical aspects of managing an international operation to maintain the safety of shipping in a region hit by a crisis”. Another exercise “on a vast scale”, employing more than 5,000 men from the United States along with some European allies, is also underway in the South of Germany, the main object of the exercise being to simulate the liberation of a city. “The objective of these exercises is to show that NATO is capable of discouraging and preventing any aggression on Russia’s part if one of our allies were attacked”, says USA General Frederick Hodges, rendering the message to the Kremlin all the more irksome (Il Messaggero, September 9).
The NATO summit held in Cardiff and Newport on September 4 – 5, specifically with a view to adopting practical measures on the question of the war in Ukraine, saw the warmongering positions defended by the United States and Great Britain clearly predominating. The final declaration openly commits the 28 members of the Atlantic Alliance to “reversing the tendency to reduce defence budgets”, a call clearly addressed to the countries of southern and central Europe who, hit by the economic crisis, have reduced their military expenditure. The document pledges all countries to increase their military expenditure over the next ten years by at least 2% of GDP, an enormous figure for the industrial countries and one recently criticised by Germany’s Minister of Finance.
Furthermore a special support fund was created for the Kiev government, “nominated to join NATO along with Georgia, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Montenegro and Macedonia, further enlarging the Atlantic Alliance in the East” (Manlio Dinucci, Il Manifesto, September 6).
The intentions of the United States had already been declared by President Obama in the speech he gave at Tallinn, in Estonia, the day before: “The vision of liberty is threatened by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Its assault on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, a sovereign and independent nation, defies the fundamental principles of our international system. The borders cannot be redrawn at the point of a gun”. Obama has reaffirmed the principle that “The doors of NATO remain open to all”, openly contrasting with Moscow’s view, which has declared on many occasions that it cannot tolerate the presence of NATO pushing its missiles up against the borders with Russia. He ended up, anticipating the final decisions of the Cardiff and Newport summit, by declaring that a rapid deployment force would be formed immediately in the Baltic States. At the summit it would then be clarified that this force of a few thousand men would have five depot-bases allocated to it in the Baltic countries, Poland and Rumania, and that it would be very “reactive”, with a continuing presence in the countries of Eastern Europe.
The NATO summits are also threatening to establish military bases in Norway (which belongs to NATO) and even in Finland (which doesn’t), hypotheses which can only reinforce the Kremlin in its nationalist boasts, and Putin’s declaration, that he could occupy Kiev in two weeks if he wanted to, will not be his last.
Russia knows, however, that it cannot afford to break off economic relations with Europe nor get into an open military confrontation with NATO. It is baring its teeth to get a compromise solution, counting first of all on the support of Europe and Germany, but also on the indirect protection of China, which certainly doesn’t favour NATO expansion into Eastern Europe.
Commercial collaboration between Russia and China has intensified over recent years. In early July last year the two countries participated in “six days of manoeuvres, denominated ‘United Sea 2013’, in the Gulf of Peter the Great, off Vladivostok. This was the biggest joint naval exercise the two countries have ever taken part in. From what we can gather 12 ships from Russia and 7 from China were deployed along with an unspecified number of combat aircraft. Despite the fact that this certainly wasn’t the first time the countries had carried out joint military manoeuvres, the Peking media emphasised the importance of the operation, which concluded on Wednesday July 10: indeed it was the first time China had opted to send such a large military force abroad “to take part in exercises in an unknown maritime area”, wrote the China Daily“(Gabriele Battaglia, “Lettera 43”).
In May last year, reinforcing this collaboration between China and Russia, there came another announcement, concluding ten years of negotiations, about an agreement between Moscow and Peking on the future supply of gas. In Il Sole 24 Ore of 21 May we read: “The agreement – announced by the New China agency – was finally concluded during the visit of the Russian president Vladimir Putin to China following a long stalemate over the price of natural gas. The contract envisages methane being supplied over a thirty year period, an amount equivalent to 38 billion cubic metres per annum (…), guaranteed by a gas pipeline from Siberia to Eastern China, 2,200 kilometres long, which is yet to be constructed. The agreement is worth 400 billion dollars over thirty years. It will commence in 2018 (…) The signing of the agreement, which occurred in the presence of Putin and Xi Jinping, represents an important development for Moscow which since the start of the Ukrainian crisis has been looking for alternative markets for its gas. Until 2013 Europe was Moscow’s biggest customer, with 160 billion cubic meters purchased, but from this year China on its own is already a bigger market. Beijing, wanting to reduce the proportion of polluting carbon fuels it currently uses in electricity production, expects to increase its imports of gas by 20%, eventually to arrive at a figure of 186 billion cubic meters”. Even if, as evidenced by the article, the negotiations have been going on for ten years, the fact is that signing the agreement right in the middle of the Ukraine crisis was a clever move on Moscow’s part.
Commenting in the August issue of the geopolitical magazine Limes, Fulvio Scaglione, deputy director of the catholic periodical Famiglia Cristiana, commented: “Getting back to Russia and China, one thing is certain. The gas agreement puts in direct contact, for the first time, the major possessor, extractor and exporter of energy resources with the major consumer of same. To this fact we can add others: China, the most populous country in the world, is linking up with Russia, the largest country in the world, endowed with 10% of the planet’s fertile land. Russia, the state richest in mineral wealth (…) is entering into a strategic alliance with China, an economy which is the world’s largest consumer of raw materials”.
Beyond the economic aspect and the rapprochement between the two states that this contract involves, the Kremlin clearly wants to use it as a warning to its European clients, who are dependent on Russian gas, not to push their luck because soon Moscow will have an alternative market for its merchandise. And it is precisely within the context of seeking an agreement with Ukraine, but above all with Europe, that Moscow’s move last June – when it interrupted the gas supply to Ukraine – should be interpreted. “On June 16”, Scaglione continues, “Putin gave the order to stop the supply of gas, that is not to introduce into the gas pipelines the 40 billion cubic meters per annum which constitute the Ukrainian quota of the gas dispatched westwards. But it is a strange kind of energy war which starts during the early days of Summer (…) The Kremlin’s decision seems to imply an invitation to use the hot season to reflect on a return to the negotiating table”.
Even the dreaded sanctions by Europe and the United States against Russia are only explicable in view of an imminent clash between the two powers. As well as exporting gas, Russia has other important trading links; its two major European trading partners, in order of importance, are Germany and Italy. Apart from the contemptible Italian bourgeoisie, which has neither the strength nor the character to oppose States which are more powerful than itself, what advantage might Berlin, as the most important economy in Europe, derive from the situation? What could Washington offer it as quid pro quo if it were to break with Moscow? Or what threats could it make?
The German economy hobbles along but it needs to grow and it can’t afford to restrict its markets. Despite Merkel’s official declarations, Germany’s businesses still need to balance their books. But for the United States it is different: it has few commercial relations with Russia and intends in fact to compete with it as a supplier of gas, with what it can extract from shale.
These negotiations between the states; these business deals to sell enormous quantities of product; these clashes to acquire new markets and important strategic and military positions, what is their impact on the proletariat? In the media frenzy of bourgeois ‘news’, composed of sensationalistic headlines and not much else, we read that between April and now the battle in the south-east Ukraine has been responsible for 3,000 deaths, an indefinite but certainly high number of wounded, and almost a million refugees, forced to abandon work and home to escape the war. These victims belong for the most part to the proletarian class and, unconscious of their strength and historical task, they will be forced, wherever they are, to take up a gun and fight for interests that are the very negation of their own.
Over the last few years the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, the “oligarchs”, have become immensely rich by selling themselves to the highest bidder, by engaging in speculation, and plundering and looting in the name of a “free and independent” Ukraine. Like any bourgeoisie they are after profit and only profit in order to augment their capital.
The Ukrainian proletariat, meanwhile, has nothing to gain from lining up on either of the sides in this inter-imperialistic confrontation. It isn’t true that the proletarians of Donbass would see an improvement in their living and working conditions if the region was independent or annexed to Russia. And, despite the rightwing pro-Western parties promise them, they would get no better if Ukraine were to be incorporated into the European area and NATO. The Ukrainian proletariat must look to its own devices for its deliverance, organising itself independently, rejecting nationalist and chauvinist appeals and reconnecting with the internationalist traditions of revolutionary communism.
War is one of the factors which determine the capitalist cycle in both its ascent and its decline. In the third millennium the wars between states, all of them bourgeois states, are part of the strategy of conservatism and counter-revolution. It is incumbent upon the proletariat to oppose the war fronts, marching not against the national enemy, but turning themselves and their weapons against the internal enemy, against the state, against the class power of the bourgeoisie. This is the only course of action that the true communist party can recommend to the international proletarian class, and therefore to proletarians in Ukraine as well.
The Labor Movement in the United States of America
(Continued from no. 33)
Presented at the May 2007 party meeting at Parma
In search of an independent role
The revolutionary soldiers on returning to their homes would find them heavily mortgaged and their families deeply in debt. Local power was concentrated in the hands of rich merchants and the landed gentry, who were busily enriching themselves speculating in land, treasury warrants and paper money. As well as major uprisings, such as Shays’ Rebellion, in response to really extreme situations, there was a growing conviction among the lower social classes that they might have won the war, but they hadn’t ‘won the peace’. Political action by these classes was held back as it was almost impossible for them to gain parliamentary representation, their right to vote being restricted by property qualifications, initially absent only in Pennsylvania.
Action taken by the working classes therefore developed in two directions: on the one hand the fight for suffrage, which sought to achieve representation in parliament to defend their interests; on the other, support for Thomas Jefferson, who was championing the approval of the so-called Bill of Rights, which consisted of ten amendments to the Constitution guaranteeing ‘the citizen’ a number of safeguards, such as freedom of the press, religion and assembly, the right to bear arms and protection from summary and arbitrary justice. It was claimed that the conquests of the War of Independence would thereby be defended from the ‘authoritarian’ tendencies of the federalists (Whigs) who, along with Hamilton, were even suspected of wishing to reintroduce the monarchy.
In fact, even then the federalists were already the party best suited to drive the economic development of the country forward in a capitalist direction, with a program that advocated a rationalization and centralization of the economy, a central bank, and measures to develop manufacture and commerce. But in the particular conditions of post-revolutionary America their initiatives were clearly premature.
Pressure from the lower classes was the decisive factor in the eventual victory of the Republican Democrats (ancestors of the present Democrats), with Jefferson becoming president in 1800. This party (for it is during these years that parties were formed in the United States) would hold onto power almost without a break until the outbreak of the Civil War. The Bill of Rights would be passed in 1791, in part thanks also to the French Revolution, which would rouse the spirits of proletarians, artisans and radicals; and also due to the increasingly blatant corruption of the federalists. And if opposition to the class in power was generally peaceful, it should be remembered that the mass of the people had recently fought a bloody war, and had learnt to use arms.
In ensuing years, thanks to the economic power concentrated in their hands, federalist circles opposed all initiatives by the Democrats, and this confirmed the latter among the working masses as its most effective defender. Thus the Democrats managed to obtain the keen support of workers and craftsmen, who joined new organizations, inter-classist but with a strong proletarian presence, which were called Democratic Societies or Republican Clubs. It was from these organizations, which were active around the last decade of the century, that support for the French Revolution emerged. But they also set about promoting suffrage, and popular education with schooling for all. Even if these societies soon disappeared, proletarian support for the Democrats continued, to the extent that workers strongly supported them during the war against England in 1812, even enrolling in the army and navy and in the corveés to build New York’s external fortifications.
From a trade union perspective, however, as we have seen, the labor organizations were generally weak and of short duration. This situation didn’t change until around 1819-1822, when a deep and widespread economic depression produced major unemployment in the big cities, destroying what little trade union associationism the class had managed to express up to that point. In 1823 there was a recovery, but throughout the twenties the workers’ circumstances were extremely difficult, prompting contemporary commentators to say that the condition of the slave was far superior. In 1829 there was another crisis followed by widespread unemployment. That proletarians were not in a strong position became evident through the spread of so-called ‘yellow dog contracts’ (chiefly amongst female workers), in which the worker signed a document agreeing not to engage in trade union activity, and if he or she did, “to forfeit to the use of the company the amount due to us at that time”. Since wages were often paid twice a year this clause had a major impact. And along with this there was already the widespread use of blacklists, the lists of workers who hadn’t behaved as their bosses wished, and who would no longer be able to find work, a least in the same State or same industry.
First organized economic movements
As early as 1823, signs of a proletarian awakening were all around. In March 1823 in New Orleans a group of printers organized themselves into a trade union, prompted by the “low ebb to which the fraternity has been reduced by not receiving regular pay from their employers”. Soon workers in various trades in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston and other cities were organizing and putting forward demands for increased wages and shorter hours, and threatening to strike if their terms were not met. The process of unionization continued till the end of the decade and in 1827 there the crowning moment occurred with the foundation of the Mechanics’ Union of Trade Associations in Philadelphia. This wasn’t just a new union but an inter-category union which represented a higher level of class consciousness, involving a recognition by it members that everyone, regardless of their trade, had common problems that could only be solved by struggling together, in a united effort of all proletarians, as a class, against the common enemy. It was framework which united workers under one roof, prefiguring the Camere di lavoro and trade union federations of the future; and it is in fact from this date that the American trade union movement is usually considered to have got underway.
The Mechanics’ Union arose out of the ten-hour movement, which would spread like wildfire between 1825-1835 although it was already in existence before the first permanent unions were formed. Indeed as far back as 1791 the Philadelphia carpenters had gone on strike for a ten-hour day and for overtime pay.
The most important demand to be raised in the course of that decade was therefore the limitation of the working day. As a rule the working day was from dawn to dusk and yet, inhuman as these hours were, they only represented the minimum, and the entrepreneurs had no scruples about extending them. In Paterson, New Jersey, for example, a factory regulation required women and children to start work at 4.30 in the morning; in the factories of Peterboro, and at other places in New Hampshire, the custom arose of using artificial light, so that work could start an hour before dawn; a practice the workers called “the creation of two evenings in one day”.
In 1828, again in Paterson, the first recorded factory strike in the USA took place, and this too was linked to working hours: In response to the proposal to move the lunch hour from 12 to 1, the operatives, mainly children, went out on strike. As one observer stated, the children were afraid that if they assented to the change “the next thing would be to deprive them of eating at all”.
And a few years before, around 1825, a number of sailors and carpenters organizations, and builders’ unions, had launched a fierce struggle for the reduction of the working day in Maine and Baltimore.
There were a lot of isolated struggles, defeated due to lack of communication between the various local organizations. They had to struggle not only against the influence of the masters, but also against public opinion. Hypocritical attempts was made to persuade the workers that the ten hour day would be bad for them; it would “exert a very unhappy influence on our apprentices, by seducing them from that course of industry and economy of time, to which we [the employers] are anxious to inure them,” and it would “expose the Journeymen themselves to many improvident temptations and improvident practices”. Trade unions, said the employers, were “un-American” (a term still used today): they had been brought over from Europe by foreigners who carried with them “a spirit of discontent and insubordination to which our native Mechanics have hitherto been strangers”. If allowed to grow, these combinations of labor would injure all classes, inasmuch as they gave an artificial and unnatural turn to business and tended “to convert all its branches into monopolies.”
In the Spring of 1827 workers in Philadelphia were stimulated by reading a pamphlet which invited them to raise the level of their political and trade union struggles, and to organize libraries, reading rooms and a labor press, etc. The pamphlet concluded by calling for action to establish the ten-hour day throughout the city. The carpenters were quick to respond to the call and, commenting on the anonymous authors of the pamphlet, they stated “they believe that all men have a just right, derived from their creator, to have sufficient time in each day for the cultivation of their mind and self-improvement”. Other workers in Philadelphia viewed the strike as their own, saying that “thousands yet unborn” would reap the advantage. The strike was defeated but it taught the workers that only united action of all workers could win the battle against the employers. Hence, in the fall of 1827, fifteen unions would form the Mechanics’ Union of Trade Associations, with the aim of averting “the desolating evils which must inevitably arise from a depreciation of the intrinsic value of human labor”.
This federation of trade unions, which survived until 1831, dedicated much of its energy to political action and inter-category solidarity. Its example was followed in 1831 by the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen. This, too, arose out of the struggle for the reduction of the working day, evidently an aspect of the workers’ condition on which there was no difficultly in reaching agreement. But if by now the ten-hour day had been won in New York and to some extent in Philadelphia, in New England the workers still worked from dawn to dusk.
The New England Association first convened in Boston in February 1832 and drew up a constitution. One of its first provisions was that all of its members, except working farmers, should pledge themselves to work only ten hours a day with no reduction in wages. Since it was quickly realized that it would be impossible to enforce this provision, a war chest was set up to relieve any member thrown out of work for abiding by the pledge. But it would be a drop in the ocean compared to the ,000 which the employers had put aside to break the Boston ship-carpenters strike for the shorter working day. Soon this organization, too, would turn to political action. But its most important contribution to the labor movement in the United States was the fact that it made the first attempt to include every group of workers in a single organization – factory workers, laborers, and skilled mechanics. The true union, the founders of the Association believed “should embrace every citizen whose daily exertions from the highest Artist to the lowest laborer are his means of subsistence.”
While economic demands were of interest to proletarians mainly insofar as they addressed particular circumstances, the popularity of the struggle for the ten-hour day among workers remained more or less constant, and would play a central role in encouraging their association. As we have seen, Boston was the scene of two strikes in the building trade, in 1825 and 1830, in pursuit of this aim. In 1833 it was Baltimore’s turn, and two years later the Boston workers resumed hostilities, this time supported by 16 trade associations from the General Trades Union (GTU). But this time resistance also came from within, from the master craftsmen, small employers who had been admitted to the GTU. The latter assembled a committee charged with assessing the chances of success of a general strike, which produced a report recommending that struggles should be conducted by each trade seperately!
Despite this ‘friendly’ advice the workers pressed on with their plan for a general stoppage in all sectors, and on May 1st, after some sectors had gone ahead anyway, a well-attended meeting was held in Julien Hall in Boston. Resolutions declaring the natural right of workers to “dispose of our time in the way we deem conducive to our happiness” served as introduction to the main speaker, Seth Luther who in a passionate speech stated that it was unacceptable that “any man or group of men could claim (…) that we should grind away as we have done until now under the old system of labor relations”. The new system of “republican” labor, boding moral and cultural relief to the worker – he assured an enraptured public – was within its grasp. Luther’s words, reprinted and distributed throughout the North-East as the “Ten Hours Circular”, would trigger an explosion of strikes which was unequalled until the great railway disputes of 1877. The struggles spread South, to Philadelphia and beyond, and to the West, as far as Cincinnati. By the end of June many local strikes had ended in success, their objectives obtained, and the workers found they had all the more reason to celebrate the 4th of July that year. And yet in Boston, the city where it had all began, the employers and big merchants would somehow manage, for the third time in ten years, to get the better of the movement.
In the winter of 1836-37 the ships carpenters won the ten-hour day for reparation works, then in 1840 for the building of new ships. In New York, as in New England, the movement for the reduction of the working day revealed a lively fighting spirit, and achieved major results. In some workplaces the ten-hour working day had been obtained by 1832 and by 1836 by the whole of the shipbuilding sector. In Philadelphia, after some limited successes in 1833, there was a successful general strike. Likewise in Baltimore where at the start of 1836 the General Trades Union sent to the United States Congress the first memorandum calling for the ten-hour working day in all public works, but without success. It was then the turn of the stonemasons to enter the ten hours struggle. Certainly there would have been other major successes if the crisis of 1837 hadn’t hit the workers’ organizations, setting them back for several years. But in any case the movement survived and this was important for workers’ morale in these difficult times.
At a meeting in Boston In 1832, the merchants and ship-owners decided to “discourage and rein in the illegal craft associations, formed to restrict the freedom of individuals regarding their hours of work”, laying stress on the “noxious, corrupting tendency of these associations, as well as the senselessness of their requests, especially where skilled workers are highly regarded and well remunerated”. Eventually they decided not to take on qualified workers who were members of the associations, and to boycott any master craftsman who employed these workers. The New York merchants – and at the time almost all ship-owners were merchants as well – approved similar resolutions, lamenting the fact that the workers “are idle for two or three of the day’s most precious hours”. A Boston newspaper wrote that “to remain idle for several hours, during the most fruitful hours of morning and evening, will certainly lead to intemperance and ruin”. The employers didn’t confine themselves to meetings and to the boycotting of the workers’ resolutions, but had recourse also to much sharper weapons, in pressing for the intervention of the courts, the police and the militia.
In 1829 workers involved in the construction of the Chesapeake-Ohio canal were arrested for going on strike, although they were released soon afterwards. In 1833, in Geneva in the State of New York, some cobblers were charged with conspiracy and thrown into Gaol. In 1836, In New York, twenty one tailors who had gone on strike were tried and fined between a hundred and a hundred and fifty dollars each; the honorable judge declared that “this isn’t simply a conflict between workers and entrepreneurs, but a struggle on which depends the harmony of the entire union”. And in the same year there was the City mayor, even more ‘practical’ in his approach, who called out the militia against Dockers who were on strike for an increase in wages and a reduction of hours, forcing them back to work at the point of a gun. And analogous events took place in Philadelphia.
In the meantime, however, the movement had assumed such impressive dimensions that it was attracting the attention of the politicians. Almost every week workers met together in packed assemblies in the major cities and industrial districts of the States of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine. Strikes were very much the order of the day when President Martin van Buren enacted the famous Ten Hours decree, which the shipyards in Washington enforced on April 10 1840 with the announcement: “By order of the President of the United States is instituted from today a working day of ten hours in all public establishments”. Van Buren’s decree was the first legal measure favoring the workers of the United States, and the first official recognition of their demands.
Towards the end of the 1820s the worsening of workers’ living conditions, and the declining position of craft labor described earlier, gave rise to a broad worker’s movement across the North-central States. Discontented with the ideology of ‘free labor’, workers began to look for alternative explanations and possible ways to defend themselves from a real attack that was underway which was undermining the living and working conditions of proletarian families. Thus out of this wish to avoid falling victim to the greed and egotism of the bosses did both political and trade union associations arise. Bourgeois historians refer to this wide-ranging and multi-faceted movement as “radicalism”, but in fact it was a feverish bustle of actions, theorizations, experiences, betrayals and partial intuitions which formed a kind of womb in which the embryo of the American working class, and its consciousness, was gestating.
The immediate problems requiring attention were clear to all: low pay, which was steadily decreasing even further, and intolerably long hours, with its inevitably debilitating consequences. A number of intellectuals turned their minds to these problems, some from the bourgeois class but many from the proletariat, generally skilled workers who were well-read and with good communication skills. Amongst these can be named Seth Luther, John Commerford, William Gilmore and John Ferral; all workers’ leaders who combined enlightenment ideas with knowledge of recent innovations in the realms of science, technology and political economy. There was also Thomas Skidmore, who saw the solution to social problems as lying in the distribution of the land.
Most interesting are the positions of William Heighton, a cobbler born in England: he formulated an elementary theory of value, which “derives from the labor of the working class”, a class within which he included unskilled workers, which was quite an advanced position for the time. And maybe it was partly due to him that Philadelphia, the city where he worked, was characterized then and later by its trade union organizations which accepted these pariahs of the working class, who elsewhere were highly discriminated against, along with women, children and afro-Americans. According to Heighton, the ills of American society derived from the greed of the land-grabbers following the War of Independence who, having taking the levers of power into their hands, created laws which favored the exploitation of wage labor. What constituted the workers’ weak point was their lack of knowledge and culture. According to Heighton, the process of capitalist production, which he called the “system of individual interest and competition”, and which according to Adam Smith resulted in the production of opulence and wealth for all, brought only misery and no prosperity to the worker.
But none of these radicals can really be considered socialist. None of them launched an attack on private property, or envisaged a society without classes. And neither were the employers condemned en bloc, but only the greediest and the most powerful members of their class. What is more, apart from Heighton, none of them took into account the weakest strata, such as the unskilled workers, women, children, and afro-americans both enslaved and free. These radical thinkers, even if for the most part expressions of the world of labour, didn’t move beyond the realm of discussion and the attempt to explain the new social relations; with the non-scientific methods available, they attempted to make sense of the new world taking shape around them with the cultural baggage of the enlightenment thinkers and the new science of economics. They were neither revolutionaries nor trade union activists, but they still played a role, sometimes unintentional, in the rise of the workers associations in the first decades of the 19th Century.
The Working Men’s Party
The emergence of the North American labor movement, with the contents we have just described, appeared initially then with the formation of the Working Men’s Party in Philadelphia in 1828. After this and other political organizations, which were ambitious yet lacked substance and had little following within the class, there followed the season of trade unionism, which began in 1833 with the foundation of the General Trades’ Union of New York. In a few years the movement had grown and spread along the entire Atlantic coast and into the Mid West, only to be brought to a standstill, as we have seen, by the 1837 economic crisis. The vacuum left by trade unionism would be filled, for seven miserable years, by petty bourgeois political wheeler-dealers and evangelical preachers. Class struggle on a large scale only resumed towards the end of the 40’s when the economic upturn and the influx of immigrants injected new blood into the labor movement; a revival which continued until the Civil War. But the struggles rarely managed to break out from the immediate circles in which they were arose, nor leave behind them a lasting organizational inheritance. In a class whose members were replaced at a very rapid rate, only rarely did class experience crystallize into a consciousness which could be transmitted in a temporal and geographical sense. Proletarians would therefore be easy prey to bourgeois ideology, namely, free laborism, the renunciation of organized trade unions, the influence of the church, and indifference to the slavery question.
Slavery in the South was a good symbol of class divisions which existed among the white rulers as well, but the workers were rather lukewarm about opposing it. For many slavery was a last defense against having to do the really unpleasant jobs, and was a system which by keeping the blacks segregated and subjugated enabled the poor whites to identify with the rich, giving them a false sense of equality with the bosses. But slavery, in actual fact, created some very real problems for the white proletariat. The slaves used in industry kept wages low, and could also be used to break strikes, as happened in 1847 in the Tredegar iron works in Richmond, when white strikers were sacked and replaced with slaves. The labor movement in the South was always very weak, and all too often its only aim was to exclude blacks from manufacturing activity.
In the field of politics, too, the working class was strongly conditioned by external factors. Whereas in Europe the right to vote was obtained only after long struggles throughout the 1800s, in the United States the movement for universal suffrage between 1815 and 1840 managed to extend the electorate to 80% of the adult male population. Thus there wasn’t that focus on politicization which had brought European workers together, nor did workers’ parties of any great significance arise. Thus on the eve of the industrial revolution political affiliation didn’t really reflect membership of a class, or only to a negligible degree. And for the same reason the class consciousness of the American proletariat remained at a much lower level compared to his brothers and sisters across the Atlantic.
The movement which first devoted itself to objectives which were common to the class as a whole, and which therefore avoided being dominated by the parties and ideology of the bourgeoisie was the agitation for the ten-hour day, which started around the end of the 1820s. In the summer of 1827, the skilled workers of Philadelphia, straightaway after the defeat of a strike of building workers for a reduction in the working day, packed into an assembly called by William Heighton. It was on his initiative that the Mechanics’ Union of Trade Associations was formed, which began by confederating all the unions in the city. At a general meeting of the Mechanics’ Union in 1828 Heighton’s proposal to form a Working Mens’ party was upheld. It was an example followed a year later by the radicals in New York. Here, in the one city where the ten hour working day had been won, they were spurred on to political activity by an offensive on the part of the employers to overturn this victory. A committee was formed by Thomas Skidmore which continued to meet even after the danger had passed. The committee soon took the decision to participate in the municipal elections of 1829 under the banner of the Working Men’s Party.
In New England, the extreme length of the working day had become an obsession for the workers since the mid 1820s: twice in five years the builders of Boston had been defeated in strikes for the ten-hour day. They looked to a solution in the political party. But, after a brief spurt of activity at a local level it fizzled out before the end of the year, along with those in New York and Philadelphia for that matter. Not so the question of working hours: at a meeting in Providence in the Autumn of 1831 “the absolute and unconditional right” of capital to fix working conditions was rejected, and a subsequent meeting in Boston was set for the following February, which would generate the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics, and other Working Men.
These organizations shouldn’t however be judged by today’s standards. Particularly In the countryside and in the small towns they were “workers’ parties” in name alone, consisting rather of small groups hurriedly thrown together in response to elections, and disbanding immediately afterwards. Many were led by failed professional politicians attempting to re-launch their careers, or entrepreneurs, young lawyers etc., looking to get into politics. In the larger cities, on the other hand, the influence of the crafts sector was usually quite considerable. Often the executive bodies included skilled workers, and these introduced into their platforms demands which were genuinely radical and proletarian, as well as ones which were moderate and rather far-fetched. The most common demands were for the abolition of imprisonment for debt, of having to participate in the territorial militia, of forced labour; and the calls for a less costly legal system, fairer taxation and for rights of pre-emption for the payment of wages in case of bankruptcy. Sometimes there were calls for an improvement in the urban infrastructure, for the water and sewage systems enjoyed by the wealthy districts to be extended to the workers’ areas. A constant theme was protection for the small craftsman and the small farmer who directly cultivated his land from the greed of the big industrialists and speculators, and calls for ‘a republican education’ for children.
The Working Men’s Party, however, was a shooting star in the night-sky of politics. They had good results in Philadelphia in the 1828 elections, and did even better in the following year, obtaining over 30% of the vote. But by 1830 the movement there was entirely defunct. Similar favorable results were obtained in New York in 1829, but there, too, within two or three years internal divisions had brought the party to a premature end. Dilettantism, isolation, and the careerism of many of the leaders were the factors which would bring about the disbanding of these proto-organizations.
And if the parties of the bourgeoisie and the landlords were also in a certain sense a novelty at that time, they certainly had no lack of political talent, or resources, and enjoyed greater opportunities in terms of spreading their influence and gaining a following.
The national-republican journalists made common cause with the evangelical preachers in defining the members of the Working men’s party as “infidels” and “Jacobins”. The democrats were more cautious, hoping to reap the harvest which the Workers’ Party had sown; before long they had radicalized their language and inserted measures in their programme supporting debtors and the reform of the militia, along with other initiatives which attracted workers votes towards their party.
One of the reasons for the failure of the Working Men’s Party was the inactivity which other workers’ organizations, namely the co-operatives and the unions, fell into at the time, which discredited themselves mainly due to their leaders getting involved in political wheeler-dealing. An abiding consequence of this was a certain diffidence of the workers towards any political alternatives to the two main mass parties.
Our work in interpreting the current upheavals in the former colonies looks to the future; indeed, a rigorously Marxist interpretation of these events will transform itself dialectically, in the hands of tomorrow’s revolutionary communist movement, into a political weapon for the struggles that the proletariat will have to face in these regions. In the geo-social space liberated from colonial administration, the industrial revolution that is beginning now is going to create new social forces. Forecasting, with a scientific approach, the influence that these forces will have on the final struggle between capitalism and the socialist proletariat means laying the foundations of the revolutionary programme that the future International will have to build in order to take action in the Afro-Asian sector.
Groups of revolutionary workers in the West are more and more convinced, despite demagogic falsifications originating from various sources, that the fall of colonialism has opened, in Africa and Asia, a new era which, because it tends towards the formation of nation-states and the industrial transformation of local economies on the basis of wage labour, can only be considered in the framework of the bourgeois revolution. Instinctively, they are led to pose this question: does the victory of the anti-colonialist revolution assist or hinder the future task of the proletarian revolution in Asia and Africa?
To answer this question seriously we first have to analyse on the one hand the laws governing the development of the anti-colonialist movement as a bourgeois revolution and, on the other hand, to recall the fundamental bases of the process of proletarian revolution.
To the extent to which it will develop, the Afro-Asian industrial revolution will necessarily engender, as a social consequence of the expansion of the capitalist mode of production, a society divided into antagonistic social classes. Each of them will necessarily take a different attitude towards the revolutionary communist movement, and will participate in it in different ways. It is therefore clear that the future International will have at its disposal a revolutionary potential formed by a new industrial proletariat which, today, hardly exists – but it is also evident that it will have to enter into a struggle against the alignment of bourgeois forces whose emergence and development has until now been prevented by colonial domination and which, today, are strengthening within the new nation states.
On the global level, the anti-colonialist revolution is thus destined to increase, simultaneously, both the forces of the proletarian revolution and those of the bourgeois counter-revolution. This perspective is perfectly in accord with the notion of the final collapse of capitalism, which we defend. Capitalism will not weaken following a progressive productive and political paralysis, as claimed by gradualists of every stripe from the old-style social democrats to the furious “innovators” who preach the “pacific competition” between capitalism and socialism. Capitalist society will attain ever more elevated heights in its productive capacity and the political efficacy of the state, and it will only be destroyed by the armed clash between its constituent classes – and this clash will be all the more violent and more generalised the longer it delays its appearance.
It would be defeatist to delude ourselves: the anti-colonialist revolution, which introduces capitalism and class division on the bourgeois model, will enormously enlarge the theatre of armed struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; it is preparing new “troops” for the class war and, for sure, the duration and the violence of the final struggle will be increased. From this point of view it is legitimate to say that the Afro-Asian revolution will obstruct the proletarian revolution in Asia and Africa. But the proletarian revolution is a complex historical process which one can, from a theoretical point of view, divide into distinct phases. We therefore have to know how to recognise the diverse influences that the introduction of capitalism in the “Bandung countries” will exercise on the development of each of these phases. [Note to English translation: The first large-scale Afro-Asian Conference – also known as the Bandung Conference – was a meeting of Asian and African states, most of which were newly independent, which took place on April 18-24, 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia].
The proletarian revolution – like all the others that preceded it – travels through two principal phases: first, the conquest of power by the oppressed class and second, the suppression of the existing relations of production through reforms imposed by the state created by the victorious insurrection, using dictatorial methods. Of course, in the real, living course of history, these two phases are indissolubly linked. As the experience of the revolutionary communist movement shows, the demolition of the bourgeois state apparatus is organically linked to the forced introduction of post-insurrection reforms. There is a cause-and-effect relationship between the two stages in reality as well as in theory.
At any rate, it could occur that the two phases do not have any continuity in geographical space, as occurred in Soviet Russia. There, the proletariat brilliantly accomplished the first phase of its superhuman effort in conquering power and destroying the bourgeois state. But it could not tackle the post-insurrectionary reforms, since the very object of its politics of economic and social transformation – a developed capitalism – was missing in the workers’ state. It was necessary to put off this task until after the extension – anticipated in vain – of the revolution to countries with advanced capitalism, such as Germany for example, where all of the energy of the Third International was focused. The conquest of power in Germany would have marked the start of the second phase of the communist revolution, of a kind that would have had a ripple effect for a victorious communism, which, one may say, could have been “exported” to Russia itself and the other backward European countries of the Danube region. But, as we know, the attempt to take power in Germany ran aground: the Russian revolution remained disabled by one of its critical elements and finally succumbed to the Stalinist capitalist counter-revolution. The lesson of the defeat of the communist revolution in Russia is quite clear. The communist revolution can only triumph if the revolutionary power of the proletariat, victorious in its struggle against the dominant class and in the repression of its attempts to restore itself, is in a position to graft the revolutionary transformation of the economy in a communist direction onto the political conquest of power. In other words, the proletariat will be able more easily to bring the revolution to a successful conclusion precisely in the countries where the struggle for the conquest of power will have been hard, that’s to say, in the countries with a developed capitalism. Indeed, it’s only in these countries – Britain, France, Germany, the United States etc. – that the concentration of industrial capital and the productivity of social labour attain this higher level which constitutes the historic “basis” for socialism. But it is also here that the bourgeois industrial revolution has long since developed an accomplished capitalist class that has perfected to the maximum the repressive apparatus of the state, and that the resources for social conservation are vaster and more efficient; thus it is here that the proletariat’s struggle for the conquest of power will be most difficult and forbidding.
In general, one could say that the more difficult the struggle for power, the “easier” the struggle for the post-insurrectionary transformation of the economy, and vice versa. Of course, the concepts of “difficulty” and “easiness” are entirely relative terms here; the proletarian revolution will never be “easy” enough to avoid the expenditure of immense effort and sacrifices, and the shedding of blood.
If colonialist domination had been maintained, the communist revolution would have found itself, in Africa and in Asia, confronted with a “Russian situation”, similar to the one that the dictatorship of the proletariat confronted in the ex-Russia of the Tsars – or rather, even further behind under social and economic aspects. Therefore, if a communist power had succeeded in bringing down colonialism, it would have found itself in the impossible situation, precisely as in Russia, of translating into practice the fundamental points of the communist programme relating to the suppression of the capitalist relations of production. We would have had, sticking with the same hypothesis, a new case of a communist revolution which succeeds in seizing power from the dominant classes but is unable to use this power to start the transformation of the economy in a communist direction, and which has to wait, in order to accomplish this, for the proletarian victory in the more developed capitalist states.
A clarification is needed to the above. To avoid any ambivalence, we should restate our immutable positions on the international character of communism. Marxists struggle for revolution and push it forwards everywhere it breaks out; but they know very well that the final victory of socialism will only be achieved after the revolution has triumphed across the entire globe, or at least in the most important capitalist counties. What we want to show here is that it is only in countries where capitalism is developed that the proletarian revolution can move forward expeditiously, immediately tackling the phase of economic transformation after the conquest of political power.
The upheavals currently taking place in Africa and Asia will finally have the effect of destroying this “Russian situation” against which the communist revolution would have collided in the colonialist era. After the decline of colonialism and the creation of new modern states, the conquest of power by the communist movement will become more difficult. Indeed, the new independent states will be able to use a prestige and a political ascendancy over their subjects – and therefore material force – which was not available to colonial bureaucracies. But in order to sustain themselves in the long term, these states will have to stimulate industrialisation at a frenetic rate, that’s to say dismantle the residues of the old semi-feudal regime and introduce, and then enlarge, capitalist forms of production. To put it another way, the ex-colonies constitute a “gap” between capitalism and the historical conditions which precede socialism; the new national states will be forced to fill this “gap”. Once this has been done, the communist revolution in Africa and in Asia will find itself confronted with a “European situation”, i.e., the conditions reached by the countries where the capitalist transformation of the economy is a fait accompli.
On the question of whether the anti-colonialist upheavals favour or hinder the task of the communist revolution, we can therefore answer in this way: the formation of nation states and the strengthening of the local bourgeoisies that results from this, and which will become increasingly evident as and when the sphere of capitalist relations expands, will have the effect of making the conquest of political power more difficult and challenging, as is the case for the developed countries of Europe and America; the suppression of the old semi-feudal relations and the development of capitalist forms will lay the indispensable foundations for the introduction of socialist production and will thus favour the political economy of the future workers’ state.
The disciples of various schools of reformist socialism, including those who follow the false communism of Moscow, could well wince in disgust at such a perspective, which promises the greatest of difficulties and, of course, a heavy and bloody price. But this will not distress revolutionary workers who know full well that capitalism will only succumb before the violence exercised through the dictatorial power of the proletariat. On the contrary, they will find in this a reason to be enthusiastic, as it is possible to foresee with certainty that the economic and social transformations that will be produced in the regions liberated from colonialism will allow the acceleration of the second phase of the communist revolution on a global scale, the phase of “surgical” intervention in the putrefied economy inherited from capitalism.
It is certainly too early to make a balance sheet of the “active” and of the “passive” factors that the Afro-Asiatic revolution will bring to the future communist revolution. In fact, we will have to examine to what extent imperialist contrasts will influence the industrialisation movement that characterises the new independent states. Whatever it may be, the unification of the Euro-American and Afro-Asian regions related to capitalist production is now under way. Since the end of the Second World War, the backward countries of the Bandung Group have launched themselves onto the capitalist road. This lightens the load on the revolutionary communist programme which, in future, will no longer have to take on the immense burden of “double revolutions”, as was the case in Russia where proletarian power had to struggle on the two fronts of anti-feudalism and anti-capitalism. Who could deny the immense importance of this fact?
All the same, it is possible, today, to make an initial assessment of the immediate results of the anti-colonialist revolution, taking the perspective of the interests of the communist revolution to come. This concerns both the active and the passive factors, not potential, but actual, whose effects are already tangible or will not take long to manifest themselves.
Let us start with the “passive” factors.
1. Absence of political separation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie
In Europe, at a critical moment of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, the proletarian revolutionary forces broke the insurrectionary “common front” that had been established between the Jacobin bourgeoisie and the first forces of the urban proletariat, both enemies of feudal reaction. This break, which marked the opening of the period of modern communism, was provoked in the French Revolution by the movement of Gracchus Babeuf. The collision did not occur in the political arena, because the bourgeoisie was in a position to prevent and crush the communist movement immediately, before it could attempt an armed attack against the state. But it did occur fully in the realm of principles. The body of anti-bourgeois theories and critiques formulated by Babeuf marked the irreparable break between bourgeois democracy and proletarian communism.
“Babeufism” is the starting point of the revolutionary tradition of the proletariat, which accepts the armed struggle alongside bourgeois forces against the common feudal enemy, but denies the bourgeoisie the right to seize the fruits of the revolution. Marxism, which accorded the preceding communist currents real authority, while going beyond them dialectically, entirely accepted the “Babeufist” concept of the participation of the proletariat in the bourgeois revolution. The October revolution, which remains the classic example of a proletarian revolution, stemmed from a bourgeois revolution, that of February, to turn against it – isn’t this a successful application of Babeuf’s principle?
The “communist” parties indentured to Moscow have ridden roughshod over this fundamental principle. Plunged into a bourgeois revolution, they have not worked towards the rupture of the transitory alliance with the bourgeois revolutionary parties, but have conceived of and practiced this alliance as if it were permanent and immutable; facing the new national states, they have not applied the politics of Babeuf and Lenin, but rather, the politics of bourgeois ideologues who see the democratic revolution as the last act of history’s civil wars, one that would open the era of a pacific competition between the classes.
When it is not integrated into the constitutional organs of the new bourgeois state as in India, where the Communist Party has assumed control of the regional government of Kerala via the parliamentary road, or as in Indonesia, where President Sukarno has called on the Communist Party to take part in a consultative organ of the state, or as in China, where it has itself become the predominant force of a regime which is probably preparing to introduce forms of parliamentary democracy, aligning itself with inter-classist principles, it is true that the “Communist” Party loyal to Moscow may take up the armed struggle against regimes in power, but it does not execute this attack on the frontline of the revolutionary war. The break between the Russo-communists and the states that are newly independent or those on the road to independence, as is the case of the “red” partisans in the Philippines, or in Malaysia, does not obey any class logic; it is not to be found in positions of the anti-capitalist revolution; on the contrary, it follows the logic of global imperialist division.
2. The offensive of anti-Marxist revisionism
The proletarian revolution will grow in the ex-colonies, with the development of capitalism. At what point will it have arrived? No-one can say, but it is foreseeable that, even in the worst case, that’s to say if we hypothesise an excessive delay to the communist revolution, the capitalist process will not have arrived at its highest phase, as we can observe in the Euro-American dynamic of capitalism. Considering the current level of technology and taking into account the rhythm of the industrial revolution in Russia, and in particular if we suppose that the tendency towards industrialisation will be subjected neither to reversals nor to stoppages, the proletarian attack will strike the Afro-Asian capitalisms in the middle phase of their development.
This fact has been poorly understood, but the ideologies published by the “Bandung nations” continue to form a new armoury in the revisionist attack against Marxism, against the theory affirming that socialism is only possible if the proletarian dictatorship exerts its own domination on the rest of society. We must not believe that the Russo-communist parties are the only representatives of “Asiatic” revisionism. Revisionism, that’s to say the attempt to demonstrate that the “evils” of capitalism can be avoided with appropriate political measures, or even that socialism can be installed by gradualist means through democratic reforms, constitutes a political front which, alongside the “communists”, brings together the bosses and the parties who openly declare to be anti-Marxist.
An important aspect of the Afro-Asian bourgeois revolution lies in the fact that the leaders of the new nation states are adopting concepts and language that certainly cannot be aligned with those used, in their time, by the Cromwells and Robespierres. Despite being the representatives of bourgeois forces, the Nehrus, Sukarnos and Nassers use a phraseology that the revolutionary proletariat of Europe has already seen decorating the mouths of the leaders of reformist socialism. This is no fluke. The cause of this phenomenon is two-fold: first, the epoch in which the anti-colonialist revolutions have broken out; second, the intellectual formation of the currents which struggle against colonialist imperialism. Because these were born during the imperialist epoch, that’s to say the epoch at which the international bourgeoisie disowned its own class ideology (to achieve a social camouflage) and turned instead to the pronouncements of recent economic schools, the Afro-Asian bourgeois revolutions can only find inspiration in the same themes. On the other hand, the conditions in which the anti-colonialist political parties had to struggle in the past – conditions which were determined by colonial occupation – have imposed an ideological distinction, whose fundamental motif is, precisely, anti-imperialism.
From a practical point of view the result is that critical analysis of the ideological baggage of the Afro-Asian regimes only reveals a weak percentage of the ingredients equating to liberal doctrines and the economic liberalism which characterised the bourgeois revolution in Europe. By contrast, theories on planned economy, on state management, on “public” property, on social security, conceived by European reformist socialism in the last century, take pride of place and now have won the “freedom of the city” in the brains of everybody in the bourgeois state. Themes dear to anti-imperialism, to the peaceful coexistence of states, large and small, to democratic pacifism, have developed in parallel with these anti-liberal ideologies. But, we repeat, these ideological principles perfectly match, even though they might use different terminology, those that form the doctrinal heritage of European reformist socialism.
The difference between the old European reformists and the leaders of the new Afro-Asian regimes is the fact that the latter base their affirmations of principle on a situation that was missing for our reformists. The European reformists postulated the unlimited progress of a capitalism which, on the contrary, was entering fully into old age and was heading towards the terrible convulsive crises of imperialism. The Afro-Asian leaders make no mistake when they prophesy uninterrupted social progress, because they are still at the dawn of their industrial revolution.
The Afro-Asian regimes which can apply their revisionist ideologies predicting the pacific passing of capitalism, or even the possibility of “avoiding” the capitalist stage through real social and economic progress will therefore be in a position to energetically oppose the work of revolutionary Marxism when it tries to assume the role of political guide to the local proletariat. We can foresee that the transformation of immense social agglomerations, within which forms of production that have existed for centuries, if not millennia, lie dormant, will bring immense prestige to the regimes that will champion it, and will lend an appearance of truth to the ideologies that they promote. This will not be the first time that the revolutionary Marxist movement finds itself confronted by a bourgeois revolution led within forms of state capitalism and which attempts to pass itself off as an anti-capitalist revolution. Stalinist Russia is there for us to recall.
It is thus abundantly clear that from now on Marxism will have to repel, first of all in the theoretical domain and then in the political, this new revisionist assault. The bourgeois revolution will inevitably have to create social forces which, as is the case in Europe and the rest of the world, form the anti-Marxist movement. The struggle of Marxists will have to support the negative weight of the absence of a break between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and the absolute treason of the Russo-communist parties, which are reduced to playing the role of the extreme left of the bourgeoisie.
Let us now move on to listing the “benefits” that the Marxist movement has drawn and will continue to draw from the Afro-Asian revolutions. Of course, this concerns lessons drawn from events that form the fundamental principles of Marxism, phenomena that are already quite clear to hardened Marxists, but which again require, for others, additional proof or verification. These will not be lacking, and it will be our task to bring them to light.
Let us now move to list the “benefits” the Marxist movement has drawn, and will draw, from the Afro-Asian revolution. This is of course a matter of mere confirmations, brought about by events, of the fundamental principles of Marxism; of issues already perfectly clear for seasoned Marxists; but others will require further evidence and verifications. Which won’t be missing, and it will be our duty to point them out.
1. The question of the materialist understanding of history
Each time that history registers a profound change and the evidence of this change obliges intellects to search for the causes that determined it, the struggle between materialists and idealists reignites. Who has pushed the masses, previously inert, into action, tearing them from the habits of everyday life and driving them to destroy the old social relations? The blossoming, in their consciousness, of new ideas or new religions, or rather the upsetting of the objective conditions of social existence? This question is the very basis of every attempt to explain the causes that have determined revolution in the colonies. Well, we say that this gigantic upheaval has given dialectical materialism fresh confirmation.
The Afro-Asian revolution has definitively wiped away, as if they were old cobwebs, all the theories that western bourgeois intellectuals had fashioned in order to “understand” the laws of development of the colonial peoples and to arrive at the conclusion that their historic conditions were immutable. The false racial materialism that gave the white race the leading role in civilisation has been destroyed at the same time as these old idealist prejudices. Idealism, which postulated an irreconcilable divorce between western civilisation and Asiatic primitivism and found reasons in the different stages of the “universal conscience” have not withstood the test of reality. Nor have the pseudo-scientific superstitions of racists who wanted to discover the reasons through arbitrary anthropometric measurements.
The Afro-Asian revolution has confirmed the scientific exactitude of dialectical materialism for two principal reasons: 1) the anti-colonial revolution did not arise as a result of new ideas or religions appearing in people’s consciousness, but under the pressure of material historical factors that had to sweep away the “old” capitalist colonialism; 2) the causes and the objectives that led to the start of the bourgeois revolutions in the West produced identical effects when acting in the anti-colonialist revolution.
The new Afro-Asian states emerged from the victory of the anti-colonial revolt. Because colonialism was an instrument of exploitation and national domination, the seeds of the revolt were always active in the colonies, as is demonstrated by the punitive expeditions that the colonial powers were continually forced to undertake. But the success of the revolt was only possible when the old colonialist structures were no longer able to stand firm against the pressure from below. Several objective factors attest to this phenomenon. Let’s try to enumerate them: the decadence of the colonialist powers: England, France, The Netherlands and so on, which became incapable of maintaining the naval supremacy that had allowed them to control the oceans, and thus to firmly occupy the colonies; the Japanese invasion of the Asian continent, which, in driving the western powers from their traditional possessions – Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Indochina, the Pacific archipelagos – could only put an end to the myth of the invincibility of the white master and encourage the forces of Asian nationalism; and the convergence of anti-colonialist interests of the United States and Russia.
It is worthwhile developing this last point a little further. Some do not understand that the rival imperialisms of Washington and Moscow hugely contributed to the fall of “old style” colonialism. However, after the Suez adventure in November 1956, when we saw these two giants come together to oppose the London-Paris axis, which was trying to reintroduce colonialism in Egypt, there was no further reason to doubt it. The truth is that the colonising powers, already driven out of their possessions in Asia, would only have been able to come back in force if they had been able to secure the support of American military power. We know that on the contrary, wherever they could, the Americans rushed to recognise the revolutionary governments that emerged in the colonies. Of course, the motive was their own imperialist interests. The maintenance of colonial empires constituted a real menace to the general equilibrium of capitalism. The powers that were now decadent, or which had fallen to the second rank in terms of productive power, held control of immense geo-social regions and remained incapable of satisfying their needs for industrialisation. And vice versa: the powers of the first rank, but without colonies – such as the United States and Germany – were threatened with suffocation in the limited space that the strict colonial protectionism made available to their commercial expansion. The collapse of the colonial empires and the foundation of new independent states, starved of technological progress and military prestige, corrected this perilous disequilibrium. In this sense, the anti-colonialist revolution coincided with the general interest for the preservation of capitalism.
Afro-Asian events developed following the laws that Marxism discovered in the study of the dynamic of revolutionary upheavals: the weakening, as a consequence of internal contradictions, of the repressive state apparatus of the colonial bureaucracies, was matched by a corresponding explosion of social forces that it had previously contained. But the revolt of the colonial masses would not have risen to the level of a social revolution if the material premise of the elimination of the old social relations had been absent in colonial society, that’s to say if the “islands” of capitalism that the colonial occupiers had been constrained to “import” had not existed. This allowed the anti-colonialist political parties to formulate a revolutionary programme focused on the setting up of the nation state, the suppression of feudalism and the expansion of industry.
If we take into account the fact that, in numerous western states the anti-feudal revolution accompanied the struggle for national independence, then we have to acknowledge that the very causes that led to the origins of the bourgeois revolution in Europe are at work in the anti-colonial revolution. Would the results be identical? Our firm determinism clearly replies, yes. The revolution taking place will “westernise” the east; it will liquidate feudalism, will develop capitalist industry, will transform society in a bourgeois direction and, in doing so, will create the basis for the struggle between capitalism and socialism.
Whilst the first car factories are opening in China and the first steel factories in India, reactionary idealism replies from behind its last line of defence: black Africa. Our reactionaries, whose business is to refute the revolutionary dialectic, are busy discovering that “nothing has changed” over there. And yet the revolution has already consumed part of the continent. It is not yet the proletarian revolution, but it confirms Marxist principles.
2. The question of growing impoverishment
For Marxism, social poverty corresponds to the non-possession of the means of production, and in consequence, the non-provision of their product. The difference between the pre-bourgeois forms of production and capitalism lies in the fact that the community of non-waged workers of pre-bourgeois society has no defence against the perils that threaten it from outside (natural disasters), whereas it is, relatively speaking, its own master in so far as it owns the means of production. Under capitalism the reverse is true: the mass of workers are defenceless against social catastrophes, which are more blind and destructive than natural disasters and which pitilessly strike those who do not own or control the means of production. These are the conditions in which the industrial proletarian, who only owns his own labour power and who is rigorously excluded from all control over the means of production, finds himself. The producer (not as an individual, but as a class) is separated from the means of production.
Such is the direction of the capitalist revolution. By introducing multi-year plans, the Afro-Asian regimes are demonstrating that they are on the same path. The extension of capitalist industrialisation will increase social poverty, in the Marxist sense of the term. The progressive disappearance of pre-bourgeois village communities (in India it is estimated that there are a good 700,000 villages) where collective forms of appropriation of the land persist, together with the reduction of domestic industry and artisan production, and with proletarianisation of city-dwellers, will increase the number of “immiserated”, extending to Asia the fundamental contradiction of capitalism: fervent accumulation of capital at one extreme, and a rise in the number of “without reserves” at the other.
The dominant class and its intellectual servants busy themselves denying via “actual facts” the law of the accumulation of capital and of increasing impoverishment discovered by Marx, and demonstrating the inaccuracy of the Marxist forecast of the catastrophic end of bourgeois society that is deduced from this law. The various deceits of “democratic capitalism”, which give ownership of the enterprises to workers or to the worker-investor, and the various forms of “social assistance” all serve this purpose. But, while in Europe they try to “kolkhozise” the proletarian by conceding a few crumbs from social property, (for example in Russia they give a patch of ground and a cow for the personal use of the kolkhoz worker) in other parts of the world production “without reserves” is accelerating at an astounding rate.
3. The question of imperialism and war
Lenin, in his book on imperialism, polemicises against the false theory elaborated by Kautsky to cover his rejection of revolutionary principles and his justification for making concessions to gradualist socialism: the theory of ultra-imperialism.
“From the purely economic point of view,” writes Kautsky, “it is not impossible that capitalism will yet go through a new phase, that of the extension of the policy of the cartels to foreign policy, the phase of ultra-imperialism.” i.e., of a super-imperialism, of a union of the imperialisms of the whole world and not struggles among them, a phase when wars shall cease under capitalism, a phase of “the joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital”.
Lenin adds: “Kautsky’s utterly meaningless talk about ultra-imperialism encourages, among other things, that profoundly mistaken idea which only brings grist to the mill of the apologists of imperialism, i.e., that the rule of finance capital lessens the unevenness and contradictions inherent in the world economy, whereas in reality it increases them.”
In Lenin’s text there follows a comparative table of the economic facts relative to various sectors of industrial production (coal, pig iron, spindles in the cotton industry) and communications (railways, mercantile fleets) in the five “principal economic areas” according to which a German economist divided the world, that’s to say: Central Europe, Britain, Russia, Eastern Asia and America. The difference in the degree of development and the disproportions between the regions considered is clear in this table. This is what Lenin wanted to demonstrate. He exclaims: “Compare this reality – the vast diversity of economic and political conditions, the extreme disparity in the rate of development of the various countries, etc., and the violent struggles among the imperialist states – with Kautsky’s silly little fable about ‘peaceful’ ultra-imperialism.”
“Are not the international cartels which Kautsky imagines are the embryos of ‘ultra-imperialism’ (in the same way as one ‘can’ describe the manufacture of tablets in a laboratory as ultra-agriculture in embryo) an example of the division and the redivision of the world, the transition from peaceful division to non-peaceful division and vice versa?”
The Second World War has glaringly confirmed Lenin’s theses on imperialism, and not those of Kautsky: the division of the world sanctioned by the peace conference of 1919 was succeeded by a “redivision of the world”, which was concluded by the Yalta accords and the Treaty of Potsdam, where the new imperial colossuses of America and Russia sat at the victors’ table. But the cataclysm of the war brought in its wake the turbulence of the colonial empires, fostering industrialisation in the colonial and trans-oceanic countries where Lenin, when he wrote Imperialism already found that capitalism was developing “with the greatest rapidity”. We have already spoken of the tendency towards the unification, by capitalism, of the currently existing modes of production on the surface of the planet, considering that the ex-colonies tend to place themselves in the same framework from an economic standpoint, as the other capitalist states. But it is quite clear that it is only a “qualitative unification”: these are the modes of production that we are comparing, not capacities of production. The subsequent development of capitalism in the colonies will not wipe away the imbalances and disproportions created by the enormous quantitative differences, which will persist between the capitalist states of America and Europe, on the one hand, and the new gigantic states which are rising in Asia.
Isn’t a new form of colonialism – which one could define as “colonialism by remote control” – now replacing the old colonialism based on territorial occupation? The clash between the expansionist tendencies of international cartels, which are hiding behind an anti-colonialist façade, and the development of the Afro-Asiatic independence movements, constitutes an astonishing source of global contradictions. The struggle on three fronts which is unfolding in the Middle East between the rival imperialisms of America and Russia as well as Arab nationalism is an example that is far from being unique.
We can ask, with Lenin, “what means other than war could there be under capitalism to overcome the disparity between the development of productive forces and the accumulation of capital on the one side, and the division of colonies and spheres of influence for finance capital on the other?”
The anti-colonial revolution has given life to some major states on earth (important because of the extent of their territory, population and resources under the ground) and to lots of small states. The former will have to struggle for long time to escape from the tentacles of imperialism, but at the same time they will cultivate their own forms of imperialism, putting heavy industry to the fore (which inevitably, will have to develop within a monopolistic framework) and nurturing finance capital. The latter, by contrast, will try in vain to camouflage the fact that, despite their winning political independence, they remain fundamentally colonies similar in this respect to the republics of Central and South America. At any rate, war is the only remedy to the contradictions brought about by the inequality of global capitalist development. Or revolution.
On the question of imperialism and war, therefore, Afro-Asian events will only bring further confirmations for Marxism. This is where we conclude our “balance sheet”, which certainly does not claim to be exhaustive on the subject, but which is only intended to provide material for a more complete elaboration.
New Publication: Factors of Race & Nation in Marxist Theory
We are pleased to announce the publication of a classic text of the Italian Left, Factors of Race & Nation in Marxist Theory, available for the first time in an English translation from the original Italian document, which was published in 1953.
Factors draws on the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin as well as the fundamental texts of the Left in the International from the years 1920 to 1926 to summarise the significance of race and nation in the materialist conception of history, and to demonstrate how this differs from the bourgeois idealism of those who assert that the arrival of the nation-state puts an end to social struggle – idealism that was warmly embraced by the Stalinist counter-revolution. In particular, the text illustrates how, throughout history, language, culture and the propagation of the species have all been conditioned by social relations and continue to be used as instruments of class domination.
Social classes are not eternal. The division of society into classes only appeared after tribal and clan society had reached a certain level of organisation, and one day these divisions will be extinguished once and for all. It is therefore pure stupidity to say that because Marxism is the theory of the modern class struggle between capitalists and workers, and communism is the movement that directs the struggle of the proletariat, we deny that both the social forces of other classes (the peasantry, for example), and racial and national orientations and pressures have any historical impact whatsoever, and therefore we don’t consider any of these factors when defining our action. However, our action must always correspond to the needs of the proletariat in a given historical epoch and in a given country or region.
Factors was written in the aftermath of the redrawing of national boundaries and the displacement of populations resulting from the Second World War, and in the context of our current’s ideological battle against Stalinism, which was twisting the materialist approach to nationality and language for opportunist purposes, notably in the contemporary disputes between Belgrade and Rome over the possession of Trieste: “the crudest exponents of linguistic, historical and ethnic sophistry are not the authentic bourgeois, but the pseudo-Marxists Tito and Togliatti.”
Factors of Race & Nation in Marxist Theory is already available on our party’s website and we plan to publish it as an e-book and in print in the near future.
General Meeting Reports
- Gm114 - Turin, September 22-23, 2012
- Gm115 – Genoa, January 19-20, 2013
- Gm116 – Parma, May 25-26, 2013
- Gm117 – Sarzana, September 21-22, 2013
Turin, September 22-23, 2012 (Gm114)
Trends in the Economy – The Military Question: Garibaldi’s ‘Thousand’ – Marxist Economic Theory – Trade Union Activity – Labour Movement in the USA – The War in Syria – Imperialism and Oil – The Democracy Question in Italy.
The aim of the militants in our small party is both to safeguard and represent the continuity of the left communist revolutionary tradition, and, ‘holding each other tightly by the hand’ as Lenin once described it, to work together so that the party can reintroduce it to the global working class; a class which, in the West, is starting to question the crazy notion of indefinite progress, and in the East, the bourgeois myths of national independence and democracy. Today we see only the smallest of cracks appearing in the almost century old barrier of counter-revolution, but pounding against it are the breakers of the general economic crisis, which, even if still in its earliest stages, is showing that Capital, under the form of private or public property, is exactly as described by Karl Marx. Likewise it reconfirms the authentically Marxist thesis which states that the working class is deprived of any power in the dictatorial society of the bourgeoisie, even when the regime is democratic; and that in order to liberate and defend itself there are only two forces on which it can rely: on its own organised and resolute social struggle, and on the clarity of its revolutionary programme, which rejects the programmes of all other classes.
We don’t say the party is ‘preparing for the revolution’, which smacks both of voluntarism and fatalism, but, much more, that the party is the revolution; not in the sense that we ‘make’ it, but because it is an anticipation of communism within today’s society; meanwhile it carries out all of the historical tasks appropriate to it to the extent that circumstances permit. Thus activities include study and research, preservation of texts, propaganda, interventions within the unions, etc.
At the last meeting in Turin, and indeed during previous ones, we made a great effort to ensure that the contributions of all the groups involved in these various activities converged, in such a way that their common and general significance was apparent to everyone in the party.
As usual the hospitality of our local comrades was impeccable and we extend our hearty thanks to them all. As well as from Turin, comrades from Genoa, France, Florence, England, Cortona, Parma and Milan attended the meeting.
The communist programme casts its light on a dying society - Genoa, January 19-20, 2013 (Gm115)
The Military Question: The Austro-Hungarian War – The Labour Movement in the USA: Imperialism and the Trade Unions – The War in Syria – Trade Union Activity – The Course of the Economic Crisis – Marxist Economics – The Global Economic Crisis – History of Modern Egypt – Origins of the Movement in Italy
Organised with much care and consideration by our very efficient comrades, who had looked after even the smallest details and provided a very welcoming atmosphere, we held the party’s regular working meeting, the 115th held since 1974.
From elsewhere there were comrades from Turin, Cortona, Parma, Florence, Friuli and Great Britain.
At the opening of the proceedings the Party Centre gave an overall view of the various interlocking tasks and activities, the responsibility for each one of which is entrusted to one or more comrades, and referred to outcomes and progress made. As usual most of the morning was taken up with deliberations on these various tasks, with a view to anticipating possible difficulties of interpretation or of access to primary source materials for research purposes, and planning how to put them into effect.
In the afternoon, and then continuing on the following day, we listened to a number of reports prepared by young and less young comrades (in terms of both actual age, and time spent as a militant) all of them perfectly in tune with our seventy year old continuous existence as a party and the hundred year old tradition of the communist left.
As usual the meeting was conducted in a very orderly fashion to the satisfaction of all those present.
Initial report on the party meeting at Parma, 25 -26 May, 2013 (Gm116)
Course of the World Economy – The Rearming of the States – The Party’s Trade Union Activity – Towards a Study of Indian Capitalism – The Global Economic Crisis – Marxist Economy – Working-class Conditions in Bangladesh – The Military Question.
The May meeting went very well indeed. Comrades from almost all of our sections attended, from Italy and beyond.
The organisational part of the meeting opened with a report by the Centre, giving a summary of our activity over recent months. Given our minimal forces it has been a truly notable effort, both in terms of quality and quantity: and how much has actually been achieved – due to us working in the way communists ought to work – we are often the last to realize, going about our tasks as we do in a disciplined and spontaneously ordered way, free of the vulgar, petty personalisms of the dying society which we are fighting against.
While we know that for five years now global capitalism has been spinning towards its historic crisis of overproduction of commodities– as predicted by authentic Marxism – the working class has still not accumulated sufficient experience to enable it to effectively oppose the bourgeois regime; or to oppose the even worse material and ideal forms of corruption peddled by the so-called labour parties and trade unions, all dedicated to nationalism and class solidarity.
The party, for all its commitment to the task in hand, cannot hasten the revolution or the advent of communism by a single second. The communist revolution will cause the party to expand when the moment is right. The party could, on the other hand, delay the revolution and even be responsible for its defeat if it appeared at that critical juncture to be unsure of its doctrinal foundations or not sufficiently resistant to tactical compromises and political coalitions. The party knows it stands alone: alone with the class in yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s social war.
There follows a resumé of the reports presented at the meeting, apart from two of them which unfortunately were not ready due to lack of time. There also appears here a note about the awful conditions endured by the clothing workers in Bangladesh, so tragically confirmed by the collapse of the factory building in Dacca.
Party General Meeting at Sarzana, 21 -22 September, 2013 (Gm117)
Course of the World Economy –The Party’s Trade Union Activity – Strikes outside the Trade Unions in Great Britain – The Military Question: the Paris Commune – Marxist Economics: Communism in Marx’s Grundrisse– The Bourgeois Conception of State and Revolution – The Crisis in Syria – History of the Labour Movement in the U.S.A: the I.W.W. – Toward a history of the Trade Unions in Latin America – Democracy and the Origins of the Labour Movement in Italy
Back in Sarzana again we met in a comfortable and spacious room hired from the district council. Present at the meeting were comrades sent from our groups in Turin, Cortona, Genoa, Florence, Parma, Pordenone and Sarzana, and from abroad we had representatives from France, Great Britain, Denmark and Latin America.
The proceedings took place in the usual way, marked by an attitude of maximum understanding and collaboration between comrades, a method which, tried and tested over a very long time, has proved to be entirely in line with the difficult tasks which the party has to perform, and the best way of going about them. Indeed, this method, we are sure, is entirely appropriate not only in the current ‘unfavourable situation’ but also in the future, when the party will be much stronger and on the road to victory, and when we will have a real ‘world communist party’.
Although some comrades had already arrived on the Friday evening, the main meeting started on the Saturday morning. As usual the Centre, having anticipated what topics would arise on the basis of our copious internal correspondence, gave a balance sheet of the multi-faceted and voluminous work taken on by our various groups, providing updates and clarifications about our future programme of work. This is a very complex operation, which tends to involve all of our militants, from whom we ask neither opinions nor votes, but simply work.
In a healthy party which is well practised in its programmatic content and methodology, the contributions which comrades make, apart from the inevitable minor adjustments, tend to converge spontaneously towards a strict discipline which it isn’t actually necessary to mention or be reminded about.
Included here is a summary of some of the numerous reports given at the meetings, including the report on trade union activity. The remaining summaries will go in the next Communist Left with full reports appearing in Comunismo.
The summaries from all four General Meetings are brought together under the headings below.
TRENDS IN THE ECONOMY
At each of our meetings there is an exposition of data relating to global trends in the world economy, derived from official statistical reports (UNO, OECD, WTO, etc).
The global slowdown of the industrial upturn which came after the brutal recession of 2009-10 was confirmed.
In Europe industrial production shows a fall, and in France and Italy the figures for 2013 are likely to be lower than in 2009. In Greece, Spain and Portugal the recession is getting worse year by year. In Great Britain the fall in industrial production in 2012 was such that it now finds itself below the 2009 level (-15.8% against -15.1%).
In Asia as well there is a marked slowdown in Korea, China, India and Japan. To relaunch the productive machine the Chinese state is once again intervening with major infrastructure projects, without wanting to repeat what happened on the previous occasion when it created a bottomless pit of debt, considerably aggravated by speculation in property and raw materials, and provoking high inflation.
In Latin America Brazil, after having recovered from the fall in production in 2009, is once again in recession. In Mexico as well there is a marked slowdown, but it benefits from the fact that it hosts numerous subcontractors to the United States.
A new recession is therefore to be expected in the main imperialist countries in 2013.
This general slowdown in industrial production is reinforced by the slowdown in global trade, with the monthly figures for the exports of the major imperialisms tending toward zero growth and those for imports becoming clearly negative.
The graphs and tables displayed at the meeting confirmed our previous forecasts i.e., that global capitalism isn’t in a condition to emerge from the 2008-9 recession. We are in the fifth year of the recession and 2013 will be the sixth. It is by far and away the deepest recession since the Second World War, and the longest. The only one to surpass in duration and intensity was the one which followed the crash in 1929.
The global bourgeoisie and its apologists hope for a revival in 2014-2017. Is that likely? If there is it will be short and weak. All the conditions are in place for a massive crisis of over-production and deflation.
China is on the brink of a crisis of overproduction. It continues plough hundreds of millions of dollar investments into major works, which, as we know, can’t go on for ever. And you can’t change reality just by manipulating statistics.
The length of cycle between two consecutive peaks is from 7 to 10 years, which takes us to 2014 -2017. We can therefore expect a new crisis within the next 5 years or so, paving the way to the war our Party has long predicted.
The only exception to this general trend is the USA, which is nearing its 2007 peak: showing 2328 against 2372, which is to say -1.8%. It has benefited from three factors: a currency devalued by around 30% against the Euro; low labour costs; cheap energy resulting from the large-scale extraction of gas and oil from shale. All of this has allowed it to regain second place, moving slightly ahead of Germany.
However American capitalism, like China’s, is being propped up by artificial means. The Fed has started to “quantitatively ease” again, i.e. print money, and it will continue with its “twist” operation, which consists in buying up bonds linked to property while maintaining a low rate of interest between 0 and 0.25%.
At the Meeting in May we continued the examination of the more significant features of the financial crisis which, between peaks and troughs, has now gone on for five years.
In this session the speaker covered two specific topics.
Firstly, set in the context of the sudden and violent stock market crash which followed months of relentless growth, there was an examination of the financial policy of the Japanese government. This is the so-called ‘Abenomics’, named after the premier Abe, and it is a policy which has been the object of much interest throughout the world in relation to the corresponding policy of the FED. The theme of the presentation, which followed on from a previous report, concerned the contrasting behaviour of the Central Bank of Japan and the FED, organisations which have a centralised State behind them, and the ECB, which claims not to represent any particular national State but rather to express a generic financial ‘policy’ of the member States; a policy which isn’t so much decided by agreements between the constituent countries, but by the requirements of the strongest State within this union of unequals – and could it really be any other way in this world of capitalist States!
The FED (or Federal Reserve, the Central bank of the United States) is continuing – despite some tentative official denials which had an immediate negative effect on stock market prices – to bolster liquidity in the financial system by acquiring State bonds and ASB (Asset Baked Securities, financial instruments similar to bonds) at a rate of 85 billion dollars per month, a quantity of money which is pushing stock market prices up to insane levels without inducing any significant inflationary tendency. The Central Bank of Japan has continued to support the plan of doubling the monetary base from 28% to 56% in two years (2013-2014), by acquiring State bonds for 1,400 billion dollars.
The operation, combined with a competitive devaluation of the Yen of 30% against the dollar, has caused a rise in the GDP and boosted profits in the export industry, raising fears of inflation – which however remains at a low level for now.
In May the crazy growth of the Tokyo stock market suffered a collapse as dramatic as it was unexpected. In fact the evidence that 70% of the Japanese public debt is held in banking portfoglios, securities, and pension and private funds, is threatening to burst the financial bubble.
For the European Union, which has no unitary direction, or rather a direction decided by Germany’s interests, and which furthermore is composed of States with differing needs and perspectives, it isn’t possible to go down the road of “quantitative easing”.
One fact is significant on a global scale and offers cause to reflect on the real scale of this global crisis: nowhere, as much in those areas which continue to flood their markets with liquidity, as in those which actually are, or claim to be, enforcing a strict monetary policy: in none of them are we seeing an inflationary process.
From the USA-Japan scenario the presenter then moved on look at what is happening in Europe, which at the moment seems (although not as far as us Marxists are concerned) the epicentre of a crisis as serious as the one in 2008 due to the so-called unsecured-loans.
The presenter went on to describe the complex instrument of control and computation of the economic flow between the member States of the European Economic Union known as Target 2 (Trans-European Automated Real-Time Gross Settlement Express Transfer). Concerning this he also illustrated the accounting system of the financial streams within the monetary system. From it emerged a shocking picture of how the whole European financial system, centred on Germany, works, unmasking the alleged unity of this fraudulent union of a motley collection of countries.
The presentation of the mechanism, which avoided getting bogged down in technical detail, clarified the major financial movements and the situation of economic fragility hidden by a surplus on current accounts. The “German miracle” is based on the weakness of its economic partners, but once these countries are plunged into crisis it will bring the Union’s hegemonic capitalism down with them; and along with it all the waffle about its strong State, virtuous economy, low public debt and powerful export system; all just words, which in the light of an honest reading of the official figures certainly need to be considerably toned down.
All the Union’s member states find themselves having to treat the Euro as a currency which is, to all intents and purposes foreign, for all of them. Even if for some States it is less foreign than for others. It is issued by none of the central banks and its issue isn’t subordinated to the particular requirements of any State.
In the case of inter-State operations within the Union, and contrary to what happens in commercial operations, any movement of money brings in to the State that receives the money a debt for which the Central Bank is liable.
All’s well until the outbreak of the loans crisis in 2008, when the trans-national accounting mechanism was employed to keep the Euro monetary system solvent, and in particular the banking mechanisms of the nations in the greatest difficulty, with a flow of capital from the German Central Bank, that is until the flow of capital assigned in Euros, an essentially financial movement, came to considerably predominate over movement driven by trade.
The problem of the sustainability of the Euro is determined by the movement of capital within the Union, and the consequent explosion of the domestic balance sheets. Nominally this process of accumulation of balances should be limitless, but in fact it is limited by the total amount of credit that the ECB decides to allocate to the countries with a deficit via credit concessions to the banking system – and acquisitions of State bonds on the market.
MARXIST ECONOMIC THEORY
It is necessary to shore up the foundations of our doctrine’s complex edifice In order to oppose our powerful programme to the poisonous doctrines of opportunism. The trench separating us from our enemies we continue to make ever deeper and wider, and have no intention of filling it with the stagnant water of compromises and platitudes.
In Marxism economics isn’t the same as it is in bourgeois society, where it is all about losses and surpluses; instead it is to do with the production and reproduction of the species, that is to say, of the material means of ensuring life. To study economics, then, is to investigate the mechanisms which underlie a given social formation.
From the superstructural point of view, studying capitalist economics is equivalent to investigating the fetishes of this society. This is the field in which Marxism rips the veil asunder and denounces the worst lies. The bourgeoisie senses that it is here that our doctrine delivers its most effective blows and it is forced either to discredit it or, more often, to ignore it, and conceal it under a thick layer of dust and ignorance.
The exposition of the subject opened with some initial considerations on our working methods.
Let us reconstruct the continuity of the long drawn-out work in which the party is engaged, for the party can traverse the proletarian generations only by remembering what it is and what it is for. Al though shaped by the delimited individual atoms who are its militants the party has to constantly relive its entire historical journey to make sure it doesn’t proceed blindly. For just as philosophy and art are incomprehensible outside the history of philosophy and the history of art, and outside history in general, so too, in order to define the party, you need to know about its history; about the increasing precision of its programme over time, but also about its real existence, its successes as well as the phases of crisis and degeneration it has been through.
It is Marx’s Capital, which provides the framework for the party’s economic work, the line to follow. As in the Manifesto, Capital has to be ‘turned on its head’ and converted from being a description of capitalism to programme of the communist society. Capital is the programme for the destruction of capitalism. It isn’t a cold description of bourgeois economics and Marx isn’t just the scientist who dissected the cadaver of capitalism: every page we write in our ruthless analysis of history’s most bloody and infamous mode of production is a mirror reflecting the image of communism, the mode of production which capitalism will ‘give birth to’. Each of capitalism’s contradictions is resolvable, and analysing them means to indicate how to resolve them: the solution to capitalism is communism.
The metaphysical approach is to discuss method in general, to establish a general set of rules applicable on every occasion, and procedures which supposedly pre-exist the object which is the focus of the enquiry. It is an idealistic way of approaching the question. In extreme cases just thinking about reality is supposed to bring it into being. The empiricist approach, on the other hand, is restricted merely to registering facts as they occur, rejecting the possibility of identifying the links between them, and thus the possibility of predicting future developments. In relation to capitalism, which is continuously shaken by crises, its superficial phenomena may be registered but its internal workings remain unknowable.
The correctness of our method isn’t established by assessing how logical it is, by establishing its internal consistency. The method is dialectical because it involves a study of relationships, and how these relationships change. Thus theory becomes the ideal/intellectual representation of transformations that are occurring in reality.
Constructing a Marxist theory of knowledge involves studying the relationship between a changing reality and the corresponding representations of that reality within the collective intelligence; within the general intellectual heritage of the human species.
Marxism is the scientific method applied, for now, to economics and history in particular. The science of the future will be integrated and reflect the essential unity of matter, which is the object of all scientific studies. We believe the scientific method is applicable in all fields of human knowledge.
The Marxist party applies its method to every field, in trade union work, in studying the relations between States, etc. Clearly when dealing with particular areas of work, it takes an enormous effort to discriminate between contingent non-essential phenomena and what is really important.
This study also intends eventually to draw up an index of the party’s work on economics, modelling it on one we are already preparing on the trade unions. This is to assist comrades researching the subject to navigate their way round the mass of material elaborated over the course of our far from short history. Marxism, and Marxist economics, is not easy. It requires application and study and it can’t be reduced to bullet points: in its critique of political economy there is contained a comprehensive critique of the capitalist mode production as a whole.
The party has never been too worried about the presentation of its works conforming to the canons of regularity and symmetry. This is because we aren’t an academy but an organ of battle, conditioned by the contingencies that arise in the course of the class struggle. We hurry to stop the leaks which the oblique blows of the counter-revolution have opened up in Marxism’s armour coating. Each attack can compromise the resilience of our entire system, which resists or falls as one. The subject matter of our work testifies to this, often interrupted, or only sketched out, and always considered as ‘work in progress’. What is more, the various subjects covered in our various expositions are already linked, in anticipation of the ‘unique’ communist science of the future.
We moved on next to a recapitulation of Marx’s work on economics, preparing the way for a presentation of our ‘theory of economic crisis’, which stands in sharp contrast to the explanations given by the various bourgeois schools, whether classical or vulgar.
First, the series of different ways in which Marx planned to order his exposition was described. Capital is composed, in the edition edited by Marx himself and then continued by Engels and by the then orthodox Marxist Kautsky, of four volumes. The first deals with the process of production of capital; the second with the process of circulation of capital; the third with the process of capitalist production as a whole; and the fourth with the history of economic doctrines.
This final division of the work as a whole is the result of various alterations over time, some of them of considerable importance and resulting in a redesign of the general structure. They shouldn’t be seen as revisions, reappraisals or corrections of previous assumptions and thinking, but as a necessary delimitation of the field of exposition to the fundamental phenomena of the workings of capitalism.
The comrade speaker focused our attention on the Preface to A Critique of Political Economy, a text which – though incomplete – contains a well-defined description of the method of communist science.
The manner in which scientific findings are expressed requires a passing from the abstract to the concrete, and consequently reproduces them as something mentally concrete, and thus ‘recreating’ reality in thought. Thanks to this process it is possible to arrive at what Marx defined as concrete thought, a combination of many determinations, unity of diverse elements.
Bourgeois political economy, on the other hand, merely provides a confused and indistinct description of reality. Its method is the opposite to that used by Marx in Capital, where he ‘lays bare the intimate social essence of the commodity and of money and proceeds from there to arrive at an elaborate and complete definition of the entire political, social and economic apparatus of the capitalist mode of production, in order to then retrace his steps and define and clarify all the consequent phenomena, above all revealing that capitalism can be characterised as neither definitive or eternal’ (Marxism and Knowledge, Comunismo, 1986, 20).
In Marx, capitalism is conceived of as a living organism (whereas classical economics, drawing on the methods of the enlightenment and encyclopaedist thinkers, only took the most superficial social relationships into consideration). It would be ‘unfeasible and wrong to let the economic categories follow one another in the same sequence as that in which they were historically decisive. Their sequence is determined, rather, by their relation to one another in modern bourgeois society (…) The point is not the historic position of the economic relations in the succession of different forms of society. Even less is it their sequence ‘in the idea’ (Proudhon) (…) Rather, their order within modern bourgeois society’ (Marx, Grundrisse).
Dialectics as science of relations: ‘Relations exist between one thing and another, between one event and another in the real world, and thus there is a relationship between the reflections (more or less imperfect) of this real world in our minds’ (On the Dialectical Method, Prometeo, 1950/1).
The analysis of capital in general comes down to a study of the determining factors which are common to all capitals, through which is expressed the historically determined character of the capitalist mode of production. It is impossible to pass directly from labour to capital (which would involve identifying capital with production in general, with no discrimination between the use of wage or slave labour or freely associated producers, etc.) In order to be able to bring this analysis to a conclusion we mustn’t set out from wage labour, but from the exchange value that brings forth surplus value.
The object of the study is first and foremost material production, with the term understood to mean the reproduction of the species. In the Preface Marx develops a very compact investigation into the reciprocal relations between production, distribution, exchange and consumption, leading to the conclusion that these are in fact moments within a unitary process, nothing but internal differentiations within a unitary mode of production.
Having disposed of metaphysics, it will be up to the revolutionary proletariat to decree the death of the class that has raised altars in its honour.
The doctrine of the modes of production thus represents a fundamental part of Marxist materialism. In order to tackle the subject, and find a way round the immense mass of material available to us, our main resource is the collection of notebooks gathered under the name Grundrisse, or Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. This veritable gold mine, divided into two great books, on Money and Capital, retraces the course of the formation of capital as a mode of production, examining how exchange value can be transformed into capital and then how it produces this capital in general. The logical and historical geneses of capitalism continually merge and overlap. How does capital arise from simple exchange value? How can exchange value, which is derived from circulation, where an exchange of equivalents takes place, create surplus value? And once formed, how does capital reproduce its own conditions of existence?
The historical route which led to the birth of the most devastating mode of production of all is painted in broad strokes in order to arrive at the study of the fundamental contradiction of the bourgeois social formation: the antithesis between capital on one side and labour-power on the other. Capital needs labour power in its pure, abstract form. How do the two poles form? On the one hand, how does capital originally accumulate? On the other, how are the producers freed from any kind of property and the old personal bonds?
The comrade stressed that the red thread linking these notebooks is the analysis of the historical course which led mankind from primitive communism to modern capitalism and which will necessarily lead him to the higher phase of communism.
In the writings of scientific communism in which capitalism is put under the microscope it is always possible to discern the distinctive traits of the society to come. Capitalism is a contradictory process in motion, the resolution of which isn’t imported from outside but exists within the process itself. Communism is the solution to the capitalist equation. By understanding the functioning of the capitalist equation, we can deduce that communism will have certain traits and not others.
For centuries bourgeois philosophy and historiography have corrupted proletarian minds with the thesis that history is nothing more than the spreading of the idea of Liberty. The Grundrisse, The Notebooks, demolish this assumption once and for all and convert it into its opposite. Human history should be interpreted as a process which commences with the dissolution of the ancient ties to the community; in capitalism individual Liberty seems to have been achieved when in reality it is negated and the individual is tied to capital by an accentuated division of labour, both technical and social.
The description of the great historical course which separates the modes of production preceding capitalism, and its ruthless critique, do not end in a moral condemnation of these earlier modes, but with a recognition that only on the basis of large-scale industry is communism made possible. It is from when bourgeois production appears, which goes on to transform the entire world in its own image, that the material conditions exist for the transition to communism. From this point on the proletariat has only to put into effect the death sentence which has been passed on the last of the modes of production based on value.
THE MILITARY QUESTION
The study continued with an examination of various military episodes from the mid-nineteenth century.
One of them was the ‘Spedizione dei Mille’, the Expedition of the Thousand, as Garibaldi’s 1860 campaign in southern Italy has come to be known.
To continue the process of Italian unification three problems needed to be tackled: the securing of new allies against the Hapsburgs, as the French could no longer be relied upon; a resolution to the question of the Papal State; and to the situation in the South. In Sicily, masses of peasant farmers and rural labourers were pressing for an alleviation of their intolerable living conditions. A section of the nobility and the small progressive bourgeois class wanted to cast off Bourbon domination and to this end it was prepared to support the Savoy dynasty; another section, not wishing to relinquish their ancient privileges, was ready to make compromises of various sorts.
The popular rising of October 1859 would be suppressed by the police, as was the bloody rising in April the following year, in which some rebels were shot.
The news of it convinced Garibaldi he should organise an expedition to Sicily to lead the seemingly imminent revolution.
The Savoy government played a double game, assuring the European powers that it was containing the republican movements while secretly supporting Garibaldi with money, arms and assistance. French and English diplomacy also supported the expedition because of its anti-Hapsburg aspect: a united Italy would constitute a strong southern front against the Austrian Empire.
The Thousand set out on night of 5 May 1860. English naval vessels and Sicilian fishing boats warned them of the presence of Neapolitan ships in the port of Sciacca and advised them to land at Marsala, an English trading base. The landing was favoured by the fact that the Bourbon land forces, fearing a general insurrection, had been called back to defend Palermo.
The Bourbons could deploy an army which was 93,000 strong, the biggest in Italy, and it also had the largest and most modern navy in the Mediterranean. However it lacked combat experience with analogous formations and was based on light infantry, a model that had been developed to tackle banditry, peasant uprisings and political revolts.
The first clash, in the week after the landing, took place at Calatafimi. The strong local garrison had just about gained the upper hand when the commandant ordered his men to fall back towards Palermo. In their retreat, at Partinico the Bourbons were guilty of looting and of massacring the local population, which had risen up to defend itself.
Engels would remark that once the road to Palermo was cleared, Garibaldi showed his strategic bravura. With the aid of Sicilian volunteers he embarked on a bold plan of attacks, false retreats and withdrawals with the aim of drawing out the enemy. The battle lasted four days with the Neapolitans carrying out acts of reprisal against the insurgent districts and people. Finally, the Bourbons would abandon the city and set sail for Messina.
The bravery of the Garibaldini, the Sicilians and the 3,500 fighters from other regions who fought alongside them, is beyond dispute. English weapons from Malta arrived as well. The Neapolitan army rapidly disintegrated, many of its members entering into the new formation either through conviction or the promise of a job in the new Savoy army.
Support came from many of the Sicilian volunteers was because Garibaldi promised to divide up the large landed estates. These were broken promises, as evidenced by the episode of the peasants’ revolt in Bronte. Here, an insurrection broke out with arson, looting and the killing of 16 notables, landed proprietors, and administrators of the dukedom of the descendants of Horatio Nelson (received in recompense when his fleet assisted to restore order in Naples in 1799). Despite the collapse of the revolt, a special tribunal in a trial lasting only 4 hours with 150 accused issued harsh death sentences, seeking to reassure the landlords, as well as English businessmen and the government in London, that landed property would remain inviolable.
The Neapolitan troops abandoned Sicily and the Garibaldini headed north without encountering any major resistance; entire Neapolitan divisions would lay down their arms without a shot being fired. Garibaldi made his triumphal entrance to Naples, already abandoned by Francis II, who was taking refuge in the Gaeta fortress. The last battle took place beside the River Volturno, consisting of a series of clashes lasting four days between 50,000 Neapolitans and 24,000 Garibaldini.
In order to unify Italy the North had to be linked to the recently liberated South by detaching territories from the Papal State. With that end in view a Piedmontese army of over 39,000 men had assembled to meet the papal army of 10,000 regulars; these were derived from at least seven Catholic countries and had pledged to protect the Pope’s temporal power, and were supplemented by a further 10,000 Austrians stationed at the fortress in Ancona, summoned there by the Pope following the 1849 rebellions.
In order to cut the supply lines from Rome, the Piedmontese advanced on Ancona and along the Tiber valley. The protests of the European powers were placated by the diplomatic manoeuvrings of France and England. At Castelfidardo a short battle ended in total defeat for the papal army, which the following day surrendered en masse, arms and equipment included. A few months later the besieged Gaeta fortress surrendered and the court of Francis ll fled to Rome.
The opportunity of joining the new Italian army and maintaining their rank was offered to all land and maritime forces, but some would opt instead to join the robber bands, which over five years of fighting had been harshly repressed in a no holds-barred struggle.
A further chapter of the study looked at the Austro-Prussian War (or the Seven Weeks War as it is also known), in which Prussia allied with Italy against Austria.
The process of Italian unification moved forward more through the interventions of foreign diplomacy, mainly by the French, than by means of military victories, which were at best narrow, when not punctuated by outright defeats. This third war of independence, which may be considered the southern front of the more important Austro-Prussian War, is another example of absolute ineptitude on the part of political and military leaders.
From the Congress of Vienna in 1815 arose the German Confederation, with the same borders as the Holy Roman Empire of 1648 and composed of 39 states and statelets. In two of the most important ones, the Austrian Empire and Prussia, the process of customs union got underway, within which Prussia emerged as the leading state. From its industries would emerge the first rifled cannons in cast steel and the first breech-loading guns produced on a mass scale; the Prussian army was reorganised and boosted both qualitatively and quantitatively through conscription. Some quotations from Engels were given, which described this evolution.
Bismarck, the Prussian Prime Minister, forged alliances on several fronts to avoid having to mount a simultaneous defence against both the French and the Russians. In 1864 Prussia allied itself with Austria in order to resolve the question of the strategic provinces of Schleswig and Holstein, occupied by Denmark since 1848 but inhabited by ethnic Germans. After a short war Denmark ceded both of the provinces: the northern province of Schleswig with the important port of Kiel to Prussia, the southern province of Holstein to Austria.
The new Italian army arose in 1861 as a fusion of the various regional armies. But there was only minimal integration of the ex-Bourbon army and the Garibaldini volunteers, despite their experience acquired on the battlefield, were to all intents and purposes excluded, considered unsafe because of their republican ideas. Eventually national service would be introduced, with the drawing up of the conscription lists entrusted to local mayors who had access to parish baptism records, ensuring 40 to 50 thousand new recruits each year. All formations were uniformly equipped with the latest breech-loading rifles.
The line-up of the armies consisted of 500,000 Prussians, supported by 13 of its allied statelets, superbly armed and led by the very able General von Moltke; the Austrian forces which, along with their 13 minor allies, numbered 600,000, of which a third were destined for the southern front in Venetia; and the Italian forces, composed of 270,000 reasonably well armed men.
The Italian strategic plan envisaged a diversionary action by General La Marmora and the King to pierce the fortress complex known as the Quadrilatero. This was supposed to draw off the bulk of the Austrian army while Cialdini, after passing below the river Po, would attack from Ferrara heading towards Venezia, Udine and Trieste. Garibaldi with his volunteers, plus regular troops, would then head north to liberate Trento. However, La Marmora and Cialdini would disagree to such an extent that there effectively existed three armies on the Italian side, all operating separately and totally lacking any co-ordination. La Marmora’s advance would be blocked unexpectedly by the Austrians on both flanks, rendering him unable to mount an effective counter-offensive. He then beat a disorderly retreat across the Mincio, despite the clear numerical superiority of the Italian forces.
But meanwhile, at Sadowa on 3 July 1866, the Austrians suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of the Prussians. The following day they called for a general armistice and offered to relinquish the fortresses of the Quadrilatero and Venetia.
At sea the Italian navy had 30 warships; the Austrian navy was slightly inferior numerically and not as well armed but with an able leader in Admiral Tegetoff. During the landings on the isle of Lissa the Italian navy was unable to effectively counter the attack of the Austrian fleet, which suddenly appeared drawn up in battle formation and proceeded to ram the Italian ships whilst unleashing a heavy and concentrated bombardment. The battle lasted an hour and some of the Italian ships didn’t even intervene, with one sunk, one blown up, and others seriously damaged. All of the Austrian ships, although damaged, took shelter at Pola. It was the last naval battle in which deliberate ramming would take place, and the first between armoured ‘ironclad’ ships.
Austria relinquished to France, as in 1859, Venetia, and a large chunk of Friuli and Mantova, which France transferred to Italy.
Only 25% of those with a right to participate in the ratification of the plebiscite attended. The Venetians were saddled with all of the Austrian public debt through the imposition of new taxes, including the ‘macinato’, the grist or flour tax. The textile mills and the shipyards received no new orders and, with aid withdrawn and loans more difficult to obtain, the general population sunk into a profound crisis. A deadly cholera epidemic broke out again, spreading from the port of Ancona as troops returned from the Crimea, and for many of the ‘liberated’ Venetians permanent immigration, in particular to Latin America, seemed the only way out.
The third report on the Military Question covered the Franco-Prussian War.
In our doctrine this war, which culminated with the fall of the Second Empire in France, was followed by the proclamation of the Third Republic and finally by the glorious experiment of the Paris Commune, marks a watershed: the end, in Europe, of the common struggle of bourgeoisie and proletariat against the previous feudal regimes. The direct struggle of the armed proletariat against the bourgeoisie, to destroy its state and its economic and social system, starts here.
The experience of the workers’ movement had already been concentrated into two important theoretical pillars: the 1848 Manifesto of the Communist Party, and the first volume of Capital in 1867. In 1864 the International Working Men’s Association was formed in London. From then on, in Europe, the various nationalisms would become reactionary, and the alleged ‘completions’ of the bourgeois democratic revolutions and ‘struggles for independence’ would become merely the pretext for kitting out proletarians in various national uniforms before sending them off to be slaughtered.
In relation to this question some excerpts were read out to the meeting from the First Address of the General Council of the I.W.M.A on the Franco-Prussian War (July 1870), and from the responses to it given by the workers’ assemblies in Saxony and by the Berlin committee of the International, which called for solidarity between the workers of the warring countries. Proletarian solidarity was feared by the major states because it could sabotage even the best laid strategic plans. Such would not occur in the trenches, but there were significant mass desertions: after the first phase of the Battle of Le Mans on the night of January 11, 1871, 50,000 French soldiers deserted, bringing the fighting to the south of Paris to an end.
For Prussia – now part of the 24 million strong North German Confederation, which united 22 of the 39 German states – the causes of the war were the need to complete the process of unification, which its powerful industrial development required, but also to detach the German speaking, and iron-rich, territories of Alsace and Lorraine from French control.
Each mode of production has its own military organisation: the capitalist one is based on the large-scale industrial production of commodities; powerful armies with military conscription by now general and obligatory in all states; all firearms now with rifled barrels and breech loading, allowing a rapidity, intensity and precision of fire never before achieved. This determines a different approach to military planning and organisation: the Napoleonic experience bequeaths the principle of ‘marching separately but fighting together’; henceforth it is impossible bring a conflict to a victorious conclusion with one great battle, as had happened in the period of the feudal wars. Now it is only possible to obtain victory after a series of partial actions on several fronts, with various secondary battles fought to wear down the enemy, encircling its central core and cutting off its supply lines to prevent it from taking further action. Only then can the final battle be fought to a conclusion.
The powerful French war machine of the Napoleonic era had gradually become weaker and less effective and it was now seriously inefficient, disorganised and at the mercy of rampant corruption. Some quotations from Engels and Trotsky were read out to illustrate this point. The Prussian army, the expression of a young rapidly growing productive system was, on the other hand, fitted out with great precision and much attention to detail, with astute use made of the French railroads to move the invasion troops rapidly to the front.
And yet Napoleon III, pressurised by the military wing of the bourgeoisie and grievously miscalculating the actual forces in play, disrupted what war plans were already in place and decided to attack with half the necessary forces.
All wars are initiated by the bourgeoisie on the internal front. To finance their costly armies they have to resort to ‘war credits’, a combination of economic measures including the issue of bonds by the banks, producing a situation in which the lenders of capital, great and small, have a direct interest in the military outcome. A. Bebel and W. Liebknecht voted against the credits in the German parliament and as a result they, along with others, would be imprisoned. The French bourgeoisie, with the third trial against the French members of the International, would deprive the French working class of many revolutionary leaders.
The first known border violation was by the French on 31 July, portrayed by the Paris press as a rapid ‘drive’ toward Berlin. But two days later the French were forced into a disorderly retreat, having learnt from the English press, and not from their own inefficient information services, that the Prussians were preparing for a powerful attack to the south, near Weissenburg (Wissembourg). On 4 August, the French suffered heavy defeats at Wörth and Spicheren, from where the Prussians swept down in two waves, cutting off the Verdun-Paris road. A map was used to illustrate this to the meeting.
French lack of strategic decisiveness and a change of government meant precious time was lost, which was exploited by the Prussians to complete their advance on Paris. The indecision led to a concentration of French forces in the fortress at Metz, where they would be besieged. Two months later, in October 1870, they surrendered, with 180, 000 taken prisoner and the loss of considerable war materials.
Paris, so as not to admit defeat and in order to head off any revolutionary movements, issued orders for far-fetched counter-attacks, the aim being to alleviate pressure from the north by opening a front to the south-east. The remaining troops, those not disarmed across the border in Belgium and in Switzerland, were induced by Prussian manoeuvring to concentrate at Sedan. On 1 September it became the scene of a major battle as the powerful Prussian artillery mercilessly pounds the encircled French, as illustrated by a map of the battlefield. ‘Order, counter-order, disorder’ characterised the French. In the afternoon Napoleon III took the decision to surrender. He was imprisoned in Frankfurt, thus bringing the Second Empire to an end.
As one by one the other fortresses fell, the Prussians, now in control of nearly a quarter of France, completed their encirclement of Paris with 200,000 men, moving as much of their artillery there as they could.
Meanwhile, on 20 September, profiting from the difficulties of the French, the Savoy army opened the ‘breech’ of Porta Pia ‘conquering’ the historic national capital.
Paris at the time numbered around 1.85 million inhabitants. 300,000 were in the National Guard, a force created to defend the city, a further 100,000 were enrolled in the Mobiles. It was a rare case of the besieged being in a clear majority with respect to the besiegers.
A division of sailors was distributed across the circle of 18 great external forts, which according to the previous system of defence was supposed to keep the fighting away from the main stronghold, as illustrated with another map.
A reading from Engels showed that he thought the Prussian forces couldn’t force Paris to capitulate with bombardments alone, which was more political than military in its effect, despite the massive destruction caused by their use of long range shells.
During the siege, on January 18, 1871, William of Prussia was crowned Emperor of Germany at the palace in Versailles, thus setting the seal on his country’s unification.
After the failure of a major attempt to break the siege, the Prussians’ onerous terms were accepted: the army would hand over all weapons and stores; the military occupation of the forts and the six districts would continue until an indemnity of 5 million gold francs was paid in full. French losses had been very high: 140,000 dead, 140,000 wounded, 200,000 cases of frostbite, 600,000 taken prisoners and an enormous quantity of materiel, testimony to the powerful industrial development triggered by the war. The Prussians on the other hand had 47,000 dead, 80,000 wounded, 13,000 taken prisoner and they lost only six cannons.
In Paris the severe economic conditions imposed on the people, including the stopping of pay to the National Guard, the only formation defending public order which was still armed, generated powerful demonstrations, which metamorphosed into the proclamation of the Commune in Paris on March 28, 1871. The report concluded with some quotes from Marx and Engels, including, ‘This war has shifted the centre of gravity of the continental workers’ movement from France to Germany’.
In the theoretical field the milestones of the glorious experiment of the Paris Commune are: The Address of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association, written by Marx in the last days of the fighting on the barricades; the two manuscript drafts of The Civil War in France, letters, notes and documents by Marx and Engels, the many writings of Lenin, Trotsky and the Italian Left.
The proclamation of the Paris Commune was propelled by political and military events, requiring the kind of prompt and decisive decisions that only a revolutionary party, solidly rooted and secure in its historical role, could have taken. Such was not to be, not least because, as Marx had warned in earlier letters, the French sections of the International had been emptied due to the arrest or flight abroad of its best members. It is now possible for us to understand the mistakes that were made.
We presented a chronology divided up into periods, the first of which ran from the military defeat at Sedan to the proclamation of the Commune, from 1 September 1870 to 17 March 1871. With Napoleon III prisoner in Frankfurt and his regime over, a national Committee of National Defence was formed which favoured the continuation of the war at the same time as a major boost was given to the call for a Republic. Meanwhile a still powerful pro-monarchist party wanted to surrender immediately to the Prussians in order to hang on to power.
In the end the Prussian siege comprised more than 235,000 men and 900 cannons, each supplied with around 1000 rounds. The Defence Committee tried to alleviate the pressure by opening other fronts and enrolling new recruits, but all attempted sorties were in vain, on top of which the French suffered their latest defeats in the South. The only victory was that of the troops commanded by Garibaldi at Dijon, although it wasn’t sufficient to reverse the situation.
On 5 January the bombardment of Paris began, more for show, Engels would write, than with any real hope of it bringing the capital down. Meanwhile the French army fell apart, a good part of it fleeing unarmed to Belgium and Switzerland, hundreds of thousands of them taken prisoner by the Prussians. On 26 January an armistice called for the surrender of all the forts in the outer defences and the disarming of the army; the hundred or so battalions of the National Guard were the only forces left to defend the capital, as its civic guard.
The Prussians allowed enough time for the election of a new National Assembly, able to negotiate a legal settlement with Germany. Elections in the non-occupied territories gave the monarchist right a clear majority, while in Paris the composite republican front prevails. The national government (now in Bordeaux and headed by the same Thiers who had ferociously repressed the republican movements in 1832) immediately stopped the pay of the National Guard and ordered them to hand over their cannons. It also revoked the freeze on rents and commercial debts, conceded in July 1870 owing to the major demolition works initiated to achieve the capital’s new town plan, including the construction of gigantic thoroughfares to neutralise the effect of possible revolutionary barricades.
Delegates of the National Guard organised themselves in a federative system around a Central Committee, with the various battalions deployed in the 20 municipalities retaining their autonomy and maintaining the prerogative of electing their own leaders.
General Vinoy, a faithful Bonapartist, appointed military governor of Paris by Thiers, received orders on 17 March to sequester the cannons of the National Guard, but his blundering attempt was foiled by the local residents and the neighbouring battalions of the National Guard. At the order to fire on the crowd, many soldiers and junior officers refused and fraternised with the people. Vinoy ordered the retreat and fled to Versailles with the greater part of the government and the army; other functionaries abandoned Paris as the first barricades went up.
The Central Committee of the National Guard puts itself at the head of the revolt and the insurgents occupy all the political and military offices abandoned by the fleeing government officials and over the Hotel de Ville the red flag is raised.
The Central Committee of the National Guard was not a single political party with a clear revolutionary programme but rather a combination of different forces, with Blanquists, Proudhonists, Bakuninists and Communists of the International strongly represented. This was the great contradiction, which generated the series of major errors analysed by Marx in The Civil War in France.
There were two major errors. The first, not to have given an armed response to the disorderly retreat of Thiers’ army and not to have marched immediately on Versailles – left without any organised defences – in order annihilate Thiers’ power structure. The second was the Central Committee of the National Guard being too quick to relinquish its power to the Commune.
The Commune had made no military plan in advance of the insurrection, nor did it come up with one to defend it. The federal autonomy of the hundred or so battalions persisted. The absence of an effective central command weakened its military efficiency and its capacity to make quick decisions whereas, over the ensuing days, the Versailles forces immediately occupied the strategically important fort of Mont-Valerian. Garibaldi would write: ‘The Paris Commune fell because no authority existed in Paris, only anarchy’.
While the Commune organised its government at a political level but neglected its military organisation, Thiers launched his offensive with the help of Bismarck. The latter allowed back thousands of imprisoned French soldiers and officers, and also allowed the recruitment of new forces in the rural provinces such that the number of soldiers in the Versailles army reached 130,000.
In response to a first assault by the Versailles forces the Communards mounted an ill-conceived sortie against Versailles on 4 April, but they were pushed back. Many of the captured Parisians were summarily executed. Over the following days the Commune issued its decree on hostages: for every Communard prisoner summarily executed the Commune would execute three hostages which it held; a decree partially carried out only in the final days.
On paper the Commune had at its disposal 130,000 men in the National Guard with at least a minimum of training, although in practice only 40,000 or so soldiers took part in the fighting. Due to disorganisation there was no effective plan of rotation of troops in the forts and the trenches and, despite there being no serious shortage of various materials and armaments, the organisation of supplies to critical points was ineffective.
From the forts of Vanves and Issy, on the high ground, Paris was hit by incendiary bombs; the Commune responded by burning down the palaces which symbolised the old regime.
On 21 May, with the aid of a spy, the Versaillais entered Paris and started to occupy the outer quarters. The Committee of Public Safety, nominated after the last serious military defeats, was informed about it too late and the last fatal mistake was made: it allowed the councillors to return to their respective Municipalities in order to organise their defence, district by district. Not even at that critical juncture was a centralised plan thought necessary. There was no central plan to erect barricades, nor even a system to take the assailants by surprise by demolishing the internal walls of the palaces at key points in the city. Thus barricades were thrown up that were improvised and badly defended.
Day after day the Versaillais occupied the city while the bourgeoisie was emboldened to take shots from their houses at the defenders of the barricades, which fell one by one. All of the surviving prisoners were summarily executed. In the afternoon of 28 May the last barricade fell.
The repression by Thiers, supported by the entire European bourgeoisie, was truly terrible; as terrible as their fear of a victorious Commune enflaming the whole of Europe. In the days that followed more than 20,000 prisoners were shot, including, along with the combatants, those merely suspected of sympathising. After summary trials many thousands were deported to New Caledonia, many of them perishing from illnesses contracted during the five month voyage.
There was certainly no lack of courage on the part of the Communards or of their determination to fight for the emancipation of the oppressed classes, but what they did lack was a genuine revolutionary party, unique and centralised, which, with rational use of the Commune’s forces, could have defended its victory and enflamed the proletariat of Europe.
HISTORY OF THE LABOUR MOVEMENT IN THE USA
Our study of the American labour movement, having got to the end of the 19th century, described an American trade unionism that had already assumed its definitive form, lending itself to the class collaboration that would distinguish it over the ensuing decades.
The shining example provided by the miners in those years was worrying the A.F.L. leaders because the success of the miners’ struggle highlighted the power of industrial trade unionism, which united skilled and unskilled and workers of every faith, colour and nationality. The trade unionism of the A.F.L. certainly could not be characterised in this way. Indeed, during this period it was increasingly moving in the opposite direction, adopting a framework which sought to organise mainly specialised workers, and which was based on trades rather than the sector of production, and which was indifferent, if not downright hostile, towards unskilled or semi-skilled workers, blacks, women and immigrants.
Over these years the A.F.L. expanded, and by 1901 it had almost 800,000 members; but millions of other workers, the ‘underdogs’, were excluded.
One reason for the increased membership was the decline of the Knights of Labor, for until then the leaders of the A.F.L. had had to reckon with a rival organisation which, for all its defects, had the merit of accepting all proletarians without distinction. After the fall of the K.L. the only choice, workers had was to join unions affiliated to the A.F.L.
With the benefit of hindsight we can see that the A.F.L.’s policy was a key component of a programme of class collaboration with monopoly capital, able to guarantee skilled workers a minimum of security and wealth at the expense of the unskilled and non-organised. The leaders of the A.F.L. walked arm in arm with the trusts and indeed would become their most ardent defenders. In exchange for small guarantees conceded by the gigantic monopolies they would agree to do absolutely nothing to organise the overwhelming majority of workers, who were exploited by these same monopolies, namely, immigrants, blacks and women.
Even the Spanish American war, verbally condemned by the union leaders before it had been declared, was later supported by the A.F.L. as ‘glorious and progressive’.
In spite of the depression, during the 1890s the United States had emerged as the leading industrial power. Already in 1890 it was the main producers of iron and steel; by 1899 it was also the main producer of coal. At the same time the USA increased its export of capital. Small firms were swept away by bigger and bigger, but fewer and fewer, ‘corporations’. It was a global power from the military point of view as well. By the end of the century it had already built an empire, thanks to wars in Spain, Central America and the Pacific, and exerted political and economic control over many countries in Latin America as well.
But for the working class there wasn’t much to be happy about. Despite the fruits of the ‘unprecedented prosperity’ the crisis had hit it hard. In 1900 wages were still 10% below what they were before the 1893 crisis. Therefore, over these same years there was a vigorous revival of the labour movement: from less than half a million in 1897, the trade unions increased their membership to more than 2 million in 1904; the great majority, 80% in fact, joined the A.F.L. Over the same period the number of strikes doubled, and in the majority of cases were successful.
Throughout the 1890s, and especially towards the end of the decade, the bosses in some sectors started to display a certain willingness to reach agreements with the trade unions on wages and hours. It was the period when monopoly capitalism was expanding very rapidly; the newly formed monopolies needed to control production and prices, and in this they were frustrated by the competition of businessmen who weren’t part of the monopoly; these had to be crushed and got rid of, and here the trade unions could be used as a weapon to obtain this result.
Thus towards the end of the century some bosses started to recognise the closed shop. Businesses agreed to take on only those who were members of the union, and in exchange the latter guaranteed that none of its members would work for companies which weren’t part of the bosses’ associations. In some cases, unions even went so far as to get workers in these companies to go out on strike.
But nobody talked about the rising cost of living; price increases could be imposed by monopoly capitalism, which virtually wiped out any wage increases. The A.F.L. chiefs didn’t want to know about the reality of working class conditions. They talked of the ‘Era of Good Feeling’ between capital and labour, which from a materialistic point of view is nonsense that can only be violently opposed.
However, the crisis of 1893 favoured the resumption of the anti-trade union offensive. The watchword was the open shop, the negation of the closed shop: employees wouldn’t be forced to join a trade union, in deference to the much-trumpeted American myth of individual freedom; an abstract notion which, as well as bearing no resemblance to material reality, was never respected in any case and especially by the bosses, who were quick to close ranks when it came to fighting the workers.
In the West there was an organised reaction to the A.F.L., and to its neglect of the miners and other trades. We have already seen how the Western Federation of Miners arose on the correct class basis. This union encouraged the formation of two trade union federations in succession, the Western Labor Union and the American Labor Union, which would go down in history for their determined struggles against the dual enemy, the capitalists and the mandarins of the American Federation of Labor. Their decline was just a prelude to the birth, in 1905, of the Industrial Workers of the World.
The speaker outlined the history of the Industrial Workers of the World at the following general meeting. The I.W.W., popularly known as the ‘Wobblies’, would play a hugely important role from around 1905 to 1920. It was thanks to this organisation, which had arisen through the special efforts of the Western Federation of Miners, that the workers in the West, where capitalism had taken root in its most modern and ferociously exploitative form, would finally be able to oppose the big companies in a compact front in which there were no distinctions of race, nationality or colour, and in which the most unskilled, most oppressed, and most combative workers would come to predominate – in complete contrast to the by now corrupt A.F.L.
To the I.W.W. we owe the great strikes in the steel mills in 1907, in the lumber industry in 1911, in the textile industry (Lawrence in 1912) and particularly in 1913 in the silk mills; to it we also owe the powerful movements in the copper, lumber and iron and steel industries during the First World War, when the practice of generalising struggles in pursuit of union demands, of solidarity between different sectors, of abstention from work with no set time limits (the Patterson strike lasted 7 months!), when the firm resolve not to retreat in the face of the police and eventually the army, neither in peace of war, made the democratic rulers of the USA tremble, the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie foam at the mouth, the official orators of the ruling class and their opportunist lackeys thunder forth from their rostrums and the priests of a thousand and one churches and sects fulminate from their pulpits while police bullets mowed down hundreds of militants, and the prison gates were flung open to incarcerate thousands more. In all of these respects it is a roll of honour, which the I.W.W. filled with the names of lowly proletarians, brave and passionate, who dared to inscribe on their banner: Abolition of wage labour!
In the post-First World war period the activity of the I.W.W. entered a period of decline. Its numbers were decimated by the repression of the forces of order; it was disowned by trade union and political leaders; and it must also be stated, it was undermined by its theoretical and programmatic insufficiencies, which were reflected in serious organisational weaknesses,. And yet, in the stifling atmosphere of the Stars and Stripes Republic, its voice remained one of the few signs of real class combativeness.
However, although recognising the tradition of great, heroic struggles, of relentless continuity in the grey world of the dollar, of openly professed faith in the revolutionary task of the working class, of incessant a relentless critique of the opportunist trade unions who ‘set one group of workers against another in the same industry’ and nurtured ‘the false belief that the working class has interests in common with the class of entrepreneurs’, we cannot blind ourselves to the inconsistency of the theoretical and programmatic foundations of the I.W.W, which were substantially the same as those of European anarcho-syndicalism and, in some respects, Gramsci’s ordinovism.
It was this inconsistency which, even in turbulent years of 1920-21, would prevent these combative organisers of the workers not only from finding the road to communism, that is, from equipping itself with a party to join the Third International, but also from joining the Red International of Labour Unions. They are for ‘direct action’ and for the ‘general strike’ but they reject the political struggle and its organ, the political party. They see the general strike as a magic weapon which on its own can bring down the system by totally paralysing production. They are essentially immediatists: they reject the mediation of the party-form, and thus of the state-form (the dictatorship), as a ‘superimposition’ of ‘leaders’ over the ‘masses’, a ‘substitution’ of an extraneous ‘will’ over the immediate will of the class, but they fail to see that the class, whose sanctity they seek to preserve, is not just ill-defined but entirely shapeless without its political party to explain its historical role, and plot out the road ahead.
They reject ‘violence’, and therefore revolutionary terror, because these destroy the means of production, whereas direct action aims ‘to render the means of production useless to the exploiters, by preserving it for the use of the workers once the bosses have been deprived of its control’. They therefore relapse, despite the best of intentions, into a type of gradualism and reformism: we are maintaining the machinery in good order because one day it will be ours! That the I.W.W. should consider not only the industrial unions but also the existing co-operatives as cells of the new society within the old is entirely logical.
Like the anarcho-syndicalists, the response of the I.W.W. to parliamentary degeneration and to the opportunism of the old workers parties and trade unions, now openly breaking strikes and supporting bourgeois institutions, is to reject all party organisations and all state forms. They fail to understand (as the Third International observed in a letter in January 1920) that ‘In order to destroy the edifice of the capitalist State, to break the resistance of the capitalist class and to disarm it, to seize the property of the capitalists and to hand it over to the workers; for these tasks to be achieved they need a government, a State, the dictatorship of the proletariat by means of which the workers can break the enemy class with an iron hand’, and all this actually presupposes the organisation of the political party, even before the bourgeois regime itself is overthrown. They fail to understand that either the general strike is transformed into an armed insurrection or it just runs out of steam; they fail to see that the new society cannot be built within the old because nothing can be ‘built’ before power has been seized and used to crush the resistance of a business class which won’t just vanish into thin air because we have downed tools.
And, like the anarcho-syndicalists, they believe that a particular form of economic organisation – in their case, one based on the industry rather than the trade – is in itself revolutionary: they mistake a question of power and content for a question of form, failing to realise that any immediate organisational form can be turned to either to revolutionary, or to reformist and therefore counter-revolutionary ends, according to whether the political forces and programmatic content which predominate within them is reformist or revolutionary. Indeed this is clearly shown in America when the principle of organisation by industry rather than trade was taken up by the C.I.O., which ended up completely aligning itself with the reformist conservatism of the A.F.L.
The I.W.W. would be repeatedly torn apart by internecine struggles between ‘politicals’ and ‘apoliticals’, ‘centralisers’ and ‘decentralisers’ without however ever attaining the maturity of Marxism. The merits of the I.W.W. are its sense of solidarity, its rejection of any distinction on grounds of race or nation, its recourse to the methods of direct action, up to and including the general strike, but it was restricted by the pre-Marxism that inspired it.
OIL AND IMPERIALISM
This report considered the history of oil, from its discovery gushing from the banks of Oil Creek in Pennsylvania in 1859, until today. It is a story of commercial, financial and diplomatic wars, almost always involving armed conflict. An incessant and complex dynamic in which we see competition and monopolies, protectionism and free trade, and the nationalism and internationalism of capital constantly opposing one another.
To begin with, the concentration of oil interests was so overwhelming it provoked a governmental reaction in defence of competition. But the consequence of this was actually to strengthen the big trusts. It would take just two months for Rockefeller and Co to counter the blow. For appearance’s sake the empire was broken up into several companies, but these were headed by nominees.
The report expounded a number of quotes from Lenin’s Imperialism which already describe this phenomenon as an ineluctable feature of late capitalism. Free competition inevitably generates monopoly and the more there is the freer it is. Other phenomena are the export of capital in place of the export of commodities and the establishment of a union between banking and industrial capital in the form of finance capital.
The development of the market receives a further boost when there is a transition from the lighting market, satisfied by electricity, to that of petrol
Across the sea, in Russia, the refining of oil had started as early as 1820 in Baku, in Russian Azerbaijan, where the existence of oil wells was known about since the 17th Century. The Nobels, Swedish immigrants in Saint Petersburg, owned immense concessions and numerous refineries linked to the railways via pipelines. At Baku the French bankers, the Rothschild brothers, were also active as major exporters of capital to Russia.
In 1891 the Rothschilds joined forces with English businessmen to export oil to Asia with a fleet of nine oil tankers built specially to ease transportation through the Suez Canal, stealing a march on Standard Oil. In the Far East, Indonesia soon became an important producer and marketer of oil. In Borneo, Royal Dutch from Holland, English Shell and American Standard Oil all competed to build pipelines and refineries in order to sell on the Asian markets.
If at the turn of the century most oil production derived from the United States, Russia and Indonesia, these producers would later be joined by the tormented region of the Middle East and some South American countries. With the global development of capitalism, the race to access this new source of energy, which would prove more economic than coal and better adapted to the requirements of industry, would quickly be transformed into a relentless battle between the major imperial powers.
A no-holds barred trade war would break out. Imperialist capitalism’s zone of influence is the entire world. The economic power of the big companies is such that they establish relations on a par with those of state machines, which they increasingly bend to their interests. Hugely powerful business relationships are established both with those States where the big companies are based, and, with even greater reason, with the governments of the small and often backward countries where capital is invested and from which the raw material is drawn.
The report next moved on to consider the major events of the 19th century, broken down into a number of interesting sub-headings for ease of interpretation: the endless struggle in the Middle East, in Persia, in Iraq after the communist revolution in Russia; the decline of the old imperial powers to the advantage of the USA; the 1929 Depression and the economic crisis in Germany; the suffocation of Japan’s energy needs; the huge oil deals struck during the Second World war; the new world order centred on the USA and Russia with the entrenchment of the power of the big oil companies, the so-called ‘Seven Sisters’, and the bids for independence from Italy and France, in particular in Libya and Algeria; the failed bids of pan-Arabism; the birth of OPEC and the Arab-Israeli wars.
THE WAR IN SYRIA
A first short report gave us a summary of the Party’s evaluation of the war in Syria as reported in its recent press, going on to provide us with a general survey of events in the country. On the one hand the escalation of the war and on the other a phase of stalemate, in which none of the contending parties can or wants to obtain significant victories, taking into consideration the military supremacy of the regime’s forces.
The perpetuation of the conflict has been concentrated and intensified in the big cities with out and out battles taking place and the use of armoured vehicles by Assad. Over the past few months thousands have lost their lives, many of them civilians killed by government artillery. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled the country, mainly to Turkey but also to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
In the capital the army has been scouring the outlying districts for several weeks in search of rebels and arms. It is here that the regime is strongest and most solidly rooted with respect to the other major centre of conflict, Aleppo, where, over recent months, the rebels have often managed to take control of various parts of the city. To be noted are the struggles between armed groups in Tripoli in the North of Lebanon: here Alawite and Sunni militiamen fight each other, perpetuating old rivalries from their respective districts.
American imperialism has frequently emphasised that it is opposed to the Assad government. Russia, along with China, has threatened the United States by declaring that unilateral action by the West is unacceptable. Behind the assemblies, votes and democratic vetoes, bourgeois diplomacy is acting to ensure that the war continues along that line of friction between the blocs.
In identifying the various classes taking part in the protest demonstrations and the various domestic and foreign participants, and the respective weight of the working class and the bourgeoisie, we need to emphasise the non-existence, during this imperialist phase of capitalism, of what the opportunists like to call the ‘progressive bourgeoisie’, even if camouflaged as anti-imperialists. There exists today no revolutionary bourgeois class or under-class which the proletariat should support. Overthrowing imperialism without destroying the underlying cause, capitalism, is impossible, an illusion. The only genuine struggle against imperialism is the anti-capitalist one. The rival bourgeois factions fighting for power in Syria today, whether led by Assad or the opposition forces managed and manoeuvred mainly from abroad, are indisputably enemies of the Syrian, Middle Eastern and international proletariat.
We then gave an outline of the complex situation in Syria, looking both at the domestic causes, rooted in the international crisis of capital, and external ones, including the factors that drove the colonialism of the recent past and which still affect imperialism today.
The war began after the cessation of the anti-government demonstrations that were repressed by the regime, and continues as a struggle between Assad’s army and the heterogeneous groups of the opposition. The conflict has intensified as a result of the amount of weaponry received by the rebels, and its improved quality. Damascus and Aleppo are the theatre of daily bloody conflicts, as are other anti-government strongholds under siege by forces loyal to the regime. President Bashar al-Assad has rejected the proposal put forward by the British Prime Minister of a safe-conduct to leave the country, secure in the knowledge that he is supported by Teheran, Moscow and Beijing. Declaring Syria to be the last bastion of secularism in the region, his response is to hurl counter-accusations against the Western powers.
The country’s system of production, paralysed for almost two years, is being brought to its knees by the conflict, and all to the detriment of the greater part of the people, who have also been hit by high inflation. The effect of the embargo on oil products imposed by the USA and the European Union has produced its first results: public transport at a standstill and a shortage of gas for heating in some cities. Many factories can no longer operate, the workers haven’t received their wages for months and food shortages are becoming more frequent.
Among the loyalist troops, who are still the better equipped, there have been no major defections, thus enabling Assad to repel any attack more or less easily. However, it is very clear that a military solution has been prevented right from the start and a state of stalemate maintained: the variegated opposition has received from abroad just the right dosage of arms and fighters, many of them linked to groups of Islamic fundamentalists.
In Turkey a unified command has been elected, around two thirds of which is composed of Muslim Brothers and Salafites. Over recent months dozens of brigades have been formed, organised on a local basis and with only fairly loose links between them. They carry out incursions then retreat. Since December Obama has formally recognised the Syrian opposition as the official ‘voice of the resistance’. But the fighters of the Al Nusra Front, considered to be close to the Iraqi arm of Al Quaeda, are still on the USA’s blacklist. A CIA group in the South of Turkey decides as to which of the numerous rebel factions it will equip, one by one, with automatic weapons, rocket launchers and anti-tank missiles.
In early December the American aircraft-carrier Eisenhower, with 8,000 troops and several fighter bombers on board, arrived off the Syrian coast. But the joint attack plan, which was supposed to include Great Britain, France, Turkey, Israel, and possibly Jordan and a few other Arab countries, was withdrawn. Russia confirmed its support for the Syrian president, a declaration which was quickly endorsed by BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Even though the petro-monarchies in the Gulf are pushing for a radical solution to the Syrian crisis, the White House might decide to take its time and look at other scenarios. Perhaps the United States is reminded of its intervention in Libya, where they still haven’t managed to find, or to create, a political opposition capable of replacing the regime.
In January, NATO approved the deployment of Patriot missiles and American personnel along the frontier with Turkey.
At the subsequent meeting the reporting comrade gave an update on the situation. During the course of our meeting, in fact, as the eastern Mediterranean filled with warships and it seemed missiles were about to be launched, Russian and Chinese diplomacy was mobilised and came to an agreement with Washington on the destruction of the Syrian army’s chemical weapons, thereby warding off armed intervention. The agreement represented a slap in the face for the USA, which had decided on military intervention, even if limited. The decisive joint action of Russia and China, whose vital interests were threatened, managed to stop the belligerent dynamism of the United States and force it to backtrack, something which didn’t happen in Libya a few months before.
It is further evidence of the rapid changes in global power relations, and also of the fragility of US imperialism, whose military strength, by far the greatest in the world, is founded on an economic base which has now lost its hegemony.
After the agreement on the destruction of chemical weapons was reached, the Syrian question virtually disappeared from the international media. But the civil war, with its attendant massacres, indiscriminate bombardments, arrests, torture and assassinations and the hunger and cold suffered by millions of human beings forced to abandon their homes, has continued, fomented precisely by those who claim they want to stop it, whether it is the states who have the gall to call themselves ‘friends of Syria’, or those who support Assad, primarily Russia, Iran and China.
The eleven ‘friendly’ countries (United States, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan) met in Paris on 12 January to declare their wish for the Syrian president to step down in order to kick-start a ‘political solution’, new elections, etc. And they have invited the organisations of the Syrian opposition to participate in the Geneva 2 Conference. For its part, Russia insists that Iran should participate in the Conference and rules out any regime change in Syria.
Both sides, of course, continue to supply arms and equipment to the contending parties, and the war goes on, fomented, if ever there was still a need for it, by atrocities committed against the Syrian people by the fundamentalist groups in the pay of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Assad regime. It is a tactic which has been used before, in ex-Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan …
Assad’s regime, like Saddam Hussein’s, but also like Al Maliki’s (the current president of Iraq), is essentially the dictatorship of a clan, which carves up the wealth of the country by exploiting proletarians and poor peasants, and forcibly prevents other bourgeois factions from gaining power. But this clan in power also represents the interests of national and international capital. The era of progressive democratic revolutions has been over for some time and in the present phase of mature, decadent imperialism is dead and buried throughout the world; and not just as far as we communists are concerned but for the bourgeoisie as well. All that now remains are the tired old electoral rituals, whose only function is to ensnare the proletariat in the myth of democracy. Today, far more than was the case a century ago, it is criminal to try and convince the proletariat that democracy is an objective worth fighting for or defending.
Those taking part in Geneva 2 will waffle on about peace, democracy and human rights but its real business will be about further wars, defending new and old dictatorships, forging even heavier shackles to keep the international proletariat in chains.
COMMUNISM AND DEMOCRACY IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE LABOUR MOVEMENT IN ITALY
This series of reports was prompted by the need to demonstrate one of our doctrine’s fundamental concepts: that democracy and communism are irreconcilable and totally opposed. The report continued with an examination of the impact of the Paris Commune in Italy and the great excitement it caused within its variegated revolutionary movement. But the latter soon proved not to have solid foundations, causing the Italian sections to break with the General Council in London. In fact it was with remarkable speed that the entire internationalist movement in Italy accepted Bakunin’s secessionist positions.
The Italian movement identified with the anarchist theories due to the backwardness of the social environment. It was Italian social conditions which determined and influenced Bakunin’s entire theoretical edifice and not the other way round.
The bloody defeat of the Commune caused a crisis in the proletarian international no less serious than the one caused by the defeats of 1848. The situation would radicalise the divergences already present within the International and bring about the definitive break between the Marxist and anarchist schools, whose differences by now had become irreconcilable.
Anarchism, that backward form of socialism with respect to the dialectical position of Marxism, had been allowed into the International at the very beginning in the expectation that it would grow towards scientific socialism. When Bakunin assumed its leadership, providing it with an organised structure as a fraction and a programme which was prejudicial to Marxism and the International as a whole, it became a serious threat to the movement. It was necessary to stop the International from being reduced to a network of squabbling cliques. What was required instead was to refine theory even further in order to combat the petty bourgeois and opportunist distortions of which anarchism was one of the first manifestations. Then as now it was not a matter of chasing after useless, and dangerous, momentary successes, but of keeping the doctrinal heritage of the party intact and transmitting it to future generations of revolutionaries.
In this connection, during the presentation of the report, important passages by Engels were quoted, which stressed the importance of sacrificing momentary successes to more important things, namely the safeguarding of the revolutionary programme and doctrine as established by the balance sheet of the Paris Commune, even at the cost of provoking splits. Engels was responding to all of those, still with us today, who preach unity but who, in terms of what they actually do, act like out-and-out sectarians and secessionists.
Almost contemporaneously with the Congress of the First International in The Hague, the anarchists met in a separate congress on 15 September at Saint-Imier, explicitly refusing to recognise the authority of the General Council, which, for its part, expelled them from the congresses. From then on there were two internationals, one influenced by Marx, and one which took an ‘anti-authoritarian’ line, which, even if in slightly altered form, was actually the continuation of the Alliance of Socialist Democracy founded years earlier by Bakunin, and which he claimed to have dissolved in order to join the International.
The anarchist Congress of Saint-Imier denied that congresses had the right to deliberate and thus rejected the resolutions of The Hague Congress; it asserted the autonomy of federations and sections and proclaimed that ‘the destruction of every type of political power is the first task of the Proletariat’.
Anarchism represents one of the first forms of opportunism and all subsequent degenerations arise from the same old demands for ‘freedom’ and ‘self-sufficiencies’ of various sorts, whereas orthodox Marxists have always stuck strictly to centralism. Autonomism is the negation of the Party. Opportunism doesn’t vary its positions either.
For its part the General Council, which had demonstrated the prime importance of a single centre of global revolutionary strategy with its Addresses on Paris Commune, rejected the claims of the autonomists and defended the irrevocable concept of organisational centralism, a cardinal point of our revolutionary programme.
Following the Congress at Saint-Imier the Italian internationalists held their own national congress, at which they reasserted the line of strict anarchist intransigence and made a total break with the General Council in London. It was resolved that each federation, section, group and individual would be completely free as regards political activity and the formulation of its own particular programme. To sum up, each of them was free to carry out ‘its own’ revolution, and, if that was the political programme of the anarchist movement, we have to recognise that it proved to be very effective, in producing complete anarchy.
The year 1873 was marked by shortages and a deep economic crisis. Impelled by hunger there were numerous strikes and popular revolts. All this represented very fertile terrain for revolutionary propaganda. The police, for their part, launched a campaign of anti-proletarian persecution, which included making indiscriminate arrests on a massive scale with a view to breaking up subversive organisations, or those deemed to be such, and the prohibition and active prevention of meetings. But the persecution didn’t succeed in putting a break on the activity of the anarchist movement led by three indefatigable militants: Carlo Cafiero, Andrea Costa and Enrico Malatesta. One Congress followed another and a succession of provincial federations arose. Not only were the police powerless to eradicate the ‘weed’ of internationalism, but they were unable to limit its spread and reproduction.
Over the same period there began the anarchist conspiratorial activity in what must be considered the centre of international irradiation of the libertarian revolution: Bakunin’s famous villa in Switzerland.
1874, in the mind of the Italian agitators, would be the year of the great anarchist revolution which, once it had broken out in Italy, would ignite the whole of Europe. The Italian internationalists assured Bakunin that 10 federations had been organised for several months and were just waiting for the word to take action. These were Piedmont, Lombardy, the Veneto, Romagna, Liguria, Tuscany, the Marches and Umbria, Naples, Sicily and Sardinia. Now was the time to pass ‘from words to action’: the ‘propaganda of the deed’.
This slogan proved more than enough to differentiate Marxism from anarchism, and from all future forms of revisionism yet to come. It isn’t theory (i.e. the party) that should guide practical action; on the contrary, theory must come afterwards, its spontaneous birth determined by action, by ‘deeds’; therefore the lack of need for, indeed the noxiousness of, the party.
A consequence of this approach was that the Italian Federation ceased almost all public acts, either through newspapers or poster campaigns or by any other means, and concentrated all its energy in conspiratorial activity.
By the spring of 1874 the economic situation had got even worse and food riots were spreading through Italy. The moment was deemed ripe for the revolutionary insurrection. Andrea Costa would secretly return to Rome from Switzerland to synchronise the activities of the various revolutionary groups in preparation for the insurrection. Meanwhile, Malatesta went into action in Puglia, Calabria and Sicily.
The revolutionary action was to start in Bologna, with the insurrection fixed for 8 August. Bakunin wanted to be present at the victory of ‘his’ revolution and, arriving in Bologna under an assumed name, he met the same evening to settle the final details with Costa, who had just returned from a long organisational tour.
In spite of the fact that anarchist activity was supposed to be based on conspiracy and maximum secrecy, the police knew everything about the preparations, down to the smallest detail.
What was to have been the great Italian revolution turned into a spectacular failure. In brief: on the night of August 7-8, a hundred conspirators, mostly unarmed, headed out from Imola towards Bologna. They were intercepted and 43 of them were immediately arrested, and the rest over the following days. Elsewhere in Italy absolutely nothing happened. On 12 August a priest, freshly shaved and wearing dark glasses, limping, entered the station, with a cane in one hand and basket of eggs in the other. It was Bakunin fleeing Bologna. Thus ended the anarchists’ first revolutionary dream.
The Bologna trial of 1876 against Andrea Costa and 78 other anarchists for the much awaited 1874 insurrection concluded with their sensational acquittal and with popular demonstrations on their release from prison. In less than a month many of the anarchist sections closed down by the police had reformed and were already capable of calling a regional conference in Bologna on 16 July.
But by this time the Romagna socialists had already begun to detach themselves from anarchist ideology. While the congress would reaffirm its faith in the ‘ideas professed by Michael Bakunin’, it also agreed to consider the general statutes of the International as an integral part of its programme and the ‘terrain on which the workers of all countries can meet’. What is more, it indicated that it was going to form the ‘great revolutionary socialist party’.
Meanwhile thanks to la Plebe, the sole Italian socialist newspaper which still supported the General Council in London, the Lombard Federation of the International Workingmen’s Association was formed. On 1 July 1876 the Federation issued a manifesto in which it clearly distanced itself from insurrectional conspiracies which ‘can only serve as a pretext for an implacable repression’. It ended up by calling for a ‘great Italian Labour Party’ as the foundation for ‘a powerful International Federation’.
Criticism of the anarchist approach and of ‘ill-advised insurrections’ also came from Palermo: ‘ours is not a banner of fruitless impromptu agitations, nor an emblem of the impatience of individuals, it is the banner of the proletariat, not of any faction or clique’ (Il Povero, 25 October 1876).
If the audacious participants of Florence-Tosi National Congress of the Italian Federation in 1876, held in the woods and in the pouring rain, would reaffirm their strict anarchist faith, the Congress of the Federation of Alta-Italia, held in mid-February 1877, would make a clear break with the anarchist movement. The congress declared allegiance to the Statutes of the International and, even if it didn’t transform itself into a party, it did declare that the necessity for it and its class-based character. Furthermore it declared that trade union organisation was the remedy both for impotent mutual aid and for ‘revolutionary romanticism’.
Engels, who had always followed events in Italy with great interest, was enthusiastic about what emerged from the assembly: ‘Finally in Italy as well the socialist movement has been placed on firm ground and promises a rapid and victorious development’. He highlighted how the congress had proposed ‘with the maximum precision three points which are decisive for the Italian movement: 1/ that in order to ensure the movement’s success every possible means must be employed, therefore including the political; 2/ that socialist workers must form a socialist party, a party which isn’t dependent on any other political or religious party; 3/ that the Federation of Alta Italia […] on the basis of the Statutes of the International, considers itself a member of that great organisation […]. Thus, political struggle, organisation of a political party and a break with the anarchists’.
If by now the current headed by Andrea Costa repudiated conspiratorial practices, another current, led by Cafiero, kept his anarchist faith and continued to propose the insurrectional movement as the only possible strategy. Despite the failure of the plot in 1874, Cafiero and his followers set about organising another action, which this time would be centred in the mountains of the South of Italy. But on this occasion as well the police knew, down to the smallest detail, what was being planned by the Banda del Matese, as it came to be known. And this second bizarre experiment in guerrilla warfare was also extremely brief. In the space of a few days the troops surrounded the anarchists who, half dead from cold and hunger, were arrested without a shot being fired.
The only positive aspect of this insurrectional bid was that Cafiero, during his 15 months of incarceration, commenced his famous summary of Capital, which was highly regarded by Marx himself.
But the so-called ‘San Lupo Movement’ gave the government the pretext they needed to unleash a wave of violent repression against everyone who gave off even the faintest whiff of socialism. All of the International Association’s federations, sections, clubs and groups were dissolved, its offices closed and anything found there sequestered. Searches and arrests were carried out on a massive scale throughout the whole of the peninsula. In many places the army occupied towns and villages and bivouacked in the piazzas. A series of trials took place in different regions of Italy: in Florence one life sentence was imposed, two were condemned to 20 years and four to 9 years in prison.
In the trial that opened in Bologna on 9 November 1879, among the defendants there was an outstanding individual who would take on a very important role in Italian socialism over the ensuing years. This was Anna Kulisciov, whose level of political maturity even then can be gauged from these statements by her made in the course of her cross-examination: ‘revolutions cannot be made by the internationalists at their convenience, because it isn’t within the power of individuals either to make them or to provoke them; it is the people that make them: therefore revolt by means of armed bands is not appropriate […] Socialists must take part in popular movements, as in every other manifestation of popular life, in order to direct them, but they cannot create them themselves […] Socialism must be ready to take over the leadership of the movement, transforming the instincts, the sentiments that are latent amongst the people, into socialist forces’.
On the initiative of Andrea Costa, who by now had set down in the Marxist camp, on the 30 April 1881 in Imola the first Avanti! Weekly Socialist Periodical appeared; the significance of the choice of name being that it is a direct translation of the German social-democratic newspaper, Vorwärts.
A few months later a clandestine congress took place in Rimini attended by around fifty delegates representing clubs and sections from the Romagna and the Marches: from this the Revolutionary Socialist Party of the Romagna would be born, first stage in the formation of the Italian revolutionary socialist Party. To the new party, which made a clear break with anarchism, goes the merit of having introduced into the Italian socialist movement the concept of the necessity for the class dictatorship in order to ‘triumph over the resistance of the enemy and to install the new social order’.
Notwithstanding the anarchists’ ferocious polemics against the ‘traitors’, soon workers organisations from all over Italy, including from the countryside, would join the P.S.R. The rural proletariat had never been organised, or called to unite in struggle with other workers, until then.
In 1882 the Italian parliament passed an electoral reform which conceded the right to vote to males who could read and write: 6.9% of the population. The government knew that the majority of the population was hostile to the monarchist state, that the proletariat was expressing a firm revolutionary will and that universal suffrage would allow the revolutionary parties to be strongly represented in parliament.
The P.S.R. immediately declared that it would present protest candidates to exploit the propaganda opportunities offered by the electoral meetings and explain that the use of the electoral campaign didn’t mean the revolutionary perspective had been abandoned. In Milan as well the Labour Club (Circolo Operaio), which tended to attract the city’s more educated and advanced proletarians, had created an electoral division. There were thus two declaredly class parties which took part in the 1882 electoral campaign. The electoral programmes they put forward didn’t differ much from those of radical democracy apart from the call for freedom to strike and the use of the strike as a weapon to defend workers’ rights.
The new democratic laws didn’t prevent the increasingly violent police repression that the left bourgeois governments had unleashed against the proletarian parties and organisations: newspapers regularly sequestrated, meetings broken up both by official means and by the use of arms; socialists arrested and subjected to long periods of preventive detention while awaiting trial.
But despite all the persecution it was subjected to, the P.S.R. continued to grow. By 1884 it had sections in various parts of Italy so the question of a change of name was raised at the Party’s Third Congress on July 20 1884 where, by acclamation, the new name of Partito Socialista Rivoluzionario Italiano was decided upon.
Meanwhile in Milan, at the beginning of 1885, the Partito Operaio Italiano was resurrected and in April and May it would hold its first congress.
HISTORY OF EGYPT
The exciting and at the same time tragic events which have shaken Egypt over the last couple of years have prompted us to look a lot more closely at this country, which is certainly the most important in North Africa, not just because of its position as guardian of the Suez Canal but because of its population, which is now approaching 90 million.
Our study drew on an excellent party work entitled ‘Productive Base and Class Struggle in Egypt’, which was published in our newspaper in the August 1977 to April 1978 editions and is also available on our website. This work covered the capitalist development of the Egyptian economy, both industrial and rural. It highlighted the bourgeois nature of the coup d’état by the young officers headed by Nasser and the essentially anti-proletarian nature of the new regime. It described the limitations of the agrarian reform promulgated in 1958 and the worsening of working and living conditions for the city and rural proletariat that occurred in the seventies and the following years under the impulse of capital’s crisis. The study concluded by examining some notable struggles in which the Egyptian proletariat had engaged and predicted a period of reorganisation.
The current work brought us up-to-date by examining Egyptian economy and society over the last thirty years, with particular attention paid to the events of the last two, which saw a sharp increase in the number of strikes for higher wages and improved conditions along with robust street demonstrations against the government.
The birth of a number of combative independent trade unions, the fall of ‘the pharaoh’ Mubarak, the army taking power, the electoral victory of the Muslim Brotherhood Party and the rapid decline in its credibility, these are the main events of the past few months.
The situation is also critical because the country’s finances are in a total mess. For the International Monetary Fund to agree to new loans, it wants reforms and guarantees. In the current social situation these are impossible because they would only heighten the social tension which is already at breaking point.
There seems no way out for the bourgeoisie, which nevertheless knows it can still count on the army to defend its power. The proletariat must therefore continue its struggle to preserve and extend its organisation on the trade union level, gaining the awareness that in order to free itself from bourgeois oppression it will have to reconnect with the invariant programme of international revolutionary communism.
THE REARMING OF THE STATES
An article in Il Sole 24 Ore of 9 July highlighted that the White Book on Defence, published by the Japanese government last June, no longer employs its habitual neutral tone and has no qualms about stating that ‘China represents a threat and is violating international law’; and that Japan needs to increase its military expenditure and change its strategy by pressing forward, this year, with the creation of a marine infantry corps with enhanced amphibious capacity. What is more, the White Book applauds the fact that, after 11 years of stalemate, the first increase in military expenditure has been launched, ‘against a backdrop of growing dangers to national security’.
And this is just one of many indications that underline what is emerging from the analysis of world military expenditure on the basis of the data (updated to December 2012) that was circulated by SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) in early April 2013.
The initial fact highlighted by the speaker is that between 2011 and 2012 global military expenditure, at US$ 1,753 billion, fell for the first time since 1998, in real terms by 0.5%. In 2011 as well global expenditure had stayed at more or less at the same level as 2010.
But it is not of course ethical motivations of a pacifist variety that lie behind this stagnation, rather the explanation is to be sought in the world crisis of over-production, which has forced many of the big imperialist states, above all the United States of America and the European powers, to try and reduce their military budgets along with all the other expenditure for which the State is responsible (health, education, welfare, etc.)
It isn’t the same everywhere however: while on both sides of the Atlantic expenditure is tending to fall, elsewhere, and in particular around the Pacific, it is going up instead, and very rapidly.
The rapid growth of the military power of China is of concern not only to the neighbouring states (in particular, Japan) but to the United States too, which has openly demonstrated its wish to increase its military presence in the region, posing as the defender of the status quo.
And Russia has also been moving in this direction, making no attempt to conceal its nostalgia for the glory days of the ‘Soviet’ empire.
In Latin America, central Asia, Africa and Australia as well, military expenditure is on the rise.
The stagnation in global military expenditure between 2012-13 doesn’t mean that the various States have renounced arming themselves in a principled march towards ‘peaceful co-existence’; it means on the contrary that the economic and social crisis is causing rapid changes in the balance of forces between states and is exacerbating competition between them, preparing the way to a new world war. It is up to the proletariat, organised as a class to defend its interests, to foil these catastrophic designs affecting the whole of humanity by preparing for an international class war against the bourgeois enemy.
TOWARDS A STUDY OF INDIAN CAPITALISM
The comrade presented an initial report on India, part of an ongoing study which will look firstly at its history from its origins in the ancient Indus civilisation up to present-day independence: from primitive communism to the Asiatic mode of production, from feudalism to capitalism. We will look closely at the conquest of India by Britain, the rise of nationalist movements and the birth of the modern proletariat, taking into consideration the verdicts of Marx and Engels in their writings and correspondence, and the conclusions reached by our current over the years. The guiding principle framing our study of Indian capitalism will be that production and the exchange of products are the basis of every social order in every historical period.
Like all of our work, it isn’t intended to be simply an intellectual or historiographical essay but rather a weapon in the revolutionary struggle, useful to the party. One of the main aims of this work is to draw lessons from the counter-revolution, recognising and unmasking the faithful allies of all-powerful Capital, namely the false workers’ parties and the regime’s unions.
The Indian Republic, which came into being on 26 January 1950 with the implementation of its Constitution, is showing itself to be ambitious in the international theatre, sure of its place in the dynamics of world capitalism, and wanting to increase its weight both at the diplomatic and on the economic and military levels. Despite its religious, ethnic and caste legacy, this enormous country is a shining example of how capitalism is unequivocally international in character and everywhere dictates its own rules, its own morality. As well as the one path to follow: the pursuit of profit.
In the report the comrade gave an initial survey of the present consistency of the modern Indian state, packed with contradictions both on the level of relations between the classes and between the various ethnic groups of which it is composed.
India is a huge country in southern Asia, subdivided into the Indian subcontinent and the Iranian plateau. The Indian subcontinent is separated from the rest of the continent by mighty natural obstacles, much more so than those which separate Europe from Asia. To the north there extends the powerful mountain chain of the Himalayas, beyond which there is the Tibetan plateau and the boundless expanse of the Gobi desert, natural obstacles that have made communication between India and China difficult. In the East too, the jungles, hills and the large and numerous rivers flowing into the Gulf of Bengal establish formidable natural barriers, in particular to armies, the only historic exception being the Japanese army in 1943. The western side, on the other hand, is easily accessible and over the course of the centuries this has allowed intense commercial traffic and access to armies and entire peoples.
Beyond these barriers the Indian sub-continent is divided into two main zones: the North, formed by the Indus-Ganges Valley and the Thar desert and the centre-south formed by the Deccan peninsular.
For a number of years now India has been a member of BRICS, an acronym referring to Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, all characterised by growing economies. India is also one of the largest countries in the world in terms of geographical area and with more than 1,200 million inhabitants it has the second largest population, half of whom are under 25 years old.
In numerical terms India’s military strength is impressive. Around 3% of its GNP is dedicated to defence. Various public enterprises produce the armaments that equip the three forces. The main naval shipyards are in Mumbai and Calcutta. India has been a nuclear power since 1974 and presently has between 60 and 90 nuclear warheads for fighter-bombers and missiles. The army is composed of more than 1,200,000 men, but some of its weaponry is dated. The air force, on the other hand, is equipped with effective fighter planes such as the MiG 29 and the SU 30 acquired from Russia. The Indian navy, with more than 200 ships, is amongst the biggest in the world.
India possesses the second largest labour force in the world with more than 500 million wage earners, 60% of whom are employed in the agricultural sector and the industries linked to it, 28% in the service sector and 12% in the industrial sector proper.
The Country’s industrial weight on the world scene is still weak. If we look at its production of electricity we may estimate this as around 4% of the world total, as opposed to 27% for the USA, 16.5% for China, 12.5% for the whole of Europe, 5.7% for Japan and 5.1% for Russia. The major industries are active in the automobile sector, cement, chemical products, electronic consumer goods, food processing, machinery, mining, oil, pharmaceutical products, steel and textiles. The most important industries are located in Udaipur, Gujarat, and, on the border with Bangladesh, Jamshedpur and the region of Damodar, to the extent that the latter area is considered the Indian Ruhr. The computer industry, concentrated between Hyderabad and Bangalore, dubbed the Indian Silicon Valley, is considered a lynchpin of the economy: many western firms have moved their data processing centres here: Microsoft, General Motors, British Airways, Deutsche Bank and in part Ericsson, among others. The production of jute, wool and silk yarn and cloth are also important.
India will soon become the fourth largest consumer of energy in the world, after the United States, China and Japan. Currently the production of electricity, mainly thermal in origin, is not enough, and interruptions to the supply are hitting a large part of the industrial sector. India is dependent on oil for 33% of its needs and imports more than 70% of it. Its capacity to refine oil is still limited.
The weakness of its infrastructure, in terms of roads, railways, ports and airports is still very much in evidence and proving to be a severe handicap. The port of Nava Sheva, near Mumbai, which is comparable to the big American ports in terms of container throughput, remains an exception.
The growth in industrial production over the past few years reflects the global crisis and is in clear decline, falling from 8.2% in 2010 to 2.9% in 2011 and 0.6% in 2012.
Despite the definitive entry of India into the leading circles of global capitalism, a quarter of the population is still below the poverty line, that is, survives on less than US$ 0.40 per day.
TRADE UNION ACTIVITY
The reports on trade union activity at the general meetings gave detailed accounts of workers’ struggles in Italy and of what is happening in the rank-and-file trade unions and what we refer to as the ‘regime unions’ (that is, those unions who have come to a permanent accommodation with the capitalist regime and have become more or less incorporated into it) in terms of their relations with the class, the bosses and the State.
The topics covered in detail were:
1.The general strike of rank-and-file trade unionism on 22 June, 2012 was prompted by the so-called ‘reform of the labour market’, which is the latest in a series of attacks on the working class in Italy driven forward by the current bourgeois government in response to the State’s worsening financial problems.
That strike, as we have already remarked upon in our Italian press, had one positive aspect: it was supported by almost all the rank-and-file unions (with the exception of Confederazione Cobas). What this signalled, after a two-year gap, was a return to united action on the part of rank-and-file trade unionism.
But the extreme delay in finally getting to the point of going on strike has revealed the grave uncertainties which beset rank-and-file unionism. And it is precisely around unity of class action that the current leaders of rank-and-file trade unionism are hesitant, fearing, wrongly, that this would prevent the workers from clearly differentiating between the base unions and the regime unions. As a result base trade unionism has missed another fairly easy opportunity both to bolster its still relatively small influence over the working class, and to weaken that of flag-waving tricolore trade unionism.
2. That the bourgeoisie is aiming to destroy national contracts is well known. The bosses want to decide wages and working conditions on a firm by firm basis, all the better to divide the workers, get them to compete amongst themselves, lower their wages and slow down the increasingly irresistible fall in the rate of profit.
Against this attack, very important in class terms, the regime trade unions, as ever, have failed to organise; in order to protect their function as intermediaries between the working class and the bosses, a role guaranteed by the industry heads as a useful means of preventing industrial strife, they are offering instead to co-manage the attack, by making it more gradual.
True to itself, not out of choice but of necessity, the metal workers union, the FIOM, is suffering continuous defeats, and worse still, so are the workers. During the big demonstration on 15 October, 2010, with tens of thousands of workers assembled in the piazza, the left inside the FIOM hoped the union might assume leadership of the great force they had managed to muster and take charge of the struggle; but their illusions were to be shattered once again.
The CGIL would tacitly prop up the FIOM’s inertia by failing to organise any supporting actions either for the metal workers or for FIAT workers.
3. The European ‘strike’ on 14 November, 2012 was arranged from on high, that is, by the European Confederation of Trade Unions, with the calling of a European day of mobilisation against so-called austerity. The Confederation is nothing more than a representative office for the main regime trade unions in Europe and is an organisation that has no contact with the working class. In Italy the CGIL, CISL and UIL (the regime’s main federations) are all members. The content of the platform around which this organisation was calling for mobilisation were those of regime trade unionism, that is, rules to be imposed on capitalism impossible of application or useless in terms of workers’ defence, and supposedly to be obtained by means of a ‘social pact’, that is with social peace and negotiation and without a struggle.
In several countries the mobilisation was reduced to small pickets, but in Greece, Spain and Portugal many trade unions announced their participation by calling for a general strike. Thus despite the bourgeois ideology of the European Confederation of Trade Unions, the day would see the workers going out on strike in a few European countries at the same time, in an intimation of the international union of the working class.
In Italy the Confederazione Cobas was the first to join the mobilisation, by proclaiming a general strike for the entire day, then the CGIL declared a strike of just four hours. The other base unions, USB (Unione Sindacale di Base) and CUB (Confederazione Unitaria di Base), once again betrayed the principle of workers’ united action, stating as justification that the strike platform was against the workers’ true interests.
They fail to understand, or claim not to understand, that during a strike the stronger the workers feel the more momentum they acquire to sweep aside the false objectives and methods of regime trade unionism and take up the watchwords calling for a struggle to defend their real interests. It is for this reason that the CGIL not only takes strike action less and less often, but even when it does, it makes every effort to make them as inoffensive as possible. USB and CUB – but also Cobas which on 14 November organised separate demonstrations – are dividing the strikes and weakening them because they are depriving the demonstrations organised by the CGIL of the most combative workers, who are the members of the base unions, and thus they are helping to make these actions even more bland and controllable, and thereby supporting the regime unions.
In the USB, the militants of our party who are members of that union drew up and distributed an ‘Appeal to the Leading Organs of the USB to join the European General Strike’. This is analogous to our previous interventions in three other strikes over the last year and half, in which we didn’t address the leadership but rather the workers, union militants and union members, setting out a correct trade union line based on long-term working class interests.
4. The metal workers national contract. In October 2009, after having rescinded this unitary contract, FIM and UILM (FIM is the metalworkers union linked to the CISL; and UILM the one linked to the UIL) signed a separate three-year contract with the bosses, which therefore expired at the end of 2012.
In defence of the unitary contract the FIOM (linked to the CGIL) organised two general strikes, one on 16 November, which later merged with the European general strike on 14 November, and the other on 5 December. Significantly, while the FIOM leader Landini was speaking from the podium in Milan during the last strike, the FIM, UIL and UGLM (the metalworkers union linked to the neo-fascist party) were signing a new national contract on behalf of the metalworkers even worse than the last one, marking a decisive victory for the employers in their battle against the national contract.
FIOM’s reply was emblematic: faced with Capital’s objective of dividing the proletarian class by insisting on different contracts at the company level, the FIOM launched its watchword of struggling, divided, factory by factory, against the application of the new contract. This effectively means opposing the bosses by adopting their objectives!
Regime trade unionism since the Second World War, and unfortunately successfully at that, has played a game of confusing the workers with fake ‘splits’ and rediscovered ‘unity’. The FIOM says it prioritises the objective of the joint contract which, in its words, would be a guarantee against worse contracts and from the dismantling of the national contract as a whole. But the history of trade unionism shows otherwise. It isn’t the joint signatures of FIM, FIOM and UILM which guarantee contracts favourable to the workers, but workers’ struggle. If FIOM was a class union, a ‘good contract’ wouldn’t be a ‘joint’ one but one which corresponded to a separate platform of its own imposed on the bosses, and also on the FIM and UILM, by means of a genuine strike movement. Such an approach is explicitly ruled out by the FIOM, revealing it to be actually the left-wing of regime trade unionism.
The FIOM’s third strategy, that of the strike, has served to keep up its image as a combative trade union. The strikes it has announced have been small, inoffensive and divided between general actions and mobilisation on a factory by factory basis, thereby debasing the fundamental weapon of workers’ struggle by reducing it to mere impotent manifestations of opinion.
5. Trade union democracy and the agreement on representation. On 31 May, 2013, the employers’ federation, Confindustria, and CGIL, CISL and UIL signed the ‘memorandum of understanding’ on ‘representation’. The gist of the accord is to put a new barrier in the way of the rebirth of the class union by reinforcing the control of the regime unions over the workforce.
This result has been obtained by the bosses and regime unions in the name of trade union democracy. This is the banner of all the currents, whether political or trade union, in the CGIL or in rank-and-file trade unionism, which say they want to fight for the rebirth of the class trade union. Our party alone, distinct from all others, warns the workers against making trade union democracy into an objective of their own, as though it were a magic wand able to protect them from every defeat, from every betrayal and degeneration by the trade union organisation.
The key factor which distinguishes pro-employer unions from authentic proletarian trade unions is the class struggle. The call for democracy is insidious through its very ambiguity; indeed it is a common thread running through the entire range of trade union organisations, from the fascists of the UGL through to the rank-and-file unions.
Within the trade union movement democracy can sometimes be a useful method, a mechanism which enables decisions to be made, but this is different from observing democracy as an abstract principle. As a method it is necessary because the class union, due to the fact that it organises on the basis of a social condition – that of the modern wage-earner – has within it a plurality of trade union and political lines that have to both coexist and confront one another.
The Communist Party, on the other hand, which if not degenerated is based on complete theoretical and programmatic homogeneity, as well as on a well-tested definition of and sharing of tactical instruments, isn’t divided into sub-parties, currents and factions, and therefore it has no further need of resorting to the democratic mechanism. Its centralism isn’t so much hierarchical and based on discipline as it is organic, that is, self-evident, spontaneous and natural. It is a result acquired through historical evolution, like the erect posture of the human animal. As it will be in the future communist society.
In capitalist society, divided into classes with material conditions and interests which are opposed and irreconcilable, democracy is instead an infamous fraud, and the best weapon the dominant class has to mask its political dictatorship and to guarantee its economic exploitation of the proletariat.
The trade union organisation constantly runs the risk of being ensnared in the bourgeois regime’s network of opportunist and reformist currents within the trade union movement. Its best defence against this happening, its best way of remaining faithful to the working class, is not by being rigorously democratic in the way it functions but by following a correct trade union policy, which is the one proposed by the communists. When workers’ organisations for economic struggle adopt bourgeois policies they inevitably end up as instruments of the capitalist regime, whether internal democracy is formally observed or not. The battle fought by militant communists within trade unions to get them to adopt the party’s trade union policy will, if successful, be the best guarantee against their degeneration.
The Communist Party, after it has brought the trade unions under its control, both before and after it takes power, will practice with them a policy that ensures them unity of movement and which keeps them open to all workers, of whatever ideological persuasion. And it is certainly not the case, in pursuit of this wise and prudent course, that the leadership will feel obliged to rigidly observe the canons of electoral majority rule.
Today, with the ‘representation reforms’ on the agenda, all of the trade union currents which make trade union democracy the keystone of their strategy against regime trade unionism have given the CGIL, CISL, UIL and UGL a magnificent Trojan Horse, with which these fake trade unions can obtain a new victory and bolster their defences.
As for the bosses, they remain free to negotiate with whomsoever they choose. Big business can continue to ignore the rank-and-file unions – until the latter are able to muster the forces of labour to the point that they can force the bosses to the negotiating table by means of strikes. When it suits big business, as was the case with FIAT and the metalworkers, it can fall back on the FIOM, playing on the false opposition between the regime unions.
These new obstacles erected to defend regime trade unionism against the future resurgence of class-based trade unions will certainly have their effect, but only for as long as the workers’ impulse to struggle remains weak: when the energy building up inside the class, because of worsening conditions, reaches a critical level it will certainly ignore all these barriers. Indeed, by setting up a system of rules increasingly designed to exclude the workers’ defensive organisations, the bosses and the regime unions might actually stoke up the class struggle, by preventing the class from getting entangled in the legalistic formalities of their ‘representation’. Workers should devote their energies to getting organised and engaging in strike action, not to trying to win votes, because, at the company level as much as at the trade and national level, it will be by the power of strike action, not ‘official’ votes, which will force the bosses to negotiate with the new class-based trade union organisations of the future.
Whilst the new trade union regulations around representation in the workplace may present an obstacle to the rank-and-file unions and to any new class organisation to begin with, in the end it will favour the correct path towards a territorial organisation of the workers, which, like the glorious Chambers of Labour at the start of the 20th century, break down the barriers in the workplace, which spell death to class struggle, and bring workers together as a class.
It will be the development of the class struggle in defence of the workers’ basic standard of living, around the keystone of defending pay, which will overturn this new barrier and render the agreement unserviceable and useless to the bosses themselves.
6. At the following meeting the speaker described the mechanisms implemented by the State, bosses and FIOM to split the struggle of the Fincantieri workers in the shipyards of Marghera, who are threatened with dismissal.
On the basis of these non-classist collaborationist trade unionist mechanisms, FIOM and the CGIL have worked to isolate and undermine its most combative delegates. The agreement reached with FIOM, little better than the one signed by FIM and UILM, signals a further regression in working conditions and bears no correspondence to the forces that were deployed during the struggle. It is no surprise that in the referendum on the agreement that took place on 29 August, in which around 250 workers didn’t vote because on leave, 202 were against and 228 for.
The FIOM delegates, who had made a name for themselves in the Rappresentanza Sindacale Unitaria elections (RSU: a group of at least three workers elected by all workers and usually consisting of union members, but which might include non-members) with their intransigent rejection of the content of the new agreement, and who on this basis had won the confidence of the most combative workers, have thus weakened this relationship and above all the combativity of the workers. As in every struggle, what counts is not the contingent result, whether positive or negative, but rather the greater degree of power, unity and workers’ confidence that emerges from it.
This latest episode in the Fincantieri affair, along with everything else that has happened up to now, confirms the need for workers, or the most combative workers anyway, to organise outside and against the FIOM and outside the CGIL as a whole, representing as they do the greatest obstacle to achieving a unification of wage-earners which goes beyond the boundaries of shipyard and company.
When the workers launch a struggle, at Fincantieri in Marghera, as elsewhere, they must first try to establish contact with other workers, in neighbouring firms, among the contractors within the shipyard, in other departments of the same firm, in order to establish permanent organisations with which to fight a joint battle; marking a return to the tried and tested methods of reciprocal picketing of each other’s firms with a view to common strike action. Until this course of action is taken we cannot really talk of a reconstituted working-class trade union.